Israel.  Clearly.  How can a person alive to-day not be distracted by the nonsense?  My question though, is, when was the last time we heard talk about solutions?  These days the talk is about whether one can criticize Israel and not be anti-semitic.  The answer is yes, but that question then turns everything into an episode of Seinfeld.  Only a Jew can criticize Israel, and even then they tend to become self-loathing.  The Right has again taken away the discussion and turned it into something unproductive.

To-day was cold, everywhere I went was cold.  The Swede’s place was too cold for morning fun.  The gym was too cold to worry about being surrounded by yoga girls (maybe I’m just sensitive because I have a small mat).  The Tin Fish was too cold to ignore the insipid kid and his whiny dad.  My place was too cold to think about the yoga girls.  Now I am at a chain sports bar for some cold sports, Stanley Cup finals, and am finally comfortable.  In a national chain.  *sigh*

The waitress just asked if I wanted some food.  “Maybe after I sober up.”  She looked at my just-delivered beer and laughed.  Little cutie with a red-dyed mop on her head always laughs at my jokes.

I read a Lester Bangs review of Bob Dylan’s Desire.  Holy shit!  It was tight and, oh, so, devastating.  I only wish I had the ability to be so mean.  So, here goes:

I notice there has been no response from The Wooden Pickle about the cover wars.  He said it was on.  What a cock-tease.  An articulation of the above Bangs’ piece and my calling him out:

“[Buttercup] doesn’t give a damn about [music], and if he spent any more than ten minutes actually working on the composition of [It’s ON: Cover Song Battle] then Bryan Ferry is a member of the Eagles.”

“At length I concluded that any [post] whose principal utility lay in such an emotional twilight zone was at worst an instrument of self-abuse, at best innocuous as a crying towel, and certainly was not going to make me a better person or teach me anything about women, myself, or anything else but how painfully confused [Buttercup] seemed to be.”

Stay Warm,

SN

Bangs, Lester.  (1976, March 8).  Bob Dylan’s dalliance with mafia chic: He ain’t no delinquent, he’s misunderstood.  The Village Voice.

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I love Cold War fiction.  I mean that very precisely.  Some people think I mean espionage literature and that is not the case, because something is lost in the current crop of espionage thrillers.  The enemy is not as cunning and when they are it feels arbitrary and forced.  What I just said might be taken to border on some racism or negative stereotype: Arabs as a backwards and stupid people vis a vis us sophisticated folk.

My take is close to this but not because of anything intrinisic to the enemy.  The enemy is behind us in intelligence gathering capabilities as well as in motivation, they are after all still involved in an internal struggle for the future of their society whereas we are the outside intervention looking to mold them into our image.  That is a very different story to the classic Cold War espionage thriller and I am sad to see the genre shift.  I will outline a classic of Cold War fiction and hopefully the differences are easily seen.

I recently finished reading one of the classics, had there been enough time I am sure it might have become a touchstone of the genre, by one of the classic writers: Nelson DeMille’s Talbot Odyssey.  If you are a fan of the werewolf genre then you might also enjoy this story – yes, Talbot is that Talbot.  Not as well written as LeCarre’s novels, but it resonates like LeCarre does: as a Western.  All the familiar tropes are there: lethal environment (in this book set inside a hostile shooting Cold War), one man alone, a stunning and impossible achievement of the masculine image, narrator’s cultural criticism and the obligatory surprise twist.

The most important quality is probably the idealized masculinity because the rest of the book is informed and is a backdrop for this image.  I will provide for you a couple of places where DeMille drops these images in this book.

“As the Duke of Wellington said when asked to impart a piece of enduring military wisdom, ‘Piss when you can.'” (338)

The necessary self-sufficiency to survive is an important aspect of these thrillers.  Without resourcefulness and a willingness to disregard societal norms the hero is sure to fail and be sucked into the maelstrom that is eating away at the very society he is trying to save.

He remembered a favorite line from Thoreau: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” (81)

Never forget though that self-sufficient man is indebted to his predecessors and hence the self-sufficient man is well-read, an ubermensch.  It is not a far stone’s throw to see DeMille writing about a man making a horseback trip across the wild west, camping at night over a fire, can of beans and reading a book with a pistol in his lap.  The clothes on his back are all that he brought for the trip, saving more important space for more important things.

Now we come to the ubermensch’s approach to the modern environment, namely the social environment:

There are basically five ways to hunt – baiting, trapping, stakeouts, beating the bush, and decoying.  it depends on the animal you’re after, the season of the year, and the terrain.  With the human animal, you can use all methods, or combinations of methods, in any season and terrain.  Just keep in mind that when the human animal approaches, he may take any form, including the guise of a friendly animal.  He may wave a cheery hello, or ask for a cigarette.  But you must relaize you ar ebeing attacked, and in that split second of realization you have to act, becasue a second later it’s too late. (260)

It’s hard to miss the romantic ideal of fighting and always being on guard DeMille longs for in this piece.  I am also seduced by these images.  The few months after being hit by the car I would wander the streets and was always imagining an immanent fight.  It was warming to imagine that I can be vigilant enough to save myself.  It restored a sense of purpose and control.  It’s how I suspect people who cut themselves are trying to reassert a sense of control over their bodies.  Iggy Pop’s slow suicide is how Lester Bangs describes that reclamation of control.  And yet we know the world is no longer like that, which is precisely why people write and read these thrillers.

All of the above are ways these books serve to idealize a certain image of man.  Those images then give way to cultural criticism, often a very silly and tired form of criticism.

Its ceiling beams and oak paneling still gave it the flavor of a hunting lodge, but the mounted animal heads and horns were gone, replaced by oversize canvases of proletarian art: smiling, well-muscled men and women working in the fields and factories.  The early capitalists, reflected Abrams, mounted animals they probably never shot, the ruling Communists displayed pictures of happy workers they probably never saw.  The noble and idealized creatures of the earth were destined to wind up as wwall decorations for the elite.  in a just and orderly world, perhaps, capitalists would shoot, stuff, and mount Communists, and vice versa, leaving the wildlife and working people in peace. (321)

DeMille is smart enough to be a cynic but does he not realize that this ubermensch, the man above ideology, is like the wildlife and like the happy proletariat nothing but a fiction?  A mythical beast wandering the world in search of a home.  DeMille’s vision smacks me like McCarthy’s does.  My frst thought is always: the world is not this hard.  But that seems to be the issue, they wish the world were that hard because that hardness is what weeds out the chaff from the wheat.  Deep down they are romantics and environmental hardship is their antiseptic for the world’s over-developed sense of sociality.

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Cover of "House of Leaves"
Cover of House of Leaves

Nate suggested a while ago that I do what Nick Hornby does, or at least did, and each month compose a column listing books bought and books read and then some nonsense hopefully related and uniting the contents of the lists.  Hornby even published two books, albeit they are both small books, of these columns and I find the essays to be meandering and rarely about the lists.  In any case, this post will be a third of the task: a list of books bought.

I am currently in Ann Arbor for the usual summer gig and there is a store here which is my favorite book store of all the places across the US.  Some of you know about my obsession with Verso Books.  They publish high quality scholarship and their books have a certain aesthetic to them that I cannot avoid.  But it’s hard to find their books because they are exactly what the American book consumer is not purchasing.  Shaman Drum Bookstore is easily the best place I have found to find portions of the Verso catalogue.  My job finally settled enough to-day for me to venture out there and they are closing.  All books are half off so I had to indulge some.  As much as Chase and Wells Fargo would allow me to indulge, anyways.

Brooks, Daphne A.  (2007).  Grace. NY: Continuum.  This is part of 33 1/3 series where each ook is about an influential album.  This book is about Jeff Buckley’s Grace album.  It’s an enjoyable enough album, I thought I was going to enjoy it more.  The main track on it is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  You know it.  It is that one song on West Wing when CJ Craig’s bodyguard (Mark Harmon) is killed.  Oh yeah, THAT song.  I still shiver when I hear it.  In any case the book was $5 so I picked it up.  I do enjoy reading about music.  The book about punk rock Ursa introduced me to, Please Kill Me (I think) and Bang Your Head are easily some of my favorite reads ever.

Hampton, Howard.  (2007).  Born in Flames: Termite dreams, dialectical fairy tales, and pop apocalypses. Cambridge:  Harvard Press.  A subtitle like that how can I not buy it?  Plus the cover is gorgeous.  It talks some about my favorite book of criticism (one of my favorite books) of all time Lester Bang’s Psychotic Reactions and Carbeurator Dung.

Now for the Verso Books, all published in London.

Sarlo, Beatriz.  (1993).  Jorge Luis Borges: A writer on the edge. I have read zero Borges.  I continually come across refrences to him so he always make my list of books to read.  It’s a Verso book.  It’s about art.  It’s about avant-garde writing.  Borges is listed as the main reference for what is my favorite book of all time, Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and that makes Borges worth investigation.  Plus, It’s a Verso book that was half price.

Elbaum, Mark.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. An interesting subtitle.  A Verso book.  It promises to fill in a certain gap in what I know about, radical formation in the US and its turn to Marxist analysis.  The Swede sent me a text yesterday that she ran into a bike mob in Minneapolis and the cops looked tired, hot, and pissed.  Critical Mass.  Fuck I love the radical community in Minneapolis.

Sturrock, John.  (1998).  The word from Paris: Essays on modern French thinkers and writers. French thinkers: Althusser, Lacan, Derrida and Foucault are just the most exciting of the ones in here.  And that is just Part I.  Part II is about writers, which looking over the names and resumes of the names I take Sturrock means fiction writers.  I am always on the look for short essays about some of these folk to serve as a memory jogger, a little refresher course to lift some of the cobwebs.

There we have the list of books bought to-day.  I was working on 100 year sof Solitude by GGM.  For days I have been fighting the temptation to put it down, only to hang on based on the prestige GGM has as a writer.  I doubt I will have the fortitude to not put it down to-morrow though.  After all I will be rooting for the USA to beat the Brazilian team and that struggle probably mirrors, in some odd way, the struggle I will take on as I defend GGM as not one of the 20th centuries best writers.  In my mind there is some parallel.

On another tangential note, I am doing a good job of aping Hornby’s articles, The Swede did make the NorthStar Roller Girls for next season.  That is very exciting.  I am happy for her.  You should be too.

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