Jul 15 2022

Flamenco Friday, “Wait till You See the Pool”

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

Another Flamenco Friday, time for something for summer: “Wait till You see the Pool”


Jul 13 2022

I’m (Almost) Levitating

typewriter

“I’m (Almost) Levitating” – tribute to Dua Lipa


Jul 8 2022

Of Texas, to Teach and Learn from that State No More

Western book stack

Of Texas, to Teach and Learn from that State No More

With regard to Texas as something to ever be discussed for any reason, I agree with much of what Jay Leeson of Lubbock wrote this week:

https://twitter.com/jayleeson/status/1544330548818382848

I too “am out.” The bad guys have won, and it is time to go all the way and “abandon all hope” as Dante says before the Gates of Hell, rather than try to cut one’s losses.

A slightly witty essay that uses Edmund Burke to explain the book-banning situation in Texas won’t change minds or votes or status quos regarding rural Texas. Therefore, I don’t intend to write any more of them.

I will instead, pursue the truth about contemporary Texas, not that it can teach me anything, not so I can teach Texans anything, but simply to love the pursuit.

As a very non-Texan, Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) once explained, the desire to find the truth for oneself has little to do with teaching truth(s) to others. Montaigne would rather know someone also seeking the truth rather than try to teach that person anything about it:

The active pursuit of truth is our proper business.

We have no excuse for conducting it badly or unfittingly. But failure to capture our prey is another matter. For we are born to quest after it; to possess it belongs to a greater power….

The world is but a school of inquiry. It does not matter who hits the ring, but who runs the best course. The man who says what is true may be as foolish as the man who utters falsities, for we are concerned with the manner of speaking, not with the matter. It is my nature to consider the form as much as the substance, the advocate as much as the cause….

And every day I entertain myself by browsing among books without a thought for their learning; and examining their authors’ style, not their subject. In the same way, I seek the company of some famous mind, not so that he may teach me, but that I may know him.

(Essais, Tome III in Essays, (New York: Penguin, 1958, 1988), trans. J. M. Cohen, “8. On the Art of Conversation,” pp. 292–93. [Cohen’s numeration follows Montaigne’s Édition Municipale.])

René Descartes (1596–1650) also got tired of teaching as well as learning. So he decided he would start being independent in his thinking, and would muster no enthusiasm for teaching others the methods of life he had learned for himself. He wanted to describe the vision of his method, not teach that method to (un)willing students:

My present design, then, is not to teach the Method which each ought to follow for the right conduct of his Reason, but solely to describe the way in which I have endeavored to conduct my own.

(Discours de méthode (Discourse on Method)(c. 1637), The Method, Meditations, and Philosophy of Descartes, trans. John Veitch, (New York: Tudor Publishing, 1901), (§ I), p. 150)

Later John Locke (1632–1704) affirms that “I pretend not to teach, but to inquire” into the “dark room” of how the mind understands itself. Locke desired to “inquire” and to “examine,” but not to “teach”:

I pretend not to teach, but to inquire; and therefore cannot but confess here again,—that external and internal sensation are the only passages I can find of knowledge to the understanding.

These alone, as far as I can discover, are the windows by which light is let into this DARK ROOM.

For, methinks, the understanding is not much unlike a closet wholly shut from light, with only some little openings left, to let in external visible resemblances, or ideas of things without: which, would they but stay there, and lie so orderly as to be found upon occasion, it would very much resemble the understanding of a man, in reference to all objects of sight, and the ideas of them.

These are my guesses concerning the means whereby the understanding comes to have and retain simple ideas, and the modes of them, with some other operations about them.

I proceed now to examine some of these simple ideas and their modes a little more particularly.

(An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) [1689], Fifth Edition (1706), ed. Roger Woolhouse, (New York: Penguin, 1997, 2004), (II, xi, 17), p. 158)

Giambattista Vico (1668–1744) seems to have gotten closer to the source of the phenomenon of the abandonment of teacherhood. The student learns differently than the teacher, for their imaginations, at least, according to Vico, function in slightly different ways:

Just as old age is powerful in reason, so is adolescence in imagination. Since imagination has always been esteemed a most favorable omen of future development [divination?], it should in no way be dulled.

Furthermore, the teacher should give the greatest care to the cultivation of the pupil’s memory, which, though not exactly the same as imagination, is almost identical with it.

In adolescence, memory outstrips in vigor all other faculties, and should be intensely trained.

Youth’s natural inclination to the arts in which imagination or memory (or a combination of both) is prevalent (such as painting, poetry, oratory, jurisprudence) should by no means be blunted.

Nor should advanced philosophical criticism, the common instrument today of all arts and sciences, be an impediment to any of them.

The Ancients knew how to avoid this drawback.

In almost all their schools for youths, the role of logic was fulfilled by geometry.

Following the example of medical practitioners, who concentrate their efforts on seconding the bent of Nature, the Ancients required their youths to learn the science of geometry which cannot be grasped without a vivid capacity to form images.

Thus, without doing violence to nature, but gradually and gently and in step with the mental capacities of their age, the Ancients nurtured the reasoning powers of their young men.

(De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione (On the Study Methods of Our Time) (c. 1709), trans. Elio Gianturco, (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1990), pp. 13–14)

I don’t pretend to know exactly what Vico is getting at, other than I think he is following in the footsteps of Montaigne, Descartes, and Locke with this idea of renouncing the discipline of teaching in favor of a discipline of knowing.

But can their diagnoses concerning the problem of being a burned-out teacher find remedy through some kind of gnosis (knowing)? Vico seems to suggest this. But it also seems too much to resemble the obscurantist, the guru, the mystic. And as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) likes to remind us: “We gropewhen we read, particularly things tinged with mysticism, (Journals and Emerson Notebooks Vol. V (1835–1838), ed. William H. Gilman et al, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP), May 24, 1835, Journal B, p. 44; April 29, 1837, Journal C, p. 307).

Moreover, says Emerson:

The great distinction between teachers sacred or literary,—between poets like Herbert, and poets like Pope,—between philosophers like Spinoza, Kant, and Coleridge, and philosophers like Locke, Paley, Mackintosh, and Stewart,—between men of the world, who are reckoned accomplished talkers, and here and there a fervent mystic, prophesying, half insane under the infinitude of his thought,—is, that one class speak from within, or from experience, as parties and possessors of the fact; and the other class, from without, as spectators merely, or perhaps as acquainted with the fact on the evidence of third persons.

It is of no use to preach to me from without. I can do that too easily myself. Jesus speaks always from within, and in a degree that transcends all others.

In that is the miracle. I believe beforehand that it ought so to be. All men stand continually in the expectation of the appearance of such a teacher.

But if a man do not speak from within the veil, where the word is one with that it tells of, let him lowly confess it. (“The Over-Soul,” Essays: First Series (1841))

Emerson continues:

The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are all poets and mystics! ….

Mysticism consists in the mistake of an accidental and individual symbol for an universal one….

And the mystic must be steadily told,––All that you say is just as true without the tedious use of that symbol as with it.

Let us have a little algebra, instead of this trite rhetoric,––universal signs, instead of these village symbols,––and we shall both be gainers. (“The Poet,” Essays: Second Series (1844))


Jul 2 2022

On “Fellowship” (A Literary Meditation)

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

On “Fellowship” (A Literary Meditation)

I’ve been studying Chaucer lately, and soon stumbled on to some of his usages of the word fellowship.

For wher-so men had pleyd or waked,
Me thoghte the felawship as naked
Withouten hir, that saw I ones,
As a coroune withoute stones.
(The Book of the Duchesse, ll. 977–80)

And:

Wel nyne and twenty in a companye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle
In felawshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon,
That I was of hir felawshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.
(Tales of Canterbury, General Prologue, ll. 25–34).

And, in describing the Wife of Bath, Chaucer’s Narrator notes:

In felawschip wel coude she laughe and carpe.
(General Prologue, ll. 474)

In a time of frequent mass-shootings, controversial court decisions, and pandemic supply chains … a turn toward fellowship might not be so much an exercise in idleness, but one of escapism.

So fellowship is the root word fellow with the added suffix –ship.

For fellow, The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says it’s Anglo-Saxon (Old English) but borrowed from Scandinavian:

The early Scandinavian etymon is a derivative formed on the compound reflected by Old Icelandic félag , Norwegian felag, Old Swedish fælagh, Old Danish fælagh (Danish fællig ).

Likewise, the suffix –ship is Anglo-Saxon:

Added to adjectives and past participles to denote the state or condition of being so-and-so. Such compounds were numerous in Old English, and many survived (or were re-coined) in Middle English, but few have a history extending beyond the 15th century; e.g. Old English árodscipe briskness, dolscipe folly, druncenscipe drunkenship n., drunkship n. (Middle English), glædscipe gladship n., gódscipe goodship n., láþscipe hardship, prútscipe pride, shendship n. (Middle English), snelscipe boldness, wildship n. (Middle English), wódscipe madness. The only survivals of this formation now in common use are hardship n. (first in Ancren Riwle), and worship n. (Old English weorþscipe).

But fellowship as an entire word, according to OED, doesn’t show up till the 1200s, that is, about a century before Chaucer.

In his book The Idea of the Holy (1917), German philosopher and theologian Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) lists fellowship as one of three types of spiritual silence:

Devotional Silence may have a threefold character. There is the numinous silence of Sacrament, the silence of Waiting, and the silence of Union or Fellowship.

(Das Heilige. Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen (The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational) (1917), trans. John W. Harvey, (Oxford UP, 1923), p. 216)

Otto here admits that he found these ideas in the works of George Fox (1621–1691), founder of the Quakers, who formally call themselves The Society of Friends—that is, literally an organization devoted to fellowship. And the silence in fellowship that Otto mentions is what Mrs. Mia Wallace was trying to explain to Vincent Vega oh-so-many years ago:

In the Prologue to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954), one finds a casual, cozy fellowship:

‘How Old Toby came by the plant is not recorded, for to his dying day he would not tell. He knew much about herbs, but he was no traveller. It is said that in his youth he went often to Bree, though he certainly never went further from the Shire than that. It is thus quite possible that he learned of this plant in Bree, where now, at any rate, it grows well on the south slopes of the hill. The Bree-hobbits claim to have been the first actual smokers of the pipe-weed. They claim, of course, to have done everything before the people of the Shire, whom they refer to as “colonists”; but in this case their claim is, I think, likely to be true. And certainly it was from Bree that the art of smoking the genuine weed spread in the recent centuries among Dwarves and such other folk, Rangers, Wizards, or wanderers, as still passed to and fro through tat ancient road-meeting. The home and centre of the art is thus to be found in the old inn of Bree, The Prancing Pony, that has been kept by the family of Butterbur from time beyond record.’

Though the word fellowship isn’t used in this particular passage, the idea of it bleeds over from writer to reader, for fellowship is a prominent theme in Tolkien’s very big book.

And I find a deeper, more formal fellowship than that above in both the Nine adventurers who constitute the Fellowship of the Ring, as well as between reader and writer, such as when Gandalf (but let us imagine author-professor Tolkien speaking in his stead), explains the fellowship-like task of the writer, (in this case, a historian):

And Gandalf said: ‘This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be. The Third Age of the world is ended, and the new age is begun; and it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved. For though much has been saved, much must now pass away; and the power of the Three Rings also is ended.’

(“The Steward and the King,” The Return of the King, VI, v)

Gandalf-Tolkien goes on to explain that the task of the reader, with regard to fellowship with the writer, is to be a sapling (for the writer is a planter):

And Gandalf coming looked at it, and said: ‘Verily this is a sapling of the line of Nimloth the fair; and that was a seedling of Galathilion, and that a fruit of Telpherion of many names, Eldest of Trees. Who shall say how it comes here in the appointed hour? But this is an ancient hallow, and ere the kings failed or the Tree withered in the court, a fruit must have been set here. For it is said that, though the fruit of the Tree comes seldom to ripeness, yet the life within may then lie sleeping through many long years, and none can foretell the time in which it will awake.  Remember this. For if ever a fruit ripens, it should be planted, lest the line die out of the world. Here it has lain hidden on the mountain, even as the race of Elendil lay hidden in the wastes of the North. Yet the line of Nimloth is older far than your line, King Elessar.’

(“The Steward and the King,” The Return of the King, VI, v)

Nor is fellowship limited to the realm of readers and writers. Fellowship can extend to religion, as Walter Kaufman (1921–1980) once pointed out, for fellowship is meant to counter loneliness:

Religions do not so much offer truths as a common language in which to express truths as well as superstitions. Whitehead once said that “religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.” This definition tells us more about the age in which it was written than about religion. Religion offers man a way out of his solitude. Even when it does not lure man into church or visible fellowship with others, religion offers man a language which makes real loneliness impossible. The language of religion may be ritual, prayer, or an idiom based on Scripture: the man who speaks this language breaks out of the solitary confinement of his mute emotions, transcends the isolation of his boredom or despair, and becomes part of a community. He belongs.

(Critique of Religion and Philosophy, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1958), p. 350)

And fellowship may even extend to nationhood:

Justice Felix Frankfurter spoke of the need “to shed old loyalties and take on the loyalty of American citizenship,” which is a kind of “fellowship which binds people together by devotion to certain feelings and ideas and ideals summarized as a requirement that they be attached to the principles of the constitution.”

(Benjamin R. Barber, “Constitutional Faith,” For Love of Country? ed. Martha Nussbaum, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996; ed. Joshua Cohen, 2002), p. 32)


May 16 2022

To Move from Home into a Land Far Away

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

To Move from Home into a Land Far Away:
The Problem of Getting-by Without Getting Burned-out

Two interesting pieces I’ve recently address the topic of moving from one country to another to see better economic (employment) opportunities:

So, one from Canada, one from Ireland; but both a part of the former British Empire. (A third, related piece I read last week, concerns an Irish woman leaving London life and returning to Ireland):

These three pieces address the problem of “getting by without getting burned out” when living in an urban environment in the West.

Without undergoing severe asceticism and learning to be disciplined as a monk initiate, the struggle to survive persists. Whether one lives in Berlin, Toronto, Dublin, London, or New York, problems don’t go away just because one moves away; often you only exchange one matrix of conflicts for another.

These confessional pieces (told in different ways for different reasons) have stubbornly stuck to me today, probably because, especially for the past year, it has felt most apparent that the City of Austin intends to slowly push me out of its fabled limits.

And one day the city may succeed. And then where would I go? Not Dublin. Not Dallas.

Rónán Riordion went from Kerry to Berlin. But Berlin? It seems a little too close to Moscow for me to move there.

And some acquaintances have suggested Costa Rica, but like the piece where the Canadian comes to accepting the reality that moving to the United States might be best for its author Isen’s prospects, Costa seems like a nice place to retire to if one already has savings or already established steady revenue streams, but if one doesn’t have those foundations already laid, then….

Though I have often imagined myself to be a stubbier, clumsier version of Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones Jr. (for I used to be good at finding arrowheads on the family farm), I remain unsure whether I should start searching for “fortune and glory,” in either the heart of the jungles of Central America or the capital of the former Deutsche Reich. (Probably neither; not when it still seems like everyone else wants to come to Texas.) Yet, as my era (and home) in Austin will surely someday end, I may have little choice in the matter of where to go next.


Apr 30 2022

When Families Together Sing: The Cashes, the Statlers, and the Beatles

London - Georgian Apartments

When Families Together Sing: The Cashes, the Statlers, and the Beatles

Here are two songs about families singing together. The listener may notice that Johnny and June (with the Statler Brothers in the background) sing their song in first-person, while the Beatles sing theirs from a third-person point of view.

And from the Beatles:


Apr 29 2022

Breakfast at Audrey’s (Friday flamenco)

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Breakfast at Audrey’s (Friday flamenco)

Let’s get ready for the weekend with some Hepburn heartburn:


Apr 27 2022

25 Years of Bookbread Left to Go

Piazza Navona, Roma, Italia

Bookbread has been around for about 10 years. Its author will be turning 41 this summer. The male ancestors in the author’s family tend not to live past 75. And there is much demographic data to suggest (just one among many https://ifstudies.org/blog/contours-of-the-sex-recession) American single-males have a 10-year drop in their life expectancy compared to their paired partners, or (even paired, or even single women). So we will try to continue for another 25. Then that’s it.


Apr 24 2022

“This Poor Nomad,” Or: Fist Fight at the Corona Corral

typewriter

“THIS POOR NOMAD,”

OR: FIST FIGHT AT THE CORONA CORRAL

ACT I

Actually, I missed the start of this story but heard it commenced around one o’clock in the afternoon when a nomad wisecracker drifted in from the street and, while wearing black stockings and slippers, began bothering a Jordanian bartender from the Corona Corral who’d been taking out a bag of trash.

This wisecracker demanded the Jordanian let him inside and that he be served drinks. The Jordanian said they weren’t open yet, but the nomad kept pleading to be let in and served because, the nomad claimed, he knew the bar owner, whom everyone called Saint Michael.

It’s unknown how long this engagement went on (minutes, seconds?) before it then evolved into something more than a shoving match––but maybe slightly less than full-on Fury vs. Wilder II––though it definitely qualified as a scuffle, and one with the nomad having tried (but also having failed) to make his way to his intended destination of the bar inside.

ACT II

I showed up around 5:30 that afternoon, started sucking on Firemans #4, and listening while the Jordanian told me and the others everything that happened in Act I. His left eye looked a little puffy at the brow line, though not exactly red. (And this was just after that side of his brow had recovered from a months-long in-grown hair ordeal––likely caused by one of those of oddball hairs of an especially course nature that the hay farmers in Lampasas in the 1970s used to call hog peckers.)

And the Jordanian was still just all amped up from the adrenaline-inducing incident that’d occurred hours before, so he told the story especially fast, all while standing and shuffling on the balls of his feet. Indeed, like when Caesar (Gallic Wars II, xx) describes his desire when in battle “to be everywhere at once,” the Jordanian was behind the bar, outside the door to the bar, as well as busing the tables on the porch out back the entire time he relayed to us the earlier encounter.

He was telling us this story when he interrupted himself, “Hey, hey, hey, HEY!” because it turned out the nomad wisecracker had returned, and this time, as we could all now see, he’d clearly made it inside the door.

About two seconds later the Jordanian, another customer Virgil (a regular), along with Bald Clyde Barrow (another bartender) and Geoff Davies (the Welshman who books musical acts for the Corona Corral during SXSW)—had all group-hugged and removed the nomad through the front door without injury.

Outside everyone separated, with the guys standing by the door while the nomad in the parking lot began to yell at them. Then a second nomad––who really didn’t even look nomadic but was an obvious acquaintance of his nomadic wisecracker counterpart––pulled the yelling guy away by the shoulder, and they shuffled off to the gas station across the street.

ACT III

Ten (?) minutes later, the nomad wisecracker came back from the gas station and started yelling again from the parking lot.

“Dolly,” asked Bald Clyde Barrow, “can you hand me my phone over there?” (for the record, I too am abundantly bald).

Dolly handed the phone to him.

“He keeps coming back; I gotta call cops now.”

By this time the nomad had disappeared, presumably back to the confines of the gas station, but Clyde had already dialed and was giving them the address.

“Hey all,” the Jordanian then announced aloud, “Virgil’s phone fell out of his pocket; cracked the screen when he was helping us just now. I feel bad, so … if anybody wants to chip in … we need 125 dollars,” he said as he grabbed one of the tip buckets from the bar.

“Here,” and, “Here you go,” say several patrons who immediately pitched in.

I checked my wallet. No cash. But what had happened so far had been strange and entertaining enough, so I went to the ATM-jukebox-combo across the barroom, extracted 20 dollars at a cost of $3.25, handed that 20-dollar bill to Brando (another bartender, and one who always wears a ballcap), and he gave me back four fives. I then took three of those fives and placed them in the tip bucket that was now being used as a collection plate at our Thursday afternoon church service there at the Corona Corral.

By this time a pair of cops had arrived in their Kevlar and nylon accoutrement. The Jordanian and Bald Clyde Barrow went to the parking lot to talk to them, and soon enough the nomad wisecracker had returned as well. So the cops took him aside and interviewed him too, and these interviews took about 20–25 minutes, enough time for me to finish my beer and begin another one.

Eventually, the Jordanian and Bald Clyde Barrow returned and resumed their places behind the bar. The cops then finished their conversation with the black-clad, slipper-shod nomad wisecracker. They declined to arrest the guy, and soon the nomad disappeared in the direction of the gas station.

The cops, meanwhile, then entered the Corona Corral but were quick not to walk up to the bar where we patrons sit. The Jordanian and Bald Clyde Barrow came back around from behind the bar to talk to them while we all shamelessly watched and listened to their verdict.

“Okay,” says the cop, “he says you,”––meaning what the nomad wisecracker said about the Jordanian, “called him every possible racist epitaph that can be grammatically constructed in our vernacular; he says he’s a friend of Saint Michael’s. Is Saint Michael the owner?”

“Yeah, the lease is in his name, and that includes the parking lot.”

“This guy says Saint Michael is his friend, and they’re drinking buddies––”

This was interrupted by some moderate chortling and “well’s….” before Clyde explained to the cop: “Yeah Saint Michael says a lot of people are his buddies, and a lot of them are. Saint Michael can sometimes make miracles happen, can sometimes overwhelm you if you’ve already had a few Firemans #4, so maybe the nomad and the saint had one good night together here once––”

“––Well, if he’s the owner, he’s the only one who can file a trespassing claim. We didn’t see it happen. He has his story, you yours. You wanna file assault charges against him since you claim he hit you, you can, but they won’t stick. You already know that but I’m obligated to say it anyway.”

“No, no charges,” says the Jordanian, still amped up and jumpy, “I just don’t want him coming back in here––”

“––Well,” interrupts the cop, “we don’t have video of what happened, like I said, we have his story and we have yours and is that really a fucking D. A. R. E. hat you’re wearing?”

It should be noted that the cop said some variant of “fuck” at about every third word in this entire conversation. He’d addressed the question to Brando with the ballcap. Brando, however, hadn’t even been speaking to the cops but had stayed behind the bar serving drinks. (And yes, he was wearing a mint flat-bill D. A. R. E. cap.)

ACT IV

So I went back to the bar the next night, and I sat in my spot, ‘cause I’m a real cornball George Wendt (but one without the curly hair), and soon I saw the Jordanian and complimented him for the absence of any apparent black-eyes.

Then I gathered from him and others that the nomad wisecracker had returned later the evening before––sometime after the cops left––and he and the Jordanian scuffled again, and again the cops showed up, and again, asked the Jordanian if he wanted to press charges, but again he declined. Then, even later that next evening, he told me he’d learned from the non-nomadic-looking fellow who was comrades with the nomad wisecracker that that trouble-maker’s daughter (age unknown) died a few weeks ago, and obviously this poor nomad had flipped his lid a few times over since then.

Later that next night Virgil showed up, and we all learned that he’d received enough donations to fix his phone––and he showed us how it was already repaired––all of which I thought was a nice ending to the whole, somewhat mundane but somewhat interesting, affair.


Apr 20 2022

Short Story Review: “Octopus” (2022) by Nathan Willis

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

SHORT STORY REVIEW: “OCTOPUS” (2022) BY NATHAN WILLIS

In Nathan Willis’s short story “Octopus” (Necessary Fiction, Feb. 16, 2022) the reader must confront randomness. There’s some seemingly radical juxtaposition going on, with words, images, and ideas focusing around octopi, the theatricals of choking in public, as well as hostage negotiation. But, overall, it also involves the notion that, while children may later remember specific moments and actions done by their parents, they rarely (even upon reflection in their own old age) understand why their parents did the things they did when they did them.

So “Octopus” is about the nostalgia (grown) children have for certain memories that involve them being with their parents. The mood of the story is contemplative, combined with a detached sympathy of the narrator toward his father—things that remind me of Nicole Nesca’s poem “What would Hemingway Say?” (Let It Bleed: Screamin’ Skull Press, 2017, p. 1), as when she writes:

I never tried to be my father.

But, I was and am him.

Everything that we learned happened before we were ten years old.

But compare a character in Denis Wong’s short story “The Resurrection of Ma Jun” (Missouri Review, Spring 2018) who remarks:

Thinking about this stuff drives me crazy. Who cares about made-up ideas like God? “We can only rely on ourselves,” is what Quian and I have always believed. Not even our parents can save us. (p. 60)

Though I refuse to summarize Willis’s story that was a joy to (re)read, I will say that parts of “Octopus” have––in terms of style––a Wittgensteinian “family resemblance” to some of Kafka’s short stories––particularly “Forschungen eins Hundes” (“Investigations of a Dog”) (1922) and “Der Bau” (“The Burrow”) (1933) with the way each sentence seems to take the story in a new direction than it was seeming headed beforehand.

For the plot in Willis’s “Octopus” makes incredible strives sentence-by-sentence, where, like a corkscrew, each line and clause twists the narrative more and more––and all this strongly resembles the storytelling methods found in the anonymous Tale of Aladdin, a near-novella often lodged in copies of Tales from the Thousand and One Nights but technically not an original part of that anthology.

In terms of substance—particularly the (yes, I know) surrealistic content of radical juxtaposition to be found in “Octopus”––this reader also detects some resemblances to Nesca’s short story “Child,” (from Let It Bleed), the late, great Norm MacDonald (1959–2021) and his quasi-memoir-novel Based on a True Story: Not a Memoir (Random House, 2017), as well as Me & Mr. Cigar (Soho Teen, 2020) by Gibby Haynes…. (perhaps even Terry Southern (1924–1995) and his novel The Magic Christian (1959)….)

While I won’t quote from “Octopus,” which is brief enough to be read across a single lunch break, with regard to substance, things in it can be found that are reminiscent of the way Norm could twist a seemingly ugly remark until it blossomed into revelation:

 “Yeah,” says Adam Eget. “I really wish I’d met him, but it was before my time. There are so many great Kinison stories at the Store [a New York stand-up comedy club]. It’s so unfair that guys like Sam have to die so young and a sonofabitch like Nelson Mandela lived to be an old man.”

“Nelson Mandela wasn’t a sonofabitch. He fought apartheid and they put him in prison for more than twenty years. And when they finally released him and he took power, he never exacted revenge on his enemies. Instead, he exacted forgiveness on them and brought his torn nation together.”

“I thought he stole some diamonds.” (pp. 30–31)

The randomness of “Octopus,” furthermore, harkens back to my recent reading of Gibby’s own randomness, as when in his debut novel Me and Mr. Cigar he writes:

About halfway there in the wooded hollow right before Catfish Creek (where you’re more likely to catch a washing machine than a catfish), there’s a police car on the side of the road. Halfway across the bridge, just past the cop, I sneak a look back. He’s pulled out onto the road and turned on his lights. The cab of the pickup is suddenly filled with red flashing lights. For some reason the thump-thump-thump of the metal slats on the bridge is particularly loud tonight. I pull the truck over, stick it in park and look over at Lytle and Mr. Cigar. Wide-eyed, we simultaneously mouth an elongated Ohhhh shiiiiit. (p. 141)

So check out Nathan Willis’s “Octopus”––I think you’ll like it.