Oct 17 2020

Another Crumb Removed from a Work in Progress

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

Here is another crumb removed from a work in progress, but one perhaps worth sharing nonetheless. Long-distance relationships don’t always work, but long-distance perspectives are often useful for art and science:

Besides, “we are better able,” says Aristotle, “to contemplate our neighbors than ourselves, and their actions than our own,” (Nico. Ethics 09.09). This might even be one reason why Plato chose to write the final words of Socrates within the context of a conversation between two people outside of Athens rather than two members of the jury who sentenced him.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. H. Rackham, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1934) (IX, ix) p. 559; Plato, Phaedo 57a in The Last Days of Socrates, trans. Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant, (New York: Penguin, 1993) p. 109.


Oct 14 2020

Currently Reading: October 2020

London - Georgian Apartments
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Currently reading

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What I’m currently reading for October 2020:

  • Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus Colonus, Antigone
  • Suzanne Butler, Vale of Tyranny (1954)
  • R. W. Harris, A Short History of 18th Century England: 1689-1793 (1963)
  • Michael Erard, Babel No More (2012)

Oct 9 2020

Crumbs Cut from Work in Progress

Here is a crumb I cut from a current work in progress:

It was also immediately evident upon my arrival that this was one of those “high time” moments for local mythology studied by the Romanian polymath Mircea Eliade and mentioned throughout Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor’s erudite tome A Secular Age (2007): “high” not only in any (and probably every) pharmacological-Dionysian sense, but one of those moments of keeping Austin weird in its original sense: a “high” once in a blue moon moment, where all the stars align so that both the making and retelling of myths are most potent, as in Christian liturgies that, during the holidays, retell the coming of the Messiah, or the secular “high time” moments felt at things like Willie Nelson’s first Fourth of July Picnic concert in 1973 in Austin.

Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004) 97–98; Taylor, A Secular Age, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007) 713.


Oct 8 2020

Ghost Riders of Manor Road, Austin, TX

Yes, everyone likes to complain how big the city has grown, but it’s still small enough to ride your pony to the store.

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Ghost riders of Manor Road

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Oct 7 2020

Short Story Review: “The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling” (2018) by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Upon first reading of Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s short story “The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling” (Chattahoochee Review, Spring 2018): the mythological and religious references (e.g. Rama, Buddha, Vishnu), all with origins from subcontinental Asia scattered (or carefully placed) throughout Bhuvaneswar’s story seemed forced—indeed intrusive to this reader.

Upon second reading: I could tell the mythological references weren’t simply decoration, nor did Bhuvaneswar crowbar them in to function as deus ex machina.

Upon third reading: I began to see how the mythological references explain the place Gopi (the main character in Bhuvaneswar’s story) has lost—or rather a place he probably never really had––in his conflict with coming from India to the United States. One gets a sense that if Gopi read this story, he would not see any significance in the usage and placement of the mythological tropes and nods in it.

Bhuvaneswar’s Gopi, moreover, is a terribly middling-man not unlike Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich. Both Gopi and Ilych are interested only in their own needs rather than those around them:

Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible…. At school he had done things which had formerly seemed to him very horrid and made him feel disgusted with himself when he did them; but when later on he saw that such actions were done by people of good position and that they did not regard them as wrong, he was able not exactly to regard them as right, but to forget about them entirely or not be at all troubled at remembering them…. (The Death of Ivan Ilych [c. 1886] II)

Ivan Ilych, as one in whose sphere the matter did not lie, would have nothing to do with him: but if the man had some business with him in his official capacity, something that could be expressed on officially stamped paper, he would do everything, positively everything he could within the limits of such relations, and in doing so would maintain the semblance of friendly human relations, that is, would observe the courtesies of life.(ibid III)

Meanwhile for Gopi:

The cane could have belonged to a wandering Buddhist ascetic with nothing but outstretched palms and a cheerful disposition to see him through old age. In contrast, Gopi was seething, tired, resentful…

As he ate, he flipped through the newspaper she had brought, fingering each page as he read, since each proved that Lakshmi [his wife] had been thinking of him, and not of Shree [their mentally disabled daughter], when she bought the paper.

Both Ilych and Gopi are what the Christian West might refer to as “lukewarm”:

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16, Authorised Version)

While at the end of his life, Ivan Ilyich has a realization and a route to possible redemption for his mostly wasted life, at the end of Gopi’s story, however, Bhuvaneswar shows him remaining trapped in a cycle of anger and fear.


Aug 19 2020

The Brave New World of Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America” (2019)

pencil shavings

I’m very excited to have The Fortnightly Review publish my essay review of Chris Arnade’s Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America (2019).

It covers not only Arnade but has plenty of Thoreau, Frederick Law Olmsted, James Agee and Walker Evans, William Least Heat-Moon, Samuel Johnson, Wesley Yang, Yuval Levin, Martin Buber, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


Aug 14 2020

This Monotony of Literature

Mortadella in Bologna, Italia

In light of having recently finished Václav Benda (1946-1999)’s essays, with its theories of a parallel polis, and amid my preparing to soon read some published works from NewPopLit and Screamin’ Skull Press–both recent and independent publishing endeavors which seem in line with at least some of Benda’s thinking regarding such a parallel polis and culture–I came across this poignant passage from Benjamin Jowett (1817–1893):

After about a hundred, or at most two hundred years if we exclude Homer, the genius of Hellas had ceased to flower or blossom. The dreary waste which follows, beginning with the Alexandrian writers and even before them in the platitudes of Isocrates and his school, spreads over much more than a thousand years. And from this decline the Greek language and literature, unlike the Latin, which has come to life in new forms and been developed into the great European languages, never recovered.

This monotony of literature, without merit, without genius and without character, is a phenomenon which deserves more attention than it has hitherto received; it is a phenomenon unique in the literary history of the world. How could there have been so much cultivation, so much diligence in writing, and so little mind or real creative power? Why did a thousand years invent nothing better than Sibylline books, Orphic poems, Byzantine imitations of classical histories, Christian reproductions of Greek plays, novels like the silly and obscene romances of Longus and Heliodorus, innumerable forged epistles, a great many epigrams, biographies of the meanest and most meagre description, a sham philosophy which was the bastard progeny of the union between Hellas and the East? Only in Plutarch, in Lucian, in Longinus, in the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Julian, in some of the Christian fathers are there any traces of good sense or originality, or any power of arousing the interest of later ages. And when new books ceased to be written, why did hosts of grammarians and interpreters flock in, who never attain to any sound notion either of grammar or interpretation? Why did the physical sciences never arrive at any true knowledge or make any real progress? Why did poetry droop and languish? Why did history degenerate into fable? Why did words lose their power of expression? Why were ages of external greatness and magnificence attended by all the signs of decay in the human mind which are possible?

Benjamin Jowett, “Introduction to Phaedrus,” The Dialogues of Plato in Five Volumes, Vol. I, trans. Jowett, (Oxford University Press, 1892; third edition revised and corrected) pp. 425–26.


Jul 30 2020

Remembering John Lewis

I recently returned to this; the author James Farmer (1920-1999) grew up in Austin, Texas, where I live:


Jul 19 2020

Short Story Review: “Coven Covets Boy” (2018) by John Elizabeth Stintzi

Mark Twain in Athens

In short, John Elizabeth Stintzi’s short story “Coven Covets Boy” (Puritan Magazine, March 2018) is an amazing piece of contemporary short fiction.

My amazement at such a work makes it difficult to write about it with sobriety. Compounding that difficulty is the sheer difficulty of the text itself. For, like Allen Dulles’s description of counterintelligence as a hallway of mirrors [sorry, I can’t find the citation]—or perhaps more readers are familiar with the climax of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973)–Stinzi’s text contains stories inside other stories. Here readers will find refractions of narratives running on multi-vector trajectories.

In “Coven Covets Boy” readers encounter characters (mis)interpreting and retelling facts and acts from daily, various high-school scenes, scenarios involving notebooks, diaries, “fieldbooks”–– scraps of stories overlapping and interwoven within one another, much in the tradition of Borges, Calvino, Derrida, Eco, and even Tokarczuk—all this, and Stintzi still manages to have a coherent, linear pulse beating underneath.

There are in this story people who forget they are characters in these scraps of micro-stories, while others are unaware—still others are willfully (sometimes manipulatively) aware of the many, sedimentary layers of narrative they and their peers are involved in.

This story merits multiple rereadings and offers much to working artists as well as casual readers.

Huzzah!

https://www.instagram.com/p/CCzZNvhFrl1/

Jun 30 2020

Short Story Review: “Animation” by Chris Dangle

pencil shavings

I once knew a writer in the mid-80s, one of nondenominational Christian songs, and about the only lyric I can now remember (for I was then but a child) is “my life’s a vapor.”

This writer was in his twenties then; he later died in his forties (some kind of cancer, I heard about it third- or fourth-handed years later). So, like some poets, his lyrics (or at least the one I remember) ended up being prophetic.

So, when part of your childhood mindset is “life’s a vapor,” carpe diem and all that, it is quite natural to be suspicious of something that calls itself “flash fiction.”

I used to think flash fiction was just a gimmick to lure Gen-Z readers and writers into the ever nonlucrative world of modern publishing.

And there is Hamlet’s remark that “brevity is the soul of wit,” but he may be mad when he says it, and besides, not all brief texts, whether fiction or otherwise, are witty.

All that being said, I’m willing to reconsider things after reading Chris Drangle’s “Animation” (Chattahoochee Review Spring 2018), for here one finds intense, interesting brevity.

Here is a barest-of-bones narrative told seamlessly (or perhaps one should say “without fracture”)—like James Thurber’s (1894–1961) “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” (1939), the Ficciones of Jorge Borges (1899–1986), and some of Kafka’s (1883–1924) parables.

I shall now be more receptive to this genre (and may sometimes admit that even I make mistakes.)