Marcus’ ability to create a situation and then to negate it fills (or rather un-fills) the book. An American, unlike a European, is likely to describe themselves first, even before they say they are an American, a Jew, from Los Angeles, that they are what they do for money. In Marcus’s book they are bankers, music critics, and secretaries. If you ask an European who she is, she is likely, reluctantly to be offended and then tell you where she is from, that is where she was born and went to school. Unlike where someone is from, a job title is another form of encapsulation. A person can be a banker, music critic, or secretary in San Francisco, New York, or Prague. Where they are from is like a resume, Americans alter it to suit their present needs. What they do can be carried with them like a suitcase. Answering that they are a music critic when someone asks them who they are is as useful as holding up their suitcase when someone asks them what they are bringing on the trip.
Archive | June, 2009
I have two reviews in the just released issue of The Raven Chronicles. Of Carol Guess’s book from Rose Metal Press, I wrote, “Tinderbox Lawn is a haunting and beautifully written book and
presents an eerily accurate image of relationships in Seattle.” About John Olson’s first novel, from Quale Press, “Souls of Wind sneakily answers the central mystery of why Rimbaud gave up poetry. In the United States, [Rimbaud] can practice the inarticulate American poetry of turning a buck.”
This is from Shoot the Buffalo.
At dusk yesterday I was tired of reading. I’ve been reading a great deal, and I was tired of reading and it was dusk. At dusk cool air from Puget Sound, about a half mile away and out of view of my house drifts across the lawns. It seemed like kelp and saltwater. I sat on my lawn and played a game of chess with the computer. At first, I had set the game of chess to an easy setting and even at the easing setting I lost the first several games and then I began to win. The computer would make strange mistakes as if it were throwing the game. I set the game to a moderate level and one the first two games, and have not won since. I continue to play the game. The computer is unrelenting and flawless in its execution of strategies. I sat on the lawn while I played the computer. It grew darker and darker. I posted a not on twitter about the smell of Puget Sound because I enjoyed it and something about the smell of seawater, and the damp lawn seemed completely the opposite of twitter. And then after I tweeted, I noticed someone saying about how everyone liked or didn’t like something, and I realized that the measurement of the value a mob places is something is called sentiment and that sentiment is not criticism. The mob is usually kind of wrong and usually vaguely right about the things it likes. The mob is fickle and easily districted. The mob is compulsive. A critic isn’t these things, or usually isn’t these things. I don’t mean the kind of critic who gives a movie an A or C plus like they are an adjunct professor grading compositions, but a critic who engages with things and tries to understand the individual response to something that is often the product of another individual sensibility. A book or movie or LP seems like such a weird way of communicating when instead a person can just write a letter. Instead, they are doing something that is not writing a letter, and is something else. A critic, one who refuses to give grades, I think can be a useful guide. I’m reading a biography of Andre Breton which is written in the drab, factual way of a “the big biography” and it seems very useful for someone like Andre Breton. I’m also reading a biography written in the same style about Donald Barthelme. This is less useful. I’m unsure how an admired professional class such a creative professor can produce radical anything, and instead this book affirms that Donald Barthelme isn’t really radical but instead a kind of groovy stylist. Bartheleme doesn’t really believe that an individual book can change the world. Breton at least seems to think it there might be a possibility of it that maybe a book can cure the world. I don’t know whether that is wishful thinking or delusional, but I know for me that I have found a single short story to be something that has altered my way of thinking. I wonder if it is possible for a single work to change the sentiment of the mob, to make them not have a sentimental at all but for the mob to change. I tried to tell the mob what it smelled like in my yard yesterday. And here I am trying to tell you. The dusk, the repeated pattern of the cool air filtering up from Puget Sound, evening after evening was reassuring because tomorrow it would be bright outside, the air would hold strands of cotton from the cottonwood trees in the greenbelt behind my house, but it would all settle again into the cool blue odor of brine and kelp.