Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp (Book acquired, 12.04.2014)

IMG_4135.JPG

Bolaño’s Antwerp. Found it today at the bookstore. I was there picking up a book I’d ordered as a present for someone else. Honest.
Antwerp is Bolaño’s first novel and it’s not particularly great, but I didn’t own it up until now, and I guess I’m a completist nerd, and this New Directions clothbound edition is beautiful, so…
IMG_4136.JPG

About these ads

Young Woman Reading in the Garden — Henri Lebasque

A Shut Book Is Just a Block — Amandine Alessandra

916011233767581

December — Djuna Barnes

IMG_4121.JPG

The Reading Girl — Marie-Augustin Zwiller

Making Nice (Book Acquired, Some Time in Early November)

IMG_4022

Matt Summell’s debut is Making Nice. Christine Schutt compares it to Barry Hannah and James Dickey. Keep meaning to dip into it. Publisher Henry Holt’s blurb:

A gut-punch of a debut about love, grief, and family; the arrival of a brilliant, infectious new voice for our age

In Matt Sumell’s blazing first book, our hero Alby flails wildly against the world around him—he punches his sister (she deserved it), “unprotectos” broads (they deserved it and liked it), gets drunk and picks fights (all deserved), defends defenseless creatures both large and small, and spews insults at children, slow drivers, old ladies, and every single surviving member of his family. In each of these stories Alby distills the anguish, the terror, the humor, and the strange grace—or lack of—he experiences in the aftermath of his mother’s death. Swirling at the center of Alby’s rage is a grief so big, so profound, it might swallow him whole. As he drinks, screws, and jokes his way through his pain and heartache, Alby’s anger, his kindness, and his capacity for good bubble up when he (and we) least expect it. Sumell delivers “a naked rendering of a heart sorting through its broken pieces to survive.*”

Making Nice is a powerful, full-steam-ahead ride that will keep you laughing even as you try to catch your breath; a new classic about love, loss, and the fine line between grappling through grief and fighting for (and with) the only family you’ve got.

 

Young Woman Reading — Marie-Augustin Zwiller

Readers (Guardian Cover) — Tom Gauld

tumblr_nftj4fswTi1rwkrdbo1_1280

Young Woman Reading — Charles-Guillaume Steuben

charlesguillaumeSteuben17881856_thum

J.G. Ballard’s “The Subliminal Man,” John Carpenter’s They Live, and Black Friday

Today is Black Friday in America. I don’t think it’s necessary to remark at length on the bizarre disjunction between this exercise in consumerism-as-culture and the intended spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday that precedes it. Indeed, I think that the cognitive dissonance that underwrites Black Friday—the compulsion to suffer (and cause suffering), both physically and mentally,  to “save” money on “consumer goods” (sorry for all the scare quotes, but these terms are euphemisms and must be placed under suspicion)—I think that this cognitive dissonance is nakedly apparent to all who choose to (or are forced to) actively engage in Black Friday. The name itself is dark, ominous, wonderfully satanic.

Rereading “The Subliminal Man,” I was struck by how presciently J.G. Ballard anticipated not only the contours of consumerist culture—urban sprawl, a debt-based economy, the mechanization of leisure, the illusion of freedom of choice—but also how closely he intuited the human, psychological responses to the consumerist society he saw on the horizon. Half a century after its publication, “The Subliminal Man” seems more relevant than ever.

The premise of the tale is fairly straightforward and fits neatly with the schema of many other early Ballard stories: Franklin, an overworked doctor, is approached by Hathaway, a “crazy beatnik,” who refuses to take part in the non-stop consumerism of contemporary society. Hathaway can “see” the subliminal messages sent through advertising. He asks for Franklin’s help in stopping the spread of these messages. Hathaway reasons that the messages are intended to enforce consumerist society:

Ultimately we’ll all be working and spending twenty–four hours a day, seven days a week. No one will dare refuse. Think what a slump would mean – millions of lay–offs, people with time on their hands and nothing to spend it on. Real leisure, not just time spent buying things . . .

The fear of a slump. You know the new economic dogmas. Unless output rises by a steady inflationary five per cent the economy is stagnating. Ten years ago increased efficiency alone would raise output, but the advantages there are minimal now and only one thing is left. More work. Subliminal advertising will provide the spur.

Franklin is unconvinced, even though he is already working Saturdays and Sunday mornings to payoff TVs, radios, and other electronic goods that he and his wife replace every few months. Soon, however, he realizes that something is wrong:

He began his inventory after hearing the newscast, and discovered that in the previous fortnight he and Judith had traded in their Car (previous model 2 months old) 2 TV sets (4 months) Power mower (7 months) Electric cooker (5 months) Hair dryer (4 months) Refrigerator (3 months) 2 radios (7 months) Record player (5 months) Cocktail bar (8 months)

Franklin finally sees the truth, but only after Hathaway takes to blowing up signs’ switch boxes (the word “terrorism” is of course not used in the text, although it surely would be today):

Then the flicker of lights cleared and steadied, blazing out continuously, and together the crowd looked up at the decks of brilliant letters. The phrases, and every combination of them possible, were entirely familiar, and Franklin knew that he had been reading them for weeks as he passed up and down the expressway.

BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NOW BUY NEW CAR NOW NEW CAR NOW NEW CAR NOW

YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

Like many Ballard stories, “The Subliminal Man” ends on a pessimistic note, with Franklin choosing to ignore his brief enlightenment and give in. Ballard drives his criticism home in the final image of the story, with Franklin and his wife heading out to shop:

They walked out into the trim drive, the shadows of the signs swinging across the quiet neighbourhood as the day progressed, sweeping over the heads of the people on their way to the supermarket like the blades of enormous scythes.

“The Subliminal Man” offers a critique of consumerism that John Carpenter would make with more humor, violence, and force in his 1988 film They Live. In Carpenter’s film, the hero John Nada (played by Roddy Piper) finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see through the ads, billboards, and other commercials he’s exposed. What’s underneath? Naked consumerism:

they-live-billboard

The images here recall the opening lines of “The Subliminal Man”: ‘The signs, Doctor! Have you seen the signs?’ Like Ballard’s story, Carpenter’s film is about waking up, to seeing the controlling messages under the surface.

In his film The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, Slavoj Žižek offers a compelling critique of just how painful it is to wake up to these messages:

 

It’s worth pointing out that Carpenter offers a far more optimistic vision than Ballard. Ballard’s hero gives in—goes back to sleep, shuts his eyes. Carpenter’s hero Nada resists the subliminal messages—he actually takes up arms against them. This active resistance is possible because Carpenter allows his narrative an existential escape hatch: In They Live, there are real, genuine bad guys, body-snatching ugly-assed aliens—others that have imposed consumerism on humanity to enslave them. That’s the big trick to They Live: It’s not us, it’s them.

Ballard understands that there is no them; indeed, even as the story skirts around the idea of a conspiracy to dupe consumers into cycles of nonstop buying, working, and disposing, it never pins that conspiracy on any individual or group. There’s no attack on corporations or government—there’s not even a nebulous “them” or “they” that appears to have controlling agency in “The Subliminal Man.” Rather, Ballard’s story posits ideology as the controlling force, with the only escape a kind of forced suicide.

I don’t think that those who engage in consumerism-as-sport, in shopping-as-a-feeling are as blind as Ballard or Carpenter represent. I think they are aware. Hell, they enjoy it. What I think Ballard and Carpenter (and others, of course) really point to is the deep dissatisfaction that many of us feel with this dominant mode of life. For Ballard, we have resistance in the form of the beatnik Hathaway, an artist, a creator, a person who can perceive what real leisure would mean. For Carpenter, Nada is the resister—an outsider, a loner, a weirdo too. It’s somehow far more satisfying to believe that those who engage in spectacle consumerism are brainwashed by aliens than it is to have to come to terms with the notion that these people are acting through their own agency, of their own will and volition. Happy shopping everyone!

Ed. note: Biblioklept published a version of this post last year. It is offered again now in the spirit of Thanksgiving leftovers.

Bird Alkonost — Ivan Bilibin

A Bunch of Literary Recipes

Enjoy Thanksgiving with this menu of literary recipes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Twelve Ways

Gordon Lish’s Chicken Soup

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

Ian McEwan’s Fish Stew

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Herman Melville’s Whale Steaks

Ernest Hemingway’s Absinthe Cocktail, Death in the Afternoon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque

Thomas Pynchon’s Banana Breakfast

Cormac McCarthy’s Turtle Soup

Robert Crumb’s Macaroni Casserole

Truman Capote’s Caviar-Smothered Baked Potatoes with 80-Proof Russian Vodka

Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

Willam Faulkner’s Hot Toddy

Christmas Bonus:  George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding

Parents Just Don’t Understand — Dave MacDowell

3349882932_48b13c087a_o

The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another into good citizenship (Mary Douglas)

Pollution ideas work in the life of society at two levels, one largely instrumental, one expressive. At the first level, the more obvious one, we find people trying to influence one another’s behavior. Beliefs reinforce social pressures: all the powers of the universe are called in to guarantee an old man’s dying wish, a mother’s dignity, the rights of the weak and innocent. Political power is usually held precariously and primitive rulers are no exception. So we find their legitimate pretensions backed by beliefs in extraordinary powers emanating from their persons, from the insignia of their office or from the words they can utter. Similarly the ideal order of society is guarded by dangers which threaten transgressors. These danger-beliefs are as much threats which one man uses to coerce another as dangerous which he himself fears to incur by his own lapses from righteousness. They are a strong language of mutual exhortation. At this level the laws of nature are dragged in to sanction the moral code: this kind of disease is caused by adultery, that by incest; this meteorological disaster is the effect of political disloyalty, that the effect of impiety. The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another into good citizenship. Thus we find that certain moral values are upheld and certain social roles defined by beliefs and dangerous contagion, as when the glance or touch of an adulterer is held to bring illness to his neighbors or his children.

From Mary Douglas’s study of pollution and taboo, Purity and Danger.

Nurturer — Mindy Kober

nurturer

Liberace You Sneaky SOB — Eirc Yahnker

2013_Liberace_You_Sneaky_SOB3_15x12

The Vorrh (Book Acquired, 11.13.2014)

IMG_4020

Brian Catling’s historical-fantasy novel The Vorrh is getting a U.S. publication next year from Vintage. I’m thinking that the actual cover will be that image on the upperish-mid-left side of the back cover of the uncorrected proof I got. Vintage also send this neat little string-bound teaser that consists of Alan Moore’s gushing introduction to The Vorrh and an interview with Catling. The cover is one of Catlin’s paintings.

Vintage’s blurb:

The Vorrh follows a brilliant cast of characters through a parallel Africa where fact, fiction, and fantasy collide. Tsungali, a native marksman conscripted by the colonial authorities–against whom he once led a revolt–is on the hunt for an English bowman named Williams. Williams has made it his mission to become the first human to traverse the Vorrh, a vast forest at the edge of the colonial city of Essenwald. The Vorrh is endless, eternal; a place of demons and angels. Sentient, oppressive, and magical, the Vorrh can bend time and wipe a person’s memory. Between the hunter and the hunted are Ishmael, a curious and noble Cyclops raised by Bakelite robots; the evil Dr. Hoffman, who punishes the son of a servant by surgically inverting his hands; and the slave owner MacLeish, who drives his workers to insanity, only to pay the ultimate price. Along with these fictional creations, Brian Catling mixes in historical figures, including surrealist Raymond Roussel and photographer and Edward Muybridge.  In this author’s  hands none of this seems exotic or fantastical. It all simply is.

Woman Reading (Detail) — Gustave Caillebotte

detail

Jon McNaught’s Dockwood (Book Acquired, 11.21.2014)

IMG_4027

Jon McNaught’s Dockwood. From Nobrow. It’s beautiful. Full review forthcoming.
IMG_4028

IMG_4030