- The desire to manufacture and maintain happiness leads our culture, our society, our whatever to repeatedly perform contrived aesthetic scenarios.
- Happiness being, perhaps, a modern, or at least modernish, invention.
- Modernish affect.
- And happiness, we maybe telling ourselves, the goal, the telos, the whatever, of religion, politics, culture.
- Like many Americans, I have absolutely no idea what will make me happy.
- I know that happiness is not stable.
- One of Blake’s chimney sweepers remarks that because he is happy and dances and sings they (God/priest/king) are absolved from the belief that they’ve done him injury.
- Religion, or the practice and observance of religion, is the maintenance, repetition, and performance of contrived aesthetic scenarios.
- Months ago at a baptism I witnessed a man sway.
- The swayer swayed rhythmically: his eyes closed, his brow wrinkled, his mouth downturned in the pretense of ecstasy—he swayed to the guitar-strumming of an Episcopalian priest, who plucked and sang a song I’d never heard.
- The assembled witnesses mumbling through words of which they weren’t sure.
- (Or mute, glaring, like my brother, my father, myself).
- Later the priest reserved damning words for this world.
- (I’ve committed no details of the sermon to memory, but we may file the whole damn deal under “Platonic shadows of some other promised Real-to-Come“).
- And yet the backdrop of the whole affair—did I mention this baptism was outside?—this backdrop was the mighty north-flowing St Johns River, a beautiful spring day, hot, goddamn was it hot-–this backdrop was beautiful, ecstatically beautiful, the deep dark blue choppy river, so broad, coursed in the background, dotted with white sails—trees: announce them: cypress, sweetbay, oak—they swayed—or their branches swayed, their green leaves tickled in the occasional too-brief wind—the sky blazed azure, that’s the word we have, streaked with violent clouds (they were not fluffy)—birds flew—can I remember them, the birds? Let’s license my memory: let’s say white ibises beat past the spectacle, that black vultures hovered not too close. Let’s imagine limpkins and red-shouldered hawks, like the proud avian who lives in the oak across the street from me. Ospreys. Hell, throw in a bald eagle.
- The world, this world, which is to say this particular aesthetic arrangement had the potential to authorize happiness—and yet the man in black yapped on about its utter falseness, this world, this beautiful beautiful world.
- Emily Dickinson claimed to keep the Sabbath at home, by which I think she meant her back yard. Sounds nice there—the sermon is never long, and instead of getting to Heaven at last – you’re going, all along.
- (I had to preserve and repeat and maintain the aesthetics of Ms. Dickinson’s dash).
- I went and stood in the shade and tried to feel happy.
- But the man, the swaying man—his performance of ecstasy—all this, mixed with the sermon to spoil the happiness, which I probably enjoyed just as much—the which there referring to the feeling of feeling spoiled happiness, or rather the feeling of potential happiness spoiled.
- That the feeling of the feeling was as pure as it might be, mediated by Nature and its enemy Religion.
- And finding the man’s swaying performance so thoroughly unconvincing, having witnessed ecstasy my own damn self, at least once or even twice in thirty-five years.
- And maybe even experiencing ecstasy, its edges, its agony.
- (Ms. Dickinson reported that she liked a look of agony. Its truth).
- That ecstasy, or awe, or reverence, or pick your own synonym, because, hey, language is weak as usual, as always, as always-shall-be—language can’t pin down transcendence to a signifying utterance—where was I, am I?—that ecstasy might be pantomimed in the service of a service, of a system, of a religion—this is the shadow of happiness, the shadow of the ideal of happiness: the problem. The problem.
- I was never close enough to hear the infant’s cries, coos, wails, burbles, sounds, which she must have uttered—maybe she slept through the ordeal—but any sounds she made must have been the purest utterances at the occasion, the repetitions of Nature, still outside of the culture in which we had gathered to inscribe her.
- I wrote all this for me, not for you, not for anyone else—but let me end with the cloying sentimental jeering pretense that I wrote it for the baptized baby, a supporting character in this narrative, whose life I hope is mostly happy.
French for author, this term denotes a film director who makes the same film again and again and again.
A detailed list of the books from which the author plundered all his or her good ideas.
The rhetorical device of circumlocution can be seen by the reader or made evident to the reader when a writer chooses to compose phrases, clauses, or sentences that are inordinately complex, exaggerated, long-winded, or otherwise unnecessarily verbose in order to demonstrate, convey, show, or express an idea, image, or meaning that might have been demonstrated, conveyed, shown, or expressed via the use of shorter, simpler, more direct phrases, clauses, or sentences that demonstrate brevity.
Inexperienced writers, especially composition students, are advised to use circumlocution to pad their writing and meet the assigned word count.
A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about prescriptivists.
Telling without showing. Exposition can be extremely useful to the reader, who will slight the author who successfully employs it.
FREE INDIRECT STYLE
James Wood Approved!™
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A biography composed entirely of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies.
The funny dirty bits that make you feel clever.
Trade-specific diction employed (preferably clumsily) to confuse the average reader and offend the expert reader.
Early 21st-century reading device, often mistaken as a harbinger of literary doom.
An adverb that most often means figuratively.
The most enduring—and therefore most true—kind of story.
A writer’s ability to just chill and not know. (Also useful for lazy frauds).
OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about descriptivists.
The story-teller’s scheme. Make it up as you go along. Steal as necessary.
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
An adjective used to describe a literary work that is not quite as good as anything by W.G. Sebald.
A work often mistaken as more serious or more important or more literary than a comedy.
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A specific type of lucidity that authors sometimes use.
The emotional byproduct of attempting to maintain comforting, nebulous fantasies.
A stop-gap for bouts of Weltschmerz.
Zyzzyva is a real word, and this fact should give us all some small measure of hope..
- Walking down the street—a windy night, a blustery night, the last remnant of winter poking into new spring—walking with my family, I ran into my former cat. My wife coaxed him from the brick home five doors down the road, where he has lived for the last three years, or maybe habited is the word, browner, fatter than I remember him when I remember him. He ran up and bit me. I burst into tears.
- The time I called my parents, weaving home from the izakaya–It must be daytime, the supper hour, back at home in Florida, yes?—asking after my father, my brother, my grandmother, my childhood dog, how was she, her health, etc.? The lie in my mother’s voice. Stumbling in tears back to my tiny apartment. I missed the train.
- (I missed the train on purpose so that I could cry on the long walk home).
- On our bed, our old bed, a slimmish bed, tickling my wife, my fingers all over her beautiful young body, her laughter, shrieks, protest, delight. Our cat—our kitten—how he dashed in and bit me all over, viciously, striking like some other animal, like one might imagine a cobra or a weasel would strike. My hand, my arm, my shoulder. That I had a genuine wound there. Blood. My wife calming him, explaining him. Sweethearts.
- When my mother brought home the dog, a border collie, a beautiful black and white border collie—no, her name, I can’t share that, I can’t—me, twelve, furious, trembling even, walking into the neighbors’ yard, away, the dog, her, she, the dog in our garage, my younger brother petting her, my father suspicious, but me—Why so angry?
- I loved the dog. So much. She was the best.
- A few years ago, finding a picture of my dog, a puppy still, wet, in a bathtub of a house I lived in twice, finding the picture in the pages of a book, handing it to my daughter, who asked after the dog, her condition, name, whereabouts, etc., concerned, an edge or shade of protocol in her voice.
- That picture now tacked to my daughter’s wall on a corkboard reserved for such tackings.
- The cat—how he jumped into my daughter’s crib, curled about her. How it frightened us.
- He was never the same after the daughter, or we were never the same, an understatement, an obvious, obvious understatement, of course.
- He went to wander a bit, stroll in the world; he failed to return at nights. He took up with an orange tabby, a dusty bland beast my wife dubbed Pearly.
- A ridiculous name for a cat.
- And then I took to feeding them both. On the porch.
- There were other dogs after the dog I loved. A chow, a beagle that couldn’t keep up. What happened to them?
- The cat took residency under the house. He refused to move in. He was some kind of scrapper now. We might see him of an evening, curled on the porch, nestled, maybe, with dust-orange Pearly.
- But he stopped coming in.
- What happened to my dog? The details? I don’t know. This is still a sore spot, but I seem to refuse to ask.
- (I suppose I enjoy a sore spot, a wound to worry).
- The cat did not like my daughter, I think, and when we had the son, well, I know he didn’t like that. He made it clear. But we subscribe to a fiction wherein the cat loved the children and the children loved the cat.
- My daughter has a sweet little framed photo of my cat. He is curled snugly (is there another way for a cat to curl?) in a little wicker basket atop a kitchen cabinet in our old home. My daughter insisted on keeping the photo when I went to throw it away.
- Every person, or most persons, that is, most folks—-most folks love their dogs and like their dogs and will say of a dog they like and love: He was a good dog. But my dog! My dog was a very good dog, a smart dog, a dog of impeccable training. My father, returning from years of work overseas to a few months of not working (overseas or otherwise)—my father he trained the beast. It was his project.
- (I say, I write, My dog, knowing goddamn well that that dog was my father’s dog).
- Returning home from a week in the Smoky Mountains, unable to locate my cat. A miasma about the backporch. Flies, that dead-animal smell that permeates the nostrils, the brain. Finding a raccoon corpse under the house, its body bloated but whole, vile, large and swollen. Discarding it in a series of trash bags.
- Its fur was the same color as my cat’s fur.
- The strange joy when my cat arrived two days later, his feet trotting down the pavement, sauntering even, arriving on the porch indifferent to my delight but hungry.
- That he had taken up first with a possum, and then a raccoon.
- The first time I suspected the affair was when I heard the strange crunch of a new jaw crunching on my cat’s own food—a louder, drier crunch. I made myself, hollered, arms above head, chest-thrust, Hey raccoon—off the porch!
- But that furred trio just stared at me, knowing I’d go on feeding them as I had been, all Darwinian competition suspended by domestic tendencies, blinking in a series.
- How horrifying!
- And yet and still—my children, via the designs and tendencies of my wife and me—don’t they turn woodland creatures into anthropomorphic totems? Don’t they squeeze stuffed dolls? Draw and mold and paint forest friends? Make stories about such beasts?
- I can’t believe for a minute that the dog would’ve taken to such nocturnal company, nor would her sweet heart spurn my babies for night adventures.
- But who knows.
- My parents now live with an awful yapping terrier dog, his two rows of teeth set above his rotten beard, and above that mutant jaw, his eyes skewed, akimbo, their colors mismatched.
- There is a picture of my cat, or the cat that I am calling my cat who is so plainly now his own cat—there is a picture of that cat in the crib with my daughter. In the picture, both cat and daughter face the camera, the crib horizontal to the viewer, its vertical white bars framing the pair. The cat’s head intersects with the daughter’s head, occluding half her face from the viewer’s view.
- This picture horrified my daughter.
- (And perhaps signaled a sense of self, or, more importantly, or more significantly, or just plain more interestingly, the sense that there was a self that could be occluded, obstructed, obscured, incomplete).
- My wife and I, repeatedly testing our daughter’s reaction to the photo, varying times of day, situations, etc., in order to observe her reaction.
- (I almost used the verb gauge for observe but oh my that would be so dishonest, yes?).
- Anyway, it horrified this little girl, moved her to tears, gasping, this cat’s head blocking half of her head.
- With the dog I don’t know what happened, not really: She was old; her hips were bad, we had to put her down. There’s no image there, just the sound of my mother’s voice passing through some 7,000 miles, telling me that she—the dog—was dead. Or not to tell me, but rather to avoid telling me.
- But I do know what happened to the cat.
- Here’s what happened to the cat: We moved—not far—from a colorful, lively, urban neighborhood, to an old old suburb of that early urban plot. We moved.
- And he was an afterthought, the cat—with his roving, his adventures, he was hard to pin down, to catch in a carrier, a box. I’d tried to coax him and trap him and chase him over a few weeks, but in the thin interval between buying the new house and moving into the new house and selling the old house—well I couldn’t get him, grab him, hold him.
- Until I finally did. I engineered (the verb here is too kind) a trap of sorts, bating him with the food, constructing a perimeter, waiting. Pearly showed himself (he knew he was not wanted), but my cat was far slippier. But I waited. And I nabbed him: In a carrier purposed for cats and then into a big box and then into the back of my station wagon and then howling for five or six or seven minutes as we traveled, not far, but over a short, old bridge, into our new old neighborhood, his howling yelping shrieking raising my anxiety about the whole thing, his rustling fury palpable in acute waves from the rear of the car, my voice which could not even call him to me under the brightest of conditions in no way alleviating any of this and so yes of course the first thing I did when I got to the new old house was to open the hatchback, open the box, pull out the carrier, and try to grip the cat who yes of course sprang down (like a cat!) onto the unfamiliar concrete drive, hunting perhaps a crawlspace to crawl into, sensing none, none, none what to do what to do?
- And then he ran away.
- Sinbad the Sailor
- Tinbad the Tailor
- Jinbad the Jailer
- Whinbad the Whaler
- Ninbad the Nailer
- Finbad the Failer
- Binbad the Bailer
- Pinbad the Pailer
- Minbad the Mailer
- Hinbad the Hailer
- Rinbad the Railer
- Dinbad the Kailer
- Vinbad the Quailer
- Linbad the Yailer
- Xinbad the Phthailer
Didactic extended metaphor, best enjoyed amorally.
The sordid and lurid details of an author’s life; use as a critical rubric if the author’s work seems beyond comprehension.
Mixed or imprecise metaphor. When an author stretches her words like taffy across the loom of meaning.
DEATH OF THE NOVEL
Declare the novel dead every few weeks. Resuscitate as necessary.
Originally used to denote lengthy narrative works concerning serious subjects, this term may now be applied freely to modify failure, coffee, tacos, kittens, etc.
An inventive and imaginative style of fiction eschewed and denigrated by serious readers and writers.
Poetry composed in the secret language of garden gnomes, inaudible to mortal ears.
Defining common characteristic of all politicians.
Dominant mode of much of 21st century communication (including, lamentably, this list).
Hyperbole used to describe lengthy works of contemporary authors. Use to disappoint potential readers.
Circumlocution of meaning. E.g. “feed the eagle” for “kill,” “battle-sweat” for “blood,” “tube of garbage” for “internet.”
Poetry about lions.
Each reader’s personal misunderstanding of the meaning of a work of literature.
What your father reads.
A solipsistic bid for attention delivered under the pretense of reaching out to another entity.
Use to describe any work of literature set outside of a city.
A false clue employed by an author to distract the reader. A novel where all points of evidence are red herrings (preferable) is a shaggy dog story.
Grab bag of theories you learned in college.
Elevate any degraded work of pop culture by repeating it twice. Reboot as necessary.
This narrator cannot be depended upon to pick you up from the airport, water your plants while you’re away, meet you on time for a beer or coffee, return small loans, etc.
Indicative of literature of the prudish, uptight Victorian Era. Famous Victorian works include Venus in Furs, The Pearl, and The Lustful Turk.
Twentieth-century philosopher. Quote the first and last lines of his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus frequently (don’t worry about reading anything in between).
Fear of warrior princesses.
The pinnacle of contemporary criticism.
The list ended with zeugma and disappointment.
A concise, often witty, turn of phrase that should be shared out of context on Twitter or Pinterest.
Novel where someone (preferably male) matures into the ideal state of bitter disillusionment.
Evocation of fear and pity. Best exemplified in modern storytelling by Lifetime Network original movies.
A form of textual analysis. No one knows what it means. Apply liberally.
Use to describe any French novel of the 20th century. Serve with coffee and cigarettes.
First, Outer, Inner, Last.
Deride genre fiction at all times. If a writer uses genre tropes, praise her for genre bending. (See LITERARY FICTION).
Use to describe any big ambitious novel that does not meet your aesthetic and/or moral needs.
All poetry is composed in iambic pentameter.
A writer’s immature work, which she usually (wisely) withholds from publication. After the writer dies, every scrap should be published, scrutinized, and passed around the internet out of context.
Synonym for “odd.” Apply freely.
A genre of fiction that pretends not to be a genre. What your book club is reading this month.
Use to describe any novel by a South American writer.
Use structuralist techniques to analyze narrative plots—and watch the kids go wild! Narratology is the number one thing the audience of a book review is interested in.
All heroes must be orphans.
Use this term liberally in any discussion of modern politics. Pairs well with film studies courses.
A form of literary analysis that conveniently begins with the letter “Q,” making it ideal for silly alphabetized lists like this one.
A character portrayed in psychological and emotional depth to the degree that she comes alive in your imagination. Round characters provide an excellent alternative to making meaningful human relationships.
Use to describe the style of any writer from the Southern part of the United States.
A tautology is a tautology.
Synonym for dystopia. Argue about its pronunciation, indicating that you understand the complexities of Greek prefixes.
A genre of books that sells well in airports.
Beloved warrior princess. Look, x is hard, okay?
The original sad bastard; he invented emo.
Time’s ghost. You’re soaking in it, which makes it hard to see.
- 10,000 BC
- Ishmael & Queequeg
- Father Mapple & Jonah
- Bildad & Peleg
- Starbuck, Stubb & Flask
- Queequeg, Tashtego & Daggoo
- Starbuck & Queequeg
- Stubb & Tashtego
- Flask & Daggoo
- Stubb & Cook
- Steelkilt & Radney
- Moby Dick
- Ahab & Starbuck
- Ahab & Pip
- Ahab & Fedallah
- Ahab & Carpenter
- Ahab & Perth
- Ahab & Gardiner
- Ahab & Moby Dick
- Robert Walser
- Franz Kafka
- Henry Miller
- Thomas Bernhard
- David Markson
- Renata Adler
- W.G. Sebald
- Lydia Davis
- Ben Marcus
From the entry “All Subjects with Fresán,” in Bolaño’s collection Between Parentheses, a list of stuff the late writer talked about with his good friend, which includes (as usual) plenty of references to writers, poets, directors—and some funny jokes as well. Read part of Fresán’s essay “The Savage Detective” – it was the piece that first got me to go pick up a Bolaño. Here’s the list—
1) The Latin American hell that, especially on weekends, is concentrated around some Kentucky Fried Chicken or McDonald’s.
2) The doings of Buenos Aires photographer Alfredo Garofano, childhood friend of Rodrigo and how a friend of mine and of anyone with the least bit of discernment.
3) Bad translations.
4) Serial killers and mass murders.
5) Prospective leisure as the antidote to prospective poetry.
6) The vast number of writers who should retire after writing their first book or their second or their third or their fourth or their fifth.
7) The superiority of the work of Basquiat to that of Haring, or vice versa.
8 ) The works of Borges and the works of Bioy.
9) The advisability of retiring to a ranch in Mexico near a volcano to finish writing The Turkey Buzzard Trilogy.
10) Wrinkles in the space time continuum.
11) The kind of majestic women you’ve never met who come up to you in a bar and whisper in your ear that they have AIDS (or that they don’t).
12) Gombrowicz and his conception of immaturity.
13) Philip K. Dick, whom we both unreservedly admire.
14) The likelihood of a war between Chile and Argentina and its possible and impossible consequences.
15) The life of Proust and the life of Stendhal.
16) The activities of some professors in the United States.
17) The sexual practices of titi monkeys and ants and great cetaceans.
18) Colleagues who must be avoided like limpet mines.
19) Ignacio Echevarria, whom both of us love and admire.
20) Some Mexican writers liked by me and not by him, and some Argentine writers like by me and not by him.
21) Barcelonan manners.
22) David Lynch and the prolixity of David Foster Wallace.
23) Chabon and Palahniuk, whom he likes and I don’t.
24) Wittgenstein and his plumbing and carpentry skills.
25) Some twilit dinners, which actually, to the surprise of the diner, become theater pieces in five acts.
26) Trashy TV game shows.
27) The end of the world.
28) Kubrick’s films, which Fresán loves so much that I’m beginning to hate them.
29) The incredible war between the planet of the novel-creatures and the planet of the story beings.
30) The possibility that when the novel awakes from its iron dreams, the story will be there.