Unidentified participant: This is a question about writing in general. I think maybe you just answered it, but they say until Hawthorne came along that there were two ways to construct a story: either start with the characters and then a plot, or start with a plot and make up your characters, and they say that Hawthorne started with the idea and invented both. And I wonder, I know there’s no one formula to producing a story, but I just wonder where you start most often and what you feel is most important, what pattern you [have worked out] to use?
William Faulkner: Three methods you just stated, all will work but—but none—neither or none are more important than the others, and no one can say just what method the story demands. Apparently there’s something inside the man or the woman that must be—be told, must be written. It could be an anecdote. It could be a character. It could be an idea, but I don’t think you could say which system to—or which pattern to assume in order to—to create a story or a book.
Unidentified participant: You have no favorite pattern? It just depends on the individual—?
William Faulkner: That’s right, that’s right. It could be an anecdote. The Sound and the Fury came out of an anecdote, a picture of a—a little girl, the muddy seat of her drawers when she climbed the tree to look in a parlor window, and that’s—the book came from that.
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner
William Faulkner: Sir.
Unidentified participant: In The Sound and the Fury, the first three sections of that book are narrated by one of the—of the four Compson children, and in view of the fact that Caddy figures so prominently, is there any particular reason why you didn’t have a section with—giving her views or impressions of what went on?
William Faulkner: That’s a good question. That—the explanation of that whole book is in that. It began with the—the picture of the—the little girl’s muddy drawers, climbing that tree to look in the parlor window with her brothers that didn’t have the courage to climb the tree waiting to see what she saw. and I tried first to tell it with one brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section One. I tried with another brother, and that wasn’t enough. That was Section Two. I tried the third brother, because Caddy was still to me too beautiful and too moving to—to reduce her to telling what was going on, that it would be more—more passionate to see her through somebody else’s eyes, I thought. And that failed, and I tried myself, the fourth section, to tell what happened, and I still failed. [audience laughter] So—
Unidentified participant: Mr. Faulkner, when you wrote this, did you have it thought out beforehand, the whole sequences, or did they sort of evolve as you wrote it?
William Faulkner: It evolved as I wrote it. It began with the picture, as I said, of—of the little girl climbing the tree to tell her brothers what was going on in the room where the grandmother’s funeral was taking place, and the rest grew from that.
Pap got up a good hour before daylight and caught the mule and rid down to Killegrews’ to borrow the froe and maul. He ought to been back with it in forty minutes. But the sun had rose and I had done milked and fed and was eating my breakfast when he got back, with the mule not only in a lather but right on the edge of the thumps too.
“Fox hunting,” he said. “Fox hunting. A seventy-year-old man, with both feet and one knee, too, already in the grave, squatting all night on a hill and calling himself listening to a fox race that he couldn’t even hear unless they had come up onto the same log he was setting on and bayed into his ear trumpet. Give me my breakfast,” he told maw. “Whitfield is standing there right this minute, straddle of that board tree with his watch in his hand.”
And he was. We rid on past the church, and there was not only Solon Quick’s school-bus truck but Reverend Whitfield’s old mare too. We tied the mule to a sapling and hung our dinner bucket on a limb, and with pap toting Killegrew’s froe and maul and the wedges and me toting our ax, we went on to the board tree where Solon and Homer Bookwright, with their froes and mauls and axes and wedges, was setting on two upended cuts, and Whitfield was standing jest like pap said, in his boiled shirt and his black hat and pants and necktie, holding his watch in his hand. It was gold and in the morning sunlight it looked big as a full-growed squash.
“You’re late,” he said.
So pap told him again about how Old Man Killegrew had been off fox hunting all night, and nobody at home to lend him the froe but Mrs. Killegrew and the cook. And naturally, the cook wasn’t going to lend none of Killegrew’s tools out, and Mrs. Killegrew was worser than deaf than even Killegrew. If you was to run in and tell her the house was afire, she would jest keep on rocking and say she thought so, too,[audience laughter] unless she began to holler back to the cook to turn the dogs loose before you could even open your mouth.
James Joyce’s Ulysses might seem like a prohibitively difficult book, but it’s not as hard to read as its reputation suggests. There are any number of strategies for tackling the great tome (although enjoying or experiencing are more fitting verbs here), but one that many readers might overlook is listening to an audio recording.
I’ve tried a few audio versions of Ulysses, and none can hold a candle to RTÉ’s 1982 full cast production. I reviewed it a few years ago, and wrote:
I listened to, absorbed, choked up at, guffawed about, cackled around, and generally loved RTÉ’s 1982 dramatized, soundtracked, sound-effected, lovingly detailed recording of Ulysses, a work crammed with voices to match (if perhaps not equal) Joyce’s big fat work. This recording is not as widely available as LibriVox’s (free) full cast production or Jim Norton’s Naxos reading, but, after sampling both, I’d argue that it’s better. The Irish players bring sensitivity and humor to their roles, but beyond that pathos, the energy of RTÉ’s troupe is what really makes the book sing. Leopold Bloom gets his own voice, as does Stephen Dedalus and Molly (and all the characters). This innovation propels the narrative forward with dramatic power, and clarifies the oh-so indirectness of Joyce’s free indirect style, making the plot’s pitfalls and pratfalls more distinct and defined. There are songs (and dances) and music (and musing) and humming (and hemming and hawing and reverb). There is chanting and chawing and brouhaha. There is chaos and calamity and confusion. There is brilliance and peace and transcendence. It’s all very good, great, wonderful.
You can listen to and/or download the production here (big thanks to reader Eve for sending the link in!).
W.G. Sebald talks with Michael Silverblatt on KCRW’s Bookworm show. (Yes, the podcast is almost a decade old, but I’d never heard it before; it was recorded just days before Sebald’s death in an automobile accident).
Hey. Do yourself a favor and listen to Iambik’s first podcast, a raucous, rambling conversation with legendary editor/short story author Gordon Lish. I finally got around to listening to the discussion between Lish and his publisher John Oakes. (Why the delay? I’ve been listening to and very much enjoying another Iambik recording, an audiobook of Lydia Millet’s Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, and I needed to get to a decent stopping place before the Lish (review of the Millet forthcoming)) . I had already listened to Lish reading a selection of his own stories which was nine kinds of awesome (thanks again to the good folks at Iambik, whose hooking me up with the sweet mp3age has in no way affected my fondness for their operation (review of the Lish selections forthcoming)).
Hearing Lish in this conversational, easy manner is revelatory. Wise and funny, erudite and crafty, you’ll learn something and be entertained:
What does he talk about? I’ll crib from Iambikist Miette’s write-up, which hardly sums it up but does a nice job of surveying the discussion–
In the first part of the conversation, Lish covers Beckett’s boils and other afflictions of our literary heroes, remembrances of Neal Cassady, and the writer as witch doctor.
The second part focuses on Lish’s (as always, uncensored) assertions on the state of contemporary American letters, in which we’re imparted with opinions on Allen Ginsberg and Philip Roth, achieving religious experience through DeLillo, the finer points of book blurbing, and encouraging the further crimes of Tao Lin.
Today, I listened to Iambik’s audiobook version of Collected Fictions, a selection of stories written and read by the inimitable Gordon Lish. Lish reads a few choice stories from four of his volumes in a wry, gruff tone; he’s got a wonderful rhythmic style, and he pauses to reflect on some of the selections before and after reading them. I’ll give the volume a proper review down the line, but I wanted to share a passage–a long sentence, really—that made me laugh out loud from the story “Mr. Goldbaum,” from the 1988 collection Mourner at the Door. I actually own Mourner at the Door, and had read “Mr. Goldbaum” sometime earlier this year or last year, but I don’t remember it being nearly as funny or touching. Must be Lish’s delivery. Anyway, the Lishness, which can be appreciated entirely out of context–
What if your father was the kind of father who was dying and he called you to him and you were his son and he said for you to come lie down on the bed with him so that he could hold you and so that you could hold him so that you both could be like that hugging with each other like that to say goodbye before you had to actually go leave each other and did it, you did it, you god down on the bed with your father and you got up close to your father and you got your arms around your father and your father was hugging you and you were hugging your father and there was one of you who could not stop it, who could not help it, but who just got a hard-on?
Or both did?
Not that I or my father ever hugged like that.
Yesterday, we linked to an unpublished fragment by David Foster Wallace, and included the original audio from which it was transcribed. The Chief Howling Fantod himself, Nick Maniatis , was kind enough to point out that the fragments have been available for a few years now thanks to the transcription efforts of Matt Hale. You can get the pdf here, but we’ve gone ahead and reproduced our favorite section of the fragments (the audio is great too).
2nd FRAGMENT (Different boy mentioned in this; utterly different boy)
It is this boy who dons the bright-orange bandolier and shepherds the really small ones through the crosswalk outside school. This is after finishing the meals-on-wheels breakfast tour of the hospice downtown, whose administrator lunges to bolt her office door when she hears his cart’s wheels in the hall. He has paid out-of-pocket for the steel whistle and the white gloves held palm-out at cars while children who did not dress themselves cross behind him, some trying to run despite WALK DON’T RUN, the happy faced sandwich board he also made himself. The autos whose drivers he knows he waves at and gives an extra-big smile and tosses some words of good cheer as the crosswalk clears and the cars peel out and move through, some joshing around a little by swerving to miss him only by inches as he laughs and dances aside and makes faces of pretended terror at the flank and rear bumper. The one time that station wagon didn’t miss him really was an accident and he sent the lady several notes to make absolutely sure she knew he understood that and asked a whole lot of people he hadn’t yet gotten the opportunity to make friends with to sign his cast and decorated the crutches very carefully with bits of colored ribbon and tinsel and adhesive sparkles and even before the six weeks the doctor sternly prescribed, he’d given them away to the children’s wing to brighten up some other less lucky and happy kid’s convalescence and by the end of the whole thing he’d been inspired to write a very long theme to enter into the annual Social Studies theme competition about how a positive attitude can make even an accidental injury into an occasion for new friends and bright new opportunities for reaching out to others and while the theme didn’t even get honorable mention he honestly didn’t care because he felt like writing the theme had been its own reward and he’d gotten a lot out of the whole nine-draft process and was honestly happy for the kids whose themes did win awards and told them he was 100-plus percent sure they deserved it and that if they wanted to preserve their prize themes and maybe even make displayed items out of them for their parents, he’d be happy to type them up and laminate them and even fix any spelling errors he found if they’d like him to and at home his father puts his hand on Leonard’s shoulder and says he’s really proud that his son’s such a good sport and offers to take him to Dairy Queen as a kind of reward and Leonard tells his father he’s grateful and that the gesture means a lot to him but that in all honesty he’d like it even more if they took the money his father would have spent on the ice-cream and instead donated it either to Easter Seals or, better yet, to UNICEF to go toward the needs of famine-ravaged Biafran kids who he knew for a fact had probably never even heard of ice cream and says that he bets it’ll end up giving both of them a better feeling even then the DQ would and as the father slips the coins in the coin-slot at the special bright-orange UNICEF volunteer cardboard pumpkin bank, Leonard takes a moment to express concern about the father’s facial tick again and to gently rib him about his reluctance to go in and have the family’s MD look at it, noting again that according to the chart on the back of his bedroom door the father is four months overdue for his annual physical and that it’s almost eight months past the date of his recommended tetanus and T.B. boosters. He serves as hall monitor for period’s one and two but gives far more official warnings than actual citations. He’s there to serve he feels, not run people down. Usually with the official warnings he dispenses a smile and tells them you’re young exactly once so enjoy it and to go get-out here and make this day count why don’t they. Heroes UNICEF and Easter Seals and starts a recycling program in three straight grades. He is healthy and scrubbed and always groomed just well enough to project basic courtesy and respect for the community of which he is a part and he politely raises his hand in class for every question, but only if he’s sure he knows not only the correct answer but the formulation of that answer that the teacher’s looking for that will help advance the discussion of the overall topic they’re covering that day, often staying after class to double-check with the teacher that his take on her general objectives is sound and to ask whether there was any way that his answers could have been better or more helpful. The boy’s mom has a terrible accident while cleaning the oven and is rushed to the hospital and even though he’s beside himself with concern and says constant prayers former safety, he volunteers to stay home and field calls and relay information to an alphabetized list of concerned family friends and relatives and to make sure the mail and newspaper are brought in and to keep the home’s lights turned on and off in a random sequence at night as officer Chuck of the Michigan State police’s Crime Stoppers public school outreach program sensibly advises when grown-ups are suddenly called away from home and also to call the gas company’s emergency number, which he has memorized, to come check on what may well be a defective valve or circuit in the oven before anyone else in the family is exposed to risk of accidental harm and also, in secret, to work on massive display of bunting and penance and Welcome Homeland World’s Greatest Mom signs which he plans to use the garage’s extendible aluminum ladder—with a responsible neighborhood adult holding it and supervising—to very carefully affix to the front of the home with water-soluble glue so they’ll be there to greet the mom when she’s released from the I.C.U. with a totally clean bill of health which Leonard calls his father repeatedly at the I.C.U. payphone to assure the father that he has absolutely no doubt of (the totally clean bill of health), calling hourly, right on the dot, until there is some kind of mechanical problem with the payphone and when he dials it he just gets a high tone which he duly reports to the telephone company’s new automated 1618 Trouble Line. He can do several kinds of calligraphy and has been to origami camp twice and can do extraordinary free-hand sketches of local flora with either hand and can whistle all six of Telemann’s Nouveaux Equators and can imitate any birdcall Autobahn could even ever have thought of, don’t even mention spelling bees. He can make over twenty different kinds of admiral, cowboy, clerical and multi-ethnic hats out of ordinary newspaper and he volunteers to visit the school’s K-through-2nd classrooms teaching the little kids how, a proposal the Carl P. Robinson Elementary principal says he appreciates and has considered very carefully before turning down. The principle loathes the mere sight of the boy but does not quite know why. He sees the boy in his sleep, at nightmares’ ragged edges; the pressed checked shirt and hair’s hard little part, the freckles and ready, generous smile; anything he can do. The principle fantasizes about sinking a meat hook into Leonard Steel’s bright-eyed little face and dragging the boy face down behind his Volkswagen Beetle over the rough new streets of suburban Grand Rapids. The fantasies come out of nowhere and horrify the principal, who is a devout Mennonite. Everyone hates the boy. It is a complex hatred that makes the hater feel guilty and awful and to hate themselves for feeling this way and so makes they involuntarily hate the boy even more for arousing such self-hatred. The whole thing is totally confusing and upsetting. People take a lot of Aspirin when he’s around. The boy’s only real friends among kids are the damaged, the handicapped, the slow, the clinically fat, the last-picked, the non-grata. He seeks them out. All 316 invitations to his eleventh birthday Blow-Out Bash—322 invitations if you count the ones made on audiotape for the blind—are off, sent printed on quality velum with matching high-rag envelopes addressed in ornate Philippian calligraphy he spent three weekends on and each invitation details in Roman Numerated outline-form the itinerary’s half-day at Six Flags, private Ph.D.-guided tour of the Blanford Nature Center and reserved banquette-area-with-free-play at Shakey’s Pizza & Indoor Arcade on Remembrance Drive, the whole day gratis and paid-for out of the paper and aluminum drives the boy got up at 4 a.m. all summer to organize and spearhead, the balance of the drive’s receipts going to the Red Cross and the parents of a Kentwood, MI third-grader with terminal spina bifida who dreams above all-else of seeing Landry and Greer and ‘Night Train’ Lane live from his motorized wheelchair and the invitations explicitly call the party this: A Blow-Out Bash in balloon-shaped font as the caption to an illustrated explosion of good cheer and good will and no-holds-barred, let-out-all-the-stops fun with the bold-faced proviso: Please, no presents required in each of each card’s four corners and the 316 invitations—sent via first-class mail to every student, instructor, substitute, aid, administrator, custodian and physical plant employee at C. P. Robinson Elementary—yield a total attendance of nine celebrants, not counting parents and L.P.N.s of the incapacitated, and yet an undauntedly fine time was had by all was the consensus on the Honest Appraisal and Suggestion cards circulated at party’s end. The massive remainders of chocolate cake, Neapolitan ice cream, pizza, chips, caramel corn, Hershey’s kisses, United Way and Officer Chuck pamphlets on organ tissue donation and the correct procedures to follow if approached by a stranger respectively, kosher pizza for the Orthodox, biodegradable napkins and dietetic soda in souvenir Survived Leonard Steel’s Eleventh Birthday Blow-Out Bash, 1964 plastic glasses with built-in crazy-straws the guests were to keep as mementos all donated to the Kent County Children’s Home via procedures and transport that the birthday-boy had initiated even while the big Twister free-for-all was underway, out of concerns about melted ice cream and staleness and flatness and the waste of a chance to help the less blessed and his father, driving the wood-paneled station wagon and steadying his cheek with one hand, avowed again that the boy beside him had a large, good heart and that he was proud and that if the boy’s mother ever regained consciousness as they so very much hoped, he knew she’d be just awful proud as well.
Read an unpublished fragment of a story (or novel?) by David Foster Wallace at 454 W 23rd St New York, NY 10011-2157 (uh, that’s a blog, not, like, an actual physical address (although I guess it could be an actual physical address to. But, you don’t have to go there to read the story. Just click on the link. You know how the internet works, don’t you?)). Not sure who actually transcribed the piece (maybe the folks at 454?), but die-hard DFW fans will likely have heard the author read it himself. If you want to hear it, download it here (it also includes a hilarious reading (also unpublished) about a perfect boy who everyone hates). Here’s the first paragraph of the audio transcription–
Every whole person has ambitions, projects, objectives. This particular boy’s objective was to press his lips to every square inch of his own body. His arms to the shoulders and most of the legs beneath the knee were child’s play but after these areas of his body, the difficulty increased with the abruptness of a coastal shelf. The boy came to understand that unimaginable challenges lay ahead of him. He was six.
Yesterday, lawyers in Zurich opened four anonymous safety deposit boxes supposedly containing original manuscripts, letters, and drawings by Franz Kafka. The question of who owns the literary cache has turned into something of an international debacle, with lawyers and judges jostling for control.
In appreciation of Kafka (and this whole cosmically-ironic fiasco), we direct you to audio clips of the PEN fellowship’s March 26, 1998 tribute, which featured, among others, E.L. Doctorow, Susan Sontag, Cynthia Ozick, and Paul Auster, reading from their own essays on Kafka, or the Czech’s work. The highlight is David Foster Wallace’s essay “A Series of Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Not Enough Has Been Removed.”
A kindly dude by the name of Ryan Walsh has launched a site called The David Foster Wallace Archive. The site collects in one place the loose mp3s that’ve been floating around the web, and includes the Brief Interviews with Hideous Men audiobook in its entirety. There are also interviews, profiles, eulogies, and more. A good starting place: an (as-yet) unpublished piece about a do-gooding boy detested by all. It’s hilarious.
So. It’s kinda sorta Book Covers Week at Biblioklept, and, in keeping with that theme, check out this new cover for Wallace’s debut novel, The Broom of the System. The edition is part of the forthcoming Penguin Ink series and should be available this summer. Art by Duke Riley. We love it.
There are some great downloads available at Naropa University’s Internet Archive, including some lucid-but-still-weird lectures from William Burroughs. We highly recommend Burroughs’s 1979 lecture on creative reading, where he dissects Conrad and Gysin among others, waxes on heroic tropes, and talks about assassins. Also good is a 1980 forum on public discourse (Ginsberg introduces and sticks around). Good stuff.
Listening to Robert Lowell read his poem “The Old Flame” is way better than just reading it yourself. Really.
We’re loving this very cool animation of Calvino’s short tale “The Distance from the Moon,” from the collection Cosmicomics. This month’s Harper’s features two funny and thoughtful little fables told by Cosmicomic‘s strange narrator Qfwfq , and if you’re too lazy to buy that, check out The New Yorker‘s recent publication of “The Daughters of the Moon.” Presumably these stories will be published in the upcoming volume Complete Cosmicomics. Stay ahead of the curve by reading them now. Special mp3 bonus: actress Maria Tucci reads from Cosmicomics.
“No Poets Don’t Own Words” from Brion Gysin’s Recordings 1960-1981. A very cool record, featuring lots of tape manipulation, cut-ups, poetry, and interviews with Gysin on a variety of subjects including censorship, surrealism, and art. We like it much. Much we like. It. Like much it we.
Renaissance man Langston Hughes reads three of his poems–
Also, read one of our favorite Hughes poems, “I, Too, Sing America” (a response, we believe, to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” (Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration poem, “Praise Song for the Day” seems to respond to both of these poems))–
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.