But, I may be told, we teach the ten commandments, where a world of morals lies condensed, the very pith and epitome of all ethics and religion; and a young man with these precepts engraved upon his mind must follow after profit with some conscience and Christianity of method. A man cannot go very far astray who neither dishonours his parents, nor kills, nor commits adultery, nor steals, nor bears false witness; for these things, rightly thought out, cover a vast field of duty.
Alas! what is a precept? It is at best an illustration; it is case law at the best which can be learned by precept. The letter is not only dead, but killing; the spirit which underlies, and cannot be uttered, alone is true and helpful. This is trite to sickness; but familiarity has a cunning disenchantment; in a day or two she can steal all beauty from the mountain tops; and the most startling words begin to fall dead upon the ear after several repetitions. If you see a thing too often, you no longer see it; if you hear a thing too often, you no longer hear it. Our attention requires to be surprised; and to carry a fort by assault, or to gain a thoughtful hearing from the ruck of mankind, are feats of about an equal difficulty and must be tried by not dissimilar means. The whole Bible has thus lost its message for the common run of hearers; it has become mere words of course; and the parson may bawl himself scarlet and beat the pulpit like a thing possessed, but his hearers will continue to nod; they are strangely at peace, they know all he has to say; ring the old bell as you choose, it is still the old bell and it cannot startle their composure. And so with this byword about the letter and the spirit. It is quite true, no doubt; but it has no meaning in the world to any man of us. Alas! it has just this meaning, and neither more nor less: that while the spirit is true, the letter is eternally false.
The shadow of a great oak lies abroad upon the ground at noon, perfect, clear, and stable like the earth. But let a man set himself to mark out the boundary with cords and pegs, and were he never so nimble and never so exact, what with the multiplicity of the leaves and the progression of the shadow as it flees before the travelling sun, long ere he has made the circuit the whole figure will have changed. Life may be compared, not to a single tree, but to a great and complicated forest; circumstance is more swiftly changing than a shadow, language much more inexact than the tools of a surveyor; from day to day the trees fall and are renewed; the very essences are fleeting as we look; and the whole world of leaves is swinging tempest-tossed among the winds of time. Look now for your shadows. O man of formulæ, is this a place for you? Have you fitted the spirit to a single case? Alas, in the cycle of the ages when shall such another be proposed for the judgment of man? Now when the sun shines and the winds blow, the wood is filled with an innumerable multitude of shadows, tumultuously tossed and changing; and at every gust the whole carpet leaps and becomes new. Can you or your heart say more?
Look back now, for a moment, on your own brief experience of life; and although you lived it feelingly in your own person, and had every step of conduct burned in by pains and joys upon your memory, tell me what definite lesson does experience hand on from youth to manhood, or from both to age? The settled tenor which first strikes the eye is but the shadow of a delusion. This is gone; that never truly was; and you yourself are altered beyond recognition. Times and men and circumstances change about your changing character, with a speed of which no earthly hurricane affords an image. What was the best yesterday, is it still the best in this changed theatre of a to-morrow? Will your own Past truly guide you in your own violent and unexpected Future? And if this be questionable, with what humble, with what hopeless eyes, should we not watch other men driving beside us on their unknown careers, seeing with unlike eyes, impelled by different gales, doing and suffering in another sphere of things?
And as the authentic clue to such a labyrinth and change of scene, do you offer me these two score words? these five bald prohibitions? For the moral precepts are no more than five; the first four deal rather with matters of observance than of conduct; the tenth, Thou shalt not covet, stands upon another basis, and shall be spoken of ere long. The Jews, to whom they were first given, in the course of years began to find these precepts insufficient; and made an addition of no less than six hundred and fifty others! They hoped to make a pocket-book of reference on morals, which should stand to life in some such relation, say, as Hoyle stands in to the scientific game of whist. The comparison is just, and condemns the design; for those who play by rule will never be more than tolerable players; and you and I would like to play our game in life to the noblest and the most divine advantage. Yet if the Jews took a petty and huckstering view of conduct, what view do we take ourselves, who callously leave youth to go forth into the enchanted forest, full of spells and dire chimeras, with no guidance more complete than is afforded by these five precepts?
Honour thy father and thy mother. Yes, but does that mean to obey? and if so, how long and how far? Thou shall not kill. Yet the very intention and purport of the prohibition may be best fulfilled by killing. Thou shall not commit adultery. But some of the ugliest adulteries are committed in the bed of marriage and under the sanction of religion and law. Thou shalt not bear false witness. How? by speech or by silence also? or even by a smile? Thou shalt not steal. Ah, that indeed! But what is to steal? Continue reading “Robert Louis Stevenson on the Ten Commandments”→
The largest art theft in world history occurred in Boston on March 18, 1990 when thieves stole 13 pieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Collectively worth $300 million.
At least $500 million.
Among the pieces stolen was Vermeer’s The Concert, which is considered to be the most valuable stolen painting in the world.
Also among the pieces stolen: Landscape with an Obelisk, which previously was attributed to Rembrandt.
Having achieved youthful success as a portrait painter, Rembrandt’s later years were marked by personal tragedy and financial hardships.
He died within a year of his son, on October 4, 1669 in Amsterdam, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk.
More than half the subjects of Rembrandt’s etchings are portraits and studies of the human figure; about one-quarter are scriptural or religious. There are two dozen landscapes, and the remainder are allegorical and fancy compositions.
Rembrandt was his own most frequent model.
At least 40 paintings and 31 etchings. Maybe 60. Maybe 70.
Frida Kahlo produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits.
Because I am so often alone.
Because I am the subject I know best.
The most acclaimed self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci is critically, irreparably damaged.
The portrait has got blotches, stains and spots, a condition called foxing.
Leonardo’s self-portrait measures 33.5 by 21.6 centimetres (13.2 by 8.5 inches).
Any list of most famous paintings would be incomplete without the mention of the Mona Lisaby Leonardo da Vinci.
This infamous portrait of Lisa del Giocondo was completed some time between 1503-1519 and currently on display at the Musee du Louvre in Paris.
Leonardo used a pyramid design to place the woman simply and calmly in the space of the painting.
Between 1851 and 1880, artists who visited the Louvre copied Mona Lisa roughly half as many times as certain works by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Antonio da Correggio, Paolo Veronese, Titian, Jean-Baptiste Greuze and Pierre-Paul Prud’hon.
And in 1911, Louis Béroud.
The Mona Lisa’s fame was emphasized when it was stolen on 21 August 1911.
On 22 August 1911, Louis Béroud walked into the Louvre and went to the Salon Carré where the Mona Lisa had been on display for five years. However, where the Mona Lisa should have stood, he found four iron pegs.
French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had once called for the Louvre to be “burnt down,” came under suspicion; he was arrested and put in jail. Apollinaire tried to implicate his friend Pablo Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated.
(In 1900 Apollinaire would write his first pornographic novel, Mirely, ou le petit trou pas cher, which was eventually lost).
The 1991 film Hudson Hawk (1991) centers on a cat burglar who is forced to steal Da Vinci works of art for a world domination plot.
A colossally sour and ill-conceived misfire.
In 1812 France was devastated when its invasion of Russia turned out to be a colossal failure in which scores of soldiers in Napoleon’s Grand Army were killed or badly wounded.
Napoleon’s conquests in Europe were followed by a systematic attempt, later more tentatively echoed by Hitler, to take the finest works of art of conquered nations back to the Louvre in Paris for a grand central museum of all Europe.
We will now have all that is beautiful in Italy except for a few objects in Turin and Naples.
The contents of nearly all the tombs of the Pharaohs were already completely looted by grave robbers before the invasion of Egypt by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE.
Rome was sacked seven times.
King Shishak of Egypt attacked Jerusalem and took away the treasures of the Lord’s temple and of the royal palace. He took everything, including the gold shields that Solomon had made.
In the Book of Jeremiah 15:11 the Lord says:
Jerusalem, I will surely send you away for your own good. I will surely bring the enemy upon you in a time of trouble and distress. I will give away your wealth and your treasures as plunder. I will give it away free of charge for the sins you have committed throughout your land.
Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, 1204.
The Sack of Baghdad, 1258.
Hernán Cortés and the looting of the Aztec gold.
Adolf Hitler was an unsuccessful artist who was denied admission to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
The Third Reich amassed hundreds of thousands of objects from occupied nations and stored them in several key locations, such as Musée Jeu de Paume in Paris and the Nazi headquarters in Munich.
Later, storing the artworks in salt mines and caves for protection from Allied bombing raids.
These mines and caves offered the appropriate humidity and temperature conditions for artworks.
Raphael’s Portrait of a Young Man was confiscated from a Polish family by the Nazis in 1939 for Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz.
It disappeared in 1945 shortly before the end of the Second World War.
On 1 August 2012, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the painting had been found in a bank vault in an undisclosed location.
Thirty years after it was stolen, Camille Pissarro’s Le Marche aux Poissons was returned to the French.
Authorities believe they know who stole art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history.
Eventually they will resurface. Somebody will rat somebody else out. It’s really only a matter of time.
A drawing stolen from an ice cream shop is now back in the hands of its creator.
Dmitry Samarov is an artist and writer who lives and works in Chicago. After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993, Dmitry drove cabs for twelve years. He captured his years as a taxi driver in the stories and art of his first book Hack, which was released last year from the University of Chicago Press. Hack also exists as a blog where Dmitry continues to share his stories.
I first became aware of Dmitry’s work via Twitter; I’d been posting images of readers and books for the past year—one a day—and was thrilled to find his series of bookshelf paintings and his figure paintings. Dmitry was kind enough to talk with me over a series of emails about his art, his writing, and why you’re not likely to see any space vampire paintings from him anytime soon.
You can see more of his work at his website—or better yet, check out one of his upcoming shows if you can: “Dmitry Samarov: Bookshelf Paintings” opens January 11th, 2013, at the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago, and “Pictures from a Chicago Cab” opens at the University of Central Missouri on January 23rd.
Books #6 by Dmitry Samarov
Biblioklept: Why do you paint?
Dmitry Samarov: Making pictures is how I talk to the world. I can’t remember ever not doing it. I got in trouble for doodling in 1st Grade back in the Soviet Union and haven’t looked back since. Trying to catch a bit of the way the light changes as the day wears on or the manner in which a girl looks inward as she reads a book or how paperbacks and hardcovers on a shelf lean on each other, all these small moments and many others have occupied my time. Making marks on a surface is a way to record my time here and to show others what I saw. When I do it right they’re able to see something of what they know in my pictures.
Writing about painting is always ultimately futile—the reason one paints something is because he can’t say it and probably vice versa too—but we just can’t seem to help it, can we?
Biblioklept: You bring up your paintings of book shelves and readers—I’m particularly interested in these. Can you talk about how you approach painting figures who are reading? What’s your process? How is painting a reading figure different from a portrait where the figure gazes at the viewer?
DM: I’ve never liked posing sitters. When I paint portraits or figures they are usually friends or family rather than protagonists in a narrative I have in mind, so I like them to choose what they’re doing. If you’re gonna be sitting for an hour or two what’s more natural than to read a book? There aren’t many people who are able to just sit for long periods and when they do it creates a tension. You can see it in Lucian Freud’s great portraits, those people are weary from sitting in his dingy, gray studio. I prefer to paint people in repose—not to the point of pretending that they’re not being looked at—but neither like a bug being examined under glass. Readers are wrapped up in their own inner state rather than working to express some message an artist might be trying to impose. This is as close as I know how to portray a person as they are rather than as I’d like them to be.
Beth by Dmitry Samarov
Biblioklept: So then, for the most part, I’m guessing you don’t photograph the subject and work from that photograph to create the painting. How does painting the sitter “live” (for lack of a better term—if there is one, please let me know!) differ from working from something like a photograph?
DM: I always prefer to work from life. The only things that are from photographs, sketches, or memory are my illustrations and some commissioned pieces. What’s always interested me is looking out at the world and making marks in reaction to what I see. Working from photographs doesn’t allow me to do that. They’re frozen and unnatural. Life never stops the way it does in a photograph. A drawing or painting can acknowledge the passage of time, the light changing, and many other things much better. But, of course, I’m very biased about this.
To me a picture should be a collection of many moments. It’s made in the space between the subject and the artist’s eyes and mind. It’s a conversation, a back-and-forth. I can’t have that same conversation with a photograph or even with one of my own memories for that matter.
Biblioklept: I think your paintings show the energy of that conversation. Can you talk a bit about your book paintings? When did you start painting images of book shelves? Are the shelves your own?
DM: I started doing the book paintings about fifteen years ago and return to them every few years. I think I was looking for a way to do still-life without setting anything up. I like the way the books lean against each other, the crevices formed in the gaps between them, and the way the overall structure and character of a shelf changes over time as books are removed and replaced. It’s also always been funny to me to be painting the outsides of books so much of what a book is is contained between the covers.
The shallow space of a bookshelf also offers a different kind of challenge than the kind of vantage points I usually gravitate to. At times it becomes an almost abstract arrangement of shapes. Despite all that, these are my bookshelves and I have read most of these books. It’s just one more way to engage with them and who wouldn’t want that?
Biblioklept: I’ve tried to photograph all of my bookshelves this year as part of a project on the site and it’s turned out to be much more difficult than I imagined—the way the light hits differently textured covers, and so on.
Since we’ve been talking about books and paintings of books and readers, I’m curious about paintings that you love (or hate) of readers and books—are there any particular paintings that come to mind?
DM: I like a lot of the 19th Century trompe l’oeil paintings by Harnett, Peto, et al. There’s a new thing lately of painting bookshelves with every title clearly visible. I think it’s a kind of showing-off, of letting people know how learned or in-the-know you are. I’m not a fan of that. I use text in some of my paintings but it’s often for visual reasons, if the color of the lettering on a particular spine contrasts in an interesting way with the book next to it, say, I may emphasize that. It’s always in the service of the entire picture rather than some sort of status report. Also the hand-painted Penguin paperback covers.: cute but pretty quickly forgettable.
Biblioklept: Let’s talk about the intersection of your writing and your illustration. First, I’m curious about Hack. The University of Chicago Press put out a collection of your stories (with illustrations) under that name last year, but you also have earlier versions of Hack in old school zine form, as well as a blog that features new writing. I’m curious how you think of Hack—do you think of it as an ongoing project? A book? A blog? A persona even?
DM: Hack started as a zine around 2000 as a way for me to make sense of my three years driving a cab in Boston (1993-1997). It was called Hack because the license to operate a taxi in Boston was called a Hackney Carriage License and they used to call cabbies hacks in the old days. It was my first attempt at writing outside of school homework assignments and there really wasn’t much writing, it was mostly pictures. Those pictures were a challenge too because, as I’ve said, I work primarily from direct observation and the only way to do these were from memory. These illustrations were made to work together with the words, not to stand on their own and that has continued to be the case through the whole history of Hack.
I started driving a taxi in Chicago in 2003 and revived Hack as a blog late in 2006. To my surprise, it got notice pretty quickly from some in the local press—Whet Moser, then of the Chicago Reader especially—-and my high school pal John Hodgman mentioning it in a magazine didn’t hurt either. That got it noticed by a publicist at University of Chicago Press named Levi Stahl. He bought a copy of my self-published compilation (see the third one down) and eventually pitched Hack as a book to his employers. They published it in October 2011.
I stopped driving last summer and spent a couple of months putting together a second book. It’s all ready to go. I’m just waiting for a publisher to snap it up. The new one expands on a lot of the themes of the first book and spans my entire cab career, from 1993 to 2012. I’m a much better writer from having gone through the editing process on the first book and from the sheer amount of writing in various venues that I’ve done over the last few years.
I don’t know that Hack is/was a persona but it’s certainly gotten me more attention than anything else I’ve done.
Biblioklept: When you were working on the pieces for Hack, did you start with the illustrations or the words?
DM: The illustrations were always first. They were my way into the writing. I went over the phrases I’d use as I was working on the pictures. That’s the way it goes to this day for the most part. I always have been and always will be a painter first.
“You Know Where I’m Going” by Dmitry Samarov
Biblioklept: The pieces of Hack I’ve read seem to channel the stories of your passengers—there’s a lucid straightforwardness about them that I like. How conscientious of style are you when you’re writing? How much do you edit?
DM: I edit a lot. I use as few words as possible. It’s evolved over time of course. When I started I leaned really heavily on ellipses as a transitional device. I cribbed that from Celine’s Death on the Installment Plan. Editing the entries for the first book cured me of that. In general the cab stories take their inspiration from Nelson Algren’s advice to just go out into the streets and listen to the way people speak and to write that down as simply as possible.
At it’s best my writing tries to do what my painting does: to relay what I see and here out in the world. I try my best to stay out of the way because everything out there is so much more interesting than anything I could ever dream up.
Celine by Dmitry Samarov
Biblioklept: You know, I almost referenced Celine in my last question, because the ellipses are clearly a major stylistic device in your self-published version of Hack (and also because I dig your painting Celine). You bring up Algren—what other writers do you admire?
DM: Algren is a real touchstone because he introduced me to Chicago a few years before I even arrived here in 1990 to attend the School of the Art Institute. There are many others. I love Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel and Luc Sante’s Kill All Your Darlings as models for ways of writing different sorts of personal essays. William Gaddis’s books, especially JR, for the way he captures American speech and Cormac McCarthy, especially Suttree, for descriptions of physical environment.
Lately I’ve been looking into forgotten local authors a lot and writing about them at Writers No One Reads. A sense of specific place is very important to me.
I don’t have any aspirations to write fiction but usually, as long as it’s rooted in reality, I’ll probably read it.
Biblioklept: You’ve returned to the idea of reality a few times in our conversation, and your paintings and illustrations seem to evoke a strong sense of place. Why is depicting real scenes important to you? I’m guessing we won’t see a series of space vampires from Dmitry Samarov anytime soon . . .
DM: Writers and painters who use space vampires, fantastic worlds, etc. probably just have more imagination than me. Or perhaps the everyday world doesn’t provide them with enough inspiration or subject-matter to say what they need to say. I don’t have that problem. For me just looking out the window for a moment as I type this gives a glimpse of a thousand paintings I could try to paint. What’s out there is within my scope of vision is as limitless as outer space must be to sci-fi writer or a dream must be to a fantasist. The few times I’ve tried to resort to my imagination I’ve found it at once limiting, hopelessly random, and sadly wanting. How could I choose one thing rather than another and what would it matter? There are still many choices to be made when working from what’s before me but it doesn’t feel random and meaningless in the same way. It’s more that I’m pushing against something that’s actually there and it’s pushing back at me.
But maybe I’ll switch to space vampires after I get bored with reality.
Biblioklept: Do you paint or draw every day? Do you write every day?
DM: I try to paint, draw, or write something most days. It’s a much better day when I have than when I haven’t, that’s for sure. The internet has made it possible to share every stray scrap that one comes up with and I’m probably guilty of putting too much out there for others to see, but I’ve always thought of all my work as being public, that part that’s for me is just the doing. After I’m done, it has to sink or swim on its own and for that viewers and readers are needed. The internet is like a big messy studio where (hopefully) over time all the false starts and failures will be forgotten, ignored, or swept away and the worthwhile things will have whatever life they deserve. What I’m trying to say is that most of hat I do is probably crap but that maybe there’s some value in sharing it with others and letting them judge rather than holding things close and only showing them the ones that I’m convinced are good. In any case it’s nearly impossible to say right after finishing a picture whether it’ll speak to people or is just a rehash of something done before or a waste of time I’ve somehow convinced myself to push on with. I hope in twenty or thirty years to look back and be able to say that I’ve made a couple of things that were worthwhile.
Biblioklept: So do you find it hard to judge or evaluate your own work?
DM: Not at the time I’m doing it. I throw away plenty. But with the benefit of, say, a year or five or ten, things I thought weren’t bad turn out to look awful and occasionally, vice versa. As a rule though, I think once I’ve decided to let something out into the world it’s no longer my job to evaluate it. If I thought enough of it not to burn or paint over it it has to try to survive on its own steam.
Biblioklept: What are you working on right now?
DM: Well, I finished a second book of illustrated cab stories. It’s called WHERE TO? More Stories from a Hack and covers from when I first drove in Boston in 1993 until the summer of 2012 when I gave my last cab ride. It goes deeper into the inner workings of the cab industry, the people who take cabs, attempts to answer why I decided to drive a cab in the first place. I’m still looking for a publisher for it.
I’ve been writing and illustrating occasional baseball-related pieces for Chicago Side’ssports section, working on illustrations for various other projects, and finishing up my first book review for the Chicago Tribune’s literary supplement, Printers Row, on a recently-reissued forgotten novel called Diversey. Also I have two art shows coming up in January and another in February. On January 11th, “Dmitry Samarov: Bookshelf Paintings” opens at the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. On January 23rd, “Pictures from a Chicago Cab” opens at the University of Central Missouri.
All that and doing my best not to have to go back to a day-job. I haven’t driven a cab in about five-and-a-half months and have really gotten to love not having to leave the house much.
Biblioklept: Have you ever stolen a book?
DM: I used to steal ’em all the time. I had a good scam going when I was school changing price-tags on expensive art books, getting $100 ones for $20 and such. I used to steal a lot of things. I wrote a whole thing about it for The Handshake.
Biblioklept: Can you talk about a particular book you remember stealing?
DM: I stole this beautiful Giacometti book from Powell’s sometime in the early-90s and wound up having to sell it at Myopic Books in the late-90s for much less than it was worth when I was broke and between jobs. I’ve sold off tons of great books and records over the years. I’m neither the most careful collector nor blessed with much foresight as to what might or might not be valuable in the future.
On October 4th of this year, right in the midst of Franzen-mania (and Franzenfreude), two ballsy Londoners jacked Jonathan Franzen’s signature spectacles during a Hyde Park bookstore launch party for Freedom. They left a ransom note asking for $100,000, but were eventually caught, and the glasses were returned. Now, if only someone could do him a favor and steal his silly leather jacket because, jeez, c’mon.
Biblioklept, a modern euphemism which softens the ugly word book-thief by shrouding it in the mystery of the Greek language. So the French say, not voleur, but chipeiir de livres. The true bibliomaniac cannot help feeling a tenderness for his pet fad, even when carried to regrettable excesses. Perhaps he has often felt his own fingers tingle in view of a rare de Grolier, a unique Elzevir, he knows the strength of the temptation, he estimates rightly his own weakness; perhaps, if he carries self-analysis to the unflattering point which it rarely reaches, save in the sincerest and finest spirits, he recognizes that his power of resistance is supplied not by virtue, but by fear,—fear of ilie police and of Mrs. Grundy. In his inner soul he admires the daring which risks all for the sake of a great passion. When a famous book-collector was exhibiting his treasures to the Duke of Sussex, Queen Victoria’s uncle, he apologized to his royal highness for having to unlock each case. ‘• Oh, quite right, quite right,” was the reassuring reply: “to tell the truth, I’m a terrible thief.” There are not many of us who are so honest. Nevertheless, the epidemic form which bibliokleptomania has assumed is recognized in the motto which school-boys affix to their books, warning honest friends not to steal them. ” Honest may, of course, be a fine bit of sarcasm. But one prefers to look upon it as indicating a subtle juvenile prescience that the most honest and the most friendly will steal books, as the most honest will cheat their dearest friends in a matter of horseflesh.
I must have been in the 1oth or 11th grade when I borrowed three Charles Bukowski novels from M***ael J***ings. These were:
Women, easily my favorite and Bukowski’s best. I didn’t return this one.
The short story collection, Tales of Ordinary Madness. I kept this one too, but it is no longer in my possession. Loaned out, never to be returned.
And another collection, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town. I think I gave this back; anyway, I don’t have it anymore.
I was reading Henry Miller and Hemingway at the time, and macho Bukowski fit right in. Something about being a teenager, trying to gain access to the “adult world”–or something like the adult world. How to act, what to say. I read just about all the short stories that Bukowski wrote. Factotum and Post Office were two of my favorites. Everyday when I see our mailman I think of Post Office.
Our mailman is old, and skinny as a sick girl, and he has a nose like a bird’s beak to boot. He runs his entire route; he has a strange little knock-kneed hustle. He always tells me to “Stay safe” when I see him. He’s withered. Post Office makes working for the post office sound like an annihilating, damning, Sisyphean task. I wonder: “Does the mailman not feel safe?”
Bukowski painted some pictures.
Factotumwas recently made into a movie starring Matt Dillon as Bukowski’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski. Mickey Rourke played the “real” Bukowski in a horrible-looking movie called Barfly. I haven’t seen either film.
So Bukowski’s sort of been “branded” commodified as “type”–like Hemingway and Miller (and HST, and Anaïs Nin, and Wm Burroughs, and Nietzsche, and so on) He becomes a stolen writer, a lazy gesture, a footnote in the movie Swingers. Then again, maybe a few people saw that movie and picked up Hollywood, a really funny late-period Bukowski novel about making the film that will come to be Barfly. In Hollywood, Bukowski endures the trouble of having other people manipulate his writing and sweats sweats sweats that he might have sold out.
Not a book, but nonetheless obtained by extra-legal means. Piracy baby!
SubPop is set to drop The Shins’ third album Wincing The Night Away in January of 2007, but the thing leaked like a sieve this weekend. Similarly, Of Montreal’s album Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?, set for a January release, leaked over the last two weeks. I don’t understand why these labels delay releases so long after the record’s been mastered. It’s almost impossible these days to keep a record from leaking–although Thom Yorke managed to keep his solo record The Eraser from leaking right up until it was released.
On paper, The Shins are the type of band I would love to hate. They write tight pop songs with keen melodies and spare harmonies with frequent nods to classic 60s acts like The Kinks, The Beatles, The Zombies and The Beach Boys (unlike every other indie band made up of four white guys). They are name-dropped in the epitome of bad indie films, Zach Braff’s Garden State (Natalie Portman’s character declares them “life-changing”). They appeared in an episode of The Gilmore Girls as a band playing to a club full of improbably ecstatic springbreakers in Ft. Lauderdale.
Despite all of this, I like them quite a bit. Their songs are catchy in a good way. They certainly aren’t re-inventing the wheel, but if you’re going to listen to an indie rock band, you might as well listen to The Shins. All that said, I like their new album a lot, much better than their last Chutes Too Narrow actually, which I thought was too airy. Wincing evinces some growth in songwriting and arrangements, and on the whole the production is much fuller than the past two albums. Wincing features a more prominent use of atmospheric sounds. Synthesizers are utilized to greater advantage advantage with respect to both melodies and atmosphere, and the band even brings in what I believe to be a small string section one one song. They even play with vocal loops on this record.
I don’t know if this band will ever top their first record Oh, Inverted World, a record that somehow was simultaneously breezy and profound, and produced at least four songs that can never go wrong on a mixtape. I’ve listened to it a few times, but there doesn’t seem to be a “New Slang” or “Know Your Onion” on this album. Wincing however seems to work better as a whole album than The Shins’ previous efforts, and the stronger production and fuller arrangements will probably earn the group a broader fanbase.
The Portable Graham Greene, ed. Philip Stratford. I haven’t read a single story in this beautiful Viking Portable Library edition, save “The Destructors,” (full text here) (sorry, the page is no longer up [3/07]. Ed.)which I only read because it was referenced in one of my favorite movies, Donnie Darko.
I found this one in another teacher’s classroom. My uncle Lee had just given me a copy of Greene’s The Quiet American, which I finished in a weekend; it’s a slim, spare novel, and I enjoyed it quite a bit, despite the fact that Brendan Fraser was on the cover (the book was re-released to coincide with a film adaptation that I never saw). Anyway, I’d just read TQA, and I saw this beautiful Viking Portable Library edition (I’m a big fan of VPL), so I surreptitiously absconded with it only to never read it. A meaningless theft?
Anyway, last year a new director’s cut of Donnie Darko came out; the wife and I saw it at the San Marco Theater, I was reminded of the book, and read “The Destructors.” “The Destructors” is a simple story about a teenage gang that destroys a beautiful old house from the inside to the outside. “The Destructors” functions as an abyss structure or reading rule that informs the text-proper of Donnie Darko (it’s assigned reading from an English teacher). If you’re a fan of this movie (and if you’re not, why not?!) check out this story; it’s short and to the point. Flipping through it again, I realize that I should probably put The Portable Graham Greene back on the “To Read” stack.
If you haven’t seen Donnie Darko, enjoy the following review courtesy The Comic Critic.
I never gave Riddley Walker back to Patrick Tilford (aka TLFRD). A few years ago I loaned it to a student who never returned it. Said student never returned Dune, or The Left Hand of Darkness, or several Jules Verne novels either. Doesn’t matter, I know that he read them.
This book is a favorite. Russell Hoban’s coming-of-age story takes place in a future that has regressed to the iron age due to a catastrophic war. Hoban writes in his own language, a mutated English, full of fragments of the 20th century.
I couldn’t find an image of the edition I stole/lost. This edtion from 2000 features an introduction by Will Self, whose latest book, The Book of Dave,apparently was directly influenced by Riddley Walker. Will Self’s book Great Apes deeply, deeply disturbed me. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans; Great Apes is the literary equivalent.
Great Apes was an airport bookstore buy; I suppose at some point on this blog I will address the “airport bookstore buy.”
Microserfs, Douglas Coupland; loaned out, never to be returned. I remember this book as being relatively entertaining. I mostly recall the design of the book–very cool, playful, and ahead of its time. This book will be more interesting in twenty or twenty-five years. Coupland’s site: beautiful.
Anthony Scaduto’s Bob Dylan:A Biography (1972?); another one from my cousin’s closet, part of the same cache that included Fear and Loathing. This would have been in the very early 1990s. I had always loved Bob Dylan, always–one of the earliest songs I remember taping off of the radio was “Like a Rolling Stone.” I had to call in to request it. I recorded it at the end of my first (and only, at the time) cassette tape–a copy of Dire Strait’s Brothers in Arms that my dad had taped from his vinyl for me. By the time I got a hold of Anthony Scaduto’s fantastic bio, I knew a bit about Dylan. I already had a couple of Dylan albums, including one of the first CDs I ever bought, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (still my favorite). Like Fear and Loathing, this book was a door-opener to me. Interestingly, I was mostly enchanted by Dylan’s voice and wordplay before I read this book; that is to say his cult of personality hadn’t really effected me yet. This book changed that.
(I took the edition on the left. The one on the right you can buy online or in your favorite bookstore)
Any true Dylan fan has probably already read this book, but if you consider yourself one (a true fan, that is), and you haven’t read it, make amends. You won’t be disappointed. The book is particularly good if you bookend it with viewings of DA Pennebaker’s extraordinary documentary Don’t Look Back.
Dylan in his later years (i.e. nowadays) is as perplexing as ever. He’s made three of the best albums of his post-60s career, making up for some questionable output. He’s slowed down on the touring quite a bit (saw him about 10 years ago and he blew my mind — who knew what an accomplished guitar player he was?), and made those weird Victoria’s Secret commercials a few years ago. Recently, he made a ruckus when he attacked modern recording techniques in a Rolling Stone interview with one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem.
One of the best things Dylan has done lately is his “Theme Time Radio Hour” on XM satellite radio. The show is thematic; Dylan riffs on the bible, coffee, the weather, all sorts of stuff. His musical taste is fantastic (saying Bob Dylan has good musical taste is sort of like saying water is wet), but it’s really his voice that mesmerizes. It’s a gleeful mix of the sinister with the playful. He actually kind of sounds like the late comedian Mitch Hedberg, especially in a comment from a recent show on the bible: “Nine out of ten Americans have at least one bible in their home. What’s up with the other guy?” Doesn’t look funny in print, but his delivery is unexpectedly hilarious.
If, like me, you can’t afford to subscribe to fancy satellite stations but still want to hear the word of Dylan, never fear! Check out White Man Stew for free downloadable mp3s of complete Dylan shows. You can get the shows as zip files full of divided mp3s, or as one long mp3.
I procured this from my cousin’s closet. My cousin Tripp is ten years older than me; he was in college at the time and I was staying with my aunt and uncle over the summer, in his old bedroom. I’m pretty sure both he and my uncle recommended that I read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The edition (not pictured above–I couldn’t find the one I snagged, but it had a similar cover–more on the cover below) could have belonged to Tripp, but it may have belonged to my uncle.
Reading Fear and Loathing was an initiation into some kind of new literature for me. It opened the way to authors like Vonnegut, Wm Burroughs, Herman Hesse, JD Salinger (admittedly, I read some Tom Robbins in this period as well. Ugh). Before HST I was reading lots and lots of science fiction and fantasy books, both classic and trash. I had also read lots of the “adventure classics,” stuff like Robinson Crusoe and Dracula and Great Expectations and the Tarzan novels. And comic books. Always comic books. But Fear and Loathing was something new for me; it combined the fantasy and adventure and weirdness I’d been reading with a political ethos and a sense of social-reality-via-unreality. Surreality. Fear and Loathing contained a whole new set of reading rules for me, chief among them: irony and paradox. All of a sudden, the verity of all past narrators was cast into doubt. I was savvy now. I was ironized. I was, y’know, hip to what may be under a text now, whereas before I was just scanning the text. Or at least it seemed that way. Looking back, I don’t know for sure.
Of course I lent this book out to anyone who seemed vaguely interested. I did this for years, and amazingly, the book kept coming back to me. Must be some mystical sign when I think about it. Who returns books? I loaned it out all the way through college before it finally escaped me for ever. I’m not sure who has it now. At the point this particular edition left me forever, it had a duck-tape cover with title and author in Sharpie-font, courtesy of one innovative reader. I like to think others were initiated by it, but I know that most of the readers I lent it to had already read their revelation-text, whether it was that Kerouac book or Slaughterhouse Five or Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. And I haven’t read this book in years, although I’m a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s movie. Still, it’ll always have a special place in my trunk full of drugs–er, heart.
Yes yes yes. I know I know I know. It’s not a book. It’s an album of music. But see now so and yes–it’s just so beautiful. It’s the best “reading music” I’ve come across in a long time. And, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I did obtain it by extra-legal means (it comes out Oct 16, so go buy it from your local record store!)
Harmony in Ultraviolet is Hecker’s third or fourth album, depending on how you want to count his EPs and sundries. This music might be described as “ambient,” although I’m not sure I like that term. Harmony‘s tracks seem to contain impossible oppositions; they hover and sink, they pulsate but are static, they are digital-ice and analog-heat, they express the abstract in a concrete mode. Why write about it here? Well, really, I just love an album that lends itself to reading, and Hecker’s new disc is fantastic to read to.
This book makes a great introduction to film writing, although I’m not sure it’s necessarily for film fans — more of a theory book, really. This book is from my uncle’s library; for years now, whenever I visit my aunt and uncle down in the Gulf Coast, I pick this book up and read from it. My uncle also has a fantastic book of essays on Lynch’s Blue Velvet.The essays in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (ed. John Belton), written largely in the deconstructionist, post-Derrida vein, did much to influence my own college tries at film writing. I realize now that I learned more about contemporary theory (Lacanian psycholinguistics, Mulvey’s “the gaze,” etc) through these essays than I ever did in a classroom lecture.
I didn’t mean to take this book; I’ll blame this one on the wife. Last time we stayed down in St. Pete Beach, I guess I had left the book out and she simply packed it up. We’re supposed to go down there this weekend; again, I promise to return it.