Friday, March 31, 2006

The great Irish novelist John McGahern has died, of cancer, at age 71.
Here is his Guardian obit. Here is his New York Times'.

And here is the first paragraph of Hilary Mantel's review of McGahern's last novel, 2002's By the Lake:

This is a novel about a private and particular world, which the reader enters as an eavesdropper. The writing is so calm that it seems the text is listening to itself. Its accent is a dying fall and its only tricks are tricks of the light. It is set in rural Ireland, in a country of mist, cloud, and water. The daily events of the lakeside are the swans and dark cygnets gliding by, the rippling of perch beneath the surface of the water, the movement of the breeze through the leaves of the alders. The air is scented, wild strawberries glow in the banks, and the heron rises silently from the reeds. The dead are under the feet of the living, and it is their presence—the repressed, repressing generations—that makes the people whisper.

I had read The Barracks long ago, but was reintroduced to McGahern by G.O'B, one of my best teachers, a specialist in Irish lit in general and Joyce in particular, and a fine fiction writer himself. I went back and read everything, missing much I always suspected by my sheer lack of Irishness, an assumption both promoted and disparaged by G.O'B. I enjoyed the technical skills of the novels even if I wasn't able to fully join the circle of insider insularity and communal history that I felt McGahern was speaking to most intimately. But By the Lake is so calm, so precisely observed, so accurate in its portrayal of how huge the smallness of place is that its scope and beauty is truly universal. (Denis Donoghue, in his review of McGahern's memoir All Will be Well, released last year in Britain, this past February in the US, thinks less of the book, calling By the Lake - released as That They May Face the Rising Sun in Britain - "hardly a novel at all." Read the review for much more background on McGahern.)

I'll leave the last word to Mantel, one of the finest novelists working in any language, on her peer:

By the Lake has the sense of grave integrity that is his aim. By virtue of its simplicity the novel accretes power. By its close, the barrier between exile and home, between the living and the dead, seems to become translucent. The generations blur. A person's story may be greater than he is, and last much longer. We are made of memories and we persist as long as our story is worth repeating. "People we know come and go in our minds whether they are here or in England or alive or dead."


TWO DAYS, FOUR HOURS, till kickoff

And go read:

Remarkable. Lovely. Reviewed here in the New Yorker.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Whatcha Gonna Do?

I've always had reading slumps now and then, times when I can have a stack of novels in front of me, each bought in full anticipation of anticipation, amd I'm simply incapable of choosing ONE to read. Those times when I finish a novel with all the joy of finishing, under doctor's orders, a bottle of antibiotics. Usually an application of non-fiction can reinvigorate my fiction-jones, and there's always Premiership soccer on FSC or La Liga or Il Calcio on Gol to entertain me (though if I'm watching Italian league soccer, I'm worse than usual). I used to worry about those times when I wasn't in the middle of a novel, but now? It happens.

It never happened before with music. It's happened now.

I dutifully went out and bought

I was eager for this album as little as two weeks ago. I felt obliged to buy it Tuesday. I felt obliged to listen to it. I feel obliged to say I have plenty of opinions about why I have no opinion on it, none of which has anything to do with the music on the album. If badgered, I'd say if falls somewhere between "the best rock album we'll hear in 2006" (it being late March and all) and an album "with very little danger and too few moments of real urgency." Probably closer to the latter. I'm not sure. This minute, I don't care.

I understand my reading slumps, or at least have a reasoned, if not reasonable, explanation. I'm an English major. I wrote my masters thesis on pomo American fiction in general and Stanley Elkin in particular. Though I love to read - why else be an English major? - the way I sometimes haveto read feels like work, and I tend to read the same way even when reading authors that don't necessarily pertain to what I've studied and will study again. And when I'm not reading for academic reasons, I read for stylistic and artistic reasons. It's rare I read like I expect most people read, simply for pleasure. I love John Barth, but really, it isn't called the literature of exhaustion for nothing. It is probably a beneficial necessity that my mind doesn't want to read now and then.

But music? If I make the obvious leap, listening to music has now become, in a transformation that's only happened since I began blogging about music on BDRIB, work. The drop-off in the number and passion of the posts on BDRIB suggests the same. Part of this is my awareness that I am offering the opinions of a non-musician to a collection of dedicated, passionate, professional musicians, and not only musicians but musicians working a particularly sophisticated niche in a sophisticated genre. I can say "I really like this, it's good, it's worth buying because I like it." I can't say (or I shouldn't say) "this is revolutionary, groundbreaking, unlike anything else now being produced, challenging the technical paradigms of musicality." Not to the composers and musicians who are S21's core readers and contributors. And especially not to those composers and musicians who don't think rock music should be discussed on S21 in the first place.

I can talk about rock music and musicians as cultural phenomenom - what Karen O and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs signify culturally. I can talk about the Kaiser Chief Franz Ferdinand Interpol Arctic Monkeys and the near universal acclaim each band garners from rock reviewers and magazines of fiercely claimed independence and what that acclaim might mean in terms of fierce independence being nothing more (for both bands and reviewers) than another cleverly marketed brand. I can bring the same academic tools and methods I was taught to use when faced with the cultural artifact of a book and apply them to the cultural artifact of music. Whether or not anyone wants to read that is for each to decide, but suddenly listening to music sometimes feels like I've a chapter in my thesis due to my mentor by the end of the week. And if whether or not anyone wants to read that is for each to decide, I don't know that I want to write it.

If the parallel is true, and a listening slump is like a reading slump, this will break too.
And I enjoy posting songs that I like, which I will continue to do. And books, sometimes, when I'm reading well (which I am).

I'll snap out of this slump, with luck by next Tuesday, April 4, when



three albums I've been anticipating anticipating are released. I'm hoping.
Rubes Accomplished or Accomplice Rubes?

In the slimmest, most begrudging and cronyist way possible George Bush made a cosmetic change in his White House staff in a transparent move to assuage critics. It'll never work, right?

Here's the Post top headline:
Card's Departure Signals Bush Is Heeding Critics
After five years of spurning Washington conventional wisdom, staff change shows a president more willing to defer to its expectations.
Jim VandeHei
And here's the NYT:
Joshua Brewster Bolten: Longtime Ally, Now a Top Aide
The incoming White House chief of staff appears to have the credentials and ability to soothe Congress that President Bush needs.
Salon's War Room's Tim Grieve compiles a list of yesterday's truly noteworthy news here, proving that all that White House need do is bark, snarl, slurp, and purr and bad news gets bumped from A1.

The difference between Andy Card and Josh Bolton is so slight as to be negligible, and I'm sure that Bolton will be just as willing to fall on his sword as Card if a repeat of the publicity stunt is required. But for the press to celebrate swapping out Tweedledum for Tweedledee as if it was a grand reaffirmation of the wisdom of Maximum Leader is both self-serving and self-congratulatory. (And reports that the White House is playing B-girl to the press' sailor in an effort to re-spark lover's whispers is ominous too.)

I don't believe it's an accident that after weeks of concerted slap and tickle campaign with the media the White House chose to cap the strategy with a major non-story, and if it was sadly predictable that the media would fawningly sing the praises of the non-story exactly as the White House would have them sung, it's illustrative: when two amoral institutions need each other, symbiotic co-existence is the paramount priority.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The House Was Quiet
and the World Was Calm

by Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Smart's Nothing w/o Strength

The most common and deepest and bitterest thread of bitching by Conservatives against Liberals is that Liberals consider themselves smarter, more educated, more rational, and more reasonable than Conservatives. This is particularly irksome to Conservatives because it is not only the one belief shared by both sides, it also happens to be, they know in their subconscious if not in their waking thoughts, true. How else could they claim victimhood for Ben Domenech, blaming his resignation over plagiarism not on the crime itself but on the elitist and vicious Left for catching him?

A home-schooled college drop-out with such an inferiority complex underlying his dreams of Conservative superstar punditry develops a chronic habit of plagiarism (Alex Ross catches Domenech ripping off an Amazon review of a classical music CD in an effort to impress Ben's readers with further depths of his sophistication); a once-proud, once-independent Washington Post, cowed by the rightwing noise machine, hires, vetted or not, said plagiarist; and through the everyday tool of google every printed word said plagiarist (and racist and sexist and just plain loathsomely conservative) wrote is instantly accessible. Of course he would be caught. But only in conservative inferiority complexes could such a google search be construed as morally repugnant and ethically unfair. Not only does the Left think it's smarter, it fights unfairly by daring to fight back. No wonder the Right is lionizing a childish plagiarizer. Never forget, the Right's leader is going to run a mid-term campaign based on charging people who correctly call that leader's actions illegal as traitorous, terrorist-appeasing, cowardly pussies.

This is the lesson to take from this episode: the Right, permanently, constitutionally furious that the Left is smarter, rules by the assumption that if the Left is given the intellectual advantage than the Right is ceded the advantages of political physicality. A punkassbitch is caught commiting punkassbitchery and becomes a conservative martyr. We are smarter: if we just fight back, watch conservative heads explode.