Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman 1918-2007

ingmar bergmanIt was just announced that Ingmar Bergman, the director of such masterpieces as THE SEVENTH SEAL, PERSONA, and FANNY AND ALEXANDER, has died. He will almost assuredly be saluted as a visionary, and a pioneer in the art of auteurist directing, but he is just as often taken to be somehow irrelevant thematically to the culture of late modernity. Excessively somber, even melancholy, his exercises in exploring what the death of God means for humanity often seem rather oblique and all-too ethereal next to the intoxicating mixture of joi de vivre and political engagement of the French New Wave, or the more concrete and socially-minded efforts of the '70s American auteurs.

I find this unfortunate; I feel Bergman's seriousness (and he's not always so serious—do yourself a huge favor and Netflix SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) can be translated quite well into more contemporary terms and less directly theological themes. Woody Allen has tried to do this his entire career, to some extent, with mixed results (INTERIORS, not so good, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, brilliant). There has been recently, it seems, a renewed appreciation for the work of another Scandinavian bent on metaphysics (Dreyer) and from talking to some of my friends, Bresson, who may be less God-obsessed than Bergman but who is just as rigorously moral a filmmaker, still seems to be speaking very directly to contemporary concerns and sensibilities.

I suppose to some extent I have always loved and appreciated Bergman's films because they so clearly speak not to other films, but to literature. I even took a class at Dartmouth on Bergman's literary sources—it was great, reading Strindberg and Chekhov. I suppose this may not be very attractive to pure film scholars, but I think his success in reaching educated and fairly film-literate audiences (despite his reputation for dourness) over the years might suggest that his literariness is a legitimate alternative for auteurist filmmaking to the hyper-cinematicism of, say, certain Asian directors of the past ten years who are fawned over by outlets like ReverseShot. I am not, by any means, trying to denigrate artists like Tsai Ming-Liang or Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but I would like to argue that Bergman's very author-like auteurism be appreciated by film scholars in equal measure to the more image-conscious auteurism that seems regnant today.

More: Geez, now Michelangelo Antonioni is dead too. Please stop there, film gods!

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen

The Corrections Jonathan FranzenLike many people, I think, I read Franzen's essay about the state of contemporary literature before I read what is essentially Franzen's effort to confront the limitations of contemporary literature—this book.

How, his "Harpers essay" (and many of his other essays collected in this book) asks, is it possible for a novel capture with any accuracy (not to mention significance) the greatly accelerated pace of life in late-model Western capitalism? I think most people agreed at the time The Corrections came out that Franzen succeeded in doing just that—rendering the worlds of mental health and the stock market, early globalization, and consumerism novelizable in a way that few others could hope to do.

However, I think it is vital to note the ways in which Franzen constructs, or rather is forced to construct or is predisposed to construct, his plot in such a way as to contain the bits of chaos that threaten from the real world, hedging it in with bits of plodding Midwestern zaniness, static familial dramas, and certain hermetic spaces (the ship, Lithuania, memory). The way Franzen constructs his novel on a geographic plane is interesting: there is Lithuania, which exists as a sort of netherworld, and then there are three zones of declining cultural intensity or "hipness" or what have you: New York, Philadelphia, and the Midwest. Philadelphia is an intermediate zone—clearly more desirable for the Lambert children than their home in St. Jude (St. Louis?), but nevertheless ritually excused for a certain lack of... you know, New York-ness. Franzen depicts the Midwest sympathetically, but he never tries to redeem it culturally, allowing all the insults his characters fling against it to stand unaddressed and certainly unredressed. Franzen, I would say, does not mind being slightly ashamed of his own Midwestern origins (not that I blame him). But what is fascinating in this schematic geography is how much it excludes—California and the West for one, not to mention the South (including Florida), or the erstwhile Third World. California's exclusion is fascinating given its prominence in so many critiques of late capitalism; its celebrated ethos seems so antithetical to the personal ethic of Alfred Lambert that one might think Franzen had made a mistake in sending Alfred's children East—if Franzen intends to set up an antithetical binary, it should be the younger generation's California vs. the elders' Midwest. And yet the Midwest never has seemed to be in any ideological relation whatsoever to California; can you think of any novel or even film that plays the two off one another?

At any rate, Franzen's success in dealing with the "problems" of contemporary society is founded, I would argue, on the cohesion of the strategies by which he contains them rather than the extent to which he faces them novelistically. That is not to demean his achievement, but rather to identify it properly and to suggest why certain other novels which also attempt to "deal" with late modern society do so haphazardly and rather poorly. (No names, although Benjamin Kunkel might do well to listen for his next book, and Jonathan Safran Foer.)

Reading about the list of Granta's Best Young American Novelists, I remember someone (I forget who) pointing out how few of them write anything set in America. And that is not just a matter of the rather obvious fact that many of them are first- or second-generation immigrants, for that does not in any way prevent them writing American-set novels, but rather that other places in the world—Russia, Latin America, and West Africa especially—are now easier to distill into a novel's setting, or are when you're writing for an American audience which cares little and knows less about such places.

But if writers are looking to non-American locales to stage their confrontations with America's problems (because while Absurdistan, for one, may say a great deal about post-Soviet Russia, it is just as biting in its critique of America's consumerism, cultural politics, and racial anxieties), what does this mean for America? Have we as a culture become so tentacular a creature that it is far too much work for any writer to try to locate the body among all the writhing appendages? I'm not sure, but I have a hunch the answer is yes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Invention of Love, by Tom Stoppard

The Invention of Love Tom StoppardCatching up from a couple of weeks ago:

One of the other counselors at the book camp I just finished work at is, for reasons which should become clear in a moment, a fan of the work of A.E. Housman. I gave him a hard time about this last year mostly because I remembered Orwell savaging Housman in his magnificent essay "Inside the Whale." But this year, I ran across the review by Frank Kermode which I posted on here, and found new reasons to appreciate Housman.

Furthering that, and explaining what drew my friend to Housman in the first place, my friend lent me a copy of Tom Stoppard's play "The Invention of Love," which focuses on Housman's life and peers/professors (including Pater, Wilde, and Ruskin). The play is magnificent—as imaginative as any Stoppard has written, and far more moving (I think). Rather than go into detail, I would just like to quote a few passages in which Housman, one of the greatest scholars of Latin of his day, propounds a certain view of scholarship. Essentially, these are quotes which I want to keep for further consideration, but you get the benefit of being able to read them too:
"By taking out a comma and putting it back in a different place, sense is made out of nonsense in a poem that has been read continuously since it was first misprinted four hundred years ago. A small victory over ignorance and error. A scrap of knowledge to add to our stock. what does this remind you of? Science, of course. Textual criticism is a science whose subject is literature, as botany is the science of flowers and zoology of animals and geology of rocks. Flowers, animals and rocks being the work of nature, their sciences are exact sciences, and must answer to the authority of what can be seen and measured. Literature, however, being the work of the human mind with all its frailty and aberration, and human fingers which make mistakes, the science of textual criticism must aim for degrees of likelihood, and the only authority it might answer to is an author who has been dead for hundreds or thousands of years. But it is a science none the less, not a sacred mystery. Reason and common sense, a congenial intimacy with the author, a comprehensive familiarity with the language, a knowledge of ancient script for those fallible fingers, concentration, integrity, mother wit and repression of self-will--these are a good start for the textual critic. In other words, almost anybody can be a botanist or a zoologist. Textual criticism is the crown and summit of scholarship."
What a strange thing is a young man. You had better be a poet. Literary enthusiasm never made a scholar, and unmade many. Taste is not knowledge. A scholar's business is to add to what is known. That is all. But it is capable of giving the very greatest satisfaction, because knowledge is good. It does not have to look good or sound good or even do good. It is good just by being knowledge. And the only thing that makes it knowledge is that it is true. You can't have too much of it and there is no little too little to be worth having. There is truth and falsehood in a comma.
Poetical feelings are a peril to scholarship. There are always poetical people ready to protest that a corrrupt [sic] line is exquisite. Exquisite to whom? The Romans were foreigners writing for foreigners two millenniums ago; and for people whose gods we find quaint, whose savagery we abominate, whose private habits we don't like to talk about, but whose idea of what is exquisite is, we flatter ourselves, mysteriously identical with ours.
I love the fact that the word "corrupt" is misspelled in the text—I would not put it past Stoppard to have done that intentionally, and in so doing neatly strengthening Housman's point. There are indeed persons who will look at the "corrrupt" line and pronounce it poetical; others will see it merely as a typo. I would say that I fall in with the former group, but I'm afraid Housman might chastise me for doing so.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

Having stolen the book from my sister's car late last night (about 10), I set out to read the last and final installment of the Harry Potter saga in one almost uninterrupted sitting. Not counting a number of bathroom breaks occasioned by a number of trips to the coffee-maker, I succeeded, finishing at about 7 this morning. (And promptly slept until 5; I had also just driven home from Washington, DC yesterday.)

Which is not to brag—I imagine that others read it even faster (I am not a particularly quick reader), and others will say that such speed demonstrates all too well the disposability and pulpiness of the Potter books.

Dwelling comfortably among the latter camp, I imagine, would be Ron Charles, a book critic for the Washington Post, whose article "Harry Potter and the Death of Reading" my friend Tyson sent me a couple of days ago.

Charles gestures ominously at the familiar portents of reading's demise in America—this poll and that study all saying the same thing—Americans aren't reading as much as they used to, and most of what is being read are mega-blockbusters from the same silly authors (King, Grisham, Evanovich, Patterson, et al.). Bringing in a Benjaminian-flavored critique, Charles also decries the Imperius-Curse type grip of the nearly-unique situation which America (and much of the world) finds itself in at this moment:
Perhaps submerging the world in an orgy of marketing hysteria doesn't encourage the kind of contemplation, independence and solitude that real engagement with books demands -- and rewards. Consider that, with the release of each new volume, Rowling's readers have been driven not only into greater fits of enthusiasm but into more precise synchronization with one another. Through a marvel of modern publishing, advertising and distribution, millions of people will receive or buy "The Deathly Hallows" on a single day. There's something thrilling about that sort of unity, except that it has almost nothing to do with the unique pleasures of reading a novel: that increasingly rare opportunity to step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private, the sense that you and an author are conspiring for a few hours to experience a place by yourselves -- without a movie version or a set of action figures. Through no fault of Rowling's, Potter mania nonetheless trains children and adults to expect the roar of the coliseum, a mass-media experience that no other novel can possibly provide.
Sorry, that was a lengthy quote, but an important one, I think, for Charles's criticism does make a great deal of sense, and his desire to "step out of sync with the world, to experience something intimate and private" is one I (and a number of my friends) share quite keenly. I myself have been wracking my brains for the past couple of weeks to find a financially viable way to Thoreau-ly disassociate myself from society for a number of months while I ingest the alarming number of novels I can't stand not having read.

But I think there are also a number of problems with Charles's complaint, and they go beyond the common and well-recognized paradoxical twins of solipsism and sociability which have longed spurred in conflicting measure the desire to read. For sociability is a large part of the reading experience as well, even if Charles ignores it—we do read to experience things privately, but we also deeply desire the opportunity to process these private experiences socially. That is why we have critics like Mr. Charles in the first place. Whether or not Charles's critique that the paroxysmic sociability attending the release of a Potter book has nothing to do with reading is another matter, and one that gets to the heart of my objections with Charles's article.

Like almost everyone else who has ever thought much about literature, Charles assumes that the novel is intimately and quite likely inextricably linked to the experience of being an individual—i.e., a solitary mind capable of private and unique experiences, of contemplation, of solitude, of being "out of sync" with the rest of the world. There are dozens of books—many of them deeply insightful—examining this link between the novel and the individual. But there are also dozens of novels (including the first, Don Quixote) which warn against taking this link too seriously, or rather too exclusively, too dogmatically, even, one might say, too religiously. The point of discontinuity between fiction and reality is a problematic one, these novels say, and it grows more problematic the more we identify individuality with being "out of sync" with the rest of the world.

I have just stepped off a very steep ravine into worlds of theory the likes of which I cannot hope to fathom and into which, I must say, I was not prepared to venture when I set out to answer what bothered me about Charles's article. Clearly, the questions of identity, of difference, of fictionality, of individuality, of (for god's sake!) reality are thorny ones which have up-ended more serious efforts than this blog post.

To say a few words about the last Potter novel: from the standpoint of someone who dearly loved the series, it's about as perfect as one can ask; Rowling is masterful in the way she deploys so many loose ends from the previous books, the way she finds ways to make her themes meaningful plot elements, the way that she probes at certain problems that are much more insidious than Voldemort. While I resent the ending, I do so for some ideological reasons which are rather unimportant to the quality of the work. I realize that there are some compelling criticisms of Rowling's work (Charles, in fact, litanizes them: "the repetitive plots, the static characters, the pedestrian prose, the wit-free tone, the derivative themes"), I think they are invalid; Charles and his lot are reviewing the Potter books like they're Middlemarch—which, I think, is incredibly foolish.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead

The Intuitionist Colson WhiteheadIt took me a fairly long time to read this book; I started it in the last few weeks of spring term, but I put it down for many others in between. It is in many ways—at least to me—a tremendously frustrating book—frustrating in ways that I find difficult to enumerate or articulate.

The plot, however, is not one of the book's frustrations. It is inventive in ways that go well beyond the superficial, although I feel the reviews (or at least the blurbs on the cover) go far too far when they compare Whitehead's imaginative powers to Pynchon; Whitehead possesses a first-rate imagination, but it is primarily conceptual, and not very detail-oriented. Pynchon, at his best, is both. There is not, unfortunately, any real thickness in Whitehead's elevator-obsessed world, but this is probably all for the best; a great deal of inventive detail would probably choke the high-stepping ambition of Whitehead's concepts and architecture.

That architecture holds up a curious world: elevator inspection has become one of the most important and prestigious municipal functions, and elevator inspectors have copped some of the attitudes and behaviors of police officers. In this context, the story is, at heart, a classic one: Lila Mae Watson, one of the best inspectors, is set up to take the fall (no pun intended) for a massive, catastrophic elevator crash. The fact that she is black and a woman, that Lila Mae is part of a heterodox school of elevator inspection known as Intuitionism, and that a major election to determine the future of the elevator inspector guild (including internal race relations and the place of Intuitionism in guild policy) is just on the horizon—all that complicates things marvelously. Traditional good-cop-on-the-run stuff happens (cf. Witness, only with fewer Amish), secrets are revealed, a hunt for a bigger secret commences, etc. The real interest comes in Whitehead's creation of Intuitionism, a method of elevator inspection wherein the inspector tries to sense any problems (current or future) with the elevator's parts and pieces. Surprisingly and inexplicably, this method is even more successful than Empiricism, a method the details of which you can probably figure out. Whitehead's decision to leave the details of Intuitionism vague and enigmatic is both frustrating and a relief—one is glad to have a little imaginative room, but one also has the sour feeling that Whitehead just didn't have enough ideas to produce more than the initial sketch and a few mystical non-sequiturs that are supposedly part of Intuitionism lore/doctrine, or that at any rate he didn't feel whatever ideas he did have were good enough or worked in his allegorical scheme (more on that below).

But the seeming hollowness of the Intuitionism enigma is only one frustration. Primarily, I think, I am put off by what I would call an alien restraint in the writing, a sense that Whitehead never says what he actually wishes to say. This feeling of relentless obliqueness is not completely attributable, I think, to the fact that Whitehead's message, which is rather disjointed, as far as I can tell, and betrayed by the ending, is manacled to allegory—though manacled, the allegory flies extremely well—nor is it possible to chalk this restraint up to a case of borrowed words or any fear of being too provocative or of coming off as too bitter or resentful—Whitehead seems to be happy as a clam in the style he has chosen, and he never seems to resent his resentment, so to speak. Finally, I would not say that The Intuitionist's curious problems of awkward restraint are in any way a function (or a result) of Whitehead's careening ambition. It does not appear to me that Whitehead is trying to rein in or aesthetically contain the scope and exuberance of his ideas. Although I find Whitehead's message a bit disjointed, his ambition is surprisingly coherent, as is the allegory he has created. Furthermore, I do not sense any element of frustration on Whitehead's part with regards to his consummation of the allegorical union of plot and message. Although the novel rapidly accelerates in its final fifty pages, it does not emit any whiff of artistic haste or compositional compromise in its resolution.

To put it pointedly, the novel appears distorted by an obscure presence. Its wit is neither savage nor mordant, but it is far from playful. Its realism, such as it is, is extraordinarily arbitrary, though not in the directed sense of magical realism, where verisimilitude is abridged for solid aesthetic reasons, or for understandable caprices, at any rate. In The Intuitionist, details flood at inopportune moments, and dry up in apposite ones. Characters notice environmental details which would escape someone not being narrated by Colson Whitehead, and although I usually don't mind this type of authorial over-determination, Whitehead does it in a certain way that makes his characters not only less believable, but less likeable. His manipulation of Lila Mae in this way is particularly damaging—her notation of the make, model, and color of elevator buttons even when she is being pursued by a menacing white-collar thug seems to dehumanize her rather than to enrich her well-established professionalism and precision.

I've heard good things about Whitehead's Apex Hides the Hurt, which came out last year, but I'm not sure if it isn't those same good things the critics found in The Intuitionist. Which is not to say that I would not read another of Whitehead's novels; I would have no trouble granting him the status of an "important novelist" (if that title may be mine to grant). Quite clearly, the novel provoked a quite serious and deep response from me, and while I have serious aesthetic qualms with some of Whitehead's choices, there are few novelists who can gather his kind of allegorical power.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cat Power @ Pearl Street (Northampton)

Cat Power Pearl Street Northampton
I wish I had gotten some pictures from the show (the above is not from last night), but, unfortunately, I didn't.

The concert was, as you can imagine, incredible. Chan has an incredibly magnetic stage presence, some of which is probably attributable to my enormous crush on her, but a lot of which probably isn't. She held the audience rapt in attention without doing very much at all—the most animated she got was during a cover of "Satisfaction" (unexpected, and not as well-performed as her own material, but kind of fun nevertheless), and she interacted with the audience extremely infrequently, and the terrible sound mixing made the lyrics all but unintelligible, but it didn't matter all that much, honestly. I wasn't particularly concerned about missing the lyrics—I can listen to the recorded versions of the songs for that (which I'm doing right now), and Miss Marshall's aloofness is tremendously (albeit somewhat paradoxically) winning.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison The Bluest EyeIt is a pleasant misfortune that, because of Toni Morrison's stature as an incomparably meaningful writer—fearless, direct, and weighty (without being obtuse), a writer's whose voice has changed the discourse of the American novel and decisively demonstrated the indispensability of American writers who aren't white and/or male, we tend (or I tend) to forget how utterly sublime is her prose. I could not be a bigger fan of the way Cormac McCarthy unreels those Melvillean sentences of sempiternal grandeur, but Jesus H. Christ, he has nothing on Toni Morrison.

And the maddening thing is, I can't really even begin to describe or categorize or parse just how her prose becomes this exquisite fabric. If it did not connote a certain foreboding and forbiddingness, I would compare it to the ruins of Machu Pichu—for like those great slabs, there is no place to stick one's knife into to wedge open a crack from which one can assess the inner workings of the architect's craft. Every word lies next to its neighbors as if they could not be parted. But it is not, or it does not seem to be, that Morrison selects the right words. It is that words seem to become right by her use, commensurate to her need, to their need, to ours.

But the grace of her prose is not a product of her diction or its effects—it is the product of a deeper, more holistic process of selection. I would not characterize it as word painting, for it is patently not, nor is it minutely realist—Morrison never seems to be hunting for a description or a detail as even the best (i.e. most exact realists) cannot entirely avoid doing from time to time. Morrison's words in fact disappear even as you marvel at their dexterity and appropriateness—one is quickly left with the emotion behind the words, but these emotions are not in the least raw, worked over by the perfection of her prose, and yet the lack of rawness does not in any way prevent these emotions from reaching a state of heart-clenching immediacy.

Some links of interest

Dartmouth alum Neel Shah ('05) in Glamour magazine?

"Brilliant though it was, The Sopranos moved in to a place in US culture that used to belong to prose fiction. John Freeman wonders whether they have killed it off forever"

And the comedy that is right-wing "theory": "An Anti-Progressive Syllabus"
The comments on this post are especially precious.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Old Review of a Billy Collins Volume


I will quite readily admit to having enjoyed a number of Billy Collins, but, upon some reflection, I have to say I enjoyed them in the same way I enjoyed Edward Lear's limericks when I was nine—that is, in a way that has nothing to do with poetry, but a great deal to do with being afraid of Poetry.

Billy Collins is a poet whose simplicity and easy charm acts as a prophylactic, "protecting" us from any poetry that is in some way challenging (and fertile), even while he acts as poetry's amiable goodwill ambassador.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Home Land, Sam Lipsyte

This is the kind of book you recommend to all worthwhile people you know, in the main because you think they deserve something this good. So I'm recommending it to you.

Sam Lipsyte's Home Land, among many other things, gives the theory that hysterical novels are given short critical shrift an enormous boost in terms of credibility; while I believe it won some serious fans among the blogerati, the New Yorker gave it a positively desultory (or desultorily positive), and the NY Review of Books seems to have forgotten completely to cover it.

Home Land is no less than (and perhaps a bit more than) the Lucky Jim of American society circa right now, as Gary Shteyngart would say (and did say in Absurdistan). And the Shteyngart reference is not meant as an idle one—although I adored Absurdistan, it frustrated me at times with its precociously self-conscious quasi-Gogolisms and its Rothian iddishness. Lipsyte manages to envelop all the energy of Portnoy but nevertheless to express it in discrete (not in the sense of polite or conscientious reticence, but in the other sense) bursts—Lipsyte came up with the perfect formal structure to which to yoke his runaway ebullience—dispatches to a high school newsletter.

The novel, of course, is not all dispatches, but they serve as more than intermittently appearing curios, interjected for comic intensification; they orient the novel toward a specific audience, a unified tone, and a clear idea of the narrator's imaginative canvas. Home Land therefore operates in a way very similar to one of my other favorite novels, Saul Bellow's Herzog.

But Lipsyte is doing something very new here with these "updates"—he has written the perfect novel to describe/parody/confront the culture of blogging (which is probably why so many bloggers liked it). This is not in the least explicit, and is likely not even intentional, but I could not help being completely arrested by the significance of the following passage for blogging:
Catamounts, once more I stuff my heart into the firing tube of language, loft it into the void.
See the wet meat soar?
I swore an oath off updates after the death of [redacted to prevent spoilers], but I've been checking the bulletin board on occasion, shocked anew each time at the dearth of soul-searching there. It's as though that night at the Moonbeam never occurred, our lives on unruptured procession of promotions and breeding success, summer cottages, marathons. Who called for the moratorium on feeling? Who pulled the plug on the true? Or was it always just me, feeble Tea, who believed in the power of updates, who thought that by sharing with my brethren of the valley the story of my days and nights, my fears and joys, or even just the febrile murmurings of my mind, our forts of ruinous solitude might be breached.
Okay, maybe it was just me.
Lipsyte addresses (obliquely/unconsciously) a host of net-related issues here, some of which can only be properly analyzed with reference to some plot events which I don't really want to divulge. But I think the sense of having been deluded about the efficacy of updating, or posting, in terms of opening a channel to real feeling or to truth is crucial to the blogging experience. One realizes, or should realize, after a very short time that the elastic layers of artifice that plague or communications "in real life" also ride along the same links and lines we are using to open ourselves up to the world—and to open the world up to us. Two words stick out from this passage: "sharing" and "breached." The inflections of these verbs is very important here and gives us an insight into the state of, and specific ideas behind, the delusion common to (new) bloggers: "sharing" is a gerund and a progressive participle—it therefore can be both an object—a goal—and a process. The point of blogging is to sustain the process of "sharing," a verb which in this case has lost the objects (both indirect and direct) which it grammatically calls for—"Sharing" has become intransitive. The effects of this intransitivity are enormous—it allows the blogger to disregard the things which would (grammatically) take the place of those objects—an audience (the indirect object) and content (the direct object). "Sharing" becomes synonymous with a gas leak, which is, if you really think about it, not sharing at all. To correct this misperception, it is necessary to reconjugate "to share" as the past participle (not the progressive): "shared." A post is "shared," not "sharing"—it is itself an object, not part of an on-going process.

"Breached" is similarly misconjugated. The past participle in this case falsely assumes completion where there can be none—the blogger can neither "breach" himself/herself nor the audience which s/he intends, for both are shifting in ways that defy pressure. Blogging is carried out on the slipperiest of surfaces, and any effort to generate the friction necessary to establish a head-on collision—with a reader or even an interlocutor—is a fool's errand. This is why bloggers are always talking past one another to a degree much greater even than in verbal exchanges or academic journals. The hope for a "breached" audience—one that has been pinned, effectively, in place to listen, is absurd, unrealizable. The blogger's hope for a degree of transparency which would allow the audience to breach oneself is similarly impossible—no one blogs at a rate wherein the gaps of non-blogged activity are smaller than the posts. The life that occurs in those gaps reorients the life that falls into the posts between the gaps—as you live, the constellation of the posts you've made shifts based on what you do outside of your posts—inevitably. To be "breached" would require a cessation of this shifting—and that cannot happen.

Well, that's enough—more than enough, I'm sure. I may have taken all the fun out of Home Land, but that's definitely not my intention. It is a fantastic book—read it soon.

By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolaño

I've been meaning to read a book by Bolaño since I read this New Yorker piece about him, and then a glowing omnibus review by James Wood, a critic whom I respect greatly. (There was also an omnibus review in the NY Review of Books this week which was similarly effusive.)

The book that has gotten the most attention by far is the longest yet translated, The Savage Detectives, and I really would like to start that this summer if at all possible. But I have the wonderful opportunity of perhaps speaking with Ilán Stavans, one of the foremost academics writing about Latin American culture and literature today, some time in the next two weeks; I am currently in Amherst, and he teaches here, even occasionally lecturing for the kids at the camp. His lectures on Spanglish, Neruda, and Elizabeth Bishop last year were among the best experiences I had all summer. I wanted to have read something by Bolaño before talking to him, so I picked this novella up. It is dazzling.

Narrated as a deathbed confession—a set-up worthy of an anticipatory grimace, but Bolaño never falters—he deploys this framing device with a feverish intensity worthy of Dostoevsky. But, oh dear god, what goes in that frame. There is really nothing in recent literature that I have read to compare with the sheer entrancing creativity of the falconry section that occurs just after the midpoint of the novel or so, and there are moments involving certain famous personages which are so well constructed that the reader cannot fail to feel an blushing proximity to the narrator's brush with fame (and infamy).

I worry that the slavering attention Bolaño has received these past few months will burn itself out in a year or two—for if that happens, the fault will not be in Bolaño nor in his books, but in our cultural attention deficit, and we will have lost the chance for a proper judgment on his work. I suppose it is premature of me to say this, but there is no doubt in my mind that the work of Roberto Bolaño demands a place of equal stature with the giants of the last century—and not just the Latin American giants (Borges, García Marquéz), but worldwide.