“At this time, by his poetic and inward temper, he might have fallen a prey to the enervating mysticism, then in wait for ardent souls in many a melodramatic revival of old religion or theosophy.”—Walter Pater, Marius the Epicurean (via talesofpassingtime)
“Vidal asks us rhetorically, “When was the last time a poet made enough noise to be threatened with censorship?” The U.S. government has no reason to censor anyone for expressing widely accepted ideas in a marginalized art form. Our government censors, or puts on a watchlist, only those who express support for a contrary worldview. This was once the case for Communism, back when Communism was felt to be a threatening worldview; today it is the case for jihadi Islam, because that is felt to be a threatening worldview. Basically no poet or writer in our society has a problem with democracy, or women’s rights, or freedom of speech, or freedom of religion; writers do not have to be censored because they aren’t really dissenting. They are simply pushing for better/fairer/kinder versions of capitalism and democracy: More rights, fewer bombs. Our political system is well-equipped to absorb this kind of agitation; any Daring Poetic Utterance is likely to have been more directly and angrily expressed already, on a blog or in a newspaper editorial. Today’s truly daring political poet would write against the prevailing notions of the day regarding equality and peace. That’s the kind of poem that would court media blowback—not some well-meaning, right-thinking free verse screed about police brutality or racial inequality.”—
“The schoolhouse being deserted, soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue; and the plough boy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.”—
Watchmen and V for Vendetta author has previously said ‘I have doubted that people will even be able to pick it up’
Quoting Harold Bloom (on a hypothetical production of Faust, Part Two) quoting Lorca (on the body of the dead bullfighter): I do not want to see it!
Well, actually, I do, but I can’t promise I’ll finish it. A friend of mine, decrying Gaddis’s The Recognitions (she finished, but didn’t much care for it, and found it needlessly, aggressively long), coined the term “gentlemanly length” for novels of the scope of Coetzee’s or Sebald’s, which are undeniably profound without trying to stun you with sheer mass. I like “gentlemanly length” because it implicitly accepts the feminist thesis* (cf. Carole Maso on “Thousand page novels, tens and tens of vollmanns—I mean volumes”) that endlessly long books written by men are merely dick-swinging maneuvers, gross sexual displays, but then recuperates a sense of honor among men, to persuade them to avoid such excesses. ”We must compensate the man for the loss of his gun,” says Virginia Woolf; such empathetic realism, the definition of intelligence, is missing from every aspect of our political dialogue—its absence is the clue to the identity in this cursed and constricted century of our neoconservative warmongers (back again, I see) and our social justice partisans, both of whom ideologically commit themselves to not reconstructing reality through their enemies’ perspectives (because the enemy is simply evil, simply oppressive, all too easy to explain), which damns both groups to enact indiscriminate and unintelligent hostility endlessly in the name of permanent revolution and an absolute political righteousness. But I digress. (Only slightly—there is an Alan Moore connection to these observations.)
Anyway, the aesthetic flaw that mars so many of Alan Moore’s works is a superstitious investment in structure for its own sake. This has a genuine philosophical dimension—the demonstration of order in complexity, a refutation of the nihilism of his less savory characters (e.g., Rorschach, the Comedian) and an attempt at articulating a forgotten spiritual outlook (as in Promethea). But formally speaking, once he figures out what he’s going to do and for how long, he goes ahead and does it. This can make for an excruciating readerly experience: who among the readers of Watchmen don’t calculate to themselves midway through the book how many more pirate sequences they’ll have to suffer? It utterly destroys Lost Girls, in my opinion, which is visible from the first as mechanical and schematic in its narrative design, the epitome of empty virtuosity, despite the beauty of Gebbie’s art. Hence my preference among Moore’s works for Swamp Thing—which is I think genuinely haphazard in conception owing to the constraints of monthly publication—and From Hell—which has to make room for the disorders of history and which moreover thematically associates the desire for absolute order with a murderous patriarchal and economic elite. (And both of these projects featured collaborators [Bissette/Totleben and Campbell, respectively] who favored a wilder style in the art.) Someone should write—maybe someone has written—an article on the attraction of this self-proclaimed anarchist to the most rigid aesthetic forms. So my fear, encouraged by Moore’s comments in the article and elsewhere, is that Jerusalem will come to feel like the automatic running of a pre-scripted program rather than the free exercise of imagination. A million words of that will be hard to swallow.
Alan Moore, though, has earned his eminence the old-fashioned way, by writing books that people can’t forget, that influence the next generation of writers and artists, and that outlast—so far—their time of production. So I believe in my anti-mercantile (gentlemanly?) way that he is essentially owed publication of this book as he sees fit, and I look forward to heaving my copy home eventually, even if it rests unread on my shelf.
*As with other examples of feminist culture critique, this one has more than a grain of truth but tends to ruin it with reckless exaggeration. How does the Maso complaint account for Lady Murasaki, Mme de Scudéry, George Eliot, Dorothy Richardson, Marguerite Young, Leslie Marmon Silko, Eleanor Catton, not to speak of J. K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer, and all our other female authors of doorstoppers, triple-deckers, commercial serials, and romans-fleuves? It’s almost as if people write with implements other than the reproductive organs.
My Dear Hawthorne, — People think that if a man has undergone any hardship, he should have a reward; but for my part, if I have done the hardest possible day’s work, and then come to sit down in a corner and eat my supper comfortably — why, then I don’t think I deserve any reward for my hard day’s work — for am I not now at peace? Is not my supper good? My peace and my supper are my reward, my dear Hawthorne. So your joy-giving and exultation-breeding letter is not my reward for my ditcher’s work with that book, but is the good goddess’s bonus over and above what was stipulated — for not one man in five cycles, who is wise, will expect appreciative recognition from his fellows, or any one of them. Appreciation! Recognition! Is love appreciated? Why, ever since Adam, who has got to the meaning of this great allegory — the world? Then we pygmies must be content to have our paper allegories but ill comprehended. I say your appreciation is my glorious gratuity. In my proud, humble way, — a shepherd-king, — I was lord of a little vale in the solitary Crimea; but you have now given me the crown of India. But on trying it on my head, I found it fell down on my ears, notwithstanding their asinine length — for it’s only such ears that sustain such crowns.
Your letter was handed me last night on the road going to Mr. Morewood’s, and I read it there. Had I been at home, I would have sat down at once and answered it. In me divine maganimities are spontaneous and instantaneous — catch them while you can. The world goes round, and the other side comes up. So now I can’t write what I felt. But I felt pantheistic then — your heart beat in my ribs and mine in yours, and both in God’s. A sense of unspeakable security is in me this moment, on account of your having understood the book. I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb. Ineffable socialities are in me. I would sit down and dine with you and all the gods in old Rome’s Pantheon. It is a strange feeling — no hopefulness is in it, no despair. Content — that is it; and irresponsibility; but without licentious inclination. I speak now of my profoundest sense of being, not of an incidental feeling.
Whence come you, Hawthorne? By what right do you drink from my flagon of life? And when I put it to my lips — lo, they are yours and not mine. I feel that the Godhead is broken up like the bread at the Supper, and that we are the pieces. Hence this infinite fraternity of feeling. Now, sympathizing with the paper, my angel turns over another page. you did not care a penny for the book. But, now and then as you read, you understood the pervading thought that impelled the book — and that you praised. Was it not so? You were archangel enough to despise the imperfect body, and embrace the soul. Once you hugged the ugly Socrates because you saw the flame in the mouth, and heard the rushing of the demon, — the familiar, — and recognized the sound; for you have heard it in your own solitudes.
My dear Hawthorne, the atmospheric skepticisms steal into me now, and make me doubtful of my sanity in writing you thus. But, believe me, I am not mad, most noble Festus! But truth is ever incoherent, and when the big hearts strike together, the concussion is a little stunning. Farewell. Don’t write a word about the book. That would be robbing me of my miserly delight. I am heartily sorry I ever wrote anything about you — it was paltry. Lord, when shall we be done growing? As long as we have anything more to do, we have done nothing. So,now, let us add Moby Dick to our blessing, and step from that. Leviathan is not the biggest fish; — I have heard if Krakens.
This is a long letter, but you are not at all bound to answer it. Possibly, if you do answer it, and direct it to Herman Melville, you will missend it — for the very fingers that now guide this pen are not precisely the same that just took it up and put it on this paper. Lord, when shall we be done changing? Ah! it’s a long stage, and no inn in sight, and night coming, and the body cold. But with you for a passenger, I am content and can be happy. I shall leave the world, I feel, with more satisfaction for having come to know you. Knowing you persuades me more than the Bible of our immortality.
What a pity, that, for your plain, bluff letter, you should get such gibberish! Mention me to Mrs. Hawthorne and to the children, and so, good-by to you, with my blessing.
P.S. I can’t stop yet. If the world was entirely made up of Magians, I’ll tell you what I should do. I should have a paper-mill established at one end of the house, and so have an endless riband of foolscap rolling in upon my desk; and upon that endless riband I should write a thousand — a million — billion thoughts, all under the form of a letter to you. The divine magnet is on you, and my magnet responds. Which is the biggest? A foolish question — they are One.
P.P.S. Don’t think that by writing me a letter, you shall always be bored with an immediate reply to it — and so keep both of us delving over a writing-desk eternally. No such thing! I sh’n’t always answer your letters, and you may do just as you please.
”—Herman Melville, Letter to Nathaniel Hawthorne, November 1851 (via pennymoons)
JOAN RIVERS: Ugh, I hate children. The only child that I think I would have liked ever was Helen Keller because she didn’t talk.
HECKLER: It is just… Not very funny.
JR: Yes, it is. And if you don’t, then leave!
HECKLER: It’s not very funny if you have a deaf son.
JR: I happen to have a deaf mother. Oh, you stupid ass. Let me tell you what comedy is about.
HECKLER: You go ahead and tell me what comedy’s about.
JR: Oh, please. You are so stupid. Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everything and deal with things, you idiot. My mother is deaf, you stupid son of a bitch. Don’t tell me. And just in case you can hear me in the hallway, I lived for nine years with a man with one leg. Okay, you asshole? And we’re going to talk about what it’s like to have a man with one leg who lost it in World War II and never went back to get it, because that’s fucking littering. So don’t you tell me what’s funny. Comedy is to make us laugh. If we didn’t laugh, where the hell would we all be? Think about that.
—Transcript of Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, qtd. here
“I did not meet anyone that day, and I was at ease. I pulled a small book of Homer out of my pocket that I had not reopened since my departure from Marseille. I reread three sentences from the Odyssey, memorized them, and found a thread in the rhythm that gave me pleasure. I closed the book and sat there, trembling, more alive than I could have believed one could be, my spirit numb with happiness.”—Andre Gide, The Immoralist (via talesofpassingtime)
“Unlike Brechtians who scourge man’s criminality and then revert to a faith in an ultimate solution—betraying hereby their underlying kinship to bourgeois idealists—Bonaventura breaks off with an anguished cry but no answer to the reality of bestial habits.”—Gerald Gillespie (via jaded-toddler)
“Among the many things we lost when we abandoned the Romantic idea of creativity, the most valuable may have been the idea of creativity’s stillness. If you’re really creative, really imaginative, you don’t have to make things. You just have to live, observe, think, and feel.”—Creativity Creep - The New Yorker (via photographsonthebrain)
I miss the old Internet days when one just had a blog (or a livejournal!) and it all went there: the pretty pictures, the book reviews, the ancient quotations veiling political fears, the notes on pedagogy, etc. But we must adapt to this multi-platform age if we want to continue to promote every aspect of our lonely lives to strangers.
And here, if you even care, are a month’s worth of Goodreads reviews (I also read William Giraldi’s excellent new novel, Hold the Dark, but didn’t review it as I’m writing a review-essay on Giraldi for Rain Taxi; the Woodrell and Hannah below are there as background reading for my Giraldi essay since he’s counted them among his influences—I am now an admirer of Woodrell’s and not much of an admirer of Hannah’s):