Saturday, May 24, 2014

check your prose

This is a slightly modified version of a comment I never posted at The Chronicle of Higher Education after reading "Check Your History."

I wouldn't reduce Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind to the category of "memoirs of oppressed white men," and I'd also argue that Bloom and his text, and perhaps Saul Bellow's Ravelstein as a reader's companion to, are far more intriguing than Tal's tiny essay, even if I disagree with Bloom's political orientation as well as his hilarious, if minimizing, thoughts on Nietzsche and Mick Jagger.

Anyway, Fortgang is much more of a cliche than an interesting writer, and, yes, he's 18 or 19 and we're supposed to think of him as innocent or allowed to be naive or something like that. Still, it's rather disturbing that his "Checking My Privilege" is getting so much more attention than, say, chapter 5 of Fight for Your Long Day, "Check Your Package At The Door," which offers a fuller, richer, darker, and funnier look at the academy and what goes on between classes.

But back to Tal, this fine reminder that most of us "whites" have not been white for much more than a century, or even half of one, is my favorite essay response to the original

And here is two to twenty cents from The New Yorker.

I've also been getting into the anger and satire of Paul Beatty's first two novels and thinking of them within the context of the very recent Ta-Nehisi Coates article on reparations to African-Americans. I may write more on this later, and at the least, I'm hoping that Tal Fortgang reads it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Struggle

"My Struggle" is the original title I have for 200 pages I wrote twenty years ago, in the early nineties. It was my second burst of novel writing, and a parody of the liberal arts grad who winds up broke, slacking, experiencing angst, and so on. See Less Than Zero and Bright Lights, Big City for examples of the genre. It seems like a valid title for anything that intends to draw attention to the fact that the author or narrator has not struggled, has no right to think of his life as struggle, or has struggled in such a psychological or emotional way that it hardly seems like struggle compared to the starving, enslaved, overworked, terminally unemployed, etc.

But I don't know why Karl named his book thusly.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The B.K. Lounge

After finishing Paul Beatty's The White Boy Shuffle, I've moved onto Tuff, wherein the main character is seized with love at first sight whilst staring at the fly fry girl at a Burger King. I turn to the internet, and the first story I find staring back is news that Burger King is changing its slogan of 40 years; the royal Whoppers are moving from "Have It Your Way" to "Be Your Way." No doubt the stress of such a transition will weigh down on most of us.

I suppose all roads lead back to De La Soul.

Friday, May 16, 2014

L. A. Prose

I've recently been enjoying novels set mainly in Southern California such as The White Boy Shuffle and How To Get Into The Twin Palms. I've also been following So Cal fires and oil spills, and I'm even getting e-mail  on L.A. social-justice "gap year" programs.

So, naturally, I took it all as a sign that I was due to link and list:


The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty

Chump Change by Dan Fante

Ask The Dust by John Fante

The Road To Los Angeles by John Fante

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

The Player by Michael Tolkien

How To Get Into The Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak


Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Fante by Dan Fante

I'll add links and other books soon, but please feel free to note your own in a comment.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Iraq is back. . .

. . .in the news, and Colin Powell's famous Pottery Barn Rule seems more prudent than ever although, quite obviously, we cannot undo the past.

It could just be timed counterargument to opening up a Benghazi investigation, but articles on Iraq are depicting the recent situation as quickly deteriorating. Novelist and professor Jay Parini contributes here, and in "Iraq, three years after U.S. Withdrawal" The Week portrays Iraq today as, by some criteria, just as bad or worse as it was during Saddam Hussein's rule. The situation for women is particularly bizarre, as they are guaranteed 25 percent of of the seats in parliament, but are seen as having fewer rights than women held during Saddam's time:

Are women at least better off?Their political situation has improved: Under Iraq's postwar constitution, women are guaranteed 25 percent of the seats in parliament. But as conservative Shiite forces have gained a foothold within the government, the average female Iraqi has found herself with fewer rights than under Saddam. More than a quarter of women over the age of 12 in Iraq are illiterate; only 14 percent are either working or actively seeking employment. Perhaps the greatest symbol of Iraqi women's plight today is the Jaafari Personal Status Law, draft legislation approved by Iraq's Council of Ministers in February that lowers the marriage age for girls to 9, forbids women from leaving their homes without their husbands' consent, and legalizes marital rape. "This law means humiliation for women and for Iraqis in general," said female legislator Safia al-Suhail. "It shows that we are going backwards."

In 2014, car bombings are in the news quite regularly, and 2013's death toll of almost 9,000 rivals the peak of sectarian violence in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, the friendly neighbors in Iran are merely announcing that have copied a U.S. spy drone. Most of us, I'm sure, would prefer peace and Genoa salami over this assessment from General Salami:

"No nation welcomes other countries' spy drones in its territory, and no one sends back the spying equipment and its information back to the country of origin," Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran's military, said at the time, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency.

It never ends.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pynchon In Public 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Interview in Inside Higher Ed

At Inside Higher Ed, Joseph Fruscione included in his adjunct interview series Gordon Haber, of Adjunctivitis and False Economies, and I exchanging e-mails on writing while teaching as adjuncts.

In one of my questions, I slipped in a Richard Yates reference to the fact that he did very little writing while teaching at Iowa. For me, this relates to his almost famous assessment that writing and teaching are thoroughly incompatible as they require the same emotions. At least, Yates saying that is famous to me.

From the interview:

AK: Richard Yates, in an interview, said he hardly wrote any fiction when he was teaching at Iowa for six years. He described teaching as demanding the same emotions as writing, and so he was too drained from teaching to leave anything on the page. How has it been for you?
GH: Teaching was draining, but I wanted to do it. I have a really hard time with day jobs that don’t interest me. Of course it was extraordinarily difficult to balance marriage, fatherhood, teaching, freelance journalism and fiction writing. And yet the last few years have been a fertile period. I wrote a story collection, the third draft of a novel, a bunch of features and book reviews. I really don’t know how it happened. Maybe because for me writing is like exercise — you’ve got to do it regularly, even just a little bit, so you don’t feel like crap. So even though teaching can be emotionally taxing, I still managed to write, except during finals week when there was 100 essays to get through.

Read more at Inside Higher Ed

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Wuhan, China

Reading Little White Duck: A Childhood in China led me to Wuhan, China, a large sprawling city dissected by a huge river that Chairman Mao is said to have swum across. Further online searches led me to the Wuhan Mikado, an intriguing structure that appears to have trees and grass on multiple levels.

Friday, May 2, 2014

from Turkey and Armenia to Russia and Ukraine

** Elif Batuman's The Possessed takes us everywhere from Stanford to Russia to Uzbekistan.

** I feared Batuman failed to mention any of my favorites from Russian literature (Shalamov, Olesha, and Biely among others), and then, like magic, Biely showed up in a footnote a few pages after this anxiety set in. So, yes, it was more like a doubt or disappointment, not a genuine fear.

** Arthur Nersesians's Dogrun has a Yuri Olesha reference!

** I read Turkish-American Batuman just before Armenian-American Nersesian, and, like a naive American-American dip shit, I imagine myself resolving the history of their ancestors.

** On Easter Sunday, we ate with people who described themselves as Ukrainians raised in Russia. The father came from the town that "Gooseberries" takes place in.

** An interpretation of Yuri Olesha's Envy is that it is equally critical of both capitalism and communism, Russia and its "foreign devils," and this is consistent with how I teach Ha Jin's "After Cowboy Chicken Came To Town."

** As you can see, I'm in a jam, and this sort of superficial listing is the best I can do.

** Also, I promised myself, I'd try to stop blogging and begin writing short little pieces I could then submit to journals and zines.

** I can't prove that the global news headlines continue to insist we are sliding into sustained global conflict, or World War III, but I can't prove that we're not.

** But blogging is easy and addictive.

** I must return to typing in more corrections I've made by hand.

** So I'll add detail to this another time.

** Fight for your long weekend!

the old man and the sea

I reread The Sun Also Rises in early May 2012, and I'm rereading The Old Man and the Sea in early May 2014. 

Who else could get away with "the Yankees of New York" or the "Indians of Cleveland" or the boy, the man, the fish, and a gigantic feat of "hand game" (arm wrestling) against a powerful "Negro" that then causes said opponent to lose all confidence? 

Nevertheless, I recommend, and I see Powell's has one for sale at the airport!

"Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is." 
--Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

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