Tuesday, November 23, 2010

self-obsessed-white-guy novels


After years of hearing "historic-significance"-style hype about Henry Miller, I've finally gotten around to picking up one of his books: SEXUS. I'm only about 60 pages in so far, and I'm liking it better as I get deeper in, but since about page 3 I've found myself comparing it to certain other novels I've read, such as:

THE STRANGER by Albert Camus
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
MISS LONELYHEARTS by Nathanael West
HUNGER by Knut Hamsun
POST OFFICE by Charles Bukowski
ASK THE DUST by John Fante

What makes all of these books feel similar, in my mind, is a sort of close-focus on a young, white, self-obsessed protagonist, a close-focus that results in a plot principally driven (or at least significantly affected) by the protagonist's personality. That probably sounds like a pretty vague criteria for grouping these novels together, and the honest truth is that I'm just starting to work this over in my mind and I haven't really got much of a thesis worked out, but I'm intrigued enough at this point to start trying to put thoughts into words, in hopes of coming to a few more solid conclusions.

Perhaps I could better state what makes these books feel related by using the term "existentialism," though certain books in this group (like HUNGER) were written prior to the invention of the term, and certain other books in the group haven't been academically recognized as "existential." What I mean when I use the term "existential" in relation to these books is that all of the books seem focused on the protagonist dealing with mundane, day-to-day existence, and it's that focus on the protagonist's reaction to the mundane day-to-day (though it sometimes pushes the plot into extraordinary situations, as in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT and THE STRANGER) that drives the plot.

A sense of "reacting to the mundane" might be key to this feeling of similarity I get from the above-mentioned books. For example, JOURNEY TO THE END OF the NIGHT, written by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, though it follows one self-obsessed protagonist very closely, though it was written within a decade of THE STRANGER by another Frenchman, doesn't feel as similar to THE STRANGER as SEXUS does, and I think it's because JOURNEY's plot is continually affected/directed by war, a phenomena that by it's very nature renders day-to-day existence as fundamentally strange, and not at all mundane.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

George Stephanopoulos discussing his spin response to video footage capturing Bob Kerrey telling Bill Clinton a dirty joke, from ALL TOO HUMAN


"What Governor Clinton has said is that he and Bob Kerrey are good friends...." The opening phrase sends a double message: Not only is the story old news, but it's not even important enough for Clinton to make his own statement. "Good Friends" is a signal to Kerrey's people that we won't go out of our way to hurt him, which is not to say that we will go out of our way to help him.

"Senator Kerrey clearly thought it was a private conversation, and Governor Clinton is going to respect that...." This is Senator Kerrey's problem; Clinton is merely a forgiving observer. Our guy just listened to the joke, as opposed to the poor sap who told it. But we do "respect" Senator Kerrey's right to lose sight of the fact that he's in the middle of a presidential campaign, where everyone knows there's no such thing as a private conversation.

"There were a lot of bad jokes flying around that auditorium... some more tasteless than others." We're not saying Clinton's never told a bad joke; you press guys probably have one on tape. But yes, if you insist, Kerrey's joke was worse. It was--and this is the key word, the most vivid word in the statement, the one that turns the knife--"tasteless."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

references to cunnilingus in Leonard Cohen's BOOK OF LONGING, the bulk of which was written while he resided in a Buddhist Monastery


When I can wedge my face
into the place
and struggle with my breathing
as she brings her fingers down
to separate herself,
to help me use my whole mouth
against her hungriness,
her most private of hungers-
why should I want to be enlightened?
--p. 19

This is it
I'm not going down
on your memory
I'm not rubbing my face in it any more
--p. 28

need your hand
to pull me out
need your juices
on my snout
--p. 105

I love to sing to Him and her
and to my baby's lower fur
which is so holy
that I want to crawl on my knees
--p.112

It wounds me as I part your lips
--p. 192