29 Jan. 2023

RIP Tom Verlaine, 1949-2023

27 Jan. 2023

The Trees have Ears and the Field has Eyes, c. 1500 by Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516)

27 Jan. 2023

Martin Riker’s The Guest Lecture is out now from Grove Atlantic. Their blurb–

In a hotel room in the middle of the night, Abby, a young feminist economist, lies awake next to her sleeping husband and daughter. Anxious that she is grossly underprepared for a talk she is presenting tomorrow on optimism and John Maynard Keynes, she has resolved to practice by using an ancient rhetorical method of assigning parts of her speech to different rooms in her house and has brought along a comforting albeit imaginary companion to keep her on track—Keynes himself.

Yet as she wanders with increasing alarm through the rooms of her own consciousness, Abby finds herself straying from her prepared remarks on economic history, utopia, and Keynes’s pragmatic optimism. A lapsed optimist herself, she has been struggling under the burden of supporting a family in an increasingly hostile America after being denied tenure at the university where she teaches. Confronting her own future at a time of global darkness, Abby undertakes a quest through her memories to ideas hidden in the corners of her mind—a piecemeal intellectual history from Cicero to Lewis Carroll to Queen Latifah—as she asks what a better world would look like if we told our stories with more honest and more hopeful imaginations.

With warm intellect, playful curiosity, and an infectious voice, Martin Riker acutely animates the novel of ideas with a beating heart and turns one woman’s midnight crisis into the performance of a lifetime.

26 Jan. 2023

25 Jan. 2023

  1. Yesterday afternoon, I finished rereading Cormac McCarthy’s 1994 novel The Crossing.
  2. I used the word rereading above, although this felt like a first read—fresh, raw, often far more painful than I would have thought.
  3. The Crossing is a coming-of-age novel, the story of New Mexican Billy Parham whose life is wracked with adventure and beauty and pain.
  4. I probably read The Crossing for the first time some time around 2009 or 2010, when I was consuming all of McCarthy like a disgusting tick chasing a high from sucking down his prose. My recollection of that period is loving most of everything, but not really loving the so-called Border Trilogy.
  5. Maybe then, a younger, angrier man, I thought The Border Trilogy was too flowery, or too sentimental, or downright hokey at times.
  6. I reread All the Pretty Horses late last year as a chaser to The Passenger.
  7. All the Pretty Horses was much, much better than I had remembered it being, but it is not nearly as strong as The Crossing.
  8. Both All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing seem to revision elements of their antecedent, McCarthy’s masterpiece Blood Meridian.
  9. Namely, these first two books of The Border Trilogy seem to reimagine the erstwhile viewpoint character of Blood Meridian, the kid, first in John Grady Cole and then in Billy Parham.
  10. Like the kid (or The Kid), these orphaned/self-orphaned protagonists seem to at times inhabit a kind of superhuman ability to fight, to wrangle, to survive.
  11. (The boy in The Road might turn into one of these young men.)
  12. What had most stuck with me in my first reading of The Crossing was its initial episode, wherein Billy saves a pregnant she-wolf from a trap, helps nurse her back to health, and then elects to take her back “home” to the mountains of Northwest Mexico.
  13. In fact, I remembered the entirety of The Crossing as this initial episode with the wolf.
  14. This episode is, however, just one episode—a heavy quarter of the book.
  15. In my memory of the novel, other plots, like the adventures of Billy and his brother Boyd, are spiked into the devastating ballast of the she-wolf section.
  16. Somehow more of a superhero than Billy, Boyd is—a folk hero mythologized in corridos and other legends.
  17. But like I said, the she-wolf narrative is only part of the book (and a great part at that—the section could stand alone as the perfect introduction to McCarthy).
  18. The Crossing is far baggier than I had recalled. Unlike All the Pretty Horses, which is somewhat straightforward, McCarthy will turn over dozens of pages at a time to the denizens of the road Billy encounters.
  19. The gypsy commander, late in the novel, whose crew hauls a dead airplane from the jungle.
  20. The ex-priest who languishes in the ruins of a church, concocting a personal theodicy to no avail.
  21. The revolutionary whose eyeballs are sucked from their sockets by a German sadist.
  22. The tale of the revolutionary whose eyeballs are sucked from their sockets by a German sadist, whose kind wife offers Billy a meal of hard-boiled eggs before the tale unfolds, is one of the most gruesome things I’ve ever read.
  23. More hardcore than anything in Blood Meridian.
  24. Or The Road.
  25. The initial gruesome passage: “He was a very large man with enormous hands and he reached and seized the young captive’s head in both these hands and bent as if to kiss him. But it was no kiss. He seized him by the face and it may well have looked to others that he bent to kiss him on each cheek perhaps in the military manner of the French but what he did instead with a great caving of his cheeks was to suck each in turn the man’s eyes from his head and spit them out again and leave them dangling by their cords wet and strange and wobbling on his cheeks.”
  26. —and the kicker—
  27. “They tried to put his eyes back into their sockets with a spoon but none could manage it and the eyes dried on his cheeks like grapes and the world grew dim and colorless and then it vanished forever.”
  28. Sorry!
  29. The Crossing is full of evil gross awful moments like this.
  30. The bandito who stabs the horse Niño.
  31. And scatters a dead brother’s bones.
  32. The cadre of zoosadists who run a dogfighting ring.
  33. The would-be rapist road agents (brave Boyd and Billy prevail).
  34. But The Crossing is full of beauty–
  35. –as when McCarthy’s prose-camera hovers around the she-wolf–
  36. –or gets into the minutiae of storytelling itself–
  37. (The Crossing seems to me the most direct example of McCarthy’s postmodernism.)
  38. –or another entry in McCarthy’s reckoning with heterodox witnessing
  39. –a lot of beauty here, beauty that doesn’t gloss over the ugliness, but reverberates all the stronger for it.
  40. A simile: “Downriver the nacre bowl of the moon sat swaged into the reefs of cloud like a candled skull.”
  41. Or: “The river where it lay behind the trees looked like poured metal.”
  42. (These similes are from late late late in the novel; I didn’t dogear the pages of the first-edition of the novel I found a few years ago, but I should’ve.)
  43. But more than these moments of reflection and storytelling, these metaphors and similes, The Crossing is about hospitality.
  44. For all the evils that befall Billy and brother Boyd, there seem to be tenfold blessings.
  45. Like Homer’s tale of an unhoused wanderer, The Crossing might be understood as a series of hostings.
  46. Again and again, strangers take Billy in—feed him, give him respite, clothe him.
  47. Care for his brother, shot through the chest.
  48. Share what they have, even if what they have is just words, stories.
  49. But more than anything else, a human concern.
  50. Fifty seems like enough (too many) points in a riff, so—

The Crossing is one of McCarthy’s best novels, up there with Suttree and Blood Meridian, and possibly The Passenger. It might seem baggy, but its fatty prose is generous. I’m amazed that it did not have as much of an impact on me a decade and a half ago as it did in the first month of 2023, but I’m glad I went back to it and met its myriad messages when I needed them.

Very highly recommended. If you’re interested in McCarthy but don’t know where to start, The Crossing might be a great place.

24 Jan. 2023

The black eyes all shifted to the leader of their small clan. He sat for a long time. It was very quiet. Out on the road one of the oxen began to piss loudly. Finally he shaped his mouth and said that he believed that fate had intervened in the matter for its own good reasons. He said that fate might enter into the affairs of men in order to contravene them or set them at naught but to say that fate could deny the true and uphold the false would seem to be a contradictory view of things. To speak of a will in the world that ran counter to one’s own was one thing. To speak of such a will that ran counter to the truth was quite another, for then all was rendered senseless. Billy then asked him if it was his notion that the false plane had been swept away by God in order to single out the true and the gypsy said that it was not. When Billy said that he had understood him to say that it was God who had ultimately made the decision concerning the two planes the gypsy said that he believed that to be so but he did not believe that by this act God had spoken to anyone. He said that he was not a superstitious man. The gypsies heard this out and then turned to Billy to see how he would respond. Billy said that it seemed to him that the freighters did not hold the identity of the airplane to be of any great consequence but the gitano only turned and studied him with those dark and troubled eyes. He said that it was indeed of consequence and that it was in fact the whole burden of their inquiry. From a certain perspective one might even hazard to say that the great trouble with the world was that that which survived was held in hard evidence as to past events. A false authority clung to what persisted, as if those artifacts of the past which had endured had done so by some act of their own will. Yet the witness could not survive the witnessing. In the world that came to be that which prevailed could never speak for that which perished but could only parade its own arrogance. It pretended symbol and summation of the vanished world but was neither. He said that in any case the past was little more than a dream and its force in the world greatly exaggerated. For the world was made new each day and it was only men’s clinging to its vanished husks that could make of that world one husk more.

La cascara no es la cosa, he said. It looked the same. But it was not.

Y la tercera historia? said Billy.

La tercera historia, said the gypsy, es esta. El existe en la historia de las historias. Es que ultimadamente la verdad no puede quedar en ningun otro lugar sino en el habla. He held his hands before him and looked at his palms. As if they may have been at some work not of his own doing. The past, he said, is always this argument between counterclaimants. Memories dim with age. There is no repository for our images. The loved ones who visit us in dreams are strangers. To even see aright is effort. We seek some witness but the world will not provide one. This is the third history. It is the history that each man makes alone out of what is left to him. Bits of wreckage. Some bones. The words of the dead. How make a world of this? How live in that world once made?

From Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Crossing. 

24 Jan. 2023

The Inheritors, 2022 by Salman Toor (b. 1983)

23 Jan. 2023

BOCKRIS: William, have you ever written anything out of admiration?

BURROUGHS: I don’t know what this term means. It does seem to me an anemic emotion.

SONTAG: Bill, suppose you agreed, which maybe you couldn’t even conceive of doing, to write about Beckett. Somebody offered you a situation at which you said, yes, I’d like to say what I want to say about Beckett, and my feeling about Beckett is mainly positive. I think that’s harder to get down in a way that’s satisfactory than when you’re attacking something.

BURROUGHS: I don’t see what’s being said here at all.

From With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker by Victor Bockris. The selection is from Bockris’s recording of a 1980 dinner with Susan Sontag, Stewart Meyer, and Gerard Malanga.

23 Jan. 2023

“Old Movie”


William S. Burroughs

In the noon streets three men sitting on ash cans. One of the men looked up and saw Agent 23. Electric hate crackled between them. In a panic 23 tried to pull his eyes back. He could not do so. He held one point and felt the pilot land. Something cracked in his head like a red egg and the ground swayed beneath him then he could feel it pouring out his eyes. A crowd was gathering quick and silent eyes blazing hate. 23 ran toward them up the narrow street moving his head from side to side burning a path through charred flesh and shredded brains running very light on his feet up the steep stone street toward the skies of Marrakech the whole film tilted now the stones moving in waves under his feet a blaze of blue and he was stabbing two black holes in the blue sky smoking with a sound like falling mountains the sky ripped open and he was through the film barrier. Standing naked in front of a washstand copper luster basin the film jumped and shifted music across the golf course he was a caddy it seems looking for lost balls by the pond flickering silver buttocks in the dark room fading flickering all from an old movie that will give at his touch.

22 Jan. 2023

Hare, 1967 by Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993)

21 Jan. 2023

Suma, 1982 by Cy Twombly (1928-2011)

21 Jan. 2023

“Buried in Colorado All Alone”


Joy Williams

from 99 Stories of God

The girl from the pharmacy who delivered Darvon to Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer, wore a golden fish necklace.

“What does that mean?” asked Dick.

She touched it and said, “This is a sign worn by the early Christians so that they would recognize one another.”

“In that instant,” Dick writes, “I suddenly experienced anamnesis, a Greek word meaning, literally, loss of forgetfulness.”

Anamnesis is brought on by the action of the Holy Spirit. The person remembers his true identity throughout all his lives. The person recognizes the world for what it is—his own prior thought formations—and this generates the flash. He now knows where he is.


21 Jan. 2023

Helen at the Scaean Gate, c. 1880s by Gustave Moreau (1826–1898)

18 Jan. 2023

The Expulsion from Paradise, 2017 by Paco Pomet (b. 1970)


18 Jan. 2023

You can read the full text of  Vladimir Sorokin’s beautiful, abject, horrifying very long short story “Nastya” at The Baffler. 

The novella-length piece swirls between fairy tale magic and Sadean cruelty. It is probably best if you consume “Nastya” on an empty stomach—like his novel Their Four Hearts, “Nastya” is reminiscent of Pasolini’s horrifying masterpiece Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. And like Their Four Hearts, this story is translated by Max Lawton, who vividly conveys the dream-nightmare-reality energy of Sorokin’s prose.

“Nastya” is from the collection Red Pyramid, which will publish in Lawton’s English-language translation early next year. (You can read the title story here.)

Here are the opening paragraphs of “Nastya”

A GRAYISH-BLUE LULL BEFORE DAWN, a slow boat on the heavy mirror of Denezh Lake, emerald caverns in the juniper bushes creeping menacingly toward the white wash of the alpine waters.

Nastya turned the brass knob of the door to the balcony and pushed it open. The thick, reeded glass swam to the right, splintering the landscape with its parallel flutes and mercilessly dividing the little boat into twelve pieces. A damp avalanche of morning air flowed through the open door, embraced her, and shamelessly flew up into her nightgown.

Nastya inhaled greedily through her nose and walked out onto the balcony.

Her warm feet recognized the cool wood, and its boards creaked gratefully. Nastya lay her hands upon the peeling paint of the railing, tears came to her eyes as she took in the motionless world: the left and right wings of the manor, the garden’s milky green, the severity of the linden grove, the sugar-cube church on the hill, the willow branches lying on the ground, the stacks of mown grass.

Nastya rolled her wide, thin shoulders, let down her hair, and stretched out with a moan, listening to her vertebrae crack as her body woke up.

And here is a sentence from later in the story that made me laugh out loud:

“Don’t dare overcook my daughter!”

Great fucked up stuff.

17 Jan. 2023

Beppe Fenoglio’s A Private Affair is forthcoming this spring in translation by Howard Curtis from NYRB. Their blurb:

Milton—the name is a nom de guerre—is a member of a partisan band battling Italian Fascists and German forces in the chaotic last years of World War II. Before the war Milton was a student of English literature and a lover of poetry. He was in love with a girl, too, Fulvia, and from time to time she’d invite him over to her rich family’s fine house and have him read to her. Now, in the thick of war, he discovers that handsome Giorgio, his friend and fellow partisan, was sleeping with Fulvia at the time. Furious with jealousy, Milton hastens to have it out with Giorgio, but Giorgio has been captured by the Germans. A Private Affair tells the story of Milton’s mad quest—through mud and fog, rain and terror, while barely evading enemy patrols—to rescue his friend, the better to settle a grudge from a lost world of peace. Beppe Fenoglio’s masterpiece is a peerless story of the violent heart and world.

17 Jan. 2023

The Cage, 1972 by Lawrence Daws (b. 1927)