To bite or to bet, that is the question

If you haven’t yet read The Unbitten Elbow by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovksy, please do so here if you’re going to read the following piece. If you have no interest in reading the following piece, I still insist that you refer to the link above and read The Unbitten Elbow.

The Unbitten Elbow is perhaps the third or fourth piece I read by Krzhizhanovsky. His linguistic turns of phrases and philosophical tendencies had already captured me with The Letter Killers Club and his ability to weave stories within stories was enticing enough. But with The Unbitten Elbow came a gust of comedy, of laughter. Most of my friends whom I summarized the tale to reacted to the ending with a look of horror and disconcertment. Only one of my friends mirrored my own delight as she giggled and clapped her hands as I told her of the attack from the rear and the subsequent death from blood loss.

Thus I arrived at the question of whether or not The Unbitten Elbow is in fact comic. The line between comedy and tragedy is dangerously thin—an abyss in itself, reflective of the incoherence which is the root of both tragedy and comedy. Traditionally, the incoherence in a tragedy will often end, for lack of a better word, tragically, while a comedy tends to resolve itself in often what is a literal happy union. One of the benefits of tragedy is the ability to watch someone self-destruct so that you don’t have to. The same may be said of comedy, only this time the self-destruction isn’t in vain. While raging through the crook of your elbow may give off the appearance of self-destruction, whether or not it was in vain and whether or not it’s funny still remain to be seen.

Continue reading “To bite or to bet, that is the question”

Advertisements

80 Books Rebecca Solnit Shouldn’t Talk About

Recently, Rebecca Solnit published a short essay in response to Esquire’s list of “The 80 Best Books Every Man Should Read”. The list itself isn’t great; it doesn’t list the best collection of authors and the tagline with each book degrades the text more than exalts them. I understand the need to criticize the list and what it represents for men and women, but her response is no better;

“The list made me think there should be another, with some of the same books, called 80 Books No Woman Should Read, though of course I believe everyone should read anything they want. I just think some books are instructions on why women are dirt or hardly exist at all except as accessories or are inherently evil and empty. Or they’re instructions in the version of masculinity that means being unkind and unaware, that set of values that expands out into violence at home, in war, and by economic means. Let me prove that I’m not a misandrist by starting with Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, because any book Paul Ryan loves that much bears some responsibility for the misery he’s dying to create.”

She says that she believes that everyone should read anything they want, except women who shouldn’t read these texts and authors because she believes they’re poor instructions. Notice that she doesn’t make a list of books that No One should read, or books that Everyone Should Read. She maintains the differences of the genders and places warning signs on books that she doesn’t think benefit women. But how can you decide that these are merely instructions on why women are dirt without reading it in the first place. And I don’t disagree that texts are instructions, but they are instructions that the reader puts together with the text, so she doesn’t seem to be giving women much credit if she doesn’t think that a woman may read one of these texts with an open mind to try to understand why it is so appealing to others.

And obviously she doesn’t hate men because here’s a woman right off the bat that shouldn’t be read either! And not only should it not be read, but it, the text, bears responsibility for one man’s intentions. Because the responsibility doesn’t lie with the reader in reading a text; faults and guilt lie with the words.

I have my own personal feelings towards Atlas Shrugged and the benefits of reading it in order to understand an extremist mentality to establish a spectrum, and I understand that some people genuinely just don’t like it and wouldn’t want to read it and disagree immensely with her philosophy; that’s fine. What irritates me is how Solnit raises her up in order to say “I’m not against men. Here’s a woman with whom I also disagree with so don’t bother reading her either!” And while she points out that on Esquire’s list of eighty there was only one female author (Flannery O’Connor), in her own imaginary list that she begins to concoct, Ayn Rand is seemingly the only woman on her list.

“All those novels by men that seem to believe that size is everything, the 900-page monsters that, had a woman written them, would be called overweight and told to go on a diet. All those prurient books about violent crimes against women, especially the Black Dahlia murder case, which is a horrible reminder of how much violence against women is eroticized by some men, for other men, and how it makes women internalize the hatred.”

She speaks of these tomes about killing women, and I assume that these are books that aren’t well written and that the violence against women is unnecessary and gratuitous, but then does she offer alternatives? Does she offer any case for the good giants that include violence? What about Bolaño’s 2666, with its monotonous telling of murder after murder and murder of countless women? She criticizes and lists books that shouldn’t be read and ends the piece with a list of her own favorites, but at no point does she offer anything positive or useful. And the faults she weighs against male writers come up in her own list of heroes. Hemingway she labels as a “homophobic anti-semitic misogynist”, but Virginia Woolf (an author she later lists as one of her heroes) was also incredibly anti-semitic. And even if Hemingway really and truly was all those things, we’re not talking about going out to drinks with Hemingway—we’re talking about the merits of reading his works. And even if his works do portray—to the core and out—that homophobic anti-semitic misogynistic mindset, wouldn’t it be useful to read something like that in order to understand a mentality that is not (and may never be) yours? Good instructions should include books that make us uncomfortable, that expose us to characters we deplore and could not associate with if we tried. Because that’s what happens in life.

She doesn’t want men to explain things to her, and she’s bent on being the explainer herself. That’s clear in the negativity of her language. Her solution and response is an attack on the books themselves—blaming them and not their readers. And in doing so, she gives very little credit to women as readers, who couldn’t possibly read a book that didn’t accurately depict them and get something useful out of it. Not to mention the lack of credit she gives male readers

“These books are, if they are instructions at all, instructions in extending our identities out into the world, human and nonhuman, in imagination as a great act of empathy that lifts you out of yourself, not locks you down into your gender.”

That last line—if we want books that break us out of ourselves and our genders, then wouldn’t it be useful to delve into one that is so confined in the other? Maybe it’s good to read a text centered around an identity that would reject you, because not everything in this world will accept you anyway. By denying ourselves any access to another psyche—no matter how ‘terrible’ and ‘violent’ it is—through texts, then we’re no better than the men who read The Grapes of Wrath just for the “titty”.

I understand her criticisms and I understand that a list of books that no woman should read is a joke—“of course I believe everyone should read anything they want”—but her jokes aren’t helping anything. It’s a shame that she’ll get harassed by men for identifying with Lolita, but perhaps they’re the ones not reading correctly if they are unable to realize the circumstances that would cause women to identify with Lolita. Don’t blame a text for poor readers. And maybe some books are bad. But give everyone a chance to find something useful within them.

Here’s a link to her original essay

this is a vague sort of survey

I know I haven’t posted anything new or of any importance lately, but I wanted to get a few different opinions on this word problem I’ve been thinking about.

Two words; romance and intimacy.

Two definitions; “physical closeness and togetherness” and “mental closeness and togetherness”.

Which goes with which?
If anyone could offer their opinion (a why or how would also be greatly appreciated) that would be absolutely lovely.

scene 0.01

Tragedy exists so man can watch man self-destruct so that he does not have to.

During life, man is both an actor and a spectator.
Theatre and plays remove the necessity for man’s participation,
rending him above all
the spectator.

With literature, with the written text,
man does not get off so lightly.
He is required to act; compose; rearticulate to himself
the written word,
as he simultaneously sits back and watches any and all
masquerades unfold.

 

The comic is always aware of the tragic,
otherwise how would it remember its own name?
Take it as seriously as stone
before you let it skip Christ-like; unnaturally.

At the end it’s always been about the same thing.
That’s why the end doesn’t matter.
And you still can’t wait to get there.

Keep checking your phone.
Pretend it’s for time.
Pretend you miss the ringing in your ears.
Pretend to be personable
—to be able to person.

 

A Solitaire Game

 

  1. A game by definition, but its spirit is expressed in the name; Solitaire, solitary. No one else is needed. The only faces you stare at are royalty.
  1. Shuffling can almost be considered the most important part of the game. However I shuffle and how well I randomize the deck will determine how the cards lay themselves out. Past that, it is partially predetermined whether or not the puzzle can be solved. I give up my free will to the cards and only ask that they allow me to attempt to order them from the absurdity that I also have given them. I begin to lay the cards down, and the front-line reveals itself to me one at a time. Seven columns in total, a number that is considered lucky in Western culture. Once all the initial cards are set up, I stare at the given pieces. Before I make my own play, I must analyze the cards for any offered orderings.

    Sometimes I am lucky and I create stacks of five or six without even first drawing from my pile. What you are given is always random, but it is up to my mind to organize it; to fix the absurdity and put in order. Sometimes when I am about to draw, my eye spots a lonely Jack of Hearts next to a Ten of Clubs, almost slipping by. Underneath the Ten is a Black Jack that I cannot do anything with. Would it have mattered if that had slipped by eye and I had drawn anyway? They would not have moved, and I would have noticed it eventually. But will that Black Jack come into play? Is it beneficial to have moved that Ten, or will it hurt me in the long run? Each move and each standstill means the world, and at the same time is entirely useless and unnecessary, as though the cards are trapped in Schrödinger’s box.

  1. Once I start drawing cards from my own pile, three at a time, more and more cards get laid out on the floor. More and more pieces, each of which has at least two potential cards to lie atop of. I stare at the two colours, back and forth, attempting to create the simplest pattern with what I have been given. And as I draw from the deck, different combinations arise, filling in the links I had broken. Chance eases the spirits. I had little to no control over what I was given in my hand, and what I was given before me, and it is up to me to put them back together in order. But there is always the lingering knowledge of the possibility that it might be unsolvable. That no order can ever be restored, just because of the random arrangement of the cards.
  1. More and more openings and moves arise, but the question remains of whether or not it would be more beneficial for me to move them, or to let them be. It is impossible to know what the hidden card may be, and it might be more of an obstacle than an ally. Sometimes I must bring back an ordered card into the mess again because I had been overeager. But that’s part of the beauty. No matter how many cards I have put above in their rightful place, I can still pull them back and use them to order all the other cards. I stare at the Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs, and Spades and they stare back. I don’t even bother to draw from the deck. I know the few cards left in it, I know their order, and they are not necessary at this moment. I can only use the cards open to me to try and rearrange them so that the last hidden cards can be revealed. It is an ongoing puzzle, and the only thing I can do is stare at it, waiting for my mind to see it, even though I never know exactly what ‘it’ looks like. I need to find the empty spaces where two and two can go together, but I also need the timing to seeing the two and two at a moment when both are useful. The Three of Clubs is meaningless until I spy a bare Four. But it has just as much meaning as all the other cards simultaneously. I get to be the one to tell them how much value they have; it is all arbitrary until I make up my mind. That is the one aspect of control in the game.
  1. After all that, there are only two possible endings. The first option is that I am able to order the cards, suit by suit, in chronological order, leaving myself with four neat piles with four Kings looking back at me with approval. I will be satisfied that I have brought order to the cards, as opposed to the order that I cannot find in the world. Everything will be packed and perfect, until the next time I pick up the deck and mess it up once more. But I remain at ease because it will always be me destroying the order, and only when I want to. The second option is that I will fail. A crucial card will remain hidden under a useless one, and no amount of puzzling and rearranging will bring it to light. And unless I go back and analyze every one of my moves, and figure out how the cards were arranged in the deck, it is impossible to know whether or not I made an error somewhere, or if the initial order of the cards yielded an unsolvable puzzle to begin with. All I’m left with are the spare cards in my hand, staring all the open cards with such an intensity, as though I can force them to make sense, force them into order with my mind. If I concentrate enough maybe I can see something that I missed. But more often than not, nothing will have been missed. I am left with an unsolvable permutation of the cards. I have failed to put order back into the system and now all of these cards have lost their meaning. All that is left to do is to recollect them all, admit defeat, and shuffle them for another game. Another chance for order.

“I need to read that”

I.

Last night my father and I watched Mulholland Drive together. Afterwards, standing at opposing ends of the kitchen, we fell into a conversation regarding the extent of interpretation one can carry out in regards to the film; and later in the conversation, in regards to paintings and literature.

I’m not the biggest cheerleader for David Lynch’s films, but I certainly don’t disparage them. He introduced notions into films that will leave him remembered as much as Fellini in the film world. But that doesn’t mean I’ll pop in a David Lynch film on my day off and enjoy myself. It’s like noticing an aesthetically pleasing woman on the subway; I won’t deny that she is beautiful, but I don’t want to take her home and show her my books. That being said, I admire his work, but the slightly formulaic (a particular formula he devised, of course) nature of his films tires me during the act of watching.

 

II.

He suggested that the first part of the movie was the ‘dream sequence’, while the second was the ‘reality’, to which I responded that the same can be said of the reverse, and if anything it seemed as though the movie attempted to expand on a non-linear notion. Breaking the audience away from the need of a one-way arrow narration and diegesis. I wasn’t trying to imply that this was necessarily the intention of the movie, but this was the sense I got from it.

After each comment I made, his response would unfailingly be “I understand that and I agree with that, but…”, attempting to justify his linear understanding of the film despite my comment that perhaps Lynch is attempting to steer the audience away from the need of linearity. It was just a very back and forth conversation, hinging on argument, just because of the haze of justification that seemed to permeate through the kitchen.

Then the conversation tumbled down a few stairs and landed upon the subject of participation in the act of watching a film versus that of reading a text. I offered the opinion that the act of reading a text requires more participation and activity than that of watching a film, at the very least due to the constructed nature of the film; it’s ready-made.

 

III.

When I tried to put it simply as “the text doesn’t really exist without the reader”, he understood it as an elementary aphorism, akin to “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I just began reading a text that outlines reader-response criticism, and the last line of the first paragraph of the introduction went like so; “Its [a poems] ‘effects,’ psychological and otherwise, are essential to any accurate description of its meaning, since that meaning has no effective existence outside of its realization in the mind of the reader.”[1]

Now, the essentiality of the effect is a strange thing to consider, because how would one measure the effect of a text on a reader? Do different readings imply paradoxical meanings, or a methodological text?
IV.

It does stand, in my opinion, that a text beckons the participation of a reader. A participation that involves a great deal more ‘giving-up’, so to speak, than one is often accustomed in current times. A book fools you because while you may hold the entire thing in your hands, turning it round and round, flipping through the pages, feeling the veil of raised text on paper, despite any immediacy the book may present for itself, there’s an unspoken amount of time that must be devoted to this book for one to truly ‘have it’.

 


[1] Reader Response Criticism; From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, edited by Jane P. Tompkins

Crumbs and Dust

I submitted a proposal to ObjectLessons about Bread Crumbs/Bread Dust. It was passed upon, but then what good would a blog be if not a purgatory for passing over. I started becoming rather invested in my trailing of bread crumbs, so here are the piles I started building up.

Bread Crumbs
Bread Dust

In a vague sense, one may call them a microcosm of the macrocosm of the split between need and want.

Let’s put it more generally. Bread can be described as a stand-in for one of the most basic human needs. And when the need is dire, anything resembling bread to the slightest will do.

Then bread may be turned into a want, a supplement, an accessory; a fashionable baguette. But you still needthat bread; that rye, whole wheat, whatever you want to pick out from the stack behind the cashier with big, visible labels and yet you still have to ask what is available and what that one is and what that one is. It’s so important.

And yet when it comes to the remains, the crumbs, the dust, it’s brushed aside, swept into the dust pan because what use is something so fine?

Apparently in New York City the cops are allowed are ticket you for feeding bread crumbs to birds.
Simultaneously pounds and pounds are tossed and brushed aside.
None are even sprinkled upon salads or soups. And why not?

Present someone with three cookies, one of which is broken in two pieces but placed to seem together, more often than not they will pick a whole cookie. Pieces aren’t necessarily disparaged, but they aren’t particularly liked.

This looking over of pieces in favor of wholes.
Why the favor of wholes over pieces when holes are dug out in pieces?
Not to say that we should aim for wholes, but the pieces are vital.

There are many object that come with an implication of ‘dailyness’. Getting coffee, going to bed, reading the news; just to begin a short list. Now, this list may or may not have included bread, and maybe it’s the fact that now I work at an establishment called “The Daily Bread”, but there’s a significance to bread that’s suddenly become underlined to me.

Every morning on the way to work, I read from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago Volumee I. Bread comes up quite a bit, especially in the descriptions of its wet, dense existence.

Whenever I close the store, one of my duties is to brush clean the inside of the bread-cutting machine. The result each time is hillside of bread dust. And I wonder at what the prisoners in the Gulags would’ve done for this pile.

A common request that baffles me is for the baguette to be covered with two bags. Is it embarrassing for others to see your bread? Just one baguette, peeking out of a purse that probably cost about as much as the bakery.

The term “bread-winner”—the supporter, the money-maker. It’s in the form of our language.

Bread and salt are often offered in Eastern European countries as a welcome. And who can say no to that?

1917 Russia; the Bolsheviks promised “peace, land, and bread”. What more could one want? It’s been with us since we began to be creative towards our hunger. When we began to play.

Now bread crumbs are brushed aside, disposed off. Given to the birds, but even that’s frowned upon in some areas. Why not play with the leftover dust? Grind the garlic to the finest powder but when it’s collecting itself for you, it’s too much trouble.

Maybe the story of Hansel and Gretel followed its own bread crumbs to the back of our mind. How can you trust bread crumbs when any one could take them?

It could’ve been funny.

I’m currently still in the process of formulating a routine for myself. Well, I suppose I already have a routine, but it seems necessary to reframe one in which I’m not dreading every waking and sleeping moment. There aren’t too many other moments, mind you. Working for 9.5 hours, returning home, sleeping, and then returning back to work all over again isn’t even something to give a vague name to.

Pushkin dreamed: “I want to live to think and suffer!”
To Live, To Think, And Suffer.
Living encompassed by a variety pack of suffering, leaving no opportunity for the mind to wander and think for just a moment, is not quite what I would call living. Not quite at all.

This spills over past working hours as well.
Last night after I stepped onto the F train at 63rd and Lexington, after it went approximately 400 feet, after I had been working for 9.5 hours, the train stopped. Not the most unusual experience, but it stayed stopped for an hour and forty minutes. The first hour wasn’t too bad, no one really seemed to notice how long it was taking until the conductor started mumbling on the intercom about “technical difficulties” with the train ahead of us.

During this time, a woman came up to me with the question “Do you speak Russian?”
At first glance, and even second, I wouldn’t have guessed that she was Russian. But upon third and forth considerations, it was possible that she came from the Eastern districts of Russia. But how she happened to be here now, in New York City, on the F train in Manhattan, speaking perhaps a graspful of words of English, trying to get to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, I have no idea.

I tried to explain to her that the train was stopped because of “technical difficulties” with the train ahead of us, but if I ever knew how to say train in Russian, that was not the moment in which I could have remembered. All my mind could focus on was getting off of my feet and getting home, after already spending an hour on a stopped train trying not to think about having to wake up in the morning, return to work, and make coffee all over again for people who clearly just want a cup of cream to sip on.

By the time the train started moving backwards, back to the station we were only four hundred feet away from the whole time, she had chosen me as the one who could help her. She only had five dollars so taking a cab to another train station wasn’t within the realms of possibility. Since the B wasn’t running, the Q was the only other train she could take. I tried to describe to her where the Q station was, but with every word I said she returned my eye contact only with the attempt (in vain) to understand the sounds coming out of my mouth.

Finally, I just said “I’ll walk you there. Don’t worry, I can show you where the train station is”. The train returned to 63rd and Lex after an hour and forty minutes of wasted life, and we emerged from the lower levels upon lower levels of escalators. I immediately lit a cigarette, pissed off at the time spent on the train, and vaguely frustrated that now I had this woman in tow. She borrowed my lighter to light her Marlboro Light. The Q station was only about six blocks away; we didn’t speak during our walk. Could we have? Even if there was the chance of being understood, what would either of us have said?

When we got to the station she hugged me tightly and repeated “spaseeba”. I wished and searched my memory but fell short at saying “you’re welcome” in anything but English.

It wasn’t until I was finally home, in bed minutes before I would fall asleep, that I realized that I didn’t even ask her name. That’s the kind of frustration and impatience and indifference that this job is awakening in me. In any other light, that entire situation would have been comic, playful, a colourful anecdote where I happened to have an interaction with someone who wasn’t an unwelcome male chatting me up in the street. But instead it was all refracted with the tragic light of what I was unable to do.