On not winning literary prizes
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize short-list has been announced.1 I had a particular interest in the announcement of this short-list because I submitted a story to competition.2 My name was not on it but the winner for the Kenya region is a friend, and his story - a gritty tale about a woman retaining, reclaiming, and asserting her dignity despite the depredations in the Kakuma refugee camp -...
The sign, in its actual and concrete usage, is thus always socially formed. Its...– Tony Bennet, “Formalism and Marxism” (3rd edn.) 64-5.
Zadie's Bad Sex
Zadie Smith’s writing about sex in her novel, “NW” is astounding in how dry, airless, and perfunctory it is. I venture that it so bad that its badness has to have been calculated. I haven’t read any of her other novels so I will hold on to this thesis, even as I wade through the dismal prose in the novel’s sexual set-pieces. Anaïs Nin, in her essay, “Eroticism in Women,” (from her collection:...
There is common agreement about only one thing, that woman’s erogenous...– Anaïs Nin, ‘Eroticism in Women’, in In Favour of the Sensitive Man and other essays (W.H. Allen, 1978)
Postmortem: Submitting my first manuscript
Writing fiction is difficult. This has always, in theory, seemed obvious to me but in practice, the shock of confronting the fact broke my spirit. Writing a manuscript, editing and revising it, with a deadline in mind, and finally submitting it in time, broke me to pieces, physically and mentally. The toll was unbelievable and the trauma was real. Never in my life have I had to work so hard,...
The Eternal Break-up Scene (Fellini, "La Dolce...
[In a car parked on the road.]
Her: Why do you treat me this way? Not even a dog gets treated like this! If you loved me a bit, you'd understand some things.
Her: You don't love anyone.
Him: Don't scream.
Her: You don't know what loving means.
Him: But you do know don't you?
Her: You've got a hard, empty heart. You only care about women, but not love.
Him: You've been saying it for hours. Stop. I want to go home.
Her: Some men are happy to be loved and don't look for other women. You're the only one like this. What a disaster.
Him: [Shouting] My disaster is having met you. I can't stand having you around anymore. Go away. Forever.
[She gets out of the car and starts walking along the desolate benighted road.]
Don't be silly. Come here.
Her: No. Leave me alone. Let me live.
[He starts the car and drives to her.]
Him: Come on you idiot, get in.
Him: You're such a...
[He cuts her off stopping the car in her path. Calmly.] Get in.
Her: [Still weeping, standing on the shoulder of the road.] What do you want from me? You miserable worm. You'll end up alone like a dog. You'll see. Who'll stay with you if I leave you? Who could ever love you like I do?
Him: I can't waste my life loving you.
Her: You say I'm crazy, that I live outside of reality. But you're off the road. [Pleading] You've found the most important thing in life. You have a woman that loves you, who would give her life for you. You ruin everything. You're always restless, unhappy.
[She climbs into the car.]
[Endearing; sweetly.] Marcello, when two people love each other, nothing else counts. What are you afraid of?
Him: [Severe] Of you, of your selfishness, of your miserable ideals. You offer me a miserable life. [Shouting] You only talk of cooking and bed. If I accepted, I'd end up like a worm. I don't believe in your maternal love. I don't want it. I don't need it. This isn't love, it's brutalisation. I can't live like this. I don't want to be with you any more.
Her: No! You're disgusting! I feel sorry for you!
Him: And you make me sick. Get out!
Her: No! I'm staying here with you.
Him: You are not. Get out.
[He drags her out of the car; she bites his hand; he slaps her.]
Him: It's over. Get lost.
Him: Get lost. [He throws her out.]
Her: You are a thug, a bastard. Damn you.
[He speeds off leaving her on the pavement.]
Him: Get picked up by a truck driver!
[She weeps until dawn. As the sun rises she sees him speeding back to her. She runs to him and enters the car. They drive off together.]
Desire is grief made concrete
Or grief is abstracted desire. I was thinking along these lines: considering the typical sex and death juxtaposition, and wondering at how, in moments of piqued desire, one feels a sense of sadness, a sense of finitude, even in a moment of ecstasy that feels eternal. Defective, through no other fault / we’re lost, and only punished / in living with hopeless desires (Dante,...
The night after I wrote it[about my love for him], Saul did not come down into...– Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (Years after these beautiful words were written, we now have Naomi Wolf and E.L. James nattering on about the goddess located squarely in the vagina.)
Cervantes on "Hysterical realism"
When James Wood penned that famous article where he coined the term hysterical realism (a catch-all phrase to describe —or perhaps circumscribe— the sprawling post-modern novel packed as it is with digressions, anecdotes, intertextual exegesis, social analyses, and so forth) I assumed that he had stumbled upon an original insight. He had found a way to say what we were all vaguely thinking and...
Remarks on Geoff Dyer's "Zona"
Geoff Dyer asserts that the age at which a young man begins to truly discover literature and film is between the late teens and early twenties. In Zona, his excursion through his personal tastes and education as constellated around Tarkovsky’s Stalker, he describes a journey and life that is rich, rewarding, and completely foreign to me. My late teens and early-to-mid twenties were a...
Adam Mars-Jones remarks: ‘Amis doesn’t so much inhabit his characters as leave...– A comment in a London Review of Books review of Martin Amis’ “Lionel Asbo”
A short note on Béla Tarr and Tarkovsky, and...
I find it impossible to seprate Tarr from Tarkovsky. To my mind their work is intertwined in a deep way that I hope to one day understand better. The idea that “Tarr does not believe in God” 1 is worth contrasting with what Geoff Dyer (Zona) says about Tarkovsky, Now, one might want to ignore the Orthodox Christian aspect of Tarkovsky but it’s unignorable—unignorable but, at...
What would Béla Tarr would think of your damp?’, W. says. ‘What would he make...– Lars Iyers, “Spurious”
A.O. Scott of the New York Times promotes Teju...
In an otherwise useful review of the new documentary on would-be Nobel laureate W.G. Sebald, A.O. Scott writes, So “Patience (After Sebald)” may not, in the end, offer much in the way of explanation. It does not solve the puzzle of an oeuvre that, as it made its way from German to English, established its creator as a major and unique force in world literature. Once you read him, you may...
Happy childhoods return to haunt self-deceivers mostly. Those who have had them...– Candia McWilliam, “Debatable Land”, p.47.
My problem with Diablo Cody
In 2007, a script by Diablo Cody was turned into the movie “Juno”, a rousing success which earned her the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. When I watched the film, I was immediately taken by it. I watched it with a smile through out; my eyes moistened on cue and at the end of it I felt the release of pectoral constriction that comes after running a moderate distance and...
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Volume V, Chapter XLIII: ...– On auxiliary verbs and [blogging]
I don’t suppose any man has ever understood any woman since the beginning of...– Rowena from Things To Come - 1936 - H.G.Wells
…it was…he thought, a momentary vision glimpsed for a second in an...– Stephen Fry, “The Liar”, p.279
Sperm is very cheap, and womb space is very expensive; our reproductive...– This particular comment on the hebephilia debate, though witty is problematic and a reductionist view of sexuality. When discussing evolutionary mating strategies, it’s not immediately clear that young males are incapable of providing. Isn’t it more likely that pre-civilisation males...
What is wrong with a bad analogy?
Quoth Ben Archer, You could make snide comparisons to see-ability in art and hear-ability in music, but I think the best analogy might be livability and architecture. Can a house be excellent if it is not also livable? If you find yourself stumbling on the stairs because they’re not big enough for your feet, or if you get wet when it rains because there are cleverly carved holes in the roof, I...
You are mourning the wrong way
When a celebrity passes away, there is public mourning. In the case of a visionary who has had such a long-lasting and important impact as Steve Jobs, this mourning is even more widespread and deeply felt. * However, there is a tone to some of this mourning that strikes me as extremely distasteful, self-serving and insensitive. Upon Steve Jobs passing, one hash-tag that was continuously...
But the specter of the slut is inhibiting even in a relatively permissive...– Elaine Blair’s review of Nicholson Baker’s “House of Holes”
Certainly the very mixed quality of the books on the long- and short-lists for...– Paul Bowes in a Not The Booker discussion of Chris Morton’s debut novel, “English Slacker”.
On Sloppy Writing: Lev Grossman's "The Magicians"
Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians”, published in 2009 and “The Magician King”, published two years later, are best-sellers and critically acclaimed. Grossman is an alumnus of Harvard and Yale. He’s a senior writer and book critic for TIME. With all those credentials, it’s natural to expect that his writing would be nothing short of virtuosic. The first...
The tyranny of Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The Transformers franchise and its impresario Michael Bay have a dual gift: a way of making tremendous amounts of money, and a way of infuriating large portions of the population. The Transformers films manage to be so abhorrent that they spark analysis and criticism of such a high calibre that the existence of the films seems justified, if only as cultural objects to be critiqued. These movies...
Doctor, I ask you, who was it that made the suggestion in the first place? Since...– Philip Roth, “Portnoy’s Complaint”. p. 49.
Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The...– D.H. Lawrence, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. p. 1.
What to read in 2011
Why The first task of 2011 is to draw up my reading schedule for the year. I encourage everyone, including casual readers and writers, to do the same. The most important thing is to always have something to read close at hand; to never find yourself wasting time wondering “what on earth will I read next?” Planning early ensures that you can keep the momentum and discipline going...
America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked...– James Ellroy. “American Tabloid”. Forward.
Strether meets Gloriani
Henry James is notorious for having produced very difficult fiction. His only rival in this regard is the other James, namely, Joyce. They use English in ways that make it seem alien. After several readings —which are demanded and assumed— it emerges that the ostensible difficulty is but a side-effect of the supreme beauty of their language. The golden rule of writing fiction is...
Scott Pilgrim and the disdain for Generation Y
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is a fascinating film but it performed relatively poorly at the Box Office. I find that particularly strange especially because another film which I consider similar in important ways, performed an order of magnitude better. Both films have roots deep in the Animé tradition. Scott Pilgrim respectfully acknowledges it and does its best to transcribe it to screen but...
Kanye West dumbs down Bon Iver's "Woods"
Kanye West has released a tremendous amount of high quality material this year. His G.O.O.D Fridays series has irreversibly changed the world of hip-hop and set the bar so high that it is unlikely anyone else will attempt to surpass it; better to ignore the pyramid dominating the horizon and not draw attention to the inadequacy of one’s own work. The most emotive bit of his work is...
Can a man write from a woman's perspective?
In a recent article, Maryann Johanson asserts that, throughout Western art, from the Renaissance painters through modern film, television, advertising, video-games, and comic books, there is an unspoken assumption underlying the vast majority of the work that the viewer/reader/consumer/player is male and heterosexual, because the creators have been and are, in the vast majority, male and...
The tyranny of present tense
Philip Pullman1 believes that the usage of present-tense narrative is increasing, and that the increase is an unfortunate development. If I were to take a sample of my own work and the work I’ve seen published in recent years, I would have to agree. It is not surprising that a first-person, present-tense style is increasingly common. The past decade has seen an explosion of Reality TV...
Movie review: How to train your dragon
Today, over lunch, I decided to preview “How to train your dragon” so that I could decide whether to watch it over the weekend. I usually preview a movie for ten or fifteen minutes randomly picking two or three scenes in a bid to get an impression of the overarching themes and delivery. I ended up extending my lunch by one hour and watching the entire movie. I think the movie is...
How much of life do I need to experience in order...
I often worry that I haven’t lived enough and seen enough to be able to competently write a novel of appreciable depth. I also worry that I have lived too sheltered an existence to be able to understand the human condition and render it on paper with any degree of fidelity. Then I remember that Jane Austen managed to write beautiful pieces of literature that were both inspired and...
The novel that is going nowhere.
Learning to write a novel The novel will not write itself. It would be nice if it could and would. But it can’t and won’t. That is the sordid truth. My counsellor instructs me that speaking or writing the facts of my chosen life will somehow aid in the reconciliation of said realities. But at the end of this paragraph, I feel exactly the same as I did when I began it. ...
Close writing demands close reading
When I read Faulkner, Roth and Nabokov one of the things that becomes apparent is the huge gap, both intellectual and technical between myself and those authors. Their vocabulary seems an order of magnitude larger than mine, and I notice the huge variety of words they draw upon in order to capture every nuance of the phenomena they attempt to describe. Where I would describe the impressions...
Short story: Detective Hussein's Promotion
Below is a short story I wrote over a year ago after elections in Kenya led to a great deal of violence, and the death of an opposition politician that seemed typical of numerous untimely deaths of controversial politicians in the past. Reading this last night, I realised just how far I have yet to go before the quality of my writing is something I can be proud of. ...
Why the classics are so important (pt. 1)
In recent years, I have noticed a complete shift in my reading habits away from the Modern Novel to The Classics. This is actually less a shift and more a return, after all, I grew up in a household filled with the classics. My father devoted one of the largest rooms in the house to storing them. I remember the day he came to the house with our pick-up truck stacked high with cartons. We...
Writer's Block: The Holiday Malaise
The holiday period bracketed by the first day of Christmas and the New Year is the worst time of the year for me. For the past decade, I have spent all that time alone. Never before has it been a problem but now I find myself feeling genuinely lonely and trapped in a hovel with only my flagging intellectual powers to keep me company. I’m not sure when my brain started dying and I write...
The Writer's Duty Pt. 2
All men are not created equal. The variance in condition or environment one is birthed into is of least importance: One may be born rich or poor, sickly or vigorous, in a stable family or in chaos but these seem to be irrelevant in the long run. We all have to contend with the burden of our own problems and personal histories anyway. The main difference is in the power and output of...