I don’t know how much more to say at this point, but I might write something more comprehensive in February. The main point is, Jaconb Arjouni died a few days ago. I reviewed his debut novel here. I might say a few sentences about what an extraordinary writer he’s been, and how important his work has been in a largely xenophobic literary landscape, where narratives centered on non-Germans have to conform, adapt or go under, but this fine obituary in the Guardian touches on all the right points. Please read it. Sometimes, there are bright spots, and Arjouni’s unclassifiable work was definitely one of them. This is a heavy loss.
Archive for the 'Obituaries' Category
My books are really books that are impressed and loved with the memory of comics, and how important they were to me as a child. You know, I did live across the street from the Baptistery; I didn’t live near any famous person; I didn’t see Michelangelo go to work in the morning I just lived in Brooklyn, where everything was ordinary, and yet enticing and exciting and bewildering. The magic of childhood is the strangeness of childhood; the uniqueness that makes us see things that other people don’t see.
We all have to find our way. If I can find a way through picture making, book illustration or whatever you want to call it, I’ll be OK.
We get asked, ‘What do you think of the state of hip hop today?’ a lot. Maybe I’m being defensive, but it seems like people always look for us to come out and criticize hip hop. But hip hop is what we grew up on, and it continues to be one of the only forms of music left that strives on evolution and innovation. Yeah, we might be in a spell where we’re waiting for that next record to come out and change everything—but still, that’s what hip hop is and that’s what puts it in its unique place.
Below is a long (long!) video of the release party of Paul’s Boutique, one of the best records released in the past 30 years. Featured in it, as in the article I link above, is Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, who died this week of cancer. The world will be so much poorer without him. Enjoy the video below. Listen to their music.
According to the Georgia Review this morning, the amazing Harry Crews died yesterday. One of the first reviews I ever wrote was of Harry Crews’ extraordinary A Feast of Snakes, and I always meant to dive deeper into his work, but somehow never came round to it.
Below there’s a short trailer for an incredible film about Crews called Survival is Triumph Enough. I started posting videos exclusively on my tumblr, but this needs to be here:
Edit: here is the NY TImes obit
Since I learned that the great poet Adrienne Rich died yesterday, I’ve been mulling over a response, but I don’t think I’m capable of putting my grief over this loss into words, nor am I likely qualified. A year ago I posted a poem that seems strangely fitting. But what I would do is point to her remarkable essay on Elizabeth Bishop, and especially to a passage near its end, because it always appeared to sum up the force driving Rich’s magnificent work through all these past decades, and it’s the first thing I thought of when the terrible news of her death reached me:
It is important to me to know that, through most of her life, Bishop was critically and consciously trying to explore marginality, power and powerlessness, often in poetry of great beauty and sensuous power. That not all these poems are fully realized or satisfying simply means that the living who care that art should embody these questions have still more work to do.
Read Rich. There are many editions of her work out there and you really can’t go wrong.
The great Czech writer Arnošt Lustig passed away, aged 84. I cherish what I read of his work, but I read too little. Below, a piece from an interview he gave to Central Europe Review (CER)
CER: It must be difficult to forget your experiences from Holocaust.
AL: No, not at all. I’m not thinking about it. I’m writing about it. It’s very different. It’s like you had two lives; one “literature…life as a writer” and one real, existential.
CER: So when you write about the Holocaust, it isn’t a process of coming to terms with your experiences?
AL: I’m not writing about it. I write about a lot of other things. It’s only set at that time. Look, every writer can write only about what he is familiar with, what’s under his skin. So I write about what I really know. I could write about anything. But why would I write about everything when I can write about something in-depth? Literature tries to discover something that is invisible in a man, something mysterious: his impulses, his incentives, the causes of his actions. Why he is acting the way he’s acting. Unexplained things. In that case it doesn’t matter if you write about a concentration camp.
A writer cannot cover the whole world; a writer is a small stone in a big mosaic that tries to reflect a panorama of life that is unusually broad. And so I have my small stone. For instance, Joseph Conrad writes only about a sea about people on the sea—you could also take it against him. There was a writer named Anderson and he wrote beautiful fairy tales and his friends told him stop writing fairy tales and write a novel. So he wrote six novels. Nobody knows about his novels but his fairy tales are still being read. So each writer needs to ask himself: “what is my best ‘track’ where do I run the fastest”…so this is my track.
L’écrivain martiniquais Edouard Glissant s’est éteint ce matin jeudi 3 février, à Paris, à l’âge de 83 ans. Auteur d’une œuvre rhizome mêlant poétique et polémique, mythe et souvenir, roman et essai, il demeure célèbre pour avoir forgé le concept d’Antillanité, obtenu le prix Renaudot 1958 pour son premier roman La Lézarde, et, toute sa vie, défendu le métissage des cultures.
You may or may not have heard, but sadly, Edwin Morgan has died.
Edwin Morgan, who has died aged 90, was the last of a group of great Scottish poets, spanning two generations, sometimes referred to as “the seven poets”. Morgan was unrivalled in his formal invention, linguistic resourcefulness and – not the least of his qualities – his sense of fun.
I’ve posted a poem by Morgan elsewhere on this blog and will repeat my reverence for his work and my recommendation of the brick-sized Collected Poems as published by Carcanet. It is sad, but not unexpected news.
Oh no no no. Harvey Pekar died.
Harvey Pekar, 70, the graphic novelist whose autobiographical comic book “American Splendor” chronicled his life as a filing clerk, record collector, freelance jazz critic and one of life’s all around misfits, was found dead early today at his home in suburban Cleveland.
The AP reported that police were called to Mr. Pekar’s home by his wife about 1 a.m. and the artist was found between a bed and dresser. Mr. Pekar had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression, police said.
Below is a clip from one of several appearances on Letterman’s show in the 1980s.
Beryl Bainbridge died at 75. I’m in the process of discovering her work; so far I’ve only read and reviewed the excellent Harriet Said… . Given what I’ve read so far of hers, this is a deeply felt loss. This is from the BBC page:
Writing on micro-blogging site Twitter, author Margaret Atwood said: “Oldpal Dame Beryl Bainbridge dies – very sad. Wondrous original, great sport, loved her books. Hope she has champagne in heaven & a smoke…”
I think the novel is not so much a literary genre, but a literary space, like a sea that is filled by many rivers. The novel receives streams of science, philosophy, poetry and contains all of these; it’s not simply telling a story.
Apparently, the amazing David Markson passed away today. Instead of long self-important accounts of his importance, the web is slowly filling with small, excellent, deeply personal obits that demonstrate the weight he had in the life of fellow readers and writers. Here is a beautiful obituary note by Sarah Weinman, a very moving one by Kimberly Ann Josephine, an equally moving one by A. D. Jameson, and another great one by Edward Champion. Below is an excerpt from a very good “Conjuctions”-interview with Markson. Click here for the interview and read below for the excerpt:
I use index cards. I store them in the tops of a couple of shoes boxes. If I made a stack of them, they’d probably be about two feet tall. I’m constantly shuffling. This goes on for a couple of years. I might have a few quotations about Joyce, and I figure out which one goes where. I try to make sure I don’t overbalance. I know in the end that there’s going to be more literature, but I try to make sure I have as much about art and music, too. There’s always a certain amount of the classics and philosophy. With the historical stuff, it just depends upon its significance or irony. Then, somewhere along the line, I make notes about Author or whoever it is and figure out where they go. (…) When Reader’s Block came out, Kurt Vonnegut called me, two-thirds of the way through, and said, “David, what kind of computer did you use to juggle this stuff?” I told him what I’d done, and he called me when he finished it and said, “David, I’m worried about your mental condition.”
“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept,” she once said. “I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”
I think I was about 12 when I started to get into them myself, and although I haven’t read one for years, Francis’s death yesterday reminded me just how much I used to love them. The thrill, the glamour, the sheer difference of the racing world to my own appealed immensely to me, as did the “lonely hero up against a host of more powerful enemies” theme which seemed to be part of them all. (…) I asked my father if he’d really enjoyed receiving a Francis every Christmas or if they were just grin-and-pretend-you-like-it presents, and he told me they were “always interesting, but a bit in one ear and out the other”. My mother, however, described them as “chick lit for men” and I think that’s a fair summing-up.
J.D. Salinger, the legendary author, youth hero and fugitive from fame whose “The Catcher in the Rye” shocked and inspired a world he increasingly shunned, has died. He was 91.
Salinger died of natural causes at his home on Wednesday, the author’s son said in a statement from Salinger’s literary representative. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.
A year later a messenger delivered the manuscript of The Catcher in the Rye to the office. It came from the Harold Ober Agency. I read it and, of course, I was absolutely riveted. I thought how lucky I was that this incredible book had come into my hands. I wrote a rave report and I turned it over to Eugene Reynal, my new boss. (…) So I left the Catcher in the Rye manuscript with Reynal. No reply for much too long, maybe two weeks. I finally went to see him. I said, “Gene, I’ve told you the story of Salinger visiting this office, and the fact that I shook hands with him. We have a gentleman’s contract at this point.”
He said, “Bob, I’m worried about that manuscript.” I said, “What are you worried about?” He said, “I think the guy’s crazy.”
Vic Chesnutt died today. He committed suicide. He was 45 years old when he died. Chesnutt makes you ashamed of even thinking of suicide. He crafted a dozen beautiful records, full of humor, sadness and gorgeousness. He’s what you’d call, I guess, a warrior, a beautiful, strong soul. On days like today it’s his music I turn to, so it was a shock to learn of his departure. Rest in Peace. We will miss you.
Brittany Murphy, the perpetually perky and slightly quirky actress who worked her way up from supporting parts to romantic leads after her breakout role in the film “Clueless,” died Sunday in Los Angeles. She was 32. (…) The 1995 teen comedy “Clueless,” an adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” set in southern California and starring Alicia Silverstone, was a surprise hit, and though Ms. Murphy was 15 when she played the supporting role of Tai, the airhead persona stuck with her. It was her 2003 stint as the romantic lead in the Eminem vehicle “8 Mile,” she told The A.P., that earned her more recognition. (…) A diverse set of credits accumulated in Ms. Murphy’s filmography, including the tough, abused waitress in the gritty “Sin City,” a concentration camp victim in the television film “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” and the voice of an animated penguin in “Happy Feet.” She also lent her voice to the character Luann on more the 200 episodes of Fox’s animated series “King of the Hill,” and collaborated on a song with the D.J. Paul Oakenfold. “I don’t really take myself very seriously,” Ms. Murphy told The San Jose Mercury News in 2003. “I’ve never formally trained in acting, so I’m very instinctual and visceral with decisions. It hasn’t really been a plot or scheme in any way, shape or form.”
Man what a shit year.
Serbian poet, novelist and historian Milorad Pavic died on Monday of heart failure at the age of 80.
Pavic, whose works have been translated into several languages, is known for his experiments with narrative form. Among his novels, one can be read back to front, and one has several alternative endings.
His most widely read work is The Dictionary of the Khazars, published in 1984.
Concernant le fond, le Dictionnaire Khazar est un roman historique, policier, d’aventures, fantastique et cabalistique. C’est l’histoire du peuple Khazar, de son déclin, de ses personnalités les plus éminentes. C’est une enquête policière et bibliophilique en quête de vérité. Ce sont des récits oniriques pleins d’inventions. C’est une très belle histoire, qui malgré l’étrangeté de sa mise en scène est absolument lisible et passionnante !
What a crap month this is. Fund this out in the Guardian:
The German choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch died this morning at the age of 68, five days after being diagnosed with cancer.
Here is an excellent appraisal in the New York Times by Alaistair Macauley.
And below a clip from a performance:
Sad day. JG Ballard has died on Sunday morning at the age of 78. He wrote once:
I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that’s my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again… the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul.
Luckily we have Ballard’s books as antidotes against this kind of future.
John Hope Franklin died today at 94. The dear live-in philosopher just looked over my shoulder and said: at his age, wasn’t it to be expected? Easy to say, but in my heart, the loss still feels gargantuan. This here is from the NYTimes obit (linked above):
As a scholar, his research helped Thurgood Marshall win Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 case that outlawed the doctrine of ”separate but equal” in the nation’s public schools.
”It was evident how much the lawyers appreciated what the historians could offer,” Franklin later wrote. ”For me, and I suspect the same was true for the others, it was exhilarating.”
Franklin broke numerous color barriers. He was the first black department chair at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College; the first black professor to hold an endowed chair at Duke University; and the first black president of the American Historical Association.
Above all, he documented how blacks had lived and served alongside whites from the nation’s birth. Black patriots fought at Lexington and Concord, Franklin pointed out in ”From Slavery to Freedom,” published in 1947. They crossed the Delaware with Washington and explored with Lewis and Clark. The text sold million of copies and remains required reading in college classrooms.
The great, marvelous, amazing Odetta, whose songs I hear at least once a week, had died on December 2. Here is an obituary from the New York Times.
“What distinguished her from the start,” Time magazine wrote in 1960, “was the meticulous care with which she tried to recreate the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledgehammer.”
Still another DFW obit. I am still sad. Found this great paragraph in an obit at DeWitt’s capricious blog:
Well, this is the world we live in, brothers and sisters. It’s a rum old place. Oblivion doesn’t strike me as a difficult, never mind uncompromisingly difficult, book. Plato can be difficult; the speeches in Thucydides drive strong men to drink; Kant is difficult, Wittgenstein is difficult, David Lewis is not for the faint of heart. But Oblivion? DFW had a ravishingly lovely gift for voice; he took the sort of pleasure in variety that we see in (say) Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or Debussy’s Preludes. Why would a reader labour grumpily through the stories in search of hidden meanings? Let alone blame the profligate author for lack of generosity? I’ve no idea, but one thing is certain: in this world, here, now, there is no place for a Roger Federer among writers.
David Foster Wallace is dead. The prodigiously talented writer, quite possibly the best American writer of his generation and one of the best American writers alive, hung himself on Friday. He has published two novels, of which the more famous is the massive Infinite Jest which I haven’t yet finished, but am enjoying every page of, he has also written numerous stories and essays. He is one of the writers whose new books you await impatiently, gobble them up avidly, a writer you reread many times. The mind one encounters in his writing is so wonderful, and the writing is so singularly brilliant, that this…
no, I won’t elaborate. I am full of grief, and getting drunk, and if I give in and write about it, that post will become even crappier than it already is and that would be infelicitous in an obit to the great Mr. Wallace. So, I will close with a quote from DFW’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon college.
As I’m sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.
This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.
The speech, amazingly, ends with these words:
It is unimaginably hard to [...] stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, flawed and fabulous giant of Russian letters has died. Quoth the Associated Press:
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. He was 89.
Stepan Solzhenitsyn told The Associated Press his father died late Sunday, but declined further comment.
Solzhenitsyn’s unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union’s slave labor camps riveted his countrymen, whose secret history he exposed. They earned him 20 years of bitter exile, but international renown.
The following quote is from a ten-year-old review in the NYT book pages and I feel it can stand as an epitaph of sorts here
But for Vera Moseyeva, a retired clerk who remembers the first book by Mr. Solzhenitsyn that she ever laid her hands on (it was almost in rags by the time it had been carefully and secretly passed to her), it does not matter what he writes.
”Whatever he says is always interesting,” she said, after buying three copies of ”Russia in Collapse.” “[...] Does he scold too much? Given the way life is these days, how can one not be scolding?”
Scolding, inspiring, and, going by interviews, essays and the like, a writer eminently interested in his language and its riches. As a thinker he may be questionable, but he was a writer like few others, and looking at the desert that contemporary German literature is, I wish we had a writer as keen on language and as energetic and driven as Mr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He will be sorely missed.
From the last interview with one of the great masters of English-language SF
I mean, I never know what my divine powers are going to do often, until they’ve done it.
This comes via i09 and here’s a bit of what they wrote
I have been alternating between sadness and screaming FUCK! really loudly for the past 24 hours since hearing that brilliant, angry writer Thomas M. Disch killed himself on July 4. He was the author of some of the creepiest, most amazing SF-themed social satires I have ever read. [...] It’s clear from his work that Disch had become mournful and fascinated with the afterlife (if still in a satirical way). Disch’s partner Charles had been very ill before he died, and that sickness wiped out his savings and Disch’s. Before he committed suicide, Disch had been struggling with his landlord to remain in his rent-controlled apartment, which the landlord claimed he couldn’t keep because it was in his dead partner’s name. Thomas M. Disch, you will be missed.
Ain’t that true.
Die höchste Stufe des Sehens, der Beziehung ganz allgemein zu einem Objekt und zur Aussenwelt überhaupt, ist dann erreicht, wenn die Grenze zwischen Subjekt und Objekt, zwischen Betrachter und Betrachtetem, zwischen mir und der Aussenwelt bewusstseinsmäßig aufgehoben ist, wenn ich mit der Welt und ihrem geistigen Urgrund eins geworden bin. Das ist der Zustand der Liebe. Die höchste Stufe des Sehens ist Liebe. Umgekehrt kann Liebe definiert werden als die höchste Stufe des Sehens.
“Lob des Schauens”, Nachtschatten Verlag, 2002
Albert Hofmann ist gestern verstorben.
Aimé Césaire, an anticolonialist poet and politician who was honored throughout the French-speaking world and who was an early proponent of black pride, died here on Thursday. He was 94.
A government spokeswoman, Marie Michèle Darsières, said he died at a hospital where he was being treated for heart problems and other ailments.
Mr. Césaire was one of the Caribbean’s most celebrated cultural figures. He was especially revered in his native Martinique, which sent him to the French parliament for nearly half a century and where he was repeatedly elected mayor of Fort-de-France, the capital city.
In Paris in the 1930s he helped found the journal Black Student, which gave birth to the idea of “negritude,” a call to blacks to cultivate pride in their heritage. His 1950 book “Discourse on Colonialism” was considered a classic of French political literature.
Mr. Césaire’s ideas were honored and his death mourned in Africa and France as well as the Caribbean. The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Mr. Sarkozy would attend Mr. Césaire’s funeral, scheduled for Sunday in Fort-de-France. Students at Lycée Scoelcher, a Martinique high school where Mr. Césaire once taught, honored him in a spontaneous ceremony Thursday.
Mr. Césaire’s best-known works included the essay “Negro I Am, Negro I Will Remain” and the poem “Notes From a Return to the Native Land.”
It’s truly astonishing the amount of sexism one is prepared to stomach sometimes when you want to be entertained. There’s Ally McBeal of course, which isn’t all that clear cut a case but I suspect she will come up again on this blog. And there’s the pain in the ass of High Fantasy. The lesser the writer the ranker his sexism. The Peakes, Miévilles, Delanys or LeGuins are few and far between. Most of the High Fantasy novelists write fiction like boys who don’t talk to girls or rarely. This includes (and why shouldn’t it) women writers. The best of this group of writers rise above the mediocre rest by mastering the art of crafting powerfully escapist novels. For example, in Robin Hobb’s oeuvre you won’t find complex structures, great ideas or multi-layered characters. But inevitably, by the second volume of her small cycles, you will be hooked. This Sunday, Robert Jordan died. Why do I care? Robert Jordan is the best bad writer of his genre. Stylistically, he’s clearly worse than many of his collegues, he only narrowly escapes being worse than Raymond Feist, stylistically. His storytelling has become increasingly tedious and increasingly sexist. However, the world he created was large, populated by an innumerable host of characters. It was, I’ll grant him that, addictive. Addictive enough for me to have read every single novel of the twelve (including that damn prequel) that he’s written. He was only one novel away from finishing. And then he died, that cheeky bastard. Looking at the long and colorful row of Jordan novels behind my shelves (no place for him ON them) I marvel at my boyish anger. And even more, I marvel at the fact that I have been reading his novels for over ten years now, and they have become more and more sexist at a steady rate and I have not destroyed them or given them away, I haven’t even stopped buying them, reading them, for Christ’s sake. Maybe this was an accomplishment of his, to make his novels -if not entertaining- addictive enough to keep me, hell, US, reading, for so many years, through so many bad books, up to the end, which -poof- suddenly disappeared. It feels as if he’d done it on purpose, inspired by the Sopranos maybe. Twelve books of teaser and then – blackout.
Maybe that’s genius.