Wow. Not only is Asher Roth completely irrelevant. Turns out he’s also incredibly obnoxious:

“You guys are always going off about how much money you have. Do you realize what’s going on in this world right now?’ All these black rappers? African rappers? Talking about how much money they have. Do you realize what’s going on in Africa right now? It’s just like, you guys are disgusting. Talking about billions and billions of dollars you have. And spending it frivolously, when you know, the Motherland is suffering beyond belief right now.”

Zero awareness. ^^


TagesschauOnline: Deutschland im Aufwind!

Die deutschen Rüstungsexporte sind nach Berechnungen des unabhängigen schwedischen Friedensforschungsinstitutes SIPRI in den vergangenen fünf Jahren um 70 Prozent gestiegen. Deutschland baute seinen Weltmarktanteil am Waffenhandel im letzten Fünfjahres-Zeitraum demnach von sieben auf zehn Prozent aus. Mehr konventionelle Rüstungsgüter führten nur die USA mit einem Anteil von 31 Prozent und Russland mit 25 Prozent aus, teilte das “Stockholm International Peace Research Institute” mit.

Ich sehe schon den Film. Mein Vorschlag: “Freiherr of War”

Triumphgeheul der Kreuzritter

Classless Kulla hat mit seiner dreiteiligen Dawkinskritik (eins, zwei, drei) natürlich recht, Dawkins, einer der Football Hooligans of Rational Discourse, ist aber auch ein einfaches Ziel.

Das hier ist dann übrigens die andere Seite: in der “Welt” lacht Matthias Heine hämisch über “die Linke”, die sich über den Volxentscheid am Sonntag ärgert, der sich gegen die “Religion des linken Atheismus” richtet. Heines Argumentation ist genauso kaputt wie seine bizarre ideologische Zuordnung.

Poet extraordinaire

while I bumble away at the crap that I post here, some just shine, like the poster johnnywalkitoff from the board thefictionalwoods. This here’s from his latest poem

The skin on the back of your hand
slowly loses its elasticity;

That shouldn’t be a consideration
In our not searching for mysteries;

And here is a link to his best work so far.


If you didn’t notice, currently, there’s the Durban II conference in Geneva, which promises to be as much of a sham as Durban I. I’m somewhat happy that my government (however reluctantly) is not taking part. Here’s a look at one of the participants: a member if Ahmadinejad’s entourage calls Elie Wiesel a Zio-Nazi.

It’s somewhat surprising that the British government would go through with the conference even though the outcome is predictably nauseating.

On Christoph M. Wieland’s “Die Geschichte des Agathon”

When I closed this novel, I was exhilarated and overwhelmed. This is a great novel, strict and philosophical, as well as sensuous and wild. Wieland is an extraordinary reader and thinker as well as a great poet and novelist. There are good writers, and then there are great writers and then there are writers who were not of their time: writers whose work has been misread, misunderstood and largely misappreciated in their time, the most famous among which is probably Herman Melville. Another great example of an influential yet seriously underappreciated writer is Christoph Martin Wieland; his major work is the Geschichte des Agathon (History of Agathon). The Geschichte des Agathon influenced the German novel like few other books, and even today it baffles and fascinates; it’s both an excursus on theology, philosophy, morals and the limits and possibilities of the novel. Christoph Martin Wieland was born in 1733 and died in 1813, and in between he produced an inimitable body of work the depths of which have still not been plumbed. He published the Geschichte des Agathon in 1766, and three revisions during the next 34 years, the last of which appeared in 1800. I have read only the first version of it; it’s is the most influential, and from what I know about the other versions, most interesting, of the four.

To call Agathon a typical Bildungsroman is misleading because it is one of the very first -if not the first- specimen of the genre. Nevertheless, it is typical in many ways, in the sense that it tells of a young man’s coming of age, learning about himself and the world through hardships and patient teachers. Agathon is a character from Plato’s Symposion, and the novel is set in Plato’s time with key characters such as Plato, Dionysos of Syracuse and Hippias of Elis making appearances, some more important than others. Agathon is highly aware of the fact that its readers know about the references, in letters Wieland’s even quite dismissive of potential readers who are not educated enough. The awareness in Agathon means that it is endlessly self-referential, incessantly discussing its own nature as a text and its links to other texts. Sometimes it’s doing the latter playfully, as in its use of historical persons and replacements and shifts of their, well-known and publicized histories, sometimes it opts for heavy swathes of philosophical discussion that poses as a classic discussion between Platonists and Epicureans (a pose that is supported by, for instance, the fact that Hippias and Plato and Agathon are all characters from actual dialogues by Plato), but contains worlds of other thought, most prominently Meister Eckhart.

The most significant way that Agathon is self-referential, however, is achieved by making it a text within a text and making doubts about legitimacy and authenticity and recurrent topic within the story of the novel as well as in the framework’s narrator’s address of the audience. Although, it is misleading to call him the framework’s narrator. The narrator relates the whole story to us, we are always hearing his voice yet at the same time he is assuring us we are getting the truth. It’s not just about telling us that the facts are true, although he keeps reassuring us about that, as well. Actually, he insists on being merely the editor of the text, but he is not just a very intrusive editor, as I said, it is also his voice re-telling the story, he injects unmarked editor’s comments now and then, as he addresses the reader’s incredulity, there’s even a chapter called: “which will make some people suspect that this story is made-up”. As with two of the most significant predecessors of the novel, Fielding and Sterne, narrative is a constant concern.

Wieland, like them, also offers an engaging, complex story, told in a nonlinear fashion. It’s about a young man who grows up a strikingly beautiful boy in the temple at Delphy, apparently an orphan. He is taught proper Platonian philosophy there; falls platonically in love with a girl called Psyche. Shortly before he comes of age, an older priestess hits on him repeatedly. This confuses and disgusts him so much that he leaves the temple head over heels and heads towards Athens. On the way he meets an old man who turns out to be his father and a rich man, as well. Suddenly endowed with a large fortune, he moves to Athens and enters politics. As he runs into difficulties with the corrupt and selfish political establishment, he is banished from Athens and is on the road again. This is where the novel sets in, in one of the most striking and strange scenes I have read in a while: as he perambulates, he comes upon a group of female Dionysian cultists who engage in a sexual and sensual frenzy. As a male spectator, he knows he is in constant danger, yet the spectacle, so at odds with his thinking and beliefs, is so alluring he stays hidden and watches.

This proves to be a mistake, however, as suddenly, pirates alight, try to capture as many women as possible and catch Agathon as well, who finds himself suddenly a slave on his way to the slave market. To cut a long story short, he is finally sold to Hippias, who sees the young man as a fit and entrancing candidate to succeed him as the leading mind of the Epicureans. Agathon, however, is an intractable idealist, scornfully rejecting Hippias’ arguments, who is trying to sway Agathon both with reason and hot women. After a couple of defeats, he tricks Agathon into falling for Daphne, the most beautiful and intelligent woman in his community. Daphne is a seasoned seducer and after the young idealist falls for her, she chips away at his ideals, turning his love into a full, worldly love instead of a mere intellectual infatuation. As Hippias triumphs over him, pointing out the change, Agathon is both ashamed of himself and furious at Hippias and Daphne for deceiving him. Daphne, meanwhile, has fallen for Agathon, and been, to an extent, converted by his philosophy, as he has been by hers.

Once again, he leaves, this time moving to Sicily, to the court of Dionysos the tyrant, and embarks on yet another political endeavor, this time trying to turn Dionysos into the enlightenment’s ideal of an enlightened ruler. Here, as in the discussion about love and sexuality, self and the world, in the confrontations with Hippias, the novel blends contemporary and ancient philosophy. Again, the corrupt mob effects a banishment, although he was singularly successful; as his political hopes are once again dashed, he leaves one last time, going to Tarentum where he is invited by the local potentate, who is Agathon’s ideal of a ruler. In the end, all the threads seem to be coming together rather quickly. He meets Psyche again, who turns out to be his sister, and Daphne. Surprisingly, he finds he’s still in love with Daphne but she won’t take him back just now, since she has turned into an ascetic. There is no resolution to the novel, which closes with an open end of sorts. By telling you the ending, I have not spoiled your surprise, because the story, although fun and engaging, does not in the least rely upon conventional suspense. The revelations at the end are deus ex machina devices.

The end is unusual in that it doesn’t allow for a neat conclusion, a clear moral message. Agathon is both Epicurean and Platonian, he is politically disillusioned yet lands in a political paradise that is a made bed, however, not helping him to understand anything. Most contemporary reviewers such as Gerstenberg, the great playwright, were unable to see this ambiguity, even though it is at the heart of the novel. It was just too unusual for the Germans of his time, and so they claimed to have read a moral ending to the story, proclaiming a defeat of the decadent Epicureism. The critical applause for the novel was thunderous, and well-deservedly so, but for the wrong reasons. Although the long stretches of philosophy might be a bit much for today’s readers, the rest of the book is still remarkably powerful.

And it holds up well even today. There is the way, for instance, that Daphne’s experience cancels out both of the men’s philosophy; and the way that even Agathon the slave is still more privileged than the women. Daphne asserts herself by appropriating the signs and philosophy of the society that oppresses her. This is just a facet of the enormous topic of female sexuality, desire and bodies and how it fits the world where a few men talk and scheme and decide all the issues amongst themselves. Unspoken the question hangs in the air: what does it matter to others? Women are everywhere and it is through them that the episodes gain significance and importance, by waking the men up and mobilizing them, yet at the same time it doesn’t only use women as means: their characters are among the strongest, and their drive and the resulting decisions are often bold and inexplicable to the men. There is the puzzling priestess in the beginning, continued by Psyche, who hunts for Agathon when he leaves, becoming a slave voluntarily to find him (the whole slavery issue alone is worth a whole book’s discussion) and finally slipping away from him; the last in this row is Danae, whose significance I’ve just outlined, additionally there are a number of other women in-between with interesting and fascinating functions that I can’t mention here due to restraints of space.

The narrator knows his limits. He’s a hands-on narrator, providing a constant stream of judgment and comment, addressing our doubts as to the veracity of the story, chuckling about Agathon and lusting for Danae. The latter is quite an important point, although the narrator seems to comment on everybody and everything, he only grazes the women, since he apparently well knows that his scope cannot manage these characters. This is one of the best things about this book. Wieland packed it shock-full with ideas and issues, without a care for being able to manage it all in a cerebral manner. In the way that he sometimes just juxtaposes images and characters, without including them in the ongoing theoretical discourse of the novel, his instincts shine. Die Geschichte des Agathon is a long book, full of digressions, but nothing appears superfluous in the novel, not even the writing which strikes a happy balance between a somewhat sentimental, and, for its time anyway, remarkably reduced use of words. It may be daunting, but it is a riveting read that will overwhelm you as it did me.

Unboring (JG Ballard died)

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.

Propaganda: Tom Rob Smith’s “Child 44”

Smith, Tom Rob (2009), Child 44, Pocket
ISBN 978-1-84739-373-9

In the back of my edition of Tom Rob Smith’s debut novel Child 44, set in Stalinist Russia, there’s an interview with the author. In it, he’s asked about the books he’s read in preparation and he says he’s read countless books and that he hasn’t “come across a bad book”. A decade ago, falling in love with Mandelstam, I have read a couple of books on the period, some good, but certainly a good deal of tosh as well. Smith’s reply indicates a certain indiscriminate appetite and a limited understanding of what he read. Now, this may be unfair, but the rest of the novel bears this judgment out, it fails on almost every level, but the most annoying aspect of it is the propaganda; after all, the novel presents a one-sided, almost hysterical view of not just Stalinism but of Soviet socialism as a whole. For all its flaws, I must admit that I was intrigued at times, I had fun at times, although none of the fun outweighed the sheer annoyance that Tom Rob Smith’s novel, that was longlisted for the Booker, has already been followed by a sequel (The Secret Speech) and the rights to which have been optioned by Ridley Scott, heaped on this overweight reviewer.

Smith takes the case of Andrei Chikatilo, a serial killer who had a long and prosperous career as a murderer in Soviet Russia because ideological constraints made a hunt for him problematic. Serial killers were a phenomenon of the decadent West, a symptom of the sickness of that society. By the very nature of Soviet Russia, such a crime would not have been possible, by definition, and so for decades, Chikatilo wasn’t apprehended. Smith doesn’t have decades, he isn’t really interested in the workings of a system, so he cut the story down to a smaller, more manageable unit, that takes place shortly before and after Stalin’s death. The first fourth of the novel contains the best sections and holds the most promise, the rest is basically a prolonged let-down. It is a good idea for Smith to have taken his time with the actual investigation which doesn’t get off the ground until at least halfway through the book.

The first half is almost completely spent with an exploration of the police procedural. Smith doesn’t have the patience nor the analytic mind to make a clean job of this. He does not provide the necessary detail, nor does he have the necessary language at his disposal to be evocative instead of just stereotypical. Smith hands us a few archetypes, a stereotypical bad guy, a good guy, an honest worker, and so on. Smith wants us to understand that the government is evil (actually, we are offered two serial killers, the real one, and the Soviet government; which could be, structurally, a good idea, as it could double the suspense and tension but is not handled well and we get neither suspense nor tension), so as the easiest solution he creates characters that are just evil, with no redeeming features and the longer he keeps them in the story even as that story turns away from them, the more transparent and cheap these efforts become. He dedicates a whole scene to the bad guy’s musings about the boredom of not having enough evil deeds to do, and do not think I am simplifying things here. It’s as risible as that. But it is a classic thriller, the reader who expects well-rounded characters is a fool. He’s not getting them, but therein lies much of the fun of classic thrillers.

And Smith, in the first fourth, puts his readers genre expectations to good use. As we watch the protagonist, Leo Demidov, torture a man who’s suspected of being a spy, we know that Leo’s going to be tortured himself; as we see Leo turn the wheels of Soviet bureaucracy, we know that Leo’s going to be thrown under those same wheels later on; as we see Leo cover up a crime that doesn’t exist because it should not exist, we know he’s going to have to confront a police officer of the same kind himself; and finally, as we follow him, breathlessly, on a manhunt, we know he is going to be hunted himself. If there is an unpardonable fault to the book, its raising these expectations – and then, at the end, disappointing every single of them. All of the things do come up, but they do not work, none of them. I have found myself looking at the book incredulously, asking: was that it? This is irritating the first and maybe the second time, after that it becomes both annoying and frustrating. Writing thrillers is a craft. I have pointed out on this blog that this craft is not to be underestimated and that especially so-called literary writers often fail at mastering its most basic elements. They tend to have other saving graces, say, the writing or the characters or the thinking.

Tom Rob Smith has none of those. He’s a thriller writer, square and simple, but sadly, not a very good one. Of all the failings in craftsmanship, one towers above them all. The whole book is based on a risky conceit. It’s risky because it asks the reader to swallow a huge coincidence, which I won’t reveal here. With a conceit such as this, the result could be inventive and edgy or they could be risible and pathetic. I had a hard time convincing myself of this but this idea of Smith’s actually has potential, but his treatment of it is so ham-handed, that it falls squarely on the side of pathetic and risible. At times, the inept plotting made me suspect that the novel had been written by two or three different writers who did not communicate with each other while writing. Or one writer with a serious case of Alzheimer’s. And, oh, the prose…this book started life as a screenplay and I could not help but wonder whether the thriller would work better on the big screen. It’s certainly not helping the story that Smith is a awkward writer. He’s sometimes astonishingly inept, but not always. The general impression, however, is that language is an impediment to him, that he’d rather not write prose, but shuffle around pictures and scenes.

Additionally, Smith, as his colleague Jonathan Littell, is clearly of the opinion that if the subject matter is ‘heavy’ enough, other things matter less, people will be affected, shocked, moved, and won’t look at the prose or actual suspense in the novel. The insane amount of praise lavished on this book clearly confirms his expectations. According the the blurbs in my copy, reviewers think they are getting an impression of what life was like in Stalinist Russia, complete with pre-fabricated moral outrage. Them evil commies. As Smith is mostly right about the facts but wrong about contexts and interpretations, he’s not all that easy to ‘disprove’. Child 44, in that regard, is well-made propaganda. In fact, it’s, structurally, remarkably similar to Soviet propaganda. As Soviet propaganda was trying to make its citizens understand that some crimes are produced by the imperialist-capitalist society in the West, Smith tries his best to make his readers understand, first, that that notion is false, and second, that it is, au contraire, Soviet society which produces it’s own special variety of sick killers. It’s a preposterous attempt at lecturing and rather transparent. Although I did have some fun reading the book, this is because I love thrillers of all shapes and sizes; this is not a recommendation. Tom Rob Smith is a worse writer by far than collegues of his like Dan Brown and that’s saying something.

The other Pirates

The defense in The Pirate Bay trial lost in the first instance.

All four defendants were accused of ‘assisting in making copyright content available’. Peter Sunde: Guilty. Fredrik Neij: Guilty. Gottfrid Svartholm: Guilty. Carl Lundström: Guilty. The four receive 1 year in jail each and fines totaling $3,620,000.

While only a few weeks ago, it seems like an eternity since the trial of The Pirate Bay Four ended and the court retired to consider its verdict. The prosecution claimed that the four defendants were ‘assisting in making copyright content available’ and demanded millions of dollars in damages. The defense did not agree, and all pleaded not guilty – backed up by the inimitable King Kong defense.

Appeals forthcoming. Press conference here. Pitchfork here. Some gloating at the NYT here. And here’s Cory Doctorow’s take.

T Cooper: Some of the Parts

Cooper, T (2002), Some of the Parts, Akashic
ISBN 1-888451-36-X

Some of the Parts is T Cooper’s debut novel; it has earned him a lot of attention and well-deserved praise. Cooper has since published a second novel, Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes and a fairly large amount of journalism. Some of the Parts is a good novel, but it’s clearly a debut novel, uneven sometimes, often less dazzling and impressive than it could be. Its centered around four characters: Taylor, Charlie, Isak and Arlene. It is structured in short chapters that bear the name of the focal character and are written from his or her perspective, usually in the first person singular, with one exception: Taylor’s chapters are related by a third person personal narrator. We are, however, spared long-winded ruminations and soul-searching. Cooper’s writing is spare in the best sense. It’s never exceptional or particularly quotable, but it makes for comfortable reading, except for the odd phrase in Charlie’s chapters whose voice is sometimes a tad annoying.

The figurative gold in this novel, however, is found in the characters and the ideas, both of which are rich and interesting and, more importantly, interdependent. The most important and the most prominent character is probably Isak. Isak is a young transgender person, born as a girl and christened Thea, he is now living as Isak. As we enter the story he is living in New York and the decision to be himself is rather new, something that becomes obvious when we watch him meet his parents. Isak works in a circus freak show for little money as a ‘gender freak’, and as a hooker on the side, earning considerably more. His ‘profession’ as a freak show exhibit in a circus reads almost symbolic, a trope for his subversion of gender expectations, think Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque; additionally, a circus is a powerful trope for traveling cultures.

As so often, however, Cooper decides to strike a note instead of indulging and exploring a trope, thus assembling a large tapestry of related concerns. Similarly, his work as a hooker puts him at the margins of bourgeois morality; the subversive power of prostitution in literature has been pointed out and explored a huge amount of times, among many notable instances there’s Hawthorne’s story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”. This, too, is not explored at length; instead Isak’s narrative briefly comes up short when Isak is accosted by a man on the street and then beaten to a pulp. Subsequently, Isak leaves New York and travels to LA to live with his parents.

One of the best things about the novel is its treatment of Isak’s being FTM. This issue could be treated in a sentimental way, discussing the plight of a girl who always felt like a boy and then decided to make the changes, hormones, dresses, these things. These kinds of stories often just reinforce the ubiquitous and frankly harmful gender dichotomies by riffing on difference; this kind of difference is always read in relation to a generally accepted norm. Cooper just tells us, thus sidestepping the problem. She does, however, raise the point of acting out certain gender roles in smaller vignettes, such as this one: we first meet Isak as he loiters in front of the circus, seeing his predecessor in the freakshow, a rebellious hermaphrodite, leave after her father makes a plea

“I’m just trying to have a conversation with my -” and here the hermaphrodite’s father stumbled on his words, for when he last left her, she was most likely a man, or as much of a man as she could manage. “I’m just trying to talk to my daughter here, sir, so if you’ll just give us a few seconds.” (…) The wife looked as though her knees were about to collapse under the burden of her body.

Interestingly, the ‘normal’ mother is the only one who collapses under the burden of her body. Isak’s problem is not ‘her’ body or his feelings towards it, at least not as far as the novel is concerned. His problem are others, the audience, the onlookers, and last not least the guys who beat him up. In an episode in the middle of the novel we accompany Isak and Taylor on a road trip, passing through the Bible belt, where Isak, who is paid to act ambiguous for the circus audience, acts manly and straight for the rednecks, a different kind of audience.

Although these elements may appear to be highly symbolic and weighty, the novel strikes a perfect balance between its overt embrace of ideas and a realistic, almost journalistic treatment of the events described. No flowery descriptions, no dreams or fantasies. In fact, as we see Isak hitting the pavement we are not offered the release of a poetic distancing, we are just handed the brutal facts. We see him standing up, afterwards, humiliated, dirty. His danger, again is not being different, its failing his act. A completely different danger has caught up with Charlie, his roommate in NY, Isak lives with Charlie, who is a middle-aged homosexual man dying of AIDS.

Charlie is significant, for two reasons. One is his addiction to TV shows, especially to Beverly Hills, 90210. The other is the fact that he’s dying. His death provides a strong counterpoint to the main narrative, which is a story of two young people growing up. 90210 plays an intriguing part in the novel. For one thing several of the characters watch the TV show, which provides an interesting cultural cohesion. Additionally, the narrative of the characters, especially the two younger ones, as they ‘grow up’ is shown to mirror the events in the TV show which is, after all, in its last or second to last season, with the characters leaving school and college and trying to make it in the real world. A twist is added when Taylor is offered a small part in one episode of the show, which illustrates the way pop culture and life, for lack of better words, are interwoven in the book.

Taylor is a young woman, so astonishingly beautiful that she smites every man (and some women) she meets. She flits in and out of jobs, drifting through her life without, apparently, a direction. She is privileged by the fact that she is part of the right class, race and even has the right look, but she appears not to be aware of these facts, at all. Her shallowness and her utter lack of personality is also reflected by the fact that Cooper has her chapters be the only ones without a first person narrator. Her mother, Arlene, is also Charlie’s sister, invites him to spend his last months at her house in Providence. She lives in a rather affluent neighborhood, working in a craft shop. As Charlie’s illness is a fixpoint in the narrative, so is her home and it is this same home where all the other characters will end up in, to assess their successes and their failures, to plan their lives and their death.

For a debut novel, T Cooper’s Some of the Parts has quite a lot of the parts of a great novel; ideas and writing are remarkably mature and assured, and it bests many more established novels that treat a similar topic, simply by being frighteningly smart. Cooper does not take short cuts in his thinking and, which is rare for a debut novel, he is never self-indulgent; he knows how much meat the bones of his ideas need. The sparseness, however, is also its major weakness. The writing is never quite convincing, never quite as good as the ideas and the characters conveyed through it. This writer is clearly testing the waters and it’s a great joy to watch him do it. Recommended.


A recent online discussion has reminded me that I wanted to post a reference to a blog post of Yaacov Lozowick’s. It’s funny how knee-jerk many reactions to Israel are, screeching unconfirmed (and partly proven wrong) facts as soon as they are out there, indicting Israel and Jews. The farce with the UN school (oh, the bile!) is a case in point, but far from the only occurrence. Lozowick’s point is well made and worth making:

Jews argue among themselves loudly and stridently, while their haters listen in, indifferent to any context, and choose the choicest quotations with which to damn the Jews.

Though I’d note this describes a dynamic, but doesn’t explain the decision to use it. The determination to hate the Jews precedes listening in to their conversations. The reason Haaretz’ website is world-famous while the Irish Times’ isn’t, has to do with the fodder for Jew-hatred one can cherry-pick from Haaretz.

Discussing Israel with older lefties often means ducking so the antisemitic spittle from foaming mouths doesn’t hit you. At least these immediate reactions are honest, and revealing.


Today, Craig Seymor blogged on outrageous and unacceptable policies at amazon.com:

Here’s my story: I’m the author of a memoir, All I Could Bare: My Life in the Strip Clubs of Gay Washington, D.C. (Atria/Simon & Schuster), which is about my journey from grad student to stripper to entertainment journalist to college professor. (I’m currently Associate Professor of Journalism at Northern Illinois University.) Like many authors, I frequently check my sales status on Amazon, so imagine my shock, back in early February when the “Amazon.com Sales Rank” completely disappeared from the Product Details of my book. The book also disappeared from the search listings, so that if a customer looked up “All I Could Bare by Craig Seymour” on the Amazon home page, nothing came up.

Of course, I immediately sent emails to Amazon asking about this situation. I also placed several phone calls. But I could never get a straight answer, until February 25, when I received an email stating that “the sales rank was not displayed for the following reasons: The I S B N #1416542051 was classified as an Adult product.”

I thought: An Adult product? What does that mean? Who knew that Amazon had such a category and why is it being applied to my book?

I brought this to the attention of my publisher, and they started looking into it. But, in the meantime, I also did some snooping around, and it turned out that the only books I could find without a “sales rank” had gay content like mine. For instance, my gay stripper memoir had no sales ranking, but Diablo Cody’s stripper memoir, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper,did.

Memoirs by gay porn stars Blue Blake (Out of the Blue: Confessions of an Unlikely Porn Star) and Bobby Blake (My Life in Porn: The Bobby Blake Story) didn’t have a sales ranking, but memoirs by straight porn stars Ron Jeremy (Ron Jeremy: The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz) and Jenna Jameson (How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale) did. Clearly, there seemed to be a double-standard.

I found this story through poet Mark Doty’s facebook; later in the day, Doty added:

Okay, this is the most amazing thing. If you go on Amazon and type in “butt plug” in the search window, you’ll see a number of them for sale, with sales ranking attached! So, it’s okay to rank butt plugs but not books? Umm…

. And there’s more to this. See this account and many, many, many others. For this to happen now demonstrates what a crucial moment this is in the fight for civil rights. Below is Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal justifying his resistance to an amendment to reverse Iowa marriage equality:

Churchill, third

My third and last post (#1 and #2) on Ward Churchill’s trial, who has correctly won his suit against the University of Colorado, but I want to draw attention to Fish’s nuanced account of the affair on his blog.

How did a garden-variety academic quarrel about sources,evidence and documentation complete with a lot of huffing and puffing by everyone get elevated first into a review of the entire life of a tenured academic and then into a court case when that academic was terminated. How and why did it get that far? (…)

It was the jury’s task to determine whether Churchill’s dismissal would have occurred independently of the adverse political response to his constitutionally protected statements. In the ordinary academic course of things would his writings have been subject to the extended and minute scrutiny that led to the committee’s recommendations? (…) The answer seems obvious to me and it has now been given authoritative form in the jury’s verdict.

Little Goebbels

Been drunk for too long. Forgot this. I recorded my anticipation re: the Ward Churchill trial a few days ago. Now the verdict has come through and “A jury found on Thursday that the University of Colorado had wrongfully dismissed” him. Correctly, I may add. They awarded him, however, damages in as high an amount as $1. And he may not, after all, get hired again. For in-depth coverage of the trial and the aftermath, I recommend this blog.

Abyss: Hans Henny Jahnn’s “Perrudja”

Jahnn, Hans Henny (1985), Perrudja, Hoffman und Campe
ISBN 3-455-03630-9
[Originally published 1929]
[Traduit par Reinhold Werner et Jean-Claude Marcadé, aux Éditions José Corti]

This is novel crawling with sex and violence. It’s about modernity, myth and masculinity. Can you believe no-one wanted to buy this huge and brilliant novel when it came out originally? I can’t, but here’s the deal. I’m biased, I guess. I love, cherish and admire Hans Henny Jahnn like few other writers. I think that he is, along with Döblin and Feuchtwanger, the greatest German novelist of the first half of the 20th century. He was also an accomplished playwright (see this blog next week for more news on that). When he wrote and published Perrudja, he was known as the infamous author of two scandalous plays. Perrudja took a long while to gestate, and almost as long to get published. And when it was published, few people bought it. This and other minor issues, such as the Third Reich, stopped him from finishing a sequel.

After the war he then published the first installment of what turned out to be his masterpiece, the three-volume Fluß Ohne Ufer, which is in many ways a continuation of Perrudja, only with the weight of Germany’s darkest decade behind it. Thinking and writing about that heinous period is, for a German, as it should be, always tinged with guilt. It is our grandparents and their neighbors who committed these atrocities or failed to stop them. Shame is also an important part of Perrudja, but Jahnn is ashamed of his fellow human beings, not just (but especially) of his compatriots. And, to a large extent, it is about fear: this book throbs with violence, but it is theirs, it is always a violence experienced by the main character, not a violence acted out, and the shame that the protagonist feels towards his fellow human beings, is but fear of that part of himself that is like them, it’s a fear of his own abyss.

Perrudja is a Bildungsroman-ish novel about a character called Perrudja. Perrudja is an anti-hero, or as his wife says at the end: a “not-hero”. The book does not chronicle his exploits, it shows him making sense of the world, and at the same time, the novel itself uses him to make sense of its own world. The way it does that is by using all the means that precocious, makin’-it-new modernism had to offer. Perrudja is a novel of many voices and traditions. Unexpectedly, for a playwright, these voices do not include an array of different human voices, no demotic speech ‘a la Joyce et al. Instead, Jahnn digs deep into the coffers of literature and culture and constructs a mosaic of language. There are mythical passages, modern short stories, folk tales, Jahnn is equally adept at levity and gravitas, he can write a chapter about a Babylonian king in almost Lutherian style and shine, and a small Kafkaesque story about a lost boy and dazzle. All these are interwoven with the main story, they both comment upon the story and are commented upon again by the main story.

And throning above it all is Jahnn’s authorial voice, which is both visceral & direct and aloof & heavy. Jahnn can lead you through a Norwegian wood, making you afraid of the cold and the animals therein; he can make your spine tingle upon hearing the screams of hungry horses in a stable; he can make you feel the pain of illicit sexual desire and the mortification at being not merely turned down, but being violated and humiliated by the man you want. Reading this novel you feel that nothing is out of reach of Jahnn. This is, of course, one reason why people did not take to it: it can be overpowering, this is a novel about everything, it contains at least five different books, among them a treatise about economics and one about myth. Oh, and sheet music. In many ways, this is a ‘typical’ modernist novel, a project along the lines of the Cantos, Pound’s attempt to “write paradise”; even its fragmented nature, due to the aborted second part, fits the pattern. Much of the appeal of works such as the Cantos will also appeal to the reader of Perrudja, but this novel is far more than just a grandstanding attempt to capture mankind in a fictional maze.

The difference is its protagonist: Perrudja is a weak character, a broken, despairing man, who cannot manage the modern world. At the beginning of the novel we meet him in the woods of Norway where he buys a horse to go with a piece of land and a farm that he just bought. He is, as far as he knows, without parents. At this point we have no idea about his financial situation: we don’t know where he had the money from to buy animals and property, and we don’t care. Perrudja’s youth and other events that have led up to him settling in the remote Norway mountains are later told us in a few inserted stories. That first chapter, “The Horse”, introduces us not only to Perrudja’s horse, but also to the emblematic nature of many of the book’s natural references. Elements such as the horse are shown to be a constant in cultural history. The retreat into the woods is not a retreat from civilization, it is rather a return to what Jahnn considers essential about modern man. Perrudja is not exceptional, as a character, but in the end, he turns out to transcend mere mortals, by encapsulating not just the conditio humana, but also the general build of our society, as the book moves from an almost abstract deluge of concerns to real-world particulars, such as the intricacies of modern capitalism.

The beginning can be taxing since Jahnn throws everything at us that he has: the topoi of animals, violence and history are touched and elaborated upon, even before we get a chance to get to know this Perrudja better. Also, to reread these passages is, also, to see, how much of the novel is seeded there, how nothing is wasted, although the book seems, especially in the early stages, excessive and indulgent. Plowing through the beginning is like a deal struck with the writer, who demands of the reader to understand the parameter of the story that is about to follow before he hands over that story. However, if I have made reading the beginning sound like a chore, I can assure you, it’s not. It may be difficult but it’s not forbidding. In fact, the first two chapters are deeply intriguing and they have, some years ago, sold me on the man’s work. The best section of the book, however, is a story from Perrudja’s youth that is inserted roughly halfway through the novel; many early fans of the novel, such as Klaus Mann, remarked upon the emotional power and brilliance of that episode.

Perrudja is 14 years old when his sexuality awakens. He lives with his aunts in the country and he is a spoiled boy, who makes friends with a 16 year old farm hand, Haakon. We see immediately that there is a power imbalance between the two and it’s not just the difference in age that creates this imbalance. As Haakon starts to make Perrudja pay him small sums of money, he is also involving the boy in the nitty-gritty reality of farm life. There are two events that are particularly significant to Perrudja’s awakening. The first is Perrudja’s confrontation with violence in the daily slaughter of swine and cows on farms. Having to slaughter a pig himself opens his eyes to the darkness in his culture. This marked difference between knowing that atrocities happen and becoming a part of the system that produces them is repeated near the end of the novel, where Perrudja finds out that he is the richest man on earth and complicit in many modern atrocities. Perrudja is aghast to find out he’s the master of over “a hundred million slaves”. No matter how much we may retreat, we are always, to an extent, complicit in the things we don’t try to stop. Running away does not absolve you of these things.

The other event is even more significant: to accompany Haakon across the country, Perrudja saddles up behind him, clinging to his back while feeling the wild rhythms of the horse below him. Perrudja falls for Haakon, although he doesn’t know it. Haakon does, however, and tempts his young acolyte time and again, stripping him naked, daring Perrudja to move on him. Perrudja, however, is completely confused and helpless. He’s a typical teenager, he has no idea how to translate his confused desire into action. Thus, all he does is trail Haakon on his exploits until events come to a head when he witnesses Haakon rape a maid. Upon seeing Perrudja’s fear and befuddlement, Haakon threatens him into silence, beats him and humiliates him by urinating on him. This event forms Perrudja’s adult sex life. Perrudja turns into a man who has many desires but is afraid of acting on them. Being attracted to men is something he is never able to own up to, although he does have homosexual affairs now and then. He literally transforms his farm into a fortress against the society around him that is intolerant of his urges.

He is his own worst enemy, however, internalizing the prejudice. There is violence in his relationships with men, but it’s triggered by his fear and his way of coping (or not) with that fear. He’s also riving away people that love him, engaging in self-destructive behavior and giving himself, simply, up. Critics in Jahnn’s time have attacked Perrudja for being a novel of “flesh and death”, and it is between these two poles that Perrudja is caught, opting for retreat, quietude, until he cannot retreat any more because, as mentioned, he practically owns the world. He marries but his wife, Signe (pun intended, clearly), leaves him, reproaching him for “not having changed her world”. Critics, among them the editor of his collected works (see bibliographic reference above), have pointed to the way that she makes her short appearance in the novel and drops out again quickly enough. What they don’t understand is that the normative relationship within the novel is homosexual. They are violent, but because of Perrudja’s failings, not because of an inherent fault. The relationship to Signe is different: the patriarchal assumptions behind many heterosexual relationships are exposed in the rituals of courtship that are expected of Perrudja. The relationship is less important than its beginnings and its end.

Near the end, his former wife Signe runs in with a circus and it is this circus who encapsulates much of the world’s depravities and brutality, turning into another of Jahnn’s emblematic images. Jahnn’s novel charts the pessimism of a sensitive soul up against the world. There are two key phrases that people utter when discussing Perrudja’s humanity. Signe points out the fact that he is a “not-hero” (not anti-hero), defining a hero as someone who acts upon his desires and makes them come true. She closes with a direct address, telling Perrudja: “You are the human one.” In contrast, Haakon, when he dresses Perrudja down, tells the crying bundle of misery that 14 year-old Perrudja was: “You are a useless human being if you cry.”

Being a useless human being is not a bad thing in Jahnn’s book. Jahnn, similar to Hawthorne, has been founder of a spiritual community, which did not survive for long. This bitterness towards utopia, combined with such world-shaking events such as the Great War, which had taken place all of ten years ago and rising Nationalism, Antisemitism etc. among the Germans, clearly inform the abyss that opens up beyond Perrudja’s fortress and the abyss in his own heart. Reading the book one cannot help but think of the “uses” that a few years later his compatriots made of human beings. Perrudja is a harrowing novel that leads us deep not into the darkness behind civilization, but the darkness civilization is made of. Joyce, whose influence on Perrudja is palpable, might have been a paragon in this, as well. Jahnn, together with geniuses like Döblin, was clearly engaged in trying to create the conscience of his race. He did not forge it. Instead, as Perrudja testifies, he violently tried to break it from the stone quarry of Western culture.


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Poem of the day ( )

Ted Berrigan: Words for Love
for Sandy

Winter crisp and the brittleness of snow
as like make me tired as not. I go my
myriad ways blundering, bombastic, dragged
by a self that can never be still, pushed
by my surging blood, my reasoning mind.

I am in love with poetry. Every way I turn
this, my weakness, smites me. A glass
of chocolate milk, head of lettuce, dark-
ness of clouds at one o’clock obsess me.
I weep for all of these or laugh.

By day I sleep, an obscurantist, lost
in dreams of lists, compiled by my self
for reassurance. Jackson Pollock René
Rilke Benedict Arnold I watch
my psyche, smile, dream wet dreams, and sigh.

At night, awake, high on poems, or pills
or simple awe that loveliness exists, my lists
flow differently. Of words bright red
and black, and blue. Bosky. Oubliette. Dis-
severed. And O, alas

Time disturbs me. Always minute detail
fills me up. It is 12:10 in New York. In Houston
it is 2 pm. It is time to steal books. It’s
time to go mad. It is the day of the apocalpyse
the year of parrot fever! What am I saying?

Only this. My poems do contain
wilde beestes. I write for my Lady
of the Lake. My god is immense, and lonely
but uncowed. I trust my sanity, and I am proud. If
I sometimes grow weary, and seem still, nevertheless

my heart still loves, will break.


NY Times this morning:

After a four-week trial, a jury in Denver is deliberating the case of Ward L. Churchill, a former University of Colorado professor who says he was fired because of an essay he wrote in which he called victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks “little Eichmanns.”

The university says Mr. Churchill plagiarized and falsified parts of his academic research, particularly on American Indians, and cited this as grounds for his dismissal in July 2007. Mr. Churchill brought a wrongful termination suit against the university, seeking monetary damages for lost wages and harm to his reputation. He also wants to be reinstated to his job teaching ethnic studies. […]

Throughout the trial, the university maintained that it fired Mr. Churchill solely “for his research misconduct, for taking other people’s work and making it his own, for fabricating research, for falsifying research,” as Steven K. Bosley, a university regent, told the court.

“It was not one time, not even one time on purpose,” Mr. Bosley added. “It was a pattern of misconduct.”

Cut up and Tabulate!

David Nygren twittered an idea, “about writing a novel in an Excel spreadsheet.”, experimented a bit and invented, with help from Nick Name, the Novexcel. Here’s how that looks:

Instead of writing a complete novel in excel form, he wrote a story first:

The first worksheet of the Excel file has the “raw data,” the story itself (8 columns x 30 rows). The easiest way to read it is to click on the first cell and then use the arrow keys to move to the next cell you want to read. The second sheet has a line graph that gives graphical representation to the “Character Intensity of Thought Units” (CIT Units) for each “Action Segment” in the story.

The raw data is formatted to print nicely, if that’s your thing. However, I encourage everyone to read the story in its electronic format. I’ve turned on “Track Changes,” thereby cordially inviting you to collaborate with me on this short storyspreadsheet. Make any changes you feel are appropriate, and then send your version of the short storyspreadsheet back to me at david [at] theurbanelitist [dot] com. I’ll be able to highlight any changes you made.

I keep reading texts and essays by people advocating cutups, but this is a first (for me). The possibilities of this are endless. via