Sunday, October 31, 2010

halloween tale

Don't know if this will be of interest to anyone but my friends, but I was reading over some old computer files and came upon the following story that's perfect for Halloween. It's about a prank that was played on one of my friends. Not knowing my friend (Sean) could give the impression that the prank was cruel... It was not. Also, after re-reading the story I see that it's possible I could come across as, for lack of a better word, a lunatic to some people. That's fine. The fact that I realize this probably means I'm not a lunatic.

Two final things: 1.) The story took place in the spring of 2007. 2.) It's not as interesting as my disclaimers might have led you to believe.

* * *

I was hanging out with my friend Sarah at her house, and while I was there I invited over a mutual friend, Sean, who lived nearby. I had spoken with Sean earlier in the day (online) and told him I had murdered Sarah. I asked if he was going to call the police and inform them, or if he was going to come over and help me bury her instead. He chose the latter but said he was charging me $1,000. This meant, of course, that he did not believe me. (At least I hope that's what it meant!)

Because of the seed that had been planted, a few hours later -- about fifteen minutes before Sean was supposed to arrive -- Sarah and I decided to quickly stage a murder scene to see how he would react. I rolled Sarah up in a blanket just as I might if I had actually killed her, and the plan was for her to lay there motionless pretending to be dead. Next, I went and found a white towel and some red food coloring. I put some food coloring on the towel and also mixed some with water in a cup and poured it over the towel. Then I placed the (now bloody) towel on the blanket where Sarah's lower chest was in an attempt to make it look as though the blood had seeped through the blanket and I had tried to contain it. I took a steak knife from her kitchen and placed it on the table near her. The scene was moderately convincing, but something didn't look right... I realized that a soapy, bloody bucket sitting on the floor outside the "murder room" would likely add another layer of belief; after all, who would go to such trouble for the sake of a ridiculous joke? I made it look really good by pouring some red food coloring down the inside of the bucket (after I had filled it with soapy water), and made sure to splatter some red specks of food coloring on it as well. I sat a bloody sponge atop the water and placed the bucket such that Sean would be sure to see it before peering in at the corpse. The scene still wasn't perfect so we decided to turn the lamp off to make the bloody towel look more real, and I fixed the windows so the proper amount of light was coming in. (Poor Sarah! Why didn't we save the blanket-wrapping for last?) The television was on -- volume low -- as if the murder had taken place abruptly and I didn't have the chance to turn off the TV -- clearly I had been preoccupied with cleaning up! Everything looked pretty good. We decided that it would be best to partially cover Sarah's face with the leftover blanket when Sean's car pulled up so that no accidental eye-twitching could be detected. My plan was to emerge from the bathroom down the hall very casually after Sean had had a few minutes to critique the scene. (Sarah was excited to partake in the experiment, of course. Reading over this I can see how it might sound as though I was torturing her!)

Everything went according to plan. I came out of the bathroom once Sean had been inside a few minutes and, surprisingly, he didn't laugh. I thought for sure laughter would be his reaction considering how it's nearly impossible to change someones perception of what you're capable of.

"A steak knife?" was all he said. I didn't say anything in response and picked up the heavy black flashlight that was sitting in the room and swung it at his head. He uncharacteristically flinched. (I stopped before I cracked his skull, naturally.) After pretending to bash his brains in there was no longer any sense in continuing the charade. He explained to me that if I had used a steak knife I would have surely cut up my hands, and the stab wounds would be so plentiful that there would have been blood everywhere. I hadn't thought of that. In fact, I actually picked the steak knife because I thought it would be less cliche than a giant butcher knife, and thus, more believable. Oh well.

I asked him in more detail what he had thought and he said his reactions took the following line: (upon seeing the bucket) "I wonder what happened. Maybe one of the animals was hurt. Would Tyler really have killed Sarah?" (upon seeing the body in the room): "Maybe he really did it. [pause] That knife, oh, it wouldn't have worked that way." He said that, even though he had entertained the possibility of a real murder for a few seconds, he wasn't scared. I wondered why and came to the conclusion that it was likely due to how hard it is for a friend to change in the eyes of another friend when it requires the ego of the critiquing friend to be slighted in order to confirm the change. In other words: "Sure, he might be capable of murdering Sarah, but he would never murder me; he likes me too much!" This is a comical and cynical reading, but it does make a lot of sense. Anyway, we didn't expect to give Sean anything but a laugh, so the few seconds of strange experience he got made it more than worthwhile.

dali skull surreal women as skull
(there once existed a literal representation
of the above story... alas, no longer!)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Vidal on Vladimir

I'd normally throw this up on the sidebar, but since posts have been scant lately...

Yesterday evening, with a coupon for a free used book in hand, I acquired a huge (1200+ page) fortress-like book soldiered with Gore Vidal's essays. Vidal's reputation as a first rate essayist, along with the wide-ranging selection of topics, made the book an easy choice. I look forward to his characteristic wit, humor, and insight, but also his smugness (which can be delightful and off-putting at the same time).

The book is broken into three parts: literature, or the state of the art; politics, or the state of the union; and personal responses to people, events, old movies, children's books, or the state of being. Here is a selection of the essays I am most eager and curious to read:

Who Makes the Movies?; Remembering Orson Welles; The Fourth Diary of Anaïs Nin (which opens: "Last year, Anaïs Nin cabled me in Rome: Volume Four of her diaries (1944-47) was to be published. She needed my permission to print what she had written about me."); Tennessee Williams: Someone to Laugh at the Squares With; Why I am Eight Years Younger than Anthony Burgess; The Hacks of Academe; The Day the American Empire Ran out of Gas; Pornography; Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy; Oscar Wilde: On the Skids Again; The Sexus of Henry Miller; Sex is Politics; Novelists and Critics of the 1940s; Satire in the 1950s; Norman Mailer's Self Advertisements (especially in light of their contentious relationship (click to see Mailer in very bad form being jostled from all sides)); The Death of Mishima; American Plastic: The Matter of Fiction; On Prettiness; Literary Gangsters; French Letters: Theories of the New Novel; H.L. Mencken the Journalist; The Novel of Ideas; Pen Pals: Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell; F. Scott Fitzgerald's Case; Edmund Wilson: This Critic and This Gin and These Shoes; and How to Find God and Make Money. (The reason for such a long list: if any of the above essays are of interest to anyone -- and cannot be found online -- let me know. I'm not opposed to typing up some of the better ones by request.)

Below is Vidal's short review of Nabokov's Strong Opinions. I wasn't able to find the entire piece anywhere online (only a few small selections), so I've typed it up in full. (Throwing something new into The Bottomless Pit -- or cementing over some cracks in the incomplete, forever under construction Library of Babel (depending on your take) -- is probably one of the better reasons to blog, no?)

Originally published in The Observer (1974).
* * *

"Professor Nabokov's beautiful Speak Memory has now been succeeded by Strong Opinions -- a collection of press clippings in which he has preserved for future classes what looks to be every interview granted during the last decade. Plainly he has not taken to heart Turgenev's "Never try to justify yourselves (whatever libelous stories they may tell about you). Don't try to explain a misunderstanding, don't be anxious, yourselves, either to say or hear 'the last word.'"

Alas, the Black Swan of Swiss-American letters has a lot of explaining to do (no singing, however: we need the swan for many a future summer). In addition to the bubbling interviews, Professor Nabokov recounts the many misunderstandings between him and the French publisher of Lolita, between him and the critics of his translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, between him and various adversaries in the form of Letters to the Editor (by slyly omitting the pretext for each letter, he creates a loony Kafka-like mood). Included, too, are examples of his own bookchat: Sartre's La Nausee "belongs to that tense-looking but really very loose type of writing, which has been popularized by many second-raters -- Barbusse, Céline, and so forth." Finally, he gives us several meticulous portraits of those butterflies he murdered ("with an expert nip of its thorax") during his celebrated tours of America's motels.

Professor Nabokov's answers to the questions posed him by a dozen or so interviewers are often amusing, sometimes illuminating, and always -- after the third of fourth performance -- unbearable in their repetitiveness. Never again do I want to read that he writes in longhand with a hard pencil while standing at a lectern until he tires and sits or lies down, that he writes on Bristol cards which are lined on only one side so that he will not mistake a used card for a fresh card. Reading and rereading these descriptions, one understands why he thinks Robbe-Grillet is a great writer.

Admittedly, interviewers are always eager to know how a writer writes (what he writes holds less magic for them). But the Swan of Lac Léman in the course of what he admits has been a good deal of editing might have spared us so many repetitions. "I demanded of my students the passion of science and the patience of poetry." Superb -- but only the first time. ("Aphoristicism is a symptom of arteriosclerosis.") And of course the synoptic interviews tell and retell the sacred story of all that was lost by the noble family of "squires and soldiers" (perhaps descended from Genghis Khan) in the Russian revolution, and of their heir's hegira (Germany, England, America) and metamorphosis at Cornell from "lean lecturer into full professor," from obscure Russian emigré novelist into the creator of Lolita, considered by Isherwood to be the best travel book ever written about America.

Professor Nabokov's public appearances and occasional commentaries are always looked forward to because he likes to attack celebrated writers. Hemingway and Conrad are, essentially, "writers of books for boys." "I cannot abide Conrad's souvenir-shop style, bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist clichés." Nor can he abide Mann's "asinine Death in Venice or Pasternak's melodramatic and vilely written Zhivago or Faulkner's corn-cobby chronicles" ... while at Cornell, "I remember the delight of tearing apart Don Quixote, a cruel and crude old book..." or "that awful Monsieur Camus," or "the so-called 'realism' of old novels, the easy platitudes of Balzac or Somerset Maugham, or D.H. Lawrence..." The Professor does admit to admiring Borges, Salinger (J.D., not Pierre), Updike, and at one point he pays a nice tribute to several other New Yorker writers while "My greatest masterpieces of twentieth-century prose are, in this order, Joyce's Ulysses, Kafka's Transformations, Biely's Petersburg, and the first half of Proust's fairy tale in search of lost time." Class dismissed.

Strong Opinions reminds one to what extent the author is still very much a part of the American academic machine. Certainly the best bit of material in this ragbag of a book is a description of giving an examination to a large class at Cornell on a winter's day. Although sensibly stern about "the symbolism racket in schools [which] attracts computerised minds but destroys plain intelligence as well as poetical sense," Nabokov himself has become just the sort of writer the racketeers most like to teach. Not only is his prose full of trilingual puns and word-play but "as I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions," there are bound to be symbols galore and much, much more beneath those Tartar arbors, amongst those Scythian mists.

The best of the interviews are the ones with Alfred Appel, Jr. -- plainly a Nabokovian invention -- the "Jr." is one giveaway. Another is that Mr. Appel's questions are often longer and wittier than the Professor's answers. Can this mean that an intellectual comedy team is being discreetly tried out in these pages? A brand-new Stravinsky and Craft? Certainly, the teacher provides pupil with the most elegant cache-cache as well as cache-sexe. Periodically, the Professor is obliged to note that he himself is not repeat not attracted to those very young girls who keep cropping up in his work. ("Lewis Carroll like little girls. I don't.") At these moments, our proud Black Swan becomes an uneasy goose, fearful of being cooked by Cornell's board of regents.

Despite occasional pleasures, this is not a book for those who admire Nabokov's novels. But for students who will write about him in American universities, it is probably useful to have all this twaddle in one volume. For myself, I am rereading Transparent Things, that perfect radiogram of found objects, precisely set in the artists own Time. If only for this lovely work, Nabokov will never be forced to echo an earlier American culture hero who wrote, sadly:
Yet do I find it perceptible -- here to riot in understatement -- that I, who was once a leading personage in and about those scanty playgrounds of human interest which we nickname literature seem now to have become, for all practical results, unheard-of thereabouts.
Readers who can correctly identify the author of the above passage will be given a letter of introduction to Professor V. Nabokov, Palace Hotel, Montreux, Vaud, Switzerland."


Monday, October 25, 2010

random splatterings

I haven't been posting much recently mostly due to the fact that I've been in a state of mental malaise, or maybe it's a case of mild depression. I still forced some writing from time to time which resulted in about ten unfinished posts and ideas for various things (hopefully they'll amount to something).

I've been working sporadically on a short film with one of my friends. We have a well-conceived skeleton in place, with a finalized script soon to come. I'm excited about it.

* * *

paul newman reading genet
(CLICK HERE if you'd like to enlarge)


1.) Who is the seated person in the above photograph? (Answer)
For the next question you'll probably want to view a larger version of the photo: click here.
2.) What book is this person reading? (Answer)
3.) What set was this photograph taken on? (Answer: I don't have the answer to this question.)

* * *

The other night I was driving home from dinner with some friends and we turned down a road leading to a stoplight. It was red, and someone was crossing the street. As soon as our headlights consumed the pedestrian he froze, turning to look in our direction for a moment as we slowly drifted up to the light. He was wearing a hoodie so his face was obscured. Within seconds he broke into dance in front of us. He took his time crossing the street with robotic movements and then, after finally making his way to the sidewalk, burst into a faster, more improvisational dance, jumping off various objects as he ran. It was fun to watch, and it put all of us in a better mood. We talked about how much more fun the world could be if people simply broke out of the routine patterns of standardized behavior.

Many years ago driving home from a friend's house -- it was late, probably around 1 AM -- I came upon a stop sign. In front of me sat a car I had been following for a short distance. It stopped at the sign, but instead of driving through the car-less intersection, the four doors of the vehicle opened simultaneously, and from inside there emerged four teenage boys in their boxers who proceeded to dance on and around their car for a good 2 minutes as my headlights provided them with a proper spotlight. Music was blasting from their speakers. It was funny, especially due to the fact that they were about as bad at dancing as one could possibly be (purposely or not). After finishing they started laughing, hopped into their car, and drove away. It wasn't until I got home that it occurred to me that I should have put my car in park, gotten out, and danced around on the hood of my car in response.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

i'm still here, somewhere

"...This flood of information we receive only flows one way. At times, it cancels out all our efforts to try to live as we really are. Because even within our imaginations, we are raped. They don't just take our resources, our work, and our money, they take our minds too. We have reached the last threshold of the human heartbeat." —Bamako (Abderrahmane Sissako, 2006)

millet angelus

"I am filthy. Lice gnaw me. Swine, when they look at me, vomit. The scabs and sores of leprosy have scaled my skin, which is coated with yellowish pus. I know not river water nor the clouds' dew. From my nape, as from a dungheap, sprouts an enormous toadstool with umbelliferous peduncles. Seated on a shapeless chunk of furniture, I have not moved a limb for four centuries. My feet have taken root in the soil forming a sort of perennial vegetation — not yet quite plant-life though no longer flesh — as far as my belly, and filled with vile parasites. My heart, however, is still beating." —Maldoror, fourth canto

dali Millet's Angelus

Saturday, October 02, 2010

five facts

Before becoming a revolutionary, Che Guevara was deemed unfit for military service in his native Argentina.

In 1989, the Republic of Abkhazia (in the former Soviet Georgia) proclaimed independence. To show the world they were rejecting their Communist past, they issued two postage stamps of Groucho Marx and John Lennon (as opposed to Karl Marx and V.I. Lenin).

In 1971, Representative Tim Moore sponsored a resolution in the Texas House of Representatives calling on the House to commend Albert de Salvo for his unselfish service to "his country, his state and his community... This compassionate gentleman's dedication and devotion to his work has enabled the weak and the lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain a new degree of concern for their future. He has been officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology." The resolution was passed unanimously. Rep. Moore then revealed he had only done this to show how the legislature passes bills often without reading them or understanding what they say. Albert de Salvo was better known as the Boston Strangler.

Lord Byron reverently kept a collection by which to remember his girlfriends; in various envelopes he placed their pubic hair. "Today in the offices of Byron's publisher in London are a number of envelopes [...] of differently coloured very curly hair beside the names of his girlfriends." Very curly.

The powerful banking family, the Medicis, kept a fully stocked dwarf mansion as a sort of human dollhouse.

groucho marx stamp Abkhazia