“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize today in literature. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.
The final verse of Dylan’s 1965 song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” seen in the video above from an early performance, sums up his mood of the artist-rebel trying to stay alive in the mainstream culture:
And if my thought-dreams could been seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
Dylan has proved, like many other artists before him — Van Gogh, Duchamp, Stravinsky, to name but a few — that if you live long enough and remain true to your vision, you might just take over the culture that you once felt alienated from.
But like the greatest artists, Dylan hasn’t just sat still for 50 years and waited for the mainstream to catch up to him. Instead, he continues to experiment, change, and evolve. As an example, compare this 1978 version of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” from the height of Dylan’s “Christian period,” which sounds like it could be coming from a rousing revival church:
Dylan’s continual reinvention continues to day, even at age 75. Here is a more recent performance of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”:
To further put Dylan’s achievement in winning the Nobel Prize into context — both the context of the 1960s and the context of what’s going on right now in the U.S. Presidential campaign — here’s a cheeky new meme flying around the Internet today:
I like to think that if Dylan’s current thought-dreams could be seen, “they” would probably still want to put his head in a guillotine. We need more artists like him.
NPR had a nice feature remembering the life of Elmore Leonard, “The Dickens Of Detroit”, who died in 2013 at 87. They ended the piece with a quote from his 10 Rules for Being A Good Writer, Rule 10: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Here is the complete list of Leonard’s rules, culled from his New York Times essay, WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle, from July 16, 2001:
Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Being A Good Writer
1. Never open a book with weather.
If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s “Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories “Close Range.”
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” what do the “American and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.
My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)
In his intro to the Rules, Leonard says, “These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story” (emphasis ours). This is our philosophy at Zinzin as well, which you can read all about in our Naming and Branding Manifesto, specifically, No. 10: Show Me, Don’t Tell Me.
David Bowie performing the song, “Blackout,” live in Dallas, 1978.
In 1974, Bowie read Nova Express by William S. Burroughs, met with Burroughs (Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman, Rolling Stone, February 28, 1974), and was influenced by Burrough’s “cut up” writing technique. Here are Bowie’s cut up lyrics for Blackout, which appears on the 1977 album Heroes:
Oh you, you walk on past
Your lips cut a smile on your face
Your scalding face
To the cage, to the cage
She was a beauty in a cage
Too, too high a price
To drink rotting wine from your hands
Your fearful hands
Get me to a doctor’s I’ve been told
Someone’s back in town the chips are down
I just cut and blackout
I’m under Japanese influence
And my honour’s at stake
The weather’s grim, ice on the cages
Me, I’m Robin Hood and I puff on my cigarette
Panthers are steaming, stalking, screaming
If you don’t stay tonight
I will take that plane tonight
I’ve nothing to lose, nothing to gain
I’ll kiss you in the rain
Kiss you in the rain
Kiss you in the rain
In the rain
Get me to the doctor
Get me off the streets (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction)
Hot air gets me into a blackout
Oh, get me off the streets
Get some protection
Oh get me on my feet (wo wo)
While the streets block off
Getting some skin exposure to the blackout (get some protection)
Get me on my feet (get some direction, wo-ooh!)
Oh get me on my feet
Get me off the streets (get some protection)
Get a second
Get wo wo
Get a second ? breath on advice ?
And a second blow
In an excerpt from Beat Godfather Meets Glitter Mainman, Bowie and Burroughs discuss the importance of dreams in their work:
Burroughs: Do you get any of your ideas from dreams?
Burroughs: I get seventy per cent of mine from dreams.
Bowie: There’s a thing that, just as you go to sleep, if you keep your elbows elevated you will never go below the dream stage. And I’ve used that quite a lot and it keeps me dreaming much longer than if I just relaxed.
Burroughs: I dream a great deal, and then because I am a light sleeper, I will wake up and jot down just a few words and they will always bring the whole idea back to me.
Bowie: I keep a tape recorder by the bed and then if anything comes I just say it into the tape recorder. As for my inspiration, I haven’t changed my views much since I was about 12 really, I’ve just got a 12-year-old mentality. When I was in school I had a brother who was into Kerouac and he gave me On The Road to read when I was 12 years old. That’s still a big influence.
The cut up method of writing that Burroughs and Brion Gysin invented in 1959 can perhaps be thought of as conjuring the dream state of any piece of text. Burroughs described the process in The Cut Up Method (1963), and included at the end of his essay a cut up version of what he had just written, which perfectly demonstrates the process and its poetic value:
ALL WRITING IS IN FACT CUT UPS OF GAMES AND ECONOMIC BEHAVIOR OVERHEARD? WHAT ELSE? ASSUME THAT THE WORST HAS HAPPENED EXPLICIT AND SUBJECT TO STRATEGY IS AT SOME POINT CLASSICAL PROSE. CUTTING AND REARRANGING FACTOR YOUR OPPONENT WILL GAIN INTRODUCES A NEW DIMENSION YOUR STRATEGY. HOW MANY DISCOVERIES SOUND TO KINESTHETIC? WE CAN NOW PRODUCE ACCIDENT TO HIS COLOR OF VOWELS. AND NEW DIMENSION TO FILMS CUT THE SENSES. THE PLACE OF SAND. GAMBLING SCENES ALL TIMES COLORS TASTING SOUNDS SMELL STREETS OF THE WORLD. WHEN YOU CAN HAVE THE BET ALL: “POETRY IS FOR EVERYONE” DOCTOR NEUMAN IN A COLLAGE OF WORDS READ HEARD INTRODUCED THE CUT UP SCISSORS RENDERS THE PROCESS GAME AND MILITARY STRATEGY, VARIATION CLEAR AND ACT ACCORDINGLY. IF YOU POSED ENTIRELY OF REARRANGED CUT DETERMINED BY RANDOM A PAGE OF WRITTEN WORDS NO ADVANTAGE FROM KNOWING INTO WRITER PREDICT THE MOVE. THE CUT VARIATION IMAGES SHIFT SENSE ADVANTAGE IN PROCESSING TO SOUND SIGHT TO SOUND. HAVE BEEN MADE BY ACCIDENT IS WHERE RIMBAUD WAS GOING WITH ORDER THE CUT UPS COULD “SYSTEMATIC DERANGEMENT” OF THE GAMBLING SCENE IN WITH A TEA HALLUCINATION: SEEING AND PLACES. CUT BACK. CUT FORMS. REARRANGE THE WORD AND IMAGE TO OTHER FIELDS THAN WRITING.
The cut variation images shift sense advantage in processing to sound sight to sound. Bowie: “I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” No advantage from knowing. “And I will sing, waiting for the gift of sound and vision.” We can now product accident to his color of vowels. “Blue, blue, electric blue / That’s the colour of my room / Where I will live.” Systematic derangement: seeing and places. “Blue, blue.” Cut back.
If you find yourself in London soon, check out the exhibition David Bowie is at the Victoria and Albert Museum (modestly, “The world’s greatest museum of art and design”), 23 March – 11 August 2013:
The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie – one of the most pioneering and influential performers of modern times. David Bowie is will explore the creative processes of Bowie as a musical innovator and cultural icon, tracing his shifting style and sustained reinvention across five decades.
The V&A’s Theatre and Performance curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh have selected more than 300 objects that will be brought together for the very first time. They include handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, Bowie’s own instruments and album artwork.
What Was I Scared Of?
by Dr. Seuss
I was walking in the night
And I saw nothing scary.
For I have never been afraid
Of anything. Not very.
Then I was deep within the woods
When, suddenly, I spied them.
I saw a pair of pale green pants
With nobody inside them!
I wasn’t scared. But, yet, I stopped
What could those pants be there for?
What could a pair of pants at night
Be standing in the air for?
And then they moved? Those empty pants!
They kind of started jumping.
And then my heart, I must admit,
It kind of started thumping.
So I got out. I got out fast
As fast as I could go, sir.
I wasn’t scared. But pants like that
I did not care for. No, sir.
After that a week went by.
Then one dark night in Grin-itch
(I had to do an errand there
And fetch some Grin-itch spinach)…
Well, I had fetched the spinach.
I was starting back through town
When those pants raced around a corner
And they almost knocked me down!
I lost my Grin-itch spinach
But I didn’t even care.
I ran for home! Believe me,
I had really had a scare!
Now, bicycles were never made
For pale green pants to ride ’em,
Especially spooky pale green pants
With nobody inside ’em!
And the NEXT night, I was fishing
For Doubt-trout on Roover River
When those pants came rowing toward me!
Well, I started in to shiver.
And by now I was SO frightened
That, I’ll tell you, but I hate to….
I screamed and rowed away and lost
my hook and line and bait, too!
I ran and found a Brickle bush
I hid myself away.
I got brickles in my britches
But I stayed there anyway.
I stayed all night. The next night, too
I’d be there still, no doubt,
But I had to do an errand
So, the next night, I went out.
I had to do an errand,
Had to pick a peck of Snide
In a dark and gloomy Snide-field
That was almost nine miles wide.
I said, “I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.”
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.
Then I reached inside a Snide bush
And the next thing that I knew,
I felt my hand touch someone!
And I’ll bet that you know who.
And there I was! Caught in the Snide!
And in that dreadful place
Those spooky, empty pants and I
were standing face to face!
I yelled for help. I screamed. I shrieked.
I howled. I yowled. I cried,
“OH, SAVE ME FROM THESE PALE
GREEN PANTS WITH NOBODY INSIDE!”
But then a strange thing happened.
Why, those pants began to cry!
Those pants began to tremble.
They were just as scared as I!
I never heard such whimpering
And I began to see
That I was just as strange to them
As they were strange to me!
I put my arm around their waist
And sat right down beside them.
I calmed them down.
Poor empty pants
With nobody inside them.
And now, we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble,
We both smile and we say…”Hi!”
No one reads Arno Schmidt (1914-1979), a little-known major German writer whose corpus ranges from (seemingly) straightforward stories to writing that assails the reader with a literary and linguistic density of the highest degree—he is Germany’s Joyce.
Parsing Schmidt’s trade=mark syntax will reveal, among much else: tremendous wit, metanarratives, caustic social commentary, and passages fully charged with melopoeia.
English readers will have to wait for the amazing John E. Woods to finish translating Schmidt’s magnum opus, Zettels Traum (Bottom’s Dream)—it’s twice as long as Finnegans Wake—but, for the meantime, Woods has already provided us with sublime translations of Schmidt’s works, and he recommends the Collected Novellas as the place to start. In addition, I would suggest beginning with the volume Nobodaddy’s Children, which contains Scenes from the Life of a Faun, Brand’s Heath, and Dark Mirrors. [(un)justly (un)read]
Arno Schmidt (1914-1979) is not a well-known figure in German media studies. For the most part, his writings have never enjoyed large audiences and his complex works seem destined to stay at the margins of critical inquiries. Although Schmidt has slowly gained recognition as a “giant of postwar German Literature,” academic criticism so far has produced only a paucity of serious scholarly inquiries. One of Schmidt’s primary concern was to outline the various forms of knowledge formation. The changing nature of these processes of knowledge formation through television and radio posed a special interest. The shift in the transfer of knowledge, from a written text as the storage room of information, to immaterial knowledge production, in the media of radio and television, finds its succinct expression in Schmidt’s literary text Zettels Traum. Embedded in a narrative that claims to preserve our cultural past and present and to serve as a dialogue partner between reader, writer, and text, Zettels Traum, I argue, brings to the forefront the problematic nature of the immaterialities of communication as exemplified in news broadcasting in postwar Germany. The immateriality of communication signals the dissolution of the complex configuration of closed narratives and simultaneously replaces the traditional form of memory with images that orchestrate our forgetfulness. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]
Considering the enormous philological and historical erudition of Schmidt’s texts along with the abundance of references, allusions, and parodies of texts from the German, British, French, and classical literary traditions, it should not surprise us that Zettel’s Traum remains a neglected text…. From the outset, Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum is visually distinguished from other books by its sheer bulk — 1334 pages and dimensions of 12.8 x 12.3 inches (owing to the photomechanical reproduction of the original typescript). With its irregular formatted pages and its division into various columns, the text, as an unknown reviewer observed, gained the status of an “elephantine monster” among postwar German publications. A reader of Zettel’s Traum encounters enlarged letters, advertising materials, photographs, pictorial elements supplementing the verbal narration, alterations, additions, and many other devices revealing the text outside the strict purview of literature.
For over ten years, Schmidt filled 130,000 Zettel (index cards) with information. It took him four years to transform Zettel’s Traum into a narrative of twenty-five hours in the life of the main characters of the text, Daniel Pagenstecher, usually called Dan, Paul Jacobi and his wife Wilma, and their teenage daughter Franziska. All four participants engage in the various problems connected with a translation of Edgar Allen Poe and discuss the life and works of Poe. Throughout the text, the central narrator, Daniel Pagenstecher, to whom the critics often refer as the alter ego of Schmidt, complements the discussions by inserting historical events, psychological findings, geographic discoveries, and cosmological insights. Additional comments and quotations from sources such as literary and historical texts unveil the multilingual texture of Zettel’s Traum as a labyrinthine narration.
…The title and the epigraph of Zettel’s Traum hint at Schmidt’s method of writing in the service of a dream. In this instance, William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of many allusions. “Zettel,” German for the “warp” of woven cloth, evokes Bottom the Weaver as translated in Friedrich Schlegel’s rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is essential to grasp Schmidt’s literary allusions to understand the structure and the signifying practices in Zettel’s Traum. [Arno Schmidt’s Zettel’s Traum: An Analysis]
Zettels Traum (1970) by Arno Schmidt is an innovative novel written in three columns with comments in the margins in the style of a scholarly work. This novel which can be translated to mean Slip Dream, is written in the avant garde prose of the Abstract Expressionist style, with concepts such as the Shower Field, which is an erotic metaphor for the Color Field theory of painting. The subtle eroticism of Zettels Traum intrigues the mind, expressing events which otherwise would seem too obvious, and the group consciousness of those involved in a larger project forms two plot lines, which convey the novelistic metafiction to the reader, with the discussion of literary texts, such as Edgar Allen Poe and James Joyce. [Innovative Fiction Magazine]
[Schmidt’s] writing style is characterized by a unique and witty style of adapting colloquial language, which won him quite a few fervent admirers. Moreover, he developed an orthography by which he thought to reveal the true meaning of words and their connections amongst each other. One of the most cited examples is the use of “Roh=Mann=Tick” instead of “Romantik” (revealing romanticism as the craze of unsubtle men). The atoms of words holding the nuclei of original meaning he called Etyme (etyms).
His theory of etyms is developed in his magnum opus, Zettels Traum, in which an elderly writer comments on Edgar Allan Poe’s works in a stream of consciousness, while discussing a Poe translation with a couple of translators and flirting with their teenage daughter. Schmidt also accomplished a translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s works himself (1966–73, together with Hans Wollschläger). Some critics even dismissed Zettel’s Traum as non-art, or sheer nonsense, and Schmidt himself as a “psychopath.” but Schmidt’s reputation as esoteric, and that of his work as non-art, has faded and he is now seen as an important, if highly eccentric, German writer of the 20th century. [Wikipedia: Arno Schmidt]
Schmidt divides Zettels Traum into three columns, each of which corresponds to a particular theme. The center column reflects upon events which took place between 1965 and 1969, the time in which Zettels Traum (ZT) was actually written, and introduces to the reader the texts of Edgar Allan Poe. The center column of Zettels Traum foregrounds the various texts of Poe. Daniel Pagenstecher himself an author, as well as central narrator of the events in Zettels Traum, lives a scholar-hermit’s existence near a village in Northern Germany, and assists his friend Paul Jacobi, likewise a writer, in the translation of Poe’s works into German. The action is confined to the events of a single summer day. Present are Wilma, Paul Jacobi’s wife, and the Jacobi’s teenage daughter Franziska, who thinks she is in love with the much older Dan. Throughout the day, the five discuss Edgar Allan Poe’s writings and what they reveal of his life and ideas. During the discussions Dan offers his explanation of his theory of language, the etym-theory, to the left of the main column. While the figures discuss the works of Poe in the center column, in this left-hand column Dan tells stories about Poe’s life and inserts citations from Poe’s texts that illustrate his etym-theory of language. Serving as a type of footnote, the right-hand column contains citations and comments that supply additional information and references to other texts. [Watching TV with Arno Schmidt]
“In Schmidt, then, we have a fusion of the striving for scientific thinking with a commitment to modernist writing; for him the founding father of his art is not Zola but Lewis Carroll.” – Keith Bullivant, “Arno Schmidt: The German Context”, in the Review of Contemporary Fiction (Spring, 1988). [The Complete Review]
By playing on the dialectic between consciousness and the unconscious, Schmidt conveniently centers the use of citation on a lack of memory, a repression, or an inability to differentiate between text and intertext. Hence Zettels Traum breaks from the traditional understanding of citations by questioning their presuppositions. Most fundamentally, Zettels Traum is a text about texts, a discussion and dissemination of the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. [Arno Schmidt’s Zettels Traum: an analysis by Voker Max Langbehn, in Innovative Fiction Magazine]
The German Book Office reports that compared to the more than 50,000 foreign titles published in Germany each year, only about 3,000 German books make it into translation worldwide. Of these, fewer than 40 works of fiction are translated into English each year, Woods estimated.
For three decades Woods’ award-winning work has often topped this short list, but not for much longer. He plans to retire within a year after finishing Arno Schmidt’s 1,330-page opus, Zettel’s Traum, which will be titled “Bottom’s Dream,” in English.
“When I’m done with ‘Bottom’s Dream,’ I’ve done my work,” he said. “I plan to enjoy Berlin. I love this city. It sparkles for me.” [John E. Woods: Bringing German literature to the world]
The classic Bigfoot image is from a 1967 film by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, at Bluff Creek in Northern California (see video below). The Bigfoot might be fake, but the scarred and battered film stock is the real deal, real enough perhaps to inspire a few new Hipstamatic filters. The movie Elf is a Christmas classic from 2003, starring Will Ferrell as the feral elf, Buddy, seen here in Central Park in homage to Patterson’s Bigfoot. And the alleged and unverified photo of the late great J.D. Salinger was snapped by Paul Adao in 1988. Another Adao photo illustrates a wonderful New York Magazine story by publisher Roger Lathbury from 2010, Betraying Salinger. I scored the publishing coup of the decade: his final book. And then I blew it.
Bonus: there’s been another Bigfoot sighting — in our portfolio.
Jed Birmingham wrote a great article a couple years ago, Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker, about William S. Burroughs and his appearance in The Black Mountain Review in the late 1950s. The Review was the art and literary journal of Black Mountain College, the experimental liberal arts college that existed in North Carolina from 1933–1957. Here is Birmingham’s description:
Founded by progressive educator John Rice in 1933 near Asheville, North Carolina, by the late 1940s, Black Mountain College attracted key figures (or soon to be) in the experimental arts: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Josef and Anni Albers, David Tudor, Clement Greenberg, Charles Olson, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Kline, and Buckminster Fuller. By 1954, the College was on its last legs. In fact, the winter of 1953/1954 was arguably the lowest point in the College’s history. Out of this winter of discontent grew the idea of a literary magazine. Olson had turned Black Mountain into his own classroom and writers like Ed Dorn, Michael Rumaker, John Wieners, and Fielding Dawson attended the college. Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley along with Olson would teach at the College in its closing years.
There were only seven issues of The Black Mountain Review published, as seen in the seven cover images above. I love these covers, and how the publishers began with the idea of a consistent design template with minimal differentiation, perhaps to create an identifiable “brand,” but by issue five their own artistic and experimental inclinations took over, obviously under the influence of John Cage and Franz Kline, and overthrew the rigid structure. It like a visual representation of a mind expanding. Beautiful.
For large version of each Review cover, and more, see Black Mountain Review: Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker.
The recent New Yorker science fiction issue, their first ever, included a great essay by Anthony Burgess from 1973, The Clockwork Condition, in which the author comments on his most famous book, A Clockwork Orange, and the “very close film interpretation” by Stanley Kubrick. Most interesting is Burgess’ description of the origin of the title, as well as the various lexicographical connotations of the antihero’s name, Alex:
I first heard the expression “as queer as a clockwork orange” in a London pub before the Second World War. It is an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature, since could any notion be more bizarre than that of a clockwork orange? The image appealed to me as something not just fantastic but obscurely real. The forced marriage of an organism to a mechanism, of a thing living, growing, sweet, juicy, to a cold dead artifact–is that solely a concept of nightmare? I discovered the relevance of this image to twentieth-century life when, in 1961, I began to write a novel about curing juvenile delinquency. I had read somewhere that it would be a good idea to liquidate the criminal impulse through aversion therapy; I was appalled. I began to work out the implications of this notion in a brief work of fiction. The title “A Clockwork Orange” was there waiting to attach itself to the book: it was the only possible name.
The hero of both the book and the film is a young thug called Alex. I gave him that name because of its international character (you could not have a British or Russian boy called Chuck or Butch), and also because of its ironic connotations. Alex is a comic reduction of Alexander the Great, slashing his way through the world and conquering it. But he is changed into the conquered–impotent, wordless. He was a law (a lex) unto himself; he becomes a creature without lex or lexicon. The hidden puns, of course, have nothing to do with the real meaning of the name Alexander, which is “defender of men.”
At the beginning of the book and the film, Alex is a human being endowed, perhaps overendowed, with three characteristics that we regard as essential attributes of man. He rejoices in articulate language and even invents a new form of it (he is far from alexical at this stage); he loves beauty, which he finds in Beethoven’s music above everything; he is aggressive.
The new form of language that Alex invents is Nadsat, which “is basically English with some borrowed words from Russian. It also contains influences from Cockney rhyming slang and the King James Bible, the German language, some words of unclear origin, and some that Burgess invented. The word nadsat itself is the suffix of Russian numerals from 11 to 19 (-надцать). The suffix is an almost exact linguistic parallel to the English ‘-teen’….” Thus, Alex invents and speaks a “teen” language, a common occurrence the world over. By propagating a new form of language, he is partaking in creative destruction of the existing dominant language in his culture (English), but that is just an analog to the real violence he perpetrates on society. If only Alex had become a linguist and author like Burgess, (or a namer?) then perhaps he wouldn’t have been so violent. Then again, we can’t retroactively “cure” literary characters any more than the society of A Clockwork Orange could.
Bonus: A lexicon of Nadast words from A Clockwork Orange.
I came upon this wonderful New York Times book review /article / tribute / remembrance of monologist Spalding Gray from October 28th 2011 entitled What Spalding Gray Left Us by Ron Rosenbaum. Gray was a painfully funny man and I miss his wit, his candor and his brave suffering.
Gray Matter: Clips
The great children’s book author and illustrator — and all-around brilliant artist — Maurice Sendak died this morning. Most famous for Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963, and In The Night Kitchen, 1970, Sendak wrote and/or illustrated many books, produced and designed theater, opera and ballet productions, and has left us with a body of work that will be influential for years to come. He will be greatly missed.
Here are two fantastic interviews with Sendak by Stepen Colbert from January of this year that really show Sendak’s wit and mind in top form.
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 1
“Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak contemplates the complexity of children and the simplicity of Newt Gingrich.”
Grim Colberty Tales with Maurice Sendak Pt. 2
“Maurice Sendak considers the state of children’s literature and gets high on markers.”
I heard this wonderful interview with Mike Nichols who is currently directing a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. The cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, Linda Emond as Linda Loman and Andrew Garfield as Biff Loman.
Mike Nichols: ‘Salesman’ By Day, Artist Always
Interviewed by Robert Siegel
National Public Radio, All Things Considered
March 9, 2012
Photo: Matt Sayles/AP
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