Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Gleaned from a online post by Matthew Z:

Reading is almost always an aesthetic preference, unless it has permission through certain jargon, both "legal" or "political" to engage in praxis. The politician assumes himself to be beyond art because he actually has the power at his fingertips to physically move his ideas around. The artist has no such power of course and is reduced into the realm of aesthetics—that motionless form of subjective preference.

For starters, despite the strategic blandness of a general political attempt at writing, I think it might be useful to consider their words and actions as more along the lines of an aesthetic preference as well. The artist might gasp at this notion, stupidly assuming, through hand-me-down compartmentalizations, that the "brown bagging suit" is not worthy of being even considered in an aesthetic sense. [But, the politician]... is beyond aesthetics because he can actually make things move.

Art is otherwise, happily motionless and heavily protective of its specialized terms in the name of priority and approbation of course, more than anything else really ("Pick me, pick me, I am the best aesthete in the room! This term belongs to me and me alone in order for me to be able to sell my persona, and if you try to apply to something else, my chances become lowered on this front.").

Thursday, October 12, 2006


Congratulations to Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk on his Nobel Prize for Literature. This year's selection of Pamuk, whose recent trial for "insulting Turkishness" had raised concerns about free speech in Turkey, continues a trend among Nobel judges of picking writers in conflict with their own governments.

Pamuk, whose novels include "Snow" and "My Name is Red," was charged last year for telling a Swiss newspaper in February 2005 that Turkey was unwilling to deal with two of the most painful episodes in recent Turkish history: the massacre of Armenians during World War I, which Turkey insists was not a planned genocide, and recent guerrilla fighting in Turkey's overwhelmingly Kurdish southeast.

"Thirty-thousand Kurds and 1 million Armenians were killed in these lands, and nobody but me dares to talk about it," he said in the interview.

I find it interesting that even in the United States, it is common that high profile authors who write or talk against certain known facts of American history are nearly always branded as revisionists, liars, and traitors. Of course, in contemporary America, the culture warrior, is rarely prosecuted for such literary or artistic acts of defiance against the status quo. Not since the case brought against Henry Miller and the US publishers of Tropic of Cancer in 1961, has an American artist faced criminal charges for theliterary word.

Ballsy Orhan Pamuk found himself in trouble with the authorities at a particularly sensitive time for the Turkish nation. Turkey, overwhelmingly Muslim. had recently begun membership talks with the European Union, which has harshly criticized the trial. The charges against Pamuk were dropped in January, ending the high-profile trial that outraged Western observers.

Pressures were brought to bear given Turkey has long declared itself a secular state, and desperately wishes entrance into the EU. French lawmakers in the National Assembly in Paris recently approved a bill making it a crime to deny that the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey during and after World War I amounted to genocide, a move that has infuriated Turkey. Europe seems to be having a field day in recent years outlawing certain thoughts and modes of thought. Several EU countries have outlawed speech denying the Holocaust, or praising naziism or promoting its symbols.

Nationalists who regard the novelist as a traitor accused the Swedish Academy of rewarding the author because he had belittled Turks. The Academy said that the 54-year-old Istanbul-born Pamuk "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures."

Pamuk has spoken up for other writers in peril. He was the first Muslim writer to defend Salman Rushdie when Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death because of "The Satanic Verses," a satire of the Prophet Muhammad published in 1989. Pamuk has also been supportive of Kurdish rights.

Pamuk himself had little religious upbringing. Growing up in Istanbul, his extended family was wealthy and privileged—his grandfather was an industrialist and built trains for the new nation. Religion, Pamuk has said, was considered to be something for the poor and the provincial. The novelist has noted that growing up, he experienced a shift from a traditional Ottoman family environment to a more Western-oriented lifestyle. He wrote about this in his first published novel, a family chronicle—which in the spirit of Thomas Mann follows the development of a family over three generations."

Pamuk's international breakout work was his third novel, "The White Castle." Structured as an historical novel set in 17th-century Istanbul, it reads as a metaphorical tale about how the ego is generated using stories and fictions of varying pedigree. Personality is shown to be a variable construction," the academy said.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Dateline July 14, 2003. Betsy and I just got back from a four-day tour of New England. First stop was the Thomas Paine cottage in New Rochelle, NY (up I-95 a few miles northeast of the George Washington Bridge in NYC), and a rather encouraging conversation with the on-premises caretaker there. Actually the cottage was closed for painting and other renovations, conducted as an Eagle Scout project, but we made the quick tour and snapped a few pictures to my delight.

Then we continued on up through Connecticut where we stayed our first night in a quaint little Massachusetts motor lodge in a township called Stirbridge, where Sue swears she recalls staying as a child on family vacation. The next morning (July 4th) we drove the hundred miles up to Lowell, MA to breathe the air around that old milltown which was later decimated by the migration of the mill industry to Georgia and other parts south. Our leading purpose in Lowell was to check out the Jack Kerouac memorial erected in the deceased Beat writer's hometown. We were not disappointed.

Though nary a bust or portrait of the old drunk was present, a dozen or so marble tablets bearing excerpts from Kerouac's books were set length-wise into the stone plaza, clustered among welcomed benches and the handful of towering and smaller weeping willows on an unappointed edge of town seemingly frozen in dingy time still looking eerily like the period of young Jacques' childhood (the 1940s), all of which seemed to capture the desperate and mournful spirit of Kerouac's beat generation.

To the east spanned an old iron bridge, glistening silver in the morning sun but draped in an indifferent rash of predictable rust upon closer inspection. Due east and south, old mill warehouses now converted into luxury apartments were squired by narrow canals which zig zagged through the entire downtown.

It was sizzling even in the shade by now, but amply pleasant nevertheless as we watched the tourist trolleys whiz by with a few riders we would have joined but for other plans for that day. A quick gas-up at the green and white and we were soon cruising again, this time on the Interstate headed forty miles south into Beantown in anticipation of the annual starburst sky, a born-again patriot's holiday in the footsteps and lantern calls of where this country tis of thee all began, where we had reserved a room on the 27th floor of the four star 28 floor Sheraton in the fiendishly trendy and inviting Boston Back Bay midtown neighborhood marked to the west by the Charles River, to the north by downtown, and to the south by Fenway Park - home of the Red Sox who were then busy setting a home run record down in Yankee Stadium by sending seven pitches off pinstriped pitching into the stands. In a hundred years no team had accomplished this feat against the legendary Bronx squads.

After checking in and grabbing some lunch, we rested a bit before shooting to the top of the Prudential Tower (50th floor, attached by an indoor mall to our hotel), where for seven bucks apiece we could view the entire Boston sprawl through the active gray haze of smog and 95 degree heat and humidity. But see it we did, and can't wait to view all the pictures. We later joined on foot some 700,000 headstrong revelers marching toward the Charles where after an evening of the Boston Pops and other special guests, the thirty minute fireworks display wowed many.

We, however, sweaty, exhausted, and hungry, strolled back to the Boylston Street drag to find some dinner, finally deciding on a dapper little Thai place called Bombay Blue detailed with a beautiful expanse of dark teal paint, red brick, and opaque glass walls. Our only complaint was, what else, the heat, but we were smilingly accommodated with seating in the direct line of the fan purring from the cashier counter. My own soft-shelled crab entree sealed the night for me. A half hour pace back to the hotel, and we still hadn't heard the requisite boom of fireworks, but somehow suspected we had missed the show completely, not that I hold any fascination for the light show. I never have, not as a child, not as a drunk, not as an old sober patriot. No appeal at all.

But Betsy was interested, and strangely enough, just as we arrived on foot back in front of the Prudential Tower which would lead back to the hotel, a strong breeze began blowing into the streets off Boston Harbor. The excruciating heat of a mere half hour earlier had vanished.

We decided to plop down on one of the handful of benches there among the modern sculpture installations, soaking up the city and the time. We chatted, and watched quick, pretty people flow across the stones for thirty minutes or so before making it back to the room, but not before Betsy almost ducked me for the hotel bar where the big screen TV had just announced the fireworks were to begin. Not me. I was flustered, fuzzy, and finished. I had to get out of my clothes and horizonstal, still not rested enough after two earlier all-nighters launching RADIO SCENEWASH, my online radio station of which I'll spill more beans later.

So, despite everything, we watched the historic display on television, can you believe it? Boston officials claimed some 700,000 strong had made it to the Charles River Esplanade for this year's festivities, topping the previous high count of a half million with room to spare, and than doubling last year's 300,000 visitors. The big news, echoed various forms of the media, was the influx of travellers from across the nation who had spirited specifically to Boston to toast her as the symbolic cradle of patriotism and freedom that marks this nation's birth.

On the way back, we stopped in Darien, CN for lunch. Quaint? This little nest of quaint is like some fairy tale. And then to Philadelphia where we visited the awe-inspiring Museum of Art, the tiny but delightful Auguste Rodin sculpture gallery, and lastly, the Edgar Allan Poe House, while visiting a friend (Yet Another Steve Taylor) who gave us the play by play tour since all these places are within walking distance of his apartment, although the Poe exhibit is more like a long we drove. Twas thoughtful of you Richard Waller to call my dear dear Betsy. Something eerie about getting a ring in Philadelphia standing in the EAP museum however. Congratulations on your continued energies. I know you are excited to still be going strong. Keep us informed. I'm tired as tigers with heavy eyelids today, Betsy's at work, but thought I'd let you know I got your note...

Most of this nation's general population knows nothing of the struggles and successes of our beloved very first American - Thomas Paine, Citizen Paine, critic of scroundrels and perfumed highbrows alike, instead sticking to the overwrought spit-polished images of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, no insult to these men intended, but for the love of liberty, why is the reputation of the mind and heart of the revolution allowed to wither on the vine of American culture?

Long live Citizen Paine! I was told by the Paine cottagemaster that the BBC was planning to cross the pond to film a feature on him. Let's hope so, and let's also bear witness to the desire that the egonomical fox Bill O'Reilly hasn't forever tainted the name of the very author of the American Revolution with his recent attacks on the so-called ultra left Tom Paine web site financed by staunch liberal Bill Moyers, and run by his son...

Friday, October 06, 2006


The name Jack London conjures up dreams of the Great Yukon, ferocious wolves, pernicious gambling, alluring dancing girls, and an occasional drunken and bloody bar brawl—timeworn icons of the American taming of the Wild West. The common response most casual readers—hibernating in the dark, dank literary caverns of America—to those rugged writers who live life as if it were a program of perilous escape and beaconless frenzied abandon, is exemplified by the enduring myth of Jack London, the turn-of-the-century adventurer transformed into a mild sedative for rambunctious boys. A fanciful string of Walt Disney films depicting the tumultuous capers of an innocent lad bent on civilizing his fellow outdoorsmen has enchanted the eager hearts and minds of anyone who ever dreamed of rubbing two wet sticks together to warm themselves and their pals, or to roast a marshmallow and a wiener on a cool October evening without the usual convenience of newspaper, lighter fluid and a half-dozen matches.

These overly-sentimentalized adventure flicks tickled the boyish imagination. Usually told in first person, the stories gave courage to those of us who cowered before the barking voices and effective forces of pounding fists offered by the local neighborhood bully. Introspection by the hero of our stories was always light-hearted, boyish, somewhat protected from the beastly nature of beastly men and women. American film. Always a happy ending.

As George Orwell pointed out in an essay written in 1943, London is one of those rare writers of genius like Edgar Allan Poe who enjoy a more prodigious reputation outside of the English-speaking world than in it. While Poe is critically respected both in England and France, the author of Martin Eden has been greatly admired by German, French, and Russian readers.

Orwell points out that Lenin’s widow described in a short biography she wrote of him, of how she used to read stories to her husband on his deathbed as he lay paralyzed. On the day of his death she was reading from Dickens’ Christmas Carol, but he was put off by the bourgeois sentimentality of it all. The last thing Lenin ever heard was from Jack London’s Love of Life.

Obviously, Lenin was initially drawn to London’s political writings. He remained an ardent Socialist, and, as Orwell points out, one of the first American writers to pay any attention to Karl Marx. His reputation in Europe is mainly founded on another of London’s books, The Iron Heel, a remarkable book of political prophecy predicting the rise of Fascism. London understood that when the working-class movements began to take on expansive dimensions and appeared to be taking over control of the world, the capitalistic class would hit back. And until Hitler came fully into his own, most Socialists imagined Marxism would simple swarm over the earth without a resistance.

In London’s book, Martin Eden, the protagonist, Martin has weathered a poor working class upbringing—his playground was the dirty streets of Oakland in the first years of the new century—his pals scrappy street fighting lads like himself, his girlfriends coarse and profligate. But Martin Eden was looking for a way out. As a dedicated merchant marine, he accepts the challenges he places before himself with gusto. Voyages upon the harsh high seas for eight months of the year before docking off on extended furlough took their toll.

When back on the hill he stayed with his sister and her husband to the ambivalent reluctance of everyone involved. Robust yet uncouth, ignorant yet yearning for knowledge, Martin is introduced to a young middle class socialite named Ruth. She is the eternal rose, the effervescent source of beauty and redemption who lights a brilliant flame in young Martin. After hearing Ruth read from a collection of Swinburne’s writings, our young feisty street punk, the brightest and the strongest grubbing up from the ribald and murky bowels of nothingness is transformed, in a sense, baptized by the fiery spirit of literature and fine perfumeries Ruth brings to him, and certain chariot wheels of grace for Martin Eden are set in motion. The brittle romance is charted very plainly by the author. Resolving to educate himself, the slate of middle class values and structures make their way into the agenda of the young Martin in search for a group of people he can call his own. Burning the midnight oil, abiding a strict schedule of three to four hours of sleep per night, Martin Eden first feeds his intellectual starvation by devouring the classics. After several alternating tours of duty at sea and in the mimicked words of the masters he consumed, he begins to write down stories of his adventures, pouring his soul and sensitivities into pages which began to mount into an inhuman pile of rejection notices.

His relationship with Ruth began to sour when it became apparent that she was unable to comprehend or suffer the intense struggle against the gods of moral and intellectual responsibility he was grappling with and would continue with until a victor had been proclaimed. Her father and his political friends were hopefully tied down to ineffectual status quo methods and arguments. Their condescension only fueled the young aspirant until a chance meeting with a group of revolutionary anarchists and socialists invigorated his spirits briefly. Before long even this more edgy crowd, edgy to be sure, but just as pompous and pre-occupied with status within the ranks matched only by its endless wordplay dishearted him. Yet he still believed that there was more to life than all this useless rhetoric and senseless destruction-oriented propaganda caught up in a war of words rather than the toil of sweat, blood, and tears. Undeterred, young Martin Eden pressed on.

Time, however, began to wither the young author’s compulsion—it seemed an impossible achievement to gain access not to the wisdom of the sages, which he knew he already possessed but to the class of people who upheld the rules and vestiges of that wisdom. After his breakup with Ruth in a mutual dissatisfaction of personal tastes, and a hasty exploratory expedition to his old neighborhood gang, Martin decided that only the posturing fame and accompanying new fortune society bestowed upon an exciting, freshly discovered, trailblazing young writer could sustain his intensifyingly deceptive thirst for social and intellectual acceptance. He begins to write more earnestly.

When favor finally arrives, the newest bon mot on the literary scene is quick to discourage the usual fare of bandwagon jumpers, those who had rejected his pieces only months before—now clamoring for more, more, more! Noting the irony, he held to his guns when certain editors insisted on seeing any manuscripts still lying around, manuscripts already once rejected by these very same editors. More truth was dawning upon our young adventurer.

Suddenly all the wares of the world are at his feet. Old cohorts quickly emerge from the cracks of endless walls he had never been able to tear down with either his bare fists or the restless but youthful energy rolling off his tongue. Now his words were famous. Now everyone understood. Now everyone wanted to be his friend. Jack London was a born rebel whose manipulative personality demanded the immediate gratification of his contradictory wants. His dialectic of appetites wore on without a synthesis of satisfaction. He once confessed to wanting to drive forty horses abreast with the thousand strong arms of an army. He was a heavy drinker. He died relatively young.

Martin Eden is London’s most autobiographical novel. His early death at age forty brought on by his excessive bouts of drinking and exposure to the elements is foreshadowed by the character, Eden, who hurls himself into the ocean depths in route to a tropical island he had recently purchased. Although I am aware of no supporting evidence, perhaps this book is where the poet Hart Crane derived his idea for his own self-inflicted drowning some twenty-four years after its initial publication.

The novel, Jack London insisted, was an attack on individualism, the fierce individualism of his era. “Being aware of the needs of others, of the whole human collective need, Martin Eden lived only for himself, fought only for himself, and, if you please, died for himself.”

An irony of the book resides in the fact that it is the only one of London’s fifty books that his publishers, Macmillan, has kept in print in a cloth edition for seventy years, while it has invited the most chafing criticism from the profession as being too pessimistic, denigrating capitalism and self-improvement and ambition without providing any alternatives. London was confused with the hero of his book.

Indeed, Martin Eden is a clean read, swift in its situational currents and colorfully determined in assessing the problems the individual faces in his exodus from the battlefields where intellects clash and flesh recoils in a never adjourned meeting of forces. To stand headstrong on a frozen tundra against the elements or to bob just above a watery abyss to test the very nature of controversy, measuring the bonds and covenants between life and death, is an event reserved for the rare few who dare engage with full intellect both the demons within oneself and those within the society in which one struggles to comprehend.

In his time Jack London lived and died as a striking contrast to the Horatio Alger and more recent Ronald Reagan myth of hard work, love, success and respect. Whereas Alger inspired, London depressed the readers of early 20th century America. The simple fact is that one must find solace in the tribes as they exist, that one must have faith in the unlovely, seemingly mechanical society in order to prosper. We exist in time and place simply to count out measure until we evolve into something else, hopefully better equipped to face ourselves as we really are— individuals marooned on a island surrounded by a sea of hopefuls.

Find a copy of this book. You are probably someone he has written about. A century later, we find little solace in realizing that Martin Eden’s impassioned plea for a more redemptive manner of living still remains part and parcel of the ageless quarrel all religion, art, and politics seeks to address: can we really help ourselves once we know who we are?