Saturday, August 23, 2014

An Artist is Above Social Classes



The protagonist in Edmund Wilson's "The Princess with the Golden Hair" which can be found in Memoirs of Hecate County said, "[Artists] didn't worry about their social position because the life that an artist leads is outside all the social positions. The artist makes his own position, which is about the nearest thing you can get to being above the classes."


And when an artist 
like the poet, Lucien Chardon, in Balzac's Lost Illusions doesn't realize this point, he may end up in unfortunate circumstances. 

(The readers of The Allure of Nymphets blog may find it interesting to know that Wilson and Nabokov were friends until they got into a fray over Nabokov's translation of Eugene Onegin.)




Thursday, June 26, 2014

"Nocturnal" an Overachievers Battle with Slumber

I quoted former prestigious Stuyvesant high school principal Teitel who used to tell his incoming freshmen, "Grades [i.e. any creative project.], friends, and sleep—choose two."

After reading Gardner's Creating Minds and Mason Currey's Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, I learned that a number of overachievers like Picasso sleep very little compared to the average person. 

Not only did the Paris Review reveal that Nabokov worked on the translation and commentary of Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse for over 17 hours per day, I recently read in Boyd's Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years that Nabokov slept approximately four hours per day. 

Lastly, according to a New York magazine profile, James Franco gets very little sleep and Franco fittingly wrote the poem "Nocturnal" in his poetry book Directing Herbert White about his battle with slumber, which I'm confident that a lot of other overachievers could relate to. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

BALZAC'S LOST ILLUSIONS: Advice for Writers



Balzac's Lost Illusions contains some advice for writers. I was referred to Balzac's classic by Nassim Taleb who used Lost Illusions to explain the concept of "silent evidence" in The Black Swan.

Here are a few of the prescriptions for writers:

...men of genius had neither brother or sister, father nor mother; the great works that it is their task to create impose upon them what seems like egoism, oblige them to sacrifice everything to their own greatness. If at first the family must suffer from the exalting absorption of a great brain, later it will reap a hundred fold reward for the many and various sacrifices demanded by the first struggles of shacked nobility and share in the fruits of victory...Bernard Palissy, of Louis XI, Fox, Napoleon, Christopher Columbus, Cesar, all those illustrious gamblers who started life crippled with debts, or as poor men, not understood, regarded as mad, bad sons, bad fathers, bad brothers, but who later became the pride of their family, of the country, of the world. (59-60)

He wants the harvest without the toil...

...time is the capital of those whose intelligence is their only fortune...
Now literary success can only be won in solitude, by persevering labour. 
...a taste for luxury, a contempt for our quiet way of life; a love of pleasure and his natural tendency to idleness-the bane of poetic souls. 

Take refuge in some attic and write masterpieces, make yourself powerful in any way you will, and you will soon see the world at your feet...


If the present is cold and bare and poverty-stricken, the blue distant future is rich and splendid; most great men have known the vicissitudes which depress but cannot overwhelm me. Plautus, the great comic Latin poet, was once a miller's lad. Machiavelli wrote The Prince at night, and by day was a common working-man like any one else; and more than all, the great Cervantes, who lost an arm at the battle of Lepanto, and helped to win that famous day, was called a 'base-born, handless dotard' by the scribblers of his day; there was an interval of ten years between the appearance of the first part and the second of his sublime Don Quixote for lack of a publisher. 

He spent his mornings in studying history at the Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve. His very first researches made him aware of frightful errors in the memoirs of The Archer of Charles IX. When the library closed, he went back to his damp, chilly room to correct his work, cutting out whole chapters and piecing it together anew. And after dining at Flicoteaux's, he went down to the Passage du Commerce to see the newspapers at Blosse's reading-room, as well as new books and magazines and poetry, so as to keep himself informed of the movements of the day. And when, towards midnight, he returned to his wretched lodgings, he had used neither fuel nor candle-light. His reading in those days made such an enormous change in his ideas, that he revised the volume of flower-sonnets, his beloved Marguerites, working them over to such purpose, that scarce a hundred lines of the original verses were allowed to stand. 


After all, a novel in a drawer is not like a horse in a stable-it does not eat bread. But it won't provide you with any either, and that's a fact. 



"Your story is mine, monsieur, and the story of ten or twelve hundred young fellows besides who come from the country to Paris every year. There are others even worse off than we are. Do you see that theatre?" he continued, indicating the turrets of the Odeon. "There came one day to lodge in one of the houses in the square a man of talent who had fallen into the lowest depths of poverty. He was married, in addition to the misfortunes which we share with him, to a wife whom he loved; and the poorer or the richer, as you will, by two children. He was burdened with debt, but he put his faith in his pen. He took a comedy in five acts to the Odeon; the comedy was accepted, the management arranged to bring it out, the actors learned their parts, the stage manager urged on the rehearsals. Five several bits of luck, five dramas to be performed in real life, and far harder tasks than the writing of a five-act play. The poor author lodged in a garret; you can see the place from here. He drained his last resources to live until the first representation; his wife pawned her clothes, they all lived on dry bread. On the day of the final rehearsal, the household owed fifty francs in the Quarter to the baker, the milkwoman, and the porter. The author had only the strictly necessary clothes—a coat, a shirt, trousers, a waistcoat, and a pair of boots. He felt sure of his success; he kissed his wife. The end of their troubles was at hand. 'At last! There is nothing against us now,' cried he.—'Yes, there is fire,' said his wife; 'look, the Odeon is on fire!'—The Odeon was on fire, monsieur. So do not you complain. You have clothes, you have neither wife nor child, you have a hundred and twenty francs for emergencies in your pocket, and you owe no one a penny.—Well, the piece went through a hundred and fifty representations at the Theatre Louvois. The King allowed the author a pension. 'Genius is patience,' as Buffon said. And patience after all is a man's nearest approach to Nature's processes of creation. What is Art, monsieur, but Nature concentrated?"


"There is no cheap route to greatness," Daniel went on in his kind voice. "The works of Genius are watered with tears. The gift that is in you, like an existence in the physical world, passes through childhood and its maladies. Nature sweeps away sickly or deformed creatures, and Society rejects an imperfectly developed talent. Any man who means to rise above the rest must make ready for a struggle and be undaunted by difficulties. A great writer is a martyr who does not die; that is all.—There is the stamp of genius on your forehead," d'Arthez continued, enveloping Lucien by a glance; "but unless you have within you the will of genius, unless you are gifted with angelic patience, unless, no matter how far the freaks of Fate have set you from your destined goal, you can find the way to your Infinite as the turtles in the Indies find their way to the ocean, you had better give up at once."


The rare talent, already matured by thought and by a critical habit of mind, a talent developed in solitude, not for publication, but for himself alone and for no other, had suddenly opened for the poet from the provinces a door into the most magnificent palaces of imagination. 


Read Goethe's Tasso, the great master's greatest work, and you will see how the poet-hero loved gorgeous stuffs and banquets and triumph and applause. Very well, be Tasso without his folly. Perhaps the world and its pleasures tempt you? Stay with us. Carry all the cravings of vanity into the world of imagination. Transpose folly. Keep virtue for daily wear, and let imagination run riot, instead of doing, as d'Arthez says, thinking high thoughts and living beneath them." (230)


There are a number of other prescriptions for writers in Lost Illusions. If you're a frustrated artist, I recommend the book as an admonishing to keep writing. I propose Kathleen Raine's translation. 





Monday, April 28, 2014

Seth Roberts d. April 26, 2014

I learned today that Seth Roberts, who was a Professor of Psychology at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, a bestselling author, and who could be found in the acknowledgments of books by Nassim Taleb and Tim Ferris, passed away. 

Seth and I met about eight years ago via my blog Behind the Approval Matrix and soon after that he flew to New York to give a talk to my students. Most recently I spoke about Seth during a talk to a group of Brooklyn College students. That portion of the talk was on the importance of not wasting time/how to read more than one book per week. I related a story about when Seth and I went to the Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridien hotel and how when I was in line ordering the burgers, Seth, after quickly perusing the hip burger joint with his eyes, pulled out a tattered novel and began reading.

During the past year Seth and I spoke almost every Saturday via Skype, because we were co-writing a book on education. He'll be missed.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck's Writing Habits and Thoughts on Writing


Robert "Iceberg Slim" Beck became a famous and bestselling writer in the African-American community after spending over twenty years of his life as a pimp. Subsequently, his novels made him the most notorious pimp in America. His most famous novel is Pimp: The Story of My Life. The autobiographical novel was published in 1967 by Holloway House. 

Ian Whitaker's book Iceberg Slim The Lost Interviews shed some very interesting light on Beck's writing habits. Like Nabokov, Beck would visualize his characters in his head, he wrote for long hours  - sometimes up to 18 hours per day, like Proust he was a recluse, and Beck made a compelling analogy between pimping and writing.

Enjoy:


  • He writes his books out in longhand, filling thick notebooks with manuscript. 



  • ... I don't want to pimp. I want to be a good writer. I'm coming out of there. And I'm agonizing now with my writing. I'm seeking to do in sentences what it took me paragraphs to do before, and to do in one word what it took me sentences to do in these books. 



  • Writing books is better than pimping. In fact, it's better than being a doctor or a lawyer. I don't have to go to court, I don't have to go to the hospital to perform an operation. I have no equipment...I don't even need paper; I'll write on the walls. All of my equipment [tapping his head] is in my noggin. And another thing; writing has been a wonderful boon for me, psychologically. The vacuum of ego that existed when I could no longer pimp has been filled most adequately.



  • Beck writes up to 18 hours a day...


Q. You have been described as the best-sellingest black author in America. Why is that?

A. ...I would think it's because I've been able to do what any artist must do if he's to rule the greatest possible audience - and that is to bare his emotional structure to the bone. I've noticed the same phenomenon as a speaker. I've been a success as a speaker because I've dared to do that which the audience, collectively, could not do. That is, I have overridden my inhibitions so I can confess. It springs from the soul, brother. So many people are dying and crying out to confess. But they lack the courage. 

Q. Doesn't every writer play [g]od?

A. Yes. But one can't play [g]od if one is also a father. One of the handicaps, of course, in being a writer is that one has large numbers of children, responsibilities. Ideally, a writer should be alone. Most writers - if they're married - inevitably, the wife will soon consider the writing a rival. And no writer can reach his peak with this kind of intramural opposition.

Q. Recently, you wrote an article about the loneliness of a super-pimp...

A. Ah, the loneliness...yes, the loneliness. Because you see, the only comparison I could make, as a matter of fact, with the loneliness of a writer is the loneliness of a pimp. I'm not talking about a would-be pimp. I'm talking about someone who really understands what pimping is. And by that I mean: no matter what problems I ever had as a pimp, I never got confidential with any woman...p 100

Q. Usually a writer tries to do more than merely entertain. He tries to inform and persuade.

A. Oh yes. I don't try to persuade. I used to be political. When I first started writing. Nothing is worse than to write with a tendency like that. You can't be a true artist. That's what hobbled most of the young black writers that came up in the 60s. In other words, one must - if he's black or any ethnic - if he's aware of the inequities of this society, purge himself, have that catharsis, through his writing, in order to approach the pristine peak that the artist, the true artist, knows. 

Q. Haven't you used the term "Pimping the Page?"

A. But you know why I've never been able to do it? Because of the torturous labor that writing is...If it weren't so gaddam hard man, I could make the analogy [between pimping and selling books]. But it's so hard...

Q. Are you a masochist?
A. I think all writers have to be. I'm talking about the serious writers - like yourself. You know you love it. You love the pain, that lonely pain.

Q. Is there any sadism connected to this?
A. Yeah. We inflict that, we often inflict that upon the audience. You know, two sides of a coin. But invariably, we inflict it upon the people around us, like our wives and our children, when we suffer, you know. 

Q. Would you say you've achieved a balance or homeostasis between your inner and the outer realities?
A. Yes. And I've achieved it through what I call "The Overview". The way I interpret "overview" personally is that I will not permit any traumatic event, person or force to deal my writing and my life a fatal blow. I will not gnaw on personal tragedy like some psychotic canine. When the deed has been done to me, whether advertently or inadvertently, I will simply forget that, I don't conduct vendettas against people, objects or circumstances. 


  • There's a lusting, lusting for that feeling, that sensation, because there is no sensation - even the hell of the writer when he's in the throes of creation, as magnificent as that is - that can compare with the the chemical rush of a speed-ball. 



  • ... I write long-hand and I have my work typed up. And when I'm not in the physical process of working, that is with pen in hand on paper, then I'm seeming to be day-dreaming. But I'm not. I'm reading on the ceiling characters for yet another story. And I hallucinate their voices and try to get the texture of their voices so I can become acquainted with them. That's why I can write so fast. When I get ready to go to the page. I've already had this prior association with them. And great snatches of dialogue have been written on the ceiling already. 


Q. You once were a creature of the night. Do you write at night?
A. Ideally, from 2am to 7 in the morning.

Q. Do you make a lot of money from your books?
A. No. When you say "a lot of money," you know to a pauper a hundred-dollar bill is a fortune. And then a John Paul Getty, a hundred-thousand is a pittance. But I'm not a seeker of fortune. All that I aspire to is to have comforts, and to be cushioned so I can have the most magnificent luxury there is. And that is one of privacy, so that I might write. 

Q. Are you satisfied with your progress as a writer so far?
A. No, because I started late. And given the Biblical actuarial estimate, it seems to me that I've got maybe 10 years. And writing being the unconquerable that it is, I wish that I'd started at your age or even younger, so I would at least have some remote chance of becoming the absolute artist. Because every day, every day, is a reminder of how little I know as a writer. 

MISTY: He was a strange guy who used to write on paper plates, on napkins, on anything. He did longhand on note pads but he would write on paper plates and things like that. 
Q. How easy was if for him to get published?
MISTY: ...He was very let down; it took a minute to get someone to look at Pimp


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mistakes in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE?



I wrote briefly about J.D. Salinger in the first volume of The Allure of Nymphets, and I did a post about him on the The Allure of Nymphets blog, but I watched Salinger (2013), because I hoped that I would uncover some additional material on the reclusive author for volume two of The Allure of Nymphets.

And I did get some more details about the famous ephebophile. For example, I learned that when Salinger was 30, he told 14-year-old Jean Miller, "I'd like to kiss you goodbye, but you know I can't." And he told Miller's mother, "I'm going to marry your daughter." Salinger and Miller reunited in Manhattan after Miller turned 18. Their relationship was platonic until Miller took the initiative to make it sexual. 

The other things I learned about Salinger's ephebophilia I'll save for the book, but I didn't realize that three shootings were associated with the novel e.g., Robert John Bardo's shooting of Rebecca Schaeffer , John Hinckley, Jr.'s assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman's shooting of John Lennon. 

To uncover some more clues about Salinger's ephebophilia and to find out why the novel was associated with not one, but three shootings, I decided to re-read A Catcher in the Rye (I'm assuming that I read it in high school, but I have absolutely no recollection of what I read in high school.)

I feel a bit like Nabokov, who was not impressed by Dostoevsky, when I write that I wasn't impressed by A Catcher in the Rye. I'm shocked that the novel has sold over 65 million copies and is listed as one of the best books of the previous century. I found the novel to be very bland and not suspenseful; however, I do have two clues as to why it's so popular and why it was associated with two murders. 

1. From 1961 to 1982, The Catcher in the Rye was widely censored in high schools and libraries. One of the best forms of publicity for a book is to ban it. If it weren't for the banning of Henry Miller's entertaining  Tropic of Capricorn, the novel would probably be obscure. 

2. Robert Greene implied in Mastery that the level of effort, emotion, and intensity that a writer puts into his or her writing will be projected to the reader. Therefore, one can project his mindset even when not in the presence of others through his creations (e.g. poetry, art, etc.). Salinger worked on A Catcher in the Rye during his emotionally grueling World War II tour of duty. The fear and emotion that he experienced on the front lines may have been transferred to his writing and consequently to his readers.

Additionally, I was surprised by the number of grammatical errors in The Catcher in the Rye. Admittedly, no man-made book is free of mistakes. And after my books are praised, the comments are often followed by, "But I did notice some mistakes." Nonetheless, I was surprised that a book of this caliber would have so many mistakes.

Here are some mistakes(?) that I recognized in the novel followed by my corrections:

p. 138
First she told me about some Harvard guy - it probably was a freshman, but she didn't say, naturally - that was rushing hell out of her. 

First she told me about some Harvard guy - [he] probably was a freshman, but she didn't say, naturally - that was rushing [the] hell out of her. 

p. 152
D.B. took Phoebe and I to see it last year.

D.B. took Phoebe and [me] to see it last year.

p. 229
I quick jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk.

I [quickly] jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk.

(When I re-read the sentence, I completely ignored and didn't see the work "quick", which may explain why it eluded the editors and survived all this time. I read "I jumped up and ran over and turned off the light over the desk.")

p. 233
It scared hell out of old Phoebe when I started doing it...

It scared [the] hell out of old Phoebe when I started doing it...

p. 259

... and I didn't have any too much time.

... and I didn't have too much time.

The following aren't mistakes, but I don't recall ever reading a sentence with the words "you" and "in" written twice in a row. Theses sentences would probably be marked as incorrect in a MFA program.

p. 32. "I mean it isn't too nice, naturally, if somebody tells you you don't brush your teeth."
p. 210 "It was all about this play she was in in school."

I'm I missing something here, or is The Catcher in the Rye overrated? 

(By the way, you lovers of Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye, don't try to bash me by pointing out the mistakes in this post and my books. That's not the point.)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Was Nabokov a Hebephile\Ephebophile?



Readers of this blog are most likely familiar with Nabokov's Lolita, but they may not be familiar with his four other books that share a similar theme of hebephilia\ephebophilia with Lolita:

Laughter in the Dark 
The Original of Laura
Transparent Things
The Enchanter 



Even some of Nabokov's published poetry contains an hebephilia\ephebophilia theme. In “Lilith”, which can be found in his Selected Poems (2012), he wrote:
                           


Shielding her face and to the sparkling sun
showing a russet armpit, in a doorway
there stood a naked little girl.
She had a water lily in her curls
and was as graceful as a woman. Tenderly
her nipples bloomed, and I recalled
the springtime of my life on earth,
when through the alders on the river brink
so very closely I could watch the miller's youngest daughter as she stepped
out of the water, and she was all golden,
with a wet fleece between her legs 


Thus, was Nabokov a hebephile? Clearly, he was. But did he ever have an age-discrepant relationship? I'm still trying to figure that out. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

#WhatsInYourBag: The Contents of Hugh Person's Knapsack

Hugh Person's Knapsack Contents from Nabokov's Transparent Things

A popular hashtag on Tumblr and Instagram is #whatsinyourbag. For some reason it's fascinating to view the contents of other's bags. And writers may find it very interesting to read about the contents of Hugh Person's knapsack:


  • rough drafts of letters
  • an unfinished short story in a Russian copybook
  • parts of a philosophical essay in a blue cahier purchased in Geneva
  • loose sheets of a rudimentary novel temporarily titled Faust in Moscow
  • portable ink

Person is the protagonist in Nabokov's Transparent Things, which like Lolita contains the themes of hebephilia\ephebophilia

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Writer is a Prince!



I was originally drawn to the March 2014 issue of Vanity Fair due to the subtitle of the article The Prince of Patchin Place:

"... the Harris Tweed-clad modernist [E.E. Cummings], a longtime friend and mentor to her novelist father, rocked her teenage world." 

I thought that I could have used the article as a source for The Allure of Nymphets blog and for the second  volume of the book; however, this quote for E.E. Cummings stood out as well,

 “A writer is a prince!” 

Cummings felt that way despite:

"... he sometimes didn’t make enough money to pay the rent on the ramshackle apartment in Greenwich Village."
"... his last book of poetry had been rejected by every estimable publisher, 
his wife was six months pregnant by her dentist and 
his Aunt Jane had purloined his income ..."

However, Cummings had the "... ability to live elegantly on almost no money." And maybe most importantly, through it all, he maintained a very high level of self-esteem, which according to Cabane in The Charisma Myth would explain his charismatic appeal to the 15-year-old Masters High School sophomore.


E. E. Cummings

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Literature vs. Sleaze



I did a post on The Allure of Nymphets blog about the book Orgy Maid by Robert Silverberg, Don Elliott (pseud.). On page five of the book it states:

In the hill country of Tennessee, where Lonnie Garth was born, they have a quaint little folk saying about virginity. “A virgin,” they say, “is a five-year-old girl who can outrun her daddy and her brothers.”

Lonnie was a fast runner. That’s how come her virginity lasted all the way to the age of twelve. And, at twelve, she was about the oldest virgin in town.

And on page 31 Lonnie was told, "You been getting loved since you were six, I bet. Your brothers and your old man got there first."

It may not be surprising from the above excerpts that the book is considered by some to be in the vintage sleaze genre and that Robert Silverberg, who is a Brooklyn born Ivy League graduate (B.A. in English Literature from Columbia) and multiple winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, used a pseudonym; however, the book, with its teen anal sex and lipstick lesbianism, is no more graphic than some of the other mainstream books that I've reviewed that are considered to be literature. For example, in the Lauren Myracle's TTYL, 15-year-old Margaret, "...ejaculates...she squirts when she comes." 

The question becomes, who determines which books are considered sleaze or literature?