Saturday, September 24, 2016

LOL: Laughing Out Loud While Reading




To assist with an ongoing project, I recently re-read Nabokov's Laughter in the Dark and I'm almost done re-reading Look at the Harlequins! and I don't recall the novels being as funny the first time that I read them. There were a lot moments in the books that made me smile, which I marked in the margins with a lonely LOL, but there are other moments where the acronym gets an accompanying exclamation point that indicates that I literally laughed out loud - on the subway.


Here's an example of a LOL where Albinus and Margot are frolicking at the beach:

He splashed in after her. She turned toward him, laughing, spitting, wiping the wet hair from her eyes. He attempted to duck her, then caught her by the ankle and she kicked and screamed. An Englishwoman who was lolling in a deck-chair beneath a mauve sunshade reading Punch turned to her husband, a red-faced, white-hatted man squatting on the sand, and said:


“Look at that German romping about with his daughter. Now, don’t be so lazy, William. Take the children out for a good swim.” p114

But here are two examples of LOL! moments:

In this scene, Albinus suspects that Paul knows about the affair.


She was cuddled in a corner of the sofa, relating slowly and minutely the plot of a play which she had seen. Her pale eyes with the faint freckles under them were as candid as her mother’s had been, and her unpowdered nose shone pathetically. Paul nodded his head and smiled. She might have been speaking Russian for all he knew. Then suddenly, and for one second only, he caught sight of Albinus’ eyes looking at him over the book he was holding. p 73



Here's a bit of advice that Rex shared with the couple:

“One can’t build up one’s life on the quick-sands of misfortune,” Rex had said to him. “That is a sin against life. I once had a friend who was a sculptor and whose unerring appreciation of form was almost uncanny. Then, all of a sudden, out of pity he married an ugly, elderly hunchback. I don’t know exactly what happened, but one day, soon after their marriage, they packed two little suitcases, one for each, and went on foot to the nearest lunatic asylum. In my opinion, an artist must let himself be guided solely by his sense of beauty: that will never deceive him.” p 181


And this was a LOL! moment for me in Look at the Harlequins!:

I might have been displeased by the tolerance she showed Basilevski (knowing none of his works and only vaguely aware of his preposterous reputation) had it not occurred to me that the theme of her sympathy was repeating, as it were, the friendly phase of my own initial relations with that faux bonhomme. From behind a more or less Doric column I overheard him asking my naive gentle Annette had she any idea why I hated so fiercely Gorki (for whom he cultivated total veneration). Was it because I resented the world fame of a proletarian? Had I really read any of that wonderful writer's books? Annette had looked puzzled but all at once a charming childish smile illumined her whole face and she recalled The Mother, a corny Soviet film that I had criticized, she said, "because the tears rolling down the faces were too big and too slow." 

"Aha! That explains a lot," proclaimed Basilevski with gloomy satisfaction. p 117

By the way, there's a copy of the 1969 film adaption of Laughter in the Dark on Archives.org. 







Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Over 50,000 Fiction Books Published Per Year in the US!

Figure 1. Number of new fiction titles published annually in the United States between 1940 and 2010. Sources: Greco et al. (1940-1991); R. R. Bowker (1993-2010). Title output for 1991 and earlier adjusted (upward, by a factor of three) to account for Bowker’s subsequent changes in methodology.

Here's an excerpt from what Matthew Wilkens posted on Post45 in a post titled “Contemporary Fiction by the Numbers”:

“There are a lot of books published in the U.S. every year. Hundreds of thousands; millions, if you count print-on-demand and other “non-traditional” titles. Restricting our interest to fiction, the number is still around 50,000 and growing rapidly (see figure 1). And that’s just in the United States.

Fifty thousand new novels in the U.S. every year. We read a couple dozen, see reviews of maybe that many again, and so could claim to know something about roughly 0.1% of the total. Even that might be (barely) useful if it were randomly distributed, but of course it’s not; it’s by and large the thousandth that the major publishing houses have decided to support with ad buys, review placement, book tours, and publicity packages. We have no reason to believe that it’s a representative slice of the industry’s output.”

Most serious among these is the mounting disparity between the number of books we read (or, more inclusively, the objects we study) and the number produced. This gap is now large enough (and has been for decades) that it’s exceedingly difficult to say with any certainty what contemporary cultural production as a whole looks like.

[T]he fact that we have read, seen, and heard so little of that production is a serious problem.

As a reader and researcher, one has to agree with Wilkens and be deeply concerned with the number of books that you’re not privy to benefiting from their contents. However, I’ve always been content with the number of books that I’ve sold, but now I’m elated to know that I’ve sold any books with the amount of competition that’s produced every year. And that’s with little to know marketing support from a publisher.

Lastly, I would disagree with The Paris Review’s solution to this problem, which is to give up reading. Dan Piepenbring inconceivably posted:

When you’re considering which book to read next, remember this: you don’t have to read anything. You might, in fact, find it considerably more pleasurable to read nothing.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

LIFE WITH PICASSO: Writing Tips and Pablo's Work Ethic



While I was living in a hotel in Brooklyn over the summer I ordered Life with Picasso - three times. The book was "unaccepted" the first time. Upon the second delivery, it was placed in a mailbox that the concierge said didn't exist. I finally had it shipped to my apartment and passed to me at a cafe in Chinatown. 

Due to all of the difficulties that I had in receiving the book, I anticipated that it would have a some inspiring gems. I was correct. Here are some excerpts that (indirectly) deal with writing and some that describes Picasso's work ethic:

But I knew that an artist draws from his direct experience of life whatever quality of vision he brings to his work [...]. 

What interests me is to set up what you might call the rapports de grand écart - the most unexpected relationship possible between the things I want to speak about, because there is a certain difficulty in establishing the relationships in just that way, and in that difficulty there is an interest, and in that interest there's a certain tension and for me that tension is a lot more important than the stable equilibrium of harmony, which doesn't exist for me at all. 


"Precisely because every writer and every artist is an anti-social being. He's not that way because he wants to be; he can't be any other way."



*****

"You're very gifted for drawing [but] I think you should keep working -hard- every day."


When Matissee, due to an operation, was bedridden for twenty-two to twenty-three hours per day "He told us that often he worked by having paper attached to the ceiling and drawing on it, as he lay in bed, with charcoal tied to the end of a bamboo stick." 


He stood before the canvas for three or four hours at a stretch. He made almost no superfluous gestures. I asked him if it didn't tire him to stand so long in one spot. He shook his head [...] After taking a seat he would[...]stay there studying the painting without speaking for as long as an hour[...]He worked like that from two in the afternoon until eleven in the evening before stopping to eat [...] 
And then, with a brief stop for dinner, nothing but painting until two in the morning. At two in the morning he was as fresh as a rose. But the next morning it would begin all over again.'

It occurred to me one day that it might be a good idea to polish the pottery with milk. Pablo dipped a rag in milk and rubbed some of his unglazed plates for hours until he finally got the effect he was after. 186


Picasso went to the Louvre approximately once per month to study Eugène Delacroix's The Women of Algiers. 




Monday, August 15, 2016

Publishing Can Break Your Heart, But Don't Commit Suicide



Christian Lorentzen wrote in her New York profile,"Publishing Can Break Your Heart",
that Helen DeWitt's stances that "Many, many writers are chronically broke. Many have a long list of grievances with the publishing industry" are "counterfactuals"; however, I would agree with DeWitt that there are many writers who are resentful towards the publishing industry and there are a number of writers who are penniless. For instance, DeWitt "donated $130 to the Bernie Sanders campaign. As he gained momentum, she tried to make another donation, but her credit card was refused."

Lorentzen's wrote that DeWitt's "The Last Samurai was a sensation even before it appeared. The toast of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1999, with rights sold to more than a dozen countries, the novel came out in 2000 to wide acclaim, sold in excess of 100,000 copies in English, and was nominated for several prizes. But for DeWitt, this was the beginning of a long phase of turmoil that still hasn’t abated. The book’s success was marred by an epic battle with a copy editor involving large amounts of Wite-Out; typesetting nightmares having to do with the book’s use of foreign scripts; what she describes as “an accounting error” that resulted in her owing the publisher $75,000 when she thought the publisher owed her $80,000; the agonies of obtaining permissions for the many outside works quoted in the novel, including Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai — which was the title of The Last Samurai until it was deemed legally impossible. Her second novel, Lightning Rods, finished in July 1999, was then stuck in limbo after her publisher, Talk Miramax, folded. When it did finally appear, from New Directions in 2011, it garnered a legion of devoted readers too young to have read The Last Samurai before it went out of print."

DeWitt compared the publishing industry to the pharmaceutical trade. "The way drug companies suppress negative trial results in her view is similar to the way agents’ and editors’ failed deals are never reported, nor the way they stifle literary talent in the cradle. “There could be all these people out there having these ideas and being told, ‘No, no, no, no.’”

But DeWitt has taken her troubles with the publishing industry too far by having suicidal ideations. For example, "Once, after a book deal that she negotiated herself fell apart, she took a sedative and put a plastic bag over her head, but she couldn’t fall asleep. She sent an email to a lawyer asking that she ignore the previous email about disposing of her corpse. She went to Niagara Falls, but by the time she got there Reuters had reported her disappearance and a policeman picked her up on the street and took her to a hospital. Six years later, after the agent Bill Clegg failed to sell Lightning Rods to about a dozen publishers and resigned as her agent, she sent him a suicide email and set out to throw herself off a cliff near Brighton. She halted the plan after her ex-husband wrote saying he was expecting his first child with his second wife."

And DeWitt opined that editors may not be necessary. “Plato did not have an editor,” she said. “Plenty of writers that we admire struggled along somehow without the help of Michael Pietsch [the editor of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest].

DeWitt is correct that most full-time writers will never reach the net worth of J. K. Rowling and will have literary agents and publishers attempt to crush their dreams, but that's no reason to consider suicide. And having an editor look at your piece may not be a bad idea either.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Proust and the Subjective Nature of Art



I started reading Proust's In Search of Lost Time (Volume 1), but I put it down after seventy-nine pages for Haddawy's translation of The Arabian Nights. Proust's classic, unlike the Arab classic, didn't make my heart beat heavier, it didn't make my eyes dilate nor did it increase my pulse rate. 

But this reminded of the subjective nature of art. Nabokov opined that, "The first half [of In Search of Lost Time] is the fourth-greatest masterpiece of 20th-century prose." And it appears that Martin Amis would agree with Nabokov, but Amis couldn't get through Nabokov's Adawhich I found enthralling. 

And reading Proust reminded me of an email I got six years ago from Debbie Carter, an agent with Muse Literary Management. Debbie wrote after reading a bit of the MS for Katie, "You have a very appealing style and [sic] I liked the writing’s sense of fun but [sic] I found the plot too jumpy."

Saturday, July 9, 2016

New (Poetry) Books



After over five years in the making, my two poetry books are finally "done" and are available for the Kindle and Kindle Android and Apple apps. 

If you love New York and appreciate the poetry of Frederick Seidel, Bukowski and Nabokov, you may relish New York, NY and The Poet

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

WIRED TO CREATE: 10 Things Great Writers Do Differently



I often see the Epoch Times around Manhattan, but I never thought to read the free independent newspaper instead of or in addition to the amNY. But intriguing excerpts were texted to me from Linda Wiegenfeld’s review of  Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind from the June 17-23, 2016 Art’s & Style section. The authors, Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, related “10 Things Great Artists, Writers, and Innovators Do Differently.”

Here are six habits that resonated with me from Wiegenfeld’s review:


1. Passion

Creative people have passion for their work, which helps them feel motivated and inspired. Without this passion, they would soon lose interest when faced with a difficult task.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” —Steve Jobs

2. Solitude

Creative people enjoy solitude because it lets them slow down long enough to hear their own ideas. Then they can take time to reflect and make new connections. Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely.

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” —Henry David Thoreau

3. Intuition

Creative people listen to that inner voice, that gut feeling, which we all have. Creative people are able to tap into their intuition, a form of unconscious reasoning. 

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” —Albert Einstein

4. Open to New Experiences

Creative people want to broaden their horizons so they can make connections in a new way. Curiosity replaces fear of the unknown, allowing more possibilities to exist for innovative thinking.

According to the authors, “Leonardo da Vinci, the renaissance man, tried his hand at painting, sculpting, architecture, math, inventing, music, anatomy, cartography, botany, writing, and more.”

5. Sensitivity

Highly creative people often have an unusual depth of feeling. They often pick up on the little things in the environment that others miss. They engage in life with greater depth than others.

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.” —Pearl S. Buck

6. Turning Adversity Into Advantage

People who experience traumatic events often strive to make sense of their emotional state. Creativity can become a positive coping mechanism after a difficult experience. 

“An artist must be nourished by his passions and by his despairs.” —Francis Bacon


Monday, June 13, 2016

How An Aesthete Documents His Aesthetics



Walter Pater writes in the preface to The Renaissance Studies in Art and Poetry that “To define beauty [...] is the aim of the true student of aesthetics.” 

“What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.”

That one should ask questions like “What is this song or picture, this engaging personality presented in life or in a book, to me? What effect does it really produce on me? How is my nature modified by its presence, and under its influence? [...] one must realize such primary data for one’s self, or not at all.”

“The aesthetic critic, then, regards all objects [...], all works of art, and the fairer forms of nature and human life, as powers or forces producing pleasurable sensations [...].” 

The aesthete should strive “[...] to indicate what the source of the impression is, and under what conditions it is experienced. His end is reached when he had disengaged that virtue, and noted it, as a chemist notes some nature element [...]”

So the next time you hear a piece like Treuting’s “Extremes” (2009), see a piece like Venus Callipyge, read a piece like Nabokov’s “Lilith” and\or bite into a Burger Joint well-down cheeseburger with the works, note like a chemist the effect it has on you, how you’re being moved, how your nature is being modified and the pleasurable sensations being produced. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Problem Solved in a Flash



I was walking towards a building this morning trying to think of good way to describe it in writing but I drew a blank. However, while I was sitting on a wooden bench after having a banana for lunch a clear description of the building flashed into my mind. 

This evening, while I was looking for a reference that Nassim Taleb made about Balzac's Lost Illusions, I stumbled upon this excerpt that I had highlighted in The Black Swan back in 2007.

Furthermore, we think that if, say, two variables are causally linked, then a steady input in one variable should always yield a result in the other one. Our emotional apparatus is designed for linear causality. For instance, if you study every day, you expect to learn something in proportion to your studies. If you feel that you are not going anywhere, your emotions will cause you to become demoralized. But modern reality rarely gives us the privilege of a satisfying, linear, positive progression: you may think about a problem for a year and learn nothing; then, unless you are disheartened by the emptiness of the results and give up, something will come to you in a flash.

Friday, March 25, 2016

James Franco's Rigorous Work Ethic



I've given a number of mentees and colleagues copies of Sam Anderson's "The James Franco Project" which was a 2010 New York magazine profile on the polymath, because I was impressed by Franco's uncompromising work ethic. Here are some highlights from the piece:

He’s just flown back from Berlin this afternoon, he says, and he has a 35-page paper due tomorrow. Next weekend he has to shoot a student film, because in two weeks he’ll be flying out to Salt Lake City to start acting in a movie called 127 Hours

Revisions are due soon on his book of short stories, which will be published in October by Scribner. He’s trying to nail down the details of an art show that will be based, somehow, on his recent performance on the soap opera General Hospital. Also, he has class every day, which—since he’s enrolled in four graduate programs at once—requires commuting among Brooklyn, Greenwich Village, Morningside Heights, and occasionally North Carolina.

He persuaded his advisers [at UCLA] to let him exceed the maximum course load, then proceeded to take 62 credits a quarter, roughly three times the normal limit. When he had to work—to fly to San Francisco, for instance, to film Milk—he’d ask classmates to record lectures for him, then listen to them at night in his trailer. He graduated in two years with a degree in English and a GPA over 3.5. He wrote a novel as his honors thesis.

As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and—just for good measure—a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design.

According to everyone I spoke with, Franco has an unusually high metabolism for productivity. He seems to suffer, or to benefit, from the opposite of ADHD: a superhuman ability to focus that allows him to shuttle quickly between projects and to read happily in the midst of chaos. He hates wasting time—a category that includes, for him, sleeping. (He’ll get a few hours a night, then survive on catnaps, which he can fall into at any second, sometimes even in the middle of a conversation.) He doesn’t drink or smoke or—despite his convincingness in Pineapple Express—do drugs. He’s engineered his life so he can spend all his time either making or learning about art. 

Vince Jolivette, Franco’s roommate and general right-hand man (he runs Franco’s production company and plays bit parts in many of his films), met Franco in acting class in 1996. “Our teacher made us rehearse at least once a day outside of class,” he told me. “James would get eight or nine rehearsals. Everyone else would do, at most, one. If we didn’t rehearse, or if I had to cancel, he’d be pissed.”

According to his mother, Betsy, Franco has been this way since he was born. In kindergarten, he wouldn’t just build regular little block towers—he’d build structures that used every single block in the playroom. At night, he would organize his Star Wars toys before he slept. When Franco was 4 years old, a friend of the family died. Betsy gave him the standard Mortality Talk: no longer with us, just a part of life—yes, but hopefully not for a very long time. Little James burst into tears. He was inconsolable. Eventually, he managed to choke out, between sobs, “But I don’t want to die! I have so much to do!”

One of Franco’s most serious productivity advantages is his personal assistant, Dana Morgan. “I tease him when people say, ‘How do you do it?’ ” she tells me. “ ‘You don’t! You do all the things they know about, but you don’t do the normal human-being things.’ ” Morgan [...] makes sure he wakes up, gets dressed, eats. “I guarantee you he would not eat unless I fed him.” 



And here are some excerpts from Rolling Stones' 2016 cover story "The Mystery of James Franco: Inside His Manic Days and Sleepless Nights" (I feel compelled to warn that the reference to "G_d's p_ssy" by Seth Rogan and Franco is possibly the absolute worst form of blasphemy I've ever heard!):

The Cranston fight in Why Him? involves a ton of choreography performed by stunt doubles, which translates to a ton of sitting around for Franco. Since he hates wasting time, the result is an absurd tableau: As the stuntmen scuffle right in front of him, he sits cross-legged in a canvas folding chair, calmly sips coffee and reads not one but two different paperbacks at once – a Jackson Pollock biography and Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Franco takes in several pages from one, then switches to the other, paying no mind to the cacophony mere feet away. "On comedies, usually everybody's fucking around between takes, but that's not James' process," Hamburg says. "He's making use of every single moment. The other day he was in hair and makeup, typing on a laptop. I said, 'What are you doing, writing a novel?' He said, 'Yep.' And he actually was!"


In all my conversations with Franco, he seemed locked in – fully present to what I was saying, pressing me for clarification and nuance even when it was small talk. Other collaborators attest to his powers of concentration amid the feverish multitasking [...]"Other producers and directors would praise the talent in one breath and then tell you a story about him falling asleep between camera setups with some annotated copy of a Faulkner novel in his lap. But then he came to work, and he had both of his characters surrounded. He didn't let slip a line or a gesture."

If you're having trouble completing your projects you may want to use Franco's work ethic as motivation to sleep less, work longer but smarter too (i.e., Don't waste time. e.g., You can read while you're waiting on line at Trader Joe's.)