Thursday, October 28, 2010

Internet Lovelies

Internet Lovelies : Way too many Jessa Crispin quotes edition.

Because I liked Jesus’ Son, and because I liked it in a way that made me feel less weird about being alive, I felt like I could trust other people who expressed similar enthusiasm. This is not the same thing as both of us liking pancakes. Everybody likes pancakes. Good for everybody. I’m talking about the kind of Liking that feels like a holy relief. The kind of Liking that involves being a teenager and realizing the other dude with all the acne in your Earth Science class also has a Neutral Milk Hotel t-shirt, which makes you much faster friends with him because you feel like you can let your guard down. Because you feel like he might also understand what it feels like to walk around on what you perceive to be (granted, based a lot on immature self-romanticizing) your fucked-up wavelength. So this kid tells you about The Violent Femmes or Harry Nilsson, and you want to check them out. Not because you want to know all about this kid’s summer camp experience in sixth grade, when he accidentally swallowed a frog skull and peed on Jessica Yurtface while he was trying to do the rope course. If he tells you that, you’ll sympathize, but you don’t really care. What you care about is that his way of shivering before the world seems similar to yours, and he seems to have similar taste in self-indulgent shivering sessions, which seems really important because there doesn’t seem much else to do besides die, have babies, and flip pancakes. So you go on the fucking internet and you download Nilsson Schmilsson.

Mike Young, Link

The idea that as a literary person there are a certain set of books you must read because they are important parts of the literary conversation is constantly implied, yet quite ridiculous. Once you get done with the Musts — the Franzens, Mitchells, Vollmanns, Roths, Shteyngarts — and then get through the Booker long list, and the same half-dozen memoirs everyone else is reading this year (crack addiction and face blindness seem incredibly important this year), you have time for maybe two quirky choices, if you are a hardcore reader. Or a critic. And then congratulations, you have had the same conversations as everyone else in the literary world.

Jessa Crispin, Link

Hey look, the Death Eaters! Anyone ever see Eyes Wide Shut?

The 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature has been selected, but you'll have to wait until next Thursday to find out that it's Montenegrin pamphleteer Djuradj Dapčević, an author so obscure he has never heard of himself.

Michael Schaub, Link

It follows that when kids learn to hate at home the next place they express it is in school. Ten percent of all hate crimes occur at schools and colleges. If hate is learned, then it lies on the shoulders of our schools, church officials, parents, teachers, and communities to teach our young kids acceptance before they continue hurting each other, and before they become adults who will likely pass their hatred to the next generation.

Jason Mannino, Link

Ah, but the tea party folk are imbued with the spirit of the Constitution, as if the ghost of James Madison impregnated them in their sleep with his mighty quill of liberty.

comment by CapnFatBack at Wonkette, Link

In the young adult literature I grew up on it is Best Friends Forever, it is Nothing Shall Ever Come Between Us. A force stronger than nuclear fission seems to be needed to separate those girls. Then that force shows up, in the form of the XY chromosome. Suddenly those girls are not held together by mysterious forces; the bonds between them dissolve and are re-formed between boy and girl. And so it goes for the rest of our lives.

and from the same essay...

We look for ourselves in fiction sometimes, in the same way we are fascinated by our genetic forebears. We search for the source of our quirky nose in crumbly photographs. We wonder if our tendency to throw things against the wall can be explained by long ago Viking blood. And sometimes we want to recognize something of ourselves in the books we read—our loves, our work, the way we sally forth into the world—to tell us we are part of what came before. Because I have found my one true love—she just happens to be a woman. And we are not "into that." Since then I have noticed that in the books I read, female friends are the underminers, or the sidekicks, or secretly in love with you, or two-dimensional foils, or sleeping with your husband (or your father). They are secondary storylines, there to wipe away heartbroken tears, provide comic relief, meet for occasional happy hour cocktails that are pink because that stands for girl power. I do not see myself and Honeybee in those books.

Jessa Crispin, Link

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Haunting of Hill House

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

So begins Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House -- a perfect Halloween-y read.

In the majority of gothic novels, the setting plays a vital role in the development of the story. In fact, it's pretty much crucial. Find me a gothic novel without a towering castle, crumbling ruins, or a locked chamber. But in very few does the castle itself become a character. In Jackson's novel, Hill House takes on its own identity. The characters are practically swallowed by the mansion. You may run away from Dracula (or at least run into the sunshine), but you can't outrun what surrounds you.

And since horror writing works best by very gradually building up fear, I can't really pick and choose short passages to show you how scary this story is. There's no equivalent of "BOO!" in literature. So at the risk of being haunted by Shirley Jackson's ghost (or her publisher's), here's a rather long section that nonetheless illustrates how great a writer she is:

Sitting up in the two beds beside each other, Eleanor and Theodora reached out between and held hands tight; the room was brutally cold and thickly dark. From the room next door, the room which until that morning had been Theodora's, came the steady low sound of a voice babbling, too low for words to be understood, too steady for disbelief. Holding hands so hard that each of them could feel the other's bones, Eleanor and Theodora listened, and the low, steady sound went on and on, the voice lifting sometimes for an emphasis on a mumbled word, falling sometimes to a breath, going on and on. Then, without warning, there was a little laugh, the small gurgling laugh that broke through the babbling, and rose as it laughed, on up and up the scale, and then broke off suddenly in a little painful gasp, and the voice went on.

Theodora's grasp loosened, and tightened, and Eleanor, lulled for a minute by the sounds, started and looked across to where Theodora ought to be in the darkness, and then thought, screamingly, Why is it dark? Why is it dark? she rolled and clutched Theodora's hand with both of hers and tried to speak and could not, and held on, blindly, and frozen, trying to stand her mind on its feet, trying to reason again. We left the light on, she told herself, so why is it dark? Theodora, she tried to whisper, and her mouth could not move; Theodora, she tried to ask, why is it dark? and the voice went on, babbling, low and steady, a little liquid gloating sound. She thought she might be able to distinguish words if she lay perfectly still, and listened, and listened and heard the voice going on and on, never ceasing, and she hung desperately to Theodora's hand and felt an answering weight on her own hand.

Then the little gurgling laugh came again, and the rising mad sound of it drowned out the voice, and then suddenly absolute silence. Eleanor took a breath, wondering if she could speak now, and then she heard a little soft cry which broke her heart, a little infinitely sad cry, a little sweet moan of wild sadness. It is a child, she thought with disbelief, a child is crying somewhere, and then, upon that thought, came the wild shrieking voice she had never heard before and yet knew she had heard always in her nightmares. "Go away!" it screamed. "Go away, go away, don't hurt me," and, after, sobbing. "Please don't hurt me. Please let me go home," and then the little sad crying again.

I can't stand it, Eleanor thought concretely. This is monstrous, this is cruel, they have been hurting a child and I won't let anyone hurt a child, and the babbling went on, low and steady, on and on and on, the voice rising a little and falling a little, going on and on.

Now, Eleanor thought, perceiving that she was lying sideways on the bed in the black darkness, holding with both hands to Theodora's hand, holding so tight she could feel the fine bones of Theodora's fingers, now, I will not endure this. They think to scare me. Well, they have. I am scared, but more than that, I am a person, I am human, I am a walking reasoning humorous human being and I will take a lot from this lunatic filthy house but I will not go along with hurting a child, no, I will not; I will by God get my mouth to open right now and I will yell I will I will yell "STOP IT," she shouted, and the lights were on the way they had left them and Theodora was sitting up in bed, startled and disheveled.

"What?" Theodora was saying. "What, Nell? What?"

"God God," Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, "God God--whose hand was I holding?"

Aaaaand scene. That whole section would work great on its own as a short story.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN READERS! All...all two of you. :-D

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sad facial expression

Finally got around to reading Tao Lin. I've had Shoplifting from American Apparel on my wishlist forever, but Richard Yates became available as an e-book, which sealed the deal. Richard Yates is not about Richard Yates. Or it is. I haven't read anything by Richard Yates yet so I can’t tell. My eyes can only scan and interpret symbols on a page/computer screen so fast, and the entirety of human knowledge and literary creation is before me. So just...just hold on.

I felt a little like a stranger stumbling into his work. Because hey, I’m not a hipster, or vegan, and I’m not working on an MFA. I don’t belong here! But here I was, and by page 38 I had given up. I despised the main character to an enormous extent. Which sounds weird because it’s weird to hate Haley Joel Osment to an enormous extent. The plot, by the way, is about two depressed young adults, 22 year old 'Haley Joel Osment' and 16 year old 'Dakota Fanning', who Gchat and start a long distance relationship. By page 38 I hated the book. I hated the fact that it was an e-book and I couldn’t sell it to a used bookstore or throw it out the window. I considered printing out a copy and then throwing the copy out the window.

The next day I started reading again. It had affected me. Tao Lin’s prose is probably best described as ‘flat’ or neutral. In many ways it’s like reading a screenplay. Or maybe a twitter feed (especially since we're told every single thing the characters eat). And the dialogue is primarily conducted through e-mail and Gchat. Which, by the way, Tao Lin portrays perfectly. I read this part and was blown away by how much it resembled AIM conversations with my friends:

"When." said Haley Joel Osment.
"I don't know. Soon. I will talk to fried Nicholas Sparks cheese beast."
"That is good," said Jaley Joel Osment. "Cheese beast."
"I kept looking at 'cheese beast' and ignoring the rest."
"Me too," said Haley Joel Osment.
"Let's refer to her as cheese beast now," said Dakota Fanning. "Like tape man or headbutt girl."
"Sometimes we can call other people cheese beasts too," said Haley Joel Osment.
Dakota Fanning said the name of a person and said the person was a cheese beast.
"Cheese beast is good," said Haley Joel Osment.

But behind his 'flat' prose are highly emotional conflicts and characters. Haley and Dakota are the kind of people who proclaim everything to 'be fucked' at every opportunity. Who threaten suicide non-chalantly. The kind you roll your eyes at, but still worry over, and secretly sympathize with. Jackie Wang put it best in a post on HTMLGiant about emotional excess:

Since crossing over into my 20s, I look at teenagers and feel kind of embarrassed for them. They lack emotional filters. They’re so direct about their suffering. They’re making themselves look pathetic. But really–I kind of envy them, their lack of restraint. It must be really freeing to be that open without feeling the urge to censor yourself...

...we are still these over-feeling and fucked up human beings, and we have these little pimply and confused teenagers inside of us yelling and demanding a voice but we hush that voice–we have co-workers and editors and readers that are always eyeing us, looking for the places where the seams of the adult bodysuits are coming undone.

I love emotionally excessive lit, but mostly in the gothic genre. Characters in gothic plots have extreme emotions because they're thrown into extreme situations. Confronted with the surreal, the sublime, the supernatural, the walking dead, immortality, pure evil,...giant helmets... no wonder the characters break free of their enlightened restraint, succumbing to ultimate despair and fear, running screaming into the night. But it's so much more disturbing to come across characters who feel this way all on their own.

"A fucked person enters an unfucked situation, and the situation immediately becomes fucked. It's the person that is fucked," said Haley Joel Osment. "Obviously."

"Situations can't be fucked because they are situations," said Julia.

"We are profound." said Haley Joel Osment. "Where is our Nobel Prize."

I stopped reading because I hated Haley Joel Osment. I continued reading because I identified with him. I didn't like this. Haley is in a relationship with someone who he thinks doesn't care. Who says one thing and does another. Here are some things he says that I marked:

At each moment you can either kill yourself, try harder to detach yourself from people and reality, or be thinking of and doing what you can for the people you like. Those are the only 3 choices at any moment.

"You shouldn't 'should' anything," said Haley Joel Osment. "Just think about what you do that you do without thinking to do it, like stopping to pee, why do you want that more than what you say you actually want? It can only mean that you don't actually want what you just typed. You are extreme when you cut yourself or starve yourself but not when it comes to me."

He says what I've always wanted to say. And anyone who knows me well enough knows why. But it's a guilty thought. It's a selfish thing to feel. I feel like a selfish person asking someone else not to be so selfish. In another post by Jackie Wang on her own blog, she writes:

Sometimes, my partner is very far. I become totally unfamiliar to her: I turn into a weird alien sitting next to her that she knows nothing about. This upsets me a lot, because I feel like I am always present—I don’t have those moments where I doubt our love, or the reality of her. And sometimes when she gets hung up on a death-oriented discourse, I refuse to accept this. I say, you can’t “love” me while being obsessed with death. The film made her so upset because it showed her what it was like to be on the other side of the death discourse—to be the lover of someone who does not want to live. But I can understand her side as well because I get depressed too—we all are in the slumps sometimes. But even when I am in it, I want to get out. I reject it and refuse to integrate it as part of my identity because really, I want to live. And I want to want to live. To be in the world.

Which after reading I mouthed 'Yes,' feeling a moment of connectedness, realizing someone else has experienced what I've gone through.

There's a section of the book I really wanted to post here, to show you how well the author portrays an extremely emotional moment using neutral prose, causing it to have even more impact. But it's rather long and I don't feel like being sued today. Plus, I suppose it would be a spoiler. However, I want to say that I'm glad I finished the novel. Tao Lin's work is masterful, it just took me reading the entire thing to realize it.