Sunday, August 30, 2009


One of Monty Python's funniest sketches is The Summarize Proust Competition. Contestants are given 15 seconds to summarize Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.
Its funny because of the typically absurdist Python twist; Remembrance of Things Past is a seven volume work that is impossible to summarize at all, let alone in 15 minutes.

Roberto Bolano's magnum opus 2666 is just like Proust. Its futile to summarize. So I will follow the lead of other reviewers and offer a pat summary of the structure; Its 890 pages, broken into 5 parts, with digressions. The five parts consist of different stories which sometime intersect and somehow connect with the background of the unsolved murders of hundreds of women in the Mexican border town of St. Theresa. (based on the true events of the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez read this article). I'm tempted to say these murders- while obviously horrific in their own right- are also an allegory, like the Baltimore of The Wire, for the general state humanity is now in.

Still, the problem with this pat summary is that it doesn't do the job. If anything its too straight forward and off putting and quite simply doesn't do justice to the dizzy, addictive contrapuntal variation of settings, style, imagery, inventiveness, characters and tone, which has endless brilliant sentences like this which rival any of the best social and political thought;

"Names, names, names. Those who made the revolution and those who were devoured by that same revolution, though it wasn't the same but another, not the dream but the nightmare that hides behind the eyelids of the dream."

and this which rival any of the best surreal humor;

He meets a jazz musician who tells him about chickens that talk and probably think

"the worst of it," the musician say to him, "is that the governments of the planet know it and that's why so many people raise chickens."

The boy objects that the chickens are raised to be eaten. The musician says that's what the chickens want. And he finishes by saying "Fucking masochistic chickens, they have our leaders by the balls."

I guess all I can say is that 2666 is incredible. Its one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in two weeks in what little spare time I have. I couldn't stop because it was so good. Now I kinda wish i'd taken my time. In many ways im still processing it. I want to read it again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Illuminating the Ties That Bind Pollock & Krasner

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner
by Ines Janet Engelmann (Prestel)

This is a brief book but gets to the point and is printed on a heavy stock so it features some really nice color (and b&w) plates of Krasner's and Pollock's work throughout, side-by-side (arranged chronologically and comparatively).

Translated from German by a Scot, so the wording and punctuation is a little interesting - such as a consistent manner of using exclamation points I'm not accustomed to seeing in a work of non-fiction.

I appreciate that the author, Engelmann, doesn't sugar-coat Krasner's and Pollock's relationship but presents it for the intense, difficult, wonderfully productive and creative but ultimately self-imploding relationship that it became. The book describes on what levels and in which ways the relationship worked and was beneficial to each - as individuals, as artists, as companions - until Pollock drained what they'd had and it was no longer working for Krasner. I LOVE that she got all his money - like finally being paid for her work - not her painting, but what she had sacrificed to be with and support him.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

I bought The Savage Detectives as the third part of a 3 for the price of two deal at the bookstore. The bookstore had the two David Simon books as part of the 3 for 2 deal, so I felt obligated to get the third for free. But I had some trouble finding the third. I finally decided on The Savage Detectives because I had read great reviews of Bolano's 2666 and The Savage Detectives was 200 pages shorter, so less of a gamble.

This was a few months back. The Savage Detectives sat on my shelf. I read a brilliantly suggestive book on French theories hidden affinity with neoliberalism. I read most of David Simon's Homicide: a Year on the Killing Streets. I also read for school and was busy working.

Last weekend my schedule opened up and I took the weekend off. I decided to read a book. I tried to get Vineland by Thomas Pynchon, but after walking to campus, found out the library was closed. So I decided to give The Savage Detectives a try.

Do you have a word for those incredible moments when something just clicks and you are immediately engrossed in music, film, literature? When the work and the artist become your new obsession? I don't. I can't imagine that one word can fully describe it. But, its what happened from the very first sentence of The Savage Detectives, which has this superb first paragraph;

"I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way."

What follows is futile to summarize. Its too rich. Too multi-layered. Too good to reduce.( I'm sure I've missed the majority of jokes, references etc.) I can only describe it as a combination of Please Kill Me, Studs Terkel, Sentimental Education and the better part of the Beats meets Borges. It is essential that you read this book.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing

Hello Bumpidee Readers. Maybe you are too busy reading to post anything this summer--I know I have been, particularly in the past month or so. I just finished this one:

Written in 1985, The Good Terrorist takes place in a communist squat in London during the Thatcher Era. The plot centers on securing the house as a legal squat and dealing with the mundane day-to-day workings of the household, as well as the tensions between the different group members and their politics and what it is they are really prepared to do for 'the revolution'. They are living in the Cold War era and dealing with possible 'Russian Spies' as well as the I.R.A.

The main character, Alice, is presented mostly from the exterior. Unhealthily obsessed with her annoying 'revolutionary' partner-in-crime kind-of boyfriend Jasper (who actually seems to be gay), Alice does all the 'women's work' and much of the work in general. In this way, the author presents the reality of sexism and women's relationship to the 'left', which is pretty convincing and realistic. Because her character is very realistic--not heroic, nor a victim--and is presented through her actions--generally work--there is a distance created between the reader and the normal process of 'identifying' with the main character.

As I read the book, I kept thinking --'this is so not written by an American writer' and was reminded of films like Chantal Akerman's Jeanne Dielman and Blow Up My Town, as well as Bertold Brecht. Works of art where the point of a narrative is not to create a character the reader can 'identify with' or even like, but rather encourages a distance where analysis is encouraged, specifically surrounding issues of gender and work and economics. Jean Luc Godard also does does Robert Bresson.

I also thought of European existentialist novels I have read, such as Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, The Stranger by Albert Camus and The Trial by Franz Kafka. At times I wondered if Lessing was influenced by Simone de Beauvoir's The Mandarins at all, but if so I think Lessing is a better writer from a craft-of-writing point of view. I was also reminded of the few Russian writers I have read, particularly Dostoevsky--thinking a little bit about Crime and Punishment in particular.

I won't tell you what happens or how I felt about it, because mostly it just made me think a lot about the themes addressed. It is a compelling work-- I thouht a lot about how writers employ different narrative techniques for various ends. Her command of language and vivid power of description really sunk in with this book. I was really impressed by how well the story was put together. The way it unfolded felt really inevitable. It was very much like a film, totally suspenseful--once I got into it I couldn't put it down--it came across like a thriller or a mystery without feeling manipulative or cheap.

All this convinced me that Doris Lessing is a master crafts person. I was left wondering why she wrote this particular book at this time. I don't really know what her politics are (even though I did google her) but she made most of the characters seem naive and a little ridiculous by the end, though really nuanced and (humanly) flawed in ways that could come off as cynical to a younger person but appealed to my current frame of mind. I liked how ultimately the characters exist in relation to their class backgrounds and how she has Alice's "bourgeois" mom come in at the end and really bring reality back into the picture.