When, in the twelfth century, this kind of social isolation is overcome and the feudal nobility becomes aware of itself as a universal class, with a newly elaborated and codiﬁed ideology, there arises what can only be called a contradiction between the older positional notion of evil and this emergent class solidarity. Romance may then be understood as an imaginary “solution” to this contradiction, a symbolic answer to the question of how my enemy can be thought of as being evil, that is, as other than myself and marked by some absolute difference, when what is responsible for his being so characterized is simply the identity of his own conduct with mine, which—challenges, points of honor, tests of strength—he reﬂects as in a mirror image. In the romance, this conceptual dilemma is overcome by a dramatic passage from appearance to reality: the hostile knight, in armor, his identity unknown, exudes that insolence which marks a fundamental refusal of recognition and stamps him as the bearer of the category of evil, up to the moment in which, defeated and unmasked, he asks for mercy and tells his name: “Sire, Yidiers, li ﬁlz Nut, ai non” (Erec et Enide, 1042), at which point he becomes simply one knight among others and loses all his sinister unfamiliarity. This moment, in which the antagonist ceases to be a villain, is thus what distinguishes the use of the category of evil in romance from that to be found in the chanson de geste or the classical western: but it has other, more positive consequences for the development of the new form as well. For now that the experience of evil can no longer be invested in any deﬁnitive or permanent way in this or that human agent, it must be expelled from the world of purely human affairs in a kind of foreclosure and projectively reconstituted into something like a free-floating and disembodied realm in its own right, that baleful optical illusion which we henceforth know as the realm of sorcery or of magic, and which thus completes the requirements for the emergence of romance as a distinctive new genre. Yet as a literary device, this vision of a realm of magic superimposed on the earthly, purely social world, clearly outlives the particular historical and ideological contradiction which it was invented to resolve, thereby furnishing material for other quite different symbolic uses as the form itself is adapted to the varying historical situations described above.
—posted 5 days ago
While modernists generally held dankness in suspect, a few held a certain type of affection for this atmosphere, if only because it was an object of intense scrutiny. The earliest modernist rapprochements with dankness saw it as the cradle of a mythical atmosphere, an atmosphere that preceded modernity. Within the 20th century, particularly in the writings of Bachelard, the dank underground is embraced precisely because it is such an anti-modern quality. Bachelard wished to bring the cosmopolitan, urban and modernized subject back in touch with the atmospheric depths of the cellar. Finally, we see fleeting senses of dankness in the writings and ideas of Anthony Vidler or Peter Eisenman; their collective focus on excavation and subterranean uncanny space served as a type of corrective to a project of rationalization, but it also returned us to images of grotto-like spaces for its physical articulation.
Today, in the name of environmentalism, architects are digging into the earth in an effort to release its particular climatic qualities. Passive ventilation schemes often involve underground constructions such as “labyrinths” or “thermosiphons” that release the earth’s cool and wet air. The earth that architects reach into is one that has been so technified and rationalized, so measured and considered, that it barely contains mythical or uncanny aspects. However, this return to the earth’s substrate enables other possibilities. Rather than turn to the earth to find a mytho-poetic or uncanny quality, we might develop a new sensibility. Perhaps we can understand the earth of architecture and its dankness through the lens presented within this brief essay. In other words, it is time that we understood dankness to hold history itself.
—posted 14 days ago
The literary America in which I found myself after I published The Twenty-Seventh City bore a strange resemblance to the St. Louis I’d grown up in: a once-great city that had been gutted and drained by white flight and superhighways. Ringing the depressed urban core of serious fiction were prosperous new suburbs of mass entertainments. Much of the inner city’s remaining vitality was concentrated in the black, Hispanic, Asian, gay, and women’s communities that had taken over the structures vacated by fleeing white straight males. MFA programs offered housing and workfare to the underemployed; a few crackpot city-loving artists continued to hole up in old warehouses; and visting readers could still pay weekend visits to certain well-policed cultural monuments—the temple of Toni Morrison, the orchestra of John Updike, the Faulkner House, the Wharton Museum, and Mark Twain Park.
By the early nineties, I was as depressed as the inner city of fiction. My second novel, Strong Motion, was a long, complicated story about a Midwestern family in a world of moral upheaval, and this time, instead of sending my bombs in a Jiffy-Pak mailer of irony and understatement, as I had with The Twenty-Seventh City, I’d come out throwing rhetorical Molotov cocktails. But the result was the same: another report card with A’s and B’s from the reviewers who had replaced the teachers whose approval, when I was younger, I had both craved and taken no satisfaction from; decent money; and the silence of irrelevance. Meanwhile, my wife and I had reunited in Philadelphia. For two years we’d bounced around in three time zones, trying to find a pleasant, inexpensive place in which we didn’t feel like strangers. Finally, after exhaustive deliberation, we’d rented a too-expensive house in yet another depressed city. That we then proceeded to be miserable seemed to confirm beyond all doubt that there was no place in the world for fiction writers.
—posted 40 days ago
The classical monster, derived from the Latin word monstrare (showing, warning), comes into existence as something that is destined to be shown yet will escape its exhibition.
—posted 44 days ago
I went back and wrote it through again, and I think I finally have an opening I’ll stick with, for no. 26, don’t worry (too much)—there’s time, and time. (I tell myself there’s time.) —There’s time because no. 25, already done, printed, on the shelves, is scheduled to begin here in about three weeks, on September 14th; that means (and here I count off the days on my fingers) no. 26 should be beginning here around about October 19th. —So there’s time. There’s time. —Of course, then I have to worry about no. 27, but not till then.
Until then; until then. —I’ve been showing off upcoming covers to patrons; I don’t like doing a general cover reveal until I’ve got the final edited shape of it, and know where the page headers will break and what they’ll be, and (as noted) we’re not there (yet) with no. 26. But it is the fourth chapbook of the new volume, so a new bouquet is in order for the store, and I can show you the image of what that will look like, which includes a little slice of the as-yet unreleased cover:
(Portland residents may well recognize what it’s a picture of.)
Look, while I’m in a revelatory mood: it may help your sense of anticipation, to learn the full suite of chapter titles making up this third volume—so here, a list:
Oh, and also, the reading! —I was loud. So many thanks for Chloe Eudaly, the inimitable proprietress of Reading Frenzy, and also to all the other readers! —I did write up a brief thing about it, but I put it over there; some folks don’t like to go so far behind the scenes, and anyway, it’s a bit of a part of a recent discussion I’ve sort of been having, so.
—Three done; a fourth too long in progress; seven more after that. I should maybe get back to it.
—posted 48 days ago
In England today the fashion of shaving is so nearly universal that you may go about for months and years without seeing a natural beard. Between the native beauty of a great beard that never was touched by razor (here I stroked my hand down the soft Assyrian blackness of my own) and the harsh stiff trimmed beards, and these as a rule, too, old men’s beards, of today, there is as much difference as between the stately elm and its poor limb-lopped brothers in Kensington Gardens. So that the beard has become, from the chief ornament of manhood, the badge of a doddering age grown too idle to use the razor; and that “bloom of youth,” the soft young growth of the beard on a young man’s cheek that the Greeks so much delighted in, is, in this country, as extinct as the osprey or the bustard.
—posted 51 days ago
We were sorry to observe, in the preface to this work, certain facts stated in order to display the extreme rapidity with which it was written. An epic poem in 12 books finished in six weeks, and, on its improved plan in 10 books, almost entirely recomposed during the time of printing! Is it possible that a person of classical education have so slight an opinion of (perhaps) the most arduous effort of human invention, as to suffer the fervour and confidence of youth to hurry him in such a manner through a design which may fix the reputation of a whole life? Though it may be that a work seldom gains much by remaining long in the bureau, yet is it respectful to the public to present to it a performance of bulk and pretension, bearing on its head all the unavoidable imperfections of haste? Does an author do justice to himself, by putting it out of his power to correct that which he will certainly in a few years consider as wanting much correction? To run a race with the press, in an epic poem, is an idea so extravagant, that Mr. S. must excuse us if it has extorted from us these animadversions. We now proceed to the work itself.
—posted 53 days ago
I’ll be reading at Reading Frenzy this Thursday, August 20th, as part of the semi-occasional Print Fancy! series of ’zine release parties. Up alongside me will be—
- Moe Bowstern, reading from Are You There God, It’s Me, Menopause;
- Martha Grover & TJ Acena, reading from Somnambulist no. 26;
- Zachary Auburn, reading from How to Talk to Your Cat About Abstinence;
- Mary Higgins, reading from Girly Girls;
- and CC Teakell, reading from The Exercise Guide for the Hopelessly Depressed.
I am reliably informed there will be slideshows, audience participation, a door-prize, and also refreshments. —I’ll be reading from no. 25, “ – two sweetest passions – ”, though the excerpt in question has little enough to do with either of those. (—Unless, of course, you highly esteem gentrification, and revenge…)
—posted 57 days ago
The novel, through its protean variations from Proust to the detective story, is almost always analytic: it would be truer perhaps to say that it nearly always employs analytic processes from time to time. But the saga is never analytic. The novelist is often introspective: the saga never.
—posted 61 days ago
Cities attract both those down on their luck and looking for work, and those on a hot streak, looking to celebrate. They attracted the naïve urban planners of the early 20th century who believed a more symmetrical city grid could undo poverty, and at the same time they attracted those who aimed to exploit the poor and disenfranchised through predatory housing schemes. For every art gallery there is an underserved community. For every park, a shelter barely able to serve the people it was built to protect. The truth is that cities offer us a promise that is not always kept. But the promise is vital.
—posted 64 days ago