Archive for January, 2010

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Here’s a fun “true or false” quiz: only one of the following news stories is fictive. Guess which one! [Answers after the jump.]

  • ‘CSI’ Set to perform at Super Bowl halftime show: just 10 days before its highly anticipated on-field performance at the Super Bowl XLIV halftime show, the popular CBS crime drama CSI is gearing up for what network executives are promising will be a “thrilling, high-tech whodunit on fourth and inches.” According to CBS sources, the hour-long live performance on the Dolphin Stadium 50-yard line will feature the CSI cast and crew moving briskly through a tightly plotted narrative involving the investigation of several grisly murders in the greater Las Vegas area.
  • Osama bin Laden abandons old “jihad” tactic, takes up crusade against global warming: “The effects of global warming have touched every continent. Drought and deserts are spreading, while from the other side floods and hurricanes unseen before the previous decades have now become frequent,” he said, adding that Washington’s rejection of the Kyoto protocols shows that they and their corporate sponsors are  “the true criminals against the global climate.” Tapping into recent populist anger against the bank bailout, he added: “The world is held hostage by major corporations, which are pushing it to the brink. World politics are not governed by reason but by the force and greed of oil thieves and warmongers and the cruel beasts of capitalism.”
  • Lancaster Mennonites launch plan to kidnap teenage girl, bring her to Kentucky: It’s a tale as old as time: A teen defies parents, plots an escape and runs away from home. Except this 14-year old didn’t want to walk on the wild side, as many teens do. She wanted to join a strict, splinter group of the Mennonite church. Three church members were arrested Wednesday for allegedly concealing the girl from her parents and from police after she ran away from home.In arrest warrant affidavits filed in the case, an unusual tale unfolds of escape plans that were to be burned or destroyed, a middle-of-the-night getaway, a change from modern clothes into Mennonite garb, a hiding place in a chicken coop and a stubborn refusal by church members to hand over the girl.



January 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm 1 comment

An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom


But cities today are well known for popping up in the middle of nowhere, history-less and incomprehensible. […] Today’s cities are made up, viral, fungal, unexpected. Like well-lit film sets in the distance, staged amidst mudflats, reflecting themselves in the still waters of inland reservoirs, today’s cities simply arrive, without reservations; they are not so much invited as they are impossible to turn away. Cities now erupt and linger; they are both too early and far too late. Cities move in, take root and expand, whole neighborhoods throwing themselves together in convulsions of glass and steel.

– Geoff Manaugh @ BLDGBLG (pic from Cedric Delsaux’s “Dark Lens” series)

Years ago, on a road trip across America that maybe I’ll write about at some point, my friend Eli and I pulled into San Francisco in our oversized 1985 Ford van (complete with a bedframe built into the back – it was the classic, Kerouac-inspired trip). It was my first time visiting the city, and the first few hours were spent viewing it from the passenger side window as we drove around and around in ever-widening circles, looking for a place to park.

In the end we found a streetside space in the dilapidated slums south of Market. (For those with some knowledge of the city, I believe it was on 6th Street, and well below Mission.) It did not look like the best of neighborhoods, and my unease was only increased when, stepping out of the van, a man idling against a nearby building suggested we give him five (or was it ten?) dollars to “watch our car.”

Walking north in (what we hoped was) the direction of Union Square, we passed through what I can only describe as a gauntlet of street people. Time paints our memory in exaggerated strokes (and perhaps what I think of as truth is only a nightmare of history) but what I remember is rows and rows of entreating faces and endless hands – hands thrusting, demanding, pleading; hands shaking in anger or like they were strung out on drugs or in remission; hands grasping at shirts and coat pockets. This sounds unbelievable, and it was: a scene more surreal (precisely because it was real) than any Dali painting. (more…)

January 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

How the Left was Pwned

Things are looking grim for the Democrats in Washington. By which I mean, the Democrats in Washington have decided that things are looking grim for the Democrats in Washington:

“It’s like they [freshman Democrats] walked in and got hit upside the head with a big jackhammer.” –Allen Boyd, D-Fla.

“It’s like in Roman times, they’d be trotted out to the coliseum and the lions would be brought out. I mean, they’re wanting blood and they’re not getting it so they want to protest, and, you know, you can’t blame them.” –Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

That’s right, folks: the loss of one Senate seat, in a special election, with a particularly uninspired Democratic candidate, is equivalent to those early Christians being thrown to the lion’s den! For the sick pleasure of the rabid masses hungering for blood! If this continues, soon Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will be thrown naked into a mud pit filled with piranhas with only a ball of string and a shiv – and only one majority leader will make it out alive! (more…)

January 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

Odds & Ends

A few quick notes to make up for that last (long-ass) post:

  1. There’s going to be is a mass read of 2666! (Thanks to Rise for pointing it out.) Mass reads are those things where a whole bunch of people read a book on the same schedule and get together (via the intrawebs) to talk about it chapter by chapter. Last summer the concept got pretty big with the “infinite summer” reading of DFW’s Infinite Jest, but I have yet to try it out. But I’m totally doing this one! As are several friends! So, if you’re looking for something to fill those idle hours with meaning (and madness), I hereby command invite you to check it out. (The schedule officially starts Jan. 25th, but you have the whole week to read the first 50 pages – still plenty of time to order a copy and catch up.)
  2. If you’re looking for some distraction with less serious time commitment involved, here are some book-related thingies I found interesting (and damned enjoyable) this week: a memoir cum review (mentioned in the previous post) over at the rumpus; another really beautiful memoir/review hybrid over on bookslut (must be a new trend); and a wildly funny send-up of Cormac McCarthy.
  3. I’ve been meaning to blog about the following sites for a while now, but: if you’re looking for some more serious reading, of a cultural analysis bent, with references to the Frankfurt School and Merleau-Ponty, then I really, really recommend Generation Bubble and Marginal Utility. Sneriously.

January 23, 2010 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

Bolaño Overflow: 2666

Over on The Rumpus, I got embroiled in a debate over a review of Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography. The question seemed to be whether this thing could even be called a book review at all, concerning as it mostly did the reviewer’s own experiences and life story as it related (perhaps only tangentially) to the book. Some people said this was solipsistic bullshit. I said it was one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read recently.

People who’ve been with me a while (or with me in classes) know by now my opinions about literature, and criticism: I think the best response to (receiving a) story is to tell, in turn, another story. This is, I think, the essence of conversation, and to enter into such a relationship with a book is to be in conversation with literature (as opposed to about it). In opposition to the sort of “meta” position that criticism usually attempts to hold –commenting from a lofty, ahistorical, “objective” position about the “subjective” workings of literature and language– this approach makes the writer-as-reader a subject of/in language. Call it (to steal from Spivak) a form of critical intimacy.

All of which is a long build-up to the fact that I want to tell you a story.

January 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm Leave a comment

A note on Massachusetts and Health Care

Just a quick note on Massachusetts’ stunning election results – like most everyone, I think, I’m surprised to the point of not knowing what to say. There is, of course, a terrible irony in the fact that Ted Kennedy spent most of his life trying to reform the healthcare system, only to have his unfortunately-timed death and this subsequent election become (perhaps) the determining factor in stalling the latest serious attempt at reform. (For those who live on Pluto, Republican Scott Brown’s victory deprives the Dems of the –already tenuous– 60 vote “supermajority” needed to override a Republican filibuster on health care.) Ironic, also, that Massachusetts voters may have the final verdict on reform since (as the state already has pretty much universal health coverage) they’re just about the only people who won’t be affected by the Senate’s decision, either way.

For those who are already looking to the practical ramifications and feasibility of still passing something, well – Brown has already vowed to vote against health care reform, and the likelihood of the Dems picking up a vote somewhere else seem slim to none. But let’s not forget that the Senate had already passed a bill, and the issue at this point was resolving the discrepancies between that bill and the one passed by the House. (more…)

January 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm Leave a comment

More Stuff I Like: The Savage Detectives

Why is it that we have the easiest time talking about the most trivial, mundane things, but when it comes to those things that matter, that move us, that shake us to the core –love, death– words always fail? A year ago I tried blogging about a TV show (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and although –or rather, precisely because– it was so unabashedly vacuous, I found the words pouring out of me: sharp, funny, piquant. To this day I think (and regret) that it was probably one of the best pieces I ever wrote.

Meanwhile when I want to speak about things of substance and sublimity I find myself grasping at chaff as the living grain slips through my fingers. (But, if the grain which falls to the earth does not die, it stays alone; while if it dies, it brings forth fruit.) Which is why I am struggling as I sit here trying to write something about Roberto Bolaño.

I first encountered Bolaño in the Strand Bookstore a bit over a year ago. Not in the flesh, of course (he died in 2003) but in the form of a tall, teetering stack of his (at the time) most recently translated book, The Savage Detectives. I think I had read something about him somewhere (he would soon become omnipresent) and so I idly picked up a copy and flipped to the first pages:


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


I’m not really sure what visceral realism is.

And from there on out I was pretty much hooked. (more…)

January 17, 2010 at 11:15 am 4 comments

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Bennett Carpenter
Leiden, Netherlands

Random musings about literature, art, politics and (occasionally) my life as a graduate student in sunny Holland. Click on the pic for more about me.


January 2010
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