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.
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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.
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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:

NOVEMBER 2

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

NOVEMBER 3

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

Coming Home

The sun was coming up over the horizon as my plane came in for a landing – over Rome, because Alitalia had been the cheapest way to get back from New York to Amsterdam. I had some time to kill before my next flight, so I found the one open coffee bar and stood with the few half-drowsy morning travellers and ordered a cappucino and the Italian equivalent of a brioche. Everything was so ridiculously cheap (even at the airport) and equally delicious, and I spent a moment fantasizing about an exotic future life in this most exotic (to me) of European capitals, but I knew it was just that –a fantasy– because, despite the old saw about all roads leading to it, Rome would never, I knew, be my home.
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January 15, 2010 at 11:32 am 2 comments

Paroxysm of pleasure interspersed with the usual liberal guilt

Today I ate a bowlful of strawberries. They probably were shipped from South America in an environmentally devastating and totally unsustainable way. But. They tasted really good.

January 10, 2010 at 9:07 am 1 comment

Stuff I like

Thomas DoyleA quick break from my paper writing (about corporate personhood and vampires!!) to give a shout-out to things I like. I figure I spend enough time on here being negative… might as well point out some things that spark my interest/enjoyment. Today I chose two: one old, one new. The new: this wonderful little capsular world from artist Thomas Doyle. He constructs miniature, emotionally-weighted worlds inside glass jars! He says he was obsessed by dioramas as a kid! I was too: I used to cull grass and moss and flowers from the yard and create miniature “gardens” inside shoe boxes, only to be tragically distraught when they inevitably died. And, seeing as how I  have such problems with much of modern art, and how a trip to the MoMa for me is generally like Dante’s trip through purgatory (fascinating, but not exactly enjoyable), it was thrilling to find myself so captivated by Doyle’s work. (more…)

January 7, 2010 at 7:29 am 2 comments

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About

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.

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