Po-Dunk Martyrdom: Hypocrisy Writ Small

Rowan-County-Clerk-Kim-DavisKim, Davis, the Rowan County Kentucky functionary who refuses to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals because doing so violates her Christian values, has been married four times.

Jesus on homosexuality:

Jesus on divorce: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9.

I’m assuming the reverse must be true, that anyone who divorces her husband . . .

True, St. Paul was not a fan of “the love that dare not speak its name,” and his garden variety homophobic First Century proclamations against what we now know is hardwired genetics made it into the Canon, but then again, as St. Stephen might have said to pre-conversion Paul, he who is without sin . . .

The Martyrdom of Saint Stephen, by José Clemente Orozco

The Martyrdom of Saint Stephen, by José Clemente Orozco

But I’m not here to cast stones (despite the above pebble flinging) but to offer common sensical solutions to the problem.

I think the worst possible scenario (not involving AK-15s) is Mrs. Davis’s getting fined and relenting and then issuing licenses to “sodomites” and therefore demonstrating to the wired world that her religious convictions have a price, never mind that she gets to cherry pick her religious convictions as far as the New Testament and homosexuality and divorce are concerned.

If I were believer, I’d take Jesus’s proclamations more seriously than Paul’s, but obviously Mrs. Davis doesn’t.

She could become a 21st Century martyr in the Age of Hyperbole by resigning or getting fired but would be immediately forgotten and jobless in a state that brings to mind coal mines rather than lilies, fields.

I have a better idea. How about transferring Mrs. Davis to another department in the county? Firing even po-dunk governmental lowlings is tedious and, like almost everything else in government, non-expeditious.  We are, fortunately, a nation of laws, and drawing out this lawlessness for the entire world to see is counterproductive (not to mention embarrassing).

Transferring her to a clerical position not involving issuing marriage licenses might facilitate “a happy issue out of all our afflictions.”

David Foster Wallace and Samuel Johnson

posterAt one point in The End of the Tour, the David Foster Wallace character (Jason Segal) introduces the David Lipsky character (Jessie Eisenberg) as “Mr. Boswell.”

It’s what we used to call a “cut” when I was a kid, a playful little knife nick to the ego’s epidermis. As future biographer Thomas Boswell followed the Great Samuel Johnson around the salons of 18th Century London scribbling down his every word so Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky follows the Great David Foster Wallace around the fast food joints of Bloomington and Minneapolis scribbling down (and recording) his every word.

A major difference, though, is that Boswell worshipped Johnson, and being 30 years younger, looked up to him as you might an adored father. True, Lipsky recognizes that Wallace is a genius (and he was) and that he Lipsky is not (and he’s not); unfortunately, though, Lipsky suffers from that common young male testosteronic compulsion to see any contemporary as a rival. In his head he knows when it comes to Foster and him, it’s the literary equivalent of Bogey versus Barney Fife, but in his heart – or at least in his testes – he wants to be considered Wallace’s equal.

So the Lipsky character is both an ardent admirer and a resentful rival, and this tension provides the slight dramatic arc of the movie. Frankly, if I were you, I’d wait until the film comes out on Netflix.

Not that the film’s not well crafted and superbly acted (Segal might deserve an Oscar). However, this little movie with its appropriately washed out colors straining in winter light to render those undistinguishable commercial corridors that lead to every city in the US as soulless as possible ain’t exactly crying out to be seen on “the big screen.” The movie’s sort of claustrophobic. Our characters don’t talk about fiction, much less Infinite Jest, which could be a multi-generational novel set in Alaska for all we know. They migrate from emblematic soulless room to emblematic soulless room talking mostly about themselves, and the Wallace character’s social awkwardness doesn’t make you wish you could trade places with Lipsky.

What would have made the movie more interesting (and let me assure any Hollywood moguls out there reading this that I am available) is if we could have peeked inside of Wallace’s head on occasion. For example, when Lipsky asks Wallace why Wallace wears a head bandanna, we could have been treated to a montage from Wallace works – surreal scenes – for example, rapidly edited shots of wheelchair bound terrorists . . . a father strapping a Raquel Welch mask to his daughter before abusing her . . . a rollercoaster ride at the Indianapolis State Fair . . . dinner on a cruise ship with its Felliniesque diners, etc. etc. – all of these quick cut images gaining momentum until DFW’s head literally explodes.

The good and bad news is that this movie is very stage adaptable.

Dave and SamBut here’s why I’m glad I went. A cartoon light bulb went off over my head as I was watching. The DFW character as Segal plays him is a lot like the Great Samuel Johnson. He’s straggly-haired, overweight, disheveled, stooped, ursine, shambling, prone to a soul’s darkest nights, pitifully self-absorbed, and, despite his genius, someone who strives as hard as he can to be a good man.

I love Boswell’s Johnson, and in my way, I love David Foster Wallace, but not Lipsky’s Wallace. In fact, in this movie, he’s not as clever or fun or witty as at least three friends I can think of – Furman Langley, Jake Williams, and Melissa DeMayo Reiss.

I’d much rather spend a couple of hours with them on a rainy Sunday.

Jonathan Franzen, Literary Piñata

Looking at the Thing

I guess I was one of the last English majors to be trained to look at literature through the supposedly un-tinted lens of what used to be called New Criticism.

Back then, we were taught not to factor biography into our assessment of artistic products. According to this way of judging art, the fact that Cormac McCarthy’s ex-wife pulled a “gun out of her vagina and threatened her boyfriend with it when a sex act/argument about the existence of aliens [. . .] took a turn for the weird” does not shed any light on McCarthy as an artist.

New Criticism demanded we look at and judge a poem, play, story, or novel according to its architectonics and organic synthesis. In other words, it was the imposition of the scientific method upon the creative product, a detached analysis of how parts fit into a whole to highlight some sort of significant statement about what it means to be human.   Call me hidebound, but I prefer New Criticism, which now goes by the moniker of “formalism,” to reader-response criticism, semiotics, new historicism, etc.

6a00d8341c630a53ef0134862b33e8970cSo I’m not much interested in Jonathan Franzen’s biography, his Midwestern roots, his literary heroes, his divorce, his love of birds and disdain for predatory house cats. I’m not interested in judging him as a human being; I am, though, interested in his art, his novels’ architectonics, character development, and entertainment value – not necessarily in that order. Even if Franzen himself in an essay on Edith Wharton claims that “a fiction writer’s oeuvre is a mirror of the writer’s character,” I’m not interested in writers’ characters or personalities; I’m interested in their books.

Why Creative Artists Frequently Hold Critics in Disdain

I’ve started to write I don’t know how many novels but only finished two, both of which were comic and featured adolescent protagonists, so I didn’t have to wrestle with the complexities of adulthood nor fear the consequences of failing at trying to create a serious work of art. Nevertheless, even in the construction of those piddly narratives, I suffered a bit in that I ended up spending hour after hour locked in the sordid little garret of my own unconscious, not a very pleasant or healthy place.

Writing a novel is hard. Faulkner, who cranked out As I Lay Dying in 6 weeks, said writing a novel is like “trying to nail together a henhouse in a hurricane.” Of course, the English form has its roots in the 18th Century and especially flourished in the 19th when middle class people needed something to do during those long, gaslit but wirelesses nights. Back then, many considered novels unhealthy, the way my father thought my reading comic books was unhealthy, the way some parents think playing video games is unhealthy. Another oft-employed metaphor in this context is junk food. Think of Paradise Lost as a banquet and Monk Lewis’s The Monk as a big bag of licorice jellybeans.

According to Marc McGurl’s The Novel Art: Elevations of American Fiction after Henry James, before James no one thought of a novel as a work of art, and, of course, James Joyce’s Ulysses demonstrated not only that a novel could be a work of art, but it could also be high art. So I say J. Joyce and H. James have made the serious novelist’s work more difficult because now this genre that has its origins in entertainment and costs a lot to produce and market needs to be ideally both high art and entertaining, and when’s the last time you’ve seen someone on the subway reading a paperback edition of Absalom, Absalom?

When critics do their jobs and judge books and find them lacking, so-called creative writers sometimes mock the critics as functionaries (muse-less hacks), or worse, vampires (parasites living off of someone else’s creativity).

Not surprisingly, Yeats has expressed these sentiments as well as anybody:

The Scholars

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,

Old, learned, respectable bald heads

Edit and annotate the lines

That young men, tossing on their beds,

Rhymed out in love’s despair

To flatter beauty’s ignorant ear.

 

All shuffle there; all cough in ink;

All wear the carpet with their shoes;

All think what other people think;

All know the man their neighbour knows.

Lord, what would they say

Did their Catullus walk that way?

Christian Lorentzen’s Review of Jonathan Franzen’s Latest Novel

Despite my being a mere dabbler in writing fiction and poetry, I have to admit I felt a little like Yeats when reading Christian Lorentzen’s review of Purity in New York magazine.

Don’t get me wrong. Lorentzen’s review is in many ways brilliant and unequivocally very entertaining. The cat is a superb stylist and, as we say on Folly Beach, knows his shit. In fact, I laughed out loud in the bar where I was reading the review when I read this sentence:

Franzen proves adept at telling an old-fashioned murder story, even if he pounds the notes of guilt and shame a little too hard with his Victorian hammer.

However, despite his protests otherwise, you can’t help get the impression that Lorentzen really dislikes Franzen the man. I’ve added the italics:

Prisoner of a too-early, too-idealistic marriage premised on mutual artistic success, a taste of which he got and she didn’t. En route to a divorce colored by his wife’s failure to sell a book, confusing the end of love with rage against environmental devastation, trying in vain to sell out with a dud of a screenplay that sublimated his marital crack-up. Depressed and penniless divorcé, coping with writer’s block and his own competitive instincts in the face of his friend’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest, by trying to figure out what it means to be a reader. Resurgent literary champion, reaping the rewards of a decade’s struggle but always prone to media gaffes. Advocate and lover of birds, even if it sometimes seemed the ornithologist-novelist was copping a move from the lepidopterist Nabokov. Time cover boy with a net worth reported to be in the eight figures, but always generous to younger writers as well as select literary forebears. Failed television writer (when HBO preemptively canceled a series adapted from The Corrections) and pained bystander to his brilliant friend’s suicide, an awful thing to endure, however muddled Franzen’s public response (“suicide as career move”?) has sounded. Scourge of online culture, an endearingly Sisyphean self-appointment. I confess I find Franzen the man sympathetic at every turn. I only wish that next time he returns with a novel that isn’t a bad date.

Only 6 of the 21 paragraphs of the review deal with Purity, and given the above, it’s not surprising that Lorentzen finds the novel lacking. Its “execution is shoddier” than that of The Corrections and Freedom, its “[b]its of sociology break the spell of a convincing present.”

Franzen in 1977

Franzen in 1977

For whatever reason, lots of people seem to have it out for Franzen, people like Matt Yglesias, whose writing I dig.  They tend to develop a real animus for Franzen. Do they find him smug, too contemporary, too ambitious? Was Franzen that kid in school whom everyone picked on?

All I know is that I find his novels entertaining, and I care about his characters. From The Corrections I know what having Alzheimer’s feels like, and I also know that creating realistic characters and placing them in three-dimensional spaces is really, really difficult, like, um, “nailing up a henhouse in a hurricane,” so I’m inclined to give novelists more slack.

I know, I know, creative and analytical intelligences are very different (I suspect that Mrs. Harold Bloom isn’t packing heat, even in her purse), and critics must do their jobs, but every once in a while, before they start gathering their stones, they ought to at least sit down and try to write a sonnet.

Not-So-Pithy Adages


adages 1

A rara avis incarcerated in a penal colony of digits is more valuable than twice that in the lantana.

A factotum of all vocational occupations is conqueror of nil.

An observed container of H(OH) heated at 1000 never reaches effervescence.

Transferring pedagogical innovative stratagems to geriatric canines is not practicable.

Prematurely supine in soporific recumbence and prematurely engaged in diurnal responsibility facilitates prophylaxis, pecuniary abundance, and pansophism.

Bible Study with Donald Trump

donald-trump-750x455Hey, I’m an author. Did you know I was an author? Well, I am, and I’ve written the second greatest book out there, The Art of the Deal. If you haven’t read the book, you need to grab a copy because it’s tremendous; there’s an enormous amount of wisdom in that book, but you know what, there’s even a better book out there, and that’s the Bible. Nothing beats the Bible. It’s my favorite book. And this might surprise you, but the Bible is an excellent textbook when it comes to showing you how to make a deal. Let me tell you, the God of Hosts was no slouch when it came to making a deal.

Ever heard the story of Dinah and Shechem? You can find it in Genesis 34. Now this is the kind of story they skip over in Sunday school cause it’s not politically correct, but you know what? I’m sick of political correctness. I’m going to share this neglected story with you because it’s one of the greatest deals ever made in the history of the world.

Okay, Dinah’s the daughter of Jacob and Leah, and on her way to visit some women, Hamar’s son Shechem sees her, finds her attractive, and rapes her. Now, I’m against rape because I love women. I cherish them. Unless they’re whores like Jezebel or bitches like Noah’s wife. Anyway, that’s not the norm. Most women are wonderful, and anyway, rape’s a terrible thing.

But get this. This rapist Shechem falls in love with this Dinah, the chick he’s raped, and his old man Hamar approaches Jacob with a deal. I’ll go ahead and quote from the Contemporary English Version. It’s much better. None of those thees and thous and smiteths and all those archaic words that irritate the hell out of you. You agree, right? Of course, you do. Archaic words have no place in the modern world. Anyway, here’s the scoop: Here’s what Hamor says to Jacob:

My son Shechem really loves Dinah. Please let him marry her. Why don’t you start letting your families marry into our families and ours marry into yours? 10 You can share this land with us. Move freely about until you find the property you want; then buy it and settle down here.

Shechem’s right there with his old man. The gall of these people, asking favors from the father of a daughter you’ve just raped. It’s terrible. Even Bill Clinton wouldn’t do something like that. Anyway, Shechem adds, ““Do this favor for me, and I’ll give whatever you want. 12 Ask anything, no matter how expensive. I’ll do anything, just let me marry Dinah.”

Okay, guys, if you’re ever trying to make a deal, never say you’ll do anything. Makes you look weak. It’s pathetic. You gonna get took. Just watch and see. Here’s what Jacob sons say:

You’re not circumcised. It would be a disgrace for us to let you marry Dinah now. 15 But we will let you marry her, if you and the other men in your tribe get circumcised. 16 Then your families can marry into ours, and ours can marry into yours, and we can live together like one nation. 17 But if you don’t agree to get circumcised, we’ll take Dinah and leave this place.

Well, Hamor and Shechem swallow the bait hook, line, and sinker. They decide to talk all the men of the tribe in getting circumcised so they all can intermarry with the Israelites, thinking they could cop their crops and flocks, to create a merger so to speak.

But here how it goes down. Again, I’ll let Moses do the talking.

25 Three days later the men who had been circumcised were still weak from pain. So Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers, attacked with their swords and killed every man in town, 26 including Hamor and Shechem. Then they took Dinah and left. 27 Jacob’s other sons came and took everything they wanted. All this was done because of the horrible thing that had happened to their sister. 28 They took sheep, goats, donkeys, and everything else that was in the town or the fields. 29 After taking everything of value from the houses, they dragged away the wives and children of their victims.

Now that’s what I call one great deal. Not a lousy 50/50 proposition. Not an eye for an eye, but a village complete with farms and widows and slave children for a hymen. Like I say, I’m not for rape, but you have to admit the compensation for this deal was out-of-sight.  Maybe if we had some deal makers like Jacob’s sons in Washington we wouldn’t be getting taken to the cleaners by China and Mexico.  It’s a disgrace.

Okay, that’s it for today. I got to go out and make America great again.   But join me next week, and we’ll talk some more Bible. King Nebuchadnezzar. He was rich. Maybe not as rich as me but rich. I’ll talk all about him next time.

Simeon Levi

Offing People from Off, Donald Trump Style

Your Modest Author

Your Modest Author

What the success of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy has eloquently demonstrated is that Americans crave simple, no nonsense solutions to our problems.

Take his plan to cleanse the country of the infestation of illegals, those predatory, pick-pocketing, often pregnant, anchor-casting Mexicans slipping through that porous sieve of a shitty excuse of a wall that fails to protect us from their nefarious plots to mow our lawns and frame our houses.

As soon as their pregnistas start dilating, they dog paddle across the Rio Grande, and the next thing you know, they’ve given birth to a US citizen, who eventually ends up hogging space in an emergency room, getting sewn up after his gangland knife fight, all on Uncle Sam’s dime.

Not to mention that once they’re established, they vote for the Democrat party.

Certainly, a country that has put men on the moon can set up a system to identify criminals who have entered our country illegally and deport all 11 million of them.

Although Candidate Trump hasn’t exactly worked out the details, he’s smart, rich, and successful, so don’t be surprised if for PR purposes he opts for Greyhounds instead of boxcars.

pmc12_0413_ortiz_03mt-300x270

All of this has gotten me to thinking about similar problems we face in coastal South Carolina. Nowadays, getting a parking space in downtown Charleston within a mile of your desired destination is as unlikely as drawing a royal straight flush.

As I inch my way homeward each afternoon down Folly Road, like a blood cell squeezing along a clogged artery, I’ve noticed a proliferation of license plates that don’t feature palmettos trees or crescent moons. Each day, more and more cars appear; new stop lights are popping up like mushrooms, all because of an unsustainable influx of outsiders.

No, these people impeding my progress aren’t foreigners in the multi-national sense, but the majority of them are not natives of South Carolina. They don’t sound like us, they don’t think like us, and they don’t pull for the Gamecocks or Clemson. In other words, they don’t belong here. They’re taking over, I tell you, and mark my words, as Bruce Springsteen once sang, “Soon everything we’ve known will all be swept away.”

Today the Confederate flag, tomorrow octoroon Klansmen. Don’t be surprised, fellow native South Carolinians, if your grandchildren say “you guys” instead of “y’all.”

Thanks to Donald Trump, I’ve come up with a plan to take back our South Carolina, i.e., rid the Palmetto State of people-from-off. I’ve sent a letter to my state representatives demanding that they introduce legislation to implement my two-step plan to restore South Carolina to its pre-influx purity. I promise you, fellow natives, getting a parking space downtown will not be a problem if this plan is implemented.

It has two parts. The first step, of course, is to secure our borders. I suggest we construct a massive combination of Hadrian’s Wall and a tollbooth that wraps around our pie-shaped state. Anyone entering the state will have to pay a hundred dollar toll. What about people flying in you ask? Don’t worry. I’ll figure something out. I’m very smart.

And, hey people, I’m getting Ohio to pay for the wall!

The second part is simply to invite non-natives to self-deport, and if they refuse, to utilize the National Guard to forcibly remove them.

Of course, this change will result in some short-term inconveniences (empty condo complexes, mass bankruptcies, the closing of the Air Force Base), but we eventually conquered Reconstruction, didn’t we? We need to take the long, not the short view. We’re talking about our way of life.

Sure, things might get a little lonely down here on the lane where I live. My next door neighbor Jim will have to go, and Bobby and Nina, also Claudia, who lives two houses down, and the Weimanns and their two beautiful daughters, and of course, Chico Feo will have to close, and the Jack of Cups.

Oh yeah, and my wife, Judy Birdsong, she was born in Georgia.

That leaves me, and only me.

Come to think of it, xenophobia might not be such a great idea in a nation of immigrants.