Thursday, May 21, 2015

Asmat

The goings-on of this tribe was discussed last night, if briefly, and I've discovered that they are the people that dealt with Michael Rockefeller when he disappeared in New Guinea many years ago. The true story of his disappearance and the circumstances thereof make for gruesome reading. See the Smithsonian article.

"Fun Home" Truly Is Fun!

Back in August 2007, we discussed Alison Bechdel's graphic novel,
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Several years ago, it was turned into a musical that ran off-Broadway from 2013 to 2014, and is now  on Broadway (and nominated for several Tony Awards, including best musical). I got to see the show during my recent "culture vulture" excursion to the Big Apple, and enthusiastically recommend it. Here's hoping Signature or some other enterprising theater company brings it to D.C. soon!

Blame the Diarist, Not the Editor

During last night's discussion of the Spring 1956 section of Ned Rorem's New York Diary, excerpted in Gay American Autobiography: Writings from Whitman to Sedaris (David Bergman, editor), several attendees speculated that poor editing might explain why Rorem doesn't come across as a more engaging or sympathetic figure.

In fact, after comparing the version we read with the original Diaries (which I've had for years but never before gotten around to perusing), I can safely say that the author, not the editor, bears the entire responsibility for any shortcomings. Bergman does skip two sections, which come right after the parenthetical reference to Truman Capote on p. 182, but never again departs from Rorem's original once he resumes with "Bernard Charpentier" immediately thereafter. So, for better or worse, what we read last night was the genuine article, so to speak.

I suspect Bergman's main motivation for the cut was concision, though he may also have thought Rorem's detailed discussion of music and musicians would not interest general readers. Whatever his reason(s), my OCD compels me to reproduce the missing text below for the benefit of any who wish to satisfy their curiosity.  To make the transition clear, I'm starting with the final paragraph on p. 182 of Bergman.

*********************
America, my "success"--otherwise I'd have been a failure. I learned that to be a composer, whatever his reputation, must be (as opposed to a poet) on the spot. I also touched Talullah Bankhead (thanks to Bobby Lewis) and dined with Dietrich (thanks to Truman Capote). Neither of these ladies knows I exist. Et puis apres. Talullah rose up from her couch and exclaimed, "I'm not yet so old that I can't stand up for a young man who wants to meet me." As I was speechless, even her conversation lagged, and that was that.

As for Marlene, there we sat in El Morocco at midnight, she all in black, with Harold Arlen, downing a four-course meal including an oozing baba au rhum, and Truman's three other guests pretending she was just someone else, and she so bored, while I longed to lean over and whisper, "Oh, Miss Dietrich, I loved you in this, and even more in that, and especially in Song of Songs, which nobody knows," but lost my nerve and remained mute, and she never looked my way, but remained thin despite the baba, hummed along with the solicitous pianist playing "Lili Marlene," called over the chasseur ("How do you say chasseur in English?"), to whom she gave a phone number and said, "Tell them I can't come," without explaining who she was. Even grander was the leave-taking: when Arlen gave her a handful of change for the powder room she complained, "Oh no, darling, I need a bill. After all, coming from me, noblesse oblige!"

I prefer to recall my enthusiasm of 1944 when, drunk at 5 A.M., I would phone from veneration to Povla Frijsh, then hang up when she answered. Today, knowing her, I am disenchanted. Or knowing George Copeland or other idols of my babyhood. More and more, despite myself, I am impervious to those about me and wander through daylight past all reactions like a somnabulist, aware only of me, or vaguely of the family unit, which takes new meaning. Before the age of thirty we can't know this, being charged with only accusation. There's no longer the desire for gossip to interest others. What's a diary? Write about the rain.

I made discoveries in New York and know it as well as one can only in getting away. Write about drinking in America: je m'y connais un peu, quand meme! The best thing for a hangover (next to not drinking)--and this I hadn't known before--is that Manhattan array of rhapsodic turkish baths which answer so well to your one-track carnal awareness the afternoon after. Days, days can be spent there in the sensual naked steam of anonymity disintoxicating the body (always the body), while outside it ceaselessly rains, glumly rains to your total disinterest. It was my discovery of America and must be shown to all Latin visitors as an Anglo-Saxon attitude.

Nothing exists unless it is notated, not even the smell of wind, much less the sound of pastorales. I remember sounds with the eye. Even love and lovemaking are unreal except through a recollection which grows faint and disappears unless I print it here. I can't "just live," but must be aware of being aware.

"Why do we live, since we must die?" everyone wonders, whereas the converse could as logically be asked. Maybe life is death and death life--like Pascal's sleep and waking. My sleep is so light, so light, just Miltown at night gets me through it. Quite simply, the purpose of life is to seek life's purpose; to find the right answer is not so important as the right question. Where we come from, where we'll go, and above all, why, we'll never never understand.

Can you polish a phrase about tears in your eyes with tears in your eyes? Yes.

Who am I to say that Delius stinks? Every nonmusical association from my sexy adolescence shrieks of him. Wagner too I love, if I don't have to listen to him. For nothing works today. Things must work: love, music. Or if they flop, they should flop tragically, not tackily.

Title: The Rewards of Boredom; i.e., of sobriety. No one believes it, but I'm much more timid than these journals indicate. Yet the fact of their existence proves it. If I utter brasheries when dead sober it's to prove I can dead sober. I'm not longer "mean" when drunk, just weepy and redundant. But my bite is louder than my bark.

Some of my best friends are 12-tone composers. David laughs for Absalom. Fugue is as suspect as its opposite, improvisation. (This applies to present decades.) Opera should be seen and not heard---needs letter scenes, toasts, instruments on stage, candles, dream sequences, and women dressed as men. (Men dressed as women, can never be taken "seriously;"i.e., as people in love.) The bad old days. Two nuns take leave of each other saying: Be good! Stravinsky-Cocteau Oedipus: a telegram from Sophocles. I deserved the Gershwin Memorial Award (1949), but the piece I wrote did not.

Now I've known so many that'll die soon: Carl Van Vechten. Who? Peter Watson and Cecil Smith. Honegger's dead too, and now little Bernard Charpentier--de la drogue...[Bergman's rendering picks back up here, bottom of p. 182]

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Cooper's "Closer" — Follow-Up "Answers"

Giogio's questions deserve more than a "comment" so herewith a full-fledged "follow-up". During our discussion he said he had found the Paris Review interview to be the best he had found so here's a link.

1. Partly what Cooper is writing about is pedophilia and partially how he writes about it is pornography. He addresses the pedophilia in his books in the 15th Q&A of the Paris Review interview.

The fact that teenagers were routinely disrespected, objectified, exploited, and disempowered was a huge issue to me then and one that has remained very important to me as I’ve become an adult.
Now I can inhabit the thoughts and emotions and motivations of adults who see teenagers as problems, as reminders of their own youth, as sex ­objects or triggers of sentimentality, as a dismissible, transitional, short-lived species that occupies some sort of dark age between childhood and adulthood, both of which are seen as more legitimate stages of life. But my concentration is on resisting that supposed wisdom.

In the 10th Q&A he addresses the issue of pornography.

I think pornography is a very rich medium, and I’ve studied it closely and learned quite a lot as a writer from it. Porn charges and narrows the reader’s attention in a swift, no-nonsense way, and it creates an anxious, intimate, and secretive atmosphere that I find very helpful as a way to erase the context around my characters and foreground their feelings, their psychological depths, their tastes. But I’m also always interested in subverting and counteracting porn’s effect, and the sex in my books is never merely hot. It challenges the objectification that is porn’s stock-in-trade by removing the central conceit that people having sex are in a state of supreme relaxation and self-confidence, wherein their worries and individuality are muted and beside the point. It uses hotness as a kind of decoy.

2. "Is art worth the nausea?" It better be! But we shouldn’t be doctrinaire about this. Some people, for any number of reasons, will be so sensitive about a subject that no degree of art will carry them through the experience.

3. "Who is the ideal reader?" Keith suggested at the meeting that the genre of Closer is what the French call expérience des limites. He pointed out to me later that expérience can mean both experience and experiment. We experiment with limits—not just when we're young—to find out what they are, where they are, and whether they are something we can or wish to go up to or beyond. This becomes a species of the examined life and the worthwhileness of life's living.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cooper's "Closer" — Follow-Up Questions

Though I realize that most of the group is happy to put Cooper behind them, so to speak, I have a couple of questions that we didn’t get to during our discussion. If anyone could shed light in these areas, I’d be grateful:

1) In the time I’ve been coming to BookMenDC, this is the first book we’ve read whose exclusive subject seems to be sex. QUESTION: Is sex Cooper’s exclusive subject? Or is he writing about sex into order to talk about something else? Does it matter?

2) But, well, the HORROR!, as a Lovecraft character might cry. When I was a kid, I closed my eyes during the terrible scenes in horror movies. And I did that in one chapter of Cooper’s Frisk. What about the nauseating descriptions of sex acts and desires that simply do not figure in my world? Think David Cronenberg films, Dead Ringers, for instance, or Videodrome, or Existenz. Think of the British television series, Black Mirror. QUESTION: So, the question, similar to questions people have raised for ages about “difficult” poetry (e.g. Prynne) is this: Is art worth the nausea?

3) In Guide, Cooper writes: “As Luke has explained, he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to write about the subjects my novels recapitulate so automatically. Neither do I, so we’re even.” QUESTION: Replacing “write about” with “read about”, I have to wonder about who might be Cooper’s ideal reader? Who is he writing for?

—posted for Giogio

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Pentateuch of Pederastic Snuff

Closer is the first volume of Dennis Cooper's "George Miles Cycle". We're discussing only that opener next Wednesday but for those who might be curious what it opens to, there's probably no better statement of intention than Dennis Cooper's own.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Delicious Pregnancy Quotation Undelivered

If you google "proust duel”, the top hit is Wikipedia’s List of Duels including the 25-y.o. Marcel's with Jean Lorrain on Feb. 5, 1897. "Proust and Lorrain exchanged shots at 25 paces. Proust fired first, his bullet hitting the ground by Lorrain's foot. Lorrain's shot missed, and the seconds agreed that honor had been satisfied." The footnoted authority is Douglas W. Alden's article in Modern Language Notes  February, 1938. Alden claims "Such impetuosity is not surprising in a ‘nerveux,’ nor is this dramatic gesture astonishing in a young man, who, at this time, took feudal society seriously." The occasion for the duel was Lorrain’s scathingly criticle review of Proust’s Les plaisirs et les jours, which appeared in Le Journal, Feb. 3, 1897 — unfortunately, not the source of the “delicious” pregnancy quotation in Steve's post nine days ago (v.i.).

5/2/15 update: Gottschall's book references Barbara Holland's Gentlemen's Blood  for the delicious quotation. She, however, references nothing! Under those circumstances one has to wonder what sort of scholarly pretension Gottschall was striving to maintain. (As in, "yeah, I heard some guy in a bar once say that.")