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Saturday, February 27, 2010


A magical night on the town last night, and I do mean magical; for the first time in seven months, Heather and I didn't have to suffer violent pangs of guilt for doing our part as consumers...

I'm adding the re prefix to many things lately. My latest: I re-watched Taxi Driver. For highly personal reasons the film remains my favorite. Reading over the first few descriptive lines of the script, Paul Schrader adds to Bickle's character the superb epithet "consummate loner." And so he is, prowling the sordid streets of 1970s New York with the uncanny eye of an outsider, or, to put it in a literary context, the stranger. The violent climax leaves me breathless every time, despite the lusterless color imposed by the censor; the originals have perished unfortunately. All that red gone to waste.

Picked up Bloom's Genius. I indiscriminately love anything touched by the man's pen, so my opinion on the book is truly of no consequence. Bloom frequently falls under his own spell, talking himself into an ever-higher pitch of ecstatic fervor. The book gives an explicitly religious twist to Bloom's literary idolatry. He is a self-proclaimed Gnostic in the tradition of Valentinus. The book follows a Kabbalistic system and is arranged in the form of a mosaic. In this way, Bloom hopes to augment our understanding of how genius propagates, so to speak. The book has a palpably organic structure, crowned by Shakespeare, Bloom's God. Idiosyncratic, and in fact, downright bizarre at times, Bloom's brilliant erudition and Olympian prose overshadow his religious short-comings for me. Though I think he makes an egregious critical error by placing Shakespeare above the Scriptures, his passion is intoxicating, and I always end his books as a staggering drunk.

There are some obscene omissions, but Bloom claims these are "his" choices, and reminds us they are not authoritative, though, I suspect, he's rather certain that they are. Where, may I ask, is Vladimir Nabokov, a trilingual genius who reshaped the stylistic conventions of a language not his own and gave us a whole host of dazzling books, including three indisputable works of literary genius: Pale Fire, Lolita, and Ada or Ardor? One might also make a case for Pnin, but I'll leave that to professionals.

As always, the sudden bursts of polemic are glorious. I'm still waiting for a book dedicated solely to the enterprise of insults.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


People are fond of saying life never stops. At least, I've heard a great many self-designated sages utter some variation on that theme, especially since I made it through college. Granted, life proceeds despite our best efforts to slow it down, no inertia takes place within this Heracliton river. Few will dispute, however, that the period following college is a peculiar kind of interstice, a life before life, so to speak. It's a place where everything seems swelling with potential but hasn't been given an actual shape yet. As hopelessly juvenile as this all sounds, my imagination fails when I try to put it any other way.

Heather has been out of work for seven months. Seven long months in which we subsist on a grocery store paycheck and my earnings from a weekly blog. They've been hard, but I know we'll look back on them fondly. I look at our box of an apartment and it already has the nostalgic quality of a memory; we'll never see this place again. I know I shall miss it. I miss most things that recede into the past because I know that they're now inaccessible, and I can see everything about them that mattered most. As Kierkegaard says, "Life is lived forwards and understood backwards."

Well, as is often the case, Heather received several call-backs all at once. Long story short, she's landed an amazing job. One which meets all of our needs and more. She effectively makes more than twice what I do annually. That's a rather humiliating note to sound, but my pride for her overshadows it.

Graduate school is the next step for me. I'm excited but it feels like one more intermediate stage, another purgatorial hill to ascend. All of this hyperbole is starting to make me blush, but I'm using it to illustrate how much like children we still feel at the moment. My plan is to study literature because philosophy is just too serious for me. I will always owe the beginning of intellectual odyssey--maybe excursion is more accurate--to Kierkegaard, Camus, Sartre et all. but I know I'll never escape the shadows of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, O'Connor, McCarthy, Bloom, Steiner--I could go on but I won't.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I reread Nathanael West's Miss Lonelyhearts and was astounded. The central thesis of the book, it seems to me, is that compassion without Christ's mediation turns toxic. If we are to take upon ourselves the burden of humanity, we must lay it at the feet of Christ, or else succumb to that burden.

Miss Lonelyhearts (West will call him nothing else) writes the agony column of a newspaper. As the narrative unfolds, his rage builds in an alarming crescendo. He begins to hate people for their pain and for their helplessness in the midst of it. He hates them because of his own impotence to better it, or to conquer it. Consider this sentence: "She was like a kitten whose soft helplessness makes one ache to hurt it." West seems to make the same demands of his prose that we have come to expect from poetry, packing as much meaning, humor and irony into a single phrase as is humanly possible. As Harold Bloom has remarked, nearly every sentence counts.

For me, the book's value lies in West's assumption that altruism itself turns into moral autism without a higher power intervening. I have no clue whether West was a Christian, but I do know that his Christ-haunted narrative was a huge source of inspiration for Flannery O'Connor. She ranked Miss Lonelyhearts and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying in her top ten American novels.

Here, West does what Camus was attempting with The Fall and does it better. Where Camus can only give us a man caught up in his elliptical and selfish motives, West shares a deeply metaphysical drama that is, despite its comic underpinnings, as grave as Lear. The letters he answers daily which began as a joke, now begin to systematically unravel his vision of reality. A teenage girl born without a nose, a boy whose deaf and mute sister has been raped and will receive severe retribution if the mother finds out, a women whose husband insists on children despite her failing kidneys. All written in illiterate and highly believable broken prose. The letters will not let him rest and drive the novel toward its apocalyptic conclusion.

On a different note, I finished Updike's A Month of Sundays.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Heather's at work and the apartment becomes an anonymous collection of square feet. One benefit of her new job is that I get to come home and find her in bed, relaxed and vulnerable; she sleeps with her head bowed forward like a religious supplicant. I love to kiss her forehead when she sleeps.

But I'm off today, and I continue to plod through the Updike. A mere twenty pages stretch before me like twenty miles. Lots of distance allusions today.

The sky looks like it's been filled with cement. Outside, a firetruck has been waiting for twenty minutes. Maybe somebody's expired, maybe a stroke struck someone. Apartments are strange. Compartmentalized lives stacked one on top of the next, and lined up in rows. To think that above me, someone's hopes and dreams are filling the space, someone's live is moving as surely as mine is. It seems strange to think that anything so momentous is happening amid the bovine thundering I hear up there. How could this couple be doing anything but pretending their couch is a vehicle?

It looks like grad school may be on the horizon for me. I'm excited though I know it won't hold all of the splendor I've assigned it in my mind. It's the next step to furthering my career which is at a stand-still. My mind recoils at the thought of arguing ad nauseum over the intricacies of our pricing system, or the fine print on our coupons; I work in the grocery business. An academic hermitage may be the only place for me, somewhere I can take my passion for footnotes and put it to good use.

Since the window's open, the apartment is roughly the color of dishwater, a far-from-inspiring template for anything really, but I think that's the best place for work sometimes. Rigid discipline becomes the sole pilot of our endeavors, and we are free to brush the opiate of artistic ecstasy away. I read that J.M. Coetzee never smiles, works non-stop. I'll wager he never waits for inspiration.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Let's dispense with the formalities; obviously I've abandoned this as a daily discipline.

In the spirit of honesty, I'll opt to return on a semi-regular basis. Vultures always return to carnage. Perhaps I need a better analogy...

The snow has fallen and continues to fall. Just when I had managed to build my meteorological skepticism into a virtue, these cascading flakes decide to make a fool of me. Heather and I haven't ventured out of our little secular hermitage though. The roads are frozen and I'm not a particularly adroit figure skater. The people who have moved above us either need crutches or have managed to secretly turn their apartment into a horse stall. That, or their keeping time to the beat of their music with hammers.

Still not finished with Updike nor he with me. In the interval I gobbled up Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. It's inspired my latest HandsforChrist blog. You can check that out on Monday. Reverend Tom Marshfield, he of Updike's usual fearful symmetry, has taken to nearly every woman in his congregation. I'm now officially sharing your struggles Ethan; I can't see past Updike's penchant for bottling up filth and passing it off as treasure. Is all of this squalor meant to augment our moral understanding of man? In the wake of our vile modern age do we really need one more sage confirming how fallen we all are?

Monday, February 1, 2010


Went to the gym and felt defeated the second I entered the stagnant, sauna-like heat of the place. No matter where I walked, it seemed I was walking into someone else's discarded carbon dioxide. Should have been a chemist; I'd appreciate these things.

On the treadmill, my hamster-like suffering lasted until I got to a mile, and then I decided I'd rather read the Church Dogmatics in one sitting than continue on this limbotic course that took me nowhere. It's a form of psychological torture. Objects hang before you in static entropy as you frenetically adjust the speed of this imbecilic machine. Space and time remain suspended. You feel that Bishop Berkley was correct, and that if you look away it will all vanish faster than a waiter who sees you wince.

Got home, put the meal on the stove and,unawares, offered fragrant incense to Moloch. Eventually, after a sustained clamor of feline hissing accosted me from the general direction of the kitchen, I realized that I should turn the burner down. Luckily, I was able to salvage our food just in time, though a group of naked savages have assembled outside my apartment in ecstatic expectation.

I continue to read the Updike though I can sense it's detrimental to my mental health. Ministers always seem to exude an air of pageantry, and Updike's all-too-believable misanthrope is too much for me at times. Still, the section I just read contained a fascinating parody on miracles. In a sense, the protagonist, Reverend Tom Marshfield, suffers because he can't see faith in anyone else. His whole congregation is a group of impostors keeping up appearances. The closest touch of vitality in his life comes through adultery. Secluded in the shelter of his recovery center from which he writes the confessions that fill the book, I wonder what kind of conclusions this latter-day Augustine will draw.