Friday, July 22, 2011

The Triumph Playlist

" 'You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone!'
Save your breath, I never was one!
You don't know what I'm all about,
like killing cops and reading Kerouac"

--Jawbreaker, "Boxcar"

Up at the top of this blog, there's a mission statement that says "punk-rock literary criticism." And I wanna talk about that now. I could talk about the critics who inspire me (Marx, Koestler, Foucault, Said, Zizeck, Bakhtin, Butler, Fish), but I know what you're thinking: "another blog about Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the groteqsue and Foucault's theories of power and authority? Like that's never been done before!" Also, it would be hard work. So let's talk about the punk thing instead.

If you've read, like, any of this blog, you may have noticed that music is kind of a big deal in what I do. It's usually in the background, but the essential premise of this thing I write is "dude, the literary canon is pretty punk rock." So I was hoping we could talk about that some. Yeah. Let's talk about how much we love rock and roll. We're cool kids. Awesome.

Anyway, all posturing aside, these are 5 bands who I think really represent what the mission statement of this blog is. If you've got any of their stuff, this is what I'd recommend as the best accompaniment to my various rambles and discussions. Also, I'm not finished with Didion's Democracy yet, which is why I'm doing kind of a fluff piece.
Wow, it's like if Chuck Klosterman was even less of a real journalist!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thoughts on Blood Meridian

"A ritual includes the letting of blood. Rituals which fail in this requirement are but mock rituals."

A few days ago, I finished Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness In The West.

And then I sort of wandered about in a daze for the rest of the day-- the way I did after first watching Apocalypse Now, or hearing Shostakovich's 8th quartet for the first time. It's a book that's emotionally draining the whole way through and then, in the last fifty pages or so, hits you in the gut like a stab wound. It's a serious contender for the greatest American novel of the past thirty years. Maybe fifty. It's the closest thing contemporary literature has to its Heart of Darkness and McCarthy does for the bloody and empty American West what Conrad did for the Congo.

Which is to say, transforms it into a vessel for all our sins.

So, since it obviously affected me pretty powerfully (the last time I felt like this after finishing a book was The Sound and the Fury), let me share some of the most memorable things about it with you. For the sake of readability,  let's set that list at 5.
"Top 5 Most Horrifying Scalpings! Go!"

Saturday, July 9, 2011

4 Great Books For Summer

"We kept our friends at bay all Summer long,
treated the days as though they'd kill us if they could.
Wringing out the hours like blood-drenched bedsheets."
--The Mountain Goats, "Dinu Lipatti's Bones"

I've never understood people who say that summer is a time for easy reading. In large part, this is a consequence of being (until now) in school-- I have much more time and ability to tackle, say Ulysses in the middle of summer than I do in November (project this summer: a ton of Cormac McCarthy). And I don't read at the beach-- if I have to be outside during 105-degree Southern heat I am going to be underwater.

So these books will not necessarily be easy or light reads. But they will be reads that you should tackle in the next few months, before the heat breaks, while you're huddled inside whatever you can find with air conditioning, because these are books for which summer, heat, light, and the long slow days are going to feel beautiful and perfect. Books that will make you grateful for summer being here, even though, again, 105 degrees. Jesus, sometimes I wonder if I hate the South. Which leads us toooooo....

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Revue of Reviews (Or: TV Tropes is full of idiots)

"So safely with your software, miles from the front line
You hear the way their sad voice sings, and you start to imagine things
Oh, any excuse to write more lies"
--Morrissey, "Reader, Meet Author."

So I know I don't have an editor, but if I did he'd be on my case right now to get back on this blog and give you guys what you want. And while he doesn't exist, he's right-- I've been moving from Asheville to Wilmington, but I'm all settled in now and I oughta get back to The Triumph because dammit Jasper, we have papers to move!
"And get me some photos on that Michael Chabon fellow! He's a menace!"
 So, while I work on a couple longer posts, I wanted to put up a shorter bit here encapsulating a recent hobby of mine: reading idiots' terrible, terrible opinions about literature. This won't be a smart post-- this is me in the mode I was back when I worked on The Gutrotter, in which I find terrible things and mock them angrily.

I've been reading the TVTropes Wiki some, and, despite having a useful premise as a website, it has one of the worst user bases I've ever seen in my life. And one of the highlights of that is my least favorite thing in the world: geek anti-itellectualism. People who need to be smart about everything, and so rationalize everything they don't enjoy as being beneath them. And let me tell you-- it is hilarious how much they want so badly for great literature to be stupid. So I've put together some of my favorites here, in which people whose favorite books are in the Star Wars Expanded Universe try and explain why Pulitzer-Prize-Winning authors are idiots.

Keep in mind, these are all from a wiki whose purpose is to analyze narrative and examine story. These aren't just random dipshits-- these are people who, essentially, consider themselves literary theorists and are supposed to be educated commentators on culture. This is a website that is supposed to be a balanced, comprehensive wiki of narratives and art.

Of Mice And Men:
"Oh let me puke, this story (And I'll question the validity of that statement later) is boring, boring, boring, the villain is kinda non-existent and ridiculous flat...Who's the villain (Or the closest approximation)? CURLEY! Or in my opinion, Steinbeck. Look this isn't an internal conflict, cause there's no internal dialogue, tell me one thing about George that the book doesn't say about him, SHOW, DON', TELL, apparently Steinbeck had never heard that little tidbit. And don't make assumptions about me, I like subtle works, which does not mean boring ones." --Phrederic
Phrederic has apparently never heard of "internal conflict" and thinks that every story has to have an evil villain for the hero to defeat-- mostly because internal conflict means a character considering they might be wrong, which is vastly less believable to him than battles in space. (This marks the beginning of a trend in these reviews). According to his profile page, he is an ultra-manly Nietzsche-loving rebel who loves fighting and "has a succulent red exterior." Also, he loves Naruto, wrestling, and Warhammer 40,000.
"I do enjoy subtle works."
"...The world building isn't complex, it's California, Steinbeck lived in California, right near where the story took place."
Because describing a real setting perfectly is the lazy option when you can make up a fantasy world instead.

Paradise Lost
Oops, I thought there'd be a review of this. There isn't-- no one's taken the time to write one up. But hey, at least there's 21 pages and 8,000 words about the best fanfiction involving Harry Potter characters boning each other.

The Road
"The writing style of the the Road is terrible. No punctuations, long run-on sentences, and no quotations to let you know who's speaking at any point in the dialogue." --Snitchy
 Snitchy thinks that the guidelines he learned in 9th-grade English about writing 5-paragraph essays should apply to all literature. Snitchy thinks that Cormac McCarthy just made a bunch of typos and his editor fell asleep on the job. If Snitchy ate like he reads, he'd give a gourmet restaurant a bad review for not putting ketchup on his steak and refuse to tip the waitress because she didn't place the food directly into his mouth.
The only reason Snitchy is still alive is because Cormac McCarthy doesn't want to hurt his writing hand by strangling as hard as it would take to reach Snitchy's windpipe through his chins.
"Imagine if the Star Wars films were about watching R2-D2 and C-3PO go about their business in the rebel bases instead of watching either the space battles or other more interesting characters. That's what the Road was like. A strange world populated with interesting events and characters, but we are forced to watch the two least interesting characters experience these events from the periphery"
Snitchy thinks that the most critically-acclaimed novel of the past decade should have been more like Star Wars, and would rather read about explosions or people hitting each other than the inextinguishable hope of a dying humanity as expressed through a father's love. Snitchy thinks that a book whose entire theme was about how ordinary people need human contact to remain human should have focused on space-knights and starship battles.
"I say R2, are we still the good guys?"
"Beep boop beeeoop."

Critic Profile: Deboss
Deboss views himself as a critic of literature. He likes to freely hand out his opinions on books, their importance, and what works have real literary value.

"The mandatory component for English is both too large and too focused on 'classics'. Any literature that has to be required to get readership, isn't a book worthy of being read. I honestly can't think of any exceptions. History of literature would also be cut from any class that doesn't have "history" in the name, and none of them would be required. There's nothing worth learning there unless someone is already interested. ...Also, no state funded field trips to go see plays. They're a form of art that will hopefully die soon anyway."
Deboss is a literary critic in the same sense that a tapeworm is a food critic.
Hey look, it's Guy Fieri.
Deboss-- whose avatar is an anime girl's ass-- is who inspired this blog post. The things Deboss has to say about books are the most insipid things I have ever heard in my life, and the fact that he's allowed to post on a site that supposedly bans people for being too negative is why I decided to highlight the goddamn morons who populate that site's literature discussions.
 "My advice would be to further promote Table Top Games since those require reading and interpretation without all the bullshit that normal literature classes have. Combined with the fact that children are rarely if ever exposed to anything worth reading, it's not surprising that they don't pick it up."
 Deboss thinks that a D&D Player's Manual offers more to the soul than "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Deboss is such an idiot that it makes me wonder if his skull is still soft, but then I realize that it must actually be pretty thick because how else do you explain the fact he wasn't aborted?
"Shakespeare was the most unpleasant work I've ever been exposed to. I've seen most of Uwe Bol and Seltzer Burger work, and I'm including it in that statement. Part of the unpleasantness comes from the idea that it's impossible to dislike it, and the answer is greater exposure to Shakespeare. The sooner the works of Shakespeare are forgotten, the better. Given the power, I'd make teaching it a capitol offense."
 Deboss is to literary criticism as John Wayne Gacy was to the world of comedy, and Deboss's posts are to my faith in humanity as John Wayne Gacy was to fifteen-year-old boys. Deboss has a college degree and only books he reads are Animorphs and Star Wars novels-- and he thinks this makes him smarter than the rest of us. Deboss is such an idiot he can't even manage to be illiterate correctly. The process by which his brain tries to shit out intelligent thought most closely resembles a botched suicide.
Deboss thinks this should be taught in schools and Orwell shouldn't.
OK, Shakespeare Should be Safe
Okay, sorry... I went to kind of a dark place there. I'm sure that people like Deboss are just flukes and the fact that they're allowed to post this on a site that bans people who try and point out that anime involving the sex lives of 12-year-olds is creepy doesn't reflect anything on the site's policies or problems. Instead, I'll look up some Shakespeare and watch people refute his points. Everyone loves Shakespeare, there's no way that a site this huge, about narrative tropes, is just an echo chamber for anti-intellectual nerds who hate real art. I'll look up my favorite Shakespeare play and I'll see someone praise it for inventing so many of the tropes that the site is supposed to catalog.Something that'll keep me from turning into Shane McGowan by the end of the night.

"This review focuses on Macbeth, but will also contain my criticism of Shakespeare's works as a whole. Shakespeare makes rational men mad and the greatest of critics weak kneed and fawning. The man is the foremost writer of the english language, and we consider his works to be on the same level as the greats of today. But I ask you this? Why... The plot is simple and the Aesop is dull and cliche, Ambition Is Evil. And the editing is simply awful. Macbeth is full of disappearing characters and dropped plotlines."
"I wanted the cool, conflicted Macbeth back, I wanted him to achieve victory over their dull and flat enemies. But instead of making an Anti Villain Shakespeare decided to throw him off the slippery slope to save himself the trouble of making the work complex at all."
You are shitting me. This jackass thinks that Macbeth-- whose biggest character trait was being an easily-distracted dimwit --was a cool conflicted hero? He thinks that the play was trying to teach us one specific, easily-reduced moral? He thinks that a 400-year-old play we only have in copies of copies should be expected to have a tight and flawless structure that can hold up against modern works?

"And I would agree with that this is a character study had his character not been so inconsistent, the man is almost bipolar."
 So What Have We Learned?
Well we learned that the internet is awful. That's a thing we learned.

But seriously though, even though I just picked one play these attitudes are pretty representative of geek/nerd culture. And considering that I spent a ton of time recently playing Shadows of the Damned and Fallout, that's a culture I'm part of.

So consider this my return after the hiatus of moving and getting set up in a new/old town. I'm back and I'm gonna keep fighting to talk about how classic, serious literature is cool and relevant and actually pretty fuckin' good, not just Important. Because, to quote Tony Hoagland (probably America's best contemporary poet, who of course has no TV Tropes page because there are no lasers in his works)
But I hate those people back
from the core of my donkey soul
and the hatred makes me strong
and my survival is their failure.