“Oklahoma Territory…was a wild border country, a primitive and violent place where life was rough and cheap; its inhabitants were mostly fugitive slaves and savages and the most barbaric savages were white. The worst elements…were mixed together in an accursed hinterland of mud and loneliness, race prejudice, rotgut liquor, blood, and terrible tornadoes where the civilization left behind was a dream of the far past, all but forgotten. There was little worship and no law, no culture, morals, nor good manners, and nothing the least bit romantic about any of it.”—Peter Matthiessen, Shadow Country
He was silent for the space of three sips of whiskey.
"Fall," he said. "Fall in Nebraska, which is all silver and gold; silver of frost, gold of Halloween pumpkins in backyards and yellow tomatoes on the vine and bare fields of corn stubble and a yellow edge to the horizon under the purple snow clouds that come down from the Dakotas. A fall that is the cold of evenings when you make a fire and your whiskey catches the light and the heat of it, that is just like the line in the song about when the wind comes whistlin’ down the plain, and gets into the eaves and you hear the roof shingles rattle, but you’re in no hurry to worry about them, not just yet."
My God, Gaby thought, I am about to have sex with a Frank Capra movie.
“Tell someone he’s a Nazi long enough, and he may just become one, just for the hell of it and as a way of saying fuck you to the powers-that-be.”—Alexander Cockburn, A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption, And American Culture
“Mixed feelings about literature — the desire to annex its virtues while simultaneously belittling them — are typical of our culture today, which doesn’t know quite how to deal with an art form, like the novel, that is both democratic and demanding.”—Adam Kirsch, “Are the new ‘golden age’ TV shows the new novels?”, The New York Times Book Review, 2 March 2014.
“There is no group therapy or psychiatry or community social services for the child who must cope with the thing under the bed or in the cellar every night, the thing which leers and capers and threatens just beyond the point where vision will reach. The same lonely battle must be fought night after night and the only cure is the eventual ossification of the imaginary faculties, and this is called adulthood.”—Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot.
“Socrates taught Plato and Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle taught/Alexander the Great, who founded a city that would house the most/voluminous library of the ancient world—until it was burned, until/forgetting came back into vogue. The great minds come down through the/years like monkeys descending from high branches. Always, a leopard is/waiting to greet them—in the tall grass, among the magnetic berries, in the/place they should have checked.”—"Diminution," Charles Rafferty, The New Yorker, Feb. 17/24, 2014.
“They have never known hunger or want, the people of this country. It has been two generations since they knew anything close to it, and even then it was like a voice in a distant room. They think they have known sadness, but their sadness is that of a child who has spilled his ice cream on the grass at a birthday party. There is no … how is the English? … attenuation in them. They spill each other’s blood with great vigor.”—Stephen King, 'Salem's Lot (1975)
“Once you’ve finished a novel, what happened in it is of little importance and soon forgotten. What matters are the possibilities and ideas that the novel’s imaginary plot communicates to us and infuses us with.”—Javier Marias
When all of us can listen to every piece of music that was ever written, at any time, from anywhere that we want, how can we hear anything?
What happens is we cease becoming adventurers and we cease becoming participants and subjects in this grand experiment of art, and we simply become consumers and really good commodity experts. When we have the entire gamut for our consumption, we just go to those things that we like the easiest. And that’s the problem. It’s hard to listen all the way through a three-minute song when we know that with the flick of a finger, we can pull up something that might be slightly better for our current mood.
That’s the crisis. It’s the opposite crisis of Messiaen, where they’ve got three battered instruments and they have to make something to fill the emptiness of their days — days when they can hear nothing. Now we can hear everything, but we can’t make the time to be urgent about hearing anything.
“The first time one hears [“I Want to Hold Your Hand”], it’s impossible to gauge where the melodic line, harmonic construction, vocal revelation and rhythmic impetus are headed: from colloquial opening, to blues turnaround, through a meditative interim that explodes in an outrageous, soaring exclamation—“I can’t hide! I can’t hide!”—in three-part harmony, Ringo slamming away, until it all detonates again.”—Mikal Gilmore, “How the Beatles Took America,” Rolling Stone, Jan. 16, 2014.
“Opposing itself to the flickering of crowds across the wide white crosswalk-lines, the clatter of a million high heels through subway tunnels crammed with boutiques, the girls who dye their hair red, blonde or brown, the restaurant eels in crystalline tanks, the necktied salarymen rapt in their sadomasochistic comic books, the department stores excitingly bright with new electric goods, the clicking turnstiles, multistorey advertising screens, walkways and throughways, the vending machines so ubiquitous and diverse that they really ought to have their own Audubon field guide, the unending beeping and movement of Shinjuku Station at rush hour, the ball bearing music of pachinko parlors packed with gamblers all in rows, the breathlessly variable, deliciously novel, commercial, showy *nowness* of urban life, Noh offers us long silences punctuated by a single chant, every instant as perfect as an ideally composed photograph; time stops in order to show us that fact.”—William T. Vollmann, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater.
“Because, okay, the thing was—he saw it now, was starting to see it—if some guy, at the end, fell apart, and said or did bad things, or had to be helped, helped to quite a considerable extent? So what? What of it? Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting? Why should the shit not run down his legs? Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping, and was still afraid of that, and yet, at the same time, now saw that there could still be many—many drops of goodness, is how it came to him—many drops of happy—of good fellowship—ahead, and those drops of fellowship were not—had never been—his to withheld. Withhold.”—George Saunders, “Tenth of December.”
“Our lives are filled with performances that have been so woven into our daily routine that the artificial and performative aspect has slipped into invisibility. PowerPoint presentations are a kind of theater, a kind of augmented stand-up. Too often it’s a boring and tedious genre, and audiences are subjected to the bad as well as the good. Failing to acknowledge that these are performances is to assume that anyone could and should be able to do it. You wouldn’t expect anyone who can simply sing to get up on stage, so why expect everyone with a laptop to be competent in this new theatrical form? Performers try harder.”—David Byrne, How Music Works
“It still feels wrong to travel, to cover the eight hundred miles to my family in that two-hour plane ride, as if the land beneath me—between us—didn’t matter. As if the terrain weren’t an obstacle, weren’t even real, my plane window a TV screen. In a plane, we gloss over the landscape like aloof gods who don’t even believe in the existence of their own creations.”—Jill Sisson Quinn, “The Myth of Home,” Ecotone 15 (2013)
“"I noticed it first in class," he said. "You say ‘this’ instead of ‘that’; ‘this cream,’ not ‘that cream.’ The line people draw between the things they consider *this* and the things they consider *that* is the perimeter of their sphere of intimacy. You see? Everything inside is *this*; everything inside is close, is intimate. Since you pointed at the cream and it is farther from you than I am, ‘this’ suggests that I am among the things you consider close to you. I’m flattered," he said, and handed me the creamer, which was, like him, sweating. What an idea — that with a few words you could catch another person in a little grammatical clutch, arrange the objects of the world such that they bordered the two of you.”—Rebecca Lee, “The Banks of the Vistula.”
“Of course," he explained with a weary smile, "as long as you can tot up your daily bag in the trenches it’s a sort of satisfaction—though I don’t quite know why; anyhow, you’re so dead-beat at night that no dreams come. But lying here staring at the ceiling one goes through the whole business once an hour, at the least: the attack, the slaughter, the ruins … and worse … Haven’t I seen and heard things enough on *this* side to know what’s been happening on the other? Don’t try to sugar the dose. I *like* it bitter.”—Edith Wharton, “Coming Home.”
“This is the curious abyss that divides the closest kin, that the tender curiosity appropriate to lovers is inappropriate, here, where the bond is involuntary, so that the most important things stay undiscovered.”—Angela Carter, “Sugar Daddy.”
I wasn’t trying to play beautiful music, I was confronting my audience with the awful, visceral sound of what we all knew was the single absolute of our frail existence—one day an aeroplane would carry the bomb that would destroy us all in a flash. It could happen at any time…
On stage I stood on the tips of my toes, arms outstretched, swooping like a plane. As I raised the stuttering guitar above my head, I felt I was holding up the bloodied standard of endless centuries of mindless war. Explosions. Trenches. Bodies. The eerie screaming of the wind. I had made my choice, for now. It would be music.
“Somewhere right around here, Luther remembered, if you went farther up the path behind the picnic tables, you would stumble across a pyramid of built-up stones left behind by some crazy old beard-faced poet back when Oakland was nothing but a slough and a stables and a cowboy hotel. In school they came here on field trips, checking out the poet’s little white farmhouse, a big lumpy statue of him riding on a Mongoloid-looking horse. A pyramid of stone and, farther back, a stone platform the man had built, intending it to be used for his funeral pyre. Out here in the hot sun, day after day, the man piling up rocks like lines in one of his boring poems. Dreaming, the whole time he was stacking those rocks, about how all those olden-time gangsters of Oakland, those whoring, robbing, land-grabbing Indian killers, opium addicts and loot seekers down there in the flatlands, how some fine night they were going to look up here at this green slope and marvel at the spectacle of a burning poet. Nothing ever came of that plan, far as Luther could recall. But then that was the general tendency of plans.”—Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue
“He is impulsive and has read Neruda since he was thirteen. Something like that warps you, inevitably. Here, we don’t read poetry and we are not romantic. It makes things easier for everybody involved.”—Daniel Alarcon, “Nancy.”
“A couple of times I’ve watched that documentary on Woodstock that Scorsese edited. Behind all the fluff that makes you cringe, there were these shots of three quarters of a million people sitting there on their tarps in the mud and whatever. There’s not a single cell phone being held up. There’s not one person taking a selfie. No one’s streaming Richie Havens playing “Freedom.” They’re just there. They’re there because they have to be because the technology hasn’t been invented, obviously. But at the same time, I can’t help but think you couldn’t have that moment or any number of moments again, because we’d be 20 percent there and 80 percent somewhere else.”—Mark Slouka, interviewed by Jill Owens for Powells.com
“In 2000 [George] Kuh and his staff [at Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Planning and Research] launched what was dubbed the National Survey of Student Engagement. Research indicated that “engagement” could be reliably measured by surveying students themselves. So instead of being sent to college presidents, provosts, and admissions offices, NSSE is distributed to students. Part of the survey is devoted simply to finding out how often students perform certain tasks. NSSE asks how often students write papers and how long those papers are, so the answers reflect not only the overall amount that students are writing but also whether teachers at a school tend to assign one big paper at the end of a course or a series of shorter papers spread throughout the semester. It asks students how often they talk with faculty members inside and outside of class, and about what (grades? assignments? career plans?). And, yes, it asks how often students read books—not only for class but also “for personal enjoyment or academic enrichment.””—
Nicholas Confessore, “What Makes a College Good?”, The Atlantic, November 2003.
Compare and contrast with Southern Utah University, where the Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Science “suggested” that I raise the overall grades of students in my freshman composition courses, and caved under the threat made by a student who failed the course to enlist her lawyer father in suing the university for a passing grade. The English Department of SUU includes in its faculty a poetry professor who achieved tenure with a self-published chapbook cited as a “publication” (and whose actual published work largely appears in church magazines), a former chair who has published bigoted denunciations of homosexuals and gay marriage in right-wing journals (This same chair accused me of telling my students that all of my colleagues in the department were “addicted to pornography,” a story he heard at his church.), and a tenure-track professor who assigns dioramas as final projects in upper-level literature courses. The motto of SUU, perhaps coincidentally, is “Learning Lives Forever.”
“It was October, the most beautiful month of the year, and even in the city tonight, and under a light rain, you could smell the burning—leaves, grass, the earth, everything golden burning up, surrendering before winter arrives.”—Rebecca Lee, “Bobcat.”
And what does the world see in this video? Where does the YouTube story begin? The world sees a black prisoner lying face-down, inert, helpless, racked with pain, struggling just to take the next breath, moaning in a way *urrrrrrrunh* no human being ever moaned before, under arrest at the mercy of two Cuban cops. One of them is mounted on the prisoner’s back, flashing a cruel thirty-two-tooth grin as he delights in the prospect of breaking his prisoner’s very neck with a full nelson. The other one is crouched barely two feet from him, ready to blow his brains out with a .44-caliber revolver. Both of them are humiliating their black prisoner, mocking his manhood, calling him a subhuman moron. Is there no limit to how abusive these two Cuban cops are willing to be toward a black man who, so far as the viewer knows, has done nothing? … And that is the way the YouTube version *begins* … and, very likely, ends.
No indication whatsoever of the life-or-death crisis that precipitated this vile “abuse,” not so much as a hint that this put-upon black man is in fact a powerful 250-pound young crack house thug, nothing to make it at all credible that he might have touched off the whole thing by wrapping his huge hands around the Sergeant’s neck, that he was within one second of murdering him by crushing his windpipe, that his life was saved only by the immediate reaction of Officer Camacho, who threw himself onto the brute’s back and, weighing only 160 pounds, clamped a couple of wrestling holds onto 275 pounds of crack house thug and rolled in the dirt and the dirtballs with him until the brute became utterly depleted in breath, power, willpower, heart, and manhood … and gave up … like a pussy. How could any man pretend not to realize that, faced with death, even a cop experiences an adrenal rush immensely more powerful than all chains of polite conversation and immediately seeks to smother his would-be killer with whatever vile revulsion comes surging up his brain stem from the deepest, darkest, most twisted bowels of hatred? How could any man, even the mildest and most sedentary, fail to understand?!
”—Tom Wolfe, Back to Blood. Set in Florida, no less.
“White supremacy has taught him that all people of color are threats irrespective of their behavior. Capitalism has taught him that, at all costs, his property can and must be protected. Patriarchy has taught him that his masculinity has to be proved by the willingness to conquer fear through aggression; that it would be unmanly to ask questions before taking action. Mass media then brings us the news of this in a newspeak manner that sounds almost jocular and celebratory, as though no tragedy has happened, as though the sacrifice of a young life was necessary to uphold property values and white patriarchal honor. Viewers are encouraged to feel sympathy for the white male home owner who made a mistake. The fact that this mistake led to the violent death of an innocent young man does not register; the narrative is worded in a manner that encourages viewers to identify with the one who made the mistake by doing what we are led to feel we might all do to “protect our property at all costs from any sense of perceived threat.” This is what the worship of death looks like.”—bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions, 2001.
“Just ‘cos I’m 40 doesn’t mean my life’s over. Fuck that. I like to go to the pub with my mates and have a drink, and sometimes you might have too many. Bring it on! I’m not going to sit at home watching ‘Midsomer Murders.’ Although I do like that programme.”—Liam Gallagher, interviewed by Pat Gilbert for Mojo, July 2013.