Bat Country

August 30th, 2008 § 0 comments

“Happy,” I muttered, trying to pin the word down. But it is one of those words, like Love, that I have never quite understood. Most people who deal in words don’t have much faith in them and I am no exception—especially the big ones like Happy and Love and Honest and Strong. They are too elusive and far too relative when you compare them to sharp, mean little words like Punk and Cheap and Phony. I feel at home with these, because they’re scrawny and easy to pin, but the big ones are tough and it takes either a priest or a fool to use them with any confidence.


Perhaps Hunter S Thompson is the true “cynical idealist,” for though it was F. Scott who said it he was no idealist, and perhaps it was F. Scott, not Hunter, who was the true drunk. While Fitzgerald’s characters are predetermined to be crookedly bent toward self-destruction, Thompson’s disheveled characters are happily optimistic in the drunken hours before dawn, about themselves, the world, and the combination of the two—a long road of possibilities stretches out before their blurry eyes. It was “fatalism with a loop hole.” Hunter thoughtfully ponders notions of luck, or “survival by coordination, as it were.” Societal hope for Hunter seemed to lie on edges, near boarders, and in the fringe. Or was it doom? He covered unlikely places— San Juan, Las Vegas, the Campaign Trail—and indulged in “controversial” habits—drugs, guns, journalism, and alcohol. Thompson creates stories full of mean little words collectively surrounding the larger ones, giving them an unusual new shape.

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The Horse Would Have Lived Except it Died

July 15th, 2008 § 0 comments

My interest in No Country For Old Men did not begin with the movie itself, but with other people’s reactions to it. With all Coen films, I find them aesthetically entrancing, morally interesting, and generally unmoving. I am impressed mostly by a kind of boyish insincerity, and I remain interested in them as filmmakers because I can’t decide if I believe they are intentionally so or not. There was an article in a recent new yorker that addressed their habits of deceiving and tricking their audience, how they play at references and cinematic customs—their movies are a little too gleeful of their own intelligence, and count too much on a viewer’s gullibility. I saw No Country in Richmond, in one of our old movie theaters that shows one “popular” film, and one less so on a small screen upstairs. As the credits rolled up at the end of No Country the entire theater moaned “no!” A young man stood up and said, “oh shut up, it was good,” as the crowd piled out. I was interested and surprised by both reactions, that our audience was annoyed enough to protest quite loudly, and that we were rebuked like children—it made the film ending odder than it was, after all, it is not the first time a killer has gone unpunished, in movies or otherwise.

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Grumbling Gum-Shoes

June 15th, 2008 § 0 comments

Some three or four years after my Noir class I am finally reading the novels/writers that inspired the genre. Hammett has been my first victim of dissection, after reading a collection of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and Red Harvest, I am appalled I thought of starting Proust instead. Hammett’s novels read so easily I am wary of them, wondering if they are just dated versions of the paperbacks in the supermarket I deem mind-numbing trash. The vernacular of his novels is quite interesting, they read like a cross between a play, a screenplay, and a film; not like what I expect of a novel. Plays are always overly descriptive, they are meant to be spoken and looked at rather than read, or so I assume, and there is something visceral and visual about Hammett’s wording. He too is overly descriptive, like he feels obligated to tell us exactly what this or that guy looks like so he can drop it and move on. His description of Spade; “he looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”

I wrote a paper years ago justifying the appeal of the noir detective, saying something about all their wrongs—the tough guy act, the straight talk, the ambiguous morality—equaling a right, but reading their characters is different from watching them. Predictably there is less polish, the stories focus as much on murder as they do on crime, dishonest politicians, prostitution, homosexuality, race, and pornography, whereas the movies stick to gum-shoe investigation. They are misfits in the book, Spade fights between the rule of law, the rule of crime, and his own morality, acknowledging that none are just or ‘right’. Bogart brings celebrity and a polish to the character, and Hollywood a cleanliness to the story that does not exist in the literary version of Spade’s Frisco. Of all Hammett’s anti-heroes Spade is the most timeless, misfits never cease being themselves.

sam spade

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Wander, Walker, Tourist, Flâneur ?

June 9th, 2008 § 0 comments

“Americans are particularly ill-suited to be flâneurs…they are always driven by the urge towards self-improvement.”


This line, from one of my recent reads, seemed to underline the contradictions I feel as a wandering artist, and I found in writing my thesis that I always seem to come out somewhere in the middle of tourist and wanderer. Despite the title of the book (The Flâneur) I am still not sure about the rules of flânerie; not that it was the books intent to point them out. Since the author calls Atget a scientific flâneur, saying “a contradiction in terms, since flânerie is supposed to be purposeless”, perhaps contradictions are allowed. The Flâneur seemed like a collection of obscurities from a place that is overly scrutinized, stories intermixed with stories, bringing the marginalized to the forefront.

In my head I have the makings of a great tourist, another contradiction in terms. When I think about traveling the word that comes to mind is greedy, I want to see everything and go everywhere. I am annoyed that I can visit a country and not see the one right next to it. Perhaps what I desire most is some kind of endless vacation, moving from place to place after a few years, growing old and dying in a new place. This often sounds more interesting than confronting life, and life might look different in different parts of the world. When exploring a new city I want to see the famous things first, for the same reason everyone else does, so you can say you did.

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500 Pounds & A Room of One’s Own

January 19th, 2008 § 0 comments

I can’t believe, for several reasons, that I have never before read A Room of One’s own, it seems to have slipped through the cracks of feminism, and I suppose it was placed lower on my list of Woolf books than others because it was about “Shakespeare’s sister”-this gross misreading seems to appear on the back of many different publishers descriptions of the book. Woolf was asked to write/lecture on “women and fiction” and this books is the culmination of her efforts. It is Woolf at her best in many ways, at least for me. If one reads her early work she seems not quite herself, her early style follows that of the female writers who came before, she is conscience of being both a woman and a women in a linear history of female novelists. Her later work is angry, depressed, and resentful, these books disturb and anger me when I read them, partly because of her situation in time/life, and partly because I know, as do most, how she died. Her later works read as desperations against or toward something, against life perhaps and toward death. A Room of One’s Own is probably the first book of hers that left me completely satisfied, it is almost as though she has proved her own argument through her life of writing. If one is busy being angry at one’s situation and position, if one writes against those that oppress and control, than one’s craft is compromised. The story she subtly tells in the book, that a great many white, wealthy men contribute to, is the familiar one most women know, one that is at the same time angering, pathetic, and sad; men fought so hard for their superiority, it is painful to imagine why. As she says, “the history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” Her conclusions to the multitude of problems she evokes are simple, for women they need money and a place to work, they must not write as “women” but simply as people, and they must not write in anger against their life and situation, but rather as a writer with something to write. Her explanation is much more eloquent and interesting, but that seemed the gist.
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