March 20, 2004


Scant blogging of late, for any number of reasons: much harried at work, trying to dash off endless cover letters, writing some "articles" that won't ever see the light of day. Late Friday night (during which, you'll notice, I'm doing nothing carousing) seems to be my best bet.

Well, then, nothing rouses me back into the blogging spirit like a reading list. So without, well, any ado, I present "Books that have lightened up the laggard moments":

1. Mario Vargas Llosa, In Praise of the Stepmother. Off the charts on the fetish scale, this book brings stepmother-stepson incest to life-- shockingly honest and honestly, genuinely shocking life! Llosa intersperses this short tale with brief vignettes or prose poems inspired by various paintings. It's a wonderful way to 'do' art criticism. My favorite is his interpretation of Fernando de Szyslo's Road to Mendieta 10 (Note, I'm linking to another Mendieta in the series, but does it really matter?). Llosa has critiqued (ie: lavished praise upon) Szyslo elsewhere, but this abstract chapter on an abstract work of art probably deserves to be called a full-scale revision:

The geometrical figure in the middle band, at the exact center of the painting, that flat silhouette of a three-legged pachyderm, is an alter, a tabernacle, of if your mind is allergic to religious symbolism, a stage set. An exciting ceremony, with delightful and cruel reverberations, has just taken place, and what you see are its vestiges and its conseuquences. [...] Understand me: myself: seen from inside and from below, when you calcine me and express me. Myself, erupting and overflowing beneath your attentive libertine gaze of a male who has officiated with competence and is now contemplating and philosophizing.
And it goes on, bringing the picture into focus as a portrait of intersecting lovers: "we were a woman and a man and now we are ejaculation, orgasm, and a fixed idea." I don't know if this is fluffy, a perfect example of the blathery imprecision that Dale Peck decries, or if this hits at the abstract air surrounding the moment of falling into love (lust, even!). Here's the end of the chapter, where, for me at least, the painting is seen and the sexual act is evoked, and they meet in a wonderful haze of image and word:

Now leave off looking. Now close your eyes. Now, without opening them, look at me and look at yourself the way we were shown in that picture that so many look at and so few see. You now know that, even before we knew each other, loved each other, and married, someone, brush in hand, anticipated what horrendous glory we would be changed into by the happiness we learned to invent, each and every day and night of the morrow.
Bravo! Yes, I cheerlead sometimes, and this deserves cheerleading. By the way, for those concerned, the somewhat pervert-like (or seducer-like, whatever) tone of voice fits in well with the rest of the book. Sign me up for more Llosa books. Supposedly he hocks his neoliberalism creed all over the pages of his other books, books about wizened dictators and feisty lovers and feisty lovers who happen to be dictators, real or otherwise. I simply can't wait.

2. Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? Really enjoyed this one, and it probably deserves its own post, or series of posts... which is not to say that I'll actually get around to putting those posts up. So for now, I can only pipe out that Pejman Yousefzadeh has unfairly squished-up Alterman's argument here. You'll notice I left a little comment, which still sits there, duly ignored. Such is fate for this little-known blogger.

3. Joan Didion, Political Fictions. I can't praise this one enough. So good, and as far as I can tell, Didion's talent lies almost entirely in her ability to quote, to put facts together without overt editorializing, and let the tacts make a point far sharper than she could make herself. Here's her slant on Newt Gingrich, whose secret charm, she suggests, resided with his ability to present his views "in outline form, with topic points capitalized":

In Window of Opportunity, Mr. Gingrich advised us that "the great force changing our world is a synergism of essentially six parts," and offered "five simple steps to a bold future." On the health care issue, Mr. Gingrich posited "eight areas of necessary change." On the question of arms control, he saw "seven imperatives that will help the free world survive in the age of nuclear weapons." Down a few paragraphs the seven imperatives give way to "two initiatives," then to "three broad strategic options for the next generation," and finally, within the scan of the eye, to "six realistic goals which would increase our children's chances of living in a world without nuclear war."
Who else would have noticed this, or characterized it so cleanly? Martin Amis, I should note, is another writer who can work selective quoting into a marvelously frenetic and off-kilter portrait of a writer. But this is good stuff. More on this later...
-- Brad Plumer 12:46 AM || ||