When I think of some of the things I was made to read at school, instead of Miss Lonelyhearts, I have more patience for the endless debate about The Canon.
I kicked off my camping season this weekend, and inexplicably, I brought with me the little paperback Miss Lonelyhearts and A Cool Million, which I have packed and unpacked in numerous changes of residence, yet somehow never read. I do respect the Buddhist precept about consuming only items that preserve peace in body and consciousness, and while my practice of it would not by any means be considered thorough, I do generally avoid depictions of extensive or graphic violence. Maybe that was the hold up.
In any case, I now know that in future, should I wish to consume some harshness, I should do so in solitude, in nature. Sitting and hiking and sleeping and sitting in the woods or at the shore tops up my peace…it may even create a surplus.
Of course, West’s story is a bit of a paradox for sensitive souls such as mine, as it is the story of just such a sensitive soul and the madness brought about through his consumption of depictions of rape, gang rape, gay bashing, and wife beatings which result in dental work. Tricky.
But it is a short work, a one-sitting read, and the sufferings are surrounded by astounding passages of philosophy, surrealism and humour. Its masterful and strange presentation of big ideas is moving, and while ultimately disturbing, it can still be peacefully consumed provided the reading environment is sufficiently serene and beautiful.
I bought Don Domanski’s book All Our Wonder Unavenged about a year after it had won Canada’s most prestigious literary prize, the Governor General’s Award, at the end of 2008. Last night, a year and a half later, I finished it. I had loaned it mid-read, impatient to share its joys, and then it took a while to come back to me.
It was only the second book of poetry I’d read. I’ve enjoyed poetry as much as anything, but almost always in an anthology or periodical. I don’t know what possessed me to buy it, but I bought two – one for me, one for my Dad. Turned out they were the last two in the store, and signed.
I’ve been googling around about this poet today, as I always do when something moves me, and have reached the conclusion that Don Domanski is succeeding. Sure, I could have concluded this from the GG, but hear me out.
As I contemplated my experience of his poetry, I identified various sources of enjoyment. The subject matter – explorations of existence in pastoral settings – would tend to appeal to me. The accessibility of the language and structure welcomes the relative neophyte like myself. But what was lighting it up like transcendental truth? For these poems were fully true, true in every way they could be. Not just “I recognize the metaphor” true, “I agree with the observation” true. The magical property of the poems is that they seem to communicate the full essence of a thing.
Now, my point about succeeding. Here’s Domanski talking to the CBC:
“What I’m doing is making my way to presence…There’s a very deep truth there that strikes well below the thinking level, a connection richer than language, which can give words a more inclusive depth and reach.”
C’est ça! The transportational quality of the poems – drifting you here, and here, and here – does seem to originate from something richer than language.
This experience grows out of reading the poems for a little while, so I don’t want to include an excerpt or single poem here. But here are a couple of links to Domanski and his work:
Today I will be listening to my new WEBCRUSH. I’m downloading Preslav Literary School’s album Pretext/Context right now, and I think it’s going to sound marvelous in headphones later. I see on the site references to musique concrete, Basinski, and reconstruct/deconstruct. All informative descriptions. The broadest, simplest idea I would tag it with is “accessible experimental”. The accessibility stems from the human hand recognizable as author of the work, and the very earthly soundscapes created. Preview the work here.
Preslav Literary School is Adam Thomas, whose work you may have encountered at various European festivals, where he performs live tape collage. Or you may have encountered his taste in the work of others if you enjoyed transmediale.10, as he was involved with its curation.
His website, in addition to hosting recordings, contains creative writing both journalistic and fictional. I read without surprise that he was reading Gravity’s Rainbow in 2009, and of course I wondered if he completed it (observant readers of Even More Legendary may recall my confession that I have repeatedly failed to do so). The site also reports on projects he’s involved in, like the Berlin Tape Run, whereby a tape changes hands repeatedly over four months, resulting in a collaborative audio document; and Echolalia, featuring a live tape orchestra, a workshop, and a publication of speculative fiction.
I find myself talking about the Kindle more often. At this stage of the game, the conversations still always mine the idea Paper Vs. Electronics. I have heard, and offered open-minded considerations of this comparison. Although as one who resents the increasing time required to maintain an operating charge in the increasing number of devices which require it, who has spent unacceptable amounts of time and money rehabilitating damaged electronics, replacing stolen electronics (and taking extra measures to prevent further theft), downloading and installing new versions (at other times wishing I could download when some wrinkle between me and the internet is preventing it), who worries about the growing mountains of discarded electronics, I naturally enjoy the Neo-Luddite position in these conversations. Fanciers of coffee table books and cookbooks often join me, and I appreciate those perspectives as well.
Increasingly, however, this has felt like an exercise, like insincerity, and I have finally had opportunity and inclination to investigate that feeling. My conclusion? Debating paper versus electronic books is like debating roast turkey versus roast turducken. You can only take it so seriously. In a reductive mood, you start to hear it as “’but I love it as it is’…’yes, but this is MORE of it.” And you realize you are really debating whether or not more is automatically better. More books, and simultaneously more freedom from their physical burden.
Will you gain more physical space as you replace paper books with ones and zeroes in the clouds? Yes. You would also gain that space by reducing your furnishings to one bed. It could serve for sleeping and for sitting, and could seat several people for entertaining. But the number of people who actually need to reclaim the space taken by either their furniture or their books is much smaller than the number of people who argue that this is a benefit of e-readers.
Will you have access to more reading material in mobile or remote situations? Yes. How long is your commute? How brief is your attention span? How long are your vacations? How little do you have to fill your vacationing time? The number of people who have been inconvenienced by a bulky burden of reading material, even after including students, is much lower than the number of people who argue that this is a benefit of e-readers.
And yet these are the conversations we cordially entertain, without even a hint of the ridiculous. I, for one, am committed to greater Kindle-honesty in 2010, and I invite you to join me. Let us admit to its superfluous, gratuitous nature, and get on with some lively discourse on gadgetphilia or marketing or planned obsolescence.
Just saw this joyous collaboration of James Dawe and Fallon, wherein he has adorned their die cut cover of the re-printed One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich with his gleaming and exploding collage goodness. I was transported back to my first experience of the novel, during my eleventh summer: the summer of solitude and self-discovery. Solzhenitsyn’s depictions were so rich, I was romanticizing even *gruel*, hating Mom’s stew a little less when I was made to eat it. Now go check out Dawe’s stuff.
Or if you want to know what I think about other books (actually it’s mostly lists, perhaps wisely. But there is some commentary) go here
Well, I finally finished it. A friend who is an avid reader, and more to my point, a socially avid reader, in that she participates in a book group, tells me that she knows a number of people who have not finished it. A number of people. She had told me this before I finished, but I don’t think it spurred me on. Although I do carry some baggage around my multiple failed attempts to finish Gravity’s Rainbow.
I thought I would feel relieved when I finished. Not just because I had been finding it hard to stick with, but also because I was out of renewals at the library and was reading it on ever more costly overdues.
I didn’t feel relieved. I felt disappointed, at first, and actually I felt an expected disappointment. There had come a point in my reading The God of Small Things when I started expecting ultimate disappointment. I lost faith. But then, having finished, I read the laconic author bio on the back sleeve, and “first book” restored my faith. After all, I had enjoyed beautifully conjured settings, lush atmospheres, and an important social commentary. I suspect it will be memorable. My disappointment was only with a payoff that did not match its buildup. (Nor would I want it to. The payoff was fine. It needed less buildup.) A structural thing, really, and that reminds me of the kind of chop that gets honed with practice.
I hope Arundhati Roy will write a second book.