Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes. Thirty-nine and kicking.
ANGRY FRIEND: We're both saying that there is a preoccupation with a work's reality, whether gangsta-rap credentials or memoir credentials. But does that preoccupation exist because of a deeper uneasiness? Maybe, as you say, these are just maneuvers that allow readers to get inside a work, ways for them to verify a work's fact-truth so that they feel justified moving forward with their own emotional-truth. But that puts us back at the top of the loop. Why do people need fact-truth, especially when it's so clearly a special effect? If the effect of a Work on Reader(s) is the only ultimate outcome, then why isn't there broader agreement that what matters isn't a work's Truth so much as what's true in it? Interestingly this was Oprah's first line of argument -- that the book connected with her whether or not it was factual. Case closed. But then came this second phase, with her talk of betrayal, with his apology, with the backpedaling over who knew what when. That's the wrangling you're talking about, which you say needs to be done so that people don't feel like frauds. I don't disagree. I'm just wondering what there is in the broader culture that predisposes people to feel like frauds, and whether that weakens them significantly when it comes to making real judgments about truth and lies. You say that most people think that "if [they] can track down the actual origins of someone's story, then [they'll] be holding something solid." Again I agree. But why are they so covetous of this solidity? Is it partly because the world around them seems less solid, filled with fake-o intimacy and anonymous communication and scripted tv masquerading as reality tv? Oh, also, I made one dum error re: Alice Sebold. Lovely Bones is a novel, and the book she wrote before, Lucky, was a memoir that was relatively unsuccessful. So that's either a counterexample, or another interesting wrinkle. (In her story she was victimized by someone else, not her own victim, so maybe that's a factor--she had nothing to apologize for and no easy way to emotionally resolve her story.)
ME: I think the "squeeze" theory is relevant. The increased obviousness of something we will call lying (see Ari Fleischer) jacks up the need for something that might not be a lie. This all being separate from the effects created by the things that do or don't need to be lies to work.
ANGRY FRIEND: Also this is all pretty close to Baudrillard and his root story of hyperreality -- the map that Borges wrote about that is exactly as big as the territory it is mapping. That's the real that is not real.
so I guess we're even.
ANGRY FRIEND: What do you think of this whole James Frey flap?
ME: I think dude made a lot of stuff up.
ANGRY FRIEND: I feel unsympathetic toward him and not surprised by the behavior of the publishing industry. He lied. No one knew, or did the things they needed to do to know, and now they can throw up their hands and feign distress as the book sells better and better. And Oprah? I mean, she's trying to save face, or shear off someone else's face, but what is it other than showbiz? She's not stupid. She had her hair done special because it's a show about integrity. I mean, it's fine. Fiction shouldn't be confused with memoir. Granted. But this is the part of the culture I hate the most -- the exhibitionist behavior, followed by the apology, followed by the reward. Dignity conspicuously absent. This is also why I hate memoirs, generally. Why was it so important for him to call his book a memoir? Because people care (or think they care) about "real" stories more than fictional ones. If it was a novel it might just drift into oblivion. so that's wrong, for starters. It's a stupid way to think of the world, that "reality" deserves such privilege, especially when it's rarely real. There is something wrong with the culture when that honor is never rewarded, and what's rewarded instead is this jackatoon lie-and-confess cycle. Noise is rewarded, even if it's stupid noise. That has an indirect effect on all of us and also sometimes a direct effect. It's why sometimes people would rather read a memoir, or Us magazine, than a novel or a poem. It seems like reality, and it connects them to what they imagine is real human experience at a time when lots of other things (media explosion, tv, internet, shrinkage of visual arts, perversion of spirituality for political aims) are disconnecting them from that experience. Obviously people are hungry for "reality." Why else would there be so much reality TV? Such a huge boom in the memoir business? Did books like "million little pieces," "lovely bones," "running with scissors," "prozac nation" make the same size dents forty years ago? Twenty? I think people are feeling overtaken by unreality so they grasp blindly at anything labelled "real." That doesn't work for me. It makes me want to grab a baseball bat and smash this whole story into a billion littler pieces.
ME: I don't feel the same sense of outrage, maybe because there is an ickiness to this story that will haunt Frey long after the money's run out—call it "The O.J. Effect"—and that will do more than any outrage I work up. I am more interested in the public need for a thing—a text, a song—to be tied to a back story, a credential of some kind, that then gives people license to admit (if only to themselves) that they are feeling what they've already felt, but for some "good" reason. For example, when people say "fake" or "pre-fab," what they really mean is "bad." "Pre-fab" has the same relationship to "fab" as "flammable" does to "inflammable." What isn't fabricated? What effect is unreal? The Frey flap is about the wrangling people need to do to reach the emotional goodies they want without feeling like frauds, even though they can't technically be frauds. Frey has a consciousness he wants to describe. Frey's book—which I have not read—will resonate or not, and will resemble someone else's consciousness. The discussion is like gangsta rap's constant I.D. checking; a larger conversation of the work has been reduced to checkpoints and passport inspections. The thinking goes, that if we can track down the actual origin of someone's story, we will be holding something solid. But, in the meantime, we go on having reactions and relations to the work, no matter who is lying about what. Time does not stop.
Ben and I think you should listen to Mutt Lange, because Mutt is always right. If he makes you play your guitar part fifty-three times and it is so boring and difficult that you must cry, this pain will be eased later when your album sells eleven million copies. You will want to go to his castle and thank him, but you will not be able to. You will be OK with this. You could always settle for this if you need to touch the hem of his garment, or just stay home and imagine being a South African katrillionaire.
This is not about the web, so these names will not be linked to any web presences. This is about people who make good on their word and honor their friends beyond merit and reason. This is about a week when you are lost to the void if you do not have such friends.
For lifting, waiting, listening, talking and being in place: Jordan Davis, Molly Murray, Andy Hawkins, Ben Greenman, Britt Lindsay, Joshua Clover, Jowi Schmitz, Jonathan Shainin, Tara Gallagher, Jon Caramanica.
For working, every time, even the hundredth time: Miles Davis "In A Silent Way."
The uptown "express" was crawling. A man, who said he was from Africa, was preaching with a Bible in his hand. He said that he had seen people eat grass. "Have you ever seen a man eat grass?" he asked us. "The grass runs out, and then all you have is dirt." He likened homosexuals to seedless grapes and said that iPods were hurting our frontal lobes. "These rappers, nothing good ever comes out of their brains." He said that this week's unseasonably warm weather and the European union were both predicted in the Bible. Before he got off at Union Square, he said "Time is running out."
"You wake Mark up."
"Fine. But this is the last time."
"I think someone might steal those blocks. Please try to disguise them. Make them look like a lady in a skirt."
Kevin Sampson writes to tell us us about his 2005, and appends a brief guide to his novels.
"The accident was as follows. I took the absurd decision to lop a bush that had grown wild. I'm not a person that warms to any type of manual labour, and as for working outdoors...no chance. But this bush was vexing me. I decided that it had to go, so I borrowed one of those strimmer-saws. So unaccustomed am I to the workings of such instruments that, during the acclimatisation stage, I 'skinned' the protective plastic coating on the cable. I only know this now, of course. So picture the scene: 240 volts of power surging through a naked cable. All it needed was for some galoot to place his hand on the live wire. This is precisely what took place. I took up the slack on the cable, nimbly gripping the exposed wire. I became a part of the electrical circuit, frazzling gaily while the world span on its axis. The cutter, of course, went out of control: I could neither direct it nor drop it as a result of the electro-magnetic whatever that held me in its centre. For as long as I could stay conscious - and I was expiring rapidly, already contemplating the banality of my own death - I tried to duck my head out of the saw's path. I succeeded - but only in so far as that, instead of chopping my head off, the rampant scythe just hacked my shoulder to bits instead. It was truly horrific. I smelt myself smouldering.
You should take the books in the following order - Awaydays, Outlaws, Powder, Clubland, Freshers, Leisure. Leisure is fairly insubstantial, though lots of fun. It was my third novel and I admit it; I was becoming tired of having to explain to my nippers why Daddy wrote Sex Books! As noble a motive as any, I think you'll find."
"What does a boat wear?"
"I don't know."
"A life vest."
The Lashes: no.
It's sad when a Grace Jones album isn't even worth $1.65.
I cannot remember the rapper's name but there is a terrible English rapper who is right now rapping terrible rhymes over The Cure's "Close To Me." I think it is called "Assess Your Life" and it is reassuring, this song, because it takes us all back to the time when neither white people nor British people could rhyme, when the subway was a penny, and a nickel could get you a roast pig and a close shave.
"What was the bridge's favorite baseball team?"
"I don't know. Who?"
"The Bridgeport Bluefish."
"I get it."
"What are walnuts made from?"
"I don't know."
"Did you make these up?"
"Yes. They're very good."
"Can you put the Depeche Mode CD back in the car. I don't like the Blur CD."
"But leave the Blondie one."