Friday, July 23, 2010

I finally finished Bolano's 2666 tonight. This book has carried me through early-morning bus rides, tedious afternoons and breaks at work, and who knows what else. I loved most of it but found the fourth chapter ("The Part About the Crimes," also the most critically-hyped section) slow going.

Soon (i.e. once I've got my hands on a copy) I'll be tackling Thomas Ligotti's The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. I can't think of a more exciting book right now - I've only read two of Ligotti's books but his style of morbid fiction and his worldview I'm totally on board with. His ideas, expressed as much in interviews as in his work, have to do with the general bleakness of existence - as Cioran put it, "the trouble with being born."

This is a philosophical vein that's occupied me a lot in the last year or so - not exactly nihilism, not exactly anti-natalism, but I can see my way to sympathizing with both positions. A lot of this comes from a few books I've read in the past few years, each of which complicates any possibility of empathy with this philosophical vein - Kierkegaard points obliquely toward it but offers the possibility of redemption via a radical inward form of Christianity; Dominic Fox's Cold World which I read last October argues that anhedonia is a totally appropriate response to contemporary life. I'm not sure I agree with this - most of the writers I value most who come from a depressive point of departure seem to react to the contemporary world with various degrees of unhealthy neurosis - Kierkegaard's fanaticism, Duras's alcoholism, Bernhard and Cioran's misanthropy - but not exactly the sort of anhedonia that cripples you from any possibility of creation and invention. If writing weren't a way out, the ultimate depressives Bernhard and Cioran - or Kafka and Beckett, who took their mistrust even further - wouldn't have done so much of it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Here are all the Cannes titles I want to see (without having looked at any of the plot descriptions, which I'm sure will intrigue me in others on the list). Especially stoked for the Weerasethakul and obviously the Godard.

LUNG BOONMEE RALUEK CHAT (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives) directed by Apichatpong WEERASETHAKUL
OUTRAGE directed by Takeshi KITANO
POETRY directed by LEE Chang-dong
HAHAHA directed by HONG Sangsoo
HAI SHANG CHUAN QI (I WISH I KNEW) directed by JIA Zhangke
CARLOS directed by Olivier ASSAYAS
TAMARA DREWE directed by Stephen FREARS

Today at church they ordained a new priest who looks like Michael Cera.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The other day I finished Harold Brodkey's Stories in an Almost Classical Mode.

Brodkey is a hard nut to crack: his stories obviously got worse as he went on, shifting subtly from a fictive mode something like Faulkner and Woody Allen in one unholy cigarettes-and-booze-fueled combination into florid dialectically-rendered monologues. One of the early stories was a real delight - involving a self-consciously Jewish fella entertaining an uptight German friend and her new husband the Count until an old friend of his, freaking out on acid, drops in and causes havoc. But with the later ones I found myself just skimming. Some weird stuff in this book involving childhood sexuality especially, very acutely observed and he doesn't seem to have been aiming for shock. I've looked a little into his Runaway Soul but didn't get far - I found his This Wild Darkness one of the most horrifying things I've read in a long time, it was written as he was dying of AIDS and it's unsparing in its explication of all the details of such a death.

Now working on Rosalind Belben novels. Pretty great so far!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hey, it's been a while since I updated this. Here goes, with some of my recent reading:

- Alfred Corn, A Call in the Midst of the Crowd. Fantastic lyric poetry about NYC interspersed with prose selections. I'll read more of his work.

- Gert Hofmann, Luck. A moving and comical novel about divorce, sketched oddly from the perspective of a kid caught between his father, his mother and her "new man." Hofmann maintains a continual tone of surprise and bemusement which I like.

- Marguerite Duras, No More and Four Novels. The first is near-incoherent: her deathbed ramblings transcribed by Yann Andrea Steiner. Of the latter, I'd read Moderato Cantabile - by far the best - over last summer one evening with a glass of wine, feeling very much like its protagonist. Of the other three novels, The Square - told almost entirely in ruminatory dialogue - is the best.

- Joyce Carol Oates, A Fair Maiden, Beasts, I'll Take You There. She's really treading the same territory - young girls, mysterious/predatory men, the awakening of sinister sexuality - but she does it so well that I know I'll enjoy almost anything she writes these days.

- Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies: a Love Story. This was pretty grand too - slightly satirical and madcap, also desperate and tragic. I'll read Singer's stories eventually.

I wish I had more to say, but work is keeping me pretty exhausted these days.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

figured I'd repost my Martyrs review here:

Being an idiot, I watched this French horror film right before work the other day and lived to regret its gruesome images playing out in my mind over the course of a long shift.

Previously, I'd heard plenty about how horrifying and depressing it was; not much about what actually happens in it. I'm always leery of films that are touted as holding philosophical ambitions - a lot of the time, no good comes of this unless the director is a bona fide genius. Indeed, the philosophical angle of Martyrs is Georges Bataille-lite - his work The Tears of Eros could practically serve as an extended footnote to this film's main ideas, not least in that book's replication of a famous photograph also reproduced (and erroneously attributed) in the film - but the visual panache takes things further.

It's competently made and well-acted, though the actresses spend most of the film weeping (an achievement in itself - hard to induce that) or in a quasi-catatonic state. But the acting and directing aren't the real draw here, it's the visceral horror of the film. This one doesn't go quite as far as something like Wolf Creek in inciting existential panic in the viewer, but it gets pretty close. The ending strikes me a few different ways - it's a cop-out but the most appropriate ending for this scenario - it's anchored in semi-annoying ambiguity, but specifying would have led to a precise theodicy that doesn't really suit the cryptic tone of the film. Visually speaking, the film falls in an unexpectedly giallo vein - attractive girls running around and having to deal with awful things.

It's hard to reveal the plot, since this holds so many sudden twists and turns that a review really shouldn't discuss. Anyone who knows Bataille's arguments in the aforementioned Tears of Eros will have grasped the concept behind the film; indeed this amounts to an enactment of his thought far more successful than the likes of Ma Mere (as superficially enticing a film as that was). The movie seems to me to unfold in three stages or so - an opening sequence of trauma and supernatural horror somewhat reminiscent of Argento's Phenomena in its mingling of weird psychological states with similarly weird supernatural manifestations; the second bit, dealing largely with foreshadowing exposition of what'll eventually unfold, and the last half-hour or so, which is among the most extreme and disturbing passages of cinema I've ever witnessed. Coming from someone who's seen as many disturbing movies as me, that's a compliment.

The film opens with a young girl running down the street after escaping a brutal ordeal of torture, and delves into the question of precisely what happened to her and why (a mid-film shift from one protagonist to another is rewardingly disconcerting). Suffice to say that a scene involving "the final stage" of a particularly unpleasant physical ordeal, and its aftermath, is among the most unnerving (if implausible) things I've witnessed in a long time. The director is remaking Hellraiser, and he's more cut out for that than anyone else I've seen save maybe Alexandre Aja (the direction of this film is visually similar to the works of Aja I've seen, a similarity in which more stern critics than me might find room for objection, but I don't really care - the fluid camera-work and the lack of confusingly-edited sequences keep things moving).

French horror these days seems to lie along a couple of axes - we have the relatively cheap and stupid - if enjoyable - films such as Inside and Them, but then the really great stuff by the likes of Dumont, Denis, Breillat. I'm pretty certain that Pascal Laugier will never land in those ranks, but this film seems an intermediary between the two modes of intellectually-profound work and exploitation cinema.

That said, I need to watch this again to get a handle on it - the first time through, I was so caught up in anticipating the repulsive things guaranteed to happen that I might have overlooked whatever artistry lies there. Internet hype can be such a liability for these kinds of films - I remember how disappointed I was in things like Eden Lake and Strangers.

Anyway, I recommend this to anyone interested in extreme and compelling cinema, which represents at least some portion of my friends. Be warned, though - as someone who's sat through films like Salo and the aforementioned Wolf Creek with few qualms, I feel like this one will haunt me for much longer than those. If you like really extreme horror, watch this. If not, steer clear.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Here are some good books I've read lately:

Theresa Hak Kyung Cha - Dictee
Anthony Flint - Wrestling with Moses
Robert Creeley - For Love
Jean de Berg - The Image
Charles Bukowski - Love Is a Dog From Hell
John Taggart - There Are Birds
Camille de Toledo - The Coming of Age at the End of History
Dominic Fox - Cold World
Frank Bidart - Golden State
John Ashbery - The Double Dream of Spring
H.P. Lovecraft - Supernatural Horror in Literature
Fanny Howe - The Winter Sun
J.M. Coetzee - Summertime

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The captain reached for something to hold on to,
"Help me," he whispered, as he rose slowly to his feet
The boy's face went pale, he recognized the sound
Silently, he pulled down the shade against the shadow
Lost in the doorstep of the empty house
I'm trying to find my way home,
And I'm sorry...
but I miss you. I miss you.
I swear I'll make it up to you,