Monday, October 31, 2011

Books On Deck / Up Next (Pt. III)

Some new books that have recently come out.

The first, "Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia" is by Blake Butler. Butler has put out some fantastically bizarre fiction in the last few years and has quickly become a favorite of mine despite feeling lost in his stories at times. He's doing some really interesting stuff contextually and conceptually that I dig. This new book of his is his first foray into the non-fiction realm, so I'm really anxious to see how he approaches it.

The second, third, and fourth books are all from professors of mine from the University of San Francisco. Every one of them was a fantastic influence on not only my writing, but how I approach the novels that I read.

Stephen Beachy's "Boneyard" is out. I know very little about it, but I know there's some press out there that calls into question some of the text. I'm pretty excited to read this one to find out what all the hubbub is about.

Joshua Mohr's latest, "Damascus," is the final installment of a pseudo trilogy of what he calls "bar fiction" set in San Francisco. It's not so much that there are the same characters as his first two books ("Some Things That Meant the World to Me" and "Termite Parade"), it's more a trilogy based on place and time and setting. His first two were damn entertaining, so I'm ready to dig into this one for sure.

And finally, Lewis Buzbee's "The Haunting of Charles Dickens." It's been out for awhile (since last October, I believe), but I keep forgetting to pick it up since it's found in the Young Adult section. Buzbee writes for younger readers, but you wouldn't necessarily know it to hear him read from the text. The prose is intelligent and smooth and doesn't talk down to the readership, which I imagine is a pretty difficult precipice to walk.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Musical Inspiration - 10/26

I've had a couple breakthroughs in the writing over the last couple weeks. After reading Mark Danielewski's "House of Leaves" and Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern" (a long-time favorite), I came up with 10 new chapter concepts for "Impasto" that I think will really help the narrative out.

Each time I describe the project to people, they inevitably ask "Do I have to know anything about art?" and I reply, "No, but if you did know something about art, you'd probably get more out of the book." I'm incredibly aware of the kind of divide the topic might bring to the readership, which is why I'm so excited about these new sections which kind of break down the tools and the methodology of the artist along with their equipment in an effort to give a little glimpse of this artist world to the reader. It might be successful, it might not, but here's what's been helping me knock out pages this week:

Miles Davis - "Blue in Green"

Miles Davis - "Peewee"

Inverse Cinematics - "Detroit Jazzin'"

4Hero - "Conceptions"

The Noor - "Glowing Desert"

De-Phazz - "Nu Chic"

Diya Al Din - "Royal Mirage"

Dj Krush - "To Be Continued"

Dj Shadow - "Changeling (Transmission 1)"


Monday, October 24, 2011

(Review) Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves" (Pt. 2 of 2)

(cont'd...pages 246-583)

There may be spoilers in this section, so if you have ANY inclination whatsoever to read this book, I'd steer clear of this particular part of the review. Otherwise, feel free to press on.

The original trio of explorers haven't been heard from in several days. Will Navidson, his brother Tom, and friend Reston decide to make the trip into the void that lies beyond this door. A dark spiral staircase has been found and seems to be one of the only parts of the void that remains. It stretches up and down and outward, lengthening and shortening one's journey along it, but does not disappear. It is a landmark of sorts in this place of infinite blackness.

Halloway, one of the original trio, has since lost it. He has shot at his companions, who now cower in one of the hundreds of side rooms that seem to appear on a whim. Navidson and Reston finally find them and get them out of the "great hallway" as they've come to call it while the house seems to devour Halloway, leaving no trace of the man. He is gone.

Karen, Navidson's wife, is now preparing to leave the house. She doesn't want to stay there any longer and for good reason. The marriage is fracturing and splintering even more now. The kids have developed strange and unexplainable quirks. As Navidson, his brother and Reston emerge with the the other two explorers (one of whom has died from Halloway's shooting him), the house lashes out. Where before the house had left its actions firmly rooted behind the appearing door and in the hallway beyond, now it has moved out into every other part of the house. The black closes in on the family quickly, turning the house upside down and inside out and taking Navidson's brother with it. Navidson watches his brother, a man he's finally gotten on better terms with after so many years, get swallowed by the house.

Throughout all this are the sexual exploits of Johnny Truant and his friend Lude in the footnotes. But it's not the sexual and drug-fueled escapades that become important so much as it is the truth that becomes imperative to Johnny. He's copying every word of Zampano's original notes down and yet finds his life spiraling every downward. He never leaves his home, he loses his job, he stops eating...he looks like death to most people, but eventually goes on a kind of journey to find the house or any of the people involved in creating this whole storyline.

I hesitate to call this book a love story, though that is indeed what Navidson and Karen's story becomes; it is a reaffirmation of their love for each other once their facades have been completely ripped away over the course of the following months during their separation. Johnny Truant's story, however, feels more like that of a monk, designated to copy the story of the house down in an effort to make sure that it remains vibrant and alive despite all evidence to the contrary.

Like I said before in my last entry, this book is a puzzle. After all is said and done, there are some photos of collages that have been put together, a part of which is a card of symbols for (I'm assuming) airline pilots or hikers. One of the symbols is a kind of Roman Numberal II, printed on both the inside front and back covers. This symbol means "require medical supplies." Take from that what you will.

The cover is a beautifully embossed maze convalescing into a golden spiral shape with a compass at its center. The cover is just shy of covering the whole book, which some have speculated is a metaphor for the hallway's dimensions in relation to the rest of the house; they do not coexist in the same temporal space. Their measurements will never become equal.

The deeper I get into the storylines, the more I want of the academic deconstruction of "The Navidson Record." By breaking it down from an almost nearly objective viewpoint, Danielewski allows the important moments to become supercharged with emotion without relying on terrible metaphors or bad descriptions. Keeping it academic approaches the terrorizing nature of the house against the family in a way that actually felt more terrifying as a reader.

And as much as I lost my empathy for Truant the longer the book went on, the writing in his sections was phenomenal. It was like watching a slow burn, a junkie dying a physical death, a man completely losing himself over the course of a year or two. The pacing was just right, as was the introspective nature of many of the passages. You could see that the story of the house, real or fictional, was taking its toll on Johnny. This has led some to wonder whether "The Navidson Record" is even real to Johnny. Or whether Zampano even really exists.

Fun fact: Danielewski's sister is none other than modern rock singer Poe, who created the album "Haunted" based on her brother's book.

Having finished this book within a week, but having not explored all the inner secrets of it quite yet, I realize that my own novel is pathetically anemic. This was Danielewski's first book and granted it may have taken him ten years to complete it, I understand how far I have to go at this point in order to achieve something of this magnitude. The pure creativity that has to exist for this kind of text to happen is through the roof and only makes me want to press harder into my own dark labyrinth of text. 


Saturday, October 22, 2011

(Review) Mark Z. Danielewski's "House of Leaves" (Pt. 1 of 2)

This is part one of a two part review. It spans pages 1-245 and pages 584-644 (this will make sense later). 
I'm breaking this review up into two parts for a couple reasons:

1.) This is one of the thickest books I've ever read.
2.) This is one of the most dense, most frightening, most complex books I've ever read.

I'm something of a nerd when it comes to the paranormal. I think there's something fascinating with confronting those things we don't understand, that we can't understand. We, the living, are death-focused. We ponder the existence of life after death and the possibility of death trying to remain in the world of the living. It's provocative and it's interesting; the unexplainable will forever be at the forefront of our collective imaginations.

I saw a show awhile back about the haunting of an old southern prison that people used to call "The Sugarhouse." It was called such because it's where the slaves and prisoners were taken "to be sweetened up" in order to give information to their jailors. Many of these prisoners died from various forms of torture and thus, their spirits are said to still haunt the grounds.

This got me thinking about writing my own horror story, something I had never thought about before as the stories I'd always wanted to tell were on the far other side of the spectrum of reality. But then another show called "American Horror Story" (my review here) showed up on the FX channel and really convinced me that I should give it a try. From my bookshelf, I started looking at various books that explored the world of horror and decided upon Danieleski's "House of Leaves," which has turned out to be a great jump-off point for my next writing endeavor.

Sitting at a lofty 709 pages, the text and formatting make it closer to a 1400 page book. We start off in the perspective of our first narrator (there are multiple), a tattoo artist named Johnny Truant. His friend Lude shows him the apartment of a man who died. In this apartment they find pages upon pages of the former occupant's writing which is essentially what the actual book is; it is the documentation, in a scholarly style (a thesis or doctoral research paper) of a collection of footage called "The Navidson Record." In this apartment, they also find several locks on the door, fingernail scratchings in the floor, and all the windows shut lock-tight with no way of being opened. The former occupant, a man named Zampano, has compiled these pages and notated them with quotes from books that don't exist or cannot be found.

From this point on, we're essentially reading "The Navidson Record" at the same time as Truant. "The Navidson Record" turns out to be the video footage, spliced and edited post-trauma, of a family moving into a house. One day, a door appears in their hallway that wasn't there before and, upon an initial inspection by the father (simply called Navy in most instances), the hallway extends for miles...out through where their backyard should be. It is an impossible situation that logic cannot deconstruct. The halls should not exist since the backyard is still there, but they do. The door should not exist, but it does. 

While we get the very academic deconstruction of the video footage (through quotes from books about the incident and scientific explanations of echoes and mythology in regards to labyrinths), we also get to see the slow fracturing of not only the Navidson family, but of our main narrator, Truant, as well. Truant's prose becomes more grandiose and lofty as each page passes. The more he reads of the document, the more he feels like he's "losing it," at one point even imagining that he leaves his apartment only to be hit by a truck, flung on to the top of his car, which is then run into by the same truck, which then spills gas and the possibility of an explosion. In fact, this moment is pure hallucination on his part. These moments come more and more often the deeper we delve into the text.

When Navidson realizes that he has a serious issue with his house, he calls not only his brother (with whom he had a rocky relationship), but also later calls in a team of outdoorsmen who are well-versed in traversing new and unexplored areas - people who have experience in intentionally getting lost. This is where the book starts getting wonky.

At first, I didn't much care for the strange formatting; footnotes ended up sideways on the upper parts of pages, bits of text were turned backwards in their own little boxes in the middle of the page (see above photo) and often contained a litany of names and places that seemed to have no real bearing on either of the two storylines running at that point. But I realized soon that, while the explorers were getting lost in this new cavernous and unexplainable hallway (for 8 DAYS!!!), the text itself was mimicking the kind of shape-changing effect that the hallway had for those involved. Nothing was static, everything was up for grabs. Stability of anything could not be counted on. Everything about these passages was psychological terror and it worked. 

There are a few appendices in the back that are referred to in this first section, one of which are the letters Truant's mother sends him from a mental home while he's bouncing around from foster home to foster home. I absolutely cannot ruin my favorite letter, one that I spent an hour decoding by making words and sentences from the first letter of each word in the nonsensical text, but suffice it to say that it wasn't the first time Danielewski uses the text in an incredibly effective way to bring about more terror on the part of the reader in an effort to empathize with the characters. The process of the decoding was slow, agonizing, drawn out, and absolutely powerful. I felt my chest constrict as I realized what the hidden message said.

I have stopped at page 245 to write this because the more I read, the more engrossed I become. The explorers are lost in the cavernous hallway, which has itself produced a downward-spiraling staircase into an unimaginable black depth and more hallways and rooms for them to explore. Navidson and his brother and their friend have gone in after the explorers, knowing that something terrible has happened to one or all of them. I know that if I don't stop now, I will have finished this book by nightfall and I almost want to relish the delicious terror that is building up at a grueling pace. 

Despite some very tangential movements in the storyline, both in the academic deconstruction and Truant's interludes and commentary, I'm thoroughly engrossed in this book. It's taken some serious patience to get through some of the initial chapters, but it's absolutely paying off right now. I have zero idea as to how this will end and there are very few clues leading me on. The book is a puzzle to be solved. So much so, in fact, that there is a web forum devoted to picking apart each little clue that Danielewski leaves scattered throughout the book. Like a vision of something truly terrible and unimaginable, I can't take my eyes off it for fear of losing it altogether...


Friday, October 21, 2011

The Cremaster Cycle

The Cremaster Cycle...where to even begin with this. These art installations/videos/mind-scramblers are the brainchildren of Matthew Barney, husband to Icelandic Queen of Pop, Bjork. I have yet to watch all of them all the way through (I believe there are some 7+ hours worth of footage/storyline spanning the different cycles). Below are some teaser/trailers for each one and a description. If you've got nothing else going on and want to take a drug-free trip, have at it. There's not a whole lot else to compare these to. Think Shakespeare meets mythology meets Hunter S. Thompson meets Pan's Labyrinth meets LSD and you've about got the jist of things.

Nancy Spector has described the Cremaster cycle (1994–2002) as "a self-enclosed aesthetic system."[2] The cycle includes the films as well as photographs, drawings, sculptures, and installations the artist produced in conjunction with each episode. Its conceptual departure point is the male cremaster muscle, the primary function of which is to raise and lower the testes in response to temperature.

The project is filled with anatomical allusions to the position of the reproductive organs during the embryonic process of sexual differentiation: Cremaster 1 represents the most "ascended" or undifferentiated state, Cremaster 5 the most "descended" or differentiated.

The cycle repeatedly returns to those moments during early sexual development in which the outcome of the process is still unknown — in Barney's metaphoric universe, these moments represent a condition of pure potentiality. As the cycle evolved over eight years, Barney looked beyond biology as a way to explore the creation of form, employing narrative models from other realms, such as biography, mythology, and geology.

The films were not made in numerical order (1–5), but rather in the order 4, 1, 5, 2, 3 – precisely, 4 in 1994, 1 in 1995, 5 in 1997, 2 in 1999, 3 in 2002. The numerical order is the thematic order, while in order of production the films increase in production quality and ambition, and they can alternatively be viewed in any order, as different views of a set of themes and preoccupations.

The films are significantly different in length; the longest (and last-made) is #3, at over 3 hours, while the remaining four are approximately 1 hour each, for a total of approximately 7 hours – #3 itself is almost half the total length. There is precious little dialog in any of the films; only #2 features significant dialog.[3]
An important precursor of the Cremaster Cycle is Drawing Restraint, which is also a biologically inspired multi-episode work in multiple media, also featuring the field emblem.

Part One of Cycle One

Part One of Cycle Two

Part One of Cycle Three

Part One of Cycle Four

Part One of Cycle Five


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flash Fiction - "Weather Vain"

I hate dinner parties, the ones where I’m the odd man out and everyone else seems to know each other. I know nothing about these people and they know nothing about me, so the obligatory “getting to know you” conversations occur every half an hour. Someone new shows up and I’m introduced again and again, putting my most current biography on repeat and everyone falls asleep at the same part.

‘There are 50 of us,’ I say, trying to make it sound glamorous and special at the start. ‘One for every state. We have our own offices away from the rest of the building. They are air-conditioned and made to look like a small home away from home and that is where I work for 24 hours a day.’

At this point I’m usually asked if I have my own home. ‘No. Once you have this job, you never really get another one,’ and they will ooh and ahh as if I’m the most exciting thing to have stepped in the party. ‘Once hired, we move into these separate office-homes, pre-fab and already furnished with utilities paid.’

Their eyes will widen and their mouths will form o’s in wonder as they hang on to my every word. ‘What IS it you do?’ they ask, now more curious than ever and I will explain that my work touches everyone on a global scale and this excites them even further until I’m almost afraid that they shall eat me instead of the appetizers beautifully laid out on the kitchen counter.

‘I manage anywhere from 20-40 video cameras in my living room at any given moment, keeping a constant vigil on the weather. When you see the weather channel, I’m the lone person doing that. I AM the weather channel,’ I say as confidently as possible and then sipping my drink so I don’t see the disappointment in their eyes.

I see it in their lips, the hesitation and the halting of an upturned nose at this news. Suddenly, their canap├ęs don’t taste as good and they need a refill of whatever drink had been their friend that night and I am left to wait around until the next curious person makes to shake my hand.

Sometimes I get lucky and a new person will come around who has yet to be briefed by the rest of the party and I pretend to be something else. I will shroud myself in faux secrecy and hopefully keep someone’s attention long enough to get past my occupation and into conversation I am lacking at home. I’d stop coming to these dinner parties, but I have no one to talk to at home but my equipment.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Books On Deck / Up Next (Pt. II)

One of the newer sections of "Impasto" is being told in stage-play/screenplay format, so I'm getting back to reading some old plays by more contemporary writers. I'm also trying to read more of the super experimental stuff to get my mind moving again as I feel a little stagnant creatively. I'm hoping to jar a few ideas loose over the next month and a half, so here are a few things on my to-read list: