Consultation No.2: With James Joyce

We were very excited to, through the magic of imagination, talk with James Joyce about his writing, how he climbed down from the rarefied atmosphere of a classical education to wallow in the morass of humanity, as he put it over the telephone during our first contact with him for this talk. We were able immediately to divine that he didn’t suffer fools, so we tiptoed cautiously into his life and writing.

images

GFB: We understand that you were something for a rebellious student. (He held his cane between his legs as he considered the comment.)

JJ: Naughty, rather. Hardly rebellious. We would have bloody well felt the headmaster’s cane across our bums had we been outright rebellious.

GFB: There’s a difference, then.

JJ: Of course. We boys had no vision necessary for rebellion. We were simply feeling our oats, as you might have it, expressing without an objective, you see?

GFB: Yes, I think so, although I’ve never thought about the difference between the two as significant.

Unknown

JJ: Such ability to discriminate is the difference between a cultured intellect and robust ignorance. One of the few benefits we gained from our approach to learning at the time.

GFB: I see. So let me skip ahead and ask you, when was it that you first came to view literature as a vehicle for personal rebellion?

JJ: What? Are you daft? I never came to view such a thing. I assume – or shall I – that you’ve read my Dubliners stories? (He began to twirl his cane, as if agitated.)

GFB: Sure have. As have almost every secondary school student of my era.

JJ: (Here, he relaxed and offered a weak smile.) And there you’ve struck the correct note. My era is different from yours, yours will be from the subsequent one. It’s the persistence of social habits that drives later generations mad. And so we writers challenge modes of thinking in what we put to the page.  If we didn’t, and later generations saw much change in attitudes, habits, and education, then our children’s children would go mad. That’s the trouble with religion, as I see it.

GFB: Trying to fit old ways of thinking into new social circumstances?

JJ: Quite so. We of dawning generations must feel something, and were we to stick with the tried and true, we would be known only for our madness.

GFB: Certainly no writer wishes that.

JJ: It’s a human trait to need something to believe in, and when the gods of our beliefs decay and turn to dust, we become caricatures of human beings. There’s no life in us, then.

GFB: Thank you so much, Mr. Joyce, for your insights. You have indeed been a giant in twentieth century literature.

JJ: Balderdash! The times compel us to do what small things we do. Were we not to accept our lot, what would come of us? Of our world?

 

Visit our website here, where you’ll find more on books and media. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll discover more on ideas and events that matter to us — and possibly to you.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Dangerous But Beautiful

Unknown

If you’re a writer, has your writing seemed milk-toasty at times? Or if you’re a reader, has a book disappointed because it is, well, milk-toasty?

Then if you have access to the January/February issue of Poets&Writers, Jan/Feb 2016, turn to Tom Spanbauer’s essay, Dangerous Writing. I’ll leave it to you to discover from his essay what dangerous writing is. But there’s a rather unsubtle hint in a paragraph on the third column of page 41.

Basic to Dangerous Writing is the belief that by going on this journey from blood to bone, by laying out hard truths, through our own intelligence, intuition, and ability we will make a personal discovery of reality. The discovery will be something that is ancient, but because it is we who have been on the front lines, this discovered reality is truly personal—completely fresh and new.

images

This is the reality of literature, I believe—it takes ancient truths and spins them out in the context of the time and the author. This has been the truth of literature, more particularly of our modern, secular literature than of any writing throughout the ages.

But what does this mean? What does it say to humanity?

We live in a superficial age. This bouncing about on the surface of life allows us to hide behind style, posturing, the confidence of knowing too little, especially about ourselves. But by participating  in Spanbauer’s delving, we discover, first, something enduring about ourselves, not just as a storyteller but as a human being. Then we discover how that personal something finds its place in the human condition as a whole.

It may frighten, dear writer, and it may hurt peeling away those superficial confidences, but think of the story you are deep within. Think of its value to your readers. In that light, it’s not dangerous at all, is it?

 

As a postscript, I had to dig deep to write a story as provocative as the one advertised on page 134 of this edition of P&W, “We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.” If you haven’t read it, take a chance with it. I believe it is at least one version of our time. If you have read it, please let your reading friends know about this book. Thanks.

Find Truth, Tell It

th

 

With today’s media having been gobbled up by bottom-line-must-be-in-the black types, it’s hard for the book game to cultivate writers, and so we must do it ourselves. As I implied in this early post, writers have always found it hard to comment on their various societies, their foibles, their fledgling promise. We feel the pressure of politics, religion, and customs, aspects that support creaking social structures and deter us from looking at the unvarnished truths of our world. But this we must do; the power of the written word endures while politicians, preachers, and purveyors of the status quo wither and turn to dust. We writers and the fruits of our labors are the closest thing to immortality available in this evanescent world.

So be strong, writers. Don’t be swayed by the temporary comforts of politics, of religion and custom. Tell the truth, as you see it. Even though we’re mere chroniclers, our dedication to Truth, as Plato would have termed it, will outlast them all.

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Good Fortune in Dystopia

 

we are strong

 

I’m truly fortunate in being able to keep writing and in having my work published. This Saturday, March 15, 2014, a dystopian novella of mine will be launched as an e-book. The name? We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

It’s something of a fable, a cautionary tale, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the U.S… oh, what the heck, I’ll just give you the cover blurb:

2090 A.D. — The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

 Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

 

I’m rather proud of this story for a number of reasons, foremost among them that I began with a vague idea of what I wanted to write and let my subconscious lead me into the morass of modern culture and the dangers it poses to us personally and to civilization itself.

And the book trailer was developed in similar fashion by my film ace, Kevin.

If you’re interested in buying the e-book after reading this and investigating it on my website, please wait until the 15th to do so. A number of sales on a given day are something you can collectively do to help the author. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Thanks,

Bob

You Can Go Home Again

The Black House, by Peter May

th

The twentieth century saw many people leave the land of their roots for what seemed more opportunity in the growing, vital urban areas. And many of these discovered that this move didn’t allow new roots and a new culture; instead it left them emotionally adrift. Peter May embraces this idea by setting his story off the Scottish coast on the Isle of Lewis, where Gaelic is still spoken, where centuries of hunting on a speck of an isle constantly renew those who live on Lewis – and those who have returned there.

Edinburgh cop Fin McLeod is tasked with returning to Lewis, the place of his birth and early years, in order to assess whether a grisly murder on Lewis is in fact connected with a very similar murder in Edinburgh. The author’s rendering of this link, and the solving of the murder on Lewis, is handled in a somewhat slapdash manner, but the murders aren’t really his project in The Black House. Instead, it’s an examination of Fin’s roots on Lewis after an eighteen year absence, his renewed relationships with old friends—and an old lover. It betrays nothing to tell that the Isle of Lewis, despite bitter memories, which include a handful of deaths, reaches out to Fin, urges him home.

th-1

May’s writing here casts a somber but deeply rendered mood over his story, reminding this reader of Dennis Lehane’s writing. His prose is often exquisite, his depictions of hunting birds on a forbidding isle named An Sqeir perfectly rendered. Reading May’s work here is an opportunity to immerse oneself in an ancient culture that struggles daily to remain pristine and yet vital.

My rating 17 of 20 stars

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Wellbeing Economics

Harper’s Magazine, February 2014

Harpers-1402-302x410

I’m a little late with this issue of Harper’s Magazine, but here goes another magazine review week:

Okay, readers, what trumps economics in your personal life, in your family’s? Well, I’m not here to play guessing games, so let me tell you my answer: the wellbeing that comes from good, sound economics – in my checking account and personal investments, in my family’s, in the state and nation’s and, these days, in the world’s equivalents.

We don’t get encouragement in those veins very often today; we are, as Thomas Frank writes in this issue, scared numb by those who want to be our political daddies. And as Jeff Madrick writes in similar fashion. If you don’t believe this is a sticking point in macroeconomics, read Jeff Madrick’s roundtable discussion with several graybeards of the western world.

With whom do the naysayers and talking heads, the ones who seem often to hold us hostage to unreasoned arguments, have in common on the social level? Stalkers, as Sam Knight writes in his report, “A God More Powerful Than I.” Here, in one man’s unfortunate life, we see stalking and its eco-political equivalents played out as mental disease, as obsessive compulsion.

This idea is carried forward in David Means’ skillful story, “The Mighty Shannon,” the story of a married couple, each involved in affairs they can’t untangle, even with the help of marriage counseling. It’s only in their later years, their child grown, that they are able to sit back and watch the river flow, to laugh at their foibles.

This seems to be pandemic these days; we look to only the moment (instant gratification isn’t fast enough), to the minutiae of life. Does this come from  a couple of generations of us living and reliving our formative years? Perhaps. Maybe, then, it’s time for even the graybeards among us to watch the river flow.

 

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

The Transformational Nature of Literature

th

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

 

Imagine a book written in the twenty-first century with pen and pencil in notebooks, work on the novel taking place over ten years. What would such a book be like? How long would it be? What impact would it have on readers? Judging by sales charts in the New York Times and others, this 770 page book is wildly popular. But why would so many readers tackle such a book in this, the age of thirty-second attention spans? I may not adequately answer the pithier of these questions, but here goes.

Ms. Tartt has created a bildungsroman here, its first-person narrator and principal character a boy named Theo Decker. Theo’s father has wandered away from his parental responsibilities, his mother has died in a museum explosion that Theo not only survives but he walks out with a priceless painting, The Goldfinch. He manages to hang on to the painting (or he thinks so) through life with a rich, troubled New York family, then with his father in Vegas, a friendship and drugs with a Russian boy alienated from his father (mother dead), and finally college and apprenticeship to a New York antique restorer. The painting’s presence in Theo’s life allows him to hang onto his mother and his childhood until he realizes that it’s wrong to cling to the past, that it must be returned to its rightful place in society.

th-1

Tartt’s voice here is stupendous; her Theo consistently presented, and her narrative descriptions of New York’s busy hustle, Vegas’ barrenness, and Amsterdam’s freewheeling life are among the best I’ve ever read, seemingly tossed off as if in conversation over a glass of scotch. But she isn’t satisfied to depict the seaminess of youthful drug taking, abandoned children, the danger and depravity accompanying the art underworld. At book’s end, she gives us a philosophical treatise on the true value of art and of life itself. We may never understand life as we live it, but the true artists of each age allow us to see bits of life in perspective, as Carel Fabritius did by painting his goldfinch, a beautiful bird, but chained to its perch by a chain so finely rendered that a viewer may not at first notice it. Art, then, reveals the patterns and fixtures in life that both free us and imprison us, as family does, as childhood freedom does, as romance and marriage do, as education and career may do as well.

No novel is perfect, and one may select certain passages to fault here, but the value of literature isn’t in the precision of its grammar, the lapses in inspired prose, it’s in the energy that drives the life of the novel. So of what artistic value, then, is Tartt’s The Goldfinch? What impact does it promise its readers? In a certain sense it transforms the pre-Victorian urges of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and War and Peace and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary into those of a postmodern, existential reality. In doing so, Tartt has proven that art is perhaps the better depiction of ethics and wisdom than those of religious texts and dogma. As times change, but as the underlying patterns of life remain a safety net between us and existential collapse, literature adjusts, it paints the picture anew for each age.

 

My rating: 20 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, and my FB Fan Page here for more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.