Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger

Vintage Cover of Catcher in the Rye, 1964 by Per Ahlin

One of the unfortunate things about going to bed at 10 o'clock in the morning is that you miss the entire day's events. Just now I have been informed about the death of J.D. Salinger.

By tomorrow there will be hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blog posts about J.D. Salinger. Catcher in the Rye is an American classic that seeped its way into the culture, overtook the minds of young people, stole their hearts, spoke their voices . . . For me, it was no less.

Literature is always in flux, the trends come and go. But some books seem to never go out of fashion. Their place in the history of literature is defined by each generation's new perspective. Granted, many of us were younger when we read Salinger. But those experiences of reading his novels and short stories were often so powerful that we continue to reflect on them with nostalgia. Sven Birkets, in a book I highly recommend called Reading Life: Books for the Ages, writes beautifully about his memories of reading Catcher in the Rye:
All of us who love The Catcher in the Rye love it in our own special way--or imagine we do--for the nature of the bond with this book is that it feels like a private place, a sanctum custom-fitted to the contours of every unique alienation and holding for each of us our noblest and most wounded sense of ourselves.
I just started publishing chapters of a novel about my own adolescence on the Blog of Innocence. There is something about adolescence that is so powerful and hard to describe that when an author is able to convey these "special" emotions with candor, we listen. Salinger did just that. He retold the story of our own adolescence. It didn't matter that we had different experiences than Holden, we still could relate to him. Inside, both of us knew what it was like.

And now we've all become phony adults. Not quite. But we're aware that we're living in a different reality, of how things work, and what people are like. My adulthood continues to be wildly irrational sometimes, but nothing like when I was 18 or 19. By writing down my adolescence I am able to distance myself from that world. I can reflect on the person I am now versus the person I was then.

Birkets writes:
And from these talks I realized that the secret of Holden, his undying appeal, is that he remains fixed, through the genius of his disaffection, through Salinger's perfect grasp of the pathos of adolescence--its pained awareness of imminent fall--right at the point of sacrifice. Unable to take the one small required step toward accommodation, he becomes a martyr to the cause of doomed innocence, possessor of a cynicism that is so heartbreaking because it is entirely preemptive, in training for the disappointments of the life to come.
There is so much wisdom in this. The fact of Holden couldn't be more solidified as we read the parallels that are now made to the author himself in the New York Times and other newspapers. Salinger was Holden Caulfield, maybe not in the literal sense but in the self-portrait of the author. After the success of the novel, Salinger's desire to remove himself from society altogether is evidence of this. The world was too phony for him too.

Some writers commit suicide, Salinger stayed alive and miserable until today. What's strange is that I don't feel a close connection to the actual man who wrote these books. It's the author in my imagination that I admire, that I sympathize with, that I want to honor with this blog post. It's no secret that Salinger was not a happy man. His daughter has said he was abusive. Whatever the case, I feel a connection to the man who wrote these books, not the shell of the man who lived afterwards.

But it wasn't Catcher in the Rye which had the biggest impact on me as a young writer. It was the collection of short stories, For Esme-with Love and Squalor. It just occurs to me that while I was in Spain, living out the drama I recount in The Novel of Life, I was reading this collection of short stories.

I now recall carrying the book of short stories through the subways of Madrid. The blue cover faded, the spine breaking apart at the top, the words on the binding creased and unreadable. It is the same now as it was then.

I loved these stories that Salinger wrote. They amused me, entertained me, but also taught me matters of the heart. Of course, I admired the crisp, ebullient sentences, and that Salingeresque voice which is inimitable and immediately recognizable. There is intelligence in every word, and a particular attitude that almost never goes away. Salinger critiques society from the oddest angles, with detached humor or a kind of palatable morbidity.

The paradox of J.D. Salinger is apparent in the writing. It's a love/hate relationship to the world, and we can all identify with it. It's just too bad that he spent so much time on the other extreme during the second half of his life. With any death of a celebrity or a major figure, we have our own private meanings, our secret connections. Perhaps, then, it is us, the readers, who finally get to love the author.


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At the International Institute



On the morning of September 5th, 2001, instead of going to class, a student panicked and ran into the bathroom on the first floor of the International Institute in Madrid, Spain. As the clock struck eight, a monastery silence reigned over the building.

Staring so deep and hard at his reflection drew an excessive amount of strength and soon the student was overwhelmed and needed to sit down. He pressed the stall door, which opened like a confession booth.

“What’s wrong with me?” He asked.

As he waited for an answer, he stared up at the birds walking along the parapet.

“I’m living in a city without a single person who speaks my language . . . I could disappear tomorrow and nobody would know I’m gone.”

The rules of the study abroad program in Spain dictated no English allowed. The student saw this as a harsh and impossible demand. There were several other study abroad programs in the International Institute, none of which had to follow the same absurd rules. Americans chattered endlessly in the halls, unaware of their own freedoms. The sound of their carefree voices was the constant backdrop to his day. He lurked in front of the bathroom before disappearing into it, unable to communicate his frustration.

The walk from the Senora’s apartment to the International Institute took approximately thirty-five minutes. Walking in the city of Madrid was like making one’s way through a giant abyss, the immensity stretched to invisible corners, with crisscrossing roads and similar-looking plazas, and soon the endurance of walking became painful and self-conscious.

Of course, he was thinking of what awaited him at the Institute, what he would have to endure once he was there. The tiniest things transformed into a rash of paranoid fantasies. A little sweat, breaking out on his temples, gave him the sensation of razor blades.

At a certain intersection, construction workers swarmed the sidewalk. Cigarettes burned down to their teeth as they shouted orders in raspy, phlegmy voices. Then came the jackhammers with a crescendo of shrill intensity.

Lethe ran down a stone alleyway into a wide-open plaza, breathlessly watching the stones pass beneath him. Finally he arrived at a chamber of the city hidden from the march of pedestrians and the wail of traffic. Inside this serene plaza, a cluster of old men sat with their legs crossed, reading the morning paper. Sunlight scattered in equal measure on the fountain and across the granite stones. The plaza formed a mosaic under the big-domed sky. A lazy dog with thick, yellow bristles breathed heavily under one of the old man’s chairs.

Lethe stood next to the fountain, debating whether he should go to class this morning. The yellow dog looked up at him.

“What’s wrong with me?” The inner voice said.

Then, one of the Spanish gentlemen smiled wistfully, as if recalling a far-off dream. The Moorish columns of the city glinted behind him.

Lethe glanced back at the dog, and saw how perfectly content it was . . .

“Que Vida! Que Vida!” The old man shouted.

The other men in the chairs hardly moved; they were like the dog, barely awake.

“Que Vida! Que Vida!”

It was too late to make it to his next class. He decided to stay here.



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Scenes from the Novel of Life

Balconies by Eric Chan

Scenes:








Author's Note:

The Novel of Life
is a project I formally began about seven years ago, although it seems I was drafting the novel in my journals even farther back than that, almost ten years now . . .

Lately I've been working on the section of the novel that takes place in Madrid, Spain. Gerardo Gonzalez, a comic book artist from Argentina, will soon be creating a graphic novel version of the Spain section. He is almost finished with the Las Vegas section, which can be viewed on Escape into Life.

I have the first part of the Spain novel complete. I envision two more parts. My problem is, however, I continually revise the Spain novel until it perfectly evokes the memory of my experiences in Spain. This is the first time I can say with confidence that the first chapter is done--no more drafts.

I plan to publish the finished drafts of the Novel of Life to this blog. Most of the chapters are scenes that can be read separately. I'll continue to write my series of posts on 25 Profound Works of Literary Genius, and I'll continue to publish essays from time to time. But I would like to now focus my energies on fiction.

Fiction has always been my first true love. I grow apart from it when I lose the inspiration to work, and for the last year and a half, I've been writing essays. I feel I am ready to return to my fiction, and I want my readers on the Blog of Innocence to enjoy this experience.

I encourage you to read the scenes on the Blog of Innocence, if you can wait for the story. Most of the first part is done and the chapters should appear with frequency.
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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Escape into Life: Issue no. 9

Victor Moscoso, Incredible Poetry 1968

A couple months ago we did an article on the poster art movement, and in this issue our newest writer Lara Cory talks about the extraordinary artistic talent appearing in rock posters of the last decade. She also gives a brief history of the rock poster, suggesting that sex, death, and animals dominate the genre's favorite imagery.

I'm very pleased with the intellectual, artistic, and literary submissions coming into Escape into Life. Here are some of the highlights of this issue:

Sex, Death, and Animals: The Art of the Rock Poster . . . Complete with a rock poster art gallery, Australian writer Lara Cory introduces artists of this magnificent genre then and now.

Poetry by Chad Redden . . . Soothing, quirky, and intimate, Chad Redden's poetry acts as an elixir on the mind.

Clayton Eshleman's Poetic Art . . . Published author, David Maclagan, delves deep into the poetry of Clayton Eshleman and shows how Eshleman's poetry re-creates works of art in the poet's own subjectivity.

Microfictions by Jonathan Everitt . . . With a tremendous economy of words, writer Jonathan Everitt delivers subtle and nuanced fiction.


What is Escape into Life?

EIL is a publication based on the concept of citizen journalism. The goal is to create a journal of poetry, essays, and art from writers who are already publishing on the Web and who would like to gain more exposure to their blogs. The artists we feature are the very best we can find, and the writers have a background in writing and a passion for the arts.

More information here

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Selected Poems by Lethe Bashar


I go down into the cool basement where

I go down into the cool basement where
the open foundation peers out of the walls
upstairs she's sleeping, beautiful and
uncomplicated, in a dream I'll never know
my cats want to know what happened
what can I say to them?
I'm sorry, I went back to smoking . . .
don't come down here, I want to be alone
my work is fulfilling but
there is something the size of a needle
it rents a hole inside my brain, a tunnel of worry
air escapes and makes things cold
I used to have that control
things to keep me busy, a goal, some bright idea
countless directions and possibilities
the reason why I came down here tonight
I had a meaning,
a strong sense of knowing
but now I just shiver from the dropping temperatures
and wait for the old spirit of wonder to make me feel better
the basement is a blunt place
to awaken the soul
so what was it I came down here for?
the future has no home,
it looms like a pendulum, moving
from desire to desire, and back to
love, time-honored
my teeth sink deeper into a bed of gums
I'm growing old, and in my house
like guests, they come and go
they smile, nod, give encouragement
I return to this
rhythm of exhaustion.


the memory of disappointment

the memory of disappointment
looms over every lover's head,
the pain of longing is

protracted
extending into future lives,
the world turns

in a continuous way

nothing is permanent
and that makes me dream
again


the people we dream about are

the people we dream about are
enigmas
and they have overwhelming powers
with their words, with their ideas

how could a few words
produce
a bright little dragon of hope?

still the experience is inchoate
not finished yet,
it conceals the final result

this state is more like a dream
than a perpetual longing--
the hope which

alters your reality
will most likely
fly away on butterfly wings

and yet I live for the chances,
how encouraging
when she wakes me out of bed
and dips me into a bath of possibility

not impotent fantasy
but real hope--
the kind that promises

an ultimate end.


surprises--what are surprises?

surprises--what are surprises?
looking back they lose their glow

wishes may be granted
if my wishes are granted
then I will breathe easily

dreams, fantasies, terrors
the cat meowing at the shut door
purposeless I drift in my cocoon
of wonder

my story is so old, so repetitive by now
not even you would like to hear it

my humdrum life, the wheel
of it turning--with only
vivid fantasies to keep me alive

I ache with wonder at
the slow action of my self
growth and maturity are
not quick enough for me

I need a dream to hang on
I need an opium pipe to suck in
clouds of happiness

there is nothing,
not even anger anymore
just the longing

a lake of separation between us.


I don't know if I can ever satisfy my longings

I don't know if I can ever satisfy my longings
with any person or thing,
my outward gaze
sees a paradise of fleeting figures
some lost, others connected by
a rift--

I invite this shapeshifting desire
into my life,
I call it forward, only to turn it down
and my adventures
I'd never give them up, I live
for change, transformation, renewal
but how dark it is to exist in a

pool of longing and astonishment.


Altheabashar is my poetry blog. You can follow the feed here.
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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Escape into Life: Issue no. 8

Jacques-Louis David, Andromache Mourning Hector (1783)

When Mark Kerstetter published an essay about Samuel Beckett in the last issue of Escape into Life, none of us expected to receive a comment from one of the authors he referenced. Morris Berman wrote, "This is a lovely website; I never noticed it before. And glad that my book was of some use to you."

Shortly after, I emailed Berman, asking if he would like to contribute. Now, in this issue, you'll read the writing of Morris Berman himself, celebrated author and cultural historian. It has been a delight and a wonder to witness the contingency surrounding Escape into Life. Here are the highlights for Issue no. 8:

Ways of Knowing . . . In a lucid, insightful essay, Morris Berman traces two modes of knowing back to the ancient Greeks.

A Surrealist Point of View: Interview with Chuck E. Bloom . . . Portland arts writer, Teia Hassey, interviews Chuck E. Bloom, who offers a vision of his world and the status of Surrealism today.

Poetry by Neil Ellman . . . Ellman's short, ekphrastic poems are vivid descriptions of works of art.

Dawn of the Literary Mash-up . . . Our newest writer, John Ladd, talks about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Derrida, and how literary mash-ups are interpretations as well as whole new works.

What is Escape into Life?

EIL is a publication based on the concept of citizen journalism. The goal is to create a journal of poetry, essays, and art from writers who are already publishing on the Web and who would like to gain more exposure to their blogs. The artists we feature are the very best we can find, and the writers have a background in writing and a passion for the arts.

More information here

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Line of Beauty

Brig Upon the Water, 1856 by Gustave Le Grey

I've returned to the Ames Library after many months, maybe even a half-year. Exploring the shelves again gives me that pleasure which is so close to my heart, a pure delight, wandering among bookshelves, aimlessly picking up books and turning pages . . .

I come across an anthology of Russian short stories from the 2oth century. I come across a book of translated poems by Giuseppe Ungaretti, whom I've never heard of before. I pick up Alan Hollinghurst's novel, The Line of Beauty, and I am curious to read it.

Perhaps I will check these books out.

While my mind plots out the future with relentless determination, my body craves moments like these, moments of abandon, moments of self-forgetfulness . . .

I feel like a naughty or undisciplined child when I'm not following my mental agenda--I "look the other way" and allow myself to just explore and be surprised by ephemera.

Whatever catches my fancy in this moment is my agenda; but I am self-divided. On the one hand, I long to embrace the moment. My love of reading is a testament to this desire and this longing.

But my personality continually pulls me out of these moments. There is always something on my mind, an endless monologue going on, and I rarely allow myself to become engrossed, absorbed, in experience.

Reading The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, for example, I often thought about what I would read next . . .

Our minds seem fixated on what's next . . .

I also have a cold right now, and I'm thinking about how much better things will be after my cold is gone. This state of mind, in which I'm always anticipating the future, contributes to my restlessness, to my ongoing ambitions in work, and more and more the task of living becomes a passage from one set of circumstances to another.

I'm preoccupied with moving from point A to point B. Once I get to point B, I become preoccupied with point C, whatever that may be.

Consumer culture seems to feed on this mania. The acquisition of any material object leads to the desire for another object. But in life, the object becomes our set of circumstances, and we strive to alter them, to improve our lives until we are satisfied.

I am always in transit to where I would like to be, and never just where I am.

I shouldn't say "never". When I write these essays, I am fully present. I am at home with my emotions and thoughts. My mind and body are strangely united. Writing is closer to an act of prayer than anything I've ever done before. I commune with my deepest thoughts and feelings, and try to give them speech. I try to let my body articulate its trials.

There is something deeply troubling me right now--it seems I can't be happy. I don't think one can be happy "in transit".

I refer to my age a lot. When I say "I'm thirty years old," it gives me a certain vantage point to speak from. Perhaps you've been thirty before, or maybe you have ten years to go, whatever the case, thirty is a defining age for me. It makes me think harder than when I was twenty-nine. I'm beginning to ask myself questions like, "How do I really want to live my life?"

I feel like a wanderer. Every project I take on leads me into a sort of Siberian landscape--a blinding whiteness in which I can't see ahead or behind me--I go deeper into this white territory, unsure if I'm committing too much to a certain route, if perhaps I should abandon this route and find another, I don't know, but I keep walking into the white emptiness, the giant plane--

You would think that my projects would take me home, but they don't. They lead me out. They multiply me because I am caught in a desire to do more always.

So projects, while fulfilling on some level, ultimately just feed me more work to occupy my hours, and then there is this thing, beauty, which I am obsessed with.

Beauty is but a general term for my fantasies--I chase after something like a perfect world. It is beautiful to me, aesthetically, idealistically, but it also promises a sort of completion, like a spiritual completion, if only I could attain it.

My pursuit of the line of beauty has left me in a conflicted state. Beauty leads me into another Siberia, a Siberia of fantasy, and I am no closer to home, I am farther.

And then there is the sense that I'm engaging in a grand self-deception. I will never achieve my fantasy, the beauty I imagine is unattainable, so why do I contemplate this ideal world during so many of my waking hours?

Having tried the different ways to self-completion, or self-fulfillment, I fail. Imagined beauty fails me and so does my incessant activity. If it were possible that a relationship with a woman could save me, then I would pursue it--God knows I have tried--I am trying--I am in a relationship right now--her heart is more delicate and trusting and charitable than any woman I've ever been with---but I am still--unsatisfied--it is not her--I do not blame her.

In truth, there is no one to blame in life. I tried blaming my father. He seemed like the perfect culprit for my problems. But alas, there is no one except ourselves. . .

We have ourselves. But to blame yourself for being unhappy is wrong too. To say that I am unhappy is also wrong--

Unhappiness is a broad generalization for an often-changing state of mind. I'm not confused either, as some readers have suggested--

I'm innocent. It's a state of conflict, of contradiction, it's being human. Being unable to be here (with God or Nothingness), always seeking after that enigma on the edge of your mind. For me, it is beauty, an ideal . . .

The ideal world is especially seductive. I have a powerful imagination, and I can concoct convincing pictures in my mind, fantasies, alternative realities. The trouble is bringing the present moment up to speed with the picture in my head, an impossible feat, because fantasy and reality never cross streams.

And so I dwell in the uncomfortable middle--pulled forward by visions--and thrown backward by reality. Remember: I choose to have it this way. Which is the greatest conundrum of all.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

49 Vintage Photography Masterpieces

CLICK TO ENLARGE










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