Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Some great comments and questions regarding CITIES OF THE RED NIGHT 2:

Kevin said...

Hi there, I enjoyed your review of this book, you have provided some enlightening points that have helped me understand the book more.

I have just finished reading it, and while I enjoyed the first half of the book, I did find the latter parts a bit confusing.... It has been a while since I last read a 'Beat' novel. But your idea of time, space, culture, ect. collapsing makes sense!

There is a quote from the beginning of the book which I found interesting:

"I cite this example of retroactive Utopia since it actually could have happened in terms of the techniques and human resources available at the time. Had Captain Mission lived long enough to set an example for others to follow, mankind might have stepped free from the deadly impasse of insoluble problems in which we now find ourselves." (page 11)

Is this an ideal of which the resulting mayhem disproves?

Those who proclaim 'utopia' usually set in train mayhem, the idealist's raison d'être.

What do you think?


I think that the resulting mayhem does disprove of the ideal, the utopia. This is because the power and control shift from the powers-that-be, who know how to navigate and manipulate the chaos, to the powers-that-could-be, who are an unknown, and, therefore, to be feared. The coup d'etat usually results in martial law that resembles that of the disposed dictator. Power is vacated, and then power fills the vacuum. The people aren't going to revolt, as long as things remain relatively stable. Don't mess with my house, my family, or my livelihood, and I will look the other way. I seem so small. How can I stand against the powers-that-be?

As William S. Burroughs writes in Ghost of a Chance:
"Who ever needed a majority? Ten percent plus the police and military is
all it ever took. Besides, we've got the media, hook, line, and
blinkers. Any big-circulation daily even hinting that the war
against drugs is a red whale?" (page 30)

We all know that the answer to the last question is "no."


Burroughs has obvious disdain for Christianity. He dislikes the institution. He challenges its power, and rightly so, because as an institution, the church has wreaked havoc upon creation—the earth, flora and fauna, governments, and groups of people. The church has tried to identify as the utopia when very often it is the mayhem, attempting to keep a grasp upon its control. But, that is because the institution forgets that, if it takes itself seriously, that it ultimately has no control, because that is solely in the hands of God.

Three books come immediatlely to mind when I contemplate the struggle between utopia and mayhem that the church finds itself. All are written by people who are members of various churches and identify as Christian. All three authors write in the tradition of the prophets, however, challenging the institution that seeks only to preserve itself, at any and all costs.


"Only two things can destroy a corporate persona: revolution from the inside or catastrophe from the outside. You can't reform an angel; violence is the only solution."
—page 80, The Astonished Heart by Robert Farrar Capon

Capon argues that "angels" defend institutions, and that as beings, their survival is of utmost importance. If you destroy the institution, then you displace the angel whose job it is to protect it. Therefore, the angel must ensure that the system remains in place. The existence of the angel depends upon the institution's existence, even if the institution is maimed or marred. Christendom collapsed a long time ago, but you wouldn't know it from some of the rhetoric that emanates from the White House, the Congress, and the Supreme Court. The angel of Christendom makes sure that things stay the same, or at least appear to, in order that it keep its role as guardian of that Christendom.

That doesn't mean that there aren't individual churches and congregations that are thriving, relevant, vital, alive. It does mean, though, that Christendom itself is a corpse propped up as though it still mattered, as though it still breathed, when the breaths only remain in remnants of the body. Or, perhaps, those breaths are the breaths of new entities.


"Just like the Crucifixion, the slaying of John the Baptist is not directly carried out by the crowd, but it is collectively inspired. In both cases there is a sovereign who is the only one with the authority to issue the decree of death and who finally decrees it in spite of his personal desire to spare the victim: Pilate on the one hand, Herod on the other. In both cases the ruler renounces his own desire and orders the execution of the victim for mimetic reasons, not being able to withstand a violent crowd."
—page 27, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by René Girard

When things appear that they will get out of hand then the powers-that-be will do anything to ensure that they remain the powers-that-be. The angel ensures that the institution continues, for the sake of the institution, but, more importantly, for its own sake. Give the people what they want when the scales of power begin to tip. Give them the rabblerouser who is threatening their livelihoods, the structure of their family, the ease with which they move through the world. Sacrifice the scapegoat who tears at the fabric of society, even if you believe he is right, because your own livelihood, family, and being are at stake. You don't want to tumble down the mountain.


"Now let us look at the sayings and attitude of Jesus during the trial...First, there is silence...Second, his attitude involves accusation of the authorities...Third, we find provocation on the part of Jesus."
—pages 67–69, Anarchy and Christianity, Jacques Ellul

Yet, that is exactly what Jesus does. He tumbles down the mountain. He upends the mountain and turns it upside down. He levels the mountain so that it is no more. He threatens not to replace the mayhem of the powers-that-be with utopia, but with more mayhem. At least that is what it looks like. He is arguing against authority. He talks of leaving family to follow him. He is leaving the laws behind, if they are not merciful to the marginalized. Healing on the Sabbath? It's healing, right? Plucking grain on the Sabbath? It's feeding the hungry, right?

He makes the powers-that-be tremble because he destablilizes their power, and they can't see how he plans on putting things right. Jesus doesn't offer them a solution. He trusts that God his Father will put things right. He says that he is bringing chaos into the way-things-are to ensure that all are treated with love and mercy. That is the kind of talk and action that gets you killed. And, in the case of Jesus, that is exactly what happens.

So, what do I think that utopia looks like? I am somewhat unsure. I don't know that it exists or will ever exist here. I trust that the only utopia will come from God. But, I am even unsure what that looks like. The descriptions of paradise or heaven in the Bible are so different from one another, involving so many different metaphors, that I wouldn't even pretend to guess. I cannot wrap my mind around the concept. Language, obviously, ultimately collapses in trying to explain it.

[More to follow...]

Monday, August 20, 2007


"Literature isn't innocent. I've known that since I was fifteen."
—page 137, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Book 3 of The Savage Detectives is entitled "The Sonora Desert (1976)." It is a return to the diary entries of Juan García Madero, picking up on the day after the last entry of Book 1.

Interestingly enough, it answers some of the questions raised in Book 2, since Book 3 happens chronologically earlier than anything in Book 2. The events of Book 3 are what make me feel a need to return to the novel again. Book 3 obviously should follow Book 2, but pieces of Book 3 flesh out some of the stories and recollections of Book 2. The Savage Detectives is some sort of literary Möbius strip that threatens to collaspe in on itself. But, then what would be left?

This novel is brilliant. It is a must read for all.


I know. This amounts to not much of a review of the final section of a great novel. To say too much about Book 3, however, would ruin the narrative for anyone who does want to read it. Just believe me: get your hands on a copy of the book and read it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


"I'm not trying to justify myself. I'm just trying to tell a story. Maybe I'm also trying to understand its hidden workings, workings I wasn't aware of at the time but that weigh on me now. Still, my story won't be as coherent as I like."
—page 263, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Book 2 of The Savage Detectives is entitled "The Savage Detectives (1976–1996)." It is a complete departure from Book 1. Whereas Book 1 consisted of the diary entries of seventeen year old Juan García Madero, Book 2 is a cacophony of voices transmitted over two decades. This collection of voices is various people who have some sort of connection to the two "founders" of visceral realism, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano.

The stories are as much about the individual telling the stories, even though they may begin as tales about Lima or Belano or both. As readers, we never know who the "savage detectives" are that are able to coax these tales forth. Is it Lima and Belano themselves? Is it Juan García Madero? Is it other members of the visceral realists? Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The stories hold their own.


The tales are told from the poetry workshops and bars of Mexico City, from the urban settings of Barcelona and Paris, from Israel, from the Spanish and Mexican countrysides, from the killing fields of 1990s Africa. The core story, broken up amidst the others, is told by Amadeo Salvatierra in January 1976 Mexico City. Salvatierra is recounting his meeting with Lima and Belano, as they drank glasses of mezcal and, later, tequila, while talking about literature and life. Lima and Belano are searching for information about Cesárea Tinajero, one of the members of the original visceral realists—the group whose name their literary movement has adopted as its own.

The tale of Salvatierra mixes and mingles with those of others who have also encountered Lima and Belano, either as companions or friends or fellow literary ranconteurs or, in some cases, in passing. This myriad, with their various tales and voices and biases, soon begins to speak in "one" voice. The question becomes: what is that "one" voice saying?


"I have heard what the talkers were talking....the talk of the beginning and the end, / But I do not talk of the beginning or the end."
—from "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, page 26 of Leaves of Grass

I finished The Savage Detectives a couple of weeks ago and I am still digesting it. It is not very often that a book lingers with me for so long. I keep feeling that I need to reread it, and soon. I missed something. I didn't miss anything. Images from the book remain vivid, vibrant, alive.

The book calls to me in the hours between midnight and dawn. The voices call out to me across the veils of sleep and dream. I can hear their melodies, their song.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


From Pacifico Clara, a Pale Lager by Grupo Modelo

to Chelada

to Michelada

I was really hoping for Negro Modelo, because it is a fairly good dark Mexican beer, but the shelf was empty when I arrived at the store. I was not going to try a Chelada with Corona or Caguama, so Pacifico Clara it was. I should have waited for another night.

Pacifico Clara poured a light buttery yellow, with little head, no lacing, but a lot of carbonation. It had a crisp nose that had a hint of buttered bread. The flavor was minimal. What I could detect tended toward light floral, a sort of not-really-present sweetness and cleanness. The problem with this beer is that it is as though it doesn't exist. I knew I was drinking a beer, but it could have been flavored water. Looking at it, it reminded me of sparkling wine, absent most of its flavor and aroma.

Pacifico Clara was then transformed into a Chelada. A glass with a salted rim was filled half-way with ice cubes. The juice of one freshly squeezed lime was added. Then the lager was added. The taste was much better than Miller Chill, which touts itself as "Chelada-style." If this is what Miller Chill aspires to be then it really missed the mark.

The lime and the salt complemented one another nicely. It think that this would have been much better with a more flavorful beer. I would drink it again, but it would definitely have to be a darker Mexican beer, such as Negro Modelo.

The Chelada was then transformed into a Michelada. This was done with the addition of a dash of Worcestershire sauce and some hot sauce. These two ingredients added a sourness and some heat. I will probably avoid Micheladas in the future. It wasn't bad, it was just too much.

Friday, August 10, 2007


"THERMO FISH. You went swimming in the Seas of Pitch. But now you're back on Earth and you're feeling slightly queasy. It can only get worse. Because the Thermo Fish of Pitch have invaded your system. Your blood stream is a river home for them. They love those passages. You're feeling the heat inside, the biting heat."
—page 15, Vurt by Jeff Noon

Even though I feel that the book ultimately fails, The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall did give me one great thing: the conceptual fish. Then, I remembered that I had already read about conceptual fish in Jeff Noon's Vurt, back in 1993. There is only one mention of them—Thermo Fish—as an aside, to help establish the tone and background of Vurt's world; the term "conceptual fish" is not used; and they are one consequence of immorality. You obtain the dis-ease of Thermo Fish through illicit use of contraband feathers to enter virtual reality (vurt). Nonetheless, a "prototype" of Hall's "conceptual fish" is swimming around the realm of the human mind almost 15 years prior to the Ludovicians, Luxophages, and Glooms of The Raw Shark Texts.


"The Ludovician is a predator, a shark. It feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self. Ludovicians are solitary, fiercely territorial and methodical hunters. A Ludovician might select an individual human being as its prey animal and pursue and feed on that individual over the course of year, until that victim's memory and identity have been completely consumed."
—page 64, The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Although it is likely that Hall has read Noon, even if that is the case, Hall really has "created" something new. The Ludovician, and other conceptual fish, swim upon the information streams of human culture. They prey upon the thoughts of humans. And, it is likely, as is the case of Eric Sanderson, that their victims are randomly "chosen." There is no necessarily moral tone to the destruction that these conceptual fish wreak upon their victims. This is chance, accident, arbitrariness. Whereas one could fault the users of illicit feathers in Vurt, it is difficult to fault Eric Sanderson for the intrusion into his life of a predator that is destroying who he is, figuratively and literally.

The horror that I experienced early in The Raw Shark Texts of the Ludovician attacking Eric Sanderson in his own living room, as he "swims" in the floor of his living room, attacked by a predator that is glimpsed as patterns of information, is a sensation that emanates from the base of my brain. This is horror that makes my skin crawl, that kicks the reptilian survival mechanisms of my core brain into overdrive. For a brief moment, I am Eric Sanderson. The fear is real. It is this fear, this drive to "fight or flee," that each of us have experienced, that makes the first section of the book so riveting. It compels one to keep reading.


"The something unwound itself carefully from the mucus and bile and slither-swam up into the air, coiling in loops around the vaporous remains of my thoughts and feelings of nausea. It was small—maybe nine inches, maybe the length of a worry that doesn't quite wake you in your sleep—a primitive conceptual fish. I backed away slowly."
—page 146, The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

Even "the conceptual crabs, the jellies, some of the simple fish" that invade Eric Sanderson's being revolt us. Once again, these are different than Thermo Fish. These are alien invaders that have entered the body, without an apparent invitation. They cause unexplained illness. They are like the creatures in Alien or the viruses that we are unleashing as we enter the dark recesses of untouched forest in Africa or South America. They are things that we are better ignorant of, lest our minds collapse into madness when we contemplate them. These are the odd primordial creatures and gods of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos conjured to life.


"Bob was ebullient. Last night's hostilities seemed to have passed from his mind. He prattled at a manic clip on topics ranging from rumors of prehistoric, sixty-foot sharks living along the Mariana Trench to the claim of a Hare Krishna he had me that poor black Americans were white slave owners in their prior lives."
—from "Retreat" by Wells Tower, page 23 of McSweeney's 23

At the same time, they are not so distant. The fossils of prehistoric giant sharks, such as Megalodon, continue to capture the imagination. Considered extinct by mainstream science, they inhabit the realm of UFOs, Bigfoot/Sasquatch, the Loch Ness monster. Even if they are not roaming the depths of the Mariana Trench as a relict community, giant sharks definitely do swim in the popular imagination. It is what makes a movie like Jaws continue to resonate, even decades later.


"It is always possible that there's an animal so mean or large that even the sperm whale will not go near it, or an animal living so deep that the sperm whale cannot reach it."
—from "The Colossal Squid: An Interview" by Brent Hoff, page 97 of McSweeney's 11

The recent finds of carcasses of giant (Architeuthis) and colossal (Mesonychoteuthis) squid, as well as the video "capture" of an "attack" of a giant squid by Japanese researchers, could possibly change our understanding of the "outer space" of the world's oceans. These seas really are relatively unexplored. We know little about this vast expanse of the world's surface and its depths, including much of its deep water flora and fauna.

This lack of knowledge of what actually inhabits the depths, along with the sheer foreignness of sea creatures, helps to stir our fear. Don't go into the water. No, don't go near the water. It is this primal fear that initially drives the narrative of The Raw Shark Texts. It is only as Hall piles more narrative threads upon this primal fear that the book begins to stall, and, then, ultimately collapses. The ripoff of the final scenes of Jaws, as well as the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, cannot compete with the manic, cold, emotionless, unwarranted feeding frenzy of the Ludovician, yet they do manage to overwhelm and drown that fear.


"Shall you perhaps lead Leviathan about on a leash? Or will he consent to play slave to your beck and call? Or perhaps you would carve the great armored creature in pieces, selling chunks of crocodile in a market, like pounds of fish? Careful; you sport with death..."
—pages 349–350, Job: And Death No Dominion by Daniel Berrigan

That doesn't mean there is no place for workings of myth in The Raw Shark Texts. Hall just needed to keep the proper myths as the core of his story. He needed to focus on the raw, primordial myths of the ancient sea beasts—Leviathan and Jormungandr—and the fear they strike into our hearts, along with their lesser spawn. He needed to focus on the loss of Eurydice by Orpheus because he disobeys the divine, rather than the love that drives the relationship.

He needed to tap into the base reptilian places of our brains and souls, and stay there. The fear of a Gloom, a school of conceptual fish, something I imagine akin to a school of pirahna waiting to devour my identity, soul, and being is truly terrifying. It strikes terror into me because of the sense of loss that it implies. This was the great potential that opens The Raw Shark Texts, but that disappears once Hall represses it and shifts to a more "comfortable" narrative.

I only wish he had stayed with the difficult and the dark.


Thursday, August 09, 2007


"They thought the desert would divide us..."
—from "In Silence" by Low, as found on the album Drums and Guns

The album begins with the hiss and pop of broken electronics and soon finds its way to music austere and drums martial. This is the soundtrack to your death at dawn by firing squad. Yet you have never been so happy to see the sun rise. A funereal voice cries out, "We're all gonna die." You believe it. There are no lies here.

Low have delivered a brilliant collection of songs in Drums and Guns. This is a finger in the face of a culture that distracts with supermodels, porn stars, and celebutantes. The cosmetic masks are peeled away to reveal the skin below, and further, the sinew, the bone. Minimal instrumentation is bolstered by the singing of Alan Spearhawk and Mimi Parker. These are the voices of oracles warning us.

Death is not denied. It is confronted. War is protested. It is not glorified. The blood of the battlefield drips crimson and we see it. We feel the pulse in our own veins and sympathize. Bodies are broken and laid bare. We age and turn to dust. If there is any emotion left within us we are moved to tears.


"Don't act so innocent. I've seen you pound your fist into the earth..."
—from "Murderer" by Low, as found on the album Drums and Guns

The music haunts. The voices sing an elegy for a culture that can turn back, if only to beg for grace and mercy from God. You can lay down your sword. You can beat it into a plowshare.

Don't fool yourself. Listen. Listen.

Water the soil with your tears, not the blood of our children.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Troy's Work Table was Simpsonized.

Congratulations to Matt Groening on hitting the "really big time." I remember reading his comic strip Life in Hell in Seattle music weekly The Rocket in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was one of the first things I read whenever I picked up the latest issue. I always wanted to see what was going on with Binky, Bongo, Akbar, Jeff, and company.

I have never been an avid fan of The Simpsons, but would watch it whenever possible. I watch Futurama all the time, however, in its syndicated late night reruns on the Cartoon Network. All of Groening's work is funny, but also touches upon contemporary social and political issues, even if sometimes tongue-in-cheek, which elevates it to a place that many other comics and cartoons cannot or will not go.

And, since my life is dictated by the marketing machine now—Miller Chill and Beer Chips, for example—it makes sense to join thousands, if not millions, of other people who are jumping on the Simpsons bandwagon.

In this case, however, I don't feel so bad in supporting a local "celebrity" in his ascendancy to the heights of cartoon supremacy. Groening and his cohorts have been doing this work for a long time and have become, along with their work, cultural icons. The accolades are well deserved.

Monday, August 06, 2007


Beer Chips

They intrigued me. I imagined a wonderful snack. They didn't quite deliver.


Beer Chips fail to excite. The concept is that they are potato chips that have been infused with the flavor of beer. The beer can be tasted. However, it competes with salt, sugar, and honey. The salt and sugar are in conflict with one another. The beer and the honey are in conflict with one another, and the honey is somewhat overpowering. The flavors never quite complement one another. What could have been a great snack is simply below average. Drink your favorite beer with a bag of regular potato chips. It will be a better experience.


Similar to my recent experience with Miller Chill, I fell prey to the power of marketing. These chips were in a shiny gold bag with the image of a yellow beer mug behind the "beer chips" lettering. The store I was in devoted an entire endcap, near the beer coolers, to this one item. All I saw were shiny gold bags, yellow beer mugs, and the word beer. Simple as that: sold! Even as my hands were placing the bag in my cart, my brain kept saying, "Wait a minute, beer chips?" But, at some point the questioning stopped and, next thing I know, I arrived home with my Beer Chips. Damn you, effective product placement!

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Today I realized that what I wrote yesterday I really wrote today: everything from December 31 I wrote on January 1, i.e., today, and what I wrote on December 30 I wrote on the 31st, i.e., yesterday. What I write today I'm really writing tomorrow, which for me will be today and yesterday, and also, in some sense, tomorrow: an invisibile day. But enough of that."
—page 527, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Saturday afternoon was the latest live performance of A River & Sound Review, which also podcasts shows on the months when there is no live performance. This live show clearly demonstrated a literary organization that is leaving its infancy behind. This show was better organized and trimmed of the excess fat of RSR's first few offerings—it was leaner and flowed better than ever before.

The musical guest was Puyallup singer-songwriter Kristin Connell. She poured her heart into her three offerings, even with slight sound problems due to vacationing sound operators. (The two normal sound operators were literally on vacation, leaving sound duties to master of ceremonies and RSR founder Jay Bates.) She played an opening number, another in the middle of the show, and closed the festivities with her final song. This worked well. In the past, musical guests played one or two short sets. Having the songs interspersed throughout the entire show helped to highlight the music and the readings.

Poet Adrian Gibbons Koesters followed the first song and introductory remarks of Jay Bates with a reading of five or six poems. I enjoyed the earthiness and ordinariness of her poems. They took the everyday and made it vibrant and alive.

Next was "Name That Book," where a member of the audience attempts to name a book and its author from a clue and its first sentence. If they cannot then they receive three choices and are allowed to ask for help from the audience. I always find this funny, but would be terrified to have to be the person in the spotlight. Therefore, I have great admiration for the person selected, no matter how well he or she does.

The keynote reader was Kent Meyers. He read a gritty piece about death and family from his novel The Work of Wolves. I could picture the protagonist's grandfather lying dead upon the ground after an accidental fall from a horse. I could see the death and smell the last nicotine-laced breath as it left the body. I could feel the protagonist's pain as he had to tell his mother that her father was dead. I haven't read the novel, but this selection surely whetted the appetites of a few audience members. It was wisely chosen as a set piece with which to "sell" the book.


A River & Sound Review is one of those local offerings that make life in a small town great. I look forward to future live shows, as well as future studio productions.

Friday, August 03, 2007


It was pleasant to be out of the house. The child and I wandered around Tacoma, enjoying wonderful seventy-degree weather. Recent health issues have kept me somewhat homebound, and I was beginning to get "summer" cabin fever.

We ate lunch out, rode the Tacoma Link, wandered around the Tacoma Museum District through the labyrinthine ramps and stairways, and visited King's Books. King's Books is one of the rare gems of Tacoma, and my favorite South Puget Sound bookstore. It carries a good mix of new, used, and rare books. Today, I picked up copies of Javier Marías's Dark Back of Time and Marvin Bell's Mars Being Red. I am looking forward to both, but especially to Bell's poems since I heard him read many of the poems in Mars Being Red last year. The child picked up a copy of Ellen Stoll Walsh's Mouse Paint.


The child also really enjoys King's Books due to their store cats, Harriet and Miko. The child found Miko immediately, which meant a quick rub on his belly. The child spent a good amount of the rest of our time there looking for Harriet or carrying around some of the cat toys in hopes of enticing her. The child never discovered her whereabouts on this visit.