The house, house repairs, cars and repairs,

whether or not to eat out, the pets, do we even have pets or did that one die, at least four nights a week away playing cards, whether or not to play cards on days when cards are not typically played, the holidays, the payments for the house and the cars and the pets and the holidays and the children, the beautiful glistening babysitter, the children, whether or not to have more children, do we even have children or did that one die.

Kristina Born, One Hour of Television


dating your mom

In today's fast-moving, transient, rootless society, where people meet and make love and part without ever really touching, the relationship every guy already has with his own mother is too valuable to ignore. Here is a grown, experienced, loving woman—one you do not have to go to a party or a singles bar to meet, one you do not have to go to great lengths to get to know. There are hundreds of times when you and your mother are thrown together naturally, without the tension that usually accompanies courtship—just the two of you, alone. All you need is a little presence of mind to take advantage of these situations. Say your mom is driving you downtown in the car to buy you a new pair of slacks. First, find a nice station on the car radio, one that she likes. Get into the pleasant lull of freeway-driving—tires humming along the pavement, air-conditioner on max. Then turn to look at her across the front seat and say something like, "You know, you've really kept your shape, Mom, and don't think I haven't noticed." Or suppose she comes into your room to bring you some clean socks. Take her by the wrist, pull her close, and say, "Mom, you're the most fascinating woman I've ever met." Probably she'll tell you to cut out the foolishness, but I can guarantee you one thing: she will never tell your dad. Possibly she would find it hard to say, "Dear, Piper just made a pass at me," or possibly she is secretly flattered, but, whatever the reason, she will keep it to herself until the day comes when she is no longer ashamed to tell the world of your love.

Ian Frazier, "Dating Your Mom"


Donald Barthelme reviews Superman III

Q: Is Superman III, then, the finest of the Superfilms, in your view?

A: Perhaps the second-finest.

Q: And the first-finest?

A: The first, I think. Or perhaps the second.

Q: You think the first might be the first-finest and the second also might be the first-finest?

A: When Clark Kent goes back to Smallville for his high school reunion, at which he re-encounters Annette O'Toole, the music playing, at one point, is "Earth Angel." I liked that a lot.

(August 1983)


Siegel and Shuster modeled Superman's colorful skintight suit

on circus-strongman outfits, with a cape and a symbol on the chest; every subsequent hero's costume is modeled on Superman's, to one extent or another.

Douglas Wolk in A New Literary History of America



...and the Queen, the Witch who lights her fire in an earthen pot, will never tell us what she knows, and what we do not know.

"After the Flood"



The secrets of the Egyptians were secrets for the Egyptians, too.




“I mean, I always suspected it, but I never asked,” said Sally Quinn, whose husband, Benjamin C. Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Post, was until Tuesday one of only four people publicly known to know the truth [of the identity of Deep Throat].

“There's been a certain mystique about the story that will not be there any more,” she added. “Everybody loves a secret that can be kept.”

The New York Times
May 31, 2005



A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

Diane Arbus



From the 1930s until 1964, Joseph Mitchell wrote for The New Yorker about people on the margins of New York—criminals, evangelists, con artists, the fishmongers at the Fulton Fish Market and a flea-circus operator. He was famous for writing about people without passing judgment on them. In 1965, he published Joe Gould's Secret. Joe Gould was a writer who told Mitchell all about the exhaustive book he was writing called Oral History, which was 9 million words long and based on 20,000 conversations. Mitchell eventually discovered that although Joe Gould was constantly writing, filling notebook after notebook, in fact he had intense writer's block. The Oral History was all in his head, and the notebooks were filled with the same few scenes, written out over and over.

After Joe Mitchell published Joe Gould's Secret, he himself never published another word, even though he continued to go to his office at The New Yorker. After he died in 1996, a colleague of his, Roger Angell, wrote: "Each morning, he stepped out of the elevator with a preoccupied air, nodded wordlessly if you were just coming down the hall, and closed himself in his office. He emerged at lunchtime, always wearing his natty brown fedora (in summer, a straw one) and a tan raincoat; an hour and a half later, he reversed the process, again closing the door. Not much typing was heard from within, and people who called on Joe reported that his desktop was empty of everything but paper and pencils. When the end of the day came, he went home. Sometimes, in the evening elevator, I heard him emit a small sigh, but he never complained, never explained."

The Writer's Almanac



From secrecy, which shades all that is profound and significant, grows the typical error according to which everything mysterious is something important and profound.

George Simmell



This is what demystification is all about, wanting the power of the mystery but without the mystery.

Michael Taussig



JW: All art shows are magic in a way, aren’t they?

TF: Yeah.

JW: And I wonder if talking about it gives away the trick in a way, even what we’re doing now. Real magicians will never tell you how they do the trick.

TF: I try to be incredibly obvious and straightforward, but this sort of conceals itself again. I’m trying to reveal the secret. It’s like a secret that everyone knows.

Tom Friedman in conversation with John Waters


Everybody called Gertrude Stein Gertrude,

or at most Mademoiselle Gertrude, everybody called Picasso Pablo and Fernande Fernande and everybody called Guillaume Apollinaire Guillaume but everybody called Marie Laurencin Marie Laurencin.

Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas


casual encounter #25

Middle Eastern/Arab Cigar Smokers! - w4m - 25 (Astoria)

Reply to: pers-734153183@craigslist.org

Date: 2008-06-26, 11:39PM EDT

Looking for cigar smoking men only -- Middle Eastern/Arab who like a good cigar and an obedient bitch close by. Hit me back if you're interested -- pic appreciated. Again, cigar smokers only! 5'5.125 (me)



Now that our hero has come back to us
in his white pants and we know his nose
trembling like a flag under fire,
we see the calm cold river is supporting
our forces, the beautiful history.

To be more revolutionary than a nun
is our desire, to be secular and intimate
as, when sighting a redcoat, you smile
and pull the trigger. Anxieties
and animosities, flaming and feeding

on theoretical considerations and
the jealous spiritualities of the abstract
the robot? they’re smoke, billows above
the physical event. They have burned up.
See how free we are! as a nation of persons.

Dear father of our country, so alive
you must have lied incessantly to be
immediate, here are your bones crossed
on my breast like a rusty flintlock,
a pirate’s flag, bravely specific

and ever so light in the misty glare
of a crossing by water in winter to a shore
other than that the bridge reaches for.
Don’t shoot until, the white of freedom glinting
on your gun barrel, you see the general fear.

Frank O’Hara

[thanks to Ordinary Finds]


"Washington Crossing the Delaware" is not about Washington crossing the Delaware.

The fame of "Washington Crossing the Delaware" as a patriotic monument has obscured its origin as a political declaration, the proper context of which is German.

The painting was a response to the failure of the 1848 revolution in Germany. The story of how Washington had revived the morale of his troops and brought the colonists together with renewed zeal through his last-ditch attack at Trenton was then well known in Europe. Leutze decided on his subject in the fall of 1849, in the period immediately following the disbandment of the Frankfurt Parliament. Few viewing the work in Germany at that time would have missed its message: the demoralized revolutionaries of 1848, trapped in the web of the reaction, could yet rally and fight on to win, even as Washington had led his forces from despair to victory.

adapted from "'Washington Crossing the Delaware': The Political Context" by Barbara S. Groseclose, American Art Journal (November 1975)



A hard, howling, tossing, water scene:
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When general's star action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands—sailor crew went going,
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens—Winter again grows cold;
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can't lose war with 's hands in;
He's astern—so, go alight, crew, and win!

Reading this vivid poem, could anyone fail to feel the raw whipping of the winds, the violence of the waves, the threat of the oncoming Brits, the bravery of our valiant Johnnys . . . ?

Well, yes, I admit it's a little odd. Some lines, like the one about the redcoats, are a bit hard to parse. And does "anger" really rhyme with "danger"? Here and there, in fact, the poem seems somewhat forced. Still, its defects might be excused when you consider that David Shulman, its author, was working under duress when he wrote it. Like a poor soul penned in jail, he had to do without certain key resources. For instance, the letter u is utterly missing. It appears nowhere. As a matter of fact, it was the bard himself who barred it, and some other letters as well. You will search in vain for b, f, j, k, m, p, q, v, x, y and z. Indeed, what letters do appear in this poem, which was first published in 1936? The answer—and I hope this knocks your socks off—is: exactly the letters in the poem's title, and no others! Now, that is really crazy, is it not?

And yet, there is more. Notice that on every line there is a w. Or rather, two of them. Exactly two—count 'em. But why? Because there are exactly two w's in the title. And similarly, on every line there are exactly three a's—again, an inheritance from the title. And so forth. To summarize: in this fully metrical and rhyming sonnet, every single line is a perfect anagram of the title, and still the whole thing basically makes sense.

Douglas Hofstadter
The New York Times
March 10, 1996


The Question of Influence

Q: What about Brecht? Read much of him?
A: No. But I've read him.
Q: Rimbaud?
A: I've read his little tiny book, "Evil Flowers."
Q: You're thinking of Baudelaire.
A: Yes, I've read his tiny little book, too.
Q: How about Hank Williams? Do you consider him an influence?
A: Hey look, I consider Hank Williams, Captain Marvel, Marlon Brando, The Tennessee Stud, Clark Kent, Walter Cronkite, and J. Carrol Nalsh all influences. Now what is it — please — what is it exactly you people want to know?
Q: Tell us about your movie?
A: It's gonna be in black and white.
Q: Will it be in the Andy Warhol style?
A: Who's Andy Warhol? Listen, my movie will be — I can say definitely — it will be in the style of the early Puerto Rican films.
Q: Who's writing it?
A: Allen Ginsberg. I'm going to rewrite it.
Q: Who will you play in the film?
A: The hero.
Q: Who is that going to be?
A: My mother.

from "Dylan Meets the Press" (March 25, 1965)


Dominique Vivant-Denon, author of "Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt" (1802), on the Pyramids

It is hard to decide what is more astonishing, the tyrannical dementia that dared order their building, or the stupid obedience of the people who agreed to help build such things.



opening lines

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn't think anything of what he had done to the city's name. Later I heard men who could manage their r's give it the same pronunciation. I still didn't see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves' word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.

Red Harvest
Dashiell Hammett


Have you ever heard of the sexual practice of setting a person’s buttocks on fire

and quickly spanking out the fire? Would setting a person's buttocks on fire and spanking out the fire constitute, in your view, a violation of antisodomy laws or otherwise be regarded as an unnatural act? Do you think it might be sanctioned or proscribed in the Bible? Have you been able to read the entire Bible?

Padgett Powell, The Interrogative Mood



Portland man gets probation after stabbing ex-girlfriend's pet fish

According to an affidavit filed with the court, Sarah Harris had broken up with Fite, but returned to her East Burnside Street apartment in Portland last July 25 to find Fite lying on her bed. Fite wanted to get back together, but Harris didn't.

When she told him she had plans that evening, Harris refused to let her leave the room she was in, the bathroom, according to the affidavit. She tried to push past him. He threw her against a wall. She again tried to leave, punching him in the nose to get by. He grabbed her by the hair and threw her against the bathtub—ripping out her hair extensions and causing her to hit her head.

She escaped and called 9-1-1 from a pay phone. When she returned with an officer, she discovered her fish, a brilliant purple betta named DeLorean, had been impaled on her wood floor. It still had a knife sticking through it.

"I started crying hysterically," said Harris, who didn't attend the hearing but spoke with The Oregonian by phone.

"Donald bought the fish for me, and I'm sure he knew how much I cared for it."

Fite admitted to police that he killed the betta, saying, "If she can't have me, then she can't have the fish."

Fite pleaded guilty to first-degree animal abuse and fourth-degree domestic-violence assault. In addition to probation and a mental-health evaluation, he must work 80 hours of community service, pay $617 in fines and fees and stay away from Harris.

Deputy district attorney Eric Zimmerman told Judge Eric Bergstrom that the victim had requested restitution for an unusual reason—she wanted Fite to pay for a memorial tattoo she plans to get of the fish. The judge declined to order Fite to pay for the tattoo.

The judge also decided against banning Fite from having contact with fish, saying the stabbing was probably a one-time incident.

Fite misinterpreted what the judge had said, and appeared upset. "What? I'm not allowed to walk into a pet store?"

The judge repeated himself, to Fite's relief. "I'm not imposing that condition," Bergstrom said.

By Aimee Green for The Oregonian
October 13, 2009


casual encounter #25

breaking up is (not) hard to do - w4m - 26

Reply to: pers-qhyca-1446567797@craigslist.org
Date: 2009-09-29, 7:32PM EDT

Ok this post may seem messed up but its real, it all started 3 weeks ago when I hook up with this hot guy while we were in the middle of having a great time his GF came home and walked in on us, at first i freak but he kept fucking me and told the GF that he was over her andthat my pussy was the best he had every had, this chcick started freaking out and he kept fucking me. The chick started call me whore and he kept fucking me and I loved it, he told he her to shut up and at the same minute he said I am done with you and he shot his load in me and then quicly pulled it out and said look I creamed her pussy and I am done with you bitch. The girl left and the guy looked at me and smiled an evil smile that made me cum.

I want to do this again, if you want to break up with your wife,GF maybe a FWB hit me up. I am goodlooking so I ask that you are too. Send your stats or pics and lets plan your break up


"And what is sin?"

"I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?"

from The White People by Arthur Machen


spooky news

Mostafa Mahmoud Zayed had apparently been dead since Monday with a single gunshot wound to one eye. He was slumped over a chair on the third-floor balcony of his apartment on Bora Bora Way, said cameraman Austin Raishbrook, who was on the scene Thursday when authorities were alerted to the body.

Neighbors told Raishbrook that they noticed the body Monday "but didn't bother calling authorities because it looked like a Halloween dummy," he said.

Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2009

The 42-year-old woman used rope to hang herself across the street from some homes on a moderately busy road yesterday, state police said.

The body, suspended about 4.5 metres above the ground, could be easily seen from passing vehicles.

State police spokesman Jeff Oldham and neighbours said people noticed the body at breakfast time but dismissed it as a holiday prank.

Associated Press, October 28, 2005

A bank robber in Loudoun County got into the Halloween spirit early when he slipped on a spooky mask, pulled out a handgun and demanded cash from tellers at a BB&T Bank, authorities said.

"This time of year Halloween masks are more prevalent in bank robberies," said Loudoun County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kraig Troxell.

The Washington Examiner, October 27, 2009

The weeks leading up to Halloween can be a scary time, even for black cats.

Some city pet shelters and adoption agencies ban black-cat adoptions this time of year—fearful the felines could be used for religious or sacrificial purposes by groups engaged in witchcraft and paranormal communication.

Antonia Kwalick at Hope Veterinary Clinic in Boerum Hill recently used her feline instincts to thwart a potentially scary situation. A woman came into the clinic, hoping to swap her two tabbies for two black kittens. Kwalick turned her away.

"She was a little too freaky, a little too out there," Kwalick said, adding that the clinic maintains a rigid screening process.

amNewYork, October 28, 2008


opening lines

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was; but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil.

“The Fall of the House of Usher”


John Ashbery revising "Three Poems"

He puts a line through the sentence "At this point an event of such glamor and such radiance took place that you forgot the name all over again," but later he changes his mind and restores it. He crosses out "chimpanzee" and substitutes "tame bear." He crosses out "Pay attention to this passage, it could mean war." He crosses out "It is like being 'taken around' by a guide, or like visiting a big house on a hill before its contents are auctioned. There is so much one may wish to learn, and it all stops here—in the head." He rereads a little stanza he wrote on the first page and decides that it has to go:
When you flushed the toilet
And the shit boiled up
You said, Now is the time to act,
Act! Before the turds of your endurance
Disappear forever, say something,
Anything! But you live by avoiding
From left to right, carving a road so,
Old man.
New Yorker profile by Larissa MacFarquhar


John Ashbery revising

When he revises, the words he substitutes are often ones that sound like the ones he's replacing, or feel like them somehow, rather than synonyms. In recent poems, for instance, he has replaced "translucent" with "spiffy," "prisoners" with "pensioners," "unsurprising" with "undetonated," and "Just a little bit longer" with "Just a little critical wondering."

New Yorker profile by Larissa MacFarquhar


Ian Fleming revising

‘Scent and smoke hit the taste buds with an acid thwack at three o’clock in the morning.’ That was his first try. ‘Scent and smoke and sweat can suddenly combine together and hit the taste buds with an acid shock at three o’clock in the morning.’ That was his second. He got it right third time, with the sentence that became the opening line of his first book, Casino Royale: ‘The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.’

John Lanchester
London Review of Books


John Brown answers the slaveholding Senator Mason of Virginia in Charleston Prison, October 18, 1859

Mr. MASON What was your object in coming?

Mr. BROWN We came to free the slaves, and only that.

A YOUNG MAN (in the uniform of a volunteer company) How many men in all had you?

Mr. BROWN I came to Virginia with eighteen men only, besides myself.

VOLUNTEER What in the world did you suppose you could do here in Virginia with that amount of men?

Mr. BROWN Young man, I don't wish to discuss that question here.

VOLUNTEER You could not do anything.

Mr. BROWN Well, perhaps your ideas and mine on military subjects would differ materially.

Mr. MASON How do you justify your acts?

Mr. BROWN I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity—I say it without wishing to be offensive—and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those you wilfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly.

Mr. MASON I understand that.

Mr. BROWN I think I did right, and that others will do right who interfere with you at any time and all times. I hold that the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would that others should do unto you," applies to all who would help others to gain their liberty.

read more


October 14-17 is the 150-year anniversary of John Brown's great raid on Harpers Ferry.

REPORTER OF THE HERALD I do not wish to annoy you; but if you have anything further you would like to say I will report it.

Mr. BROWN I have nothing to say, only that I claim to be here in carrying out a measure I believe perfectly justifiable, and not to act the part of an incendiary or ruffian, but to aid those suffering great wrong.

I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better—all you people at the South—prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question that must come up for settlement sooner than you are prepared for it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled—this Negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet....

Q. Brown, suppose you had every nigger in the United States, what would you do with them?

A. Set them free.

Q. Your intention was to carry them off and free them ?

A. Not at all.

A BYSTANDER To set them free would sacrifice the life of every man in this community.

Mr. BROWN I do not think so.

BYSTANDER I know it. I think you are fanatical.

Mr. BROWN And I think you are fanatical. "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad," and you are mad.

Q. Was it your only object to free the Negroes ?

A. Absolutely our only object.

Q. But you demanded and took Col. Washington's silver and watch?

A. Yes; we intended freely to appropriate the property of slaveholders to carry out our object. It was for that, and only that, and with no design to enrich ourselves with any plunder whatever.

New York Herald, October 21, 1859.


But in fact it was January, the sky was dark and ugly;

it was not a sky you could look up into, lying on your back in the street, with pleasure, unless pleasure, for you, proceeded from having been threatened, from having been misused.

Donald Barthelme


Summer Reading (#12)

things magazine's Pelican Project


why I probably won't be able to finish my novel by the end of the year (and I have email)

“The distance is commonly very great between actual performances and speculative possibility. It is natural to suppose that as much as has been done to-day may be done to-morrow; but on the morrow some difficulty emerges, or some external impediment obstructs. Indolence, interruption, business, and pleasure, all take their turns of retardation; and every long work is lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten thousand that cannot, be recounted. Perhaps no extensive and multifarious performance was ever affected within the term originally fixed in the undertaker's mind. He that runs against Time has an antagonist not subject to casualties.”

Samuel Johnson
Lives of the Poets, re Pope's translation of the Iliad


why I should be able to finish my novel by the end of the year (and I have fewer distractions)

“Generally it took Simenon less than two weeks to write a complete novel. During a 44-year period which ended in 1972, Simenon produced four to five novels each year. In 1928 alone, he wrote 44 books. The next year, 34.

“Yet Simenon felt unfulfilled unless he made love to three or four different women each day.”

“The Man Who Loved 10,000 Women”
The Toledo Blade
May 23, 1993


The Parts of the Body

famous American eccentrics #22

In his review of the film "Capote," David Denby indicates that the filmmakers used the character of William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker during the period depicted in the film, as "an aggressive force who moves the plot along" (The Current Cinema, October 10th). As William Shawn's sons, we would like to amplify Denby's comment by noting, for the record, that in detail and in substance the William Shawn depicted in "Capote" is invented out of whole cloth by the filmmakers. In the film, Shawn speaks of "building interest" in Capote's piece, organizes a book reading for the writer at which he introduces him personally, arranges to have Richard Avedon go out to Kansas to photograph the author and the two murderers, and flies out to Kansas himself to visit with Capote. The real-life William Shawn did not believe that articles or their authors should be publicized. He resisted even putting a table of contents in the magazine itself to trumpet what each issue contained. He never organized a reading for Capote or any other writer, and never addressed one, as he never spoke in public on any occasion. He didn't arrange Richard Avedon's photographic trips or publish any photographs by Avedon, as he didn't think there should be photographs in The New Yorker. The film's Shawn expresses rapt interest in the details of the crime Capote wrote about, whereas the actual Shawn found even the mention of blood disturbing, and, much as he revered Capote's writing, found editing "In Cold Blood" upsetting. Quiveringly empathic by nature, the real William Shawn was literally the last man on earth who would make a joke about the killer Perry's impending death, as the character Shawn in the film does. The real Shawn never went to Kansas to visit with Capote, and in fact he never had the experience of flying on an airplane.

Allen and Wallace Shawn
Bennington, Vt., and New York City

(letter in the April 3, 2006 New Yorker)


famous English eccentrics #34

“I must ask anyone entering the house never to contradict me or differ from me in any way as it interferes with the functioning of my gastric juices and prevents my sleeping at night.”

notice hung by Sir George Sitwell on the gate of his manor


famous English eccentrics #33

"We are an eccentric English person,” says the artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, greeting me at his apartment, where he’s touching up collages. “You’re okay with that?” I nod. “Good,” he purrs, his voice dropping an octave. “Then we’re going to do just fine."

New York magazine


what novels do that movies can't

Nothing in all the motion-picture arts can put you inside the head, the skin, the central nervous system of another human being the way a realistic novel can. The movies are not much better with status details. When it comes time to deal with social gradations, they are immediately reduced to gross effects likely to lapse into caricature at any moment: the house that is too grand or too dreadful, the accent that is too snobbish or too crude.

Which brings us to another major shortcoming of the movies as a technology: they have a hard time explaining... anything. They are a time-driven medium compelled by their very nature to produce a constant flow of images. Three movies have been made from things I've written, and in each case I was struck by how helpless perfectly talented people were when it came time to explain... anything... in the midst of that vital flow, whether it be the mechanics and aerodynamics of a rocket-assisted airplane or the ins and outs of racial politics in the Bronx.

Tom Wolfe
"My Three Stooges"


why we hate classic theater

One problem for Shakespearean actors nowadays is that they are plainly embarrassed by the more famous speeches, like: 'Had I but died an hour before this chance' or 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,' both of which [Nicol] Williamson [in the RSC's production of Macbeth] threw away. I see their difficulty, but it seems a shame that we shall never hear these speeches properly delivered.

One solution might be to swap them around a bit. Thus, instead of saying 'Once more into the breach, dear friends,' Henry V might recite 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen'; instead of 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,' Macbeth might break into 'Where the bee sucks, there suck I.'

Obviously this solution is not ideal, particularly from the point of view of narrative continuity, but it seems to meet two requirements—the actors' passion for endless novelty and the audiences' pathetic hope of hearing a little poetry from time to time.

The Private Eye Diary of Auberon Waugh
December 11, 1974


what is "sophisticated humor"?

[To win the New Yorker cartoon contest], should you make a pun or, perhaps, create a visual gag about a cat surreptitiously reading its owner's email? Neither. You must aim for what is called a "theory-of-mind" caption, which requires the reader to project intents or beliefs into the minds of the cartoon's characters. An exemplary New Yorker theory-of-mind caption (accompanying a cartoon of a police officer ticketing a caveman with a large wheel): "Yeah, yeah—and I invented the ticket." The humor here requires inference about the caveman's beliefs and intentions as he (presumably) explains to the cop that he invented the wheel. A non-theory-of-mind caption (accompanying a cartoon of a bird wearing a thong), however, requires no such projection: "It's a thongbird." Theory-of-mind captions make for higher-order jokes easily distinguished from the simian puns and visual gags that litter the likes of MAD Magazine. To date, 136 out of the 145 caption contest winners (94 percent) fall into the "theory-of-mind" category.

How to Win the New Yorker Cartoon Contest
Patrick House


Sade vs. God

If that existence—if God's existence—were proven true, the mere pleasure of annoying such a being would become the most precious compensation for the necessity I would then find myself in to acknowledge some belief in him.



The Natural World

zombie squirrels    meerkats

What is the avant-garde? (part two)

On your website, the publishing house is described as subversive, innovative, avant-garde, experimental. Do you think postmodern is a useful adjective when applied to fiction? Do you publish postmodern books?

The most honest answer, which will seem quite self-indulgent, is that I publish what’s interesting to me and leave it to others to supply the adjectives. Many years ago, together with an editor at the press, we hit upon the word "subversive" because we were frequently asked to describe the fiction we publish and both of us felt that it was in fact "traditional," if one considers the history of fiction. We might appear to be "avant-garde" only in comparison to what is popular or taken seriously in the last several decades, but we are not avant-garde if you think of such writers as Cervantes or Laurence Sterne. If Sterne were writing today, he would be labeled a postmodernist, but what sense would that make, given when he was actually writing? As far as I am concerned, the history of fiction is one of invention, oftentimes playful and conscious of itself, but always pushing limits in terms of what it is and what else it can be. But I absolutely do not think of a Sterne or a Joyce as "experimenters": they didn't experiment, they made these remarkable books whose ingenuity and art are rarely seen in other writers or matched. Their works are finished and complete achievements, not experiments. At the same time, I am very aware that there are writers who are "experimenters," who are trying out different forms and styles, and who are primarily interested in such experimentation. We, however, do not publish them.

interview with John O'Brien of Dalkey Archive Press
Los Angeles Times


What is the avant-garde? (part one)

Avant-gardes claim to create the art of the future. But the "art of the future" generally proves wrong about the real future of art in the same way that the "city of the future" on display at a world's fair proves wrong about the future of cities.

Edward Mendelson (on Frank O'Hara)



joke #3

(The following is a one-act play based on an incident in the life of Abraham Lincoln. The incident may or may not be true. The point is I was tired when I wrote it.)

(Lincoln with boyish eagerness beckons George Jennings, his press secretary, into the room.)

Jennings: Mr. Lincoln, you sent for me?

Lincoln: Yes, Jennings. Come in. Sit down.

Jennings: Yes, Mr. President?

Lincoln: (Unable to suppress a grin.)

I want to discuss an idea.

Jennings: Of course, sir.

Lincoln: Next time we have a conference for the gentlemen of the press . . .

Jennings: Yessir . . . ?

Lincoln: When I take questions . . .

Jennings: Yes, Mr. President . . . ?

Lincoln: You raise your hand and ask me: Mr. President, how long do you think a man's legs should be?

Jennings: Pardon me?

Lincoln: You ask me: how long do I think a man's legs should be?

Jennings: May I ask why, sir?

Lincoln: Why? Because I have a very good answer.

Jennings: You do?

Lincoln: Long enough to reach the ground.

Jennings: Excuse me?

Lincoln: Long enough to reach the ground. That's the answer! Get it? How long do you think a man's legs should be? Long enough to reach the ground!

Jennings: I see.

Lincoln: You don't think it's funny?

Jennings: May I be frank, Mr. President?

Lincoln: (Annoyed)

Well, I got a big laugh with it today.

Jennings: Really?

Lincoln: Absolutely. I was with the cabinet and some friends and a man asked it and I shot back that answer and the whole room broke up.

Jennings: May I ask, Mr. Lincoln, in what context did he ask it?

Lincoln: Pardon me?

Jennings: Were you discussing anatomy? Was the man a surgeon or a sculptor?

Lincoln: Why-er-no-I-I-don't think so. No. A simple farmer, I believe.

Jennings: Well, why did he want to know?

Lincoln: Well, I don't know. All I know is he was someone who had requested an audience with me urgently . . .

Jennings: (Concerned)

I see.

Lincoln: What is it, Jennings, you look pale?

Jennings: It is a rather odd question.

Lincoln: Yes, but I got a laugh off it. It was a quick answer.

Jennings: No one's denying that, Mr. Lincoln.

Lincoln: A big laugh. The whole cabinet just broke up.

Jennings: And then did the man say anything?

Lincoln: He said thank you and left.

Jennings: You never asked why he wanted to know?

Lincoln: If you must know, I was too pleased with my answer. Long enough to reach the ground. It came out so fast. I didn't hesitate.

Jennings: I know, I know. It's just, well, this whole thing's got me worried.

from "
The Query" by Woody Allen



joke #2

Some people say they like to do it “doggy-style.”

I like to do it “human-style.”

That's when I have sex with my dog while she's lying on her back.

(A friend of mine who's a comic heard that joke from
another comic.)



joke #1

In a Hasidic village, so the story goes, Jews were sitting together in a shabby inn one Sabbath evening. They were all local people, with the exception of one person no one knew, a very poor, ragged man who was squatting in a dark corner at the back of the room. All sorts of things were discussed, and then it was suggested that everyone should tell what wish he would make if one were granted him. One man wanted money; another wished for a son-in-law; a third dreamed of a new carpenter's bench; and so everyone spoke in turn. After they had finished, only the beggar in his dark corner was left. Reluctantly and hesitantly he answered the question. "I wish I were a powerful king reigning over a big country. Then, some night while I was asleep in my palace, an enemy would invade my country, and by dawn his horsemen would penetrate to my castle and meet with no resistance. Roused from my sleep, I wouldn't have time even to dress and I would have to flee in my shirt. Rushing over hill and dale and through forests day and night, I would finally arrive safely right here at the bench in this corner. This is my wish." The others exchanged uncomprehending glances. "And what good would this wish have done you?" someone asked. "I'd have a shirt," was the answer.

Walter Benjamin
"Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death"

“In ‘Join Or Die,’ I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order.”

Justine Lai, “Join or Die”


Norman Mailer + Jean-Luc Godard

At the 1985 Cannes Film Festival, Godard approached Menahem Golan, of Cannon Films, and asked him to produce a film of "King Lear." Golan agreed, and wrote out a contract on a napkin from the bar where they were meeting, adding one clause: the script would be written by Norman Mailer. Godard's first move was to sign Orson Welles as an actor, or "guide"; but after Welles died later that year Godard came up with another idea: Mailer himself would play King Lear, and his daughter Kate, an actress, would play Cordelia.

"I finally decided that the only way to do a modern 'King Lear'—because that was what Menahem Golan wanted—was to make him a Mafia godfather," Mailer said. "I couldn't conceive of anyone else in my range of understanding who would disown a daughter for refusing to compliment him. So I turned it into a script I called 'Don Learo' "—pronounced "lay-AH-ro"—"which to my knowledge Godard never looked at." Mailer shouldn't have been surprised, inasmuch as Godard hadn't read Shakespeare's play, either. Instead, Godard admitted, he watched all the available filmed versions of it: "I had a vague idea that there was this girl who says, 'Nothing,' and that was enough."

Although Godard had intended to make the film near Mailer's house in Provincetown, he suddenly summoned Norman and Kate Mailer to Switzerland. "When we got there, to the hotel, he wanted to start shooting right away, and so he started giving me lines, and I was hardly playing King Lear. He said, 'You will be Norman Mailer in this.' And then he gave me some lines, and they were really, by any comfortable measure, dreadful. They would be lines like, I'd pick up the phone and I'd say, 'Kate, Kate, you must come down immediately, I have just finished the script, it is superb'—stuff like that. He was shooting, and we were getting some dreadful stuff. . . . I said to him, 'Look, I really can't say these lines. If you give me another name than Norman Mailer, I'll say anything you write for me, but if I'm going to be speaking in my own name, then I've got to write the lines, or at least I've got to be consulted on the lines.' So he was very annoyed and he said, 'That's the end of shooting for the day.' "

Godard conceded that the difficulties in their relationship stemmed in part from his way of working ("I don't know very well what I want to do, so he couldn't really have a discussion about it. He had nothing to do but obey, to have confidence in me"), but he also believes that Mailer was hostile to his vision of the film, which was supposed to be like "reportage" of Mailer's relationship with his daughter. "When he saw that he was going to have to talk about himself and his family, it was all over, in a quarter hour," Godard told me. "And that's the little piece that stayed in the film, but he left the next day" (a mutual decision, according to Mailer). To a journalist from Le Monde who visited the set, Godard added one fillip: "He left, being unable, he said, 'to see himself represented in a situation of incest.' " When I mentioned this to Mailer, he asked me, "Is it a reasonable demand to ask someone to, in their own name, play that they have an incestuous relationship to their daughter?"

After Mailer quit, Godard asked Rod Steiger, Lee Marvin, and Richard Nixon to play the part; all three turned him down.

Richard Brody
"An Exile in Paradise"



Anna Karina + Jean-Luc Godard

Godard and Anna Karina married in 1961. Godard would often disappear; later, Karina would learn that he had been out of the country. As she put it, "He told me, 'I'm going out for a pack of corn-paper cigarettes,' and he came back three weeks later." In 1964, Jacques Rivette told a journalist, "He and his wife have achieved perfect harmony in destroying each other." The screenwriter Paul Gegauff described paying a visit to the couple, only to find Godard "stark naked" in a freezing-cold room that had been totally destroyed: "All his clothes and Anna's were lying on the ground in tatters, the sleeves slashed with a razor, in a mess of wine and broken glass. . . . I noticed Anna on a sort of dais in the far corner of the room, also quite naked. . . . 'I'd offer you a glass of something,' he said, 'only there aren't any glasses left.' Then: 'Go and buy us a couple of raincoats so that we can go out.' "

Richard Brody
"An Exile in Paradise"