musings

The Proust, nay, Froust Questionnaire

n. Proust, or more like the Froust Questionnaire (as in Fake Proust)

Reading Horizon: Three vastly different titles and genres. 1. The Poet and the Vampyre, 2. The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay, and 3. On Myself and Other, Less Important Subjects.

Listening: A toss up between Metronomy, Sylvan Esso, and the Sleep playlist on Spotify, which I’m oddly listening to at 9:30 in the morning.

Day dreaming: Snorkeling and sleeping (maybe, not at the same time).

Audiobooking: PG Wodehouse and the Jeeves stories.

Writing: Longhanding….typing…..longhanding.

Obsessing: This news story.

Brainstorming: Three ideas for stories.

Procrastinating: Need to send out new fictions to literary journals.

Watching: The DVD for Interstellar as it looks at me with shame as I continue not to watch it.

DisappointingInherent Vice

Bookishly Me

persōna f (genitive persōnae); first declension

  1. mask
  2. character
  3. person, personality

self-portrait of the writer on the streets of Prague.

When I originally began this little corner of mine, the idea was to keep myself anonymous to give myself a distance from my published work and this personal work, which still remains the case. Also, to have something separate from my peers and colleagues; only a few of my friends know about this site. The few images I’ve had here have always not included my face; for a while, some people assumed I was male because I gave no identification (Female, here). For now, that’s pretty much all you’ll get from me.

I sometimes wonder why certain blogs are super-successes and some live in quieter niches. Blogs with a specific personality win over hearts and rack up the followers. I don’t know where I fit in with that, but I was surprised to see Acid Free Pulp included on a Southern literary agents list of personality-driven review sites. This is what got me thinking about the whole thing…

I suppose I add myself into my musings and reviews here in a way that is different from my published work. In that way, I can see why I was added to the personality-driven section. However, my identity is missing and in its place, I rely solely on my words to showcase my personality and sense of humor, along with what fascinates and captivates me.

In comparison, the very popular book blogs that have clear author personalities with people’s names have tons of comments in the discussion section, where mine, for example, does not. Of course, I am generalizing here because I read a gaggle of well-written blogs with all sorts of owners, but I’ve noticed many of them offer a clear representation of who they are (“Jane X, Midwestern housewife who loves YA books and travelling…”). Could connecting with the blog author be easier for discussion? I sometimes wish that there was more discussion here, but it means LOADS to me when people leave comments thanking me for a great review and telling me to keep up the good work, or pointing them in the direction of something that is new to them. That’s the point of all of this, right?

Words are what I work with. They’re everywhere in my life. When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. I read when I’m rinsing my mouthwash, swishing it through my teeth, while I stand at my bathroom sink. I’m envious of my friends who are fantastic playwrights, poets, memoirists, because these are disciplines I haven’t mastered. I’m more comfortable in fiction and criticism. I get audibly annoyed at Jeopardy contestants who avoid the literature categories. Most of my jobs have been in the arts in some way (with the exception of my bit time working as a rep for a holistic dog food company. Weird.).

I think this post comes from a few places. The first, of course, being the aforementioned list and my rumination on “personality.” The second comes from a book fatigue of sorts. I have a whole stack of this past year’s award winners and books that have been reviewed in the New York Times. I just feel that they must be read, if nothing more than to be a part of the larger discussion (which I still think is important). But, I’m a bit weary of it all. I want something astounding and not written by the same writers all of the time. I want books that can also be beautiful pieces of art (this usually comes from smaller presses).

My weariness also comes from the boom of young adult novels. My point is not to knock them (if you have a well-written piece about The Phantom Tollbooth, I’m all over that), but their current incarnations are lacking and are usually turned out factory style (think Andy Warhol for novels). An interview last year with an outgoing Munich editor said that we are reading more books than before, but we are consuming so many of low quality (take what you will from that paraphrase). The blog world is full of book bloggers talking about these books, where, in my opinion, other reviews are getting ignored. To remedy this, I did a book order this week. I am dreadfully poor, but still had a gift card lying around from a few months ago and scooped up some reads that might ease my ailing book lover heart.

Like this little writerly musing, I am grateful that you put up with my ramblings, complaints, and meanderings; I get a kick out of other bloggers’ reactions to the occasional Distraction; I love getting new insight and recs like on yesterday’s PKD post; even though I might be a masked book blogger, many thanks goes out for reading my reviews and recommendations. My main mission is to write about books that I find interesting and share them in the hopes that others will find something new that they normally might have missed. I also particularly like the interaction with other bloggers and reading their recommendations, etc.

What is the point of this post? I don’t know and I hesitate to press ‘publish’ after all of this, but I think I’ll do it anyway…

***

  1. The definition above is taken from Wikipedia. Accessed 6 February 2014.
  2. Something personal on this rare occasion inspired by the self-portrait on this post: I love Prague. It is what inspired me to start writing this blog.
  3. For those who’ve stuck with me for this long, I present you with the music video for The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” because it has been stuck in my head all day.

Shooting on the Sonnenallee

With only a couple of days left in Berlin, a friend and I turned the corner from the Sonnenallee in the Turkish populated neighborhood of Neukölln in search of late-night grub. It was here, while we were chatting away, that a man walked out from behind a car, stood next to us, and shot another man behind us several times in the chest (along with parked cars and building walls). My friend did not see the shooter clearly, but I did because I was turned to her and I watched as the handgun lined up with the height of her head.

I bring all of this up, because as I made a hot lemon yesterday to sooth my dry throat, I thought back to that night over a year ago. It’s a night that I’ve wanted to adapt into a short story for ages. But when I sit down to my computer, nothing beyond the words on the Sonnenallee are typed on the screen. I do not know what the form will take or if I’m not thinking about it from a removed enough place. For weeks following, I thought about how the man twisted around the car and found himself next to us. I did that thing you’re not supposed to do where you ruminate: what if I hadn’t left my gloves at home and we didn’t stop at the corner store so I could buy a pair of cheap ones, what if we went the other direction to get soup instead of making that turn to get pizza, what if that man had fired his shots earlier for the split second the muzzle was directed at us.

But back to hot lemon…it was what I drank immediately following the shooting. The polizei came quite quickly and my friend and I were told to wait in the bar at the corner. We weren’t allowed to order any alcohol. Besides water, all that was left was hot lemon and no one should drink water after something like this. Hot lemon is as close as we were allowed to get to comfort. We both drank them with plenty of honey and that was when I revealed my embarrassment. I had a bicycle with me that I pushed while we walked together. When we saw the shots and ran, I still pushed it until finally I hurled it aside as we looked for a corner to duck into. Also, being used to living in New York City where many films and TV shows are made, more than once I’ve seen warnings of ‘the sound of gunshots heard between 11pm-1am are for the filming of a television scene.’ Before we started running, I kept thinking: “where are the film cameras? where are the signs?”

a photo I took of a favorite part of the East Side Gallery at the Berlin Wall.

We spoke to the police at headquarters for hours. I had to lockup the borrowed bicycle on the same side street where the man was shot because it wouldn’t fit in the police car. My friend and I were there for hours; we were given two Mars bars and interviewed separately. I looked at mugshots. Nothing of them matched.

Any time I make a hot lemon, I think back onto this horrorshow. For months, I felt embarrassment and stress any time I squeezed the lemons in to a mug, scooping out stray seeds before adding the hot water. My anxiety shot up into my throat as the memory played on loop.

When it comes to literature and other arts, I am always fascinated by the way characters remember or misremember things. Of course, that man’s face is etched in my memory but it has faded. I’m not quite sure of the color of his clothes anymore but I remember the matte black of his handgun. When interviewed by the police, they told me my friend had said she first became aware that something was wrong was when I yelled oh, shit! I don’t remember this. I’m curious to know if I remembered it at the moment. This oh, shit! hangs alone as if it’s something that is not part of me or as someone else’s memory trying to make room in my own.

More recent literature like Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending explore traumatizing and complicated events from the perspective of older narrators. Their perceptions and agendas have changed in their present view. Things are more obvious and details have been conflated or understood.

I know I’ve rambled on for far too long, but bear with me. I’m sipping the remaining drops of my hot lemon now as I type and think more about this story that still hasn’t been written. I’ve written short stories about other past travel experiences (both fun and horrible–traversing the Swiss Alps on a Moto Guzzi vs. days after leaving Berlin for London, my only remaining pair of pants caught on fire). This one, however, is far more complicated. When I do try to write something, it comes out cold and police blotter-esque (just the facts, ma’am). Instead of writing, I find myself sitting and remembering the images and feelings on a loop.

I can’t help but think about Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s short story “In a Grove,” which is divided by testimonies and confessions of the various witnesses and participants of a samurai’s killing. I feel most akin with Akutagawa’s tale and perhaps, I should take a lesson from the structure of his story. There were many people on the Sonnenallee that night. I didn’t see anything that happened behind me, but there were surely people who did and conversely, they did not see the detailed and up-close description of the shooter like I had or where he walked out from behind a car (or was it a van?). Together, we could weave a complex, multi-point of view tale or on our own, each present a compelling, yet unreliable story. As a writer, I can usurp their points of view and craft them into something of my own making, choosing when to punch holes in the plot and when to present a view–whether skewed or reliable–of the focused action.

I do hope to write this story one day and perhaps, next time I try, I won’t stare blankly at my computer screen. From witnessing this bizarre and horrid event, I plan to piece together a story of remembering and misremembering. When I make my next hot lemon–or heiße Zitrone–I will for once think clearly or not…whichever leads me to where I need to go to write the story I want to get down on the page. I wonder if it will be something realist or if it will swim in a surreal space. I’m clamoring to find out.

post script

I never found out what happened to the man who was shot. The newspapers in Berlin were alarmingly quiet save for one short article  (my theory is that they don’t often report on immigrants’ concerns in Germany). In English, Sonnenallee translates as the Sun Alley, which seems bright in comparison to the dark night I was there. Also, in 1999 a German film was made called Sonnenallee, which from what I’ve read about it, falls prey to Ostalgie for the former DDR.

Plagiarism, Shia LaBeouf, and the Phenomenal Daniel Clowes

The action or practice of plagiarizing; the wrongful appropriation or purloining, and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas (literary, artistic, musical, mechanical, etc.) of another.  –Definition of plagiarism in The Oxford English Dictionary

Snapshot from LA Times article

For the past month, there has been a brouhaha over the obvious lifting and plagiarizing of a graphic short story by the artist Daniel Clowes. The story, originally anthologized by Zadie Smith in The Book of Other People, features a film critic and titular character named Justin M. Damiano. The story is fascinating especially for those interested in film/arts critique. Actor-turned-filmmaker Shia LaBeouf adapted Clowes’ story for a short film of his own titled Howard Cantour.com. Both are about an internet film critic who  extrapolates on the notion that film critics can make or break a film. Those familiar with Clowes’ original story will be baffled by the verbatim representation in the film, which was not authorized by Clowes and was a shock to both him and his publisher. LaBeouf didn’t seek the rights or acknowledge Clowes and “Justin M. Damiano” at all in the process.

Plagiarism has always been a touchy subject. When it occurs–or even with just a lisping whiff of it–our opinions are usually quite strong, both personally and litigiously. When I was a college student, in my introductory poetry class we were taught about found poetry, which according to poets.org is: found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. We were essentially given the green light to steal and when the professor was pressed more on the area of plagiarism to create these word collages, she put on a little grin and her pupils broadened.

I suppose the difference between what Shia LaBeouf did and a room full of nineteen-year-old undergrads did lies with the idea of creating something new out of re-purposing. LaBeouf blatantly stole from Daniel Clowes; he was only inspired by him enough to take his story and photocopy it into a new medium.

In the above image, Marcel Duchamp takes the Mona Lisa and adds a bit of a spin to the sixteenth century canvas. This 1919 work was different from his other readymades, but he still transformed a piece of art into something else, adding a commentary and attitude. We all remember that iconic image of Barack Obama by the artist Shepard Fairey. The Associated Press got all hot and bothered because the original photo that Fairey used was not his own–it was taken by a photographer that was on assignment for the AP. The original photographer claimed he held the copyright and enjoyed Fairey’s transformation of the image. Fairey’s main defense was that his own visual had been completely transformed from the original, making it something wholly different (which falls in the realm of fair use exemption).

But coming back to the original predicament: it is clear-cut that LaBeouf plagiarized Daniel Clowes. He purloined the original graphic short story with intent to pass it as his own creation. He was not influenced, for the dialogue and voice-over is either word-for-word or nearly so. I’m not going to delve into the internet freak show that LaBeouf has crowned himself ringmaster of (that’s what Google is for). It’s a shame though. I find it perplexing that LaBeouf didn’t first acquire the rights because the short film itself is very enjoyable and well-made. Instead of taking a foot forward into a potential interesting career as a film maker, he has sunk into some wonderland madness of his own doing. The film has been removed from many places online, but when you’re done reading Daniel Clowes’ original story you can still watch it on YouTube.

Resources…

  • My recommendation for more Clowes readings are the full-length graphic novels Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and David Boring.
  • Reality Hunger:A Manifesto by David Shields is a mash-up of other sources and quotes with the intent being to have us think about art and the way it is re-appropriated.
  • Jonathan Lethem’s article in Harper’s titled “The Ecstasy of Influence” has the subtitle “a plagiarism.” It is a defense of plagiarism and like the subtitle, the sentences are lifted from other sources.
  • The recent court case concerning which of the Sherlock Holmes stories and characters are in the public domain.
  • Howard Cantour.com short film,

One Brief Defense of Literary Translation

After a really interesting discussion in the comments section of the post, An Evening of Translation, I remembered a short note I recently read about the translation of Kafka’s The Judgement (Das Urteil: Ein Geschichte). It can be found in various places on the internet but here is a brief mention of it: The sentence can be translated as: “At that moment an unending stream of traffic crossed over the bridge.”What gives added weight to the obvious double meaning of ‘Verkehr’ is Kafka’s confession to Max Brod that when he wrote that final line, he was thinking of “a violent ejaculation”. Franz Kafka Writing

The last word of the story in its original German is Verkehr. In true Kafka form, he has a chosen a word with multiple meanings leading to its ambiguity. Below is an excerpt from Kafka: a short introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005):

So my verdict is: Yes! We need literary translators!