20 August 2008

Dance in America

A few weeks ago I discovered the New Yorker fiction podcast and my hour-long commute home has become much more pleasant. Each month Deborah Treisman, fiction editor at the New Yorker, invites an author to choose a short-story published by the New Yorker, read it, and discuss the work and the author. There are close to two-years of back issues available for download from iTunes and, as far as I can tell, they are all worth hearing. It is wonderful to hear how authors interpret the voice of other author's characters. Each installment I've heard has impressed me with the ability the authors have to read a story and make it sound interesting.

There is one episode, called "This Is It," that I have listened to at least four times because it is so captivating. It is a reading by Louise Erdrich of Lorrie Moore's "Dance in America." The story is about a dancer who catches up with a friend from her past, Cal. Eugene is Cal's seven-year-old son who has Cystic Fibrosis. The story is equal parts heartbreak and humor. Moore's characters, overall, are occasionally criticized as too bleak and yuppieish but this story is fantastic. As Erdrich points out, Moore is uniquely able to show flashes of brilliant humor within her meaningful storyline. Moore's concise control of time and emotion shines through her accessible prose.

18 August 2008

Proust on reading

En réalité, chaque lecteur est, quand il lit, le propre lecteur de soi-même.
(In reality, each reader is, when he reads, the own reader of himself.)
-Marcel Proust

15 August 2008

How could 'he' be president?


I got this e-mail today and I don't see how America could vote this 'guy' in as president!

SUBJECT: IS MCCAIN SECRETLY A WOMAN...OR EVEN WORSE?

For the love of -od and the love of this country, you will forward this email onto all your friends and family. The fate of the free world may rest solely on this information becoming mainstream. If we can not stop this, I pray for all of our souls. -od speed!

I have confirmed these facts through my reliable sources. I suggest you take it to heart – feel free to confirm these disturbing truths. Please print out copies and hand them out or mail them to friends and neighbors without access to the Interwebs.

Who is John McCain?

US Presidential candidate, John SIDNEY McCain, was born in Panama (thus the reason he doesn't mind his people flooding across our borders). He tries to hide his middle name by constantly referring to himself as John S. McCain. Do not let this fool you. John SIDNEY McCain, the probable presidential runner-up, has a woman's middle name. At the very least, the concealment of his middle name, SIDNEY, raises serious questions about his true gender and whether he is a SECRET woman. He has admitted that economics is not an issue he understands well. A certain gender is well known to be less inclined towards math and numbers. Then there are his $500 shoes. If elected, it's very likely McCain will institute mandatory lingerie pillow AND tickle fights.

John SIDNEY McCain was raised by parents of Scots-Irish and English ancestry. At their most harmless, the Irish are notorious drunks who enjoy fighting while stashing large piles of gold underneath rainbows. In the extreme, the Irish are violent TERRORISTS attempting to overthrow the government. While no evidence exists explicitly linking McCain to a TERROR organization, he has never denied membership in the IRA. It is also unclear whether he or any of his drunken relatives ever knew anyone who might know someone who once interacted with or passed in the street a member of the IRA. Given the challenges facing our country, we need confirmation that McCain is not affiliated nor knows people affiliated with TERROR organizations.

Born in 1936, John SIDNEY McCain moved around a lot throughout his early years, which coincided with World War II. The exact details of McCain's behavior during this time are sketchy at best. It is interesting to note there is no record of McCain denouncing the actions of the Nazis while they were committing genocides. He was noticeably silent. He may not have been a NAZI SYNTHESIZER, but this raises doubts about which side he was rooting for during World War II. This also raises questions about his potential loyalties as president, given our current wars and the wars he promises to start.

John SIDNEY McCain served as a naval pilot during the Vietnam War. While executing a mission in 1967, McCain was captured in Hanoi, where he stayed in the Hanoi Hilton for 5 long years. McCain's fellow soldiers battled valiantly against the evils of Communism while McCain was lounging in a hotel (most likely alternating between the pool and the hot tub to enhance the experience of both) run by Paris Hilton! If McCain had fought alongside his comrades, we may have never needed Rocky to defeat Communism.

After Vietnam, McCain returned to the US to discover his first wife with horrific injuries from an auto accident. He promptly began an affair with a woman 17 years his junior, eventually divorcing his disfigured first wife in 1980. As President, McCain will be faced with a similar situation, given the current wreck that is our country. He will be tempted to fool around with other countries. It will just be a matter of time until he divorces the US for a newer, younger, and more attractive country that offers him more than we can.

During this presidential election, we must be vigilant to prevent a John SIDNEY McCain presidency.

Can we really risk having a drunk, fighting Irishman who may or may not have ties to TERRORIST organizations? When troubled times arrive, will McCain fight for us or will he fall into the arms of another more-youthful country that looks strikingly like his current country? Do we really want to trust this country to someone who may secretly be a woman or a NAZI SYNTHESIZER?

Please forward to everyone you know. We can not have this (wo)man leading our country.

Your Friend,
Bo Gus Smear

h/t: ME

*Of course the above e-mail isn't true. Unfortunately, it's just as false as the ridiculous chain e-mails about Obama that are floating around but this one, I guarantee, won't get passed around like a hot potato.

14 August 2008

Tattoos


For as long as I can remember, I've wanted a tattoo; for the same length of time I haven't had a clue of what I wanted tattooed on my body. I have never realistically considered getting one because I figure that it's silly to get something permanently inked onto my skin if I don't truly know that I want it there.

All this was before I discovered Contrariwise.

This is a site dedicated to the display and explanation of literary tattoos and it seems that most people love Vonnegut (so says the picture above) or Plath. I'm a self-professed Lit. nerd and I think doing something like this would solidify my ridiculous affinity for literature for all time. My only problem is that I don't quite know what I would want. One of the pictures on the site is an excerpt from "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas. It would be appropriate for me because a.) I love the poem, 2.) my last name is Thomas, and d.) I'm pretty into the band Rage Against the Machine. (The d section is true but unnecessary for the list. I just wanted to have a third to complete my Home Alone reference.)

But having seen it on the internet, I could never--in good conscience--get that tattooed on me.

I've thought of getting DeLillo's theme of "All plots lead to death," but that's a bit too dreary. So I'm coming to you for suggestions. This isn't to say that I'll rush out and get a tattoo on a sudden whim of fancy, but it will help my thought process.

For location, I'm thinking of someplace that not readily visible but can be seen by me if I want to. I think I'll get it somewhere random on my torso, like just below my ribs a few inches to either side of center.

Black Kids


I've been sitting on this musical review for a few weeks now. The song "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You" has been playing on XPN since just after SXSW and it's nearly impossible to get out of your head. I was hoping that the rest of the album lived up to the promise of the first single and was not too disappointed.

Their first album, called Partie Traumatic was released in late July and is chock-full of clever song titles. It opens with the track "Hit the Heartbrakes" and ends with "Look At Me (When I Rock Wichoo)." The songs are altogether catchy and synth-heavy almost to a fault. The lead singer, Reggie Youngblood, has a fairly pleasant voice that fits well within the cacophony (I use this term as positively as possible) of sound created by the rest of the band. I doubt that this band will change the face of music but I'll happily put it at the top of my summer music list for 2008.

If I had to recommend only one track, it would have to be "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You (The Twelves Remix)" which, I think, is only available through electronic download. It's funkier than the radio version with a pulsing bass that physically shakes your body.

13 August 2008

Strange indeed

It's curious that after purchasing all but two of DeLillo's fifteen novels, one meeting with my thesis supervisor convinces me to focus my work on one of the books that I do not own.

"The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men, gang aft agley."

Don DeLillo on the role of a writer

Responding to being called a 'bad citizen' by George Will in response to his novel Libra:

"I don't take it seriously, but being called a 'bad citizen' is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That's exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in a sense that we're writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we're bad citizens, we're doing our job.
-Don DeLillo

11 August 2008

Underworld

After spending the bulk of my summer (the time I could afford to read more for pleasure than for class) working through the book, I've finally finished Underworld by Don DeLillo. I only say 'finally' because the book weighs in at 827 pages and lasted longer than I may have wanted it to. Turns out it was worth the time I put into it. Published in 1997, this novel is considered by many to be his magnum opus and it reads like a US cultural history from the 1950s through the mid-90s.

The novel opens with a boy named Cotter Martin hopping the fence to sneak into the 1951 NLCS game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers (interestingly, both teams have moved to California. New York is, apparently, an awful place to be). The center of the book is the ball that was struck during the Shot Heard 'Round the World to end the game. The primary character is Nick Shay--a waste management executive living in Phoenix--and the authorial voice constantly vacillates from first to third person never allowing the reader a comfortable sense of the narrator. Along with Nick, a character of fiction, DeLillo employs actual historical figures such as J. Edgar Hoover, Truman Capote, and Lenny Bruce.

DeLillo says that he got the idea to call his novel Underworld when thinking about buried plutonium which got him thinking about Pluto, the god of the underworld. Though the fascination of Hoover, DeLillo uses the painting The Triumph of Death by Bruegel to introduce his constant theme that all plots lead to death. DeLillo first posits this notion in his novel Libra (his take on the JKF assassination) and it plays a major role in the bulk of his later fiction. Much of his work from the mid-80s on explores what effect death (not only dealing with the death of others, but the effect the fear of death has on the living) has on his characters.

I won't much go into plot points in fear of giving away spoilers so I'll just say that it is most definitely worth reading.

I do want to tough on DeLillo's style. Whether he is considered postmodern, Romantic, or anything else, he's a great writer. His style is slightly varied from novel to novel but it always remains true to what you expect from DeLillo. His characters, despite a consistent lack of description, remain vibrant and rarely flat. He's occasionally difficult to follow but one can always find a way back in to his world.

I really need to end this unabashed author-crush I have on DeLillo before I begin writing my thesis.

08 August 2008

I'm a member!


So in my continuing effort to be a ridiculous nerd, I joined the MLA the other day. I had never really thought about it before, but when I discovered that, as a graduate student, I could join for an annual fee of only $20 I couldn't resist. With my membership, I get several theoretical publications sent to me as well as quarterly MLA newsletters and discounted book deals. Above all, I get the chance to submit an abstract to get it accepted for presentation at the annual MLA conference. I really don't know how many non-PhDs get to present there, but it's worth the shot. It would boost my CV along with my nerd status.

I've really nothing to say beyond that. I'm still pretty excited to be a member.

05 August 2008

Wordle Mash-Up

So there's a mighty interesting site that scans any text and makes a conglomeration of the most frequently used words. I had it make a cloud of my blog's words and here's what happened:



Click on the image for a better view and the link to make your own!

Defeat Terrorism: Inflate Your Tires


As noted by a more astute bloggers, is appears the John McCain's campaign is run by 18 year old interns. From his Paris/Britney celebrity ad to his new campaign promise to give a tire gauge to anyone who donates $25 or more, everything the McCain camp does seems fairly puerile and ineffectual.

The latest stunt plays off Obama's call to regularly check tire pressure and get frequent tune-ups. This, of course, seems like common sense but the GOP acts as if Obama is suggesting one use a garden hose to douse a forest fire. Luckily, some in the media have stepped up to suggest that Obama's 'energy plan' can actually do more to offset gas prices than offshore drilling will. This isn't earth-shattering news, but it's important to point out how the little things can often do much more than grand, Big Oil projects.

I truly hope the GOP keeps up these antics. The more they act, the wiser the 'youth' movement behind Obama appears.

Edit: Daily Kos has a nice write up about this.

04 August 2008

Life Update


On Friday I finally finished my summer class. I was lucky enough to get to take Literary Theory during a summer session so I could focus all my academic attention to what will probably end up being my favorite grad class. With the completion of this course, I'm merely twelve hours short of the required class load for a master's degree (which is the inspiration for the picture. I'll have one of these someday). Three of those twelve, however, are my master's thesis which is looming in the distance and causing me a considerable amount of anxiety.

I am not necessarily anxious because it's a massive paper or that I don't think I'll be able to do it, but there's this nagging sense of dread. For the first time in my graduate career, I'm allowed to do exactly what I want to do and that is frightening. It's okay to do only pretty good in courses like "19th C. Gender, Sex, and Empire" because that is not where my eventual focus will lie. It's not okay to have a mediocre thesis when the topic is completely up to me.

I think I'll be okay. I have a full book shelf of DeLillo's work and corresponding criticism to pour through and I'm excited that I have a few weeks before the Fall semester begins to get some more work done.

We had our first anniversary two weeks ago. After getting back from a lovely week in Searcy, we hopped on a Bolt Bus bound for the Big Apple (ooo, alliteration!). Since we moved to the northeast we've been to New York a few times and have yet to see a show. This time we were fortunate enough to see Spring Awakening and it was much better than I had anticipated. I've been loving the music since the recording was available and I couldn't imagine the book being better than the music, but the show was simply fantastic.

While in the city, we got to see Jordan--which is always lovely--and we tried to not look too touristy while we walked about. It was a wonderful trip with my wonderful wife.

Also, we've moved from Media, PA to Pottstown, PA and you should visit us. We're definitely on the fringes of Pennsyltucky but the apartment is fairly amazing and it's very close to Coventry, my wife's new employer. We're completely finished unpacking and have to hang a few more pictures in the bedroom then we're completely finished.

It's been a long last couple of weeks, but life is wonderful.

What have you been doing lately?

02 August 2008

Blowing the dog whistle

In a recently published article in The Guardian, Melissa McEwan talks about McCain's strategy of dog whistling. The rhetorical technique involves dropping phrases that may seem strange to most people, but have significant meaning to a portion of the population. Bush used the phrase "wonder-working power" to invoke visions of God's miracles and Huckabee couldn't seem to stop with the veiled religious messages. Perhaps I've been oblivious to these tactics before, but McEwan's article calls to light the covert racism in the juxtaposition of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears with Obama in a recent McCain ad that the senior Senator from Arizona claims to be proud of.

Instead of picking vapid, relatively talentless male celebrities, the McCain team chose two females of fame who are associated with airheadedness and promiscuity. To most, that doesn't mean too much. To a select few, however, it calls to mind the black-man-as-hyper-sexual-deviant trope of so many Imperial art.

For a good portion of history (and many would argue that it currently happens) black men were 'othered' and views as sex crazed animals. Novels by Sam Selvon (namely The Lonely Londoners) have worked to bring this false stereotype to light and debunk the myth. Also, photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (I would advise you to not research his work while you are at work) does a fantastic job of pointing to the overt hyper-sexualization and fetishization of the black man. Despite all the work to rid our society of this insidious racism, McCain sees fit to try to scare white voters away from Obama because he's just a scary, over-sexualized black man.

Shame on you, John McCain.