Friday, December 12, 2014

An American Master

"Few authors in any genre matched Chandler's prose,
which employed the use of metaphor and simile in a masterly way.
The poet W.H. Auden described his books as 'works of art' rather than escape literature."
--Otto Penzler, editor of The Black Lizard: Big Book of Pulps

Por ejemplo, Marlowe at this from Raymond Chandler's first novel, "The Big Sleep":

"This room was too big, the ceiling was too high, the doors were too tall, and the white carpet that went from wall to wall looked like a fresh fall of snow at Lake Arrowhead.

. . .

I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Mrs. Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-longue with her slippers off, so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stockings. They seemed to be arranged to stare at. They were visible to the knee and one of them well beyond. The knees were dimpled, not bony and sharp. The calves were beautiful, the ankles long and slim and with enough melodic line for a tone poem. She was tall and rangy and strong-looking. Her head was against an ivory satin cushion. Her hair was black and wiry and parted in the middle and she had the hot black eyes of the portrait in the hall. She had a good mouth and a good chin. There was a sulky droop to her lips and the lower lip was full."

The preceding paragraph demonstrates why Auden's perception and Penzler's admiration are spot on, and why the hard-boiled private eyes were literally created by Chandler's images.

Monday, December 8, 2014

<<---< Thessalonike >--->>



Those who fail to answer 
Thessalonike's timeless query
She reels and jerks and drops
Depthfully down undead
With her cold and stony stares.

Alone the mermaid asks away
To away the circling hours
As in unfurled beauty
She cleaves the waves
And rules her bitter seas.

Who save Alexander dare to ask
"How fare you, fair maid?"
Would she herself dare to ask?
Alone to him she would answer--


These plebeian styles--
This unwound world,
So--au currant--
So deep its lack,
Brother, of mystery;
Nothing does it offer,
But such a life
I'd need contrive--
Here, at sea, forever
I hold the better part of
Earth's full realm, and
Unbound fully, save to ask,
How fares Alexander?
Is that too much, I ask?

Inspired by Gwendolyn MacEwen
and Dedicated to Karen Lyn Keeperman

Happy Birthday KLK

Friday, December 5, 2014

Where There's Laugh There's Hope

Adam Gopnik, who writes extremely well about an infinite variety of topics and whose work can usually be found gracing the pages of The New Yorker magazine, has written an article about one of my earliest comedic heroes (forties and fifties), Bob Hope. Though Gopnik is not quite the fan of Hope that I would have hoped, he has written such an immensely readable article that I can forgive him for not always getting the same happy vibes that I did from the ski-nosed, smart-alecky, Saturday matinee idol of my early Bronxhood days. While normal kids were reading Archie and Jughead, I opted for Bugs Bunny and Bob Hope comic books. (Not entirely barbaric, for heavier reading I often adventured over to Captain Marvel and Blackhawk).

As anyone who knows me soon becomes aware, Bugs Bunny has long been one of my favorite people in the entire galaxy. I have been a fan of the "Wascally Wabbit" since my terrible 2's when I was first getting myself acclimated, and gently indoctrinated into Looneyland. How fortuitous then, that I should pick up the November 17 number of the fabled magazine this morning and run-onto the following paragraph:

"The real parallel to Hope--the great American comedian whose career most resembles his--is, of course, Bugs Bunny. Like Hope, he arrived in Hollywood in the late thirties and became a huge star with the war. Like Hope, he was usually paired with a more inward character who loves to sing (Daffy Duck is Bugs's Bing, though blustery rather than cool), and, like Hope, his appeal rises entirely from the limitless brashness and self-confidence with which he approaches even the most threatening circumstances. Together, they are the highest expression of the smart-aleck sensibility in American laughter. Their fame in wartime may have something to do with the way that, as A.J. Liebling documents, the American Army itself was essentially an urban creature dispatched to deserts and jungles: Bugs, with his Bronx-Brooklyn accent has somehow been sent out there in the countryside, among the hunters, as Hope ends up in the sands of Morocco with no weapon but street-corner sass."

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What When Where James Baldwin Walked?

From the archives:

From his telling essay, "Uptown: Fifth Avenue" written more than a half-century ago, by James Baldwin:

"It is hard, on the other hand, to blame the policeman, blank, good-natured, thoughtless, and insuperably innocent, for being such a perfect representative of the people he serves. He, too, believes in good intentions and is astounded and offended when they are not taken for the deed. He has never, himself, done anything for which to be hated--which of us has?--and yet he is facing, daily and nightly, people who would gladly see him dead, and he knows it. There is no way for him not to know it: there are few things under heaven more unnerving than the silent, accumulating hate of a people. He moves through Harlem, therefore, like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country; which is precisely what, and where, he is, and is the reason he walks in two's and three's. And he is not the only one who knows why he is always in company: the people who are watching him know why, too. Any street meeting, sacred or secular, which he and his colleagues uneasily cover has as its explicit or implicit burden the cruelty and injustice of the white domination. And these days, of course, in terms increasingly vivid and jubilant, it speaks of the end of that domination."


If you want to learn more about inequality, racism, and their effects upon our society from someone who knew how best to explain these things, track down this 1960 essay by James Baldwin.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Et tu, Пу́тин?

From the archives:

"Early in the Sixties Esquire was in the middle of the discovery that a novelist can sometimes do a journalist's job better than a journalist can, and got Mr. Bellow to interrupt briefly his work on Herzog for a report on the rhetorical style of the number-one diplomatic orator of his time. The result was published in March, 1961."

An excerpt from "Literary Notes on Khruschev" by Saul Bellow:

It may, in fact, take not only Russia, but the entire world to feed the needs of a single individual. For it can't be ideology alone that produces such outbursts; it must be character. "I have often thought," wrote William James, "that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: 'This is the real me!'" So perhaps Khruschev [Пу́тин?] feels himself, or attempts to reach himself, in these outbursts. And perhaps it is when the entire world is watching him soar and he is touching the limits of control that he feels most alive. He does not exhibit a great range of feelings.When he takes off the rudimentary masks of bureaucratic composure or peasant dignity or affability, he is angry or jeering. But fear is not the best school for expressiveness, and no man could be an important party functionary under Stalin without the ability to live in fear. We cannot therefore expect him to be versatile. He had, however, what it took to finish the course, the nerves, the control, the patience, the piercing ambition, the strength to kill and to endure the threat of death. It would be premature to say that he has survived all that there is to survive in Russia, but it is a safe guess that in the relief of having reached first place he is whooping it up. Instead of having been punished for his crimes he has become a great leader, which persuades him that life is inherently dramatic. And in his joy at having reversed the moral-accounting system of bourgeois civilization he plays his role with ever greater spirit.