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One Motherfucker of a Narrative

One Motherfucker of a Narrative
http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/No-Passzaran-15... 150w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/No-Passzaran-90... 90w" sizes="(max-width: 225px) 100vw, 225px" />Understandably, many people are distraught and distracted by the tawdry reality television nightmare emanating from Washington (the capital). Even for those who were witness to the war crimes of Richard Nixon and Henry “Dr. Strangelove” Kissinger, this moment plays out as the realization of a John Le Carre novel (though admittedly Le Carre’s plot lines are more elegant). Not to worry—my cogitating and typing is in service to the notion of a wider, balanced universe, promoting solidarity (see the film Spartacus against a once-rising tide of a goyische lifeboat mentality). And so, if you take the screen in front of you, or in your hand, as the harbor to a wide and endless ocean and emulate those crazy explorers of a far-off yesteryear…I have fixed my gaze on the horizon, landing in a few places—well, you get it…Before baseball returned full force with the opening day of the Major Leagues (Grandes Ligas*), there was the World Baseball Classic, which was interesting as it was about baseball and, yes, the rest of the real world. The USA team beat the previously-seven-victories-and-one-defeat Puerto Rican squad. The jubilant team representing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico chose to dye their head and facial hair blond (I guess just to do it). This reportedly caused a shortage of blond dye in San Juan (that’s in P.R.).Considering that the USA won the true world tournament, the failure of the ‘press’ to follow up was glaring. I guess “follow the money” is still regnant. If you grew up on the mean streets of the 50th Ward in Chicago, Tucker Carlson, the embattled Fox Network Cerebus, comes off as a preparatory school prick. Now comes an article in the hallowed New Yorker magazine, providing more information and coloration than I ever wanted to know about a Fox headliner. Essentially learning that Tucker is a human being.The big surprise for me is what the late, still-great Christopher Hitchens observed about Tucker Carlson (which is a timely reminder about the distortions of Television).Somehow I chanced to come across an excellent documentary, winner of some prestigious awards, that unpacked the truly ugly visage of the ‘innovation’ economy as it overreached in San Francisco. Company Town focuses on Airbnb’s land grab and speculation in the Mission District and China Town. The absurdity of Airbnb’s flack referring to the doublespeak catch phrase ‘sharing economy’ as a ‘movement’ scales the heights of self-delusion. Is Father Coughlin far behind? My comrades in dissidence at the Baffler recently published a lucid and useful view of the so-called ‘innovation’ economy as it manifested in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan is lengthy but vivisects with nimble prose what it terms, ‘Innovation Without Progress’:“The Innovation Economy necessitates such cultural changes, but it offers no independent argument for freely choosing them. Instead, the manifest destiny of business touts innovation as if it were synonymous with progress, rather than one among its many necessary qualities, and leaves it at that.So you can be sure the next time a wealthy college dropout like Mark Zuckerberg filches a banal idea from a couple of wealthier classmates and wants to beat them to midmarket, he need not ride the golden carpet to Silicon Valley and let Stanford or Cal Tech garner all the credit and cash. In Cambridge, teams of elites will regulate the general production from startup to corporate behemoth and make it easy for him to optimize the same thing today that he optimized yesterday. The new man of the Innovation Ideology will be free to code in the morning, head to the laboratory in the afternoon, and brag after dinner, without ever having to read books.Innovation for what else? Not for art, literature, music, history, dance, sculpture, painting, philosophy, religion, poetry, or drama, the traditional means by which a diverse community grows conscious and formulates its standards of value. The governor of Massachusetts won’t be stopping by your office to encourage you in your efforts at moral reasoning about philanthropy, the state legislature won’t be allocating millions of dollars in matching grants for your next novel about how the homeless live, and the websites that have replaced the newspapers won’t report on your subway concert. And there is no good reason for this, except this is how business wants it.”Closer to home, Boston University’s archival repository (home of some of Martin Luther King’s papers) now accommodates the papers of patriarchal illustrator/cartoonist/author Edward Sorel. Appropriately, there was an opening reception of a well curated and crafted exhibition which featured Sorel admirer and Vanity Fair editor Cullen Murphy, and Sorel’s (almost, as Murphy cleverly pointed out) lifelong friend and fellow member of the pantheon of US illustrative arts, cartoonist/writer/playwright Jules Feiffer. Feiffer in lauding his friend provided a vivid snapshot of growing up in and thriving in mid-20th-century Brooklyn. And Sorel, no stranger to turning mordant phrases, offered some moving and appreciative remarks about the whole shebang.http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Feiffer-II-768x... 768w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Feiffer-II-1024... 1024w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Feiffer-II-90x6... 90w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" />Jules Feifferhttp://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Sorel-Feiffer-7... 768w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Sorel-Feiffer-1... 1024w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Sorel-Feiffer-9... 90w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" />Ed & Juleshttp://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/power-dog-winsl... 664w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/power-dog-winsl... 58w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/power-dog-winsl... 700w" sizes="(max-width: 324px) 100vw, 324px" />Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog probably resides at the top of the lists of “literary thrillers” of the people who make up such lists. Nonetheless, it is a powerful expose of the so-called war on drugs which reasonably and plausibly makes every institution from the DEA to the Catholic Church to Columbia’s leftist guerrillas and right wing death squads. He followed ten tears later with the part II of a never-ending story entitled The Cartel. He also penned the novel Savages, which could have done without Oliver Stone’s magic touch.All of this is to observe (thanks to my benevolent acquaintances at WM Morrow) that Winslow’s new opus The Force invites attempts at cleverness using the word ‘force.’ Suffice it to say, this is one motherfucker of a narrative (my Chicago slipped out here). As he did with the federal police, Winslow shows an uncanny understanding of city police culture, New York centrism, and the tribal nature of our society. There is lots to be said about this 19th-century novel, but Winslow tips you off to something great to follow, with his citation of Raymond Chandler: “Police are people too. At least they start out that way.”It should be needless to say that many books pile up on my front porch in fullness of time. My experience is that if you follow the prominent venues/gatekeepers that cover the world of books and its attendant industry you will receive a limited picture of real live books (for which you may high five yourself to the nearest bookstore or library). Here’s a quartet that caught my eye.http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/jim-harrison-re... 676w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/jim-harrison-re... 59w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/jim-harrison-re... 713w" sizes="(max-width: 330px) 100vw, 330px" />Jim Harrison occupied a huge space in American letters concomitant with his interests and talents. His passing would be that much sadder if we did not have such rich body of work to both reminisce with and discover. Harrison thought of himself as a poet, which is like saying Mike Trout is just a baseball player. Harrison was recently inducted into one of those American Academies which his not particularly notable but for the occasion for Harrison’s life long friend and correspondent Tom McGuane to offer an econium on the face to face knowledge of the nonpareil author, screenwriter, poet, naturalist, hunter/fisherman, gourmand, cook and raconteur Harrison: “Harrison lived and wrote on his own terms, undaunted by gatekeepers whose credentials he was only too happy to question. This independence granted him remarkable diversity from superb lyrics to moving adventures, to heedless and bracing vulgarity. For decades he could be expected to pluck something marvelous right out of the blue such as Farmer or Dalva or Legends of the Fall.“… We spend our lives trying to understand our parents even when they are gone; when we lose a sibling, we lose a collaborator. If an old friend goes missing, the world resumes some of its original murkiness. I suppose the imaginary conversations go on but it’s hard to say. It is really like nothing else.”http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ancient-minstre... 675w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ancient-minstre... 59w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/ancient-minstre... 712w" sizes="(max-width: 330px) 100vw, 330px" />Two of Harrison’s books were (more or less) published recently, including a trio of novellas, The Ancient Minstrel: Novellas. The novellas, a form (whatever it is) that Harrison mastered, includes the title story, which is unabashedly and hilariously autobiographical. Years ago Harrison was for too brief a time contributing a food column to Esquire magazine. Which happily became a book The Raw and the Uncooked. Now an anthology A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand reminds us that Harrison’s scope of observation and experience covers multitudinous waterfronts. This volume includes his New Yorker account of a 32-course lunch which he partook in.There is something truly wonderful going on in the pages of The Gringo Champion by Aura Xilonen which I cannot do justice here, but which thankfully Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado does in his lucid explication of this expertly and imaginatively translated by Andrea Rosenberg. Sanchez Prado concludes:“I could speak more about the formal wonders of both Xilonen and her translator, but the final point to be made is that the arrival of The Gringo Champion to the United States in the early days of the Trump presidency is both timely and political. Xilonen dedicates her novel “[t]o all the world’s migrants, which, if we go back to our origins, is all of us.” The novel can be read as a meaningful attempt to imagine the lived experience of the Mexican migrant to the United States. Behind Xilonen’s baroque sense of humor, Liborio’s story is profoundly tragic. The novel captures the enormous violence of the migrant experience (Liborio is consistently beaten and his body is routinely subject to physical violence inflicted by the police, by boxers, and by others); the perils of racialization (American characters frequently point to Liborio’s purported “ugliness” and his love story is in part marked by the characterization of working-class Mexican bodies as undesirable); and the struggle for class mobility with the imagined possibility of the American dream for subjects barred from first-world privilege. This is the story of a Mexican immigrant who could easily be branded as a criminal and a rapist by the voices of white supremacy. In its verbal richness, its humanity, its loving empathy, and its unapologetic depiction of the everyday violence to which migrants are subject, The Gringo Champion is probably one of the most significant novels in translation published in the United States in recent years. Aura Xilonen is an emergent Mexican voice with many things to tell Americans about their neighbors to the south, and with an uncanny talent to narrate the story of her migrant heritage. Few works, I think, are a better response to anti-Mexican sentiments from a Mexican perspective. It is, as such, one of the must-read novels of 2017 and the exciting debut of a young woman who will, I hope, become one of the leading artists of her generation.”http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/robert-polidori... 768w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/robert-polidori... 90w, http://www.identitytheory.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/robert-polidori... 1000w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" />Robert Polidori finds and makes riveting photographs which his publisher Steidl does great service to by presenting in well designed and printed tomes. The latest in his inimitable oeuvre is 60 Feet Road (232 pages, 176 images), which is described in this way:“In his new book, Robert Polidori presents us with a single large-format photograph of a city block in an improvised, auto-constructed settlement in Mumbai, India. In an almost seamless déroulement that appears to expand like an accordion or folding-screen, the photograph is composed of multiple images imperceptibly overlaid and welded together in a complex process to form a panoramic view. Applying remote sensing techniques that are normally used in space cartography and street photography, Polidori ventures a photographic attempt to come to terms with the phenomena of adjacencies, observing and beholding what is next to what. In this way he minutely scans the urban landscape, recording the precarious and temporary nature of the provisional and yet psychologically rich and in fact highly individualized dwellings.”When I first saw the title Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler I thought it was some kind of joke. On further investigation it becomes clear that this was a serious piece of history: “… Germany was a pharmaceutical powerhouse, and companies such as Merck and Bayer cooked up cocaine, opiates, and, most of all, methamphetamines, to be consumed by everyone from factory workers to housewives to millions of German soldiers. In fact, troops regularly took rations of a form of crystal meth—the elevated energy and feelings of invincibility associated with the high even help to explain certain German military victories. Drugs seeped all the way up to the Nazi high command and, especially, to Hitler himself. Over the course of the war, Hitler became increasingly dependent on injections of a cocktail of drugs—including a form of heroin—administered by his personal doctor…” One wonders what stories the dealers in DC could tell…Arguably Scorsese’s concert film The Last Waltz, whose 40th anniversary is being celebrated, is, simply based on the music, a wonderful record of some wonderful music and musicians. However, the background story about the split of the Band is touched on in a documentary of the Band’s main drummer and singer Levon Helm, Ain‘t in It for My Health. Helm had a revitalized presence in the music world after recovering from cancer and recorded some heard winning music and regularly hosted latter jamborees at his home in Woodstock, New York.—*Capital letters added by ed.Identity Theory

"And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
Sylvia Plath

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Fast fact about writing

The elements of fiction are: character, plot, setting, theme, and style. Of these five elements, character is the who, plot is the what, setting is the where and when, and style is the how of a story.