. . . Doug Asherman

. . .

Critics rave:

You call this a club? I came in for a drink, and all I get is this?
-- Doug Asherman
Yes! Yes! Manuia (paka-paka)!

. . .

Doug Asherman is heartened by Amazon's fight against traditional gender roles:

When I looked up Once Upon A Time In China at the Amazon web site, auction recommendations included a cup and saucer and the hardcover edition of The Joy Luck Club. Man, did you ever feel like someone really has your number?

. . .

Speaking of poets who don't get taught in English departments, Doug Asherman contributes this haiku:

please turn on the air
conditioning if you would
kind proprietor

. . .

In related news, Doug Asherman points us to a "well-funded startup" who stapled this flyer to a telephone pole on Sixth Street in Berkeley:

Software Developers with Expertise
in XML/Java/C++

Referral Fee
Sign Sign-On Bonus

I wonder how much they'd offer me for a proofreader....

. . .

A Musical Interlude

A Musical Interlude Doug Asherman says that "Cuba Solidarity: Send a Piana to Havana" "don't know why, reminded me of you. Maybe the rhyme?"

Could be, 'cause my only real knowledge of Cuban music is from when we were stationed at the US military base in Guantanamo Bay and I obsessively played a Roger-Miller-ish novelty single whose chorus went:

Cuba, Cuba, Cuba is my home.
Cuba, Cuba, Cuba is my home.
Fidel Castro, don't you pout,
Six more months and I'll be out.
Cuba, Cuba, Cuba is my home.

+ + +

And I suspect that Beth Rust sent me the following because my own nose was once such a growth industry, although it seems to have stagnated for the nonce:

Believe it or don't, I picked up a CD of Johnny Crawford's -- remember him? The Rifleman's doe-eyed son. According to the amusingly matter-of-fact liner notes, he got coerced into a brief career as a teen idol, having "a pleasant tenor voice". He apparently quit the biz as soon as he got out of high school and went off to be a rodeo cowboy, but no matter how tough he gets there will always be "Your Nose is Gonna Grow" as a reminder of his rebellious youth. "No One Really Loves" (a clown) is a bit on the edgy side for Johnny, but I think he handled it well.

I did a quick check for Crawford web sites; this one's "unofficial" but apparently condoned. I was astonished to find that the guy is running a big band now... There was also something about a new movie, the entire cast of which appears to be former child stars (it is, of course, science fiction).

. . .

Doug Asherman queries: "Here's something probably no one cares about, there a conspiracy to hide all the good music from us? And the good books? Are people in the arts laughing at us for buying their crap? And if so, what can we do about it?"


Disclaimer: Ray Davis is a paid contributor to The Reader's Guide to Contemporary Authors.
Despite my familiarity with Salon, I was surprised by the Reader's Guide. It's like stooping to pick up what looks like an ordinary mediocre valise only to find that it's been packed full of mediocre lead bricks. According to the official mission statement, "We decided to let our contributors' enthusiasm and curiosity be our guides." These guides would seem to share one enthusiasm (the New York Times Book Review), one curiosity (what's on the front page of the New York Times Book Review?), and one path (to the trade paperback table at Borders).

I'm hardly a specialist in late-twentieth-century fiction, but if I'd wanted to provide a service to readers I would've found room for Joanna Russ, Patricia Highsmith, Chester Himes, Carol Emshwiller, Jack Womack, Bob Gluck, Barbara Comyns, Thomas Disch, Alexander Trocchi, Wendy Walker, M. John Harrison, Pat Califia, John Crowley, would've asked someone to tell me more about Patrick O'Brian and Dorothy Dunnett....

In fact the book includes only two authors that really matter to me: Karen Joy Fowler (given a short entry) and Samuel R. Delany (a short entry). Broadening my selection to writers I merely respect would add Elmore Leonard (a short entry) and Toni Morrison (a long entry, because she publishes in the mainstream genre) to the overlap.

And it's not because I haven't heard of the book's choices, which are beautifully (if unintentionally) parodied by John Updike's inset guide to "Timeless Novels about Loving," apparently repurposed from TV Guide:
"Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - A young bourgeois wife seeks spiritual and sexual fulfillment away from the marital bed and runs grievously into debt."

"The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne - Among the Puritan pioneers of Boston, a promising clergyman falls afoul of a dark-haired protofeminist and her wizardly older husband."

Yeah, my list is idiosyncratic. An idiosyncratic list is what you'd expect to get from a serious pleasure reader. Whereas the Guide is what you'd expect to get from a serious follower of publicity.

The depersonalized author selection ensembles beautifully with the reviewers' khaki prose. Dumbed down for ease of swallowing, it's the house style of virtually every free weekly paper: "authority" and "irreverence" and "wittiness" depilated of information or personality or humor. Journalistic blatherers used to flatter their readership by pretending it was full of good taste and morality while somehow simultaneously dumb as a stump. Nowadays the readership's still dumb as a stump yet somehow full of detached ironic wit.

Thus it makes sense that the only writer given full stylistic rein is "Pagliacci Dave" Eggers, who ends his celebrity roast of Kurt Vonnegut:

"So. Vonnegut is good. If you like books, and like to read them even if they are easy to read and frequently funny, you will like the work of Kurt Vonnegut, a writer. Also: He has a moustache."
Robert Benchley, move over! ... Or roll over. Do something, man! ... Guess he's dead.
Even John Clute, one of the most eccentric stylists ever to write a review, is sanded down to transparency here. Which is extra sad, since his argument against the tyranny of the "mainstream literary" genre lances so precisely the core of this book. Restricting yourself to mainstream fiction in the late twentieth century is like restricting yourself to heroic tragedy after 1650. The mainstream's just not where good writing is being done. Unless you crave watery flavorless writing.
How did this awful thing happen? One clue may be found in the opening of the entry for Angela Carter:
"Carter enjoyed little renown during her life, but after her death...."
"Little renown"? Say what? Angela Carter? The only way I can make sense of this is to translate it as "I wasn't assigned Carter in high school and I didn't read the New York Review of Books back then, but after I graduated...." An editor should've caught the gaffe, but since an editor wrote it, it was probably immune.
Someone on the staff did make time, though, to reduce my already undistinguished sentence:
"An early devotee of poststructuralist and feminist theory, Delany in 1979 began Return to Nevèrÿon, an archeological fantasy series that was to occupy him on and off through the 1980s."
to complete nonsense by deleting "in 1979." Maybe someone in the publishing business could clear this up for me: Are copyeditors paid more for adding lots of mistakes to a manuscript, like programmers whose productivity is measured by lines-of-code? Or do they fuck things up out of sheer gotta-leave-my-mark egotism, like programmers who work nights and weekends?
Another clue: from what I can gather, my topic was originally assigned to a friend of the editors who decided only when the deadline was nigh that it was too hard to finish the research. These aren't enthusiasts trying to communicate their enthusiams: they're a clique trying to act like grown-ups.

From the mission statement:
"We encouraged our contributors to think of you, the reader, as an intelligent, interested friend or relative who'd just asked, 'So tell me about John Updike. What are his books like?'"
I find it unlikely that your auntie would be asking you such a thing unless she was checking how well you'd learned your lessons.
What we got here is not just smugness, but downright noisy celebration of shared limited knowledge. It's like that guy in the museum painstakingly explaining every perfectly obvious thing to his wife. It's like my geeky friends parroting TV shows. It's what they teach you to do in school. And it's what makes a successful journalism career. critics are they who seek to enjoy, without incurring the Immense Debtorship for, a thought thunk.

See Also: Anyone who enjoys this crap should probably seek out the opinions of more journalists. Those intrigued by my crackpot theories can find them expressed more calmly in a 1998 response to Jonathan Lethem.

Ray Davis will be appearing with other contributors to The Readers Guide to Contemporary Authors at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco, Thursday, September 14, 7:30pm.

. . .


As a certified holder of a Bachelor of Mathematics certificate, I can confidently assert that rationality exists only as a way to juggle all the words one feels compelled to throw into the air. But even that certificate is no guarantee of success, and the Outsider Art go-round left a hatchet, a raw egg, and a beach ball on my face.

Most of the muddle was caused by my smudging across questions of production (what do we notice? what attitude do we take? what markets do we approach?) and questions of consumption (how do we notice? how do we understand? how do we enjoy?) as if all of 'em were one big really dumb question.

Thus, Doug Asherman points out that I claim that the worst thing is the formation and mutual support of a mediocre group, when the really REALLY worst thing is when the mediocre group manages to convince larger groups to take it even more seriously than it takes itself.

Regarding "insularity," David Chess suggests

that there is no "mainland" at all, except in the sense of a particularly large (or visible, or well-funded, or populous) island.
(In fact when we're talking The New York Review of Books it's not even that large an island; it's just that the islanders think it's centrally located.... Minifesto: I'm not sure that a decentered self is necessary for ethical living, but I'm pretty sure that a decentered self-image is.)

And giving David Auerbach the last long word:

With all respect, I want to reframe your insider/outsider argument, because I'm not eager to see another generation of writers inspired by Colin Wilson's The Outsider willing themselves into solipsistic states of media attention and minor celebrity. I'd like to displace the insider/outsider dichotomy into the realm of 'material'. There's a quote from John Crowley's review of Lanark that I'm thinking of:
It is more like the great homemade books, the all-encompassing works that have always been constructed not of mainstream materials but of the author's own peculiar mud and straw: Pilgrim's Progress, say, or Branch Cabell's Jurgen.
I'm willing to admit that the considerations of the intellectual market matter only once you've rejected the satisfactoriness of Borges' "Secret Miracle" [....] But at that point the question of whether the creation of something was approached from the insider or outsider standpoint is more one of idiom than anything else. Or to put it another way, you can't be Kaspar Hauser and Ian Curtis at the same time. (And for a different take, I just read the conclusion of Kim Deitch's latest serial in Zero Zero, which "solves" the problem under discussion by inverting both Heinlein's "Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" and Charles Fort -- rather than "We are property," it is "We are entertainment.")

But the outsider brand, in its two forms--

--From without--

The Jack Spicer bit is priceless, but all those "Crazy Buddhist art. Crazy Hindu art. Crazy Medieval German art." fall more under the rubric of exotica rather than "outsiderism," I'd say. What the two have in common is a desire to attach the label of foreignness to the work. I think this is less a narrative conceit (as you say) than an impulse on behalf of both the producers & consumers to mythologize & escape. And it's going on contemporaneously too: what Richard Ford & David Foster Wallace have in common is a mythologizing of everyday materials, albeit in very different form. It's not very good mythologizing (Richard Yates did it best, and most honestly, in my view), but it's still an updated variant on what Mailer, Updike, Oates, and the rest of those geezers have been earning accolades for for years. The dominant short story paradigm in most of the anthologies these days seems to be (1) the "I'm so real" Carver-derived approach of Tilghman, Offutt, and many others whose names I've forgotten, or (2) the creepy, sub-supernatural angstploitation of Lorrie Moore, Ann Beattie, David Gates, and I suppose Russell Banks. Both are variants on the same impulse to impose a private "outsider" view on ordinary materials through sheer will -- because that's the only thing that can make it worthwhile. It's a lousy approach. I think the consequent turn to the exotic stems from the same cause -- when people get fed up with the fakery of the above, they turn to the irreducibly foreign.

And then there's people like our friend Jandek who apparently achieve some level of commodification by being fetishized by collectors, and the ensuing debate over whether he and others are the "real [foreign] thing" or not. It's very important to the consumers that they are -- what could he possibly have to say if he were just like you and me?

Granted, I think America (north and south) is more prone to mythology than the Europeans or Asians (hence our great legacy of comic books & comic strips!), but the current crop of writers is too civilized to do it honestly. So while they're too self-conscious to apply the label to themselves even as they incorporate it into their fiction, those who feel it...

--From within--

still don't use it as a primary marker in their work, though they may try. I look at Bruno Schulz's work and compare it to Beckett's, and while I see them trying for similar effects, I think Beckett is more successful. This despite Schulz's Kafka-like isolation and Beckett's (relative) integration into the various scenes around him. I'm tempted to see the issue, then, as irrelevant to the quality of the work being produced -- though it may just be that Beckett was just such a prima facie genius to everyone around him that he could have been totally maladjusted and still fit in.

Thomas Bernhard, on the other hand, is a writer who I think really hurt his work by being so socially involved in Austrian theater and politics, but I don't think that it was socialization per se that damages his books so much as an innate desire to throw obscene epithets at other people. With or without the opportunity to hurl them from a respected position in Austrian letters, I think his work would've suffered the same.

. . .

Doug Asherman sums it all up:

You know, while you're rambling on and on about your fucking intellectual concerns, there are these two guys who have passed out in a booth in the back and probably need medical attention.

What kind of club is this anyway?

. . .

Notes & Queries


I ran into your name on the big Internet, and I thought: "Hey, I used to know a Ray Davis...I wonder if it's the same guy?"

If you are the same guy, prove it by answering *this* question:

In "Not Fade Away", Buddy Holly sings "my love is bigger than a Cadillac". Was he referring to the intensity of his emotion or the size of his equipment?

Doug Asherman
Oakland, CA

According to the late Mr. Holly's associate, Mr. Penniman, Mr. Holly meant by "my love's bigger than a Cadillac" that it comfortably seated six adults.

. . .

Notes & Queries

Tom rightly modifies our Shock-N-Awe:

Might it depend on whether one is looking at Tommy and the other actors, or at the representations of them served as our daily fare? I'm genuinely unsure of the differences - the game is delimited in order that it can be played so that it can be wagered upon. The war is a "mosaic," says Tommy.

Athleticism is a fine mode - would it include wresting, in which we take comfort in the mismatch and hiss the dastardly ones who break the "rules"?

In my posting I'd obscured an essential distinction between the covert partisanship of contemporary political coverage and the open partisanship of contemporary war coverage. In both cases, specialists often (and understandably) think in terms of "games"; news media have increasingly (and less forgivably) followed their lead by treating both as spectator sports, but with the implied viewer identification shifting from "gambler" to "fan." The partisanship is just a matter of degree, of course, since talking about the game rather than the consequences of government implicitly gives preference to those who are out for personal gain (the other side being hypocrites or fools -- whether they in fact lose or not), and talking about the game rather than the consequences of warfare implicitly gives preference to the strong aggressor (the other side being a bunch of losers -- whether they in fact lose or not).

Wrestling is an appropriate analogy for the requisite vilifying, but their video technique seems drawn more from inspirational NFL documentaries....

Another reader remains unheard and unidentified:

I am not going to say a damned thing.
Not everyone is so inarticulate, thank goodness. Juliet Clark passes along a pointer to a genuinely responsive news agency:
In a time of crisis, is looking at the big picture. At the top of their listings page, they ask the question on everyone's mind right now:

How will the War in Iraq affect my TV Listings?

How, indeed?

Doug Asherman may supply an answer:
The quote that I was looking for -- a little context first. Krazy is reading the "Krazy Kat" strip in the paper, and is quite confused...

Krazy "But, if *I* are *here*, and you is here, *HOW* come I are in the paper, and you also -- ansa me that."

Ignatz: "Because, Fool, how could it be aught were it not thus -- you answer *that*".

Waggish kindly writes:
I appreciated your entry on dissertation advisors, and I'd add that since those relationships aren't based on need or symbiosis but on pure charity towards the grad student, there exists a fundamental neurosis that can only be alleviated insofar as the relationship can be recast as collegial friendship. This is what I've seen, anyway.
And some stray merchant peddles his wares:
The Poet's Poet: Louis Zukofsky Reads From His Uncompromising Works. (PHONOTAPE-CASSETTE).

. . .

Notes & Queries

Regarding our makeover, a reader shudders:

J-peg, the hook
Another poses the riddle:
Q: Why wasn't Ulysses S. Grant an anti-semite?
A: Because he was a son of Jesse!

We tend to be a bit down on copyright extension around here. Providing some balance, Doug Asherman exemplifies its promotion of the progress of science and useful arts.

. . .

Software Pirate Eggcarrrhn

for Doug Asherman
"By scope creep I mean that the feature enhancements reach a critical point at which they threaten changing the project's core mission. Your word processor is boarding on an office suite. Your text editor is boarding on an operating system."

Note how neatly this extracts the connotation of "encroachment" from the more ambiguous "bordering". It's got my vote in the Accepted Usage 2024 primaries.


Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2015 Ray Davis.