. . . Phoenix

. . .

Home These United States: I spent a very special Thanksgiving in a new housing-under-development outside Phoenix, Arizona, a glassfull of suburbia dribbled over the desert so thinly it seems like it should evaporate too quick to even attract bugs.

But it turns out that's not true at all! Cockroaches and scorpions and Porta-Potty-tipping adolescents all had gathered there! In fact, it's likely to display all the spunky life-force of a candy wrapper or plastic Coke bottle.

. . .

Movie comment: Balseros

This patient and splendidly constructed documentary glommed onto a group of Cuban rafters in 1994 and had the good fortune to not let go.

As the rafters struggle to exchange the hopeless claustrophobia of community for the glorious promise of acquisitive isolationism, their story touches on the deadpan fish-out-of-water picaresque, the ensemble-decay saga, and the post-industrial engineering suspense film (e.g., Flight of the Phoenix).

Its most unique genre success, though, may be as a survey of the American Dream, where to my eye it bests such ponderous competition as Elia Kazan, Michael Cimino, and Francis Ford Coppola. Despite the small sample size, the Dream's most familiar manifestations are covered: lotteries, cab driving, drug dealing, whoring (subcategory: marriage), rednecks and blue collars, religious mania.... And the ambitious viewer can even gather some notion as to which path might be best to follow.

(Not to spoil anything, but the spirit of proletariat solidarity needn't feel betrayed. Hee yah!)

. . .

We have always been YA

Artful Dodgers: Reconceiving the Golden Age of Children's Literature
by Marah Gubar, Oxford 2009

I. Review

Gubar's point is clear and (so far as a choirmember can judge) convincingly argued: What made the first written-for-children children's classics classic was their refusal to endorse notions of child as miniature adult (AKA cheap labor and easy sex), child as holy fool, or child as segregated embarrassment. Their creators aimed at neither spiritual guidance nor colonization more like pushy but mutally beneficial tourism and Victorian critics accordingly complained that their entertainments were too knowing for little minds, or had corrupted the pure angels of yesteryear into premature sophisticates, or (by including adults in the audience) encouraged the general infantilization of culture.

It's been a long wait for a volume worth pitting against Jacqueline Rose's The Case of Peter Pan which I liked very much, by the way, possibly because I encountered it as a voluntary corrective to habitual inattenation rather than as canonical blinders on an academic bridle. As demonstrated by both books, arguing clearly and forcefully for ambiguity and nuance is bound to lead to occasional overstatements or repetitions. (So unlike the home life of our own dear genre!) Gubar is nevertheless a worthy champion, and I cheer her.

II. Memoir

At age eighteen I retained little memory of Lewis Carroll. But I knew Nabokov approved, and so while I waited for my girlfriend to be done with her part-time job in the children's library I opened Through the Looking Glass at random and read:

"Seven years and six months!" Humpty Dumpty repeated thoughtfully. "An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you'd asked my advice, I'd have said leave off at seven but it's too late now."

"I never ask advice about growing," Alice said indignantly.

"Too proud?" the other inquired.

Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. "I mean," she said, "that one can't help growing older."

"One can't, perhaps," said Humpty Dumpty, "but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven."

"What a beautiful belt you've got on!" Alice suddenly remarked.

Gubar's innocuous account of this passage she describes Humpty Dumpty as "pompous" and "absurd" rather than homicidal doesn't quite fit the generally threatening mood of the novel, Alice's abrupt change of subject, or Gubar's own argument: one could hardly find a more explicit confession of the cross-purposes and power imbalances between cultish children's authors and the children they engage as pseudo-equals.

III. Speculation

I've frequently opined that all literature is destined to be treated as children's literature. And, having usually set out to puncture certain exceptionalist assumptions, my tone implied a narrative of decline not far from some of the Victorian pundits cited by Gubar.

Her argument suggests a reconfiguration of that narrative. Gubar's heroes are defiantly unimproving; they promote "active literacy" and "simultaneously entertain and undermine the idea that the child can function as a genuine collaborator." They produce, in other words, writerly texts.

If Maisie and Strether interpreted their perceptions within strictly contextualized limits, so did Oswald Bastable. While Stephen Dedalus tempted himself into artistry with imagined Byronic groupies and refused Muscatel grapes, Jim Hawkins and Tom Sawyer (and Fabrice del Dongo and Ishmael, so-called) found the limits of text-inspired adventure by adventuring. Tormented author-heroes like Flaubert and the Brontës melodramatically renounced melodrama, allowing us to disdain our cake and incorporate it too; Carroll preserved the earworm of namby-pamby versification after stripping the propaganda which justified it. More recently, Tove Jansson produced a successful adult novel, Sun City, by swapping human senior citizens in for her previous cast of Moomins and Fillyjonks.

The affably cynical tutelage of La Fontaine and Lord Chesterfield synthesized with Romantic ideals of wisdom in Nietzsche, that eternal favorite of precocious adolescents, and synthesized with Romantic ideals of childhood in the self-conscious role-play of Andersen, Lang, and Gubar's chosen authors. It's no coincidence that the standard bearer of ambitious realist fiction has been the bildungsroman, or that the bildungsroman slides so easily into curricula: texts constructed for exploration depict what's been set aside as an explorative phase of an extended lifespan. The Songs of Innocence and of Experience were etched and bound together.

IV. Addendum

From Chapter 4, "Partners in Crime: E. Nesbit and the Art of Thieving":

... she suggests that in order to participate actively in the shaping of their own lives and life stories, children should function like the discriminating editors who often turn up as characters in her books: rather than simply accepting everything they receive from the culture at large, they should criticize, edit, rewrite, even reject the endless submissions pouring in from all quarters. Still more often, as I will show, Nesbit employs the metaphor of theft, depicting children as avid appropriators who steal a little bit from a variety of sources.... she intimates child readers should follow her lead in becoming more daring and ingenious thieves.

From Noel Coward's Present Indicative (1937):

I travelled to school daily by tram.... There was a second-hand book-shop on the way where I could buy 'back numbers' of the Strand Magazine for a penny each, and I hoarded my pocket money until I could buy a whole year's worth in order to read the E. Nesbit story right through without having to wait for the next installment. I read 'The Phoenix and the Carpet', and 'Five Children and It', also 'The Magic City', but there were a few numbers missing from that year, so I stole a coral necklace from a visiting friend of Mother's, pawned it for five shillings, and bought the complete book at the Army and Navy Stores. It cost four-and-six, so that including the fare (penny half return, Battersea Park to Victoria) I was fivepence to the good. In later years I told E. Nesbit of this little incident and I regret to say that she was delighted.


Peli contrasts:

which is why i dislike charles bernstein, whose entire corpus is devoted to proving how much he's not a teenager.

I think of him as an uncle who's always telling jokes that aren't funny. Sometimes I even worry I might be him.

iGoogle's gratis Proofread (Tee Emm) service has determined that you need to drop an R from Barstable. Thank you for your patience.

Thank you. The typo was probably a compromise between reality and the conjoined twins of "barnstable".

. . .

Bloo Guide Dublin

Best in-joke
In a shabby staging of a squalid crash-pad a table. On the table a fat old volume. In the volume a medical text of more or less the right period. Headlined on one open page the word "PARALYSIS" and heading both open pages "THE NEW METHOD CURE".
Best out-joke
From the top of Sandycove's Martello tower, if one hasn't broken one's specs, one views Howth Head a far better prose dúnad than those fucking "s"s.
Sharpest poke in the eye
From a distance, over Phoenix's pubic groves, the overwhelming phallusy of the Wellington Testimonial would make any decent person want to start writing Finnegans Wake.
Loudest poke in the eye
That waistcoat, that tie.
Loudest slap in the face
"The Holy Office" in the flip-off outa-here slammed-door flesh.
Most effective set design
A crop of resentment could hardly find richer loam than the imperial scale and opulance of the National Library's Reading Room.
Ordovico or viricordo
From Galway Now, April 2011, "One-Minute Happiness" by Niamh Morrin:
To pretend you feel happy imagine that you are Italian and try to use expressive hand gestures and speak faster.

. . .

The Fiend by Margaret Millar

Millar's muse wanted to horrify us with suburban life c. 1960. Millar's job wanted a suspense plot with a revelatory twist. Their relationship ended in divorce.

American Hustle (2013)

A well-constructed comedy with sparks of recorded life in the 1940s it would've been just another picture; in 2013 it's a fucking miracle. Period points for a leading actress who actually looks like a '70s leading actress.

Her (2013)

I could accept Joaquin Phoenix as a Thorne Smith hero, an all-rich all-white Urbanland as Spike Jonze's social experience, and porn ELIZA as contemporary Hollywood's sincerest conception of soulfulness. But when a content-shoveler's work-for-hire was pitched and published as his own writing under his own name without legal intervention, disbelief dropped to the floor. And disbelief landed mad.


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.