Tag Archives: writing

Pamuk’s Istanbul

824338An unexpected window into a world and a point of view I could never have imagined — I like it when books do that. This is about a decaying city, a falling-apart and burning-down city, and yet a vibrant one. A life spent almost in one place, written from the same building where he grew up. It is about surviving and continuing on after the end of empire, this Turkish word of huzun (apologies that I don’t have the special characters to write this correctly) and I couldn’t help but compare it to Gilroy’s work on melancholy, while he has much more literary comparisons. But it is a fascinating wander through a city, a world, a language, a childhood. Some things I liked:

In Turkish we have a special tense that allows us to distinguish hearsay from what we’ve seen with our own eyes; when we are relating dreams, fairy tales, or past events we could not have witnessed…(8)

This made me think of Trouillot, how our language forms our ways of thinking of the past, and this is particularly interesting in thinking of history as both its events and its narration…

These are nothing like the remains of great empires to be seen in Western cities, preserved like museums of history and proudly displayed. The people of Istanbul simply carry on with their lives amongst the ruins. Many Western writers and travellers find this charming. But for the city’s more sensitive and attuned residents, these ruins are reminders that the present city is so poor and confused that it can never again dream of rising to the same heights of wealth, power and culture. It is no more possible to take pride in these neglected dwellings, in which dirt, dust and mud have blended into their surroundings, than it is to rejoice in the beautiful old wooden houses that as a child I watched burn down one by one (91).

There is much here about the gaze, about being caught between East and West yet uncaught…

Why this fixation with the thoughts of Western travellers, what they did on visits to the city, what they wrote to their mothers? It’s partly that many times I’ve identified with a number of them (Nerval, Flaubert, de Amicis) and…it was by falling under their influence and arguing with them by turns that I forged my own identity. It’s also because so few of Istanbul’s own writers have paid their city any attention whatsoever.

Whatever we call it — false consciousness, fantasy, or old-style ideology — there is, in each of our heads, a half legible, half secret text that makes sense of what we’ve done in life. And for each of us in Istanbul, a large section of this text is given over to what Western observers have said about us. For people like me, Istanbullus with one foot in this culture and one in the other, the ‘Western traveller’ is often not a real person — he can be my own creation, my fantasy, even my own reflection. But being unable to depend on tradition alone as my text, I am grateful to the outsider who can offer me a complementary vision…So whenever I sense the absence of Western eyes, I become my own Westerner.

Istanbul has never been the colony of the Westerners who wrote about it, drew it, filmed it, and that is why I am not perturbed by (260) the use Western travellers have made of my past and my history and their construction of the exotic. Indeed, I find their fears ad dreams beguiling — as exotic to me as ours are to them — and I don’t look to them of entertainment or to see the city through their eyes, but also to enter into the full-formed world they’ve conjured up (261).

From one empire to another perhaps, lacking this colonial relationship, though surely more power dynamics are at work here? But I’ve been thinking a lot about this. One last quote:

Was this the secret of Istanbul — that beneath its grand history, its living poverty, its outward-looking monuments ad its sublime landscapes, its poor hid the city’s soul inside a fragile web? But here we have come full circle, for anything we say about the city’s essence, says more about our own lives and our own states of mind. The city has no centre other than ourselves (316).

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Pachucos in LA: Beatrice Griffith’s American Me

Beatrice Griffith American MeBeatrice Griffith’s study of the Mexican ‘colony’ of LA in the 1940s is actually quite an extraordinary book. It’s written by a white and quite liberal woman–and I’m not such a huge fan of white liberals when they are writing about poverty and race. But in spite of the resulting prejudice and stereotyped ‘otherness’ and belief that Americanization is the answer that creeps in from time to time (and there is far less of that than most things I have read, especially from that time), this book manages to transcend a lot of that through its format.

Look at this cover, if only it were the version I read.

I need to look more into it, but what I’ve read so far claims for this a kind of pioneering role in sociology and ethnography in terms of combining typical sociological studies of a community (health, education, labour etc) with what she calls ‘fiction’. I am saddened, but not surprised really, that there is almost nothing on Beatrice Griffith herself to be found on the internet, though there exist a number of reflections on her work. Each topic is fronted with a story, and while she calls them fiction, they are essentially the stories that youth in the community have told her, and much in their own words. And they are rather wonderful. Because she was able to listen to them, there is a much deeper understanding here of racism and exploitation and the realities of things like police brutality and child mortality than I have seen in any white-authored book of the time (or today, sadly).

And the period she is in and studying? The period of the zoot suits (the retelling of the mobs of soldiers and sailors and regular white folks going after kids in drapes is rightfully horrifying, I hadn’t know before quite the extent to which it happened and the complicity of authority up to the mayor’s office). It is the period of pachuquismo, and while she doesn’t quite get it, man those kids can tell stories. I loved loved loved the stories. I loved too, how much of the slang is still around! And curious about some of her explanations, as to whether the slang has changed in meaning or whether she just got it wrong (and sometimes there are some things that I think she spells wrong because she doesn’t know what they mean), but mostly it’s all the same. The barrio names were awesome too, some of them are still around, but a lot of them are gone…

Definitely a great read, some wonderful illustrations (though so sadly no photographs), and the glossary in the back of slang is cool. Some good statistics too, this will definitely give you a great sense of the community in ways that other things can’t given the racism and active erasing that has been such an integral part of defining California and Los Angeles.

Roque-Gageac, Beynac, Rouffignac

I woke up this morning to a brave calling of swallows echoing across the cliff face, greeting the dawn. It is the same cliff that forms one wall of my room, the other wall of pine sloping sharply up to meet it with a cross bracing of huge and ancient beams cut square. It is very cold. The swallows move in and out of crescendo and light comes in through the two small triangular windows.

Last night I was kept awake by the irony of a rock-pop festival in this tiny medieval village, and then I was kept awake by the cold. I wore my down vest under the covers for a while, then wrapped it around my feet. In between wakings I dreamed of James Crumley, big and shaggy and alcohol soaked, I dreamed he had hired my dad to rebuild and redecorate his record and auto-part store. I dreamed we walked in the desert and I tried to explain just how beautiful it was, just how much I loved it. But I almost never write about the desert, I don’t understand. But I suppose dreams aren’t for understanding.

Maybe it is just that I have found no inspiration beyond photos, I don’t find words hidden seamed up in time’s folds the way I do in London. So I shall work on my dissertation. It is ridiculously beautiful here of course, ancient villages of mellowed golden limestone and narrow winding roads. They are all fortified, on hilltops, castles crowning outcrops and defensible walls blocking cavern faces high up in the cliffs. It was on the edges of the hundred-years war with England, the castle of Beynac-et-cezenac in French hands, that of Castelnaud in English.

We went to see the grotte de Rouffignac yesterday as well. It is a huge cavern, huge. And regular the way most caves are not, carved out by an underground river through stone that must have been very regular. There are no stalactites and stalagmites, though my french did not quite reach to understanding why. The walls are mostly smooth, with a layer of what looks like a conglomerate just above the level of my head, strange rounded multi-armed shapes embedded whole into the walls, grey near the opening, stained a deep orange-red with iron ore deeper inside. You ride a small electric train very deep inside, following where ancient people walked with only torches. Large openings branch to either side, you wonder how they found their way. Past the hollows where ancient cave bears dug their holes to hibernate for the winter, into a rounded cavern where beautiful mammoths and bison were drawn across the roof, only a few feet from the floor, emerging from the deep hole of a cavern to the left that goes far beyond seeing…

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Why editing Gary Phillips’ Underbelly is such a god damn pleasure!

I’m not usually one to bring certain aspects of life to the blog realm, as you can tell. But who else could write dialogue like this? Politics, comics and old school rap all in the same few paragraphs? My job is so often a joy…

“Who you supposed to be, old school?” Savoirfaire taunted, flexing his shoulders and shifting his weight onto his back foot. “Captain America don’t live here no more.”

“I’m telling you it’s through,” Magrady repeated calmly, eyes moving from the man’s hands to his face, locking onto the faux designer shades the discount desperado wore.

“You and Floyd are done.”

“You his older brother, cousin, somethin’ like that?”

“You’re missing the point, Flavor Flav,” Magrady said. “My message is what you should be focusing on. Floyd Chambers is no longer on your loan list. No more vig off his SSI checks.”

The two men stood on Wall, smack in the womb of L.A.’s Skid Row. Unlike the street’s more famous incarnation in Manhattan, the west coast version didn’t boast of edifices as testament to giddy capitalism. Trickle-down had long ago trickled out down here.

“Oh, uh-huh.” The bottom-feeder nodded his head. “You lookin’ to take over some of my territory, that it? Don’t seem to me like you got enough weight between your legs to be doin’ that, nephew. Don’t appear to me you got enough left to run this block.”

It will be available in June at PM Press, just click on the cover for more…

Bruno Shulz on reading swallows…

One thing must be avoided at all costs: narrow-mindedness, pedantry, dull pettiness. Mot things are interconnected, most threads lead to the same reel. Have you ever noticed swallows rising in flocks from between the lines of certain books, whole stanzas of quivering pointed swallows? One should read the flight of these birds…

Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass – Bruno Schulz

Envy

The girls sat perfectly still, the lamp smoked, the piece of material under the needle of the sewing machine had long since slipped to the floor, and the machine ran empty, stitching only the black, starless cloth unwinding from the bale of winter darkness outside the window.

This is the Schulz of the Cinnamon Shops

I’m feeling a bit tragic about the reduction of my entirety to my sex, but even so! I am plotting the release of The Messiah from the KGB. The tragedy comes entirely because I love the book so damn much.

Two additional brief facts:

Did Mervyn Peake speak Polish? Doubtful, and if he did not, there could have been no connection between the two writers…I find that a bit uncanny actually. Published in Polish in 1934, it was not translated into French or German until sometime after its second Polish edition in 1957, and the English translation of The Street of Crocodiles did not happen until 1963. Titus Groan was published in 1946, Gormenghast in 1950, Titus Alone in 1959.

There is also the amazing story of his wall paintings, my beautiful friend C put me onto this. From this article in the New York Times, it appears Schulz was forced to decorate the nursery of the gestapo agent who liked his art so much. Discovered in 2001 by a documentary film maker, the very walls were stolen from the Ukraine (that little piece of Poland called Drogobych is now in the Ukraine) by Yad Vashem…well, I would call it stealing, but ‘preserved’ is how the alternate story goes.

Bruno Schulz & Literary Pub Gossip

Reading The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz, also known as Cinnamon Shops. It moves easily between one title and the other in my mind, whatever my book cover might say. Moves easily between putrid terror and the warmth and fragrance of home. And I rode the tube furious that anyone who could fling my heart up and down and side to side with his glorious words, should write of a mad girl ‘s libidinous passion and hideous unnatural fertility, of an aunt of

almost self propagating fertility, a femininity without rein, morbidly expansive.

it’s not the fury of blame, just the impotent tragedy of this ancient war of sexes that I cannot find myself in. You see, I can fling words too. And all men must surely cower before me, as Schulz illustrates over and over again.

As a woman I find horror in this. And irony. One Gestapo agent spared Schulz’s life because he liked his pictures…it was another Nazi who shot him dead in the street.

It is a used book I found in Kensington on Saturday, and between two of the pages I found a small pressed flower, translucent, ancient, fragile. Beautiful. I love finding such things. And I love entire pages of this book, the lyrical madness of it. The way its edges don’t quite fit though the center holds. Mervyn Peake must also have loved him, the father crouched on the pelmet (impossible!), flapping his wings sends me reeling Gormenghast way…

And I went to write in the Seven Stars, one of my favourite pubs, small, mostly silent, I sat in a hard wooden chair by the fake coal fire, stared at the Inns of Court. Wrote reams. But is it true as one pub stalwart claimed, that Dylan Thomas made an international reputation at the expense of the local people? Must I hold it against him that he did not actually speak Welsh? And it’s Burns night…must I despise Burns and Chaucer for working for Her Majesty’s Inland Revenue Service? Ruining peoples’ lives? I am undecided. My brother texted me “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,” in honor, but I prefer this.

Let every kind, their pleasure find
The savage, and the tender
Some social join, for some leagues combine
Some solitary wander.
–Robbie Burns

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Wheech

wheech

A scottish word, wheech means to remove quickly or rapidly.

  • If you don’t gie me a puff oan that joint ah’ll just wheech it right aff yi.
  • The mugger just wheeched the old ladies pension book from her and ran away.
  • That guy is a real ladies man and loves nothing better than wheeching the knickers right off them.

Baudelaire, Benjamin, Gramsci

Who among us has not dreamt, in his ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose? It would have to be musical enough to adapt itself to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the wave motions of dreaming, the shocks of consciousness. This ideal, which can turn into an idee fixe, will grip especially those who are at home in the giant cities and the web of their numberless interconneting relationships.
–Baudelaire, quoted in Walter Benjamin “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire”

I’ve been thinking about dreams, prose, cities…

Benjamin collected quotations, in the sense of the ‘true’ collector, which is just one of the reasons I love him.

He was also haunted by “The Little Hunchback”

When I come into my room,
My little bed to make,
A little hunchback is in there,
With laughter does he shake.

And I wonder at the coincidence of myself reading Gramsci at the same time, himself a little hunchback, a man of action not reflection (though prison changed that), a man who would never have yearned for a kept life where he could wander aimlessly, collect books he valued more for never wanting to read, but who instead starved and sacrificed himself remorselessly to finish his studies and change Italy…both variations of Marxist, and both dearly loved by me. I was originally struck by how they were opposite, but as I think about it, they approach one another…

Vertigo Crime and Comic Con day 1

Yesterday I headed down to San Diego for Comic Con…there is absolutely no rest for the wicked and it sometimes makes me sad! I drove down with my co-editor in crime on the Switchblade Imprint, the indescribable Gary Phillips. The coversation was smooth, and involved a lot of speculation on the extraordinary New Jersey corruption case that broke yesterday morning, involving the arrest of three mayors, multiple rabbis, and 2 state assemblymen on charges of bribery, money laundering, and even organ trafficking! I’m sure both of us were wishing we had written such a fucking great story, I certainly was…

Comic Con is just as immense, sprawling and overwhelming as ever, sprinkled with characters in amazing costume and an incredible diversity of nerdiness that I really love. But it makes you tired quickly, it is too much to take in. We wandered, talked to people, and then I sat in on Gary’s panel, Vertigo’s announcement of the upcoming work for 2009 and 2010. And was amazed. I love the edginess of Vertigo, they have published Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and…the list just goes on and on. And sitting and listening to all of the amazing stuff they have newly in the works was a joy. I’m just not sure how to fit the pleasurable reading of each of the new series into a life already crammed full with pleasures and much work. But I am sure I will find a way.

Karen Berger created the imprint within DC comics, which I hadn’t known until I met her briefly yesterday and Gary told me the story. To find a woman as the head of such an amazing dark and gritty series of crime, fantasy, and horror made me happy…funny how the genres I love most are very dominated by men. The broad preferences of different genders in reading and writing are patent, I shall save speculation on why and how that happens as I am still thinking through it. But in only the short time I have been working in publishing I have run into a couple of good ole boys and felt treated very much like a secretary rather than a creative partner. It was a bit shocking to me coming from my small world of organizing where such things were at least much more subtle, officially called out and censured. And I was always a force to be respected and feared. To discover it so blatantly in the literary world was much sadder than the shock of being talked down to and patronized when I worked in the bra shop two years ago now on my…er…sabbatical, I hated it as much, but everyone knows that shop ‘girls’ get disrespected all the time. I was somewhat prepared for that, though the fury it inspires was just as grand.

So cheers to Karen Berger.

And cheers to Vertigo Crime, announced at Comic Con last year and the fruits soon to be available in the first two black and white hardcover graphic novels, Brian Azzarello’s Filthy Rich and Ian Rankin’s Dark Entries. Gary is writing a graphic novel called Cowboys, which traces the collision of two very different men, it starts with them holding guns to one another’s heads and disbelieving each others’ claim that they are working undercover. We went out to dinner with a great group of writers, at my end of the table was Jason Aaron who writes Scalped, (which I sadly haven’t read but that should be recitified in the next few days), Jason Starr, author of a number of novels for Hard Case Crime, and Max Allen Collins, who wrote Road to Perdition amongst many another great book…they all have new stuff coming out soon, judging from the previews they should all be read as soon as they are released!

And just one of the interesting tid-bits of conversation that made me think…the claim, would anyone still read Dashiell Hammett if they hadn’t made the Maltese Falcon into a movie? James M. Cain without Double Indemnity? Chandler without the Big Sleep? Max always thought that Kiss Me Deadly was a great movie that kept the name of Micky Spillane alive to readers…an interesting thought and very possibly true, and something I instinctively rebel against, and yet…