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DAILY BUZZWORDS

Artwork by Sardax

CUTTING-EDGE LITERARY NEWS FROM AROUND THE GLOBAL VILLAGE

by Andrew Gallix

COPYRIGHT © 2001, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

ISIDORE ISOU 03/30/2001


Born in Romania in 1925, Isidore Isou, moved to Paris in 1945 where he has lived in the same bedsit ever since. The founder of the Lettriste movement and author of the Traité de bave et d’éternité (1951), a film which is said to have influenced the French nouvelle vague, is in the news again. Contre l’Internationale Situationniste, a collection of articles attacking the Situationist movement that was largely influenced by Lettrisme, was recently published. You can also listen to Isou’s Poèmes lettristes 1944-1999 which strive to transform words into music. Buy it from our friends The Anti-Naturals.



ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 03/27/2001


A brand new announcement group called WAM, The Writers’ Announcement Moderated Group, has just been launched to promote online writing content. Sounds like an excellent initiative. Kenji Siratori tells us that he has published an ebook entitled Aidos which you can download from Primal Publishing. Apparently, it’s a “A hyper-modern deformation of a conventional cyberpunk story for visible-humans”! Playlouder is a kick-ass indie site from Britain linked to AVdeck, a kick-ass online indie radio station from Britain. The March-April issue of The Barcelona Review has just gone online. It features a great (albeit already-published) story by Scottish genius Alasdair Gray. Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com brings us news of novelist Jonathan Lethem whose latest short story will be included in the CD booklet of The Maggies’ EP to be released in April.



ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 03/25/2001


The second excellent issue of Eleven Bulls is now online including a poem by Cordelia Heaney, three photographs by Brad Farwell and a short story by Ira Boudway: “Imagine a pedestrian in a full body condom. That's me. I am walking sterility, artificially imposed. Nothing dangerous or beautiful ever gets communicated, except maybe by accident.” Highly recommended. Scapegrace is another one to watch. Although there isn’t enough content at the moment, it’s still great fun. La Porte is a new French web fiction portal which looks very promising indeed. We also recommend the following sites dedicated to Samuel Beckett, Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Poppy Z Brite. There’s more Brite at Pandora Station, the site she shares with Christa Faust (pictured left) and Caitlin R. Kiernan. But, be warned: it hasn’t been updated since 2000!



THE MAN WITH SOULS OF WIND 03/24/2001


Graham Robb’s Rimbaud: A Biography and Jean-Luc Steinmetz’s Arthur Rimbaud: Presence of an Enigma are reviewed together by Mark Polizzotti in The New Republican Online: “. . . Although efforts to penetrate the myth have been a corollary part of Rimbaud studies almost since the beginning, two new biographies by Graham Robb and Jean-Luc Steinmetz provide the most concerted and reasoned attempts so far to think empirically about their subject, and to bring fully into daylight a man who still lives on as an enigma. These are the well-known facts: Jean-Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854 in the town of Charleville in eastern France, the son of an absentee father, Frédéric Rimbaud, a career army officer who paid his last brief visit to the family when the boy was six, and a mother whose loveless and narrow-minded discipline has fueled the ire of Rimbaud scholars. As a child, Rimbaud distinguished himself by routinely making a clean sweep of the scholastic prizes, but before long he was rebelling spectacularly against society's and his mother's expectations. He began producing verse of startling originality, fashioning himself a "seer" and coining his famous dictum, "I is Somebody else." At seventeen, following several aborted flights from home, he landed in Paris, where he proceeded to dynamite the comparatively staid existence of the city's most avant-garde poets, in particular the recently wed Paul Verlaine, with whom he embarked on a turgid affair. Rimbaud's three years with Verlaine, the most notorious part of his legend, took the couple to Belgium and London, finally ending in a Brussels police station after Verlaine wounded his young lover with a pistol. . . . After his break with Verlaine, Rimbaud more or less stopped writing poetry and spent several years wandering Europe in pursuit of various odd jobs and some meaningful, and ever elusive, definition of happiness. In 1880 he docked at the port of Aden, securing work as a trader for an import-export company. For the next eleven years, he lived in Aden or in Harar, Abyssinia (today Ethiopia), building a career that was relatively lucrative or relatively disastrous, depending on whom you believe, and making several long excursions into uncharted territories, most notably an eighteen-month trek across the desert and back to deliver rifles to Menelik II, king of Shoa. Rimbaud's letters during this period, many of them to his mother, carried dry reports of his commercial activities and requests for supplies, showing just how much he had renounced his former literary activities. Back home, however, his reputation as a poet was beginning to grow, due to Verlaine's publication of his earlier manuscripts. By the time he died of cancer in Marseilles in 1891, at the age of thirty-seven, the myth was well under way. . . . The fact is, Rimbaud became a legend for a variety of reasons. He possessed an androgynous physical attractiveness and a talent beyond his years, along with a combination of charm and cruel indifference that many found irresistible. This fatal hybrid of attributes--the bewitching devil-child who wrote like an angel--seems alone to have been enough to fix Rimbaud in people's memories and to trigger the kind of retrospective embroidery with which myths are woven. But Rimbaud also had an unerring instinct for self-promotion and a remarkable capacity to inspire sympathy (no small asset when it came to living off the kindness of strangers). His ability to become "somebody else," somebody other than the brilliant pupil, the promising young talent, or the wasted decadent poet whom people had just gotten used to, made him a constant surprise: Verlaine no doubt spoke more appositely than he knew when he called his former protégé ‘the man with soles of wind.’” Check out RimbaudWeb and Rimbaud Boulevard.



ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 03/22/2001


Tales of Slacker Bonding is a bit like a hip, sex-mad agony aunt. There’s an interesting interview with Lisa Carver, author of The Lisa Diaries at Nerve.com, in the third issue and a review of a gig by hardcore legends D.O.A.. More smut in the shape of Blue Food, the adult literary arts magazine: excerpts from their third paper issue are available online. In the latest issue of Random House’s online litzine, Boldtype, Ernie Hilbert has published a very interesting piece on Stephen Spender’s autobiography World Within World (1951): “Spender spent his ingenuous early years after Oxford with naturalist and self-consciously modern German youths in Hamburg, where suntans, nudity, sexual promiscuity, and jazz came to form a dizzying nectar for the sensitive young poet, who already by that age was able to question: ‘What happened in the hearts of these people who gave themselves so easily to so many things?’ He portrays an interwar generation bereft of stable moral bearings, as if waiting for a cause to take up after wallowing in endless indulgences and facile emotional relationships (Hitler was at this time barking Fascist rhetoric to sympathetic assemblies).” Critique brings you an article by Allegra Wong on Margraret Fuller’s 1842 visit to the Emersons “that gave the preeminent feminist the strength to create.” The fifth issue of The Cafe Irreal is also online including some interesting short-shorts. The Cafe Irreal “is a semiannual webzine that presents a kind of fantastic fiction infrequently published in English. This fiction, which we would describe as ‘irreal,’ resembles the work of writers such as Franz Kafka, Kobo Abe, Luisa Valenzuela and Jorge Luis Borges. As a style of fiction it rejects the tendency to portray people and places realistically and the need for a full resolution to the story; instead, it shows us a reality constantly being undermined. Therefore, we're interested in stories by writers who write about what they don't know, take us places we couldn't possibly go, and don't try to make us care about the characters.” Another website you might like to check out is that of The Group of Czech and Slovak Surrealists. Ever heard of Snow Monkey? Me neither! They publish books (Ravenna Press) and a paper literary review. Imaginationstreet.com has snapped up Kimberly Nichols’ latest story, “Integration”, which was first published by 3 a.m. Magazine. Another very talented 3 a.m. author, Travis Jon Mader, currently features in Suspect Thoughts.



GLOBALISATION 03/21/2001


David Mitchell of Feed Magazine is travelling around the world to investigate globalisation (dread word!): “. . . Only three days into an eight-month journey around the world to report on globalization, and I have stumbled upon the first, the original Pizza Hut. . . . What does globalization portend, to narrow the subject just a little bit, for those sets of idiosyncrasies, habits, prejudices, and accumulated wisdom we call human cultures? One answer, a lot of people's answer, is that globalization is causing these cultures to fade. Consider Pizza Hut and what it has wrought, for an example. An idea, a culinary idea is carried by immigrants across the ocean. It thrives in this new environment, morphs, catches on, is perfected in New Haven, perhaps, or by some mysterious cheese master in Little Italy named Ray. Then the lords of business get hold of the idea -- this messy but tasty and convenient foodstuff -- and they imperfect it. (The lords of business in this case were two students at WSU, Dan and Frank Carney, who borrowed $600 to found this first Pizza Hut in 1958 and sold the resulting corporation to Pepsico for $300 million in 1977.) Underpaid workers prepare this "pizza" using standardized and prepackaged ingredients. Underpaid workers serve it, from approximately one of out of every 1.4 strip malls in the United States. Now Pizza Huts reign over strip malls in more than 85 countries, weaning the Russians from their borscht and the French from their foie gras. Not everyone buys this story of nefarious and inexorable cultural homogenization. "I'm skeptical; that's all," Geertz says. "To me the world looks less alike; it gets stranger." Yes, things will change; they always have. But Geertz believes our cultural idiosyncrasies are sufficiently entrenched and resilient to weather KFC, MTV, and the NBA. . . . I'm traveling around the world to report on these different views of what is happening to us. I'll hang out in pueblos and Internet cafés. I'll listen to Mayan priests, sweatshop workers, and French intellectuals. I'll trust in travel's tendency to edify and surprise. . . . This is the inverse of the Pizza Hut globalization story: Not only is America's culture, in the form of Gaps and Baywatch, spreading around the world, the world's culture is spreading through America. I suspected that Kansas, in important ways, isn't Kansas anymore. I suspected that the United States, and much of the rest of the world, is experiencing the sort of era that's rarely discussed or named until it is gone: a golden age -- a golden age, in this case, of diversity. . . . What brought the world to the middle of the United States? Immigration, spurred, as usual, by jobs. (Wichita builds a lot of airplanes.) Transportation, to move all those people and the beef intestine they apparently crave. Communication -- Spanish-language cable channels, email to cousins in Saigon, Web addresses ending with .br, .il or .ru. Trade. Multinationals. These are the same Mixmaster forces I'll be looking for elsewhere on the planet. But there's also something else going on in Wichita, something that becomes clear as I sit down over a Coke with the city's longtime mayor, Bob Knight. (I'll now expect to be received by the mayor everywhere I travel.) "The sheer talent that's coming here is enormous," gushes Mayor Knight, though he is not the gushy type. "Mexicans, Central Americans, Asians are making tremendous contributions to the city. These are amazing people. They have made us richer." Nice talk for a Midwestern politician -- a Midwestern Republican politician. And however cheap such talk may be, it sure beats the various hysterias that traditionally have greeted immigrants -- particularly immigrants of different color or religion. . . .” You can also read about Mitchell Stephens’ travels at Roadthinker.com.



ON THE WEBZINE FRONT 03/19/2001


The first issue of Furious Pen, a new publication dedicated to flash fiction writers, is now online. If you’re into short-shorts (and who isn’t these days?), you can also join FlashFictionFlash, a newsletter for writers of stories of up to 2000 words. The March issue of Tatlin’s Tower has gone live: it includes William Walsh’s brilliantly-titled “A Prayer to the Patron Saint of Pretty Girls.” No issue of Stirring in March due to “an untimely computer crisis.” Join the club!



MADNESS & CREATIVITY 03/19/2001


Two new books on madness, pain and creativity, Daniel Nettle’s Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity and Human Nature and Nigel Spivey’s Enduring Creation: Art, Pain and Fortitude, are reviewed together by Humphrey Carpenter in The Sunday Times: “. . . In his fascinating, pithy little book examining the relationship between madness and creativity, Oxford psychologist and anthropologist Daniel Nettle cites a range of poets who have been mentally unstable--and not just obvious cases such as Sylvia Plath and Robert Lowell. There seems to be an underlying trend, and by no means just a modern one. ‘To be a poet in Britain in the 18th century,’ writes Nettle, ‘was to run a risk of bipolar disorder 10 to 30 times the national average, suicide five times the national average, and incarceration in the madhouse at least 20 times the national average.’ Little seems to have changed in this respect. Nettle cites a recent survey (by the American psychotherapist and author Kay Redfield Jamison) of nearly 50 living poets, writers and visual artists, which showed that no less than 38% had received treatment for a mood disorder. Jamison discovered that poets and playwrights suffered most, but novelists, and even those of us who write biographies, weren't trailing far behind. Writers and artists tend to be prone to the ‘affective’ disorders (manic depression, or just depression), but there are some intriguing exceptions. Ezra Pound's Cantos seem to be the product of an essentially schizophrenic personality. As Nettle points out, schizophrenics can come up with powerful narratives based on their delusions. . . . [Evelyn] Waugh's delusions were brought on by drugs, and had little to do with his real mental state. But Nettle argues that, generally speaking, living on the edge of psychosis is a creative malady--for creative people. On the other hand, he admits that it merely brings misery to most individuals, who cannot express their anguish through art. So why (he asks) have the genes responsible for psychoses not been eradicated during human evolution?”

Robin McKie in The Observer reports on David Horrobin’s claim that schizophrenia “helped the ascent of man”: “Tiny mutations in our ancestors' brain cells triggered mankind's takeover of the world 100,000 years ago. But these changes also cursed our species to suffer from schizophrenia and depression. This is the controversial claim by biochemist David Horrobin in a new book, The Madness of Adam & Eve: How Schizophrenia Shaped Humanity, to be published by Bantam Press next month. Horrobin--who is medical adviser to the Schizophrenia Association of Great Britain--argues that the changes which propelled humanity to its current global ascendancy were the same as those which have left us vulnerable to mental disease. 'We became human because of small genetic changes in the chemistry of the fat in our skulls,' he says. 'These changes injected into our ancestors both the seeds of the illness of schizophrenia and the extraordinary minds which made us human.' Horrobin's theory also provides support for observations that have linked the most intelligent, imaginative members of our species with mental disease, in particular schizophrenia--an association supported by studies in Iceland, Finland, New York and London. These show that 'families with schizophrenic members seem to have a greater variety of skills and abilities, and a greater likelihood of producing high achievers,' he states. As examples, Horrobin points out that Einstein had a son who was schizophrenic, as was James Joyce's daughter and Carl Jung's mother. In addition, Horrobin points to a long list of geniuses whose personalities and temperaments have betrayed schizoid tendencies or signs of mental instability. These include Schumann, Strindberg, Poe, Kafka, Wittgenstein and Newton. Controversially, Horrobin also includes individuals such as Darwin and Faraday, generally thought to have displayed mental stability.

Nevertheless, psychologists agree that it is possible to make a link between mental illness and creativity. 'Great minds are marked by their ability to make connections between unexpected events or trends,' said Professor Til Wykes, of the Institute of Psychiatry, London. 'By the same token, those suffering from mental illness often make unexpected or inappropriate connections between day-to-day events.' According to Horrobin, schizophrenia and human genius began to manifest themselves as a result of evolutionary pressures that triggered genetic changes in our brain cells, allowing us to make unexpected links with different events, an ability that lifted our species to a new intellectual plane. Early manifestations of this creative change include the 30,000-year-old cave paintings found in France and Spain.”


MARTIN AMISS 03/19/2001


One of Britain’s most famous novelists, Martin Amis, has published a lengthy article on the porn industry in The Guardian: “The name of Rocco Siffredi, again and again, was wistfully and reverently conjured. Rocco, the big-dorked Italian, and porno's premier buttbanger or assbuster (to use the dialect of this tribe). ‘Rocco has far more power in this industry than any actress,’ said Stagliano, pleased to be pulling one back for the boys (generally speaking, men are the also-rans of porno). ‘I was the first to shoot Rocco. Together we evolved toward rougher stuff. He started to spit on girls. A strong male-dominant thing, with women being pushed to their limit. It looks like violence but it's not. I mean, pleasure and pain are the same thing, right? Rocco is driven by the market. What makes it in today's market place is reality.’ And assholes are reality. And pussies are bullshit. . . . There are, at present, two types of mainstream American pornography: Features and Gonzo. Features are sex films with some sort of claim to the ordinary narrative: characterisation, storyline. "We don't just show you people fucking," said a Features executive. "We show you why they're fucking." These movies are allegedly aimed at the "couples market". Couples, it asserted, want to know why people are fucking. I can give these couples a three word answer that will hold true in every case: for the money. . . . After a while you begin to think that porno stars, despite being very bad at acting, are very good at acting in one particular only: they can keep a straight face. But then humourlessness, universal and institutionalised humourlessness, is the lifeblood of porno. . . . With a wife like Hillary, Bill Clinton could never be a true pal of porno, but he largely left it alone on First Amendment grounds. Unlike his two predecessors, who systematically harassed the industry with confiscations, multiple prosecutions, fines, jail terms. It's a fair guess that porno never felt more gorgeously secure than when Clinton, in his second term, became in effect the porno president. Now porno is tensed and braced forchanges. It feared Gore. It dreaded Bush. Gonzo porno is also known as "wall-to-wall". It shows you people fucking without concerning itself with why they're fucking. . . . Features porno is much, much dirtier than it used to be, but Gonzo porno is gonzo: way out there. . . . [In America] Porno is far bigger than rock music and far bigger than Hollywood. Americans spend more on strip clubs than they spend on theatre, opera, ballet, jazz and classical concerts combined. In 1975 the total retail value of all the hard-core porno in America was estimated at $5-10 million. Last year Americans spent $8 billion on mediated sex.”


DEAD BABIES 03/19/2001


The film version of Martin Amis’s Dead Babies has been panned by most critics. However, its release prompted The Daily Telegraph to publish an interesting article on the former enfant terrible of Brit lit: “For much of his life Martin Amis has been caught up in the relationship between writers and fame. His father was the famous novelist Kingsley Amis (and his stepmother, Elizabeth Jane Howard, a less famous novelist), and since the publication of The Rachel Papers in the early Seventies he has been famous, too. In the Eighties, in interviews with such globally famous figures as Hugh Hefner, John Travolta and Madonna, he anatomised the modern publicity machine. . . . To observe that a writer is bookish is to risk tautology--it's like noting an athlete's athleticism--but Amis is relentlessly literary. In long sentences, looped with parentheses and nicely judged conditional clauses, with frequent writerly hesitations, he devotes our allotted hour not to deplorable indiscretions about his ex-girlfriends (Emma Soames, Tina Brown and Mary Furness among them) or his drug-taking (dope, acid, mdma) but to books, his own and others'. . . . Dead Babies, his second novel, is a conventional country-house murder mystery, albeit an exceptionally depraved one. Written when he was 24, it features what are now recognisably his subjects: the Jekyll-and-Hyde aspects of success and failure; joyless, perverse, and frequently botched sex; drink and drugs; pornography; suicide. And the style is there, too, slick and fizzy, mixing high rhetoric with low demotic, insidiously knowing. 'In fairly crude form,' he concedes, 'riddled with little influences--indeed, plagiarisms. I had a look at it [the novel] when I saw the film for the first time, and for a while I thought, ‘This is pretty good,’ and then, as I always feel when I look back at the early stuff, I began to wince a bit. It's a cartoonish novel, in a comedy of humours way. Not subtle. Plenty of crude vigour, but the craft is really gawky, I thought. It's a horribly transparent diagram of my early influences, shamelessly in the spirit of Burroughs and Ballard, and a ridiculous mixture of Dickens and Nabokov, all completely out of control.' The film, like the novel, is set in an indeterminate future that offers a satirical take on the present, although the present in question has been updated to the Nineties. It's otherwise extremely faithful to the book, although the women are rather more attractive. Diana, for example, is quite spotty in the novel. 'Yes, she is rather spotty. . . I was astounded by the actors and actresses, in that they seemed to fill exactly the same dimensions and mass that I'd imagined.' (Amis is hopelessly addicted to the language of physics: 'I may not know much about science,' as he puts it in a prefatory note to Dead Babies, 'but I know what I like.')


ROBERTO VACCA 03/19/2001


You can download two short stories from Roberto Vacca’s latest anthology (15 Quaint SF Stories) free of charge if you log on to his site. Andrew Gifford from the Santa Fe Writers Project tells me that “Vacca's influence on fictional apocalypse writing (though I imagine he would be horrified to learn this) has been extraordinary.” Apparently, his book, The Coming Dark Age, inspired Larry Niven's Lucifer's Hammer and David Brin's The Postman.



BROWN TIMES 03/18/2001


Jonathan Coe, whose latest novel, The Rotters’ Club, has just been published is interviewed on Penguin Books’ site. The Rotters’ Club is set in the 1970s and Coe explains what defines that decade for him: “There’s a line in the novel where the narrator says ‘these were brown times’, and somehow that sums up the decade for me. I remember it as an era of overcast skies and permanent dusk, before England had learned to tart itself up and everything in terms of clothing and design and architecture seemed irredeemably dowdy and unfashionable. But it was also, I think, an era of real politics, as opposed to the hyper-politics we have now. It’s amazing how, in these Blairite times, everyone still recoils in horror at the word ‘unions’, but as far as I can see the power of the unions in the 1970s meant that it was one of the few periods in British history when working people actually had any kind of voice. So I didn’t want to demonise the union leaders in this novel. They’re actually seen as heroes, of a sort.” The author goes on to explain that Benjamin in the novel was “closely based” on his own teenage years: “I was very studious but terminally shy and unhip as a teenager--that’s why I created the character of Doug, to give myself a sort of fictional alter ego and to imagine what it might have been like in the 1970s to have been cool, and clued-up about politics, and good at getting girls to go to bed with you. All the things I was hopeless at.” We also learn about Coe’s favourite authors, Henry Fielding (whose work was the subject of his doctoral thesis), but also Laurence Sterne, Flann O’Brien and Rosamond Lehmann “whose novels I find as enthralling and challenging as anything written in the last century. I’m inspired by the example of B.S. Johnson, whose biography I’m now writing--inspired by the high seriousness with which he regarded the novel, his absolute commitment to interrogating it and re-inventing it--and I’m extremely influenced, in The Rotters’ Club, by the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal: I love his tenderness and surreal comedy, and the strange looping rhythms of his prose, which I try to replicate in the massive 40-page sentence which closes the book.” Our readers may be interested in Coe’s advice to budding authors: “Aim high: we need more novels which are written out of love and respect for the form, not to satisfy the needs of the market. Think of your favourite author and try to write something that she or he would have admired. And develop a thick skin: don’t give up till you’ve had at least thirty rejection letters--you can always stick two fingers up at those short-sighted editors when you make your Booker Prize acceptance speech in ten years’ time.” I’ll drink to that!


PARIS BOOK FAIR 03/18/2001


You can follow developments at this year’s Paris book fair (Salon du livre de Paris) here and here. The main theme is German literature.



For earlier March news, click here.
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