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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

SAUCY HP 09/29/2001


It's not very often that you come upon a writer whose prose is so addictive that you keep coming back for more. That's what I've been doing since my last Buzzwords entry when I introduced you to HP Tinker and his Swank Bisexual Wine Bar of Modernity website, which he describes as "a refuge for stories I couldn't sell or get published". Apropos of Intermezzo, HP Tinker says that it's "basically a notebook I filled up in New York". It begins thus, in medias res: "happily growing breasts in NYC until you exploded midway through Macy’s red and blue and golden like the 4th of July cheap jewellery assistants flying customers ducking themselves down into small customer piles like unwanted news sheets the contents of my head involved in aerial moves of an unpredictable nature my injuries minor all wounds fortunately . . ." And, yes, he manages the tour de force of sustaining the momentum all the way through. That's what I call staying power! It put me in mind of Molly Bloom's unpunctuated monologue in Ulyssses, although HP Tinker was probably going for Kerouac whose picture adorns the page.

Another one you must check out is Paul Gauguin Trapped on the 37th Floor: "Paul Gauguin was one of those chance things -- I was studying a TV guide and noticed a Paul Gauguin biopic was followed by a film called Trapped On The 37th Floor. So, I had the title, I just had to write the story . . ." And write the story he did, I'm telling you!

HP Tinker is "a secretive chap" who likes "the work to speak for itself". The bio on his site is completely made up, but he was kind enough to give us a little background info. Mr Tinker, 32, lives in the North of England, but don't you dare call him a "Northern writer" because he hates that. (You wouldn't call The Buzzcocks a northern band, would you?) He started writing in 1997 and his very first short story, Vic Chews It Over was snapped up by Ambit, Britain's most prestigious literary journal. Since then, Ambit have published more than half a dozen of his short stories.

"A couple of years ago," HP Tinker confided to 3am Magazine, "I wrote a short novel called Jack Shit On Mars, an experimental, cut-up comic thing -- but I've never been very sure about it and it's still lingering on my harddrive. I'm not exactly a career novelist, you see. (I've always concurred with Morrissey and Cilla Black that "Work Is A 4-Letter Word".) The writing's the thing with me. If it's good it's good, and if it gets published somewhere that's fine. I don't write as much as I should. Because the market for my type of thing isn't huge, I tend to only write the things that really force themselves to the surface. . . . The novel I'm working on is in its infant stages, so there is not a lot to say -- yet. I've only written 8,000 words! But I have a working-title: City of Women. I don't know what it means, but it sounds interesting enough to continue with. I don't like to talk about things too much until they're almost completely finished. If you do, I find something always goes wrong." Stay tuned: 3am Magazine will soon publish HP Tinker's "The Countess of Monte Cristo".



ON THE WEB FRONT 09/23/2001


So much is going on that it's difficult to keep track! Apologies to all the kind people who sent me books to be reviewed during the summer. I'm still wading through the deluge of mail I found on my return from London. On with the news, then. Greg Wharton, founder of Suspect Thoughts, the "journal of subversive writing", announces the publication in October of an anthology entitled Of the Flesh: Dangerous New Fiction (Suspect Thoughts Press): "Is sex dangerous? These 20 tales answer this question in many ways: from the use of sex as a weapon to the use of weapons in sex; the human body can be dangerous; thinking about sex can be dangerous; love and the ways of the heart can be dangerous. Following your own desire can be dangerous..."

On the subject of deviance, our good friend Sardax has teamed up with Nimrod to launch a new website dedicated to Oriental Whip Queens. Check it out if you dare!

We also received an ad from Blithe House Quarterly, the "central publishing arm of new queer fiction" according to OUT Magazine: "Now in its fifth year of online publication, Blithe House Quarterly features new short stories by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) authors -- both emerging and established. With an average of over 24,000 readers per issue, Blithe House Quarterly is the most widely read of LGBT literary periodicals. . . . [O]ur literary standards our higher than those of many print media. We publish LGBT fiction not as a genre or ghetto, but as a literature that can stand by any other in its quality and innovation. . . ."

At 3am we have a fondness for Paul Ash's Sniffy Lining Press, so we were delighted to learn that Sniffy are branching out into e-books. Got an e-book? Send it to Mr Ash, and he'll probably post it on his site. All sales will go directly to the author.

One of my recent discoveries is English author HP Tinker who's been published at least twice in Ambit, Britain's most distinguished literary review. You can sample his highly original prose on his Swank Bisexual Wine Bar of Modernity which is open 24 hours.


THE NEO-HYDROPATHES STRIKE AGAIN 09/23/2001


Here are two exclusive pictures taken at a recent poetry reading organised by the Neo-hydropathes. There's poetess Lucie Aveliere over there, plate at the ready. And on the couch, yes, it's none other than Octave Degary, co-founder of the infamous group of Parisian hipsters. You're welcome readers.



FAMILY ROMANCE 09/22/2001


The latest novel by Douglas Coupland, the author of Generation X who coined the phrase "McJob", is out now. It's called All Families Are Psychotic and you can read the an interesting review of the book: ". . . In All Families are Psychotic, Coupland takes his carefully nurtured brand of blissed-out pessimism and Salingeresque sentimentality to new heights or depths, depending on whether or not you are a fan. And for a writer whose effects are achieved in large part by exhaustive accumulation, he leaves nothing to chance. The novel's starting point is a family reunion centred around the imminent departure of wunderkind Sarah into outer space aboard a Nasa shuttle, the orderliness of government and science sharply contrasted to the Drummond family's utter flakiness. Elder son Wade is a dubious drifter only lately brought into line by HIV infection and marriage to a Bible-bashing ex-addict. Younger son Bryan is a suicidal wimp currently being bullied by a teenage girlfriend, whose newly acquired name, Shw, is garnered from the initials of a Peruvian Shining Light martyr; she is pregnant, but on the verge of selling her unborn baby to a couple of nouveau-riche chancers via the internet. Father Ted is a sadistic, womanising bankrupt who, after leaving mother Janet high and dry, accidentally shot her while he was attempting to shoot Wade, who had unwittingly bedded his second wife, Nickie. . . . Characterisation and plot -- those two dispensable incidentals of old-fashioned, conservative fiction -- have long been held to be Coupland's weak points. Here he seems concerned to make amends, with a manic plot so wearyingly crowded that one comes to worry for the author's health, watching him direct so much narrative traffic, and with a slew of characters always ready to comment on their own bizarre situations and their mental, emotional and physical responses to them. . . . The man who brought us Generation X and the McJob might be said to have cornered the market in spritely disillusion and rueful cynicism. As smart phrase-maker and prescient neologiser, he may yet take some beating; as novelist, he seems unlikely to stay the distance."



JAMMING! THE SEQUEL 09/19/2001


In 1976, a young bank clerk, Mark Perry, launched the first punk fanzine Sniffin Glue. Dozens of young kids were inspired by Perry's prose. One of them was 14-year-old Tony Fletcher with Jamming. I was delighted to find out that Jamming has been revived as a webzine. Fittingly, you'll find a lengthy interview with Mr Perry.



TOBY LITT & JAY MCINERNEY ON NEW YORK 09/17/2001


We've mentioned Toby Litt on several occasions in this column. Hopefully, we'll soon be able to bring you an interview with Mr Litt, who remains one of the best young British authors. In the meantime, take a look at his very interesting website which includes extracts from novels or short stories by Alain de Botton, Geoff Dyer, Matt Thorne, Nicholas Blincoe and others which were cut in the final versions. There are also a few excellent editorials. The latest, posted on September 13, concerns the terrorist attacks on New York: "As everyone else is commentating, from the President to the pub bore, I might as well have my say. . . . Perhaps the most surprising thing is people's surprise. The destruction of skyscrapers -- it has become generic. And perhaps now (as a friend of mine observed) those genres will die. Those who were young in the 1950s were raised with thoughts of obliterated cities. I grew up on Marvel and DC; I grew up on documentaries of blastzone and skinpeel. A slightly younger generation watched Akira. The destruction of sexy locations became a cliché of '90s cinema. It is hard to say to what extent bringing these things to birth in the imagination makes them inevitable, politically. To admit that is, perhaps, to admit fundamentalism. We hope the world is woozier than that. We point to causeless effects and effectless causes. There seems to have been a great missed opportunity for a headline: WHERE THE FUCK WAS SUPERMAN? . . . A word for Don DeLillo. You are more than welcome to take a step forwards and say 'I told you so'."

Archetypal New York novelist Jay McInerney writes that "There was a hole in the skyline, the morning after. I pulled the chain on the shade of my bedroom window with a certain mournful sense of ceremony. A plume of pearl-grey smoke rose into the sky, marking the spot where the twin towers used to stand -- my view, and everything else, forever altered. It's just steel and concrete, of course -- but the dead and the injured were still largely invisible and uncounted. And the ruined towers were also a symbol, to those who targeted them as well as to those of us who lived, often unconsciously, beneath them. Now I am angry. I'm depressed. I'm weepy. I can't control my emotions at all. I want to hug strangers. I want to hurt other strangers, anyone who had anything to do with this, those fucking people in the Middle East who have been dancing in the street. . . . It's always dangerous to generalise about this heterogenous and contentious mass of humanity, but I think it's safe to say that New Yorkers have finally come up against a phenomenon larger than their collective capacity for jaded equanimity. We are famous for not looking up at our signature skyscrapers. We took them for granted, just as we took our own pre-eminence, our own importance, for granted. Public displays of surprise and wonder are banned by city ordinance. But we are visibly stunned by the disappearance of one of those monuments to our own magnificence. We will probably feel the absence of those towers far more acutely than we did their presence at the apex of our skyline. We will never forget where we were on Tuesday when we first heard the news, when we first saw two 100-storey buildings collapse. Me, I woke at 8.15, and lay in bed till 8.40, at which point I got up and struggled with my bedroom shade, the chain of which had somehow become jammed. As I tinkered with the chain, trying to get it back on its track, I briefly noted the fact that, after four or five months in this apartment, I was already starting to take the view for granted. It had been days, maybe weeks, since I'd really looked out at the vista of the river to the right and the World Trade Centre rising above the apartment buildings of the West Village. I went out to the kitchen to turn on the coffee maker. When I returned to the bedroom a few minutes later I noticed smoke coming out of the north tower of the Trade Centre. . . . I'm not quite sure whether I was looking at the TV screen or at the window when the second plane hit a few minutes after I'd returned to my bedroom. I've seen the replay so many times now. The plane approached from the south so that I couldn't see it from my south-facing window. And over the course of the next 40 minutes I kept turning between the TV and the window. I remember that I was looking out of the window when I first noticed that the south tower seemed to be tilting; a minute later it collapsed. From the window I just saw it disappear into the smoke, sinking beneath the rooflines of the West Village. About 10 minutes later, the north tower did the same. At Bret's [Bret Easton Ellis] apartment we watched CNN for half an hour. We kept telling each other we couldn't believe this. I noticed an invitation to a book party on Bret's kitchen counter. 'I'm glad I don't have a book coming out this month,' I said -- a selfish and trivial response to the disaster, but one I thought he would understand. Nobody was going to be talking about fiction this week. 'I was just thinking that same thing,' he said, with obvious relief. 'I don't know how I'm going to be able to go back to this novel I'm writing,' I said. The novel is set in New York, of course. The very New York which has just been altered for ever. 'I know exactly what you mean,' he said. After half an hour he walked out with us to see what was happening on the street. When we said goodbye he lost his composure. He turned away when he started to cry. . . ."



THE HENRY JAMES OF HARLEM 09/15/2001


This month's London Review of Books essay -- by Colm Toibin -- is devoted to James Baldwin. As usual, the LRB essay is reproduced in The Guardian: ". . . Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924, the eldest of a large family. His father died when he was 19. . . . Baldwin began with a very great subject: the drama of his own life echoing against the public drama. He also began with certain influences. He listed them in Notes of a Native Son: 'the King James Bible, the rhetoric of the store-front church, something ironic and violent and perpetually understated in Negro speech -- and something of Dickens's love for bravura'. . . . From Henry James, he also learned a great deal about character and consciousness in fiction, the use of the single point of view, and of nuance and shade. . . . Baldwin's bitterness was fired by working in a defence plant in New Jersey during the war, and learning that 'bars, bowling alleys, diners, places to live' were closed to him. There was something about him that made him insist on going into these places, suffering rejection, forcing them to refuse to serve him. He described his last night there when, having been refused in a diner, he went into 'an enormous, glittering and fashionable restaurant in which I knew not even the intercession of the Virgin would cause me to be served'. He sat at a table until a waitress came and said: 'We don't serve Negroes here.' He noted the fear and the apology in her voice. 'I wanted her to come close enough for me to get her neck between my hands.' Instead, he threw a half-full mug of water at her, missed and ran. Later, he realised that he "had been ready to commit murder. . . .

How from this raw anger one of the finest prose stylists of the age emerged remains fascinating. He moved downtown after his father died and began to hang out in Greenwich Village. 'There were very few black people in the Village in those years,' he wrote in 1985, 'and of that handful, I was decidedly the most improbable... I was eager, vulnerable and lonely... I am sure that I was afraid that I already seemed and sounded too much like a woman. In my childhood, at least until my adolescence, my playmates had called me a sissy... On every street corner, I was called a faggot.' He found odd jobs and then lost them, washing dishes, working as an elevator boy. He drank, he had casual affairs, he suffered a number of nervous crises. The five years between the death of his father and his leaving New York remained for him nightmare years during which he came within a breath of self-destruction. The colour of his skin caused him, in both his essays and his fiction, to create a version of America which was passionate and original; his homosexuality caused a similar attempt to describe and dramatise the sexual politics of his time. 'The American ideal, then, of sexuality appears to be rooted in the American idea of masculinity,' he wrote in 1985. 'This ideal has created cowboys and Indians, good guys and bad guys, punks and studs, tough guys and softies, butch and faggot, black and white. It is an ideal so paralytically infantile that it is virtually forbidden -- as an unpatriotic act -- that the American boy evolve into the complexity of manhood.' . . . In 1962, Baldwin published Another Country, which dealt with masculinity and race and rage and the fate of a young musician from Harlem who had dared to live in Greenwich Village. Rufus, the central character, has felt hatred and been brushed by its wings, but Baldwin was alert to the danger of making him merely an angry black man, or a victim. . . . Rufus is aware of this and suspicious of his own attractions. He will grow to hate the white woman who wants him. He will grow to despise and distrust his white friends. He will walk the city, destitute and forlorn. He will do what Baldwin's friend Eugene Worth did in 1946: he will finally jump to his death off the George Washington Bridge. . . . Two years after the suicide of Eugene Worth, Baldwin left New York and moved to Paris. . . . 'I left America,' Baldwin wrote in 1959, 'because I doubted my ability to survive the fury of the colour problem here... I wanted to prevent myself from becoming merely a Negro; or even merely a Negro writer.' The fate of Eugene Worth continued to haunt him. . . . Over the next six years, which were spent mostly in Paris, Baldwin produced two novels, Go Tell It on the Mountain and Giovanni's Room, some of his best stories, and his first book of essays, Notes of a Native Son. . . .

Baldwin's editors and reviewers would have been happy had he gone on to recreate the conscience of his race in book after book. But two things were to interrupt what in 1955, with the publication of Notes of a Native Son, seemed to be a brilliant career. The first was his homosexuality and the second was the Civil Rights Movement. In 1951 Baldwin had published "The Outing", which is still one of his best stories. . . . The story concentrates on a number of adolescent boys who are part of the church. It ends as follows: 'All during the trip home David seemed preoccupied. When he finally sought out Johnnie he found him sitting by himself on the top deck, shivering a little in the night air. He sat down beside him. After a moment Johnnie moved and put his head on David's shoulder. David put his arms around him. But now where there had been peace there was only panic and where there had been safety, danger, like a flower, opened.' This was dangerous territory in 1951. Baldwin had by now fallen in love with a Swiss man living in Paris, Lucien Happersberger, and despite the fact that Happersberger soon got married, Baldwin would remain involved with him, in various ways, for the rest of his life. The relationship between the two men and between Baldwin and a number of close women friends, and the general air of sexual ambivalence and dishonesty in Greenwich Village and Paris gave Baldwin the atmosphere for Giovanni's Room. . . . For his editors in New York, publishing a black writer was fascinating, but publishing a black homosexual writer was impossible. . . . Knopf turned the book down. Baldwin's agent advised him to burn it. . . ."



BUSH FIRE 09/14/2001


Earlier on Jim Martin suggested I take a look at Alternative Tentacles' news page where you can find Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore's responses to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. On September 13, Noam Chomsky wrote: "Today's attacks were major atrocities. In terms of number of victims they do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton's bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come to mind. But that this was a horrendous crime is not in doubt. The primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries, firemen, etc. It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people. It is also likely to lead to harsh security controls, with many possible ramifications for undermining civil liberties and internal freedom. The events reveal, dramatically, the foolishness of ideas about 'missile defense.' As has been obvious all along, and pointed out repeatedly by strategic analysts, if anyone wants to cause immense damage in the US, including weapons of mass destruction, they are highly unlikely to launch a missile attack, thus guaranteeing their immediate destruction. There are innumerable easier ways that are basically unstoppable. But today's events will, nonetheless, be used to increase the pressure to develop these systems and put them into place. . . ."

The same day, Michael Moore found himself stranded in L.A. "with an incredible range of emotions over what has happened on the island where I work and live in New York City. My wife and I spent the first hours of the day -- after being awakened by phone calls from our parents at 6:40am PT -- trying to contact our daughter at school in New York and our friend JoAnn who works near the World Trade Center. I called JoAnn at her office. As someone picked up, the first tower imploded, and the person answering the phone screamed and ran out, leaving me no clue as to whether or not she or JoAnn would live. It was a sick, horrible, frightening day. . . . Four teams of 3-5 people were all able to penetrate airport security on the same morning at 3 different airports and pull off this heinous act? My only response is -- that's all? Well, the pundits are in full diarrhea mode, gushing on about the 'terrorist threat' and today's scariest dude on planet earth -- Osama bin Laden. Hey, who knows, maybe he did it. But, something just doesn't add up. Am I being asked to believe that this guy who sleeps in a tent in a desert has been training pilots to fly our most modern, sophisticated jumbo jets with such pinpoint accuracy that they are able to hit these three targets without anyone wondering why these planes were so far off path? . . . What I do know is that all day long I have heard everything about this bin Laden guy except this one fact -- WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA! Dont take my word for it -- I saw a piece on MSNBC last year that laid it all out. When the Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan, the CIA trained him and his buddies in how to commit acts of terrorism against the Soviet forces. It worked! The Soviets turned and ran. Bin Laden was grateful for what we taught him and thought it might be fun to use those same techniques against us. . . . We paid and trained and armed a group of terrorists in Nicaragua in the 1980s who killed over 30,000 civilians. That was OUR work. You and me. Thirty thousand murdered civilians and who the hell even remembers! We fund a lot of oppressive regimes that have killed a lot of innocent people, and we never let the human suffering THAT causes to interrupt our day one single bit. We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer-funded terrorism (in Chile, in Vietnam, in Gaza, in Salvador) that I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause. . . . Will we ever get to the point that we realize we will be more secure when the rest of the world isn*t living in poverty so we can have nice running shoes? In just 8 months, Bush gets the whole world back to hating us again. He withdraws from the Kyoto agreement, walks us out of the Durban conference on racism, insists on restarting the arms race -- you name it, and Baby Bush has blown it all. . . ."


BIGMOUTH STRIKES AGAIN 09/14/2001


"France's Shock Novelist Strikes Again" writes Alan Riding in The New York Times: "Michel Houellebecq readily admits that he enjoys attacking, insulting and provoking, so while it is not his style to look cheerful or sound optimistic, the French writer cannot fail to be chuckling at the reaction to his latest novel, Plateforme. In the three weeks since it was published, it has won praise and stirred outrage. And with some 240,000 copies sold, it has also completely overshadowed the 574 other new novels of France's fall literary season. Mr. Houellebecq (pronounced WELL- beck), who is 43, has done this before. His last novel, The Elementary Particles, published here three years ago and in the United States last fall, was no less a succès de scandale, earning the author both acclaim as France's new literary hope and denunciation as a fascist. In The Elementary Particles, he took on the generation of 1968, the baby boomers who now rule France. . . . With Plateforme (Éditions Flammarion), however, although Mr. Houellebecq likes to boast that he writes well about sex, the issue is less the sexual content than the novel's endorsement of sexual tourism. Not Mr. Houellebecq's endorsement, one should add, but that of his first-person storyteller, also called Michel, who concludes that Western men visiting, say, Thailand for sex with young women (not children) represent a perfect exchange between those who have money and no longer find satisfaction with Western women and those without money who can offer pleasure. . . . Part of the appeal of Mr. Houellebecq's writing comes from its irony, sarcasm, morbidity, dark humor and, yes, provocation, all stemming from Michel's grim observations about hypocrisy in the world today and French society in particular. He is vicious, for example, in his mockery of petit bourgeois values, which, naturally, include attitudes toward sex. And early in the book, long before Islamic terrorists kill his beloved Valérie, Michel pointedly dwells on rich Arabs who violate the precepts of Islam by drinking and having sex in Thai brothels. The first negative reaction to Plateforme assuring it was noticed on its day of publication, came from Philippe Gloaguen, the owner of the Guide du Routard, a popular series of travel guides, who objected to Mr. Houellebecq's -- or Michel's -- ridiculing both his guidebooks and those who buy them. . . . Michel's observations about Islam after Valérie's death are even more provocative. As he undergoes psychiatric treatment, he observes grimly: 'Islam had shattered my life, and Islam was certainly something I could hate. In the days that followed, I dedicated myself to hating Islam.' A few lines later, he adds, 'Each time that I hear that a Palestinian terrorist, or a Palestinian child, or a pregnant Palestinian woman has been shot in the Gaza Strip, I shiver with enthusiasm at the thought that there is one less Muslim.'

Mr. Houellebecq has pointed out in several interviews that Plateforme is a novel; that he is not Michel; that while Michel is unmarried, he is; that while Michel hates animals, he owns a Welsh corgi at his home on Bear Island off the southwest coast of Ireland. The problem is that, all too often, Michel sounds like Mr. Houellebecq. And in an interview with the literary monthly Lire, the author echoed Michel's view of sex tourism, saying that prostitution in Thailand was 'an honorable profession.' On Islam, Mr. Houellebecq went still further, deriding his estranged mother for converting to Islam and proclaiming that, while all monotheistic religions were 'cretinous,' 'the most stupid religion is Islam.' And he added: 'When you read the Koran, you give up. At least the Bible is very beautiful because Jews have an extraordinary literary talent.' And later, noting that 'Islam is a dangerous religion,' he said it was condemned to disappear, not only because God does not exist but also because it was being undermined by capitalism. . . ."



SEEKING FATWA DESPERATELY 09/13/2001


On August 23, The Guardian announced that "The first scandal of France's new literary season broke out yesterday when the enfant terrible of French letters, Michel Houellebecq, was accused of writing a novel which celebrates third-world prostitution. His lurid new book, Plateforme, which will be published today, features a semi-autobiographical hero called Michel as a sex tourist wandering Thailand in search of fresh experiences to stimulate his demanding sexual appetite. . . . Houellebecq's novel is aimed at showing that people in the west have forgotten how to love. As a result of this sexual incapacity, he claims, the sex tourism industry was born, supported by 'millions of individuals who have nothing to sell but their bodies.' At one point in Plateforme, Michel says: 'It's simple, really simple to understand: this is a situation of ideal exchange.' . . . Le Monde which published a page-length extract from Plateforme yesterday, said the novel 'underlines in Houellebecq's cold and distanced syle the moral cynicism which serves to enrich people without scruples.' Houellebecq, 43, who lives in the Irish Republic, is a past master at causing literary scandals during 'la rentrée', the period when the French, returning from their holidays, are confronted by the year's most enticing literary products. Three years ago his novel Particules Elementaires (published in English as Atomised) shot up the bestseller charts while provoking outrage by its depiction of homophobia, racism and misoginy, and scenes of voyeuristic sex and violence. . . ."

On September 6 The Guardian reported that "Controversial writer Michel Houellebecq . . . has again provoked outrage in his native France. In an interview with the French literary monthly Lire, Houellebecq attacks Islam as 'the stupidest religion.' The French daily Le Monde quotes him as saying: 'I had a sort of revelation in the Sinai desert, where Moses received the ten commandments from God. I suddenly felt a sense of total rejection for all monotheistic religions, including Islam . . . And the stupidest religion is Islam. When one reads the Koran, one feels appalled . . . appalled.' Houellebecq went on to say of Plateforme's main character, Michel, whose partner dies in a terrorist attack and is glad when he learns that a Palestinian has also died, that 'I have never personally felt vengeful. But it is quite normal for Michel to wish for the deaths of as many Muslims as possible ... yes ... yes, vengeance does exist.' Last weekend, Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris Mosque warned that 'declarations that incite racial hatred can face judicial sanctions.' On Monday, a pro-government Moroccan daily, Libération, carried a photo of Houellebecq under the headline 'This man hates you'. The newspaper also claimed that the French writer was 'racist, despicable and scandalous' and that he was 'seeking a fatwa' as a publicity stunt. . . ."

The excellent Amis de Michel Houellebecq site has now been translated into several languages, including English. Wellbeck is well back!


A SEASON IN HELL 09/13/2001


Punk legend and writer Richard Hell posted a message about the terrorist attacks on his own message forum: "I am fine and so is every one immediately around me. The only people I can think of that I know who live or work in the district around the attack site are some of Sonic Youth and Thurston's sent email saying everyone's accounted for and o.k. What it's like here: the smoke outside, huge expanses of it blowing east from that crater downtown; the disruption of everything in the city and weird amputation feeling when you look and the towers are missing. The whole city re-organized by the police and National Guard into clear emergency routes. Continuous streams of emergency vehicles and unmarked official cars going back and forth on the main routes. No one in the Post Office. No in the bank. Long lines at the supermarkets. Already the idea of the site is scary. You can see how places seem haunted. You have to close off the place in your brain that can imagine the intensity of the inside of those buildings for the hour and a half they stood after first being hit. And those closed off places in the brain will inhabit that location for as long as anyone remembers what happened there. . . . I know the disgusting politicians will feed a frenzy of revenge just so they can bask in the easy (self-) congratulations of it. Please may they just have the restraint and soul, not to mention wisdom, to not be utterly ruled by self-righteous blood-lust. It's impossibly gruesome to think of all the pain created by what happened there today, but eventually is there any chance some Americans will suspect that America must have unjustly inflicted some pain too to create the level of hate that certain groups and cultures feel for us around the world? . . ."

Seumas Milne in The Guardian, argues that "Nearly two days after the horrific suicide attacks on civilian workers in New York and Washington, it has become painfully clear that most Americans simply don't get it. From the president to passersby on the streets, the message seems to be the same: this is an inexplicable assault on freedom and democracy, which must be answered with overwhelming force -- just as soon as someone can construct a credible account of who was actually responsible. Shock, rage and grief there has been aplenty. But any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process -- or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world -- seems almost entirely absent. Perhaps it is too much to hope that, as rescue workers struggle to pull firefighters from the rubble, any but a small minority might make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world. But make that connection they must, if such tragedies are not to be repeated, potentially with even more devastating consequences. . . . Since George Bush's father inaugurated his new world order a decade ago, the US, supported by its British ally, bestrides the world like a colossus. Unconstrained by any superpower rival or system of global governance, the US giant has rewritten the global financial and trading system in its own interest; ripped up a string of treaties it finds inconvenient; sent troops to every corner of the globe; bombed Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia and Iraq without troubling the United Nations; maintained a string of murderous embargos against recalcitrant regimes; and recklessly thrown its weight behind Israel's 34-year illegal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as the Palestinian intifada rages. . . . If it turns out that Tuesday's attacks were the work of Osama bin Laden's supporters, the sense that the Americans are once again reaping a dragons' teeth harvest they themselves sowed will be overwhelming. It was the Americans, after all, who poured resources into the 1980s war against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, at a time when girls could go to school and women to work. Bin Laden and his mojahedin were armed and trained by the CIA and MI6, as Afghanistan was turned into a wasteland and its communist leader Najibullah left hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in his mouth. But by then Bin Laden had turned against his American sponsors, while US-sponsored Pakistani intelligence had spawned the grotesque Taliban now protecting him. To punish its wayward Afghan offspring, the US subsequently forced through a sanctions regime which has helped push 4m to the brink of starvation, according to the latest UN figures, while Afghan refugees fan out across the world. . . .

You should also take a look at Liz Gilbert's "Letter From New York City" in Gargoyle: "It's the middle of the night here in New York, a city which doesn't generally sleep even under the best of circumstances and which is certainly lying awake tonight. I have walked and ridden my bike around the city today. I have seen both rivers, which are still there. I have seen the hollow mushroom cloud where the longest arms of my city's beautiful skyline once reached to the clouds. I have seen the stunned crowds on the streets at 10:30 AM and the eerie emptiness at 10:30 PM. The city is quiet now except for the sirens from the tireless emergency vehicles. But the city is still here. That's primarily what I want to tell you tonight. We are still here -- horrified and stunned and shaken -- but still here. . . . Storefronts are closed everywhere, but not universally -- there seems to be one deli and one pizza joint open on every block, and these places have become shelters and churches, where people come to find both food and comfort. The real churches are still open, too. I met a doorman from Queens tonight who had been guarding his building since 7AM. It was almost midnight, and he was bleary-eyed and weary and nobody was coming in to take his post, but he refused to abandon his building. 'Seventy-six apartments in there,' he said, gesturing behind him. 'I'm not letting down my guard. No van or truck is parking in front of this building tonight, I'll tell you that. I don't care if I have to go after someone with a baseball bat -- nobody's messin' with this building.' I felt safer somehow knowing that this one piece of New York was in his hands. A man on his cellphone, complaining to a friend as he walked down the street, gave those around him the first smile of the day with this line: "Damn! Last week my wife was tryin' to kill me, now the A-rabs are tryin' to get me." He seemed equally unthreatened by both. And here's the oddly most comforting assurance that business continues as usual in New York tonight. I locked my bike up to a parking sign for an hour this evening and came back to find that someone had stolen my back tire. . . ."



NEW YORK’S BURNING 09/12/2001


The Internet is awash with comments on yesterday’s terrible terrorist attacks. Mick Hume, editor of Spiked argues that "The response to this week's attacks has exposed the fact that America's new world order stands on rather fragile foundations. Underneath the rhetoric, it is a sham. The overwhelming sense in Washington is not of order, but of the world being out of control. How else could a terrorist assault, even as audacious and awful as this one was, throw America and the West into such total panic and produce headlines like 'The day that changed the world'? After all, America is not under attack from a rival empire seeking to defeat it on the global stage. The explosions that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre did not move the centre of world power one inch away from Washington. Yet the attack has made such an impact on the anxious and insecure Western elites that there is serious talk of it causing an economic recession. . . . It is not the act of terrorism itself that has changed the course of history, but the reaction to it may well do so. . . . [I]t is important to remember that the havoc in America was brought about not so much by modern developments as by old-fashioned fervour and zealotry. It was, as the UK Guardian points out, 'a low-tech but devastating assault'. The harsh truth is that there is no way to guard absolutely against such an extraordinary event. Worse, by adopting a precautionary approach to modern life, and reorganising society on the basis of worst-case scenarios, we risk squandering opportunities to create a more progressive, civilised world. We have already witnessed how, as well as evoking feelings of human solidarity, a tragedy like the massacres in America can prompt people to turn in on themselves. Thus America's reaction was effectively to cut itself off from the rest of the world. And from New York to the City of London, the response of millions of people on hearing what had happened was to go home and take shelter, as if the explosions had blown a hole in all of our lives. For a decade or more we have wasted far too much time and energy dwelling on relatively trivial fears, whether about the chemicals in our coffee or economy-class syndrome. Maybe now, in the face of adversity, people will rediscover the resilience and resourcefulness that made us capable of going out and building a modern wonder like Manhattan in the first place."

In The Guardian, British novelist Ian McEwan writes that "These were the kind of events that Hollywood has been imagining these past decades in the worst of its movies. But American reality always outstrips the imagination. And even the best minds, the best or darkest dreamers of disaster on a gigantic scale, from Tolstoy and Wells to Don DeLillo, could not have delivered us into the nightmare available on television news channels yesterday afternoon. For most of us, at a certain point, the day froze, the work and all other obligations were left behind, the screen became the only reality. We entered a dreamlike state. We had seen this before, with giant budgets and special effects, but so badly rehearsed. . . . Always, it seemed, it was what we could not see that was so frightening. We saw the skyscrapers, the tilting plane, the awful impact, the cumuli of dust engulfing the streets. But we were left to imagine for ourselves the human terror inside the airliner, down the corridors and elevator lobbies of the stricken buildings, or in the streets below as the towers collapsed on to rescue workers and morning crowds. Eyewitnesses told us of office workers jumping from awesome heights, but we did not see them. The screaming, the heroism and reasonable panic, the fumbling in semi-darkness for mobile phones -- it was our safe distance from it all that was so horrifying. No blood, no screams. The Greeks, in their tragedies, wisely kept these worst of moments off stage, out of the scene. Hence the word: obscene. This was an obscenity. We were watching death on an unbelievable scale, but we saw no one die. The nightmare was in this gulf of imagining. The horror was in the distance. . . . Yesterday afternoon, for a dreamlike, immeasurable period, the appearance was of total war, and of the world's mightiest empire in ruins. That sense of denial which accompanies all catastrophes kept nagging away: this surely isn't happening. I'll blink and it will be gone. Like millions, perhaps billions around the world, we knew we were living through a time that we would never be able to forget. We also knew, though it was too soon to wonder how or why, that the world would never be the same. We knew only that it would be worse."

My favourite headline comes courtesy of Alisa Solomon in Village Voice: "THE BASTARDS!" The most touching tribute I have seen so far is Steve Mitchelmore's in the ever-excellent Spike: "Literature is the last thing on our minds today, but literature is how we accommodate today's impossible news."


PRODUCT PLACEMENT IN FICTION 09/12/2001


Fay Weldon has made literary history by becoming the first prominent author to use product placement in a novel. Maev Kennedy writes in The Guardian that "The arts world was divided between shock and hilarity . . . at the news that the latest novel from the best-selling author Fay Weldon has been sponsored by the Italian jewellery firm Bulgari -- with a requirement in her contract for at least a dozen mentions of its products. The book is believed to be the first instance of a literary author being directly commissioned by a commercial company to write a novel. . . . Ms Weldon told the New York Times: 'When the approach came through I thought, oh no, dear me, I am a literary author. You can't do this kind of thing; my name will be mud forever. But after a while I thought, I don't care. Let it be mud. They never give me the Booker prize anyway.' Her agent, Giles Gordon, was exultant. 'The door is open and now the sky is the limit,' he said. 'I've suggested that in her next book she includes a whole string of top companies, Disney, Levis, McDonald's, the lot, and we write to all of them and say 'Ms Weldon is including a mention of your fine company in her next book, what do you reckon?''"

American author Bill Fitzhugh was, apparently, the first to introduce product placement into fiction: "If, in the final accounting, I am remembered for nothing else, at least I will be remembered as the man who ruined literature once and for all. . . . How did I do it? Simple. I became the first novelist to use product placement in a work of fiction. Product placement, for you literary purists, is a form of advertising previously restricted to the famously whorish mediums of television and film. . . . Flash forward 16 years. I'm in the throes of writing Cross Dressing, a satire on religion and advertising. My research has me neck-deep in obscure Catholic theology and modern advertising theory when a thought occurs to me. Sadly, it isn't an idea about character development or an ingenious plot twist. Rather it is about how to get some publicity for the book's release. . . . I'm in the business of writing books. Unfortunately it's not enough just to write them; they must be marketed as well. And, in the US at least, publishers are not famous for how well they market the books of their mid-list authors. Without marketing, fewer people know about your book. When fewer people know about your book, fewer buy it. When fewer people buy your book, you'll soon be looking for a new publishing contract. Thus the crass consideration. . . . Since my protagonist is a hotshot in the advertising business and since much of the book satirises American hyper-consumerism, I thought it might be considered 'newsworthy' (and ironic) if I made Cross Dressing the first novel to feature product placement. . . . Just before the book came out, my publisher sent copies of Cross Dressing to magazines and newspapers, with letters explaining the product placement deal in the hopes of generating some publicity. It worked. Brill's Content and Publisher's Weekly did articles on the deal. Time magazine and Entertainment Weekly both made mention of it as well. The only problem was, no one seemed to get the joke. It was clear from the articles that certain people in the book world were taking exception to the deal. The gist of what they were saying was that I had cheapened either literature in general, or the novel form in particular. . . ."



FROM GENESIS TO REVELATION 09/09/2001


I really enjoyed reading Michael Bracewell’s short piece entitled “Punk Rock is the New Bloomsbury Group” in The Independent this summer. Here are a few extracts: “On a warm spring evening in May 1976, I caught my first glimpse of a real punk. It was during a visit to the Young Vic theatre, and the punk in question looked about 16, on a school trip with the English teacher. The sheer impact of his appearance was derived from an assemblage of details which, quite simply, had never been seen before. People actually did stop and stare at him – almost literally with their mouths hanging open. Vitally, this was way before punk had become recognisable mainstream style; this was a look cooked-up in a bedroom, with customised bits of old school uniform. . . . Of all the younger people in the audience at the Young Vic that night, most of the girls were dressed in mutton-sleeve blouses and dungaree-bibbed dresses, and most of the boys were wearing patterned shirts with enormous collars and brown flared trousers. . . . In the midst of all this, our one young punk was like a dropped bomb. He looked like he’d cut his hair with a blunt bread knife and then dyed it with the dregs of school ink. On the back of his school shirt he had written the legend ‘1976’ in Biro, and beneath it – in letters which kind of got smaller and didn’t quite fit, the words ‘SEX PISTOLS’. On top of all this, he had a safety pin through his ear. Women were disgusted, men were openly hostile. People were actually saying that he made them feel sick. The effect was mesmeric in a way which would very soon – in a matter of weeks, almost – become impossible to achieve. . . .” For those of you old enough to have been there, what did you think when you saw your first punk? Mine was walking towards a telephone booth in Wimbledon of all places. He wore a spray-painted jean jacket and orange spiky hair. And by the way, Richard, where’s that interview with Michael Bracewell?



THE SOUND OF NOW 06/09/2001


Two American bands dominated the news in Britain during the summer. Detroit duo The White Stripes were described as “The Sound of Now!” by the NME. On 11 August, James Oldham wrote: “That The White Stripes are incredible is beyond doubt. That no one in Britain really knows who they are yet besides the point. In a weeks’ time, no one will be talking about anything else.” A few days later most British dailies were running articles on The White Stripes. The excitement surrounding The Strokes was even greater. A three-track demo by the New York five-piece was snapped up by legendary English indie label Rough Trade and released in January 2001. By August, The Strokes had appeared twice on the cover of the NME and were being hailed as the best band in the world. When their first album Is This It was finally released most critics agreed that it lived up to the hype. The album will be available in the United States on September 25 (RCA).



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