May 8, 2006

I'm not ready to face a thing today

money creates taste, jenny holzer

* Wolcott. excerpt:

"A note about the Stephen Colbert monologue at the Correspondents' Dinner that Elisabeth Bumiller seems to have slept through face-down in her entree. No question the stint played better on TV than it did in the room with C-SPAN cutting to gowned lovelies in the audience with glaceed expressions and tuxedo'd men making with the nervous eyes, but to say he 'bombed' or 'stunk up the place' (Jonah Goldberg's usual elegance) is wishful thinking on behalf of the wishful thinkers on the right, who have nothing but wishful thinking to prop them up during the day.

"I know what bombing looks like. It looks like Don Imus when he did a standup monologue before President and Hillary Clinton, and went over so badly that sweat broke out in rivulets down his face and in parts unseen. What triggered the perspiration cascade was a sexual innuendo about how Clinton rooted for his favorite football team by yelling, 'Go baby!' at the TV, which Imus remarked was probably not the first time he had voiced such a giddyup--an allusion to Clinton's poontang exploits, if you'll pardon the expression. Imus gave such a crass performance and caused such embarrassment to himself and everybody in the room that there were calls for apologies and he was in danger of being as contaminated as Whoopie Goldberg and Ted Danson briefly were after their unfortunate blackface episode.

"See, that was Colbert's mistake. He didn't slip in any smutty lines. Had he done so, his standup would have been impossible to ignore as the Fox News hotheads would have gone into full outrage mode to defend the honor of Laura Bush and her virgin ears. Instead, Colbert was cool, methodical, and mercilessly ironic, not getting rattled when the audience quieted with discomfort (and resorting to self-deprecating 'savers,' as most comedians do), but closing in on the kill, as unsparing of the press as he was of the president. I mean no disrespect to Jon Stewart to say that in the same circumstances, he would have resorted to shtick; Colbert didn't. Apart from flubbing the water-half-empty joke about Bush's poll ratings, he was in full command of his tone, comic inflection, and line of attack. The we-are-not-amused smile Laura Bush gave him when he left the podium was a priceless tribute to the displeasure he incurred. To me, Colbert looked very relaxed after the Bushes left the room and he greeted audience members, signed autographs. And why wouldn't he be? He achieved exactly what he wanted to achieve, delivered the message he intended to deliver. Mission accomplished."

* Video of Billie Holliday singing Fine and Mellow, from 1957.

* Interivew of George Saunders. [via] excerpt:

BT: You pick up on a sort of campy but unsettling beauty in the way we all agree to talk in conversation, in meetings, on TV. How do you go about making that literary?

George Saunders: I never had a sense of what literary language should be like, and when I tried to do it, it always came out like Thomas Wolfe on quaaludes — where you describe the same thing three times. 'The black table... The flat ebony plane...' So then I started to think that maybe the natural, inadvertent poetics was right. I suppose for me it came out of my unconventional background as a writer. Everywhere I went, expression was imperfect, but expression was also poetic. In Chicago, where I grew up, people didn't often sit down and express their feelings directly. There were always these beautiful indirect expressions. And in the corporate world there was this weird indirection, as well. Even when I overhear somebody on their cell phone up here on campus. If you forget the phone, and just think of it as a poem, it's unbelievable: 'Mom, I told this fucking guy I was too hungover! What are you talking about, Mom? I was too wasted, I couldn't call you.' The idea is that you have to listen, and then you purify it a little bit."
BT: Last year, you published the novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil. Have you ever been tempted to try a novel?

GS: Well, I interviewed Jhumpa Lahiri here last night as part of the Syracuse lectures series. She said something really interesting: that when she went from the story to the novel she could just feel that the DNA of it was different. And I don't know that I've really felt that — with Phil or with the other novellas. My initial tendency is always to rush to the door, finish the story, and get the hell out. But with the novellas I realized that, while I still did want to rush to the door, I had these six bags that I had to move one at a time. So it really wasn't fundamentally different in the execution. It's funny, in each case, I would try to go for 50 more pages, but no way. There's some sort of fundamental switch that has to be thrown before it can go for three of four hundred pages. You can't just keep the exposition going at the price of the rising action. So in that story, I had all this nice side stuff, but it just slowed everything down so it had to come out.

* "Each time you find yourself at a turning point, the best thing is to lie down and let hours pass. Resolutions made standing up are worthless: they are dictated either by pride or by fear. Prone, we still know these two scourges, but in a more attenuated, more intemporal form." - E M Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born


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