November 28, 2006

All secrets sleep in winter clothes

Gerhard Richter, Abstract Painting 780-1, 1992

* David Byrne:

"The president’s speechwriters may go on about promoting democracy and ridding the world of evil, and Simple George may come to believe his own pronouncements (not uncommon at all for that to happen in a powerful person) but his court and ministers agree that the invasion was 'to make an example of Hussein….so that no one would have the temerity to acquire destructive weapons …or to flout the authority of the United States.' [Quote from Ron Suskind via NYRB.]

"The American Century doctrine, to which all those guys signed on, in a nutshell.
"Though oil is never mentioned it seems obvious to me that the biggest practical advantage to being boss in that part of the world is to control the resources that lie underground. The continuation of the U.S. as a power depends on it — our dependence on foreign oil makes a certainty of that. So of course the Alpha dog looks after its own best interests, that’s its nature, and a dog can’t be faulted for being a dog. But we can at least see it for what it is, without all the nice wrapping, and ask if it really is in all of our best interests, of if in this case the dog claims it’s acting for all the pack, in all our interests, but it has in fact been swept away by a fever of self-importance and self-righteousness.

"There can indeed be dual realities. The reality of events — chaos, death, fear — and the reality of the imagination — progress, idealism and faith. Fiction and storytelling are stronger than fact — we 'make' facts out of fiction. We use fictions to order and interpret evidence. The imagination runs the senses. Until the disconnect is overwhelming and we search for a new story.

"We do this in our personal lives and in politics. Nations are people, a person even, and the storytellers guide us to realize our secret desires and wants. It feels better if we all tell the same story. The most gripping fiction feels inexorable, inevitable.

"I’m obsessed with all this — with how we can do what, either in retrospect or in the cold light of day, is obviously wrong, counterproductive and harmful — both to ourselves, ultimately, and to others. I guess some of the interest is research for the Imelda project, which portrays a person acting out her childhood needs and wishes on a global scale. Again, a Freudian view, to some extent — in that it seems to adhere to his formulations of repressed desire (not just sexual) and unconscious needs acting as a hidden hand, guiding our behavior and decisions. I sense that women have pretty much always accepted the idea of secret and unconscious desire motivating action — it might be harder for men to accept — to men it might seem like spiritism. I’m not interested in his Oedipal theories — though more than one person has mentioned Bush Jr.’s relationship to his dad as a motivating force. I think maybe Sigmund might have been fishing with some of that stuff, or maybe he made up those stories in order to tell to himself."

* From a 1981 NYT review of Liars in Love, the second collection of short stories by Richard Yates (now part of The Collected Stories of Richard Yates):

"Though Richard Yates's first collection of short stories, 'Eleven Kinds of Loneliness,' is now hard to come by, the mere mention of its title is enough to produce quick, affirmative nods from a whole generation of readers. It has become something of a cult book, evoking in one's memory a series of poignant glimpses into the lives of Manhattan office workers, would-be novelists hacking away at lowly trade journals, male residents of New York's outer boroughs more closely bonded to their Friday night drinking buddies than to their yearning and frustrated women. The stories stand up well to a later reading. Less subtle, less detached, less verbally adept than Joyce, Yates nonetheless created - in such pieces as 'The Best of Everything,' 'Wrestling With Sharks' and 'The B.A.R. Man' - what is almost the New York equivalent of ''Dubliners': the exposure of the small, fiercely defended dignities and much vaster humiliations of characters who might have been picked almost at random from the fat telephone book of the Borough of Queens.

"Yates's novels all contain episodes of considerable power, but none of them -not even the widely acclaimed 'Revolutionary Road' - has had for me the impact of half a dozen stories in 'Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.' Scrupulous in its realism, honorable in its refusal to evade embarrassment or failure, the longer fiction seems less able than the short to escape the prison of an (apparently) autobiographical self into the freely imagined lives of others. Repeatedly in the novels we encounter the same protagonist, whether as the insecure child of a divorced, self-deluding mother, as a persecuted boy in 'A Good School,' as a rookie soldier awaiting the tests of battle and sex, or as a young man struggling within the trap of premature marriage and parenthood; in 'Disturbing the Peace' we follow a similar figure into alcoholism and breakdown. Even when the protagonist is a woman, as in 'Easter Parade,' much the same pattern prevails. It is as if Yates were under some enchantment that compelled him to keep circling the same half-acre of pain.

"In terms of their preoccupations, the seven stories that make up 'Liars in Love' have more in common with the novels than with 'Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.' Avoiding the present, most of the stories reach back into the childhood or the young manhood of a protagonist that we quickly recognize. But once again the short form has proved both congenial and effective; several of the new pieces are as fine as anything Yates has written.

* The North Beach Branch of the San Francisco Public Library presents: Return to Return: An Early Evening of Poetry with Sharon Doubiago and klipschutz Tuesday, November, 28, 2006, 7 p.m. sharp, free to the public. Location: 2000 Mason Street (at Columbus) 415-355-5626.

* "If you are trying to transform a brutalized society into one where people can live in dignity and hope, you begin with the empowering of the most powerless. You build from the ground up." -- Adrienne Rich


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