December 18, 2006

Watching landscape roll out like credits on a screen

Ilya Bolotowsky, Scarlet Diamond, 1981

* Joe Conason: For a Real Change in Iraq, Negotiate. excerpt:

"Before the publication of the Iraq Study Group report, predictions abounded that the committee, chaired by James Baker III and Lee Hamilton, would offer little new and nothing radical. Bipartisan mush in soft covers seemed the most likely product of any Washington group whose first imperative was unanimity."
"Its recommendations on security and military forces, for example, begin with a clear admonition: 'There is no action the American military can take that, by itself, can bring about success in Iraq.' Which is obvious enough, except to a few politicians and commentators urging an impossible escalation of tens of thousands of troops. Then the same section goes on to urge the Iraqi government—as the report repeatedly does throughout its 100 pages—to 'accelerate the urgently needed national reconciliation program to which it has already committed.'

"In other words, any changes in military policy are ancillary to negotiations among the warring factions (and their foreign sponsors). Actually, the report is quite explicit in demanding that the authorities in Baghdad and Washington sit down with their armed opponents to talk about every relevant issue—including the date for the withdrawal of American troops.

"Outlining the steps that the Bush administration can take to assist in reconciliation, the report recommends open negotiations on the presence of American forces. Although the committee members oppose setting any timetables or deadlines for withdrawal, they acknowledge that the insurgents must be convinced that a 'successful national reconciliation dialogue will advance that departure date.' Recommendation 34 deserves to be quoted in full: 'The question of the future US force presence must be on the table for discussion as the national reconciliation dialogue takes place. Its inclusion will increase the likelihood of participation by insurgents and militia leaders, and thereby increase the possibilities for success.'"
"Equally critical to the advancement of negotiations—with both the internal enemies of the Iraqi government and neighboring states—is a plain statement by President Bush that the United States has no plans for permanent military bases in Iraq and no desire to control its oil resources. The ambitions once cherished by neoconservatives must be explicitly abandoned.

"Whether this plan can accomplish broad pacification and the eventual disarming of the militias and insurgents, as envisioned by the Iraq Study Group, is subject to doubt. The appalling and senseless attacks on innocent civilians that occur every day do not encourage hope. But the time has come to insist on realistic measures that will permit most of our troops to come home within the coming year. Unless the president understands that he must pursue negotiation and amnesty rather than an illusory victory, his promised 'change of course' will only be more of the same, and worse."

* Old Bookslut interview of author David Markson. excerpt:

Bookslut: How does it make you feel, not being as widely acclaimed as many of us believe you should be? Is it frustrating?

Markson: Listen, you write the way you do because you have to, and because it's who you are. But nice things happen too, reputation or no. Just recently, for example, a letter from someone here in town, whom I don't know at all, wanting nothing, simply telling me that if I need anything -- if I want to say 'lift this' or 'move that' -- I should give him a call. Or someone else, saying that he's recently read Wittgenstein for a second time, and that he did it aloud, sitting alone in his apartment and speaking the entire book to himself, simply to capture the rhythms and taking two days to do so. Or then again, on a much more concrete level, at least two books about my work are being written that I'm aware of, and several essays or chapters in critical studies, and so forth. What more can someone in my position ask for? In some small way you're finally paying back the debt you owe to those books that moved you and got you started in the first place -- books like Lowry's, in my case, Willie Gaddis' The Recognitions, Joyce, any number of others. Or am I making all this sound precious, here? [Laughing]

BS: Speaking of influences, of other books -- I want to make a point to mention the size of your personal library, hanging on all the walls surrounding us, floor to ceiling.

Markson: Actually, there were more. I've sold off quite a few in the last ten years or so, just for breathing space. And in all honesty, I've been very tempted lately to dump the whole lot of them.

BS: Wow. Why would you do that?

Markson: -For starters, I'm seventy-seven -- toward what eventuality am I holding onto them? How many of them am I going to reread? Over there to your right, the fiction -- Hardy, George Eliot, Dickens, even Faulkner, whom I once worshipped -- am I ever going to open 99% of them again?

BS: First editions?

Markson: Oh, sure, some. My Catch-22, probably. I knew Joe Heller before he wrote it, so I bought it as soon as it came out. Portnoy's Complaint also, since I'd read excerpts beforehand. Four or five Faulkners. And others, I'm sure. But they're all in the same beat-up condition as the rest.

BS: Are any of them inscribed?

Markson: Some are, yes. But I've generally been so broke that the most valuable of those I've sold long since. Like my Under The Volcano, say, or Dylan Thomas. Or an On the Road. Which, incidentally, Jack was so drunk when I asked him to sign it that he jammed the pen right through the flyleaf.

BS: Kerouac, Lowry, Gaddis, man. Quite a roster of past masters. Where did I read that you no longer pay attention to more recent fiction?

Markson: It's true. Any fiction, really. I hate to admit it, and I don't really understand it, but it's some years now -- it just seems to have gone dead for me. Not just recent stuff, but even novels that I've deeply cared about -- I try to reread and there's none of the reaction I used to get, none of the aesthetic excitement or whatever one wants to call it, all a blank. With one exception of course -- I can always reread Ulysses. In fact I went through it twice, consecutively, just a few years ago. But hell, that's not like reading a novel, it's more like reading the King James Bible. Or Shakespeare. You're at it for the language. But even The Recognitions, which I think is categorically the best American novel of the twentieth century, just doesn't do anything similar for me. It did, the first four times I read it -- and four is not an exaggeration, by the way, in spite of its length -- but the last time out it just went flat. It's not the books, I'm sure, it's me -- I'm just not bringing the same receptiveness to them that I used to.

BS: To change the topic -- or maybe not to -- I've been sitting here staring at that ancient typewriter near where you're sitting. Do you not have a computer anywhere?

Markson: People have begun to laugh at me, finally, for holding out. In fact, an amusing story about it. A young woman called me the other day, from France, a college student wanting me to solve a disagreement about Wittgenstein's Mistress she's been having with her professor. And then she said something about e-mailing me, and I told her I had no computer. So then she asked, "But what do you write on, a typing machine?" 'Typing machine,' I loved it. And it wasn't any question about faulty English, because she spoke flawlessly. So what I realized was that she was young enough so that the word 'typewriter' had never once been part of her active vocabulary. Like 'gaslight' or something, for somebody my age.

* "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself than this incessant business." -- Henry David Thoreau


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