Dasein, Red Elephant.

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Writers & Writing category.

Pinter: Ambivalent Dramatist


I've been taking a break from blogging to try to work on several college essays. One in particular, focuses on the use of language in Harold Pinter's plays. I'm not particularly interested in Pinter's work but hopefully I'll get to learn something new about how language is used in the theatrical platform.

In his Nobel Lecture, Pinter elaborates on the disconnection of meaning behind drama:

Truth in drama is forever elusive. You never quite find it but the search for it is compulsive. The search is clearly what drives the endeavour. The search is your task. More often than not you stumble upon the truth in the dark, colliding with it or just glimpsing an image or a shape which seems to correspond to the truth, often without realising that you have done so. But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.

Pinter is not difficult to read as he doesn't seem to enjoy demonstrating his erudite knowledge, unlike the pompous but entertaining Tom Stoppard. However, when one reads his plays, one encounters an irresistable urge to understand the purpose of each individual's conversation. It's somehow reassuring to know that every sentence goes somewhere, refers to something and is not just ambigious chatter that fills the silence inbetween.
More to come on Pinter.

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Alan Moore Interview: V for Vendetta

V reading Thomas Pynchon.

The Beat has a fascinating interview with Alan Moore, the legendary English writer who wrote canonical graphic novels such as the Watchmen, V for Vendetta (yes, the movie starring Natalie Portman) and From Hell, a brillant, complex and polyphonic semi-biography of Jack the Ripper. Moore's writing completely revolutionized the comics industry and his poetic, lyrical style brought an incredible density to characters such as Swamp Thing, a figure erstwhile considered to be too emotionally vacant to depict in a meaningful way.

In this interview, he expresses his general disgust for the American comics and film industry:

I'm perhaps overstating my case here a bit, but I think I lent an awful lot of literary and intellectual credibility to the American comics business and to the comics business in general when I entered it. I don't feel the same way about comics any more, I really don’t. I never loved the comic industry. I used to love the comics medium. I still do love the comics medium in its pure platonic, essential form, but the comics medium as it stands seems to me to have been allowed to become a cucumber patch for producing new movie franchise.



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Bagombo Snuff Box

Kurt Vonnegut, by Jeff Nicholson.

Kurt Vonnegut's Bagombo Snuff Box, a collection of his first magazine stories from the 1950s is a book I've been planning to read. From the snippets I've read online at Maurice Institute Library, the book seems pretty enjoyable. Judging from Vonnegut's principles of creative writing, the stories are going to be the equivalent of a Hollywood blockblaster.

In the introduction to Bagombo Snuff Box, Vonnegut describes his contentment with writing stories that satisfied ‘uncritical readers of magazines’:

I was in such good company with a prospectus like that. Hemingway had written for Esquire, F. Scott Fitzgerald for The Saturday Evening Post, William Faulkner for Collier’s, John Steinbeck for The Woman’s Home Companion! Say what you want about me, I never wrote a magazine called The Woman’s Home Companion, but there was a time when I would have been most happy to. And I add this thought: Just because a woman is stuck alone at home, with her husband at work and her kids at school, that doesn’t mean she is an imbecile.

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Ionesco’s Grave

Eugene Ionesco's grave in Montparnesse Cemetary, Paris.

The inscription on the tomb reads: Prier le Je Ne Sais Qui J'espere Jesus-Christ which translates to Pray to the I don't-know-who: Jesus Christ, I hope.

An absurd gesture, a reflective gesture, an anti-pièce technique, a semblance of the mockery of reason in Ionesco's plays. The rest of the 20th century literati, known for a similar existential preoccupation have been remarkly silent: Beckett, Sartre, Camus and Genet all do not have any specific inscription on their graves.

I recently read an interesting passage in Epigraphy of Death: Studies in the History and Society of Greece and Rome. While examining the construction of identity in the military tombstones of Roman Mainze, Valerie Hope writes:

Epitaphs are set up to be read. They communicate to the living information about the dead. Yet to read a gravestone is to read more than the words of the inscription. The object as a whole communicates; its size, decor and location, as well as the epitaph, all summon the attention of the onlooker and together seek to tell a story, however simple. The tombstone evokes the memory of the dead but is set up by the living for the instruction of the living.

What does Ionesco intend, with this final parting repartee?

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Barthelme and Porcupine Balloons


Donald Barthelme. In my opinion, the best short story writer ever. Every single one of his strange rendevous with prose should be made into a movie and played endlessly, looped through a projecter on the impassive face of brick wall of an abandoned building. Midnight to dawn. Let the zombies watch. Let them enjoy it while eating breakfast with careful fringe tucked behind their ears.

The epiphany was never done better, except in Bartheleme's stories. Words created through the terrific pride of a blind trapeze act. Stories develop from a whirlpool narrative that is hidden from view, centrifugal symptoms of which are perceived from the surreal incidents that occur. A long division from numbers that range to infinity and come up right in your face, in the form of a camera obscura or an exploding banana. He looks like my father, with that kind twinkle in his eye.

"Writing is a process of dealing with not-knowing, a forcing of what and how.... The not-knowing is crucial to art, is what permits art to be made. Without the scanning process engendered by not-knowing, without the possibility of having the mind move in unanticipated directions, there would be no invention.... The not-knowing is not simple, because it's hedged about with prohibitions, roads that may not be taken. The more serious the artist, the more problems he takes into account and the more considerations limit his possible initiatives."

--Barthelme, from the essay "Not-Knowing"

Don't even bother going to read his stories here.

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The Diaries of Franz Kafka


Kafka's fascinating diary entries from 1910 – 1923 can be read online in the form of a daily weblog, courtesy of the Kafka project and translater Paul Kerschen. In order not to feel too bad about peeking into his diary (which, at times is intensely personal), I've decided to imagine that Kafka is just another interesting blogger that I read on a regular basis. A torturous entry in 1910 begins:

When it was becoming unbearable – toward one evening in November – and I ran over the narrow rug of my room as along a racetrack, again took fright at the sight of the illuminated street, and yet again found a new destination in the depths of the room at the back of the mirror, and cry out, just to hear the cry, which is answered by nothing and which also relieves nothing of the cry’s force, so that it rises up without a counterweight and cannot stop even if it falls silent, then the door opened out from the wall, so hastily, since haste was badly needed, and even the cart-horses down on the pavement raised themselves on their spread hind legs like horses turned wild in some battle, their throats surrendered.

According to Kerschen, Kafka published this piece, slightly revised and with a few paragraphs added, under the title "Unglücklichsein" ("Unhappiness") as the final story in his 1913 collection Betrachtung (Meditation).

In one of my favorite entries, Kafka blogs writes about how he spent a Sunday:

Sunday, 19 July slept, woke, slept, woke, miserable life.

In another short 1910 entry, Kafka talks about Goethe:

Read a bit of Goethe’s diaries. Distance already holds his life firmly in peace, these diaries set fire to it. The clarity of all the events makes them mysterious, just as a park railing gives the eyes rest from viewing the expanse of farther lawns and yet causes us no corresponding admiration.

It seems the same could be said about his very own diary.

Rest well..K. We miss you.

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Interview with William H.Gass


redelephant: This is a week old. William H.Gass talks to the Boston Globe about his new collection of essays, the Temple of Texts.. In this five minute interview, he starts getting excited about the logic behind the simple to-do list. For Gass, the list is “the power and joy of utterance, of hyperbola and enthusiasms“.

Pick up laundry, call the dentist, visit the cemetary. Lists. I love ’em. Especially online ones. An illusion of productivity. Order admist chaos. Vision of a perfected future. The eye of a hurricane. You get the idea.

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Why Animals, Ted Hughes?


Portrait of Ted Hughes by Sylvia Plath, 1957

While reading Keith Sagar’s The Laughter of Foxes: A Study of Ted Hughes, I came across several quotes from Hughes, explaining the obvious animal symbolism in most of his poems.

Hughes told Ekbert Faas that all the forms of natural life were ‘emissaries from the underworld’. In the 1995 Paris Review interview, Hughes was asked why he chose ‘to speak through animals so often’. He replied:

I suppose, because they were there at the beginning. Like parents. Since I spent my first seventeen or eighteen years constantly thinking about them more or less, they became a language–a symbolic language which is also the language of my whole life. It was … part of the machinery of my mind from the beginning. They are a way of connecting all my deepest feelings together. So, when I look for, or get hold of a feeling of that kind, it tends to bring up the image of an animal or animals simply because that’s the deepest, earliest language that my imagination learned. (81)

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Beckett Turns a Hundred


I'm drooling over the the Beckett Centenary Festival, organized by both the Gate Theatre Dublin and the Barbican, simultaneously in London and Dubin, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Samuel Beckett’s birth. Six delicious weeks of drama, film, talks, visual art and music from the 19 March - 6 May 2006.

Mouth-watering highlights include a collection of Beckett films such as Atom Egoyan’s rendition of Krapp’s Last Tape (featurin John Hurt), Neil Jordan's take on Not I (starring Juliana Moore) as well as several panel discussions on themes of nationalism, politics and existentialism in Beckett's work.

Anyone else wish they could attend? :(


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Kristeva’s Murder in Byzantium


Bulgarian-French literary critic, Julia Kristeva in a recent interview with the Boston Globe to promote her recently translated detective novel, Murder in Byzantium:

''The detective novel deals with the radical evil that is the desire of death," she observed. However, ''contrary to other genres that lull the reader with various illusions, the detective novel is an optimistic genre that says: You cannot eradicate evil, but you can know where it comes from by leading an investigation. This is the optimism of curiosity, of awareness, of questioning."

I love the way she talks about literature. The "radical evil that is the desire of death": a pretty kinky European-Continental way of describing a novel's subject, n'est pas?

Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus

L to R: “Two Women Reading” and “Nine Female Figures” by Sylvia Plath

I'm currently reading and re-reading Sylvia Plath's Colossus and Ariel poems. If you haven't read Plath before, this should be a good starting point. . Almost too many books have been devoted to the analysis of Plath's poetry, and because of our morbid fascination with suicide and tragedy, to her personal life. On the other hand, not much has been written about Plath's incredible oratorial stye of poetry reading. Her famous reading of Lady Lazarus for the BBC shows an extraordinary forceful enunciation that fits the poem's bitterness. Taking on some sort of an British semi-accent, the poem is spat out with controlled disgust and has so much aural power that it is almost difficult to listen to.

A collection of comments on Lady Lazarus. Link

Kerouac and the Navy

pmaher-340-Kerouac450.jpgsmJack Kerouac20.jpg

"A decade before On the Road was published, Jack Kerouac evinced "strong schizoid trends" that led military officials to declare him unfit for service..he landed in the hospital, where he was examined by medical personnel who initially concluded that Kerouac suffered from dementia..."

From Kerouac's medical record:

"Patient states he believes he might have been nervous when in boot camp because he had been working too hard just prior to induction. He had been writing a novel, in the style of James Joyce, about his own home town, and averaging approximately 16 hours daily in an effort to get it down.This was an experiment and he doesn't intend to publish. At present he is writing a novel about his experiences in the Merchant Marine."

Last year's news. But if you're a fan of Kerouac, the silly diagnostic barbs might be worth a quick read. Link

Baudelaire, still a pervert.

Charles Baudelaire by Gustave Corbert (L) and Henri Matisse (R).

"If he were alive today...would Charles Baudelaire employ venture capital for a sinister new internet startup, Fleurs du Mal Inc? Would Arthur Rimbaud use information technology to disorder the senses? Would any of them, were they alive today, find some way to advance literature by means of artificial intelligence?"

Fetishistic, schizophrenic and iconoclast extraordinaire, Supervert is celebrating the two year anniversary of their Baudelaire site by uploading new translations of Fleurs du Mal. The site also features several new audio files, recitations of poems from Baudelaire's famous discourse of poetic evilness.

Writing and Research Paralysis

Lady Writing a Letter (vermeer)_jpg.jpglady-writing.jpgvermeer-wtrpitcher.jpgvermeer.jpgguitar-player.jpg

While reading Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power, I came across the problem of ‘research paralysis’: the suffocation of a writer’s creativity by the sheer breadth and depth of the research process. This is something that happens to me most of the time, always leading me to some form of turpid procrastination. Elbow illustrates a common situation and offers some practical solutions..

Continue reading this entry »

Reading Poetry, Saying Hello

Allen Ginsberg.jpgSeamus_Heaney.jpgmain.jpgpaz.jpgsnyder.jpg

Recently came across an awesome collection of hour long videos featuring interviews with writers on their work. Some of the lovely videos include rare poetry readings by poets in both dingy clubs and posh auditoriums. Featured writers include Seamus Heaney, Allen Ginsberg, Kazuo Ishiguro,William H.Gass (rare!), Czeslaw Milosz and crazy dharma bum Japhy Ryder, Gary Synder himself! A must see.

The Forsyth Library. Link

Portraits and Biography

The photographic image is the object itself, the object freed from the conditions of time and space that govern it. No matter how fuzzy, distorted, or discolored, no matter how lacking in documentary value the image may be, it shares, by virtue of the very process of its becoming, the being of the model of which it is the representation; it is the model.

Hence the charm of family albums. Those grey or sepia shadows, phantomlike and almost undecipherable, are no longer traditional family portraits but rather the disturbing presence of lives halted at a set moment in their duration, freed from their destiny; not, however, by the prestige of art but by the power of an impassive mechanical process: for photography does not create eternity, as art does, it embalms time, rescuing it simply from its proper corruption.

André Bazin, "The Ontology of the Photographic Image", What Is Cinema? Vol. 1

I'm fascinated with the portraits of writers, which I feel, is often an extension of the authorial persona. In many ways, the photograph contradicts the frozen stylistic manuevers of the written word: Here is a woman or man standing, sitting, before a bookshelf, smoking or in avid concentration over coffee cup tables. There's a guarded psychological openness to the image. An intentional oxymoron if there ever was one.

Which brings me to the art of looking intellectual.. among all the arts, writers have an uncanny ability to make themselves look as if they were quietly engorged with Sphynx like wisdom. Artists, musicians, dancers, actors don't quite have that kind of air.

I'll start this post off with good ole Beckett who I always felt was a humanized Giacometti sculpture.


Beckett in his youth.


Beckett with conspicously half opened manuscript.

Cigar boy with anarchic Dionysian hair.
Love that pensive gaze.


Quiet in the corner.

The glasses really accentuate the look. Intense.


Dean-ish turnaround glance.


Age and shadows. He looks carved out of wood.


My favorite picture of Beckett. You can see the daylight coming in through the windows on the left. One gets the feeling that there is a whole day ahead of him. This is a picture that perfectly exemplifies Bazin's ontological vision of photography: ripped out from the destiny of the everyday while lovingly coccooned in a ever-accessible present.

The Art of Free Writing

Random picture of smartypants Sartre doing what he does best: getting cancer and writing voluminous books. Don't it make you feel like writing?

I started reading some writing books/manuals in order to write better essays and came across Peter Elbow’s Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process, an interesting book with several coherent ideas on developing your own unimitable style of prose.

So, free writing. What is it?

Peter Elbow sayz:

“So much writing time and energy is spent not writing: wondering, worrying, crossing out, having second, third, and fourth thoughts. And it's easy to get stopped even in the middle of a piece. (This is why Hemingway made a rule for himself never to end one sheet and start a new one except in the middle of a sentence.) Frequent freewriting exercises help you learn simply to get on with it and not be held back by worries about whether these words are good words or the right words.”

How do you free-write?

  1. Set a time limit – say 10 minutes.
  2. Start writing whatever comes to mind for the duration of 10 minutes.
  3. Do not stop at any point untill the time is up.

Elbow has some specific advice for this:

“You may stay on one topic, you may flip repeatedly from one to another: it doesn't matter. Sometimes you will produce a good record of your stream of consciousness, but often you can't keep up. Speed is not the goal, though sometimes the process revs you up. If you can't think of anything to write, write about how that feels or repeat over and over "I have nothing to write" or "Nonsense" or "No." If you get stuck in the middle of a sentence or thought, just repeat the last word or phrase till something comes along. The only point is to keep writing.”

So what are the benefits of doing this?

  1. Regular freewriting helps make the writing process transparent
  2. Freewriting helps you learn to write when you don't feel like writing.
  3. Freewriting helps you to think of topics to write about and allows you to follow threads where they lead.
  4. Freewriting flat out improves your writing, yo.

Who knows, you might up with with sweet pure To the Lighthouse rhetoric.

Peter Elbow (How Quaint!) Bio

PETER ELBOW is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author of several books, including Embracing Contraries: Explorations in Learning and Teaching (Oxford UP, 1986), Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process (Oxford UP, 1981) and his most recent, Being A Writer (McGraw-Hill, 2002).


Interview with Peter Elbow on Writing. Good Read! Link

An uber excellent resource on writing. Special focus on academic work/essays. Some links on the page are dead but most are alright. Includes links to the online writing centers for several American universities. Extremely bookmarkable. Link
More posts on writing to come.