Category Archives: Notes

They rarely know even what they don’t know

There was a post here that isn’t here any more, because I’ve decided not to write about writing until I have something new to say which likely won’t happen. Nothing lasts, go forth unto the world, google cache it, forever and ever amen.






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Some things about vomiting

1) “The family further states that, when she vomited in the dark room in which she was lying, the matter ejected smoke, and gave, when stirred, a phosphorescent gleam, like that of a match rubbed in the dark against the palm.” (January 1, 1876; The New York Times; via)

2) Reminded of Cortazar’s short story, and the way he wants to let Andrea know that he is vomiting rabbits in her apartment is this way: “I was sending this letter to you because of the rabbits, it seems only fair to let you know; and because I like to write letters, and maybe too because it’s raining.”


There is a way for your body to stay intact and your insides to turn to jelly, which is something we learned from World War I that is now a plot device on tv crime dramas. Air as a potential lethal weapon. There’s no visible wounds or outside damage but your organs get destroyed, on account of the air waves.



The air as an effect of the explosion, yes. But it’s still the air that kills you, in the end. Ruptures your delicate lungs. And then there’s the Russian’s with their supposed  “acoustic bullets”: low frequency modulators that can induce nausea. It’s acoustic weaponry: high enough decibels could send out compression waves and kill you, while low enough frequencies could make you sick.

So for instance a goodbye. If someone said this at the right decibel level (around 200), it could kill you. But at its current level it’s not lethal, just sort of swimmingly nauseating: a weird kind of nauseating, a phosphorescent kind, a cute-bunny kind of nauseating. A low frequency modulator.

On the other hand: they’re also working on a prototype of a device that uses sound waves to stop internal bleeding. Sort of the yes baby always of Potential Sound Wave Uses.

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It’s a book about a man who builds in order to feel

From Anthem:

I found a lot of similarities between Synecdoche and this novel, Remainder, by Tom McCarthy…

This script, for the record, [was] written before that novel came out. I saw a review of that thing [Remainder]; I was freaked out. I intentionally did not read it. I have not read it. I hadn’t made the movie yet, and I didn’t want to have any kind of influence [from] it. But like I said, this script was written before that came out. I saw it online and I thought, A) oh fuck, and B) this is a book that I would read, normally. This sounds like a cool book. But I won’t. And I haven’t. And I probably at some point I will, but I don’t know…now it might be awful to read it. It might be like, Oh, he had this great idea that I didn’t have and I cant do anything about it.

This is a really, really intense fear; by which I mean that he is terribly worried about authenticity for his film that is really authenticity-fear times a huge, huge number. I mean, you’ve had this idea about repetition and then someone repeats it. 

Do you remember that Improv Everywhere sketch? The one where they repeated the same actions over and over again in a Starbucks? 

Best line of the day from the old people: “You know, there’s another Starbucks right over there, I bet this is all happening there, too.”

In trauma theory it’s called repetition compulsion: the desire to repeat a traumatic event as a way to “master the overwhelming feelings of the traumatic moment.” For Kaufman and McCarthy it is, anyway, or was, until the traumatic thing is just your life and what it is is repetition fetish. But that’s why this sketch is so so very good and maybe a little terrifying, because it’s not working out something, or healing, it’s just a joke– like what would happen if you got stuck in some sort of time loop, and isn’t it a totally sane way to react to think that it’s probably happening somewhere else too? Like that question about Groundhog’s Day: I mean, it’s funny, right? But also something else maybe?

One of the things in Remainder is that when the character thinks he’s getting one of his re-enactments right he has a tingling sensation, in his body. Has anyone explained this for real? Heavy Metals! I think what girls told each other is that it meant someone was walking over your grave, or your future grave, or where your future grave is supposed to be. It’s been happening to me a lot recently. I can’t figure out my skin this week. 

For the Re-enactor in Remainder though, as Zadie Smith says, “the feeling is addictive.” That whole essay is really good, which I am willing to stand behind with the force of upwards of twenty-something September 11th novels at my back and an extreme appreciation for the accessibility and keenness of Smith’s writing. Which, though, it took me two hours to get through because everything I read reminded me of something else. Nothing more so than this:

Remainder went to Vintage Books in America and picked up a Film Four production deal.

Take your book about repetition and make it into a movie about repetition that we can have repeated viewings of. These are the kind of things that move beyond producing knots in your stomach to making moebius strips of your intestines. 


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What we can make of the mess we have made of things

That world! These days it’s all been erased and they’ve rolled it up like a scroll and put it away somewhere. Yes, I can touch it with my fingers. But where is it? – Denis Johnson, Emergency

One of Eno’s Oblique Strategies:

In total darkness, or in a very large room, very quietly.

My mother was mostly deaf when she was pregnant with me, though unrelatedly. Fixed by surgery two months after my birth, just try to imagine what it is like to go from mostly deaf to holding a screaming child. The way the rocks from the pavement hit the bottom of the car, she says, was an unbearable noise. Grocery stores, people in rooms: the world is loud.

Specific, too. Each person who gets glasses at an age where things are memorable has a memory of the sudden observance of individual leaves on trees. Revelatory things, that come from an absence-to-presence, which if we’d like to talk contemporary-experimental literature/poetry-strategies would take us miles. No doubt because of all the there-ness these (ahem) days, though this in and of itself is not revelatory.  A lot of things exist, everywhere, all the time. Uh huh. I, too, have windows, and the Internet. 

Still, presence-to-absence outweighs, unless you are John Cage.  John Cage in an anechoic chamber: “That experience gave my life direction, the exploration of nonintention.” There is a hole in the world, where you used to be. Though: which would be weirder, to suddenly have one less arm, or one more arm? On the one hand, growing an extra appendage would be extraordinary and undoubtedly disturbing. On the other, phantom limb syndrome exists exactly because of the trauma of missing a limb, while it is likely you would get used to having an extra arm. Plus then here I could give three examples: and on the imaginary third hand…

Sometimes things appear, and it is easier to make sense of the rest. Sometimes they disappear, and then it is easiest. 

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He wanted to write “stuff about what it feels like to live. Instead of being a relief from what it feels like to live.” 

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Short-tailed albatross

I mean there are  a lot of different ways to tell time without looking at a clock. Hearing one, that’s one way. Sometimes then you have to sit and wait and count out each hour with every chime which can be very suspenseful. I kind of like this: it means not being allowed to forget what glancing at a clock means. A clock chimes and that was the first hour of the day, and then the second and the third, when you were probably still asleep, and then on and on like that until the whole day fits inside those chimes. To note: it can also be awful. Another thing you could do is get one of these clocks that have different birds sing at every hour, but then you have to learn the bird calls. Wait. 

I meant pictures of birds, with fake singing sounds. 

Okay. So you learn the bird calls and then when the common yellowthroat sings it’s six o’clock. You know, in some places you can wake up to bird calls and that’s how you know what time it is and what time of year it is. If you have a nice window with nice trees for bird homes. So this, too, can be awful. No one wants to be reminded of simpler times. 

At 9:30 every night there are fireworks that I can hear from my home. That means that if I stopped tomorrow at 9:30 and counted the seconds from there every day all the time I could know what time it is.

Somewhere there’s this machine that you can hook up to your body that gives you a little electric shock every time you’re facing north. It trains you to recognize north on your own to make you better at not getting lost, so that instead of magnetizing needles you get to do your own magnetizing. If I made a machine that gave me little pulses when it was four in the afternoon would I learn to know this? North is always one direction. Four in the afternoon is so many things. 

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Sudden appearance of birds, nearness

It’s a myth that birds will reject their young if they’ve been handled by humans: birds, as it turns out, actually have very small olfactory nerves. Once or maybe more than once a person had the opposite problem and their lover smelled like someone else. I’m inclined to find this to be a myth as well but it’s hard not to notice that there are so many people in the world and there have been so many more that are dead now and there are so so many things that have happened. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. This is the number one thing I would choose to say if I could only say one thing for the rest of my life. 

What a totally quirky fact to have this really specific hypothetical thing about yourself that you’ve decided on. Collect these things and you can tell them to the people you smell like in bed in the morning. You can be turned away from them at the time and then turn toward them sheepishly. You can have different facts or tell them all the same things spread out over all the mornings. Talking in bed ought to be easiest, lying together there. The word is polysemy: there is no other way than to be lying in bed together. Tricky, isn’t it. 

Still, when a bird is dying you don’t really know what to do. Hold it? Does that make it better? Birds don’t lie down, they just perch. It’s hard to know what to do with a perched-something dying. But when you’re lying there together it’s so easy to tell. 

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What I meant

Was it Dad?
Whoever it was, it was somebody.
I ripped the pages out of the book.

— Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, two pages before the Flipbook of Redemption.

Write me the history of magic realism and it will be good, but it will not be fantastic. The spread from German coinage to its Latin American versions did not involve sparrows or men who carried it through the world with their secrets of ice. It was, reductively, the creation of an autonomous Latin American literary style, which does nothing to diminish its worth and does not change the fact of its having a history: a history, that is, of a larger Latin American past that was often unable to account for its own origins, as Brett Levinson writes, and used magic realism to reveal “mythos as a means to explain the beginnings which escape history’s narrative.” With the translation of Borges, Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa to English, what follows are their traces in Toni Morrison, Pynchon, Barthelme, Murakami, Robbins, and then Foer, Eggers, Krauss, Plascencia, etc. to degrees and applications so varied this list is fairly useless.

There are, though, similarities in recent strains of U.S. magic realism, in particular the Foer/Krauss/Eggers group, mostly in their undercurrent of complete and utter pleasantness. Their characters hurt, certainly, but always shallowly and always in lovely, lovely sentences. This maybe isn’t bad, and it’s usually entertaining. But what happens when these books take on history—the Holocaust, Hiroshima, 9/11—is, I think, bad. Latin American magic realism created history where there wasn’t enough, and used the fantastic to take part in the realities of their current and historical political situation. We, though, have plenty of history, and in these books instead of expanding it escape it. This version of magic realism is one where we can violently rip the pages from history books or from personal histories and rearrange them to be nice, as Bukiet says here in far too many words. In my opinion, magic realism is usually best in short form anyway, and also when not taking on the entirety of 20th/21st century tragedy.

“It’s not true,” DeLillo says, “that modern life is too fantastic to be written about successfully. It’s that the most successful work is so demanding.” The problem with this current U.S. version of magic realism is that it seems the easy way out. The U.S. is well versed in escapism enough as it is already.

In conclusion, the Death Cab/Foer analogy isn’t exactly what I was trying to say, but it stands, and Narrow Stairs still sucks.

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