Sunday, December 10, 2017

Proof that you existed

Little O noticed that boys noticed her. Although she didn't know why they did. She didn't have trouble attracting their attention the way some of the other girls did. When she would sense that a boy had fallen in love with her, there would be a peculiar feeling, a magical sort of lonely feeling. When you realized that someone was in love with you, you got to see yourself from the outside, just for a minute. You could finally have proof that you existed. You could look at yourself as though you were a fabled creature, like a unicorn.
— from "The Story of Little O (A Portrait of the Marquis de Sade as a Young Girl)" in Daydreams of Angels, by Heather O'Neill.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

If anything, I am the quitter in this relationship

I'm going to go through our texts and figure out who instigated each individual texting conversation and who was the last one to reply. I personally hate being the last one to reply in texting conversation. It's like the other person just disappears or tells you to go fuck yourself, so I try specifically now to leave most texting conversations first as a matter of principle. Except for the inner circle. Everyone who now holds membership in my inner circle always signs off a texting conversation with XO or xx or xoxo or xox or the deadly x. To get into the inner circle, in fact, you can't be a texting abandoner. That's a fucking rule.

You are no longer in my texting inner circle precisely because of these statistics. For instance, last month you instigated six texting conversations and I instigated five, but you text-abandoned me nine out of the eleven conversations. This month is different. I'm aiming for four to five abandonments at the most because I know I can quit better than you. If anything, I am the quitter in this relationship. It means that our conversations are a lot shorter and shallower but I'm not getting caught with my pants down, so to speak. Maybe I should add text-length to the chart?
I have mixed feelings about This Accident of Being Lost, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

It's labeled "songs and stories." For the most part I liked the stories — it's the songs I don't get. For starters, what makes songs different from poems? How are you supposed to read a song? Doesn't reading a song negate its very songness? So I'm not going to talk about the songs. I just don't get the songs.

The stories, however, are quite beautiful, poignant, and funny.
Topic 11: Being a Writer Sucks
Writing actually sucks. Like you're alone in your head for days on end, just wondering if you actually can die of loneliness, just wondering how healthy it is to make all this shit up, and just wondering if you did actually make this shit up, or if you just copied down your life or worse someone else's life, or may you're just feeding your delusions and neuroses and then advertising it to whoever reads your drivel.
It all feels very honest, but this is where you remember that this is fiction. It doesn't have to be real to be true.

In the Globe and Mail,
It's not possible to tell which details are lived experience and which are imagined. ... Her writing educates the reader even as it admits to not having all the answers. ... I was stunned by Simpson's generosity in sharing these experiences and inviting us to be challenged and to be lost.
As a reader, I don't know what I'm being educated about. That the reviewer is stunned by Simpson's generosity makes it clear she assumes lived experience and authenticity.

Indigenous issues do arise, and they're not insignificant.
They want a beach. We want rice beds. You can't have both. They want to win. We need to win. They'll still be white people if they don't have the kind of beach they want. Our kids won't be Mississauga if they can't ever do a single Mississauga thing.
In The Winnipeg Review,
What fascinates me about Simpson's work is not its Anishinaabe cultural roots, but its examination of intimacy and love. You can't separate being Indigenous from how we love others. It's an extension of culture and worldview.
This surprises me. In my view, the bits about intimacy and love were absolutely the best, and also the most accessible, because they're the most universal. These stories neither educated me nor helped me access an indigenous experience — they were simply relatable. This has nothing to do with native ways being confounded my modern times; I mean, who hasn't obsessed over a love interest's texts?

Reviews
Globe and Mail
PRISM International
Rough ghosts
The Winnipeg Review

Video.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

What are Basque ghosts like?

Do ghosts prefer southerly winds? Are Mediterranean ghosts calmer? They say that in Northern Europe ghosts are loud, horrifying, that their shrieks are more out of tune because of the cold. With Northern ghosts — Irish, Estonian, German, it's easy to imagine them coming at you with a knife and no explanation. Mediterranean ghosts, however, are not as gloomy, it's impossible to take them too seriously; even when they kill you, they do it in an incompetent way; Don Juan Tenorio and others like him are laughable, buffoonish, and sometime it's their own comedic candor that makes them all the more fearful; we'd risk our necks to bet that they'd rather dance to a tambourine than use a knife; Mediterranean ghosts sound like they'd be fun to have a few glasses of wine with. "Ghosts fervid for Frescuelo and Maria. "Is there a really frightening and serious ghost in Spanish literature? And in the Basque Country? Who are they? What are Basque ghosts like?
— from Twist, by Harkaitz Cano.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Perceiving the emptiness and slow lightness of its body

The unevolved axolotl is an apt pet for Javier Cetarti, although he comes to care for it quite by accident and later abandons it without a thought.
He imagined it at that moment, settled at the back of the fish tank, in the darkness of the shuttered house, wondering in its crude way at what moment a blurry shadow would come to scatter food over the surface of the water, and perceiving the emptiness and slow lightness of its body, emptier and lighter with each passing day.
Under This Terrible Sun, by Carlos Busqued, is oppressively bleak and disturbing. It's mostly the story of Cetarti who travels to a small town to settle the affairs of his mother and brother, who allegedly were murdered by the mother's boyfriend Molina before he turned the gun on himself.

The town is literally a cesspit, the water table having risen, the cesspits overflowing, shit and piss seeping up through the ground. The trees have died (so the sun is punishing), the place stinks, but people have gotten used to it. There are giant poisonous flying cockroaches.

The cop Duarte was a longtime friend of Molina; they were in the airforce together and, it's hinted, later collaborated on other business dealings. These days Danielito, Molina's son, helps out Duarte in his ventures.

In addition to simple insurance scams, Duarte has some kidnapping racket going on. He's also a connoisseur of extreme pornography, although it's not clear if he may be involved with porn in a deeper, more criminal way.
There's some pornography you don't watch to jerk off, you watch it more out of curiosity about how far the human species will go. [...] This is what I was telling you is interesting, to see the limits of what a person is capable of doing or letting others do to them.
Under This Terrible Sun is well written. The text is clear; the novel's ambiguity — and its creepiness — arises from not being privy to the whole picture. The characterization, the minimalist plotting, the sense of dread (both existential and visceral), and the pacing are excellent. If you have the stomach for it.

One of Duarte's videos is graphically described, and had it gone on for longer or were there more, I might've had to put the book aside. As it is, that scene certainly pervaded the mood of the entire book, to great effect.

Warning: there are also some vile descriptions of insects and brutality against dogs.

Everyone smokes a lot of weed. Duarte watches a lot of military history and builds model airplanes. Cetarti and Danielito appear to be cut from the same cloth (even though their characters don't interact till late in the book) in their penchant for Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.

There are recurring references to cephalopods, on TV and in magazine articles, which may be somewhat allegorical of Cetarti's situation as a whole.

Squid have cannibalistic tendencies: the squid that fishermen pull in often is often not the one that swallowed the lure, but a larger one eating the originally hooked squid.

Cetarti reads some details about the giant squid — three hearts and two brains — but he doesn't find what he's looking for. The monsters have never been captured alive. They live in an environment that is hostile to life. One only ever glimpses a small part of the horror at a time, never seen in its entirety.

This is the third book from Argentina I've read this year (the others being the subversive Savage Theories, by Pola Oloixarac, and the insidiously unsettling Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin). I've decided that Argentina must be a very strange (possibly depraved) place.

Reviews
Three Percent
Tony's Reading List