Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Filler, Alleycat

I sooooo need to bring Susan into the City this Spring / Summer for an afternoon of playing in traffic. I won't be satisfied until I've ridden through Times Square at speed.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Happy Martin Luther King Day

Two years ago, I covered this holiday to my satifaction, and I'm sticking with it.

In other news, Bush has decided that rather than pleading his own case for war to the political body charged by the Constitution with declaring it, it's now apparently Congress's burden of proof to justify questioning Bush's desire to widen said war, providing a delightful illustration of how Congress's abdication of its responsibility to handle declarations of war comes back to haunt us:

"Frankly, that's not their responsibility," Bush said in an interview on the CBS News program "60 Minutes," which aired Sunday.

"It's my responsibility to put forward the plan that I think will succeed. I believe if they start trying to cut off funds, they better explain to the American people and the soldiers why their plan will succeed," the president said.

In lighter news, Zulieka offers a vignette that illustrates the perils of life before Google (and shows her lovely face for the first time in quite a while).

Monday, January 08, 2007

Lolita, the Great American Novel?

I hate that phrase: Great American Novel. It's no different than any other attempt to apply abosolute superlatives to art of any sort, and as such it's an intrinsically silly exercise. That's not to say it isn't fun, though.

So who are the usual suspects, generally? Gatsby, Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn? Maybe we should throw Roth's Great American Novel out of respect for his hubris?

I submit, and I'm sure a Google search would reveal that I'm not the first, that it's eminent emigre Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov's brilliant novel, his third composed in the English Language, Lolita.

I haven't read the book in four or five years, have not in any way been prompted to consider it as a candidate, but damn if it didn't just pop into my head, as I contemplate my own incipient project, that the answer is obvious.

What does Lolita have that justifies the brazen compliment / epithet? Let's consider, shall we?:

We'll begin, out of respect for the author, by noting that it is a celebration of the language, a travelogue if you will of what Nabokov characterized, in precisely this connection, as his "love affair with the English language." That's a healthy start, but of course every author cited above would have confessed to a love of the language, so that's not enough.

What else? Well, the book, textually, contextually, and philosophically seriously games this nation's paradoxical obsession with the prurient, its persistent inner conflict between its baser urges and its puritanical origins, its embarrassed celebration (ongoing) of sex and violence and its latent guilt over its pleasure in same. These factors take it somewhere Gatsby never aspired to reach, somewhere Melville wouldn't have dared to go. Both of those books principally concerned themselves with American striving. And of course striving is a critical ingredient in American-ness, to be sure, but it is only one ingredient, and there are many.

Next (and I recognize this point is debatable, but I'm not a scholar and don't have to deal with peer review), Lolita, better than any of the other novels named, explores quietly the nature of the sort of immigration that forged this nation. Not the refugee aspect so much -- although Nabokov was that, in at least some sense -- but the aspirational sense of it -- give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses -- coming to this nation not to escape appalling oppression or genocide, but merely for capital-O Opportunity, an open-endedness that is peculiarly our heritage, if somewhat more in word, in mythos, than in fact.

Then of course there's the veneration of youth to the point of pathology. Everyone loves their children -- there's nothing peculiar about that. But the celebration of youth, the veneration of it, the singular terror at the thought of aging and the ludicrous lengths we go to forestall and deny it, these things are American, and long before this country succumbed utterly to youth's thrall Nabokov wrote about with brilliant clarity. The book, notwithstanding its censors' protests to the contrary, was no defense or rationalization of pedophilia of any sort -- rather, it was a metaphor for a deep unsettledness most of us share with the thought of aging. And the cycle that reflects is self-perpetuating -- we are terrified of aging because we are all too familiar with our own discomfiture at people aging around us. Reification, to leverage a scholarly sort of term.

Finally, at least among encompassing aspects of the work, there is the on-the-road aspect. No country so celebrates its spaciousness as this country does, and of course in the past hundred years this has manifested in a perverse obsession with the automobile. In this regard as well, Nabokov's sense of this place was ahead of its time. Of course, the road novel aspects of Lolita (and couldn't one argue that his was the first true road novel?) reflects more than mere transience, itself a hallowed American tradition. It reflects precisely the aspirational facet so critical to this culture's sense of itself, the idea of escape and reinvention, which I won't dwell on since it's the subject of too much thought already -- it's become a truism of sorts, and I won't pursue it here.

Then there are more fragmentary aspects of the work that further qualify it for the ridiculous title: the celebrity culture emblematized by Quilty; pop culture refracted through the prism of Dolores, a teeny-bopper entirely in the sway of commercial pop impulses, submerged in the tropes of pop culture that now bombard our children with frightening force and persistence; the preternatural obsession with the One Who Got Away, and so on.

So there -- the case is made and I've persuaded myself. If any novel composed in the English language deserves the title Great American Novel, it is Lolita, by V.V. Nabokov, Russian emigre extraordinaire (by way, of course, of France), who saw us ever so much more astutely than we see ourselves.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Friday Shuffle, Baby's First iPod

Okay, I probably won't make a habit of this, but back when it was new(er), some bloggers had fun posting a random cross-section of their iPods via a short shuffle session. I'm new to the whole iPod thing, but sitting around this evening, book-keeping, I threw my iPod earbuds in mostly to test how my ears like them over a period of time and hit shuffle. So far, I've added perhaps ten or so CD's, chosen more or less at random from a collection it will take me months to entirely rip into digital format. The only guide in selecting CD's at this point is to choose ones that I like, play regularly, and think are pretty good from front to back. Here's my first shuffle, or at least the first dozen songs of it:

1. Death Cab for Cutie -- Stable Song
2. Radiohead -- Tree Fingers
3. Medeski Martin & Wood -- Hey-Hee-Hi-Ho
4. Elvis Costello / Brodsky Quartet -- Dear Sweet Filthy World
5. MMW -- Everyday People
6. Fleetwood Mac -- Oh Daddy
7. EC/BQ -- This Offer is Unrepeatable
8. Beam (local hip-hop fusion act) -- Defiance
9. Nirvana (unplugged) -- Something in the Way
10. EC/BQ -- I Thought I'd Write to Juliet
11. Air -- La Femme d'Argent
12. The Shins -- Caring is Creepy

And it goes on, even presently, but that's enough since, aside from my iPod's apparent aversion to playing the Fiona Apple I loaded, that pretty much covers what I've got in there so far.

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