Article Repost: Longing for Great Lost Works

April 20, 2009

For your reading pleasure, here’s an interesting article I located on the WSJ’s arts section. It’s always an interesting concept to think about just what could be laying in wait for us if we could locate it, Hemingway’s briefcase of stories or Capote’s final manuscript for “Unanswered Prayers” – and always a sense that the mystery of looking for it is better than actually digging it up.

pt-al393_lostbo_dv_20090417220231Longing for Great Lost Works

By Stephen Marche

The Wall Street Journal

April 18, 2009

In 1995 Unesco named April 23 World Book Day because of a morbid literary coincidence. Both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died April 23, 1616, the same exact date but 10 days apart, since England was on the Julian Calendar while Spain was on the Gregorian. It’s a fortunate coincidence (or near coincidence) because collectively, they produced one of the greatest missing literary works of all time, the play “Cardenio.” And on World Book Day I always find myself thinking about the books that don’t exist more than the ones that do.

(Read more here)


Death of a Writer Notice: J.G. Ballard

April 19, 2009

jgballardBBC News and Boing Boing have noted that acclaimed author J.G. Ballard passed away today as a result of a long illness. Credited as a pioneer of science fiction writing, he was best known for his novels “Empire of the Sun” and “Crash,” both of which were adapted to film.

While I personally have not read enough of his work to write a formal obit as I have done previously, Ballard was a legend in the field of literature and his bibliography is impressive by any writer’s standards. Take a moment of silence to acknowledge his passing, and then I urge you to get your hands on some of his works. For an intro, the Boing Boing story has quite a few related articles of interest at the bottom of the page.

“All over the world major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or ancient Egypt, is reassimilated and homogenized into its most digestible form. Desperate for the new, but disappointed with anything but the familiar, we recolonise past and future. The same trend can be seen in personal relationships, in the way people are expected to package themselves, their emotions and sexuality in attractive and instantly appealing forms.” – J.G. Ballard, “The Atrocity Exhibition”

Back Shelf Review: Interzone

April 16, 2009


burroughs-interzone1By William S. Burroughs

Published February 1, 1990

Penguin Books

224 pp.

ISBN 0-140-09451-2

Reviewed April 16, 2009

It’s a writer’s curse that out of everything they write and devise and concoct, they will be lucky if even a quarter of it sees publication. Stories and essays can be rejected by dozens of publishers before they finally give up trying, a first novel sits in a desk drawer for years, and projects will be raised and rejected before something finally sees acceptance. Past that, there are first and second and third drafts, letters to friends floating ideas, and countless notebooks and scraps of paper filled with notes that are sometimes not even legible to the writer.

Every so often though, an author’s thoughts and drafts are the audience for a complete revolution of style, finding something new and experimenting with it in a variety of curious ways. Few writers have undergone such a revolution as William S. Burroughs, who went from drug novelist to visionary in only a few years, and whose transitional work has been collected in “Interzone.” Essentially the bridge between “Junky” and “Naked Lunch,” “Interzone” is a truly energetic piece of work that shows an evolution (or possibly mutation) of thought.

Fittingly for an author who pioneered the “cut-up” technique, “Interzone” is more a loose scrapbook than a proper collection, consisting of journals and stories Burroughs wrote from 1954 to 1956. At this time, he was living in Tangier, indulging his opium addiction and trying to sell short stories through his friend Allen Ginsberg. As time went on he began to go deeper into his subconscious, using his writing to fracture and rebuild the world in his own surreal image.

What makes “Interzone” such a fascinating part of the Burroughs canon is it reflects all sides of his brilliant persona. His first books “Junky” and “Queer” were straightforward, almost deadpan novels that took a historical view to drugs and homosexuality in 1940s New York; while “Naked Lunch” and successive novels ripped apart those topics into sci-fi depravity. “Interzone” is a work that maps the process of coming to that viewpoint, as well as seeing the hints of literary theory and spiritualism that marked much of his later works.

Fans of Burroughs’ more conventional style will be rewarded by the early short stories and articles, pitched to Ginsberg in the hope he could sell them. “The Finger” has an almost Kafkaesque humor to it, relating a real-life anecdote wherein he cuts off a finger joint to impress a girl and finds himself committed as a result. “International Zone,” written as a magazine feature on Tangier’s strange situation (split up between four countries) has “Junky’s” anthropological eye for a place, while “In the Café Central” captures the cast which populates it.

Use of opiates and the withdrawal symptoms began to alter Burroughs’ viewpoint, and the style change gradually makes itself clear in the journals and later stories – a move that builds a terrific energy as the book progresses. Characters begin to take on a more inhuman angle, resembling insects and growing “auxiliary assholes” in their foreheads (“Spare Ass Annie”). The borders between dreams and reality gradually break down, with “The City” gradually turning into a living thing and paranoia an everyday occurrence. Burroughs himself acknowledges the shift, speaking of an abstract novel constructed as a mosaic, a work that has a life of its own, a guide for the future.

Even with this gradual evolution, the tonal shift was so extreme that a breakthrough effort was needed, and “Interzone” contains this in the section “WORD.” Essentially a rough draft of “Naked Lunch,” the section is a rapid profane stream-of-consciousness effort mixing all the images of sex, drugs and control that would come to dominate his later work. This section isn’t for the faint of heart – or for anyone who thought “Naked Lunch” was too nonsensical or garbled to enjoy – but it continues the build of energy the journals started and is fascinating from an aesthetic standpoint, seeing the castoff embryonic thoughts that led him to reach his conclusions.

“Interzone” is chiefly a historical curiosity and a book for Burroughs devotees who want to track their hero’s evolution, but it’s also a useful primer for anyone who wants to experience his thought process in smaller doses. It’s a book that is at varying times dryly humorous, intentionally shocking and borderline illegible, but never able to hide the crackling energy of the voice that was finding itself.

Book News: Amazon deranks “adult” titles, uproar follows

April 14, 2009

As CNET reported this weekend, major online bookseller Amazon has come under fire for delisting titles in their ranking system,  particularly titles with gay and lesbian themes. Titles affected include books on homophobia and novels such as Radclyffe Hill’s classic novel about lesbians in Victorian times, “The Well of Loneliness,” and Mark R. Probst’s (who uncovered the story) novel “The Filly” about a young man in the wild West discovering that he’s gay. Not only did this remove them from the ranking system, it also meant the titles no longer came up in Amazon’s main product search.

A furor rose online in reaction, criticizing the company of offenses ranging from censorship to homophobia, and now Amazon has issued a statement claiming that it was an “embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error.”

Personally, I’m actually willing to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt here, as I have doubts that any corporation would be stupid enough to actually make a move like this with the awesome power of Twitter now able to unite against them. My money is on it being either a computer error or some overzealous Puritan employee who got their hands on the ranking system, who the company will now be burying in the bureacracy.

It is interesting that so many people are making a fuss over the ranking on Amazon though, something that outside of the Top Ten I’m guessing very few ever pay attention to. God bless the mix of anti-homophobia and big corporation paranoia that leads to a news story when space is short.

What’s your thoughts, Hive Mind? Are Amazon secret bigots or is this just an error that is being blown out of proportion? Or is the answer somewhere in between?