Frooty Loops

When I feel the need for inspiration (more accurately the need to avoid working on my projects) I turn to the handful of artbooks I own. More often than not I end up feeling rewarded for taking myself so far afield of what I “ought” to be writing and studying, as this reading tends to detonate new thoughts that help unlock whatever I’ve been stuck on.

In that sense I need to single out the work of Alex Potts. His writing offers a compelling understanding of modern art that takes us away from common narratives of an easy realism vs. modernism polarization. His book The Sculptural Imagination strongly argues that while modernist sculpture deflated the old ideal of the “whole” work, its own petty-bourgeois libetarian illusions of autonomy were brought into question by the Minimalist sculpture trend. And it’s this movement in particular that Potts helped me to appreciate, in particular this passage about loops and looping.

At issue here is also the rhythmic inflection, or lack of it, in the kind of viewing invited by Minimalist work. When Fried describes the sense of ‘duration’ involved as ‘something endless the way a road might be: if it were circular, for example’, he is drawing attention to a sense of looping central to the conception of Minimalist sculpture. Any viewing of a three-dimensional work involves some form of repetitive looping—as one moves right round a work back to the position where one was first standing, or moves in closer and gets absorbed by various local effects of surface shaping and texture and shadowing and then steps back again. The rhythm of such viewing has something of the sense of passing through repeated circuits, which may be more or less regular, more or less expansive, more or less open or closed. A Minimalist work tends to foreground the sense of looping because there are not many variegated incidents in the circuits one traverses, and because the work’s relatively simple spatial configuration invites a similarly simple structuring of one’s pattern of viewing.

Potts’s argument makes a great point later on that, yes, the loops of Minimalism can become boring, but maximalism (like in a Pynchon meganovel) can lead to its own kind of boredom. The “arbitrarily rich variety of incident” actually achieves monotony as all the patterns get flattened into a homogenous flow of sensations. 

Looping is located in the temporal dimension of communing with a work of art. Imagine walking around one of Andre’s heavy metal grids, noticing how the specks reflected in the gallery’s spotlight change in the square units on the floor as your angle of sight gradually shifts. The horizontality of these sheets is quite radical compared to the traditional Venus on a pedestal, but the reduction helps you to appreciate these teeny-tiny variegated incidents, produced by metal units that simply exist as material, without pretending to be anything else. Eventually you may imagine yourself as the artist who laid down these tiles into an array—does the work still exist as such when it is disassembled and in storage?

These circuits that are fundamental to sculpture & 3D art must be present in other media as well.

Minimalist music is an obvious candidate, both the Steve Reich style of overlapping looped phrases that incrementally phase into a new arrangement, as well as the “Holy” minimalism of Arvo Pärt, like the famous Spiegel im Spiegel whose sparse composition for piano and a string musician demands absolute perfection (and traditionally no vibrato for the violin, but perhaps on the cello it can’t be avoided). The “heartbeats” of the piano’s outlined major triads paired with the “long breaths” of the bowing may constitute units of loops.

Erik Satie’s La Socrate premiered the same year as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and it also apparently caused a riot. The piece is an experimental recitative with a soprano singing continuously over a series of riffs from either a piano or an orchestra. People didn’t even want to consider it music at the time! (I’ll link to the third movement only because it’s my personal favorite and I think it the best showcase.)

Even with the drone tones of ambient electronica or doom metal, it’s as if my ears could periodize their stretched out notes with the peaks and valleys of the long oscillations of the various filter effects.

What about film? Looking back on MEMORIA, there is a sequence late in the narrative that is so decisively dead in terms of on-screen action or narrative incident (a character “dies,” or decides to be temporarily dead), sending the audience into a kind of sympathetic collective rigor mortis. We were entranced, yet aware that every second was irrevocably passing by. I seemed to turn my attention back to my own breathing as I sat in the theater. And yet, that scene still cuts between a few views of the scene and ambient sound effects played throughout. 

Bela Tarr’s movies often keep the camera position fixed while the landscape empties itself of any agent, and I’ve noticed that in this situation I like to make “loops” with my eyeballs, and trace clockwise circuits around the inside of the frame, since there are no pretty actor faces to direct my gaze. SATANTANGO has an engaging plot, almost like a crime caper, especially at the beginning, but it is also at the frontier between narrative cinema and video art—some of these moments of dead time and dead space could be clipped and shown in a gallery on continuous loop.

Finally, there is one cultural area where the operation of loops is obvious and crucial. Let’s turn away from high culture and dive into kitschy paperback horror.

I contend that slashers, creature features, and horror stories of the FINAL DESTINATION type are based on loops, specifically, the string of kills. In Michael McDowell’s THE AMULET, the titular piece of jewelry ends up switching hands (sometimes via comical rube-goldbergian mechanics) and people who find themselves wearing it become emotionally dysregulated and at the slightest provocation go on a killing spree, usually by weaponizing a household item. This pattern repeats itself until a whole Alabama small town gets leveled. Similar is Graham Masterton’s GHOST VIRUS, though the mechanics are a little more elaborate: a haunted article of clothing can take over the personality of the victim who wears it, and the victim takes on the ghost’s resentments and antipathies—and acquires a hunger for flesh. You can guess there’s plenty of room for variegated effects in all of these steps and elements.

Quite a productive understanding of art, thanks to Potts.

Edgy enough for ya?

New publications, if you are interested~ My story “Blue Hour” in now live in Issue 18 of Scissors & Spackle, the experimental supplement to Emerge Literary Journal, and the ever-excellent Full Stop has published a review essay of WARNING TO THE CROCODILES by Lobo Antunes that I had mentioned working on back in my November 2021 post. Oof, those paragraphs looked shorter in the manuscript. Bah, paragraph breaks are overrated. Right?

And now for the blog

I do miss going to museums. I remember seeing Barnett Newman’s VIR HEROICUS SUBLIMIS in the flesh 12 years ago. Just your usual abstract expressionism, a big—massive color field. A simple composition, five lines before a pure red space, that might reach toward a hazy alien landscape, or a graph of the spectra of visible light.

However, being able to get up close to the painting, more things can be brought to your attention. There are subtleties in how these zips were applied to the picture.

The passage of one’s gaze over one of these lines brings out differences not just in color, but in the texture of the paint layers, and the nature of the edge, whether it is hard or rough. If you read cognitive linguistics and poetics, then at a conceptual level, you can talk about all of these definitional aspects of the painting as edges. It was convenient of Newman’s pictures to be concerned with the arrangement of edges as such. Edges and edgework (I wish they’d call it edging) are essential to the perceptual process. Edges bind the forms of objects in our vision, and distinguish these objects spatially through foreground and background. It’s in the processing of the edges that we process the imagined worlds presented by works of art. Changes in edge-processing reflect changes in artistic texture.

Any form of conceptual transition in any artistic medium, as well as our own physical experience, can be thought of as edges. Moving your hand over wood and glass and feeling the qualitative tactile change of the surfaces, seeing the grain of the wood become the smooth transparency, is an experience of edges. And so is moving your eyes over a line of normal text that suddenly becomes italics. Mr. Lanz would also have us know that switches in point of view, in the reference points for the grounding of figures, also qualify as edgework.

It’s interesting how fundamentally visual the concept is (based in part on gestalt psychology, with principles like in the above illustration), but that appears to be the orientation indicated by modern research into human consciousness. The “movie in your head” metaphor for reading fiction may be quite unavoidable. 


Edges abound even in literary texts. And it was edges I had in mind while reading my third Jo Nesbø thriller. PHANTOM is Harry Hole novel #9. It was hearing about this one that got me to check out the series starting with SNOWMAN, so that I could get here. I was told this one is a deeply sad, slow burn, that it even reaches the realm of Literature. It’s certainly an intimate and dark scenario: the detective returns to Norway to clear the name of his sort-of adopted son Oleg, who is accused of murdering a drug dealer. There are painful scenes of Harry facing Oleg’s addiction problems. It’s a slow burn, and not that suspenseful, mainly because of a dead man’s testimony that interrupts Harry’s detective work.

To go back to edgework: most everyone knows spontaneously how storytelling works. You set a sequence of events, then it’s just a matter of how detailed you want to get. Novels and short stories by professionals aren’t fundamentally different. But where mastery and command come in is the way good writers can establish a story world while directing your attention around and through it. The opening paragraph of PHANTOM is a good example. There’s a general hierarchy of figures that attract readerly attention, with active human agents at the top and abstractions at the bottom, and the narration can brighten these figures or dim them, make them large or small, loud or quiet, bring them near or far away—like a conceptual black box theater. What happens when a text opens without any humans strictly speaking? The main “attractor” in his passage will be an animal, and a human being won’t appear till the end:

Amid the noises of the night in downtown Oslo—the regular drone of cars outside the window, the distant siren that rose and fell and the church bells that had begun to chime nearby—a rat went on the hunt for food. She ran her nose over the filthy linoleum on the kitchen floor. The pungent smell of gray cigarette ash. The sugary-sweet aroma of blood on a piece of cotton gauze. The bitter odor of beer on the inside of a bottle cap, Ringnes lager. Molecules of sulfur, saltpeter and carbon dioxide filtered up from an empty metal cartridge case designed for a nine-by-eighteen millimeter lead bullet, also called a Makarov, after the gun to which the caliber was originally adapted. Smoke from a still-smoldering cigarette with a yellow filter and black paper, bearing the Russian imperial eagle. The tobacco was edible. And there: a stench of alcohol, leather, grease and asphalt. A shoe. She sniffed it. The obstacle lay on its side with its back to the wall blocking the entrance to the nest, and her eight newly born, blind, hairless babies were screaming ever louder for her milk. The mountain of flesh smelled of salt, sweat and blood. It was a human body. A living human being; her sensitive ears could detect the faint heartbeats between her babies’ hungry squeals.

As readers we’re fixed in a place but not necessarily with a point of view (it’s there but it’s delayed, put at the end of the sentence). It’s like a movie whose first shot opens on an empty set before a character enters the frame. In this place there is a regular tone in “the drone of cars,” a faint sound in the “distant sirens,” and a new sound in “the church bells,” that come through a window in a room, placed in an interruptive clause that delays the appearance of the rat, who must be perceiving these things. A familiar scene of urban squalor is established through a defamiliarized POV (to use a keyword from Russian formalism, now a post-“Marxist” term of art). Linguists talk about “impersonation,” which can boost the “attractor” status of a given figure by lending it human qualities. Anthropomorphism is only the most visible form of this strategy: give a bear clothes and he immediately becomes more human, as many English authors understood. In this case, this rat is not just a rat but a momma rat (a mother is a mother), whose way to her hungry babies (not “pups”) has been blocked, not by a human being, but the shoe being worn by one.

The writer could have let us follow the rat until she runs up against “the body,” or “the dead man,” as a kind of readerly jumpscare, but that would miss the point. It is by obscuring the human, the figure that “should” be the most attractive to us, behind the shoe and the smells of a fresh crime scene, by blending him into the setting, that the rat retains our POV alignment. It’s all capped off with the faint heartbeats of the dying man woven in with the cries of the rat’s pups. Guiding readerly attention in this way, amplifying animals and downgrading humans as per the needs of the story, is the novelist’s bread and butter.

Motherhood is not the only thing applied to this rat that contributes to the “impersonation.” This is one attuned rat, who can pick out the smells of “wet cigarette ash,” blood on cotton, the residue of beer on a bottle cap, and she even knows the brand name. And what about that sentence in the middle, beginning with “molecules,” which might lead back to the animal’s smell, good enough to perceive the molecules “filtering up” from the bullet casing, but goes into a full forensic register about gunpowder and Makarov bullets. Is it the rat or the third person narrator demonstrating this ballistics knowledge? Maybe it’s the still-dying man, whose first testimony is about to begin. Maybe it’s what Harry Hole would have observed, if he could have.

Actually, in fiction there’s always a narrator and a POV, even when the first person is employed, and both sides supply language to the text in tandem. 

As cool as the above passage was, I dunno, this entry in the HH series isn’t doing it for me (I’m 75% done). It feels slower than previous books even though it’s shorter. The crosscut structure with the dead man’s testimony dampened things down. The writing style is beginning to annoy me (Don Bartlett also translates Knausgaard’s books). I don’t know what writers and readers see in these clipped sentences that leave out verbs or agents. “Alex set his americano on the table next to his laptop. Took a small sip. Opened the laptop and got to writing.” It brings to mind a very narrow open door frame, and only one thing can ever come through it at a time. Perhaps it’s the intensively monotrack mentality of a detective. 

One example is this passage where Harry Hole falls off his horse into the water. Because Harry’s been knocked out of his senses, this disintegrated experience from his POV gives us essentially a walkthrough on how edgework works in literature:

Harry swam toward the light, toward the surface. The light became stronger and stronger. Then he broke through. Opened his eyes. And stared straight up at the sky. He was lying on his back. Something came into his field of vision. A horse’s head. And another.

The edges mark the transitions from water to air (a literal edge of surface tension), darkness to light (and the light brightens). How much more basic can it get? An undefined shape, a “something,” resolves into a horse’s head, joined by an additional identical shape.

If you count the full stops, there are nine sentences. But I prefer to think that there are four sentences, and that two of them have four and three full stops, respectively.

And I may prefer to read about a rat detective than the next Harry Hole.

Holiday reads, sayonara 2021

The Trial: A New Translation Based on the Restored Text (The Schocken Kafka  Library) - Kindle edition by Kafka, Franz, Breon Mitchell. Literature &  Fiction Kindle eBooks @

The last month of 2021 saw another review piece for FULL STOP, this time on the latest novel from the great Rikki Ducornet. I made some spicy remarks in this one (at least they might be), and they don’t have to do with Steely Dan trivia.


On my way back from one of the rallies for striking grad workers at Columbia, I picked up JESUS’ SON at a curbside book sale for four bucks. Denis Johnson was a great writer. TREE OF SMOKE was utterly engrossing (in a dark period), TRAIN DREAMS and SEAMAIDEN also excellent. But this collection from the 90s was an absolute knockout. The language is so clean and precise while still making all kinds of irregular choices in words and phrasing. When the speaker says he is a “whimpering dog inside” and nothing more, I felt it instantly. With Johnson there’s always this immediate connection so that you feel something for his cast of gentlemen losers. It brings to mind an image from Bruno Schulz of the writer and reader secretly holding hands under the table across which they face.

Every story in this cycle is a brief episode in the speaker’s drifting, dreg-filled life (the only name he goes by is Fuckhead). At the same time each story often breaks down into fragments that can read on their own like prose poems. Here’s one from “Emergency.”

Georgie and I had a terrific time driving around. For a while the day was clear and peaceful. It was one of the moments you stay in, to hell with all the troubles of before and after. The sky is blue and the dead are coming back. Later in the afternoon, with sad resignation, the county fair bares its breasts. A champion of the drug LSD, a very famous guru of the love generation, is being interviewed amid a TV crew off to the left of the poultry cages. His eyeballs look like he bought them in a joke shop. It doesn’t occur to me, as I pity this extraterrestrial, that in my life I’ve taken as much as he has.


I couldn’t have asked for a better companion on a long plane ride than ZONE, a selection of Guillaume Apollinaire’s poetry translated by the great Ron Padgett. This book is the “fruit of [his] fifty-year engagement” with Apollinaire, and it’s hard to imagine a better fit between two poetic temperaments. Both are playful yet frank and unpretentious. Apollinaire’s lines are clear, even without punctuation, yet also have a capacity for avant-gardism that punches through every now and again, like in “Il pleut” and “The Little Car.” Padgett himself has a deadpan diction the majority of the time (BIG CABIN was a favorite read of last year) but he’s also written the most successful Oulipo text ever, in the form of a haiku that describes how a haiku works within the form of a haiku.

Many of Apollinaire’s poems are made of snatches of everyday conversation, and others are like stories or newspaper articles cut up into lines. And while they’re stuffed with references to mythology, religion, and ancient western literature, his poems are often funny. In “Annie,” the speaker sees a woman walking down a tree-lined road in Texas. This could be the easy occasion for some flaneur-like address to the eternal feminine, or to serendipitous encounters on the street; instead he finishes the poem like this:

Comme cette femme est mennoite
Ses rosiers et ses vêtements n’ont pas de bouttons
Il en manque deux à mon veston
La dame et moi suivons presque le même rite

(Since that woman is a mennonite
There are no buds or buttons on her clothes
Two of them are missing from my coat
The lady and I follow almost the same rite)

This project has become a new favorite book, and I speak as someone who thought he was over the romance of French bohemianism and all that early 20th century business. I was won over by how Apollinaire via Padgett can conjure that opium-addled atmosphere with such beautiful linguistic simplicity.



THE TRIAL by Kafka was ideal holiday reading. I may judge books by their covers after all. For a long time I avoided these new editions from Shocken Books because of their slick minimalist covers, whose bold colors and obvious eyeball iconography rubbed me the wrong way. I took them to be lazy and trendy reskins of facsimiles of older translations, similar to Vintage’s monochrome covers for Camus books. I was ignorant of Shocken’s publication history with Kafka in the 30s, in the context of a pro-Jewish cultural assertion against Nazism, and that in the case of THE TRIAL the new cover came with a new translation by Breon Mitchell, one that, according to his preface tries to preserve both the foregrounding of, one, legalese and other professional idioms that are woven in the text (for example, the opening line uses the word “slander” as opposed to the mundane “telling lies”); and two, the general rough character of Kafka’s prose, with its irregularly placed subordinate clauses and massive unbroken paragraphs. These aspects were eclipsed in the translation by the Miurs.

THE TRIAL opens with an absurd scene that from the beginning is presented in a theatrical way (and theatre jargon is used throughout the novel along with legal terms). Every dramatic beat is a comic reversal: K. rings for food, and his arresting officer enters the room, saying, “You rang?” When K., sitting in bed, explains that he wanted the landlady’s cook Anna to bring him breakfast, the stranger goes to the door, opens it a little, and calls into the next room, “He wants Anna to bring him breakfast,” and “a short burst of laughter” comes in response. Ever agitated, K. wonders if what’s happening to him is a joke by his coworkers for his 30th birthday, and worries he’ll come off bad for not taking a joke. He tries to cooperate by offering his papers, but the men in his home take this as an obnoxious play: “you’re behaving worse than a child. What is it you want? Do you think you can bring your whole damn trial to a quick conclusion by discussing your identity and arrest warrant with your guards? We’re lowly employees who can barely make our way through such documents, and whose only role in your affair is to stand guard over you ten hours a day and get paid for it.” But then when K. protests his innocence (to a charge that is never made explicit), they chide him for making a claim in ignorance of the Law. 

K. is in a game with no correct moves. Such is the atmosphere of dread and anxiety in Kafka’s fictive worlds. It is not a “totalitarian” or absolutist bureaucratic society that is the host of this arbitrary, inconsistent, pervasive and petty legal antagonist. It is in the Family structure where such oppression comes into play. The court of THE TRIAL uses the homes of its employees and defendants, in a series of running gags where furniture is being constantly shifted around the room, like stagehands preparing a scene for a play. But lest we get carried away with all this laying bare of the devices of fiction, the priest slash prison warden in the cathedral reminds us to respect the basic narrative integrity of the texts we consume. When K. imposes his reading of the parable of the Law and the door that climaxes this book, the priest critiques him with this remark: “You don’t have sufficient respect for the text and are changing the story.” This line could be addressed to all who say THE TRIAL is simply a dream, or an allegory, and not a story of an individual man, one who, for all intents and purposes, is real. And he really is guilty.



M. John Harrison wasn’t even on my map until 2020 when his latest novel, THE SUNKEN LAND BEGINS TO RISE AGAIN, took the Goldsmith Prize. It’s funny that I’d never heard his name in the same breath as Sturgeon or Le Guin, because he is another fantasy writer with excellent prose. Really, he is another great British master from the 70s I didn’t know about in my typical American ignorance.

PASTEL CITY is about and is another name for VIRICONIUM, a city/statelet in a world that has seen better days. This civilization sits atop layers of detritus from earlier, more advanced societies, so like pulp operas or like Wolfe’s BOOK OF THE NEW SUN, you get swords and sorcery in a landscape full of SF gadgetry.

We follow Lord Cromis, a warrior-poet who sets out to regroup the posse of knights called the Order of Methven, who defend the young Queen Jane, currently in a civil war for the throne of Viriconium with her half sister Canna Moidart. It’s like a western, only the landscape is one of rusted metal. And there are mechanical birds.

The “Lord of Birds” who created these cybernetic familiers resides in the tower of Cellur, an Orthanc-like obsidian structure in the marshes of Cladich. Harrison’s writing is like Le Guin’s in the sense that the quality of the prose isn’t flashy or ostentatious, but simply in the satisfying way in which the words “snap” together. The first book of the VIRICONIUM cycle is a straight ahead SF novel with all the proper western plot beats, but there’s still an extra layer of elegance in the phrasing and word choice. Here’s the description of Cellur in PASTEL CITY:

They reached the tower of Cellur in the evening of the second day. Cresting a ridge of pitted dolerite, they came upon the estuary of one of the unnamed rivers that ran from the mountains behind Cladich. Luminous in the fading light, the water spread itself before them like a sheet of metal. High black escarpments dropped sheer to its dark breaches; the cold wind made ephemeral, meaningless patterns on its surface.

Set in the shallows near the western bank was a small domed island, joined to the mainland by a causeway of crumbling stone blocks. It was barren but for a stand of white, dead pines.

Out of the pines, like a strong finger diminished by distance, rose the tower. It was five-faced, tapering: black. A tiny light shone near its summit, a glow that flickered, came and went. Birds wheeled about it, wailing mournfully, dipping to skim the water—fish eagles of a curious colour, with wings like cloaks in a gale. 

Now check out this romanticist, picturesque, more Tolkein-leaning description of the same locale 80 years later, that is also the opening paragraph of the sequel book A STORM OF WINGS:

In the dark tidal reaches of one of those unnamed rivers which spring from the mountains behind Cladich, a small domed island in the shallows before the sea, fallen masonry of a great age close faintly under the eye of an uncomfortable moon. A tower once stood here in the shadow of the estuarine cliffs, made too long ago for anyone to remember, in a way no one left can understand, from a single obsidian monolith fully two hundred feet in length. For ten thousand years wind and water scoured its southern face, finding no weakness; and at night a yellow light might be discerned in its topmost window, coming and going as if someone there passed before a flame.

Other reads from December: more Ashbery, early poetry by W.S. Merwin (some epic fantasy in its own right), and Tolkein’s THE FALL OF GONDOLIN for the LOTR Holidays of 2021.

The utterly scuppered summation for November


Read in November: Nesbo’s THE LEOPARD (much more violent, and more of a whodunnit than the dark motive-searching of Snowman; I’m glad Nesbo is willing to mix it up in this series) | Ashbery’s WAKEFULNESS.


An early book that has Lobo Antunes channeling Malcolm Lowry—and to better effect, since unfortunately I find UNDER THE VOLCANO disappointing in some respects (haven’t finished it yet). It’s hard to put a word on the fault I find with it, but it’s obscure. Even though the writing is clear for the most part, though it does slur in its rhythm. The novel’s landscape and characters remain shadowy from start to finish. Whenever we’re in the Consul’s point of view a kind of deranged yet pure-hearted and idle wordplay takes up the foreground, a semantic drift that serves as a kind of touchstone of the shitfaced: katzenjammer becomes cat’s pajamas, katabasis into cat’s abysses, then Cathartes atratus and so on.


This is a wonderful collection of prose pieces and notes. There’s such whimsy coming round the edges of these aphoristic constructions.

Cuando un órgano ejerce su función con plenitud, no hay malicia posible en el cuerpo. En el momento en que el tenista lanza magistralmente su bola, le posee una inocencia totalmente animal.

Lo mismo ocurre con el cerebro. En el momento en que el filósofo sorprende una nueva verdad, es una bestia completa. Anatole France decía que el sentimiento religioso es la función de un órgano especial del cuerpo humano, hasta ahora desconocido. Podría también afirmarse que, en el momento preciso en que este órgano de la funciona con plenitud, el creyente es también un ser desprovisto a tal punto de malicia que se diría un perfecto animal.

(When an organ carries out its function fully, there is no possible malice in the body. At the moment a tennis player masterfully tosses the ball, he is possessed by animal innocence.

The same occurs within the brain. At the moment the philosopher discovers a new truth, he is a complete beast. Anatole France said that religious sentiment is the function of a special organ of the human body, yet to be discovered. One could also affirm that, at the precise moment that this organ of faith functions at its peak, the believer is also a being so devoid of malice that he could be called utterly animal.) 

I had a reading of these lines, but my booster shot for the Covid vaccine obliterated it, so that I can no longer understand what I had thought.

Vallejo is someone you want to follow as a disciple, what a scary authoritative presence. This book includes fragments from his notebooks, and just the single mention of Knut Hamsun compels me to put him at the top of the TBR. Also: “El arte según Marx: reflejo de la economía (Art according to Marx: reflection of the economy).” And “Poetas según Marx, que deben ser políticos militantes y conocerlo y vivirlo todo (Poets according to Marx, should be militant politicians who know it all and live it all).

Lately I’ve been thinking about the opening shot of SICARIO, where the federal troops creep into a view of suburban America. A story I once read in PLOUGHSHARES (I can’t seem to locate it) opens with a similar image, armed cops on the rooftop of a family home to stop a mass shooter. The same vibe is achieved in THE GHOST SOLDIERS by James Tate, a poetry collection that creates the impression that all these pieces take place in the same small town in the Midwest that is constantly disrupted by warfare, with bombs landing in cow pastures and tanks blowing away farm houses. I’m increasingly drawn to this conceit of massive, mechanized violence brought to bear on safe and idyllic places where such things aren’t supposed to happen, but of course the comfort of the latter rests on the former taking place elsewhere.

The first 30 pages of WAR OF THE WORLDS makes this point again, as ground zero for the Martian invasion is the peaceful northern London suburb of Barnet. A Sci-fi war bursts into a scene of bourgeois domestic bliss:

About six in the evening, as I sat at tea with my wife in the summerhouse talking vigorously about the battle that was lowering upon us, I heard a muffled detonation from the common, and immediately after a gust of firing. Close on the heels of that came a violent rattling crash, quite close to us, that shook the ground; and, starting out upon the lawn, I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. The pinnacle of the mosque had vanished, and the roof line of the college itself looked as if a hundred-ton gun had been at work upon it. One of our chimneys cracked as if a shot had hit it, flew, and a piece of it came clattering down the tiles and made a heap of broken red fragments upon the flower bed by my study window.

I’m pretty sure the first time I read this book was shortly before 9/11, and perhaps the longer you wait before a reread, the more empowering it may feel. It goes by fast. I was moved to revisit it by the 83rd anniversary of Welles’s radio broadcast last Halloween weekend. And to my surprise the modern film and TV adaptations are pretty faithful to Wells’s original plot, but with faster pacing and other adornments.

Unfortunately I seemed to have entered a trough toward the end of November, and in the middle of producing this post, I have forgotten how to read and write.