Since October 2013 I’ve been posting new entries on my web site.
Global industrial manufactured culture, culture commodified, produces a world-wide monoculture or dominant culture of the least common denominator. The products of this culture are for mass consumption. Books and movies must have mass appeal. Cultural diversity is compatible with this global culture because a few of us want something different than what is popular. Local cultures cost more money, but they can be capitalized and commodified for sale. The process of developing a local culture in Louisiana is one of inventing a product that people will want to buy. However, there is no incentive for a person to speak French in their home because the products of the invented culture are intended for cultural tourists. The problem is not how to preserve French culture in Louisiana, but to develop a modern culture that addresses the needs and desires of the people who live there. What is the value of speaking French to a person living in the United States? For me, it means that I can read books that have not been translated into English (yet). Legislating cultural change appears to be a quixotic approach. However, cultural activists could use legislation to put up barriers which level the field of competition between the local culture and the global commercial culture. Cultural fences are not always welcomed by people who find themselves separated from each other. In reality, how is a novel written by a “Frenchman” in Louisiana different in its concerns than a novel written by a European? We are, after all, humans and the biggest concerns are those that affect all of us.
Naming my fat book after the working title of Knausgård’s fictional memoir (or a country in South America, home to a host of writers I keep coming back to including Aira, Borges, and the Pole, Gombrowicz — to name just a few) is more than just a whimsical notion, and has some justification in a line I found in Gombrowicz’s Diary. My own fat book has at its center, at its very heart, the state of Oklahoma which could be described by the words Gombrowicz used for Argentina: “…a country richer in cows than in art.”
I heard an interview with the writer Cory Doctorow recently in which (it seems) he argued that posting writing online where anyone who wants can access it and read it is not publishing. Publishing is the act of bringing a work together with an audience. Because posting something online doesn’t guarantee an audience, it’s not publishing. That was one thing. The other end of what he was getting at was that making a book available online for free download doesn’t mean that no paper copies of the same book will be sold. People who want the convenience of a paperbound codex will pay for it. People who want a properly formatted ebook for their ereader will pay for it. People that just want to read your book for free should be able to do so. From the writer’s point of view, he wants not only money, but to be read. A writer will maximize his audience by being available to any reader who wants to invest the time whether that reader is willing to pay or not.
When I began researching Doctorow’s writings on the subject of publishing I ran across a corollary to this notion of publishing as bringing together a work and a audience. Doctorow says that bloggers who bring unknown works to a larger audience are acting (in effect) as publishers.
Case in point: While the description of Ted Heller’s novel West of Babylon in Sam Jordison’s Guardian review doesn’t convince me that it’s a book that I’d want to read, I was pleased to see that the Guardian is paying attention to self-published books. In keeping with my comments about publishing above, here Jordinson is effectively acting as a publisher in connecting a books with an audience. I’m guessing a few of the Guardian’s readers will be interested in a “down-in-the-gutter” rock-and-roll novel even if it isn’t the sort of thing I seek out.
During our vacation in Louisiana I insisted that we take a day trip to Arnaudville, a tiny town in the area of Lafayette. I’d read an article a month ago about how Arnaudville was a center for Cajun French language students. The article was about French immersion programs and referenced the field work being done in Arnaudville by familiar names at LSU, Tulane, and ULL to document and preserve the French language in Acadiana. Two days ago, Claude (Alice’s dad) sent me another link to an article in the Advocate which referenced Arnaudville and several other towns where local business owners are making use of French. The effort to promote cultural tourism by making French more a part of public and commercial life in the region is being coordinated by CODOFIL. The program is called “Franco-responsable”, a name which doesn’t seem to fit and is more cryptic than the earlier “Ici on parle français” signs put up in the windows of businesses willing to carry out economic transactions in French.
Before visiting Arnaudville a couple of weeks ago, I thought it might be a nice place for a second, winter home. Alice and I could pass the cooler months not on Long Island where we tend to bunker in and wait for the spring thaw before resuming normal life, but in French Louisiana where we would hang out in the local coffee shop, playing Bourré with the locals, and gossiping in Cajun French.
My “Bloomsday Book” is actually an episode in a larger project I started a little more than two years ago in a café in Natchez. At the time I wanted to write a homecoming narrative, a story about someone coming home after being away for a long time. For many years I thought about sending one of my characters (Adam perhaps) back home and writing about the experience in some fictional way. The notes I wrote that day eventually formed the kernel of a fat book and the “Bloomsday Book” is a substantial fraction of the third part (of four). The other day, while reading Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds I realized that the fourth part of this fat work-in-progress will be none other than Without a Trace, a novel that I’ve attempted (unsuccessfully) to write at least four times. Chejfec’s meditations on traces brought me back to Walter Benjamin.
This fat book in four parts doesn’t have a title. I have the name of each of the parts: Red Neck, Discontent, Home, and Without a Trace. But the whole itself? Given that the text of Red Neck was (in part) posted on my old blog Donavan’s Brain, I was tempted to repurpose that blog title for this fat work-in-progress. Donavan’s Brain is probably as accurate a description of what the book is about as any other title I can think of. I could call it Diary, but then what would I call this collection of blog posts? Or perhaps I’ll call it Argentina. You see the problems I have to deal with as a writer.
Why do I admire Aira? Because he writes short books in cafés in Buenos Aires? Anyone can write short books and café owners don’t care what you do at your table as long as you pay your bills and keep to yourself. As I read his How I Became a Nun I thought, Hey, I can do this. He’s just writing down whatever comes to mind. The imperative is production, but not the sort of production associated with industrial manufacturing; here it’s the production of the artisan, the craftsman who makes something with his hands, slowly and with attention to detail and knowing that the work of his hands will say something about what sort of man he is.
In March, accompanying my obsession with Aira and café writing, I started writing with a pen, in longhand into notebooks. Writing unplugged? And since the temperatures are warmer I sit in my garden each morning and write while drinking a pot of coffee from a new stoneware cup I collected on a recent trip to Louisiana. I’ve felt very little need to attend to my online writing in the last few months. In fact, I’m actively neglecting my digital persona which had become too fractured and fragmented over Tumblr, WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, and a myriad of online soccer-related fora. I find, however, that I do write blog posts for Diary and for my soccer spectator blog, Footnotes, in my head while I’m doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, taking out the garbage, etc. I invent little posts and commentaries and file them away in my head, never bothering to write them down let alone post them. The world’s none the worse off for that oversight.
This morning I wrote in my garden, then I read the final chapter of César Aira’s How I Became a Nun. I would have finished reading the book last night, but I fell asleep. Tired from soccer practice which was really an informal kick-around with a few boys from my team and the other coaches. My body is still sore from the NSCAA course I took over the previous weekend. A muscle in my right leg was tweaked in such a way that it made my knee hurt. Play through the pain. The exercise is essential, especially when one wants to keep fit for those years that continue to advance, piling up and weighing a person down.
I mentioned that we went to Louisiana recently. The excuse was to visit family and to witness a spectacle staged by my sister-in-law at the New Orleans Museum of Art. My true purpose was to devote vast hours of the day to writing and reading, and that I did, rereading Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds (amongst other titles) and reading episodes from the 1922 original version of Ulysses. What I was writing was my “Bloomsday Book.” So reading Ulysses each day was essential while trying to record Rasan’s and my wanderings on Sunday the sixteenth of June, twenty-thirteen. I developed a taste for the literary life and complained to Alice that I didn’t know enough smart people. Smart here being defined as “liking the same sort of things that I like.” Smart people read translated literature, watch art films, and listen to piano jazz and are capable of talking about writers like Aira, Marías, Vila-Matas, Gombrowicz, and filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Rohmer, and Marker. In truth I’m an ignoramus about most things. Like what’s going on in the world. I follow soccer closely, but politics leaves me cold.
What color is your ivory tower?
ONE CAT SITTING ON THE HOOD OF MY CAR. UNWANTED.
Today, I was eating my lunch and I wanted something to read and so I googled “knausgaard” and found an essay in the Los Angeles Review of Books by Nina MacLaughlin. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve finished reading Book Two of Knausgaard’s My Struggle and still I find that I want to return to that place, that destination, that world which I slipped into each time I opened his book. Not that I want to be Knausgaard or even live his life, but by being with Knausgaard the narrator, I entered into my own quotidian existence equipped with a clean lens and a bright light. Nina MacLaughlin’s essay says, “He [Knausgaard] opens our eyes to meaning.” Every act, every choice offers the possibility of meaning. How many of us even think about our choices? Especially those small choices?
When I reached the end of the essay, I read the couple of lines about the author. ”Nina MacLaughlin left her job at an alt-weekly to become a carpenter in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She’s working on a book about it to be published by W.W. Norton.” A writer of books? Another quick search yielded Nina MacLaughlin’s blog, Carpentrix with the teasing subtitle “Tools, Sweat, Building, also Books and Sometimes Sex.” I read a few posts and found that we have something else in common: mothers who knit. And in the cooler months, hardly a day goes by when I don’t have the opportunity to say the words, “My mother made it.”
I talk with my mother each week on the phone. She lives on the other side of the country, in the Pacific Northwest. She tells me about her knitting and I tell her about my writing. The two activities are not dissimilar. Writing novels might seem like an artsy way to pass the time, but the nuts and bolts of word work is a precision craft like knitting or carpentry.
There’s a practical, crafty side to my life. When I put away the tools of fiction, I strap on my rubber boots and head down to my brewery. Leaving the writing desk is always difficult for me. I want to keep writing. I want to keep reading. And as I pull on those brewery boots I think, I want to live a more literary life. But then I get to the brewery which is less than a half mile from my house and I start my work, the labor of beer making, and I wonder how I could ever give this up, this craft, this honest labor, this making of something that brings joy to myself and to others.
Yesterday, Mike and I brewed another batch of pilsner. As I was filling the last keg from the fermenter we were about to refill with the wort in the boil kettle, Mike brought me a frothy glass of the hefeweizen we’d made on Friday. Fresh, malty, tart, balance of clove and banana… a host of beery words bubbled up as I took in the aroma. Other associations like the approach of summer and afternoons on the beach came to mind as I drank in the crispy, prickly liquid. Summer in a glass.
A couple of weeks ago, I met a fellow brewer at a crafty gastropub in Manhattan and we talked about the brewing business, its trials and tribulations. You don’t go into the brewing business to make money, at least not small scale craft brewing. Eventually, my brewing colleague asked me how I got in to commercial brewing in the first place. Why did I give up homebrewing for the headaches of commercial brewing? Or why did you leave the comforts of your career-track job that guaranteed a steady income and benefits? Why turn your hobby into your career? ”I thought it would be something to write about,” I said. Another life experience. Some men brave the subzero temperatures of the South Pole. Others scale the oxygen deprived heights of Everest. But I chose beer making. A possibly less lethal choice.
Thinking of Nina MacLaughlin’s blog and its subtitle, I wondered about my own blog. Should I adopt a teasing subtitle. ”Kettles, Kegs, Brewing, Also Books and Sometimes… what?” I usually save the sex for my fiction. Very little sex in the brewery.
ONE CAT PLAYING A PIANO.