The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The Paris Review, No. 38 – Part II

Posted on: May 30, 2007

I may dip into other periods for a change of pace but for now I’m enchanted with the Paris Review as it was in 60’s. The splendour of reading Arthur Miller’s of “I couldn’t dig it!” in the interview was followed by a perplexing and, I’ve since concluded, drug fuelled series of illustrations by Joe Brainard, accompanying poem by Kenward Elmslie, entitled “The Power Plant Sestina”. The first time through I paid attention to the art, couldn’t make heads or tails of what it was getting at (maybe it wasn’t getting at anything, only reaching (and succeeding) at a certain effect). A few days later I read the poem and still didn’t know what the heck was going on. It wasn’t until I read Allen Ginsberg’s note at the end of the issue (more on it later) that made say out loud, “Oh! They were high!”

jk1jk2Horizon, burn with a smoky flame.
Thousands of women will bob up
and down
left, right, left; and right, left, right.
Give me something pearly-shaped and soft
(like blue crystals) to offset hard
and don’t forbid amber
at the center.

I’d like to describe to you this particular reading experience but the thing is I don’t know myself. I googled the artists to find out, you know, wtf and ended up on Elmslie’s fun house of creativity ready to be sampled. (Flash required.) Nothing was made any clearer but it’s entirely my fault what with a headache and grievously loud construction drilling outside my window. I do recommend it as he presents his poetry and creative collaborations, marrying his words to the music, voice and visual art of others, to create fascinating little worlds, often hilariously. Visiting Brainard’s site was a sadder affair as he died from “AIDS-induced pneumonia” in 1994. Still it was interesting to read about an artist who was notable in his time, and see some of his work on the site, all of which were, at least superficially, completely different from what as in the PR.

Next was Rudolph Wurlitzer’s strange excerpt from his novel Nog, entitled “Octopus”. The protagonist travels around the country for no particular purpose, with a fake octopus he received from Nog, a “semi-religious lunatic” of “Finnish extraction”, who used to present it at state fairs and the like, claiming it was a real octopus and charging people to touch it. The story, told from a first person perspective, has a very detached feel overall. The narrator seems to have had a tumultuous past and to control this he artificially constructs and limits himself to three specific memories: “New York for adventure, beaches for relaxation, the octopus and Nog for speculation.” Whenever he observes something and is tempted to mentally wander he pulls back to one of these memories, artificially constructed because he himself admits to being a bit creative with them. And, of course, the brain doesn’t work in such a rigid, disconnected fashion so you have to wonder why he’s trying so hard to fool himself.

Jesse Hill Ford‘s contribution “The Highwayman” was queer for entirely different reasons, most to do with Little Frank, a name that suited his short, slim stature — 5’4″, 119 lbs — and his immature conscious for a man of 26. He’d been roped into an armed robbery plan by William his taller, domineering brother-in-law, younger by four years. With Lula his wife they drove along a Tennessee highway, stopping ever so often at a pit stop so that Little Frank could rob a convenience store.

He was both a good and bad choice for the job: good because you could order him around easily enough, bad because his childish temperament made him volatile and impulsive. At one point during the ride William swerved to hit but missed an adult fox with her cub. Little Frank became fixed on the cute cub and wanted them to turn around so he could capture it. William refused to do so and he along with Lola tried to persuade it wasn’t a good idea, and then lied that they would capture the next one they saw. Little Frank knew they were lying but liked to hear them say it, although he muttered about turning back to get the cub for some time after. Reading this dialogue from a 26 year old prompted me to assume that he was mentally disabled to some degree.

Suffice it to say, the story doesn’t end well. Besides Frank’s strange internal dialogue, Ford’s style was the most notable aspect of the story. It’s a very easy going, almost rambling kind of prose that belies Ford’s sharp ability to create memorable settings and disturbed characters. I think his short stories would make a good summer read – I could feel the heat as they went down a highway.

He’s the third writer in this issue who committed suicide. Huh.

5 Responses to "The Paris Review, No. 38 – Part II"

Love that art, looks like a fascinating book!

There’s more of it on Elmslie’s site in the “Nite Soil” category — whole calendar of girls. 🙂

Imani- I’ve finally had a chance to check out your excellent blog. You’re a wonderful writer! I was glad to read of your discovery of Mrs. Dalloway, I’m such a Woolf nut – although I think The Waves has to be my favorite. I will make your blog a regular destination.

Thank you very much Ted, I do appreciate the feedback I get on the blog’s quality. And yes ever since I did that tiny post on Mrs Dalloway Woolf nuts have been coming out of the wood work. I will see what I can do about acquiring both The Waves and Orlando. Apparently all her earlier stuff is available for free on the web.

[…] I read a novel excerpt of Nog (to be reissued in 2009 according to the review) in The Paris Review No. 38 and my interest in eventually reading his fiction never faded. Another Paris Review […]

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