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Monthly Archives: October 2010


Book Review: The Tell Tale Heart and Other Writings

The Tell Tale Heart and Other Writings compiles (presumably) Poe’s better short stories and poems. If you’re familiar with “The Raven” and “The Tell Tale Heart” — and anyone who’s taken high school-level English, known a few goths that affect airs, or simply owns a TV would be — you’ll have a good idea of the rest of the book’s material. It also includes Poe’s novella, “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym”, an intricate account of the titular character’s endlessly dangerous voyages at sea.

“Tell Tale”, as a story, is exemplary of Poe’s style because it involves two things: psychosis and the weird uncertainty of death. The narrator kills his elderly roommate because he just didn’t like one of his eyes. Granted, he describes it as milky-white and vulture-like, but the appearance of one’s eye is not a great reason for killing anyone by any means. The narrator, who exhibits an acute sense of hearing at the outset, is driven mad by the beating of the murdered’s heart, which is, incidentally, still beating (even if metaphorically) and is buried somewhere in the floorboards.

In fact, Poe’s laser-like obsession with death, perhaps resulting from his turbulent personal life and mediocre writing career, was a genetic and literary experiment in Hegelian synthesis. His fascination with the morbid caused him to not to necessarily blur the lines between life and death but instead fuse the two until it became a grotesque amalgamation of the two states: not quite an intermediary stage, but an altogether new manner of existence. An animal is symbolically reincarnated (“The Black Cat”), a dead body became reanimated (“The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”), a brother and sister that might as well be dead actually died (“The Fall of the House of Usher”), a prisoner narrowly avoided a final death, deus ex machina-style (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and a hapless sailor who constantly brushes with death kinda-sorta died while sailing to the entrance of the hollow earth (“Pym”).

While the constant plot element of being trapped/buried alive or held in abeyance with the threat of death would be of note to historical psychologists and literary biographers alike, this collection serves as a great introduction into the macabre and Romantic literature.

Comments Closed, For Eternity

Through some recent discussions with a friend I’ve decided to take comments off the blog. Not that the comments were really a huge “problem” to begin with, but it’s more representative of something internal. I want this site to be a documentation of a cadre of various things, a few of which are broad topics like reading and fiction writing and how the two relate. This is not a place for me to collect comments as a show-and-tell watermark about how (un)popular I am, because that’s what it will become for me. I don’t want to also fall into the trap of actually inviting (really, begging for) comments via the el cheapo cattleprod question at the end of a post. This is perfectly fine if that is your goal, but I don’t think it’s for me.

The Internet suffers from an infestation of collaboration. No matter what anyone throws up here, it’s subject to universal distribution and scrutiny (see the share button at the bottom here?). We’re under immense social pressure to make ourselves “open source” and hear the opinions of others to mold the road before us. To be closed to avenues of exchange is considered pathological, the foremost affront to connectivity. I’m already on Twitter and Facebook and a few other things, so forgive me for saying that there’s no damned possible way I could be more social than I already am now.

If you really like what I’m writing, feel free to email me. Two writers that I follow rather closely have personally emailed me, unsolicited, and it meant more to me than two word compliment left in a status update.

Blogs are wonderful communication tools but they will not replace books — yes, even electronic books. But if they are declining in popularity (they may be, I’m not sure), it’s because the medium does not and cannot fit inside the social networking paradigm. You see, the book does not like you, nor does want you to click its “Like” button. It exists even if you don’t. It doesn’t care what you think of it or if you really have something to say about the universe it posits. The best you can do is scribble illegibly in its margins (the amphiboly of the word “margin” is delicious here). Authors wield their canons like cudgels, whacking you with its concreteness and ignoring your supplications. It’s only answerable to its creator, and guess what? The editor just gave the author a bigger cudgel and you’re about to be hit even harder.

The Pit (of a Certain Nantucketian) and The Penduluum (of Economic Theories)

I received The Road to Serfdom last week in the mail, and book club is this Sunday. So immediately I switched from Poe to Hayek to make good on the deadline. Is this noteworthy? Not really, other than as an exemplary occurrence of the mania of someone who might take too seriously his reading schedule with respect to casual literary meetups.

It goes deeper than that, though; my mental health is in danger. One can’t go from Gordon Pym’s constant, Candide-like seafaring misfortunes to a critique of centralized planning of economies without some exit wound damage. I did skip Pym’s account of the ornithology of Kerguelen’s Island — come now, Edgar! — so I haven’t gone over the edge yet.

If you don’t see a new post here within a week, call someone who can help.

This Is Not What You Wanted

On an episode of 60 Minutes a while back I heard of a writer who preferred to create on a typewriter instead of a computer because it forced him to reconsider things more effectively. Ray Bradbury drafted Fahrenheit 451 on a rented typewriter in the basement of a college building. He inserted dimes at the top and bottom of every hour while academicians pursed their lips and students learned to filter out the insanities through pencil tips.

This is somewhat related to this un-lanced boil of a book I’m writing — a carbuncle of pain just beyond my reach. There was a time when I had the third edition of its outline (leaner, meaner, and so much more striking) at the ready for the third rewrite, but the ones and zeroes decided to cough softly and go belly up. It was only 15 minutes of work that needed to be redone, but there’s some lesson learned somewhere that I don’t want to think about (having another writer inhouse, going through a real-life rewrite, might help with that). It’s easy to be anti-progress and scissor the loom strings when things go wrong, but I remember that for every ugly misfire of technology there are a hundred benefits it slips out of her sleeve, rolling off the table with barely a notice. I only care when something goes wrong.

It’s kind of like getting to kiss your Fate on the lips while she holds Death in her mouth. You end up dead but you did something no one else could do.

The House of Usher (of Books)

“The grim phantasm,” of paper.

The blurry, delicately left-aligned photograph you see here are all of the books in my possession that are in queue for reading. Please note the absence of the highest priority item, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which has been posted from an operative in Ebayland.

You see, book club has started back up after a summer break and we can’t seem to break away from those writings on either politics or religion — the two topics most favored in discussions between people that hold differing beliefs. There haven’t been any fights yet, I think because the ambiance of Max & Erma’s innards and the smudged lipstick of their female waitstaff inspire an inordinate amount of good cheer and mutual deference in argumentation. I haven’t checked under table yet to see if there are any drawn daggers or flipped birds.

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