Having just finished Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for perhaps the second time of my life (the first was in high school I believe), I am now free to find what is profound in whatever pronounces itself at the moment. And what is profound is Kurtz, his character, his sentience of his surroundings, movements, and barbarity. So much can be said, of course, about this novel’s “social implications”: the overt racism, imperial arrogance, etc. But this novel isn’t really about all of these CliffsNotes sidebar themes (high schoolers stop reading upon peril to your AP test). This book is mainly about one man, his mystery, his profound effect, profound death, and phantom nature. Kurtz starts as a ghost and ends as perhaps the most terrifying specter in modern literature. As Marlow wrestles with the end product of his Congo trance, we all sit upon the deck of his ship in the Thames contemplating not the nature of the Occident to marginalize and belittle, but of how we can meet Kurtz and somehow escape intact. And it hit me that Kurtz is perhaps some sort of mortal deity, a mixture of Jesus and the God of the Old Testament zapping whole cultures out of righteous indignation. In this light, Kurtz’s ivory moves far beyond personal accumulation of wealth and turns into gleaming souls: a hoarding of pain and sorrow, a reaping of lifetimes of hope in the struggling, sputtering wilderness. And like Jesus, we are attracted to Kurtz, to the “voice,” that screams out “horror, horror,” in gasping breaths, knowing that in the terrible freeness of nature, in the limits of the social spectrum, we all know the truth of life: there is a feeble line between horror and beauty and we must internalize both to make sense of the other.
Check out Autre ne Veut’s “Play by Play” on their album Anxiety
Ron Rash’s recent collection of short stories is really just a pathway into a regional author’s writing process. As a precursor to this year’s almost novelette The Cove, Burning Bright serves as a the palette of color with which Rash has permeated the southern Blue Ridge. Although Rash has never been exceptionally light-hearted, this collection seems downright soul-crushing, focusing on death and grief and loss perhaps more-so than any novel in his repertoire. The best story in my opinion is “Into the Gorge,” where Jesse, the recessive local, returns to his family’s old plot of land, now gobbled up into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to dig up ginseng. As this man both tries to pocket some extra cash and commune with his ancestor’s geography and haunting legends, he butts up against the modern world in a tragically hopeless manner. In the end, Jesse is doomed to repeat the past of his ancestors, although the parameters of their existence are unparalleled Other stories, such as “The Ascent” or even the prelude “Hard Times” are driven by the intersections of how youth in Appalachia navigates through poverty, drugs, and absentee parenting. Of course it would be easy to draw these children out as allegories in and of themselves, which Rash may be doing, but the intimacy and dream-like diction of the narrative suggests that Rash may be indeed “Benjamin-buttoning” us all as he ages into new material. Overall, this succinct and laconic collection, although disastrous and forlorn, is a brilliant set of tragedies that reflects the troubled transition of the Blue Ridge into a privately sequestered opulent playground.
a movement into strong feminine shoe-gazing, post-hippie freak folk, and emotionally damaged hip-hop / Also, trending back to what is American / spit in the face of hipster cynicism / But no dominant narrative here, however, because unlike in previous years, 2012 was 12 months of genre reshuffling and overlap / still, it was all raw / Chan Marshall of Cat Power spoke of the depths of the power of home, so much a cliché in our post-post modernness / Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes made us rethink the structure of folk in our American consciousness, challenging notions of prayer and solitude, all while introducing us to our “Mayla” / Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi granulized street life in a manner that made it tangibly familiar and emotionally parallel / there was even room for The Killers to fire up some strong 21st century rock ballads / But enough of all the categorizing and adjectives-great music still lies in the unquantifiable, and perhaps this year it is evident that what is good is good just because it is what it is…
Criteria //////// in visual rhetoric
The List //////// reviews as haikus
1. Purity Ring / Shrines 9.4
earthen, salty, landscape-driven / in a sphere of magma emotion and dubstep / undulatingly honest
2. Father John Misty / Fear Fun 9.2
strangely American / subdued distortion of modern freak folk / piously fathomed
3. Lana Del Rey / Born to Die 9.1
visually mesmerizing / piece of the American pie with a cigarette / voluptuously carnal
4. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes / Here 8.8
campfire-silence / whirling telephone poles on a road trip / swaying, chanting-sunrise
5. WZRD / WZRD 8.8
pulsing hybrid / sweaty rounding of recovery / a man who stands
6. Cat Power / Sun 8.7
unlaced and spread out / speaking of voluminous experience at every corner / history-heavy
7. Hot Chip / In Our Heads 8.5
playfully lost / a hall of mirrors masquerade / relational boon
8. Kendrick Lamar / good kid, m.a.a.d city 8.4
Parisian arrogance / but Benedictine repentance acts as grounding / god vs.(or on) street
9. Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin / Beast of the South Wild Soundtrack 8.4
child’s winding toy / imagination breathed ring of fire, water, dirt / ever flicker and descending
10. Grimes / Visions 8.3
peppy and terrifying / jovial mistress of 80s synth retribution / turquoise hoodies and blood
11. The Killers / Battle Born 8.3
white stallions / lightning and Freddie Mercury’s mustache / Arizona dust and liquor
12. alt-J / An Awesome Wave 8.1 (best album artwork 2012)
triangle philosophy / indulgent in repeating patterns / algae green
13. The Avett Brothers / The Carpenter 8.1
agrarian winter stove / tweed and wool with a sharpened axe / ice melody
14. The XX / Coexist 8.0 (2012 album artwork #2)
man and woman / remonstrance between couples at morning coffee / layered, coloring book
15. Santigold / Master of my Make-Believe 8.0
mythically Amazonian / gender melding and cogently razor-sharp / elephant tusk and Porsche
16. Exitmusic / Passage 7.9
summer sparklers / a solid night with a beer and a pen/ piano rip and heart pixelation
The polar universes are often and inexpressibly vague and mythological. Perhaps that’s why for such a number of years they held such heightened scrutiny for would-be explorers scraping across Earth’s final frontiers. What is strange, however, is Ruby’s account of two parallel arctic explorations three centuries apart make the arctic seem more desirous than the New World (southern edition) in the High Renaissance or industrializing America much later. Martin Frobisher and Charles Francis Hall serve the book-ends of Ruby’s narrative, who are quite expertly shown as different men first and different explorers last. Both are in searches for something, which Ruby thankfully shows us is really themselves. Frobisher, under the weight of reaching a passage to Cathay and then loading the coffers of Renaissance England with alchemic “black ore” is really a man sprawling in the turmoil of playing second fiddle. Hall, on the other hand, seeks the arctic not for wealth but for recognition, not of personal exploits, but of playing hero to a group of men already blown to dust by the arctic frost. One wonders if Hall had found Franklin’s men if he would have truly enjoyed their revelation to the modern world. Ruby makes him certainly romantic enough to try.
As the polar regions receive more and more attention in the upcoming years for their destruction instead of their frontier merit, books like Ruby’s are key to remembering that the arctic is more than a melting smeer on the coattails of global warming. Indeed, places like Frobisher’s Bay and Baffin Island need to be rediscovered for not only their natural beauty but human intersection. Thus, in a way, Ruby writes an environmental history that though steeping in Occidental superiorities seeks to undermine the concept that man has never truly inhabited one of the coldest places on earth. Truly, the Inuit are the heroes of this narrative, which is easy to feel as one by one they drop to death as soon as they butt up against European or American households. On a more speculative note, Ruby inadvertently, or maybe a little overtly, tells us that to each section of the earth is a set of men, and that set is limited. It’s nice at the end of the day to still believe that nature can win. Ruby makes us believe for a couple hundred of pages that this is still true.
This was my first Wolfe anything. I had seen several of his works lying around collecting dust on friends bookshelves, and had often wondered,”Who is this man with the ostentatious covers and 90s charisma?” Turns out he is somewhat of a relic and somewhat of a genius.
Like most carnal 20-somethings, I picked this one up because I was engaged by the prospect of an explanation of the process of temporary sexual desire. Instead, I got a narrative that weaved in and out of the cybertropolis of Y2K leftovers and Jerry Springer hangovers. It’s not that Hooking Up is bad, in fact, it’s quite good, it’s just…dusty, fantastically 90s writing. Wolfe starts out strong telling the tale of Silicon Valley via a midwestern states dowsing of homespun Americana. The comparison to Josiah Grinnell, the coiner of the sternum lifting “Go West, young man,” to Intel’s brilliant business/physicist Robert Joyce is a tired cliche at best. Wolfe makes the argument that the success of the tech industry was based on the lingering residue of “Dissenting Protestantism” fighting against the elitist stigma of the Eastern United States. But, Wolfe’s biting diction and playful tone allow for the insurgence of the technical age amidst all the limp-wrist elitists hanging around in Humanities departments (I am one by the way).
For all of his modern American apparatus drum-banging, Wolfe goes wildly off base by suggesting that the “ivory tower” fields of history, sociology, english, etc. are all boiling in a stew of remnant Marxism. Come on, there’s plenty of capitalism here, what with all the competing and throat crunching for some sort of subject that hasn’t been written about. Ok, so the Humanities is sinking under the weight of its own libraries, but there is a freshness in the air that is moving the tweed mildew out of our crumbling marble buildings. Surprise to Wolfe, however, the movement is not flamboyant or cutting edge. Good history today is patient, human-centered, and rich in overlapping methodologies. By lumping all of the liberal arts into a block of deconstruction, Wolfe failed to see what was coming as an attache to the estrangement caused by our technical enterprise: a quest for identity. And I would argue, most emphatically, that the past has the most to say about that one. Cue: ivory tower.
“Ambush at Fort Bragg” was a giant disappointment for me. It seemed like Wolfe was trying to hold some sort of pep rally for primetime journalism that no one really gave a shit about in the 90s. A whole short story about a murder of a gay person in the military by two erstwhile “skinhead” rednecks? Ughickphargh!!!! The whole plot was so Ricki Lake in the worst sort of 90s way, and still, this was to be the example of the great opportunity of current American journalism at the turn of the millenium? We got it all in “Ambush”: nudey porno half asians, gay murders, big busted middle-aged female anchors, a sweaty palmed, emasculated whiner, and a giant criticism of the American military. I’ll give Wolfe some credit because this was written in 2000, but I remember that year I was entranced by the emerging internet apparatus governed by Napster, AIM, and ebay. What Wolfe gave us was a last ditch pilot for the Jerry Springer show.
Wolfe’s other autobiography about laying out William Shawn to the triumph of the 1960s journalistic world was an equal match of tedious brazenness. Wolfe let us know full well how awesome he USED to be, back then, you know, when newspapers were cool and such, and people cared about editors. Talk about “tiny mummies,” Wolfe became one as soon as he published this in Hooking Up. Sure, it’s an interesting story about bringing The New Yorker to its knees, and it’s actually quite funny at parts, but I don’t see any real purpose in it being in this volume other than to prop Wolfe up as some bare-knuckel bad-ass with a real life typewriter!
Anyways, this book is good for one reason only: Wolfe is an unbelievably good writer, and actually, he’s a pretty sweet bad-ass too. Hooking Up seems to try too hard to make those points, but after all of the “Hey guys, I’m Tom Wolfe, and I’m really good, have been for awhile,” one is convinced that this eccentric, pompous man, is a magician with words. So, I’ll read other stuff by him-maybe even a novel, but I suppose from here on out I will be looking over my shoulder to guard against an Icabod Crane in the form of Wolfe who’s lost his head because it exploded from egotism.