Friday, September 21, 2007


December Boys, Nels Cline, Roth

Just a few odds and ends today. I posted my review of December Boys over at NewsQuake (which now resides at Propeller rather than Netscape.) Most of the attention generated by this film has to do with its nominal star, Daniel Radcliffe: how would he fare as a non-magical teenager, sneaking furtive cigarettes and poring over skin magazines? He does okay, I suppose, with a big Adam's apple and knobby elbows and the same look of wincing alienation we always got from Harry Potter when the other Hogwarts kids treated him like shit. Here's a salient paragraph:
Directing his first feature, Rod Hardy goes easy on the wistful reaction shots, and wisely leans on the weatherbeaten landscape, with its golden dunes and lunar crags overlooking the water. There's an air of timelessness, which can be confusing. When crusty Father Scully (Frank Gallacher) drives the boys to the shore, for example, his car looks like a Depression-era jalopy. So it's something of a shock to hear Norman Greenbaum's 1969 hit "Spirit in the Sky" blasting out of a tiny record player--and to recall that the same song was just used in the considerably less gossamer Knocked Up. In an age devoted to the dutiful gross-out, December Boys is perhaps too proper, too satisfied with its sepia-toned sweetness. For better or worse, though, it's the kind of movie you could bring home to meet your sister.
I also posted a piece about the recent Nels Cline CD, Draw Breath, a couple of weeks ago. I began this way:
Born and bred in Los Angeles, the 51-year-old Nels Cline is probably the best guitarist you've never heard of. In musical circles, he's been steadily building a reputation since the 1980s, when he began recording with Julius Hemphill, Vinny Golia, and Tim Berne. Like these bushwhacking artists, Cline has tended to dwell in the jazz hinterlands, where harmonic complexity meets pure noise. Yet he has also consorted with such diverse figures as Charlie Haden, Willie Nelson, and Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. And all along, Cline has released a string of solo projects, of which the latest is Draw Breath.
These days, Cline is probably most visible as Wilco's lead guitarist. A case of chicken pox apparently laid him low toward the end of the summer, but he's now back on the circuit and playing up a storm, aided by this superbly geeky array of pedals and stompboxes:

Yes, of course, it was geeky of me to reproduce that photo. Moving right along: I see that Philip Roth's Exit Ghost has gotten a couple of stinging reviews. In The Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlin Romano writes:
As the umpteenth recycling of Roth's obsessions, Exit Ghost will doubtless draw Roth admirers to explore and celebrate it, connecting all the new dots to previous Zuckerman lore as if they were painting a portrait of literature itself. Less enamored readers may conclude that to the extent Roth possesses an imagination, it's an insufferable one.
This is benign stuff, however, in comparison with Christopher Hitchens's takedown in The Atlantic. Strange: both critics seem especially vexed by Zuckerman's relationship to Roth, viewing the character less as an epistemological hand puppet and more as a simple alias the author can don when he hits on yet another 23-year-old at a party. Here's the Hitch, pulling no punches:
As with Exit Ghost's immediate predecessor, Everyman, one gets an ever-stronger impression that Roth has degraded the Eros-Thanatos dialectic of some of his earlier work and is now using his fiction, first to kill off certain characters and to shoot the wounded, and second to give him something to masturbate about.
Having written my own review of Exit Ghost for Newsday, I'll keep my thoughts to myself until that piece appears on September 30.

I was always surprised that Nabokov entered into a protracted argument with Wilson about the use of "dit" instead of "ditty"; perhaps Nabokov's motivation was just sadistic joy at the discovery of his colleague's ignorance. Indeed, Wilson's attack on Nabokov is a precise parallel of scorn heaped on Pushkin by contemporary critics who disapproved his use -- in Eugene Onegin -- of "топ" instead of "топот". Pushkin's response (in his article

Людская молвь и конский топ —

выражение сказочное (Бова Королевич).

Читайте простонародные сказки, молодые писатели, чтоб видеть свойства русского языка.

«Как приятно будет читать роп вм. ропот, топ вм. топот» и проч. На сие замечу моему критику, что роп, топ и проч. употребляются простолюдимами во многих русских губерниях — NB мне случалось также слышать стукот вместо стук.
Thanks for your comment, Mr. Borovik, which I assume was meant for the next post. I dearly wish I could read those Cyrillic characters, but I can't. I agree that Wilson was insane to nitpick at Nabokov's command of Russian language and literature. What was he thinking? But in this case--the use of "dit"--I have to agree with him. Just to be clear: are you of the pro- or anti-dit party?
As much as I *don't* love "Exit", still, it has to be pointed out that Romano obviously skimmed the book (mistaking Zuckerman's embarrassing fantasy dialog- with the object of his obsession- for *Roth's* "embarrassing" dialogue between the two; major reviewing error), and, well, Hitchens is being merely, and vulgarly (almost Bill O'Reillyishly) political; anyone foolish enough to write *anything* anti-Iraq-war gets a whapp from The Scary Hitchens Lady handbag.

And it *is* clear, in "Exit", that Kliman is pegging the "importance" of his proposed Lonoff bio on the "dirty secret" angle, meaning to re-illuminate a great writer's oeuvre in the tint of a "perversion" that very probably never took place. Not a new theme for Roth: the New Piety's avidity for sanctimonious misinterpretation (Dean Silk's crucifiction was similar to Mick Sabbath's in that regard)...almost every DWM of Roth's approximate generation, from Larkin to Hughes to Amis to Lowell to Brodkey to Saul Bellow, et al, has suffered a devastating visit (Larkin wasn't even quite cold) from the PC Reappraisal Committee. I'm sure Roth sees it coming.

But Roth/Zuck doesn't argue that "Lonoff" is above judgement; he's arguing that *no one* is, and the sanctimonious scowl of our age is *beyond* hypocritical.

The *worst* I'd accuse Roth of being in "Exit" is bored with the character Nathan Zuckerman. The book doesn't stand very well on its own, but it's very nearly not required to, as it merely rounds out the otherwise very healthy shelf of The Zuckerlogue. In other words: one for the completists.

Think of it as something like the volume in which Conan Doyle killed *his* Sherlock off...*that one* didn't go down very well either, as I recall...(being well over a century old myself).

Anyway, as you can tell, I rather like Roth's work...(laugh).
Re: Roth, there's a lot to like! But the new book still strikes me as a wreck--something you'd see parked under a highway overpass, with three missing wheels and a cracked windshield.
J! Argh! Devastating image! And despite my intense admiration/affection for Roth's great body of work, I tend to agree (though with the mitigation that I think the wreck's worth towing home).

I'll just sit here waiting patiently under the overpass for the next one to zoom along...
Oh, sure. New tires, oil change, paint job, body work, replace that eight-track player.... Good as new. Not under warranty, though.
Now that it's out do you have any additional comments on this piece?
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