Quentin Tarantino is an Anti-black Racist. DJANGO UNCHAINED is a Work of Anti-black Racism

A review of Django Unchained by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Quentin Tarantino is a slobbering anti-black racist who makes Blaxploitation films for hipsters.  These hipsters grow aggressively defensive whenever African-Americans stand up and denounce these very films.  (Spike Lee, Katt Williams, and Armond White are only a few of the African-Americans who have spoken out against Tarantino’s racism.)  Tarantino wishes to prove to his hipster fan base that he knows African-American culture better than African-Americans know their own culture.  And his hipster fanboys also desire that feeling — the feeling that they understand African-Americans better than African-Americans understand themselves.  (For an analysis of the mind of the hipster, consult Norman Mailer’s essay on this topic.)

Tarantino’s latest abomination is Django Unchained (2012), a film about a murderer-for-hire named Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) who enlists an African slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to assist him in his mass-murdering spree.  Their journey ends at Candyland, a plantation owned by the oleaginous Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, in an amusing and impressive performance that elevates above the film and never quite descends into camp).  There is much to demur to, but I will restrict myself to three demurrals: 1.) The film is an agglomeration of plagiarisms. 2.) The film is crypto-racist garbage. 3.) The screen violence is without passion or meaning.

DJANGO UNCHAINED IS AN AGGLOMERATION OF PLAGIARISMS

Django Unchained is a pastiche of Spaghetti Westerns.  The opening song was lifted directly from the English-language version of Django (1966).  On the soundtrack is a well-known composition from Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) – an American Spaghetti Western, if there ever was one.  There is also an appearance by Franco Nero, star of the original Django, which is a pointless, meaningless cinematic reference that adds nothing whatsoever to the film, which is itself a pointless, meaningless accumulation of cinematic references.

The references are smarmily, unctuously obvious.  One thinks of the scene in which Schultz recounts to Django the basics of Das Nibelungenlied.  If Tarantino were an artist, he wouldn’t have spelled out the legend of Siegfried and Brunhilda for the benefit of his illiterate spectatorship.

Not merely does the film contain a cluster of plagiarisms; it itself is a plagiarism.  The film is an unacknowledged remake of the Mandingo films of the 1970s — in particular, Mandingo (1975) and its sequel, Drum (1976).  Tarantino steals from these sources to such a degree that his film would have been better entitled Mandingo Unchained.

Calvin Candie is clearly modeled on two characters in Drum: DeMarigny (John Colicos), connoisseur of Mandingo fights, and Warren Oates’ character Hammond, slave-owner and breeder of Mandingos.  Both characters were spliced together to create the hybrid Calvin Candie, lover of intra-racial violence.

The Mandingo-fight scene [1:05] owes everything to the original Mandingo film, although different body parts are excised.  In Django Unchained, an eye is enucleated.  In Mandingo, a jugular vein is torn out.

Quentin Tarantino isn’t very much different from Calvin Candie.  After all, they both enjoy watching Mandingo fighting.

DJANGO UNCHAINED IS CRYPTO-RACIST TRASH

On the surface, Django Unchained seems to be directed against white anti-black racism.  But it is itself a work of white anti-black racism.

Now, I like revenge fantasies as much as the next person, but there is something more sordid, more sinister going on here than what goes on in most revenge fantasies (“You got me!  Now I gonna get you, sucka!”).  Like its predecessor, Inglourious Basterds (2009), Django Unchained is a work of genocide pornography, the cruelest, most unconscionably vicious form of pornography in existence.  The crude plot of Inglourious Basterds trivializes the Holocaust; the crude plot of Django Unchained trivializes the enslavement of Africans in antebellum America.

But Django Unchained does more than merely trivialize the enslavement of Africans in nineteenth-century America.  It turns the enslavement of Africans into an object of consumption, an object of enjoyment.

To call this film “ahistorical” would be a gross understatement.  The film approximates history as closely as Spongebob Squarepants approximates marine biology.  With one important qualification: The creator of Spongebob Squarepants actually knows a great deal about marine biology, even if he chooses not to exhibit this knowledge in the television program that he spawned.  This film bears no relation to history whatsoever.  It is a bombinating vacuum in which references from exploitation films resonate.

No one in the nineteenth century ever said, “Adult supervision is required.”  Nor did anyone ever use the term “***********************************.”

Slaves could not read, but Django does a pretty good job of reading aloud the text of a Wanted poster [0:57].  He doesn’t know the words “bounty,” “valet,” or “positive,” but he does know the words “antagonize” and “intrigue.” As Katt Williams pointed out, it is odd that Django can spell his own name.

The late populist film critic Roger Ebert used the term deus ex machina (“God-out-of-the-machine”) to describe the entry of Schultz in the opening of the film.  That moment isn’t quite a deus ex machina — such a device is commonly used at the end of a work, such as when Helios transports Medea on a golden chariot at the end of Euripides’ tragedy.

However, Ebert was correct to call Schultz a “god.”  He just didn’t know the extent to which he was correct.

Schultz is a god, all right.  He is the white god who creates the black Django.  “I feel vaguely responsible for you,” he says to Django.  “I gave you your freedom.”

Yes, it is Schultz who grants Django his liberty.  The first time we see Django’s face is when Schultz shines light on him.  It is Schultz who transforms Django into a murderer-for-hire.  It is Schultz who sculpts Django into a full human being.

Django is not allowed to kill Calvin Candie.  Only the Good White Master is allowed to kill the Evil White Master.  Django is allowed to kill Candie’s minions — both black and white — but not their Evil White Master.  Django has a master, all right, and his name is Dr. King Schultz.

It is for this reason that Will Smith declined to assume the role of Django: “Django wasn’t the lead, so it was like, I need to be the lead.  The other character was the lead!  I was like, ‘No, Quentin, please, I need to kill the bad guy!'”

Will Smith’s objection to the film gets to the heart of the problem: Django is a secondary character, the Good White Master’s marionette.

Much has been made of the use of the “N-word” in the film.  That is because Tarantino enjoys saying the “N-word.”  The “N-word,” evidently, is his favorite word in the English language, a language that he does not know very well.  He expresses the “N-word” with brio, emitting it with gusto, as if this word were a shibboleth.

One recalls the infamous (I am using this word in its proper sense) scene in Pulp Fiction (1994) in which Tarantino-playing-Tarantino utters the “N-word” in Tourette’s-like staccato beats.  There is no point in arguing that Tarantino is playing a character and that his character is racist, not Tarantino, when Tarantino is obviously playing himself in the scene.  The delight that he feels whenever he bleats the “N-word” is palpable.

Django Unchained is backwater garbage, racist filth, intended for ugly-souled racist hipster fanboy cretins. The film is regressive because it imagines that White (the presence of all color) and Black (the absence of all color) are “colors” and that races and have really existent correspondents.  The film erodes and erases so many of the steps that America has taken over the past four years.  I am writing these words on 13 July 2013, the day on which George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

What is a racist?  A racist is someone who has nothing of which to be proud other than his or her epidermal pigmentation.  We are, all of us, out of Africa.  Anthropologists have established that Africa is the cradle of humanity and that there are only epidermal subdivisions between us.  It makes no sense to speak of “race,” since each individual “race” encompasses so many of these subdivisions.

Quentin Tarantino hypostatizes race.

THE VIOLENCE IN THE FILM IS PASSIONLESS

I don’t mind screen violence.  Screen violence can be bracing.  The problem with the representational violence in Django Unchained is that it is mechanical, spiritless, passionless.  It is difficult to understand how or why anyone would be offended by the violence in the films of Tarantino.  The violence in all of his films is automatized, transactional, emotionless.

I would like to call your attention to the moment [0:57] in which Schultz murders the alleged stagecoach robber Smitty Bacall.  Schultz snipes at his victim from a distance of about 200 feet.  Tarantino shoots the man from a distance of 200 feet, as well.  There is a complete emotional disengagement between the murderer and the murderee.  There is also a complete emotional disengagement between the film and the murderee.  We see the man’s son running to his father and hear the boy screaming, “Pa! Pa!”  But the boy and his father are no more than flecks of dust on the screen.  The father and son are hardly represented as human beings, at all.

And what about the scene that immediately follows the one that I just described?  The scene in which Django and Schultz use a band of cowboys for target practice [0:58]?  What, precisely, did these cowboys do to deserve to be gunned down?

I wonder, as well, if Lara Lee Candie (Laura Cayouette), Calvin’s sister, deserved to be murdered [2:39]. Yes, she did sell Django into the mining trade. But she could just as easily have had him gelded, which seems to have been the original plan.

All of the murders are filmed with the detached eye of a psychopath.

By contrast, the death scenes in the films of Nicolas Roeg are historically intense.  “A young man is cut down in the prime of his life,” Roeg said, referring to his directorial debut, Performance (1970).  “[Death] is an important thing.”

In Django Unchained, human characters (and horses) are eliminated with the same passion with which you would close pop-up advertisements on your computer screen.

* * * * *

The antistrophe to my arguments is quite predictable. “It’s only a movie” comes the bleating response.  You can hear the booing, the cooing, and the mooing: “It’s only a mooooooooooooooooooovie.” Keep on telling yourselves that: “It’s only a moooooooooooovie… It’s only a moooooooooovie…”

Despite such zoo noise, it can be said, without fear of exaggeration or absurdity, that Django Unchained is one of the vilest motion pictures ever made.  Not because of its violence (again, screen violence can be bracing), but because it delights in the exploitation and dehumanization of African-Americans.  Quentin Tarantino is a hate-criminal, and Django Unchained is a hate crime.

Dr. Joseph Suglia, table41thenovel.com

Advertisements

INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace – A Review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace

The writings of Voltaire and Lessing are the magna opera of neo-classicism. The paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, the symphonies of Schumann, and the works of Novalis and Schelling are the magna opera of German romanticism. Joyce’s Ulysses is the magnum opus of European modernism. The poems of Trakl, the paintings of Kirchner, and the dramas of Wedekind are the magna opera of German expressionism. The films Un Chien andalou (1929), L’Age d’Or (1930), and Viva la Muerte (1971) are the magna opera of surrealism.

Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace is the magnum opus of American hipsterism.

What is a “hipster,” you ask? A hipster is one who has what Hegel described as an “unhappy consciousness”: He is a self that is at variance with itself.

* * * * *

Anyone who has spent any time in academia will instantly recognize Wallace’s pedigree upon opening this book. Wallace was an academic writer. Unhappily, all connotations of “academic” are intentional. That is to say, the book is both fantastically banal and seems to have been composed, disconsolately and mechanistically, in a registrar’s office. It is not arbitrary that the narrative begins in the Department of Admissions of a tennis college. The language here recalls the world of registration and withdrawal forms and the world of classrooms where works such as this are spawned, dissected, and pickled — the world of the academic industry.

Wallace: “Matriculations, gender quotas, recruiting, financial aid, room-assignments, mealtimes, rankings, class v. drill schedules, prorector-hiring… It’s all the sort of thing that’s uninteresting unless you’re the one responsible…” [451].

I wonder if anyone besides Wallace has ever found these things interesting.

Since no one else has taken the trouble to encapsulate the narrative, permit me to attempt to do so here. The novel seems to have two diegetic threads and a meta-narrative. The first thread concerns the incandescent descent of Hal Incandenza, teenager and tennis student, into drug addiction. (Well, no, it isn’t quite incandescent, not quite luciferous, at all, but I liked the way that sounded.) The second outlines the shaky recovery of Don Gately, criminal, from Demerol. The “woof,” I imagine, details the efforts of a cabal of Quebecois terrorists to inject a death-inducing motion picture of the same title as this book into the American bloodstream. All of this takes place in a soupy, fuzzy future in which Mexico and Canada have been relegated to satellites of the onanistic “Organization of North American Nations.” Predictably, and much like NAFTA, America is at the epicenter of this reconfiguration.

It is hard to care about any of this. If Wallace had written fluidly, things would have been otherwise. It is not that the book is complex, nor that its prose is burnished (if only it were!). The problem is much different: the sentences are so awkwardly articulated and turgid that the language is nearly unreadable. You wish that someone would fluidify the congested prose while struggling with the irritation and boredom that weave their way through you.

There is literary litter everywhere. No, “nauseous” does not mean “nauseated.” No, “presently” does not mean “at present.” Such faults are mere peccadilloes, however, especially when one considers the clunkiness of Wallace’s language. A few examples:

1.) “The unAmerican guys chase Lenz and then stop across the car facing him for a second and then get furious again and chase him” [610]. I am having a hard time visualizing this scene.

2.) “Avril Incandenza is the sort of tall beautiful woman who wasn’t ever quite world-class, shiny-magazine beautiful, but who early on hit a certain pretty high point on the beauty scale and has stayed right at that point as she ages and lots of other beautiful women age too and get less beautiful” [766]. It would take more effort to edit this see-Spot-run sentence than it did, I suspect, to write it.

3.) “The puppet-film is reminiscent enough of the late Himself that just about the only more depressing thing to pay attention to or think about would be advertising and the repercussions of O.N.A.N.ite Reconfiguration for the U.S. advertising industry” [411]. This is a particularly representative example of Wallace’s heavy, cluttered style — a sentence larded with substantives.

4.) “So after the incident with the flaming cat from hell and before Halloween Lenz had moved on and up to the Browning X444 Serrated he even had a shoulder-holster for, from his previous life Out There” [545]. So… Lenz moves “on and up” to a knife… “from” his previous life? If this is a sentence, it is the ugliest I’ve yet read.

To say such a thing would be to say too little. Nearly every sentence is overpoweringly ugly and repellently clumsy. Not a single sentence–not one–is beautiful, defamiliarizing, or engaging. I am sorry to write this, but Infinite Jest is a joylessly, zestlessly, toxically written book and the poisonous fruit of academic bureaucracy.

* * * * *

A few valedictory words: It would be tasteless–raffish, even–to malign the literary estate of a recent suicide. Wallace was nothing if not intelligent, and his death is a real loss. Had he lived longer, he would have left us books that impress and delight. Let me advise the reader to avoid this plasticized piece of academic flotsam and pick up and at instead BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN, his true gift to the afterlife and the afterdeath.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

TREE OF CODES by Jonathan Safran Foer / WRITING WITH SCISSORS – by Dr. Joseph Suglia

WRITING WITH SCISSORS: A review of TREE OF CODES (2010) by Jonathan Safran Foer

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

“[Schulz’s] writing is so unbelievably good, so much better than anything that could conceivably be done with it [?], that more often than not I simply wanted to leave it alone.”
—Jonathan Safran Foer

He should have left it alone.

What does one do if one wishes to become a writer but lacks verbal talent? If one is Jonathan Safran Foer, one mutes and mutilates magical masterpieces. Tree of Codes (2010) is an anti-book, assaulting language, crushing words under the weight of optical imagery, a non-book in which words serve a merely ornamental function. It is an atomic weapon that is pitted against verbality, against writing, against the Word. It is the stifling of a book, a sequence of stillnesses. There is more writing – more expressive language – in Max Ernst’s collage novels.

To construct this monstrosity, Foer took an English translation of Bruno Schulz’s magisterial Sklepy Cynamonowe (“Cinnamon Shops,” 1934). (Please note: The book is NOT called “The Street of Crocodiles,” no matter what Foer might tell you.) Foer then carved blocks of text out of the English translation, excising Schulz’s beautiful prose poetry, scissoring it up. Anyone who finds this practice innovative should consult the work of Tristan Tzara, Brion Gysin, and Raymond Queneau.

Here are two of Foer’s vicious eviscerations:

“The demands were made more loudly, we heard him talk to God, as if begging against insistent claims” (28).

“Knot by knot he loosened himself, as unremarked as the grey heap swept into a corner waiting to be taken” (39).

SPAM poetry.

Refrigerator-magnet poetry.

The first problem with Foer’s cut-up is that he chooses the wrong object. Knock, knock! Schulz wrote in Polish, not in English. What on Earth is the point of cutting up, mucking up, mashing up, and rescrambling the English translation of a Polish novel? Polish is frightfully difficult to render into English. If you would like evidence for this assertion, take a look at any English translation of Jan Potocki, Bruno Schulz, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, or Witold Gombrowicz. Consider, for instance, Alastair Hamilton’s translation of Gombrowicz’s Pornografia. Hamilton translated a French translation of the novel into English: a translation of a translation.

Secondly: The ingenious Bruno Schulz – a writer more gifted than Kafka, in my estimation – did not have to dazzle his readers with glistening typographies. He let language do the work. He let his beautiful prose speak for itself. If Schulz’s book is the richest book Foer ever read (it is one of the richest books I’ve yet read), why disembowel all of that richness? We know the answer: Because Foer feels condemned by the richness, threatened by the richness. Foer the Hipster, who is incapable of expressing himself inventively in writing, chainsawed the work of a great author, an author who intimidated him. Foer’s venomous envy and hatred of Schulz are unmistakable.

Snip, snip, snip! Pare it down! Tear it up! What we are left with is an absolute abomination, something far worse than a book burning. It is one thing to immolate a great book such as “Cinnamon Shops.” It is quite another to replace a great book with a papier-mache dummy, an ersatz effigy, a kitschy replica. Nothing more malicious in the literary arts could be imagined.

In the republic of letters, Jonathan Safran Foer will be remembered as a slicer, shearer, and shredder of literature. He is at home in a culture that is tawdry, boring, and stupid and is becoming tawdrier, more boring, and more stupid by the day.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Postscript: STREET OF CROCODILES = *TREE* OF C*O**D**ES

HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski / WHEN DID WRITING STOP HAVING TO DO WITH WRITING? – by Dr. Joseph Suglia

WHEN DID WRITING STOP HAVING TO DO WITH WRITING?
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

When did writing stop having to do with writing? Of the many attempts to communalize literature, none is more dangerous than the sway of the current ideology: the consensus, and consciousness, that writing has nothing to do with writing. You will hear readers talk about “plot” (in other words, life). You will hear them talk about the “author.” But writing? Writing has nothing to do with writing. No one cares whether a book is well-written anymore.

* * * * *

Mark Z. Danielewski is not very much interested in language. He cares more about graphics than he does about glyphs. No words live in his House of Leaves. It is a house of pictures, not of words. It is a house in which words only exist as blocks of physical imagery.

Allow me to cite a few not unrepresentative sentences/fragments from House of Leaves:

1.) “A hooker in silver slippers quickened by me” [296]. Danielewski, scholar, thinks that “to quicken” means “to move quickly.”

2.) “Regrettably, Tom fails to stop at a sip” [320]. I convulse in agony as I read this sentence.

3.) “Pretentious,” too often, is American for “intelligent.” It is a word that is often misapplied. However, in the case of House of Leaves, it must be said that Danielewski uses German pretentiously. In a book that is littered with scraps of the German language, shouldn’t that language be used properly? “der absoluten Zerissenheit” [sic; 404 and elsewhere — a Heideggerean citation] should read “die absolute Zerissenheit” — the genitive is never earned. “unheimliche vorklaenger” [sic; 387] should read “unheimliche Vorklaenge” and does not mean “ghostly anticipation.” Whenever Danielewski quotes the German, he is being pretentious – that is, he is pretending to know things of which he knows nothing.

It is impossible to escape the impression that Mark Z. Danielewski does not want to be read. Noli me legere = “Do not read me.” The House of Leaves is a book at which to be looked, not one that is to be read. Its sprawling typographies and fonts distract the reader from the impoverished prose.

Words are reduced to images, to pictures.

* * * * *

When did writing stop having to do with writing? When novels became precursors to screenplays. With the rise of mainstream cinema came the denigration of literature. The visual overthrew the verbal. Around the same time, imaginative prose began to be dumbed well down. There are two infantile reductions at work, both of which are visible in House of Leaves: a dumbing-down of language and an accent on the optical (as opposed to the verbal).

Such infantile reductions are everywhere in evidence whenever one picks up an American novel. We can thank America for the coronation of the idiot and for an all-embracing literary conformism. Even stronger writers, these days, morosely submit to the prevailing consolidation of a single “literary style.” A style that, of course, is no style at all. And these same writers, listlessly and lifelessly, affirm in reciprocal agreement that the construction of a well-wrought sentence isn’t something worth spending time on. Or blood.

How self-complacent American writers have become! The same country that produced Herman Melville, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow has given birth to Mark Z. Danielewski. Nothing is more hostile to art than a culture of complacency.

There was, I’m sure, something very refreshing about Charles Bukowski in the 1970s, when the vestiges of a literary academism still existed. Mr. Bukowski, I am assuming, would be dismayed to uncover the kindergarten of illiterate “literati” to which he has illegitimately given birth. His dauphin, Mark Z. Danielewski.

Weaker students of literature may feel invigorated by the Church of Literary Infantilism, yet even they know that the clergy engenders nothing sacred or profane. This explains their virulent defensiveness when anyone, such as myself, dares to write well or explore another writer’s engagement with language. “Writing doesn’t matter,” you see. They have never luxuriated in the waters of language; they have never inhabited a world of words. Words don’t interest them; people do. And literary discussions have degenerated to the level of a bluestockinged Tupperware party. If you like the main character, the book is “good.” If a book is warm and friendly, that book is “good.” If a book reassures you that you are not a slavering imbecile–that is to say, if you can write better than the book’s “author”–that book is “good.” If a book disquiets you or provokes any kind of thought whatsoever, that book is “bad.” If a book has an unsympathetic main character, that book is “bad.” If a book is difficult to understand, that book is “bad,” and so forth and so on. Whatever exceeds the low, low, low standards of the average readership, in a word, is blithely dismissed as “bad.”

Things grow even more frightening when we consider the following: These unlettered readers are quickly transforming into writers. That would be fine if they knew how to write. And if the movements of language were valued, culturally and humanly, their noxious spewings would find no foothold. The literature of challenge has been supplanted by the litter of the mob, with all of its mumbling solecisms and false enchantments. The problem with mobs, let us remind ourselves, is that they efface distinctions. They do everything in their power to make the distinguished undistinguished. And so instead of James Joyce, we have bar-brawling muscleheads (e.g. Chuck Palahniuk), simian troglodytes (e.g. Henry Rollins), and graphic designers / typographists (e.g. Mark Z. Danielewski).

Instead of poeticisms, we have grunts. We have pictures. We have graphic design and cinema.

* * * * *

Someone said to me: “I am a good writer, but I don’t know how to spell.”

Someone said to me: “No writer is better than any other.”

* * * * *

America is responsible for the production of more linguistic pig **** than any other country in the world. There is absolutely nothing surprising about this statement. After all, America is the only country that celebrates stupidity as a virtue. How could things be otherwise?

At the poisonous end of the democratization-process, which is indistinguishable from the process of vulgarization, every jackass on the street sees himself as an “author.” His brother, his grandmother, and his step-uncle: they, too, regard themselves as “authors.” After all, they think–inasmuch as they are capable of thinking–“Writing has nothing to do with writing. If Mark Z. Danielewski can be published, so can I!” (Yes, their desire is “to be published,” as if their lives would be inscribed on the page, disseminated, filmed, and thus rendered meaningful.) We live in an age of all-englobing and infinitely multiplying cyber-technologies, where stammering imbeciles mass-replicate their infantile scribbles, but let us not deceive ourselves: If a “writer” is simply one who writes, then they are writers; however, one should reserve the word “author” only for those who are profoundly committed to the craft of verbal composition.

* * * * *

Judging from a purely technical point of view, House of Leaves is consistently faulty, fraught with excruciating Hallmark banalities and galling linguistic errors. Hipster Mark Z. Danielewski is seemingly incapable of composing a single striking or insightful sentence. It astonishes me that anyone ever considered his tinker-toy bromides to be publishable. The House of Leaves is a house that is neither well-appointed nor ill-appointed. It is simply not appointed at all.

* * * * *

Who cares about language anymore? No one in America even questions the assumption that good writing does not matter. And this assumption is no longer limited to America — a horrific logophobia is spreading throughout the globe. The impetuses that motivate this tsunami of “literary” vomit are the following ideological assumptions: The fallacy that 1.) everyone is entitled to be an author (this is a particularly nasty perversion of the democratic principle), and that 2.) the visible improves on the verbal. American letters have been reduced to the gibbering and jabbering of semiliterate simpletons, driveling half-wits, and slack-jawed middlebrows. It’s only a matter of time before the English stop caring about language, as well.

When you live in a culture of complacency, a culture of appeasement, a hypocritical culture that assures you that you write well even if you don’t, there is only one way out. There is nothing for the strong and serious student of literature to do but to write for himself, to write for herself, for his or her own sake.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

WOMEN by Charles Bukowski – A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE FACTS ON FILE COMPANION TO THE AMERICAN NOVEL

A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

The work of Charles Bukowski affirms the destruction of literature. I am not suggesting that the author is not a literary artist. I mean, rather, that he is actively committed to destroying all traces of literary language in his writing. He attempts to destroy the language of literature by presenting himself as he is, without disguise, subterfuge or literary artifice – a practice of writing that places his work at the furthest distance from the oeuvre of Kafka, Mallarmé and Blanchot. If one takes the author at his word, even in his writing, Bukowski is not a figure composed of paper and words but, rather, a real human being. This myth – one that Bukowski supported throughout his life – is the basis of the fascination surrounding his work and the reason for its cult status.

Generally speaking, people are attracted to books that lead them to the existence of the human being who created them. And in no other work does Bukowski seem to exhibit himself as purely as he does in Women (1978). Nothing else could account for the book’s enduring appeal and seductiveness. Yes, it is true that the main character has a pseudonym, Henry Chinaski, and there is a publisher’s note that says, “This novel is a work of fiction and no character is intended to portray any person or combination of persons living or dead.” And yet there are seemingly no other masks or precautions. Throughout this work, Bukowski, apparently, shows himself as himself, revealing to the reader his self in all of its ugliness and misanthropy. Women would serve as an instance of the author’s ecce homo, as a permutation of his self-manifestation.

It is no accident, from this perspective, that Women is almost completely devoid of novelistic qualities. What is remarkable about the work is the bluntness of its “style,” its total reliance on ordinary language and the junk that is stockpiled in its every corner – that is, the superabundance of digressions, seemingly culled from the surfaces of everyday life. Because of its coarse and digressive character, Women doesn’t read like a novel; instead, it resembles a raw document of an experience, a bloody chunk excised from the tissue of ordinary life. Perhaps this is the reason for the work’s perpetual repetitiveness. Each scene of the “narrative” (if the book has one) follows exactly the same pattern: 1.) Chinaski meets a woman who is invariably significantly younger than him and who, in most cases, knows and admires his work. By having coitus with young women, Chinaski hopes to achieve victory over death, a kind of sexualized immortality. And perhaps this is also the reason why he writes (“My art is my fear”). (The women in the novel, in turn, are drawn to Chinaski partly because of his literary reputation and partly because of the way in which he describes women in his books. As a self-portrait, “Women” resembles nothing more than a literary personals advertisement – an authorial seduction tactic that is perhaps far more common than most would believe.) 2.) He has some form of sexual intercourse with the woman. Repeat. Intermittently, there are also poetry readings, noisy breakups, trips to a racetrack and laconic conversations with friends, acquaintances and strangers. Nothing extraordinary happens. Chinaski’s account of his life is as uneventful and banal as most lives are thought to be. To the charge that his book is repetitive and tedious, the author could have always replied: “This is my body.” A book that is repetitive and tedious may express a life that is repetitive and tedious; and if one accepts that the book documents an engagement with life, how could one fault the author for this? Like the Eucharist, the book would immediately communicate the body and blood of the author; his real presence would come forth purely from the pages. “Women’s” material character as a book would disappear in order to show the life of the one who fabricated it. There would be a sacramental communication without communication between the author and reader.

Throughout the pages of Women, the reader watches an endless parade of women move in and out of Chinaski’s life. One bout of copulation is succeeded by another. Each of Chinaski’s sexual encounters resembles a form of violent appropriation, the besmirching is what is sacred or the slaughtering or maiming of a wild beast (“one animal knifing another into submission”). It is not fortuitous that racetracks and boxing matches serve as the backdrop for much of the action in “Women,” for sex, according to the logic of this book, is a sport – indeed, it is the bloodiest sport of all. A confrontation in which death itself is at stake.

A man who says, “All women are whores” or “All women are angels” usually generalizes his experience of one woman. Misogyny and philogyny are two sides of the same coin, to use a cliché. It is to Bukowski’s credit that the women he describes are heterogeneous and non-interchangeable. They each have unique traits; each one is singular (“Every woman is different”). The names of the women are Lydia, Dee Dee, Nicole, Mindy, Laura (renamed “Katherine” by Chinaski), Joanna, Tammie, Mercedes, Cecelia, Liza, Gertrude and Hilda, Cassie, Debra, Sara, Tessie, Iris, Tanya, Valerie, and Valencia. We learn about their idiosyncrasies and their styles of speaking. And yet, for Chinaski, none of them are irreplaceable. Bukowski’s protagonist swallows every woman he meets and vomits her back up. He then stalks and “murders” new prey. (Or is he the one who is stalked? In this text, it is never clear who is the seducer and who is the seduced.) Each woman belongs, theoretically, to a non-finite series. Some women reappear in Chinaski’s life only to disappear again just as suddenly; later, they sometimes reappear again (this is particularly true of Lydia). The series ends with an interruption that comes by way of a renunciation: Chinaski refuses a young girl named Rochelle and feeds a cat a can of tuna fish. But the series could, theoretically, continue ad infinitum.

Although he defines himself as a writer, Chinaski prefers women to writing: “‘You’re good enough with the ladies,’ Dee Dee said. ‘And you’re a helluva writer.’ [Chinaski replies:] ‘I’d rather be good with the ladies.'” He disdains what is called “literature”; in fact, all literary topics disgust him. Writing is, for him, merely a vicissitude of life; it is an addiction (“an insanity,” he says at one point), but no more gripping than any of his other addictions – such as horse-betting, drinking and sex. Writing is indeed a compulsion, but only one compulsion among others. All of his compulsions are variations of the American wet dream. That dream, of course, is to acquire and to accumulate as much of a thing as possible. More money. More sex. More drinks. More of everything. Like everyone else, Chinaski is “sick on the dream” — the dream of gross acquisition and accumulation that defines American culture.

Chinaski is addicted to writing fiction in the way that an alcoholic is addicted to booze. But to what extent is his work fictive? “‘I write fiction,'” he says at one point. “‘You mean you lie?’ asked Gertrude. ‘A little. Not too much.'” This statement is reminiscent of an ancient paradox: A man who comes from a city of liars claims that he is lying. Is he telling the truth? What is the status of Chinaski’s statement? The first-person narrator of a work described as a “novel” claims that he lies a little, not too much, thus implying that what he writes is mostly true – this would apply, of course, to the narrative that he is composing in the literary present. How should one read the words of a character (himself a literary fabrication) in a literary fabrication who claims that his written narrative is mostly true? Should one regard it as a “fictive” statement? Of course, that would be the customary response. But what if one takes Chinaski at his word? What if one accepts Bukowski’s premise that the protagonist does indeed represent the author?

Chinaski says during the conversation quoted above, “Fiction is an improvement on life.” Perhaps it is not the case, then, that Bukowski expressed himself purely in his writing. And although it may be the case that writing is merely one compulsion among others for his protagonist, perhaps it was not so for Bukowski. Perhaps Bukowski did not write in order to live but, rather, lived in order to write. Perhaps he did not base his novels on his own life but, rather, modeled his life on the protagonists that he created. If this is so, the writing of Bukowski would indeed constitute the work of literature in the strongest sense of the word — that is, what is “composed of letters.” For Bukowski, perhaps life was not the foundation of literature. Perhaps literature, rather, was the foundation of a shattered life. Literature as compensation, as evidence of an insufficiency: “People were usually much better in their letters than in reality. They were much like poets in this way.”

Joseph Suglia

OUTLIERS by Malcolm Gladwell

A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

According to Nietzsche, Kant writes what the common man believes in a language that the common man cannot understand. Malcolm Gladwell, it must be said, vigorously reaffirms what the common man believes in a language that the common man CAN understand, thus flattering the common man and “making him happy.” “To be made happy”: a Gladwellism for “to be satisfied with a consumer item, such as a book by Malcolm Gladwell.”

In OUTLIERS (2008), Gladwell argues, in essence: “It is better to be mediocre than it is to be brilliant!” Perhaps that is too blunt of a truncation, but the book seems to welcome such simplicity.

We are introduced to Chris Langen, “the public face of genius in American life” [70], who nonetheless works in construction and “despairs of ever getting published in a scholarly journal” [95]. Langen fails because he was raised in abject squalor, and his mother “missed a deadline for his financial aid” [98]. By contrast, Robert Oppenheimer, a “success” for his complicity in the atomization of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was “raised in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Manhattan” [108]. Other actors on the community-theater proscenium include Marita, a twelve year old from an impoverished family who gives up her evenings, weekends, and friends to slave away in one of New York City’s most rigorous and competitive middle schools. She will succeed, Gladwell suggests, because she “works hard” and is given a “chance.” Indeed, Bill Gates was a “success” because he was given unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal at the age of thirteen. The Beatles were a “success” because they forced themselves to perform eight-hour concerts in Hamburg between 1960 and 1962. Along the way, the reader is pepper-sprayed with anecdotes about Korean aviation and Kentuckian aggression that have no apparent relevance to the thesis of the book, except to “demonstrate” that one’s “cultural legacy” sometimes has to be jettisoned in order for one to become “successful.”

Gladwell is arguing, in nuce, that success — euphemistic for “financial prosperity” — corresponds not to one’s intelligence, but rather to opportunity and social savoir-faire. The thesis isn’t so much false as it is banal. Of course, one must have social skills and opportunity to be “successful.” And yet I would contend, pace Gladwell, that even social skills and opportunity are not enough, by themselves, for an individual to succeed financially. Life never brooks such easy recipes (or follows such “predictable courses” [267], to use Gladwell’s language).

What, precisely, does Gladwell mean by “intelligence”? The author hypostatizes the Intelligence Quotient Test and thus subscribes to the false supposition that intelligence can be quantified and measured. If you receive 180 on the Intelligence Quotient Test, in other words, then you are a super-genius. Now, I did, in fact, score 180 on the I.Q. Test, but that, in itself, is no guarantor of my genius. Intelligence is an impalpable thing, and there is no necessary relationship whatsoever between one’s intelligence and the I.Q. examination, just as, following Gladwell, there is no necessary relationship between one’s I.Q. score and “success.”

Moreover, Gladwell ignores the temporal differences that separate his stories. Oppenheimer lived in an America that was less intimidated by, and envious of, intelligence than the America of the twenty-first century. I differ from Gladwell, and my counter-thesis is the following: Even if Langen possessed superior social skills, it is very likely that he still would have failed in life.

Why? Because the culture has become a home for Swiftian Lilliputians, ever-ready to manacle down any Gulliver who comes their way. Yes, Gladwell is correct in suggesting that geniuses almost always fail and the mediocre almost always triumph, but he completely misses the reasons. You cannot possibly succeed if you are a genius unless you camouflage, to a certain extent, your intelligence. We are living a culture that, instead of lionizing intelligence, disdains it. Those who possess a higher intellect than the multitude are looked upon with acrimony and mistrust. Such is the “leveling-off” or equalization of all distinction to which polymaths and geniuses, such as myself, have long since grown accustomed.

Similarly, there is the impulse in this book to anathematize genius, as if genius were some kind of cancerous polyp that should be excised. It is not difficult to detect a certain defensiveness in Gladwell’s anti-intellectualist posturing, not merely as if the myth that genius equals success needed to be debunked, but as if genius, in itself, were something intrinsically negative, threatening–damaging, even. Gladwell, non-genius, is content to attack genius in OUTLIERS with the same vehemence with which he attacked critical thinking in BLINK. And for exactly the same affective reason: Gladwell is as intimidated by genius as he is cowed by critical thought, for which he substitutes anecdotes lifted, quite uncritically, from single sources: books by John Ed Pierce, Richard E. Niebett and Dov Cohen, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin…

Gladwell’s most ardent admirers — non-brilliant readers who want reassurance that their non-brilliance is a formula for success — sigh plaintively and bleat. And the mediocre shall inherit the Earth.

P.S. Niccolo Machiavelli argued that the expansion of power comes from opportunity in the early sixteenth century. But he qualified: from opportunity and through cleverness (“virtu” in Italian).

Dr. Joseph Suglia

ONLY REVOLUTIONS by Mark Z. Danielewski

A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

The mystery of all mysteries surrounds Mark Z. Danielewski’s ONLY REVOLUTIONS (2006): Someone actually thought that this endless circuit of gibberish qualified for the National Book Award. And it is an endless circuit, literally. Columns of text spiral and loop, making the text all but unintelligible. We have two narratives—though the book does eschew traditional narrative, as if there were something revolutionary about doing so in 2006—that of Sam and that of Hailey, both of whom are perpetually sixteen. If you look at the bottom of the page while reading Sam’s narrative, there you will find Hailey’s upside down. The size of Sam’s text dwindles as it progresses (from 22 November 1863 to 22 November 1963), gradually dwarfed by Hailey’s. Turn the book around 180 degrees and start at the back, and you can read all about Hailey, from 22 November 1963 (the pivot of the book, the day of Kennedy’s assassination) to 22 November 2063. History is circular, don’t you know! The book’s one motif is the stupidity of circularity.

Despite Danielewski’s transparent desire to be innovative, there is nothing new here. It really is stunning how stale the book is rendered. The huge “S” with which Sam’s narrative begins was stolen wholesale from ULYSSES, the characters Sam and Hailey are openly imitative of Shem and Shaun (the famous brothers of FINNEGANS WAKE), the typographical tics recall Derrida’s GLAS and LA DISSEMINATION, and the wordage sounds a bit like the driveling gobbledygook of an ill-read high-school stoner who just finished leafing his way inattentively through both the WAKE and Pynchon’s MASON & DIXON. Vaguely reminiscent of a designer Joyce-Made-EZ, ONLY REVOLUTIONS is enslaved to its precursors. Whereas Joyce creates worlds with words, however, Danielewski seems fearful of language and its literary capabilities. There is a kind of aggression toward language here, a certain virulent logophobia. It is a book not to be read–though I have read every silly, jingling phrase–but to be looked at.

How bad is the writing? At his very best, Danielewski recalls Shakespeare at his very worst. At his worst, he is singsongy, spewing forth nonsensical nursery rhymes that emerge from the page like sulphurous flames issuing from some mephitic kindergarten in Hell, as if the writer regarded FINNEGANS WAKE as a collection of limp, wince-inducing doggerel, as if the book were his ill-conceived idea of a “found poem”–the “found” part being the sort of dribbling babble found at the bottom of e-mails in order to fool SPAM filters–or his deeply unfortunate, private misinterpretation of Brion Gysin’s “cut-up” method or surrealist automatism. To say that Danielewski’s versification has little concern for elegance or expansiveness would be to say too little. When, for instance, he writes phrases and sentences such as “I outrace furry. Populate worry” [H 24]; “All of it too with puddles of goo, sog and drool” [H 43]; “Concerning her poverty, I resort to generosity” [S 9]; “I’m the heist. The impersonal price” [H 13]; “Slump. Plop. Awshucking dump” [S 83]; “And where five roads link, I poop puddles of stink” [S 241]; “Sam takes the lumps. And The Pumps” [H 55]; “Only capless Sam ups for horny, ogling my feet” [H 53]; “Sam spurts his mess. All over my chest” [H 59], you feel that it is really the result of indifference or laziness, as if jangle and flash were more important to the man than the explosive possibilities inherent to literary language.

By this, I do not mean to suggest that Danielewski’s language is too difficult–far from it. His banter is not so much “difficult” as it is sterile and vacant of meaning.

It is impossible to do justice to this book without discussing another gimmick in its typographical design. This is because the book IS its typographical design. Danielewski the Graphic Designer highlights every “O” in the book with a golden hue, as if the letter were globally hyperlinked. This not an insignificant matter. The internet impresses itself upon every page of ONLY REVOLUTIONS. And in the final analysis, the flashy fonts and sprawling typographies are nothing more than glitzy Web design, counter-linguistic ruses distracting readers from the impoverishment of the book’s verbal properties. But as some of us know, the pyrotechnics of typography and font are no substitute for writing with vividness and grace.

Dr. Joseph Suglia