THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold / A Negative Review of THE LOVELY BONES by Alice Sebold

An Analysis of The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) by Joseph Suglia

Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002) is the type of book that effortlessly mounts American bestseller lists.  It is impossible to deny that the book serves as a symbolic reaffirmation of the traditional values of the now-vanished American middle class.  Any sober analysis of the book must take this into account.

Much like other smash-hit novels, the book fetishizes children / younger teens and their alleged innocence.  When readers first encounter the novel’s protagonist, fourteen-year-old girl Susie Salmon, she has already been raped and murdered and is gazing down on the earth from the Bel-Air comfort of her personal Heaven.  During the recreation of Susie’s murder, the narrative oscillates between Susie’s violation and killing and a description of charming details from Susie’s life.  While this tactic might seem emotionally manipulative, there is no question that Ms. Sebold is shrewd.  Only the toughest eyes will be able to hold back their tears.

Ms. Sebold recreates the voice of a fourteen-year-old girl exceptionally well at the beginning of the novel.  Her character’s syntax and diction become more sophisticated as the novel spins along.  The voice is emotionally manipulative perhaps, but not everyone can psychologically maneuver little lambs via the written word.

Not merely is the book’s milieu white, American suburbia.  Its norms are also very suburban, very white, and very American.  Unsurprisingly, the book’s Heaven (a place where every little girl’s dreams come true) resembles an upper-middle-class country club, with “soccer goalposts in the distance and lumbering women throwing shot put and javelin.”

The slobbering enemy of the work–Susie’s butcher, Mr. Harvey–is what critical theory used to call (and sometimes still does) “the Other.”  He is an outsider to the world that Susie and her family inhabit, the kind of man who “never married and ate frozen meals every night and [was] so afraid of rejection that [he] didn’t even own pets.  The kind of man you read about in health class.”  Such is the novel’s attitude toward anyone who falls too far outside of its particular status quo.

Those of foreign descent are welcome in the novel’s world, on the proviso that they support its middle-class values.  Susie’s former boyfriend, Ray Singh, for instance, is Indian and yet gives a guest lecture at the University of Pennsylvania on “Suburbia: The American Experience.”  It does seem rather odd that an Indian teenager would care very much about this topic.  And since when are teenage boys arbitrarily invited to give lectures at major American universities?

The novel also displays an uncharitable attitude toward other-sexual male desire.  Looking down from Heaven on her former friend Clarissa, Susie is disgusted by what she sees: a young boy palming the girl, groping for “a little mound of love.”  The book presents the sexuality of men as if all male lust were despicable or homicidal.

How did Mr. Harvey become Mr. Harvey?  Was Mr. Harvey violated as a young boy?  If Susie Salmon survived, would she have transformed into someone like Mr. Harvey?  Victims of abuse too often become abusers themselves.  The Lovely Bones does not explore these seamy depths.  If it did, it would not be an Alice Sebold novel.

Joseph Suglia

California über Alles: INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS by Quentin Tarantino

CALIFORNIA ÜBER ALLES: An Analysis of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009) by Joseph Suglia

“The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but THE PAST.  If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’–well, it never happened.  If he says that two and two are five–well, two and two are five.”

–George Orwell, “Looking Back on the Spanish War”

Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.  Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, they might believe that the Jews overcame the Nazis.  They will not know that around six million Jews–not to mention the elderly, the disabled, homosexuals, the chronically unemployed, gypsies, political dissidents, intellectuals (there were other categories, as well)–were funneled into factories of death, where they were stripped, shorn of their hair, and gassed.  Killed en masse as if they were vermin or swine.

No Jews are murdered, no corpses are incinerated in Inglourious Basterds (2009), Tarantino’s most malevolent travesty and perhaps the most ethically reprehensible motion picture ever made.  Nazis are incinerated.  Machine-gunned and set aflame.  In a cinema.  In Vichy France.  In 1944.  By a band of Jewish-American soldiers and French resistance fighters.

What, precisely, was Tarantino hoping to accomplish by this fusillade of historical revisionism?  By this erasure of history?  Is this nothing more than a puerile time-machine fantasy?  To deprive Hitler of the right to be killed by his own hand?

Tarantino’s own remarks belie this interpretation: “The power of the cinema is going to bring down the Third Reich.  I get a kick out of that!”

When the Nazis are cremated in the cinema, then, Tarantino is cinematically cremating the memory of their dominion.  The burning cinema is the central metaphor of the film.  It is a self-reflexive metaphor.

Predictably, few Americans seem to have a problem with this dehistoricization and rehistoricization of the Holocaust.  After all, America is a country without much of a history of its own.  Most of us are afflicted with historical amnesia.  To demonstrate my point, let me adduce a personal example.  I posted the first sentence of this review on facebook years ago: “Thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the succeeding generation might believe that Hitler was assassinated.”

I received this in response (the mistakes have been retained for the sake of authenticity): “Aint it grand though!”

If this is what most Americans believe, then we are lost.  The entire culture is lost.

What no one seems to recognize is that the film is an insult both to those who survived the Holocaust and to those who died in it.

The destruction of history is politically dangerous.  It is also a form of ethical rape, especially when that history is fraught with so much hideousness, so much carnage, so much death, so much sorrow.  To the supporters of the film, let me ask:

Do you honestly think that survivors of the Shoah would approve of this film?

Though Tarantino might claim that his film revolts against the Third Reich, it does nothing of the sort.  Inglorious Basterds does not combat fascism.  By liquidating history, it allies itself with fascism.  It is a film that uses the same totalitarian methods as the Nazi propagandists, despite Tarantino’s misguided intentions.

Holocaust revisionists such as David Irving and Ingrid Rimland (and so many others) would applaud what Tarantino has done in this film.  After all, he has created a film in which the Nazis lose, the Jews win, and the Holocaust never takes place.  Is that not what the fascist “historians” have been saying all along?

Permit me to make a few remarks about Tarantino’s method of presentation.

No one has described Tarantino better than the brilliant English novelist and critic Will Self.  The filmmaker is a “pasticheur and an artistic fraud,” Self writes.  Indeed, he is all of that and much worse.  Nearly every image in Tarantino’s cinema is derivative or evocative of something else.  The climax of Death Proof (2007)–in which a misogynist is surrounded by a ring of femmes fatales and pummeled into unconsciousness–blatantly and uninventively reconstitutes a formally identical moment in Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).  Another scene in Death Proof–in which the female leads are surreptitiously photographed–repeats one of Dario Argento’s lavish set-pieces in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969).  Even the same Ennio Morricone music is deployed.

Throughout Inglorious Basterds, there are references to other films.  Clouzot’s Le Corbeau (1943) is playing at the theatre before it is razed to the ground.  Most of the film’s musical compositions were taken from the soundtracks to other films, such as Revolver (1973) and Allonsanfan (1974), both which were scored by Morricone.  Curiously, none of these allusions adds to the film. Tarantino merely showcases the cultural references.  He seems incapable of communicating himself cinematically except by way of derivations from other works of cinema.  He does not create.  He does not originate.  He does not imagine.  He does not conceive.  He ventriloquizes.

I could not help but feel a certain depression after viewing this abominable film.  I recalled that in the 1990s Tarantino was given carte blanche–the whitest of white cards–from critics for his use of racist language.  Here we have a work not of anti-Semitism, but of anti-Judaism.

Consider this injustice: Michael Haneke’s elegantly chilling The White Ribbon (2009), a film that casts a dark light on some of the conditions that led to National Socialism, is largely unseen and this atrocity is surrounded by a cavalcade of approval.  Genocide pornography is the worst form of pornography in existence, for it transforms the ultimate horror–the mass manufacture of corpses–into an object of consumption and enjoyment.  For this reason, I condemn Quentin Tarantino and his unforgivable film.  Quentin Tarantino is vile, and Inglourious Basterds is slime.

Joseph Suglia

 

 

BRET EASTON ELLIS: ESCAPE FROM UTOPIA / Analyses of LESS THAN ZERO, THE INFORMERS, AMERICAN PSYCHO, GLAMORAMA by Bret Easton Ellis

Bret Easton Ellis: Escape from Utopia

by Joseph Suglia

America is a utopia.  A placeless “place” in which all desires are answered even before they are articulated.  A non-place without a history and without horizons.

The “America” to which I refer is less the nation that bears this name than that nation’s ideal, one that posits a world which is seemingly disconnected from the contingencies of time and space.  One could object, of course, that America is hardly “utopian” or paradisaical: There is, after all, misery everywhere.  And yet utopianism does not exclude the possibility of misery.  Like all ideological constructions, the image of America contradicts the existing conditions of its societies.  America interprets itself as a locus of absolute plentitude, overflowing with whatever one may need/desire; it presents itself as a space that is anti-spatial, anti-temporal and anti-historical, a non-place in which desires are quickly converted into needs and in which “new” desires proliferate infinitely.

It is America’s utopianism that Bret Easton Ellis addresses in his fiction.  His novels are populated by those who, theoretically, have everything–except “something to lose” (Less Than Zero).  They are the illiterate glitterati–ridiculously stupid and narcissistic people who say ridiculously stupid and stupidly ridiculous and narcissistic things (e.g., “She wasn’t looking at my abs, but she wanted to,” from The Rules of Attraction; “You’re tan, but you don’t look happy,” from The Informers).  Members of the “beautiful elite,” each of his “characters” (if this word even applies–the personages have no identity) is vapid and vacant precisely because their desires are produced by mainstream consumer culture–a culture that is fundamentally shallow.  Although they numb themselves with drugs and sex, they cannot even be called “hedonistic” because they don’t enjoy themselves.  The majority of Americans would say that Ellis’s “characters” are without problems: After all, most are rich, gorgeous, and young.  But the absence of problems is, in itself, a problem.

In Ellis’s first truly “political” literary work, his aptly titled third novel, American Psycho (1991), the white, rich, and impossibly handsome Wall Street yuppie Patrick Bateman is, strictly speaking, the “perfect” American–and the “perfect” representative of a “perfect” world.  He has no flaws.  He’s a trust-fund baby with an immensely well-paying job that seemingly requires no effort; women fall for him wherever he goes; he is young and beautiful.  He lives at the center of American culture and, for this reason, wants for nothing.  And yet the tragedy of his (and of all) “perfection” is that it must constantly reestablish itself: No one who is “perfect” can afford not to be vigilant.

Patrick Bateman is “perfect”–and also perfectly vicious.  He is a murderer–and also at the center of American culture.  These statements are not contradictory.

The following question plagues the readers of American Psycho: How is it that others are seemingly unaware of, or indifferent to the murders that Bateman commits?  The answer is obvious.  There is nothing extraordinary about homicide; indeed, homicide has become completely normalized.  Whether one has committed homicide is less significant than whether one wears Armani.  Throughout the novel, descriptions of dismemberment occur in the same paragraph as discussions of insipid, 1980s pop-music kitsch.  In fact, much of the book is a recitation of such trivia interspersed with gruesome descriptions of the mutilation of women.  What is one to make of this?  Is Ellis a violent misogynist, as many have claimed?

On the contrary, American Psycho is the perhaps most radical critique of American culture in general–and of American misogyny, in particular–in novelistic form.  American culture is “evil,” the novel suggests, because “evil” no longer matters.  One’s moral value is insignificant in relation to one’s physical appearance and the size of one’s bank account.  The smug, self-preening Bateman is able to commit the most ghastly and monstrous acts imaginable with impunity, precisely because he looks good and has a hierarchical position in society.  When Bateman dissects his victims–who, for the most part, are homeless people, prostitutes, and ethnic minorities–the reader should remember that such acts are “business as usual” in the United States.  There is nothing unusual about anything that Bateman does; his murderous behavior is representative of the mainstream.  If he gives a disquisition on the greatness of post-Peter Gabriel Genesis, Huey Lewis and the News, or Whitney Houston before slicing up a prostitute, this is because there is no essential difference, the book suggests, between the stupidity of American pop culture and the monstrosity of evil.  “Evil,” the book suggests, is not some Mephistophelean figure that springs up from the depths of Hell.  Nor may be it explained by the Kantian concept of “radical evil,” in which the senses are maximized and elevated to the basis of moral decisions.  No, for Ellis, “evil” is the money-sucking, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic yuppie businessman: the axis and apotheosis of American culture.

Bateman, the “American psycho,” is perfect, and perfection is the American psychosis.  More specifically, the American psychosis is the drive to be perfect, to have an apartment more expensive and better situated than Paul Owen’s.  Anyone outside of the sphere of perfection is regarded as trash.  “You are not … important to me,” Bateman says to his equally superficial and vacuous fiancée: Such is the ethos of the Reaganite 1980s.  And it is precisely this maxim of conduct that Ellis represents in American Psycho.

The eerily open-ended “conclusion” of American Psycho ominously hints at the impending apocalypse of heterosexual white upper-class male domination.  A Middle-Eastern taxi cab driver and a homeless woman–evocative of the disenfranchised minorities killed off by the hard-hearted yuppie earlier in the novel–take their symbolic revenge on the majoritarian Bateman.  As he enters his twenty-eighth birthday, he faces the inexorable demise of his regime and his self-deceptions.

* * *

Ellis’s next experiment, The Informers (1994), seems, at first glance, to be nothing more than a collection of short stories and drafts for Ellis’s more ambitious novelistic projects (“The Secrets of the Summer,” for instance, reads as if it were an early version of American Psycho).  It is far more than that, however.  Each story connects with all of the others; the book has an inner continuity that is strikingly intricate.  There are complicated interchanges between the “characters”; each one of them is absolutely interchangeable with everyone else.

The Informers is set in Los Angeles in the 1980s.  No one in the book has an individuated personality, if by “personality” we mean a distinguishable set of preferences, disinclinations, and verbal expressions.  All of the characters take Valium and drink Tab.  All of them say the same things and have the same desires and aversions.  Indeed, all of Ellis’s “characterologies” are the same.  This is not a flaw in his novelistic practice.  It is, rather, a sign of his writerly strength.  In “The Up-Escalator,” a middle-aged woman cannot distinguish her son, Graham, from any of the other tall, blond boys that populate the novel.  In “In the Islands,” William cannot distinguish his son, Tim, from Graham.  One stoned pool boy is identical to another stoned pool boy.

“Perfection,” it would seem, may be bought and sold in mass quantities.  According to the metaphorics of the work, one’s identity is founded upon the products that one buys.  Because products are available in mass quantities, identity is also available in mass quantities.  If commodities are equivalent to one another (through the medium of money), there is no reason that identities should not be posited as equivalent, as well.  It is the logical consequence of living in a culture that valorizes consumerist equivalence that its citizens should also be indistinguishable from each other.  The most dominant figure of The Informers is the destruction of individuality by the exchange of equivalents.

Another of the novel’s obsessions is the effect of a highly technologized media culture on social relationships.  Rather than bringing the “characters” together, audio-visual technology drives them further apart.  One person can only relate to another by relating him/her to a media image.  While on a plane to Hawaii, William and Tim both listen to headsets, each playing a different kind of music; they can only endure each other through the magic of technological “communication.”  In “Another Grey Area,” Graham identifies his father’s corpse by likening it to Darth Vader.  His “friend” Randy drapes his own face with a copy of GQ and effectively becomes John Travolta, whose image is featured on the cover.  One character, Ricky, is murdered on the night of a Duran Duran lookalike contest, which is a propos because everyone in The Informers participates, whether intentionally or not, in a celebrity-lookalike contest.  In “Sitting Still,” Susan dislikes her father’s fiancée (partly, at least) because the latter likes the film Flashdance (1982).  Most pitifully, in “Letters from L.A.,” Anne is slowly swallowed up in the media culture of Los Angeles–a culture that she once disdained.

* * *

Ellis’s most recent novel, Glamorama (1998), is a departure for the author, insofar as it does not merely concern the hollowness and superficiality of American culture, but also the way in which the whole of reality is structured within the context of this culture.  In Glamorama, the entire structure of reality is choreographed.  It is impossible to tell, throughout the work, whether a character is in a “real” scenario or whether that scenario has been rehearsed, scripted, and staged.  In Glamorama, the surface of things overtakes all depth.  We have reached, Ellis seems to suggest, a hyper-Kantian moment in which appearances are finally liberated from the things that they would represent.  Indeed, the novel “itself”–a panorama of hollow, glitzy appearances–is an endless play of surfaces without profundity.

The “star” of Glamorama, semi-model Victor Ward, is photographed at film premieres and fashion shows that he never attended; these photographs take on the status of the “truth.”  Only that which is mediated by the media, the novel seems to imply, is regarded as “real” in American culture.  The “characters” of Glamorama–models and celebrities and those who serve them–can only recognize something as “true” to the extent that it is simulated.  In particular, for the lovable idiot Victor, the “living” instant exists only for the sake of its media duplication: That is to say, he can only recognize something as significant insofar as it recalls a popular song lyric, television show, or film.  A human being has value for him except inasmuch as s/he resembles an actor/actress such as Uma Thurman or Christian Bale (“You’re looking very Uma-ish, baby” is a typical remark).  Like all of Ellis’s mannequin figures, Victor is vacant, a media sponge, a mediator of transitory sound-bytes.  In the first and second sections of the novel, for instance, Victor is nothing more than a vehicle for the words of others (a running joke throughout Glamorama is Victor’s tendency to respond to questions, inanely, with decontextualized popular song lyrics).  It is his emptiness of meaningful content that allows him to become the scapegoat of various political factions, who exploit his naïveté for their own programs.  Victor becomes entangled with fashion-model terrorists who are even more surface-fascinated than him and who “teach” him that a world of pure surfaces is a world without ethical limits.

A Bildungsroman for the early twenty-first century, Glamorama charts Victor’s gradual transformation into a person of substance.  At the end of his metamorphosis, Victor fastens his mind on the image of a mountain that he must “ascend” in order to escape from the world of self-referring resemblances.  An agent of “the real,” Victor yearns to break free from the network of appearances that constitutes American culture.  He yearns to break free from his culture (“Have you ever wished that you could disappear from all this?” an MTV journalist asks Victor in an interview) precisely because it is utopian.  Only after the traumas of the latter sections of the novel does Victor become aware of the drawbacks of America’s utopianism.  He is “[o]n the verge of tears–because [he is] dealing with the fact that we lived in a world in which beauty was considered an accomplishment.”  A world in which “supermodels” are automatically qualified to be actors, filmmakers, artists, writers, representatives of the United Nations–and terrorists.  A world in which physical appearance and money are the only significant power-categories.

Ellis’s equation of beauty with terror might strike one as capricious.  It is not.  In America, it is not surprising to see the televised image of a “supermodel” such as Claudia Schiffer wearing a T-shirt that reads “EVIL” or to learn that a popular fashion-designer (Von Dutch) was a Nazi.  Fascism intersects with fashion at multiple points.  Fashion makes raids on human consciousness no less damaging than terrorist initiatives.  Both assault memory and self-perception.  Both destabilize one’s sense of security and well-being.  Ellis demonstrated the conjunction of terrorism and performance before the attacks of September 11, 2001.  In its conflation of fashion with fascism, Glamorama recalls Stockhausen’s callous but nonetheless accurate remark that the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center constituted a work of performance art.  An accurate statement, insofar as the terrorist interventions of September 11, 2001 would not have existed were it not for the spectacle of television.

There is nothing new about any of this.  Indeed, fascism has traditionally used aesthetic means to take hold of the human imagination and exert its dominion over human life (Italian futurism is one example of this).  Such is the meaning of the Nazi swastika on the ceiling of Victor’s New York nightclub and the Hitler epigraph at the beginning of the novel: “You make a mistake if you see what we do as merely political.”  By way of the epigraph and the figure of the swastika, Ellis suggests that fascism is not merely a political, but also an aesthetic movement.  But the reverse is also true, according to the logic of Glamorama: What once appeared as merely aesthetic reveals itself as a political movement.

Victor, then, wants to escape from utopia.  It is this swerve away from shallow phenomenality that leads one to believe that Ellis is not a “postmodern” novelist–that is to say, one who has resigned himself to the omnipresence of empty images.  Far from it.  Indeed, as a novelist, Ellis traces the limits of postmodernism.  There is, Glamorama suggests, a space beyond postmodern culture–a culture in which image ceaselessly passes into image, in which signs have no order except for that constituted by their own formal arrangements.  Ellis beckons away from the image sphere toward the space-time of consumption.  In terms of the “society of the spectacle” (following Guy Debord, a philosopher to whom Ellis alludes at least once in Glamorama), reality exists only insofar as it is converted into an image.  Ellis’s Glamorama suggests that it is still possible to engage with “the real” outside of the sphere of simulation.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard once said of America: “This country is without hope.”  In a typically American fashion, Ellis refuses to resign himself to hopelessness.  He is a writer who relates to his own culture (a culture with which he also, to a certain extent, identifies) by ridiculing it mercilessly.

A satirist with a laser-sharp wit, Ellis opens up the imaginary possibility of liberating ourselves from the space in which each of us is imprisoned.  But Ellis is not a politician, only a writer.  He seems to have no program for radical social change, and that is refreshing.  Ellis relinquishes utopian alternatives to America’s utopianism.  He merely presents American culture through the distorted speculum of his own fun-house mirror.  By doing so, he ventures further than any of his contemporaries have dared.

Joseph Suglia

 

 

A Critique of BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell / A Negative Review of BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell

An Analysis of BLINK (Malcolm Gladwell) by Joseph Suglia

Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2005) is not a meticulously researched book.  Nearly all of its ‘research’ was derived from studies in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In the book’s Notes (a mere seven pages in length), you will count fifteen references to that journal and a few references to other sources.

It seems appropriate that Gladwell’s research is so slipshod.  After all, Blink is like a war machine pitted against research in all forms.  There simply isn’t time to investigate and deliberate, after all. And the more you research, the less you will know.

The more you think, the less you will know.

Blink celebrates and affirms pre-knowledge, the uncritical reflex, the snap judgment, the spur-of-the-moment decision.

Our initial perception of things is always correct, according to Gladwell, unless our minds are led astray by some extraneous matter.  All of us would come to the same conclusions, as long as we were to refine our “thin-slicing” skills. “To thin-slice,” in this context, means to extract the salient meaning from an initial impression.  All of us are afforded an immediate and direct insight into the atemporal essences of things.

All of this is ‘argued’ anecdotally.  As I mentioned in the opening of the review, nearly all of the anecdotes were stolen from a single source.  And in many cases, misappropriated.  Gladwell tells us that students can instantly judge a teacher’s effectiveness as soon as s/he walks into the classroom.  What Gladwell doesn’t tell us is that the article from which he derived this ‘truth’ concerns the impact of a teacher’s perceived sex appeal on course evaluations.

How the ‘glimpse’ actually works is never explained; we are told, in several places, that instantaneous intuition “bubbles up” unbidden from the recesses of the “adaptive unconscious.”  “The” adaptive unconscious, mind you, as if there could only be one.  This is, of course, monism, and Gladwell believes in absolutes.

Of course, one’s initial impressions might yield profitable results.  But to say that one’s immediate intuition of the world is inherently superior to slow and careful thinking is madness.  One should beware of any form of mysticism, and Gladwell’s blank intuitionism could easily be put in the service of a fascistic Wille zur Macht.

Blink’s target audience is composed of Hollywood producers, literary agents, advertisers, and military strategists.  You will learn in this book that films that exhibit Tom Hanks are superior to those that do not, that margarine tastes better when packaged in foil, that music sounds better when marketed the right way to the right people, that military strikes should be carried out without discipline or forethought.  The surface impression is everything.  Submit to your impulses!

Blink is American pop-culture’s defense of its own stupidity.

Joseph Suglia

TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk / Chuck Palahniuk Is a Bad Writer / A Negative Review of TELL-ALL by Chuck Palahniuk

A review of Tell-All (chuckpalahniuk) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

INTRODUCTION

chuckpalahniuk’s followers have grown older and are now turning against the one they once adulated as their master.  How could they not be insulted?  They have been treated with contempt by a writer who dumbs everything down for them.  They read more widely now and have come to recognize that the idealism that they once saw in their leader is false, and they despise him for his blatant opportunism.  This is a man who has no interest in knowledge or language, but who merely wants to make as much money as possible.  (chuckpalahniuk said: “I don’t care what they do with my book, as long as the f****** check clears.”)  They resent him for simplifying ideas that he has stolen from more sophisticated writers–and from his own fan base.  chuckpalahniuk writes under the heads of his sixteen-year-old target audience.  Sadly for him, those sixteen-year-old sheep are now twenty-four.  chuckpalahniuk is irrelevant, and the responses to his most recent work demonstrate this.

* * * * *

Those who write according to deadlines inevitably generate dead lines.  It should surprise no one, then, that chuckpalahniuk’s tired, labored contractual offering, Tell-All (2010), is a concatenation of lifeless sentences.  I’ve always felt–and clearly I’m in the minority these days–that words should bleed from the page, that one should write with one’s blood, as Nietzsche would say.  Well, Palahniuk’s pages don’t bleed; they suppurate.  A genuine writer composes electric prose, nothing but electric prose.  There is no electricity here, no artfulness.  But to claim that chuckpalahniuk writes artlessly would be to say too little.  Every sentence, every phrase, every word in this book is spoken by a voice from the grave.  Consumerist fiction is never vivacious.  You don’t believe that Palahniuk is a “literary” entrepreneur?  Here is his advice to a young poet: “Don’t expect to make any money off [poetry].”

The “plot,” such as it is, regurgitates All About Eve (1950), with Hazie Coogan reassuming the role of Eve and Katherine Kenton reincarnating Margo.  Every name is embossed in bold type, which makes the book as appealing to read as a telephone directory.  The weakest elements in Bret Easton Ellis’s fiction are his lists.  One needn’t know how to write in order to compile lists of indiscriminate items.  Here, the entire novel is a list–a list of proper nouns.  Reading this drivel is exactly like being jabbed incessantly in the ribs by an idiot savant who recites name after name in a narcotizing monotone, giggling after each jab.

The prose is irritatingly incompetent.  Should we forget that all German nouns are capitalized?  Are we supposed to think that “bile-ography” [32], “fossilidealized” [46], “laud mouthing” [58], and a “jury of sneers” [147] are clever neologisms?  Should we forget that hipster Dave Eggers popularized self-reflexivity (though he did not invent it–such a practice can be found in Ludwig Tieck and Shakespeare, to cite but two names) and that the use of it is no longer particularly “experimental”?  Should we ignore the fact that the phrase “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” is used no fewer than four times in this novel [on pages 3, 79, 129, and 177] and that such mindless repetitions are excessively fatiguing?

[After writing this review, I learned that the terms “bile-ography,” “to fossilidealize,” “to laud-mouth,” a “jury of sneers,” and “name-dropping Tourette’s syndrome” (not capitalized?) are not of chuckpalahniuk’s contrivance.]

chuckpalahniuk’s knowledge of his subject is as limited as his vocabulary.  “That vast wealth of 50’s [sic] film info comes from my editor, Gerry Howard,” chuckpalahniuk announced to Amazon.  Silliness abounds.  Are we to allow that Samuel Beckett was a “celebrity” [2] who attended opulent parties at Hollywood mansions?  Beckett recoiled from the entertainment industry as if it were a cancerous polyp (though he was not entirely indifferent to fame: See Stephen Dilks, Samuel Beckett in the Literary Marketplace).  Are we credulous enough to believe that folk singer Woody Guthrie composed music and lyrics for Broadway shows when he never did–and would have probably found the very idea of doing so repellent?  Should we be persuaded that the great French filmmaker Alain Resnais “saddled humanity” [109] (with what, precisely?), when he has given us so many strikingly beautiful, provocative, and groundbreaking works of art–something that chuckpalahniuk has never been able to do?  Though Resnais opened up a new way of seeing, most of humanity has ignored his oeuvre.  Muriel (1962), his masterpiece, is almost completely obscure.

chuckpalahniuk’s opera minora belong to a genre we might term “moron fiction,” fiction intended for readers who hate books.  One suspects that chuckpalahniuk hates books himself, given how little effort he invests in reading and creating them.  Tell-All is a nonliving entity, a throwaway, a trifle, a triviality, a little slice of nothing.

CONCLUSION

Being taught how to write fictionally by chuckpalahniuk is exactly like being taught how to play football by a one-legged man.

Joseph Suglia

“Eveline” by James Joyce (from Dubliners): A Commentary / An Analysis of “Eveline” by James Joyce / DUBLINERS, “Eveline” by James Joyce

A commentary on “Eveline” (James Joyce)

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

The opening of “Eveline” (1904-1907; published in 1914), from Dubliners, by James Joyce:

She sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue.

Notice that Eveline is not named at the beginning of the story.  Her name is given in the title, it is true, but not in the first sentence of the text.  She is a nameless, passive percipient, rather than an agent (an actor).  She does not act; she observes.  It is the evening that is performing an action; it is the evening that is acting.  The evening is invading—Eveline is already paralyzed, immobile, static at the very opening of the story, as she will be at the story’s close.

Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne.  She was tired.

Joyce does not write, “She leaned her head against the window curtains…”  He writes that her head was leaned.  The head is described as an object, as the object of an action.  The head was leaned—this means that Eveline was not leaning her own head; someone or something was leaning her head against the window curtains.  The use of the passive voice illuminates Eveline’s own passivity and immobility.

In her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne: The odour of the heavy fabric enveloping the furniture was invading Eveline’s nostrils.  Again, an image of invasion, of infiltration, of violation.  She was tired: This was Kurt Vonnegut’s favorite of all sentences, presumably because the simplicity of the language is a red herring, distracting the reader from the complexities of the text-web.

Few people passed.  The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses.

The last house where?  Where is the cinder path?  Where are the new red houses?  It is difficult to locate any of these things.  Joyce is generally very good with space and with describing the placement of objects within spaces, but here, he leaves it to the reader to imagine where the last house is, where the cinder path is, and where the new red houses are.

One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children.  Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it—not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs.  The children of the avenue used to play together in that field—the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters.

Notice that Eveline places herself after the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, and little Keogh the cripple.  Eveline puts herself at the end of the line.  Already we have a sense that this girl has abysmal self-esteem.

Ernest, however, never played: he was too grown up.  Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually little Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming.

“In” and “out” are a strange coupling of prepositions. What does it mean to hunt children in out of the field?  Shouldn’t the independent clause read: Her father used often to hunt them out of the field?  Incidentally: “To keep nix” means “to be on the lookout.”

Still they seemed to have been rather happy then.  Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive.  That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead.  Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England.  Everything changes.  Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.

If Eveline’s father was not so bad then, just imagine how bad he is when the story takes place.

Home!  She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from.

Eveline identifies herself as a duster-of-inanimate-objects.

Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided.

She does not distinguish herself from the static objects that surround her.  At the end of the story, when she has the opportunity to realize her human freedom and spontaneity, she imitates the inertia of inactive objects.

And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque.

Beloved of Irish Catholics, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was a French Catholic nun who was the embodiment to pious devotion to tradition—much in the same way that Eveline is piously devoted to her family and her homeland.

He had been a school friend of her father.  Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word:

“He is in Melbourne now.”

She had consented to go away, to leave her home.

The fact that she describes her decision to escape Dublin as one of consent implies that she does not see that decision as her own, but rather as one that has been made for her and one to which she has assented.

Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question.

Apparently, she assented reluctantly.  Her mind has not yet been made up.  The reader also is invited to weigh each side of the question: Should she leave?  Should she have left?  No answer is given.  A literary work of art, “Eveline” provokes questions that it never answers; it never gives readers the means of answering these questions.

In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her.  Of course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business.  What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow?  Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by advertisement.  Miss Gavan would be glad.  She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.

“Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?”

“Look lively, Miss Hill, please.”

She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.

But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that.  Then she would be married—she, Eveline.  People would treat her with respect then.  She would not be treated as her mother had been.  Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence.  She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations.

At this point, one has to wonder why any person of sense would want to stay in the Hill household.  Her father is abusive; this much is clear.  She is treated derogatorily by her employer, Miss Gavan.  Her brother Ernest and her mother are dead.  She is suffering from violent paroxysms, tremors brought on by her father’s abuse.  What is there to keep her in Dublin?  And trying her luck in the open air of Buenos Ayres would afford her a new possibility.  Though not everything that is possible is positive, at least she would have the possibility of something positive being brought into her life.

[Frank] told [Eveline] the names of the ships he had been on and the names of the different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians.

Now, the bit about the Patagonians makes me wonder if Frank is a liar.  A chronicler of Magellan’s expeditions wrote that the Patagonians were a race of giants.  Is Frank repeating the same myth of the “terrible Patagonians”?  If Frank is telling Eveline such nonsense, this should lead us to question the integrity of his intentions.

He had fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country just for a holiday.  Of course, her father had found out the affair and had forbidden her to have anything to say to him.

“I know these sailor chaps,” he said.

Is the father necessarily incorrect?  As dour as Eveline’s life is in Dublin, is it not preferable to being seduced and abandoned in South America?  There is no way to know with authority whether or not Frank is a reptilian seducer.  He very well might be a boa constrictor in human form.  Not even Frank might know if he is a seducer, if we consider the unconscious sources of human cognition and activity.  Frank is inscrutable to us, and perhaps Frank is even inscrutable to himself.  The inscrutability of Frank summons forth the indeterminacy of life itself.

Sometimes [Eveline’s father] could be very nice.  Not long before, when [Eveline] had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire.  Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth.  She remembered her father putting on her mother’s bonnet to make the children laugh.

The atypical tenderness of the father only serves to underline his general abusiveness.

Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne.

The grammar changes here: Now, Eveline is playing a more active role: She was leaning her head, she was inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne.

Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing.  She knew the air.  Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could.  She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she heard a melancholy air of Italy.

The song of the Italian organ player conjures the most dominant figure in Eveline’s life.  Neither her father, her surviving brother Harry, nor Frank, her lover, but rather her dead-yet-deathless mother.  The mother is resurrected, invoked by the organ-player’s song, and reminds Eveline of the latter’s death-bed oath to glue together the unglueable pieces of their shattered family.  As if to hook and draw Eveline into the tomb.  To save her from life.

The organ-player had been ordered to go away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting back into the sickroom saying:

“Damned Italians! coming over here!”

The father’s hatred of itinerant foreigners stands in contrast to the Wanderlust of Frank, an émigré from Ireland who travels to the “good air” of Buenos Ayres.

As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being—that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness.

Notice the use of the verb to close.  Three sentences before, Joyce used close as an adjective.  Here, he is using close as a verb.  This is paronomasia (punning).  An adjective in one sentence is used as a verb in another.  The fact that Joyce is using close twice in proximity means something: Close evokes the sepulchral narrowness of the life that Eveline will choose.

She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence:

“Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”

This is, apparently, corrupt Gaelic for: “The end of pleasure is pain! The end of pleasure is pain!”  It is as if the mother were admonishing her daughter from beyond the grave to avoid pleasure—to live in a narrow life of nunnish self-renunciation, to stay mired in the misery in Dublin, to languish in Dublin, to duplicate the self-negations of her mother and the insanities of her mother’s dying.  These are irenic words, sibylline utterances.  They are necrotic commandments, words spoken from the tomb, words spoken from deathness.

She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror.  Escape!  She must escape!  Frank would save her.  He would give her life, perhaps love, too.  But she wanted to live.  Why should she be unhappy?  She had a right to happiness.  Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms.  He would save her.

And she would not, then, save herself?  This passage highlights, more than any other, why Eveline is immobilized.  Rather than will to escape, she wills not to have a will.  She wills to let someone else make the decisions for her.  Her absence of self-determination is the reason that she is likely condemned to the self-negating boredom and insanity that marked her mother’s life.

Through the wide doors of the sheds [Eveline] caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes.

Joyce, again, is very good at describing place—particularly, at describing blockages.  A less talented writer would have merely pointed to the existence of the boat.  A less talented writer would have merely described the boat.  Joyce describes the visual impediments, the obstructions that impede the view of the ocean liner.  The black mass of the boat is seen through the wide doors of the sheds—an image of blockage, of separation.  The sheds are emblematic of the self-imposed barriers that divide Eveline from freedom.

Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

It is difficult to believe, but Joyce—one of the greatest literary artists who ever lived—makes a usage error in this passage.  Amid, which means “in the midst of,” should only be placed before singular nouns.  Seas is a plural noun and should take among.

[Eveline] set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

Nothing has changed within Eveline since the opening of the story.  She is immobile from the beginning of the story unto its end.  The blankness of her eyes—their illegibility, their incomprehensible nothingness—can be interpreted to signify anything.  Readers may introject their own meanings into those null eyes.

Dr. Joseph Suglia