May 30, 2006

Readings

"I now warn the reader not to mock me and my mental daze. It is easy for him and me to decipher now a past destiny; but a destiny in the making is, believe me, not one of those honest mystery stories where all you have to do is keep an eye on the clues. In my youth I once read a French detective tale where the clues were actually in italics; but that is not McFate's way – even if one does learn to recognize certain obscure indications."

– Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

May 26, 2006

Readings

“I shouldn’t normally show what I’d written to anyone [before publishing]: what would be the point? You remember Tennyson reading an unfinished poem to Jowett; when he had finished, Jowett said, ‘I shouldn’t publish that if I were you, Tennyson.’ Tennyson replied, ‘If it comes to that, Master, the sherry you gave us at lunch was downright filthy.’ That’s about all that can happen.”

– Philip Larkin, “An Interview with Paris Review,” Required Writing

Also, it seems that people are throwing me a party this evening; it is apparently designed to celebrate my persisting for 25 years without hearing a call to the ministry. (In certain circles, this is quite an achievement.) I'll do my best to stop by.

May 17, 2006

Readings

“Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not fond of company. I’m very fond of people, but it’s difficult to get people without company.”

– Philip Larkin, “An Interview with the Observer,” Required Writing

May 16, 2006

Readings

“I count it as one of the great moments of my life when I first realized one could actually walk out of a theatre. I don’t mean offensively – but go to the bar at the interval and not come back. I first did it at Oxford: I was watching Playboy of the Western World and when the bell rang at the interval I asked myself: ‘Am I enjoying myself? No, I’ve never watched such stupid balls.’ So I just had another drink and walked out into the evening sunshine.”

– Philip Larkin, “An Interview with the Observer,” Required Writing

May 12, 2006

Readings

“I still think novels are much more interesting than poems – a novel is so spreading, it can be so fascinating and so difficult. I think they were just too hard for me. I’ve said somewhere that novels are about other people and poems are about yourself. I think that was the trouble, really. I didn’t know enough about other people, I didn’t like them enough.”

– Philip Larkin, “An Interview with the Observer,” Required Writing

May 11, 2006

Readings

“Of course the big change since my day is the invasion of women in men’s colleges. … I suppose I’m a little suspicious of it: one’s always suspicious of change. One wonders what the effect will be on what is, after all, the ostensible purpose of universities — learning, teaching, research and so on. On the other hand I see nothing against it in theory, and I’m a little envious, too: it would have been nice to have been part of the experiment. But I’d like to know what the result is in ten years’ time: whether they will have settled down into a kind of unisex community or whether it will boil up into shootings and tears and failed exams and nervous breakdowns. Probably something cheerful and non-academic, like an American college musical.”

– Philip Larkin, “An Interview with the Observer,” Required Writing

This was basically my college experience. Minus the shootings, though it was a near thing.

May 04, 2006

Unfriendly Skies

This week's Pulse features my confrontation with United 93, the first major 9/11 movie. United 93 won.

Most reviews of United 93 have concentrated on what the film is not – sensationalist, pandering or jingoistic – while skirting the question of what it is. This is what it is: devastating. [...] Our knowledge that destruction is coming makes the breezy chats and leisurely meals of the passengers a torment so intense that their realization of the truth comes almost as a relief. But it’s a false release, because then people begin calling their relatives to say goodbye, and they keep calling, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer with their wives, and telling their children where their wills are kept, and they cry and whisper “I love you” and it is simply too much to see.

People have asked me at a steady clip over the past week whether it's "too soon" for this film. That's a reasonable question, but I think it's the wrong one. If anything, with the nation mired in a festival of geopolitical ineptitude and erratum, the timing couldn't be better for a work of art that reminds us how murderous our enemies actually are. (The more I think about it, the less suprised I am by United 93's strong box-office showing.) The problem, instead, is that the movie is too close. It's unflagging in its concentration on the suffering of innocents. It never pulls away to give context or solace. This approach doesn't make the film bad, or even immoral. It may even make it courageous. But it also means that the work's emphasis by necessity becomes the victory of death over life, and over love for that matter. It feels like a cry of despair. At least that's what it wrung from me.

Readings

“In filling out the pain schedule ‘the hardest items of all have to do with love.’ Christopher and I, in leaving home, did what we did ‘for love.’ But how does it look, the love ledger, by the time you’re done? Because you are also the enemy of love and – for your children – its despoiler. … Love comes out of it with gains but also with losses. And whenever love is losing, the force of death makes gains. Divorce: the incredibly violent thing. What parent, involved in it, has not wished for the death of the once-loved one? This is universal. And this is why your heart feels gangrenous inside your chest. This is why (as I put it to myself) you want men in white to come and take you away and wash your blood.”

– Martin Amis, Experience: A Memoir

May 02, 2006

Readings

"...it was Hitchens who introduced me to Bellow – as a reader. 'Look at Humboldt's Gift,' he told me, with a serious inclination of the head, on the staircase at the New Statesman, in (I think) 1977. I looked instead at The Victim, and after very few pages I felt a recognition threading itself through me, whose form of words (more solemn than exhilarated) went approximately as follows: 'Here is a writer I will have to read all of.'"

– Martin Amis, Experience: A Memoir

May 01, 2006

Readings

"The Old Devils marked the end of his willed solitude. He backed off, he climbed down. And we all have to do this, at some point; we all have to come out of the room we have sent ourselves to. My father emerged with a novel about forgiveness. He hadn't forgiven Jane, and never would, but he had forgiven women, he had forgiven love; he had returned to the supreme value (and would go on returning to it, in five more novels). 'I hate love,' said my son. I hate love: not a credo you ought to want to go on propounding."

– Martin Amis, Experience: A Memoir