Armenia

M.A. Littler has a new film project starting, and as much as I like the rest of his work, this looks like something truly special. Here’s the link to the crowdfunding site.

Speaking of Littler, Hard Soil is now available for download and on DVD here.

This is what I wrote — was proud to write — as part of the Nashville Film Festival application for it.

There are more definitions of folk music than there are musicians. And with the exception of maybe punk rock aficionados and Marxists, there’s no larger pool of purists and amateur historians. The battles over authenticity can be as fierce as any sports riot, and only about half as intelligible. It was with that in mind that I came to M.A. Littler’s HARD SOIL, and I’ll admit to being a little scared. For him, and for me.

I should have known better. M.A. Littler is too damn smart to give us something we can just as well get in a Wikipedia entry. He leaves the definitions and the proselytizing to others and instead gives us a group of likeminded musicians and fans coming together to experience songs. Songs about tough living, joy, family, and community. They may not be your songs, and they may not fit your definition of folk, but after watching HARD SOIL, I defy anyone to call them anything else. They mean too much to the people singing them, and to the people listening.

Woody Guthrie famously said that he hates a song that makes you feel like you’re born to lose, that makes fun of you for your bad luck or your hard traveling. I’m with him on that, which is why I don’t listen to much out of Nashville or LA these days. But if you’re the kind who prefers murder ballads over party anthems, who believes that it takes lonesomeness and blood to make good music, there’s a place for you a little further afield. In HARD SOIL, M.A. Littler gives us an exquisite tour of the space where punk rock and country music meet. There ain’t no Nudie suits and there ain’t no tour buses, but there is blind persistence in the regenerative power of art, and the community that arises from it. “The lost can’t bullshit the lost,” one singer says. Amen, brother.

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Guns, Books, Etc.

old-vintage-police-record-crime-photos-black-and-white-sydney-2

  • “If Ken Bruen did not exist, only the devil could have invented Jack Taylor.
  • Some kind soul added a quote from Pike to Goodreads. I don’t know why I am so happy about that.
  • Too dumb for New York City, too ugly for LA.
  • “So I need to write about the land. About the Lake. About the emptiness of the Dakota prairies. Because while it’s nice to evoke that sense of those places in my readers, that’s not why I’m doing it. Fuck no. I’m writing about them to evoke that sense of those places in myself.”
  • 25 vintage police record photographs from New South Wales.
  • The tactical candle holder.
  • “The morning after a big awards show like this, there is always a very shallow debate over whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for big celebrities to speak out about political issues on stage at the big awards show. This is not the important issue. I guess on the grand spectrum of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ in this world of ours, ‘bad’ would be ‘The Academy Awards are held and no one speaks out about politics because it is all about opulence,’ and ‘good’ would be ‘The Academy Awards are not held.’ If the Academy Awards are going to be held, might as well use them to some small societal benefit, by robbing the people’s houses.”
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Schopenhauer, Cioran, Ligotti, Pizzolatto, Etc.

I’ve been talking more and more about Schopenhauer, Cioran, and Ligotti. Everybody who knows me is getting real sick of it, and the poor Lighthouse folks taking my workshops probably want to claw their ears out at this point. But I can’t help it.

I began reading Schopenhauer several years back as a way to get to Moby Dick. Cioran, I started reading seriously for a review I wrote of Jeffrey DeShell’s The Trouble with Being Born. I’m a more recent convert to Thomas Ligotti, thanks to all the fuss that was made about Nic Pizzolatto’s supposed plagiarism of him for True Detective.

And the more I read of these guys, the more I think all that plagiarism nonsense was exactly that: Nonsense. There were things I disagreed with in his conversation with them in True Detective, especially in the ending, but to call Pizzolatto a plagiarist, you have to say the same about Melville.

Or, as I just realized upon rewatching The Sunset Limited recently, Cormac McCarthy:

Novelists engage with ideas, at least the interesting ones. And as McCarthy once said, “The ugly fact is books are made out of books, the novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.”

The question isn’t whether or not Pizzalatto used others’ ideas in his own work, but whether he dealt with those ideas fairly and honestly, or used them as strawmen. I need to rewatch True Detective, because I’m still not sure. But the plagiarism argument is stupid.

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Quote

From what I’ve read, it seems to me that a lot of noir is just about vantage point. I’ve said this over and over again, but in most kinds of fiction — literary and crime — the protagonist is working to heal some rift in society, or, in microcosm, the family; in noir, however, society itself is the rift. You can’t heal it; it’s that force working against you that you can’t really understand. That’s the atmosphere at play.

Which, y’know, seems to me to be a pretty natural way to read the world. But maybe I should be writing horror.

This from Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror.

Atmosphere is created by anything that suggests an ominous state of affairs beyond what our senses perceive and our minds can fully comprehend. It is the signature motif that Schopenhauer made discernible in pessimism —that behind the scenes of life there is something pernicious that makes a nightmare of our world.

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Guns, Books, Etc.

napalm

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How Cliché Makes You a Nazi

I have this sneaking suspicion that most people, given the right historical circumstances, are capable of extraordinary evil. That comes of the belief that evil itself is usually systemic; though individual evil exists, it’s got nothing on the kind of atrocity that can come of organization and cooperation.

As such, one of my benchmark books on the subject is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. It’s my favorite book about evil.

And also my favorite book about cliché.

eichmann

Adolf Eichmann was, of course, one of the organizers of the European Holocaust. He was also, at least according to Arendt, a man nearly incapable of thought. This is from the Wikipedia entry for the book:

Arendt’s book introduced the expression and concept “the banality of evil”. Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely average person who relied on cliché rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology. Banality, in this sense, is not that Eichmann’s actions were ordinary, or that there is a potential Eichmann in all of us, but that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional. She never denied that Eichmann was an anti-semite, nor that he was fully responsible for his actions, but argued that these characteristics were secondary to his stupidity.

This concept has been frequently misunderstood. In his 2010 history of the Second World War, Moral Combat, British historian Michael Burleigh calls the expression a “cliché” and gives many documented examples of gratuitous acts of cruelty by those involved in the Holocaust, including Eichmann. Arendt certainly did not disagree about the fact of gratuitous cruelty, but “banality of evil” is unrelated to this question. Similarly, the first attempted rebuttal of Arendt’s thesis relied on a misreading of this phrase, claiming Arendt meant that there was nothing exceptional about the Holocaust.

And this is Hannah Arendt, in her own words:

[Eichmann] was genuinely incapable of uttering a single sentence that was not a cliché.[…] Eichmann, despite his rather bad memory, repeated word for word the same stock phrases and self-invented clichés (when he did succeed in constructing a sentence of his own, he repeated it until it became a cliché) each time he referred to an incident or event of importance to him.[…] The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against the words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.

The point being, at least to me, that there’s a danger to cliché, beyond bad writing. Particularly to unexamined cliché. It’s like what Ron Sukenick wrote in Down and in: Life in the Underground, “’Use your imagination,’ I tell my students these days, ‘or someone else is going to use it for you.’”

Clichés do your thinking for you, and the worst of them are invisible. I liken it to when people tell you something’s common sense. What they really mean is, hush, you can rest easy now, all the thinking’s been done on this topic. It’s a way of asking you politely to turn your brain off.

As a writer, I’m not trying to suggest that cliché is entirely avoidable. Hell, I’m not even sure avoidance of cliché is always desirable. There are character specific clichés that are necessary, and every genre — including literary fiction — has its own set of clichés you work within. (In fact, I’m pretty sure that a tendency towards unexamined cliché is probably good for sales, in that they’re comforting.)

But I think Arendt’s right that we need to push on them whenever possible. And whenever I get one handed me — either in a book or across a cup of coffee — I always wonder what it is that it’s working to obscure.

And whether the person giving it to me even knows they’re doing it.

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Quote

From Thomas Ligotti’s brief overview of Thomas Metzinger’s theory of consciousness in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race: A Contrivance of Horror.

At the forefront of current studies in selfism and egology, the field of neuroscience has made unmistakable headway. In Being No One (2004), for example, the German neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger provides a theory of how the brain manufactures the subjective sense of our existence as discrete “selves,” even though, as Metzinger explains, we would be more rigorously categorized as information-processing systems for which it is expedient in an existential sense to create the illusion of “being someone.” In Metzinger’s schema, a human being is not a “person” but a mechanistically functioning “phenomenal self-model” that simulates a person. The reason we cannot detect these models is that we see through them, and so cannot see the processes of the models themselves. If we could, we would know there is nothing to us but these models. This might be called “Metzinger’s Paradox”: You cannot know what you really are because then you would know there is nothing to know and nothing to know it.

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