". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, January 12, 2015

Weather Mess + Solving Writerly Mess + Harlot's Ghost + Novelists

At least here it's rain and not snow. We're in that narrow band running north that is "mix" -- but the rest of the state is in the broadest band, which is "snow."

However, we are promised more extreme cold once the rain quits. 

I'm more than ready for winter to be over already. 

On a brighter note: it never fails to amaze me that a writerly problem at which one picks at for several hours, until too tired and, as was certainly the case for me yesterday, to sore, to keep at it, gets solved when relaxed in bed. 

At some point, while falling asleep, or waking in the night, or upon waking in the morning, the problem almost always reveals itself to be structural and organizational. Often the fix is a simple tweak of rearrangement, and from that rearrangement the text begins to flow. This happens to me so often, yet it always surprises me. 

I was in such bad shape when I quit last night I couldn't bend in order to remove jeans and sox. I started to and screamed in back pain, startling both el V and myself silly. El V had to help me get undressed and re-dressed for bed.

I guess I stayed in 'writing' position way too many hours and got thoroughly chilled, which I didn't notice during the process. So I didn't take the usual steps. I was drinking hot chocolate and herbal teas though, and was warm enough, I thought. Until that hour or so before the heat kicks in at the end of the afternoon -- early evening. My hands were so cold, it was hard to type. But I wasn't noticing, engaged as I was, so I didn't put on the fingerless mitts.

So, I
 was a mess last night, good for nothing after 9:30 PM except to read Norman Mailer's massive tome, Harlot's Ghost (1991), his novel about the CIA.  A couple of days ago I realized that Harlot's Ghost, with the many east coast aristos among its cast of characters is also Norman's way of getting even with Gore Vidal. Not only is Norman showing what a bunch of effed up, crazy criminals make up the CIA, the worst ones in the bunch are of the sorts of blue blood families that make up Vidal's background.  He's also showing he can write Washington political fiction with as more punch than that pansy, Vidal (Norman's terms -- both pansy and punch -- I'm as much on Team Gore as I'm on Team Mailer; I admire them both and dislike intensely aspects of both). 

Norman never got over that dust-up between himself and Gore on the Dick Cavett show way back in 1971.  Norman was drunk and rope-a-doped himself.  He even got Cavett po-ed at him.  The humiliation of the amor propre of a personage such as Mailer regarded himself could not be erased or forgotten.  So, part -- though only a part -- of his impulse for Harlot's Ghost was to exorcise the humiliation.

As said, exorcising humiliation was only a part of the drive to create this massive novel.  Norman was also a conspiracy-spotter and believer extraordinaire.  His even more extraordinary energy allowed him to pour all of that into researching and writing a novel of the sort almost every other writer wouldn't touch -- except Pynchon, but Pynchon is cool, while Mailer's always a writer of heat, red and burning white.  The novel begins right after WWII, when the Company's taking shape, and concludes in the later 1980's.

Part of Norman's extraordinary writerly energy allows him also to have writerly fun of all kinds in course of the novel. Jokes, for instance, for the reader to share -- he describes the besmer process and in the following paragraph something steely is inserted.  His writerly fun helps keep his imagery on track, which helps him accomplish the nearly impossible feat of keeping this huge number of words tightly wound and on track.  I, at least, must admire this.

But alas, the biggest joke is Harlot's Ghost concludes, not with the End, but To Be Continued. It shall never be continued, as Norman (died, 2007), like all his rivals, including Gore, has gone into that inevitable ancient night. It's seldom one will ever see such a furious expression of the denial of the inevitable as Ancient Evenings.

I could do without so much obsession with scatologic matters that are part of his philosophizing platform that connects the lowest and most filthy with the godhead that he fell deeply into at least by Ancient Evenings (1983), his novel of ancient Egypt, in which the narrator gives conception to himself by effing his own grandfather -- or was it his father? -- and gender switches -- woo!  It's been a while since I steeled myself to read Ancient Evenings, another massive tome, that followed a different sort of massive tome, the 1979 Executioner's Song, the non-fiction ballad of killer Gary Gilmore, who demanded execution from the state of Utah.  How can one not admire the sheer scope of a writer like this?
OTOH, readers and reviewers become wearied -- I know this, being one of those who hasn't been able to read Harlot's Ghost until now! -- facing yet another massive tome. I think about that a lot in connection with The American Slave Coast.  So many extremely good histories dealing with slavery, all of them big books in every way, were published just in 2014. Who will want to face yet another great big one, even if there is content that is not in the previous ones?

In the meantime, Harlot's Ghost, is not easy to find, in the way that many of the books by and about our great writers, such as Faulkner, not out of copyright, who established their careers after WWI and WWII are mostly unavailable now from public libraries and even bookstores. As used copies, these books are now quite expensive, as all of them were big business for those who invested in rare and valuable books.

University libraries still have these sorts of books, but how long before enterprising thieves fix that?  OTOH, in this age of all digital libraries, many of these volumes have been moved off-site.  No young person can serendipitously run into them.  They need to be requested from off-site, by those who know of their existence in the first place.

One day perhaps, literature will matter again, and the significance of their stature and scope will again be recognized. In the meantime the novel, at least in English, written by white males, is dominated by pygmies.

It's time, Norman, for you to pull that godly switcheroo and get yourself reborn, babee!  

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