Sunday, November 19, 2006


Mr. Mello

Call me Mr. Mello / I live on fruit and Jell-o -- Rick Moore, 1974

Last weekend I suggested that I might be mellowing -- I was able to watch a Godard movie without wanting to trash its pretensions. This seems to indicate a trend that finds me listening to The Beach Boys rather than wanting to trash their sophomoric geekiness. Is this the start of that long amber twilight in which I will forgive my enemies and love my fellow man in all his insufferable idiocy, no longer stridently displaying my misanthrope credentials? Probably not.


Waiting for My Man

Tuesday Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon's first novel since Mason & Dixon (1997) hits the shelves. It's going to be a tangled, long strange trip I've no doubt, but the question on any Pynchon-reader's mind has to be: has he pulled it off? I'm dubious, but elated all the same. I have the feeling, judging by the '90s publications of the man from Oyster Bay, that the fine madness that inhabited and inspired the scribe of Gravity's Rainbow (1973) vanished like the guy who tried to make Smile, like the guy who founded Pink Floyd, like the guy who put The Hawks through their paces in Europe '66, like... In other words, another case of Mr. Mello, of becoming a more accessible crank, the kind that will amuse us, but won't really take us around the bend. In any case, I'll be reading it soon enough and I'm bound to post comments as I go . . . Why not? It's either that or read Richard Powers I guess . . .


Of Cranks and Hacks

My pondering of American letters (something I tried to avoid doing for the better part of my existence, yet for some reason -- I suppose it has to do with that poor homeless waif of a book of mine -- I have been a-ponderin' it here and there in the last ½ decade) has produced the following staggering insight of heartbreaking clarity: American writers are either cranks or hacks. Cranks are almost all the good ones you can name (Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, James, Pound, Stevens, Faulkner,West, Pynchon . . .), the Hacks are pretty much everybody else -- I don't mean, everybody except the handful I just named, but everybody who isn't a crank, which is to say everyone who produces their standard issue fiction with astonishing regularity (I think you know the kind I mean) and reaps the benefits of being talked up by talk show hosts sweet'r'n molasses.


Images from Home

In re-formatting this page -- it's a beta blog now, whatever that means -- I thought it might be cool to have a pic that would change as the mood strikes. So, stay tuned for ongoing image changes from my personal cache of scanned pics.


Musical Markers

It struck me as fun to add some more images to the blog -- so why not albums at 10 year intervals? In choosing to add images of albums, a few things occurred to me: the reason I feel a satisfaction in posting album covers as markers of time passing is that album covers stay the same. Unlike book jackets. It would be a real hunt to find original artwork for a book, as it looked when it was released. But albums in that sense have covers "for all time." This creates that immediate recognition which is part of the "time capsule" idea. The other thing: I don't know what to call the music I listen to, so I labelled it "musical" -- pop, rock, folk, country, glam, prog, alternative, new wave, punk, goth, art, college, r&b . . . all such labels designate some elements of it, but not all, not even for a single artist.


Books I Own, Unread

Since I like to drop into Book Trader frequently, it's easy to pick-up books on the spur of the moment and then never get around to reading them. This is a list of "recent" acquisitions, some used, some not; the point of any list like this, of course, is to wittle 'em down, even as others get added.


Andrew Shields said...

Three questions:

Does a crank who mellows become a hack?

Is Philip Roth a hack?

Do those two questions mean that I am a hack? :-)

Donald Brown said...

good questions!

In answer to 1: most likely; which is simply to say that it's hard to maintain crankdom when showered with success (people like Gaddis and Musil are probably two poster-boys for the "successful" outsider; most careers move steadily into the comfort zone).

2: actually, Roth's case is interesting: Portnoy is pretty cranky, but then he was mellowing into hackdom, but Sabbath's Theater is very cranky. I think he's the kind of figure who gives the lie to the distinction, which is to say -- like most writers with long career -- he has elements of both. So let's say it's the old Shem and Shaun dichotomy and may the more persistent element win out.

I don't think the questions alone would do it, heh heh. But in technical terms, most academic writing is "hackwork," translation too I suppose, at least in the mass-produced variety. But I know in myself that there's a difference between writing I do as a crank and writing I do as a hack -- I'm still not sure about blogs. Blogs are the perfect outlet for a crank, but because they also aspire to a kind of journalistic "everyman" quality they often read more like hackwork.

Clearly this distinction of mine admits for many gradations...

Andrew Shields said...

Good answers! But watch out, that last sentence definitely sounds like mellowing. :-)

Donald Brown said...

well it's like The Clash said, "the more I know, the less my tune can swing." Time was, when all my convictions were based on a handful of writers and screw the rest of them, it would be easy to denounce most writers as hacks. And I did! But there's no escaping that writing for publication, and even moreso writing for a living, produces hackwork, even in the works of writers I greatly admire.

As to hackdom: I once believed that the way to avoid being a hack was to write poetry. Poetry, by its nature (I said, no trace of doubt, somehow), can't be "hackwork." But then I became privy to the ongoing glut of poetry hacks. Ah, but I was so much older then...