Sat down and read Cormac McCarthy‘s play (or “novel in dramatic form”) The Sunset Limited. An African American man saves a white college professor from suicide, and they share a compelling dialogue about life, suffering, religion, and humanism. Sometimes McCarthy’s stage directions lack racial sensitivity and tact (e.g. “the black” vs. “the professor”), but the characters have an intelligent and entertaining critical dialogue. Dianne C. Luce offers an interesting reading of the text’s conclusion over at the official Cormac McCarthy website (contains spoilers):

“The novel’s denouement rests on the intellectual triumph of White, which ironically leads to his suicide, and the temporary rhetorical defeat of Black, who courageously recommits to his belief in the possibility of goodness. Thus the dialogue remains elegantly balanced, poised between forceful articulations of opposing views of life and human nature, giving ascendancy to neither. McCarthy seems to have no ideological agenda here, but rather he aims at capturing the internal debate of the thoughtful individual seeking to navigate the subway of earthly existence, who hears within him- or herself the competing voices of, on the one hand, empirical reasoning and world-wearying experience and, on the other, hope and the transcendent spirit.”

Overall, a genuinely engaging work struck through with darkly comic elements. Recommended.

Images of Don DeLillo, Alice Munro, Cormac McCarthy, Joan Didion, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Zadie Smith, Stephen King, Philip Roth, Alice Walker and more — Literary Hub

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Clarice Lispector in 1961.

Went cycling to Cardiff Bay barrage with Jennifer this morning. We sat for some time in the sunshine, before deciding to return to the cool shade of the apartment. I’m still reading Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina, which is just superb. I have also come across a number of interesting articles, reviews, and commentaries from around the web:

12 visual artists interpret Radiohead‘s seminal 1997 album, OK Computer • (Re)reading Don DeLillo‘s White NoiseFalling Man, and Cosmopolis in dark times • Sam Jordison on the publication of A Confederacy of Dunces David Hering on Alan Clarke‘s ‘hypnotic junkie odyssey’, Christine • On the diaries of T.S. Eliot‘s first wife • And 17 brilliant short novels you can read in one sitting, including works by Marguerite DurasThomas BernhardRoberto BolañoCormac McCarthyClarice Lispector, and more.

An inventory of imaginative potential

library-of-babel-jorge-luis-borges

Scott Esposito has recently published The Missing Books, a catalogue of written works that do not exist. LitHub, who has posted extracts from the work, describe its entries for ‘books that have not yet been published (but might one day be), books within books, and books whose authors did not manage to ever complete’. Among the nearly 100 texts listed are Jorge Luis BorgesBook of Sand, a work that promises totality and completeness but which never came to be; there is a non-existent universal dictionary of every word in every language; and H. P. Lovecraft‘s Necronomicon, a book of magic to be written and expanded by future authors. In each case, Esposito is alluding to books that seem to hover tantalizingly between presence and absence. (more…)

Philipp Meyer celebrates Cormac McCarthy’s dark and violent Western, Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West:

“[Blood Meridian] – his masterpiece – marks both a pinnacle and a turning point in his career. It is the first of his western novels and the last of his darker, meaner books. With one exception, all the books that follow Blood Meridian have a softer edge – sympathetic protagonists engaged in sympathetic quests.”

More at Picador.

Dwight Garner (The New York Times) on the cultural legacy of Bret Easton Ellis’ most controversial novel

american-psycho-movie-musical-news-culture.jpgWhen Bret Easton Ellis’s “American Psycho” was about to be published in 1991, word of its portrait of a monster — an amoral young Wall Street serial killer named Patrick Bateman, who nail-gunned women to the floor before doing vastly worse to them — was met with outrage.

There were death threats. A book tour was scuttled. The Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women proposed a boycott of the novel’s publisher. An advance review of “American Psycho” in The New York Times Book Review was titled “Snuff This Book!” Some stores refused to stock the novel.

I didn’t read “American Psycho” at the time. I was two years out of college in 1991, and while I’d eagerly ingested the stylish mid-80s debuts of the so-called “brat pack” writers, of which Mr. Ellis’s novel “Less Than Zero” (1985) is a crucial artifact, I’d moved on.

Yet it disturbed me that, in the moral panic over “American Psycho,” so many smart people made a rookie mistake: They’d confused author with character. Bret Easton Ellis and Patrick Bateman were pariahs. (more…)

Jonathon Sturgeon (Flavorwire) offers an update on the American writer’s forthcoming project, The Passenger
Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy

Fifty years after the publication of The Orchard Keeper, his first novel, Cormac McCarthy appears to be nearing the release of his 11th, the long-rumored The Passenger. Earlier this month, McCarthy debuted sections of the unpublished novel at a live reading in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (more…)

Calling for Submissions to a conference at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies in Berlin
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Promotion still for The Road (dir. John Hillcoat, 2009), based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Throughout his rich literary career, Cormac McCarthy has consistently explored the intersections of different modes of thinking and creative practices. Reflecting his stated view that the novel can “encompass all the various disciplines and interests of humanity” (Woodward 1992), McCarthy’s work navigates between artistic and scientific discourses as readily as it interweaves various fields of knowledge and genres from chaos theory and legal history to English poetry and the Western. His fiction mediates between different worlds insofar as the stylistic and thematic trajectories of his fiction can be considered a narrative negotiation of opposed discourses and perspectives on the world, such as cognitive science and religious experience, realism and romanticism, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. While much has been said about spatial border crossings in McCarthy’s work, this conference invites readers and scholars to consider McCarthy’s other crossings, from the intersections of literature and science to his stylistic and generic crossovers.

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If it doesn’t concern life and death, it’s not interesting.

— Cormac McCarthy

A notable precursor to the contemporary zombie movie
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Richard Matheson, I Am Legend
Recently, I picked up a copy of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend at a second-hand bookstore. Matheson—whose high-concept man vs. truck short story Duel was to launch the career of Steven Spielberg—made a name for himself in the genres of science-fiction, horror and fantasy. His writing spans novels and short stories, alongside work in television and film. I Am Legend, itself no stranger to the silver screen, has been adapted no less than three times, and is, in some ways, a reflective document of post-war American culture. First published in 1954, it laid an early foundation for zombie movies such as George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) series, and critiques many of the same social and cultural concerns associated with these later films.

“a reflective document of post-war American culture”

The plot revolves around Robert Neville, the ‘last living man on earth’. He navigates a post-apocalyptic landscape where every other man, woman, and child has been converted into zombie-like nocturnal vampires. It is a cautionary tale, negotiating the long-term impact of violence and exploitation in the atomic age.   (more…)

Cormac McCarthy
Cormac McCarthy
From a 1992 interview with Richard B. Woodward (The New York Times)

“You know about Mojave rattlesnakes?” Cormac McCarthy asks. The question has come up over lunch in Mesilla, N.M., because the hermitic author, who may be the best unknown novelist in America, wants to steer conversation away from himself, and he seems to think that a story about a recent trip he took near the Texas-Mexico border will offer some camouflage. A writer who renders the brutal actions of men in excruciating detail, seldom applying the anesthetic of psychology, McCarthy would much rather orate than confide. And he is the sort of silver-tongued raconteur who relishes peculiar sidetracks; he leans over his plate and fairly croons the particulars in his soft Tennessee accent. (more…)

Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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