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Lose The Goddamned Do-Rag: David Foster Wallace-A Belated Apology

October 14, 2009


I can’t remember when I first became aware of David Foster Wallace. Sometime in the mid-90’s, I think. I was immediately on my guard. Triple names usually bode ill: Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth, Mary Joe Kopechne, David Lee Roth, Bozo The Clown…QED. That was strike one.

Then there was the picture of DFW that I kept coming across. A fleshy-faced tax-payer who looked like he hadn’t missed many meals, gazing soulfully/sulkily to one side, a do-rag covering his tonsure.

On a Glock-wielding, South Central Blood flashing bejeweled fangs and furiously throwing cryptic gang signs, a do-rag looks risible enough. On a podgy, middle-class white-boy, it’s an absurdity too far and kicks my immune system into overdrive.

What’s the subtext here? Is it a nod to gangster chic? A show of solidarity with Rosie the Riveter? Is he auditioning for a pirate movie? Actually, you know what? I don’t give a shit. Do-rag = Douche bag…erm..probably. Strike two.

Then there was the hype. People whose judgement I respect less than my cat’s were pumping out hysterical encomiums at a rate that made me suspect they were being paid by the syllable. People kept comparing DFW to Pynchon. “The heir to Thomas Pynchon,” wrote Douglas Kennedy. Strike three. Yerrrr ouuuttt…

Let me explain. As a young man in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I gravitated towards the ‘hippie’ sub-culture. I was by no means a natural hippy. I was not a pacifist. I did not eschew aggression.

In fact, I was a bit of a thug. I did not think that Sgt. Pepper was a palimpsest containing a hidden guide to The Meaning Of Life. I did not believe that ‘bad vibes’ were as destructive as napalm and I flat-out laughed at the notion that The Grateful Dead knew anything that I didn’t.

In those days and in those circles, there were three sacred texts: The Lord of the Rings; The Teachings of Don Juan and Gravity’s Rainbow.

The first, I’d read and loved as a 10 year-old. When I tried to re-read it in my late teens, just to see what all those hippie numb-skulls were channeling, I discovered that I’d developed a powerful allergy to elves, magic rings, wizards and all the rest of the Middle Earth bullshit that the incontinent Tolkien churned out at such length. And yet, countless hippies looked to LOTR as some sort of blueprint for a lost Elysium, a world that we could (given enough Lebanese hash, Afghan sheepskin coats and patchouli oil) reconstruct in England’s green and pleasant land.

It was considered a work of profound philosophical and moral depth (a notion so preposterous that anyone who entertained it for a nano-second was revealed as a cretin).

But the Great Cretin Drought of 1971 that I longed for never happened and I lost count of the hippies who introduced themselves as ‘Bilbo’, ‘Frodo’ or ‘Gandalf’. This last was especially popular. I must have met a hundred lank-haired, cape-wearing nincompoops who called themselves ‘Gandalf’ and they were all of a piece. They attempted to cultivate an air of command, of hidden powers; they practiced a piercing gaze that made them appear psychotic. Mostly, however, what they did was take drugs, spout ill-considered drivel and try to persuade hippy girls that their powers extended to the bedroom.

I was more successful in that respect (seriously, dude…did you think I was hanging around for the high-quality conversation?). I would gaze into some girl’s eyes, contrive to look sorely troubled and moved and say, “You’re like Galadriel…”. The saps loved it. They yearned to be Elven princesses and were happy to consider me Aragorn son of Arathorn son of Kiddieporn, wielder of The Sword That Was Broken But Was Sent Back To Customer Services For Fixing. Christ…the things we do for sex, eh, boys?

The second holy scripture was Castenada’s The Teachings Of Don Juan, a book of half-baked mystical mumbo-jumbo, the illegitimate love-child of Madam Blavatsky and Speedy Gonzales. It was a volume so eye-wateringly moronic, so super-charged with utter meaninglessness that a 10 minute speed scan gave me all I needed to know. I became so adept at faux-mystical blather a la Don Juan that I was widely regarded as a ‘deep thinker’. The horror, the horror…

The third sacred text was Gravity’s Rainbow. I read it. I loathed it. I loathed it for its self-indulgence and its leaden ‘humour’ but most of all, I loathed it because people I held in contempt loved it.

I seem to have digressed. Fuck it. It’s my blog. I’ll digress if I want to. My point is that comparing DFW to Pynchon was not going to win me over. And so, for these many years past, I’ve managed to avoid reading a single word of DFW’s. Until a week ago.

Browsing the stock in a local charity shop, I came across a volume by DFW called Consider The Lobster and Other Essays. Out of curiosity, I picked it up. I opened it at random and found myself reading an essay entitled Authority and American Usage. Sucker punched. Me, I mean.

As a man who’s owned the Complete OED and Mencken’s The American Language for 30 years; a man who used to turn eagerly to William Safire’s On Language column in the NYT Sunday Magazine every week; a man who wants to scream every time some half-wit journalist or politician uses the phrase ‘fit for purpose’, nothing could have been better calculated to draw me in.

I bought the book and have just finished reading it. Honour demands that I make a public apology to the shade of David Foster Wallace. Forgive me. I let my prejudices get in the way of my judgement. You were an extraordinarily fine writer.

Now I’ll have to read his fiction. I’d appreciate it if any of you have any recommendations to make. Should I just go straight to Infinite Jest or start at the beginning and work through his fiction?

  1. October 14, 2009 12:50 PM

    I’ve never read Gravity’s Rainbow but I’m not sure it was ever a hippy text – certainly not round my way. The people I knew who liked it were a different breed of hipster, more into sharp suits and blue suede shoes than kaftans and Hawkwind

  2. mishari permalink*
    October 14, 2009 12:57 PM

    Well, Al, that’ll be yer rustic hippy. I speak of the East Coast(US)/London sub-species. Every one of the bastards had a tattered copy of GR. Whether any of them had actually read it or not is another matter. As a life-long compulsive reader, I did and wished I hadn’t.

  3. October 14, 2009 4:19 PM

    We really need Sean Murray for this one but he’s gone AWOL. You’re a compulsive reader why not go straight to Infinite Jest -it’s the one they all go on about.

    I’m not quite sure what youth/social grouping we’re currently living in but I wonder if in 30 years if the next generation will be laughing at us – Wallace Stevens poetry, Infinite Jest and Elmore Leonard on every bookshelf, boxed DVD sets of The Wire and Seinfeld, Tom Waits, Fleet Foxes and Albert Ayler downloads on the i-pod and framed pictures by Thomas Gursky, Arshille Gorky and Matt Groening on the walls. To chat up women all you had to say was “rattapallax” and you’d be instantly intriguing , desirable even if you knew what it actually meant.

  4. mishari permalink*
    October 14, 2009 4:33 PM

    An endlessly fascinating question, Al. What will stand the test of time and what won’t? It’s always entertaining to go back and read past predictions and see just how wrong they were…but rattapallax (as long as it remains impenetrable) is forever.

    I heard through the grapevine that Sean’s become Bongo’s artistic advisor. Remember when the prick showed up at Balthus’ funeral? That was Sean’s doing…

  5. October 14, 2009 5:50 PM

    “Rattapallax” is an artistic clunk of the highest order. There’s no way you can miss it, go round it or if you do, reverse to make sure it really was what you thought it was.

    Sean and Bono ? Must be an example of infinite jest ?

  6. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 14, 2009 6:12 PM

    I read three pages of all the books you mention, and two of Steppenwolf, which you don’t. Never read anything by Wallace – isn’t Obooki a fan?

  7. mishari permalink*
    October 14, 2009 6:32 PM

    I loved Steppenwolf as a teenager. In fact, I read most of Hesse’s books–Magister Ludi, Siddhartha etc and thought them rather wonderful. I re-read Steppenwolf a few years ago, expecting to find that time had turned it to utter dross. In fact, it still had its charms (or perhaps I’m just perverse?).

    BTW, Mowbray (otherwise known as ‘Gandalf’ except when his cape’s at the dry-cleaners), I’ve sent down the latest 2 eps of SOA and Madmen and filled the extra space with Michael Mann’s latest, Public Enemies (the story of John Dillinger starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger). Haven’t watched it myself but I heard it’s not bad…

  8. pinkroom permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:09 PM

    I remember those hideous gandalf-alikes… there was a particularly tragic case who used to play his guitar in an old nurse’s cape in Eldon Square, Newcastle who wen’t by the name of Moondancer. I’m sure freep will remember him well… real name somebody Stott… I believe he was driven out of town for er…worrying young girls. Last I heard he was arrested in Brighton for doing something “inappropriate” in front of Prince Charles… madethe papers. No known sightings since he disappeared into the back of that police van. A curious case.

  9. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:35 PM

    Thanks for the DVD, man. I did get through ‘Gertrude’, though I can’t remember anything about it. Much of my opposition, of course, was based on the fact that many of my acquaintances liked Hesse. As good a critical tool as any other, I suppose.

    My daughter saw Fleet Foxes at Bestival and hated them. Many of her acquaintances like them.

  10. mishari permalink*
    October 14, 2009 8:33 PM

    Stott, you say, PR? Hmmmm…now where have I come across that name before?

    It wasn’t bad enough, MM, that one’s familiars all liked Steppenwolf…even more ignominious, a rather cack-handed rock band took the name as well. The lead singer was German. Need I say more? All together now…“Boooorn to be Wiiiiyiyiyild…”

  11. October 14, 2009 9:04 PM

    Glass Bead Game was the only Hesse I managed – a case of in one eye and out the other as nothing about it remained in my memory for long other than it was about a glass bead game. The Penguin Modern Classic version had a nice painting by Paul Klee on the cover.

    Thinking about it ( steady on Alarming ) the Penguin designers were very canny with their choices of artists for front covers. I possibly wouldn’t have taken a punt on Malone Dies if it hadn’t have had a lovely drawing of a skull by Giacommetti on the front.

    Back in the day Penguins were relatively cheap for an art student plus if they didn’t work out at least you got a nice picture to look at and think about.

  12. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:54 PM

    You’re just the man, Al. What’s the name and painter of the picture on the dustjacket of the 1973 edition of Larkin’s Twentieth Century English Verse? It’s driving me mad.

  13. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 12:11 AM

    If it’s this cover then the painting’s by Laura Matthews. However, as it says there’s a new introduction by Bowel Motion, I expect it’s not the same as the original 1973 edition …

  14. October 15, 2009 7:20 AM


    Not knowing anything about its cultural pedigree I was planning on picking up GR when I get back to London. I’m working on something epic at the moment and wanted some inspiration on structure, scope and, ah, padding the damn thing out. Thought Lanark (another book about which I know very little) might fit also. Was planning to re-read the Gormenghast books and considering Infinite Jest. Anyone have any other thoughts?

    I like Fleet Foxes; their heritage sound is a bit too respectful to the distant past but the album travels well (I mean when looking out of a train window or at a mountain).

    Not sure there will be an approved cultural narrative going forward, at least not one that’s fit for purpose. Things move so fast, are so fragmentary and – in Internet terms – localised to certain demographics (each group isolating itself – aside from the odd YouTube baby video – until we’re all grouped on tiny, culture-specific Galapogos islands of our own). Also, so much of what people now enjoy is easy access to the literature, music, film of previous generations and sub-cultures that the culture seems as much about acquisition, redisovery and retro-trend-chasing as about new work. My favourite ‘new’ band this year is Black Sabbath. My favourite ‘new’ writer is Cormac McCarthy, both of whom I was introduced to by trusted sources on the Internet: Julian Cope’s site for Sab and, er, Mishari for McCarthy.

    When the Beatles Anthology came out it was in the culture for months and months of discussion, coverage etc. This year the remastered LPs come out for the first time. There’s a day or two of hype and then everyone moves on. There’s probably a good novel to be written about it but I doubt anyone has the attention span to write it.

    • parallax permalink
      October 18, 2009 12:33 PM

      Ah yes, Cormac McCarthy – which reminds me I have to post on your ‘scenes from a jumper blog’ – I’ll be there any moment now

  15. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 7:59 AM

    …so you haven’t read Infinite Jest either? I was rather hoping you might have and could make a recommendation one way or the other.

    However, if you’re looking for an inspiring epic, I recommend Michael Moorcock’s Mother London trilogy or his Pyat quartet. Both truly epic and a great read. Very possibly fit for purpose, going forward….

  16. October 15, 2009 8:06 AM

    Good call. I’ve had Mother London sitting around since I was a teen and buying up every second-hand Moorcock I could find. Also have two volumes of Pyat that I never got around to.

  17. October 15, 2009 8:06 AM

    Can’t help you MM re: Larkin’s collection of verse. I don’t remember the book.

    XB Sartre’s Roads to Freedom trilogy is very good ( if a bit dated ) The second volume with its parallel stories made a big impression on me at the time.

    De Montherlant’s 2 volume The Girls also very good. It’s probably misogynistic, definitely self-pitying, semi-Brian Sewellish but the first part with letters to and from the hero and a wealth of authorial footnotes to expose his various deceits is very funny and formally quite interesting.

  18. October 15, 2009 9:13 AM

    DFW just looks like he want to be Axl Rose.

    My only contact with Infinite Jest was seeing it in the bedroom of a friend – then an astrophysics PHD student – about ten years ago. I picked it up, thinking it was some hipster telephone directory. I asked him if it was any good and he started shouting that it wasn’t, ranting for some time. So I was hardly encouraged to investigate further.

  19. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 10:55 AM

    I wanted some funky visuals for Red Baron, a track from Billy Cobham’s classic fusion LP Spectrum, so I took Yantra, a 1957 animated short by James Whitney, and put it through a solarizing filter. I’m really pleased with the result. No longer recognisable as Yantra, it is, I think, more arresting than the original film. I love computers.

    The guitarist on this track, 21 year-old Tommy Bolin, died shortly afterwards of a heroin OD and that’s Jan Hammer on keyboards. Turn on, tune in, drop out…

  20. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 15, 2009 11:49 AM

    It was Resurrection of the Soldiers, by Stanley Spencer. I had an idea it was Spencer, but I thought it was a painting on canvas. Turns out it’s a mural. Very striking picture – it was the first thing I thought of after reading Al’s comment on book covers.

    Thumbs up to Sartre – thumbs down to Les Girls, which I found hard work, though I loved Boulevard Raspail. Moorcock was something else you would have expected to find amongst the other rubbish in most early 70s puke-making shoulder bags.

  21. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 15, 2009 11:53 AM

    I mean The Bachelors, of course.

  22. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 11:56 AM

    Granted, MM…Moorcock’s SciFi/Fantasy stuff isn’t up to much (in my opinion) but his (relatively) straight novels are very good. Don’t be too quick to sneer (unless, of course, you’ve read them and still think they’re tosh, in which case curl your lip freely).

  23. parallax permalink
    October 15, 2009 11:59 AM

    Hey that Red Baron Link says, when clicked, ‘this video is not available in your country due to copyright restrictions’. My country? So can you guys still access it?

  24. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 12:04 PM

    Yeah, strange that. You can view it in the UK. It actually has a notation saying that it’s unavailable in some countries for some copyright horseshit. Just use one of these…but you probably already know that. If you use Firefox, you can have a proxy-changer add-on that’s just a click-and-switch job.

  25. October 15, 2009 12:41 PM

    MM If it’s a mural it’ll be at the Burghclere chapel near Winchester. It’s on the mainland but not too far from you and is well worth a visit. Weird as Spencer always is but if you start on your left and work your way round the walls the paintings get more daring and much better. By daring I mean in terms of composition not dirty visions although Sir Stanley wass never too far from those thoughts.

    If you didn’t like the Bachelors you’ll HATE THe Girls. I’m not sure I find the sentiments entirely to my taste but I do find the letters section extremely good in the relationship between author ( in the form of footnotes ) and lead character who is a lying bastard.

  26. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 2:38 PM

    I dunno, man…that Mowbray is just so negative, man…I bet his name isn’t really Gandalf. In fact, I’ll bet he isn’t even a real wizard. Prolly just some moldy, patchouli-soused hippy with a well-thumbed copy of Gurdjieff’s Card Tricks For Dummies.

    …and I’ll bet that’s not a real Elven Cloak of Invisibility at all. Prolly just one of your Mum’s old dressing gowns.

    I couldn’t see you because it was dark and I was drunk. Bastard.

  27. October 15, 2009 3:49 PM

    I’ve activated the Bat Signal for Sean-O to get over here. Discussing DFW in his absence is unthinkable, after all. Let the healing begin. I’ll bring the bandages!

  28. October 15, 2009 4:11 PM

    As I recall it was formalism that lit the touch-paper with Sean so don’t mention Sol LeWitt and everything should be okay.

    I’m off to the country of that arch-formalist Billy Mills for 2 weeks so I will either return transformed into a series of significantally placed metal cubes or I won’t.

  29. seanmurray permalink
    October 15, 2009 5:14 PM

    Comrade Sensei Steven has craftily worded his post so that any no-show by me here would look like a deliberate snub, which I would not wish.

    Mishari — Comrade Sensei Billy rather generously buried the hatchet with me over on GU and I’d like to do the same with you. The aggro persona I’ve adopted under the name Sean Murray got somewhat out of hand here and for that I apologise. I’m currently killing off furious wee SM for good.

    I have a digital copy of Infinite Jest I can email to anybody who’s interested. Dear Bono was certainly won over — hence his appearance at Wallace’s funeral and forthcoming Infinite Jest-themed concept album. Here’s a passage that I like and CS Steven doesn’t:

    Unlike Boston AA, Boston NA has no mid-meeting raffle-break and goes for just an hour. At the close of this Monday Beginners’ Meeting everybody got up and held hands in a circle and recited the NA-Conference-Approved ‘Just For Today,’ then they all recited the Our Father, not exactly in unison. Kate Gompert later swore she distinctly heard the tattered older man beside her say ‘And lead us not into Penn Station’ during the Our Father.

    Then, just as in AA, the NA meeting closed with everybody shouting to the air in front of them to Keep Coming Back because It Works.

    But then, kind of horrifically, everyone in the room started milling around wildly and hugging each other. It was like somebody’d thrown a switch. There wasn’t even very much conversation. It was just hugging, as far as Erdedy could see. Rampant, indiscriminate hugging, where the point seemed to be to hug as many people as possible regardless of whether you’d ever seen them before in your life. People went from person to person, arms out and leaning in. Big people stooped and short people got up on tiptoe. Jowls ground into other jowls. Both genders hugged both genders. And the male-to-male hugs were straight embraces, hugs minus the vigorous little thumps on the back that Erdedy’d always seen as somehow requisite for male-to-male hugs. Johnette Foltz was almost a blur. She went from person to person. She was racking up serious numbers of hugs. Kate Gompert had her usual lipless expression of morose distaste, but even she gave and got some hugs. But Erdedy – who’d never particularly liked hugging – moved way back from the throng, over up next to the NA-Conference-Approved-Literature table, and stood there by himself with his hands in his pockets, pretending to study the coffee urn with great interest.

    But then a tall heavy Afro-American fellow with a gold incisor and per fect vertical cylinder of Afro-American hairstyle peeled away from a sort of group-hug nearby, he’d spotted Erdedy, and the fellow came over and estab lished himself right in front of Erdedy, spreading the arms of his fatigue jacket for a hug, stooping slightly and leaning in toward Erdedy’s personal trunk-region.

    Erdedy raised his hands in a benign No Thanks and backed up further so that his bottom was squashed up against the edge of the Conference-Approved-Literature table.

    ‘Thanks, but I don’t particularly like to hug,’ he said.

    The fellow had to sort of pull up out of his pre-hug lean, and stood there awkwardly frozen, with his big arms still out, which Erdedy could see must have been awkward and embarrassing for the fellow. Erdedy found himself trying to calculate just what remote sub-Asian locale would be the maxi mum possible number of km. away from this exact spot and moment as the fellow just stood there, his arms out and the smile draining from his face.

    ‘Say what?’ the fellow said.

    Erdedy proffered a hand. ‘Ken E., Ennet House, Enfield. How do you do. You are?’

    The fellow slowly let his arms down but just looked at Erdedy’s proffered hand. A single styptic blink. ‘Roy Tony,’ he said.

    ‘Roy, how do you do.’

    ‘What it is,’ Roy said. The big fellow now had his handshake-hand be hind his neck and was pretending to feel the back of his neck, which Erdedy didn’t know was a blatant dis.

    ‘Well Roy, if I may call you Roy, or Mr. Tony, if you prefer, unless it’s a compound first name, hyphenated, “Roy-Tony” and then a last name, but well with respect to this hugging thing, Roy, it’s nothing personal, rest as sured.’


    Erdedy’s best helpless smile and an apologetic shrug of the GoreTex an orak. ‘I’m afraid I just don’t particularly like to hug. Just not a hugger. Never have been. It was something of a joke among my fam-’

    Now the ominous finger-pointing of street-aggression, this Roy fellow pointing first at Erdedy’s chest and then at his own: ‘So man what you say you saying I’m a hugger? You saying you think I go around like to hug?’

    Both Erdedy’s hands were now up palms-out and waggling in a like bon-hommic gesture of heading off all possible misunderstanding: ‘No but see the whole point is that I wouldn’t presume to call you either a hugger or a nonhugger because I don’t know you. I only meant to say it’s nothing per sonal having to do with you as an individual, and I’d be more than happy to shake hands, even one of those intricate multiple-handed ethnic handshakes if you’ll bear with my inexperience with that sort of handshake, but I’m simply uncomfortable with the whole idea of hugging.’

    By the time Johnette Foltz could break away and get over to them, the fellow had Erdedy by his anorak’s insulated lapels and was leaning him way back over the edge of the Literature table so that Erdedy’s waterproof lodge boots were off the ground, and the fellow’s face was right up in Erdedy’s face in a show of naked aggression:

    ‘You think I fucking like to go around hug on folks? You think any of us like this shit? We fucking do what they tell us. They tell us Hugs Not Drugs in here. We done motherfucking surrendered our wills in here,’ Roy said. ‘You little faggot,’ Roy added. He wedged his hand between them to point at himself, which meant he was now holding Erdedy off the ground with just one hand, which fact was not lost on Erdedy’s nervous system. ‘I done had to give four hugs my first night here and then I gone ran in the fucking can and fucking puked. Puked,’ he said. ‘Not comfortable? Who the fuck are you? Don’t even try and tell me I’m coming over feeling comfortable about trying to hug on your James-River-Traders-wearing-Calvin-Klein-aftershave-smelling-goofy-ass motherfucking ass.’

    Erdedy observed one of the Afro-American women who was looking on clap her hands and shout ‘Talk about it!’

    ‘And now you go and disrespect me in front of my whole clean and sober set just when I gone risk sharing my vulnerability and discomfort with you?’

    Johnette Foltz was sort of pawing at the back of Roy Tony’s fatigue jacket, shuddering mentally at how the report of an Ennet House resident assaulted at an NA meeting she’d personally brought him to would look written up in the Staff Log.

    ‘Now,’ Roy said, extracting his free hand and pointing to the vestry floor with a stabbing gesture, ‘now,’ he said, ‘you gone risk vulnerability and discomfort and hug my ass or do I gone fucking rip your head off and shit down your neck?’

    Johnette Foltz had hold of the Roy fellow’s coat now with both hands and was trying to pull the fellow off, Keds scrabbling for purchase on the smooth parquet, saying ‘Yo Roy T. man, easy there Dude, Man, Esse, Bro, Posse, Crew, Homes, Jim, Brother, he’s just new is all’; but by this time Erdedy had both arms around the guy’s neck and was hugging him with such vigor Kate Gompert later told Joelle van Dyne it looked like Erdedy was trying to climb him.

  30. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 15, 2009 5:24 PM

    I liked The Bachelors, didn’t like the Girls, just to be clear. I didn’t know Moorcock wrote straight novels.

    I was never, and have never been, a member of the hippie party. My core position was to denounce brotherhood in the name of the class struggle. My fundamental posture now is can’t be arsed.

    I must have driven past Burghclere a thousand times without giving the place a thought. Must look in next time. When we passed Highclere last I remember remarking to Mrs M that it was where Jordan and Pete got married in those far-off happy days. A gut-wrenching moment.

    Have a good trip, Al. I hear there is even more weather than usual in Ireland this time of year.

  31. October 15, 2009 6:21 PM

    At one point in the sixties Moorcock could write a 30,000 word short novel in a week or less. It was, in genre terms, pulp fantasy, but there was always satire and wit. His Hawkmoon novels, ostensibly adolescent fantasy fiction, were designed to annoy post-war patriotism by recasting the British as a race of emaciated animal-mask-wearing orgiastic imperialists. I didn’t know that when I read it aged 12 but appreciated the fact later. He has written countless novels (i think I own around fifty, not all of which I’ve read). They go in and out of print, get revised, conflated into larger meta-narrative collections then disappear to the seond-hand market stalls. Some of his work is adolescent, some painfully hip, some erudite and epic, some counfoundingly experimental. But he’s never stayed still or played it safe.

    He also wrote a book criticising the Tolkien fantasy-view as parochial and conservative. He’s still writing, having turned 70 this year.

  32. October 15, 2009 6:36 PM

    XB I think Moorcock is in the same vein as Dick ( what a sentence! ) Perhaps not as dystopianly prophetic but similarly good bad and ugly. The splendid Beeb 4 documentary on Hawkwind had a few good Moorcock stories

  33. pinkroom permalink
    October 15, 2009 8:54 PM

    I see the West Country is not ready for Al’s latest installation:

  34. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 8:56 PM

    Sean, despite your generous gesture, there was never anything for you to apologise for. But in the same spirit, whatever I may have said to offend you (leading to your much regretted absence from this blog) I, in turn, apologise for and would wish it as unsaid as it was unintended. Delighted to have you grace the old doss house again. So, I take it you recommend Infinite Jest (as opposed to starting with another work by DFW)?

    Yes, XB, I think that a writer as prolific as Moorcock is bound to be patchy sometimes. I actually read a lot of the Hawkmoon/Elric of Melnibone books and quite enjoyed them (many, many years ago). I don’t remember much about them except for a certain…I dunno..weird, almost unhealthy atmosphere. But his Mother London/ Colonel Pyat novels are terrific…

  35. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 15, 2009 11:01 PM

    I’m reading Fred Vargas’ The Chalk Circle Man, and not that impressed. It reminds me of the Flaxborough Chronicles, by Colin Watson, a bit eccentric, un peu whimsical, but not quite interesting enough to make that tolerable. Maybe it’s the translation. I believe you enjoyed the works, en francais I assume.

  36. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 11:33 PM

    I read L’Homme à l’envers and liked it. But translation is always a thorny problem. I read a couple of translations of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Pepe Carvalho novels and I was apalled. Friends have told me that more recent translations are far better.

    One can, for example, see the very significant differences in the Scott Moncrieff, Kilmartin, Enright and Prendergast translations of Proust or the Constance Garnett translations that were my introduction to Russian literature and more recent translations. I’ve read that if Garnett didn’t understand a word or phrase, she simply left it out. An unlikely scenario nowadays…

    BTW, I’m enjoying a Richard Stark/Parker novel that I hadn’t read before. Stark wrote it a few years ago (20 years after the last Parker book). I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Parker books (the film Point Blank was based on one of them, with Lee Marvin as Parker). It’s very good. I’ll pass it along if you fancy it.

  37. seanmurray permalink
    October 15, 2009 11:38 PM

    Cheers for that, Mishari.

    The only Wallace stuff I’m really mad about is Infinite Jest and his non-fiction, the English usage essay you’ve mentioned above being a peach. Have you read the porn essay in that collection, specifically the footnote about how one should react when the point of *every single anecdote* somebody tells is how beloved they are?

    Best Wallace starting point — a very good time guaranteed, I’d say — is this essay set on a cruise ship:

    Bit chewier but also superb is this essay which sets out his cri de coeur:

    If you like those you can strap yourself in for Infinite Jest and this kind of thing:

    It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip — and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of what¬ever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté. Sentiment equals na-ïveté on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). One of the things sophisticated viewers have always liked about J. O. Incandenza’s The American Century as Seen Through a Brick is its unsubtle thesis that naïveté is the last true terrible sin in the theology of millennial America. And since sin is the sort of thing that can be talked about only figuratively, it’s natural that Himself’s dark little cartridge was mostly about a myth, viz. that queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naïveté are mutually exclusive. Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human fat least as he conceptual¬izes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naive and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s really lonely for: this hideous internal self, inconti¬nent of sentiment and need, that pules and writhes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.

    Hal isn’t old enough yet to know that numb emptiness isn’t the worst kind of depression. That dead-eyed anhedonia is but a rem-ora on the ventral flank of the true predator, the Great White Shark of pain. Authorities term this condition clinical depression or involutional depres¬sion or unipolar dysphoria. Instead of just an incapacity for feeling, a dead¬ening of soul, the predator-grade depression Kate Gompert always feels as she Withdraws from secret marijuana is itself a feeling. It goes by many names — anguish, despair, torment, or q.v. Burton’s melancholia or Yev-tuschenko’s more authoritative psychotic depression — but Kate Gompert, down in the trenches with the thing itself, knows it simply as It.

    It is a level of psychic pain wholly incompatible with human life as we know it. It is a sense of radical and thoroughgoing evil not just as a feature but as the essence of conscious existence. It is a sense of poisoning that pervades the self at the self’s most elementary levels. It is a nausea of the cells and soul. It is an unnumb intuition in which the world is fully rich and animate and un-map-like and also thoroughly painful and malignant and antagonistic to the self, which depressed self It billows on and coagulates around and wraps in Its black folds and absorbs into Itself, so that an almost mystical unity is achieved with a world every constituent of which means painful harm to the self. Its emotional character, the feeling Gompert describes It as, is probably mostly indescribable except as a sort of double bind in which any/all of the alternatives we associate with human agency — sitting or standing, doing or resting, speaking or keeping silent, living or dying — are not just unpleasant but literally horrible.

    It is also lonely on a level that cannot be conveyed. There is no way Kate Gompert could ever even begin to make someone else understand what clin¬ical depression feels like, not even another person who is herself clinically depressed, because a person in such a state is incapable of empathy with any other living thing. This anhedonic Inability To Identify is also an integral part of It. If a person in physical pain has a hard time attending to anything except that pain,282 a clinically depressed person cannot even perceive any other person or thing as independent of the universal pain that is digesting her cell by cell. Everything is part of the problem, and there is no solution. It is a hell for one.

    This site has loads of Wallace pieces:


  38. mishari permalink*
    October 15, 2009 11:54 PM

    Thanks for that, Sean. I loved Wallace’s essays. The porn one is a cracker. The essays made me regret that I hadn’t read him earlier. Still, better late etc…I’ll now tackle Infinite Jest.

    It’s odd. When he died, I barely reacted at all. Why would I have? After all, I’d never read him and consequently had no feelings about DFW one way or the other (aside from the vaguely anti- sentiments I outlined in my post).

    Now, I actually feel a sense of loss. Reading him was like discovering a friend, if that doesn’t sound too sappy.

    Does Steven not care for DFW’s writing? Odd, if true. DFW seems like just the kind of fiercely intelligent, sardonic, articulate writer he’d like. Must ask him about it.

    I get the impression that DFW’s anaysis of Kate Gompert’s depression is autobiographical. Which explains his death.

  39. seanmurray permalink
    October 16, 2009 12:07 AM

    No, Wallace is in Comrade Steven’s modern canon alright. He just objects to that particular passage. We had an exchange about it in comments 76-8 on the Endless Thread:

    (Just between the two of us: I think IJ splits Moby Dick and Ulysses at the top of the novels-in-English pop charts. Please don’t tell anyone I said so, though).

  40. October 16, 2009 10:38 AM

    The only un-praise I have for DFW is that his Updike takedown re: “Toward the End of Time” was PC-inflected/infected quasi-Oedipal (father-fucking) bullshyt; there was also this observation I made at Comrade Edmond Caldwell’s place:

    “I criticized DFW here and there, long before his death, in little comment threads, for the tension I perceived between: A) his need to see writing as a mission of goodness and B) the hostility of the super-smart towards the less-than-super-smart that I felt buzzing from his fiction like blacklight. Not that I’m against that hostility; far from it; I just felt there was a conflict dividing the man and it was strongly evidenced in interviews.

    And to the extent that he tried to frame his work as a humanitarian mission, there was bullshit there. But it was *sincere* bullshit; he had no control over the conflict (in my opinion; I’m not a mind-reader, of course).

    Raised in a generation (of a specific class/demographic) that probably felt an exaggerated weight from PC noblesse oblige, did DFW’s need to be a nice guy bruise against the *arrogant relish of extraordinary talent, at the height of its powers, in play*?

    The tone of his natural gift was not warm and fuzzy. The weakest thing I ever read of his was that late New Yorker story, the groaningly sympathetic-to-vacuity “Good People”. It was actually mediocre on a technical level, in my opinion: a shock. Technically hobbled by the desire to do good?

    Thesis: DFW loved “people” (or wanted to) and *hated* stupidity (or dripped with contempt for it) and struggled, increasingly, with addressing the overlap. I’m not connecting that with the suicide, of course, but with the writer’s block.”


    For my money, DFW’s short story “Tiny Expressionless Animals” is state-of-the-art and probably a masterpiece; the collage of public and private mythology is executed on an inspired level. He was, IMHO, a literary genius with two or three more masterpieces waiting to happen… but bio-chemistry, early fame and Murkkan culture had their way with him, sadly. I never felt the urge to hug poor dead Hemingway but DFW’s shade deserves one.

  41. mishari permalink*
    October 16, 2009 11:21 AM

    I, too, wasn’t happy with his Updike piece. It wasn’t a matter of tone, though. I just completely rejected his thesis that Updike had gone from a plateau of excellence to driving off a cliff (I’m paraphrasing, obviously).

    I’d contend that Updike started at the bottom of the cliff. And I wasn’t comfortable with the easy ride he gave McCain in ‘Up, Simba’, taking the man’s projected image and back-story at near face-value.

    But I set all that aside because, what the hell, I neither demand nor expect perfect agreement between reader and writer. What made itself pike-staff plain to me (from the little I’ve read so far) was DFW’s excellence as a writer. A happy discovery, albeit tinged with some melancholy for obvious reasons…

  42. mishari permalink*
    October 16, 2009 2:23 PM

    A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage licence to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.

    Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa parish, said it was his experience that most interracial marriages did not last long.

    “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell said. “I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom.”–The Grauniad, today

    I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. Really? In that order?

  43. October 16, 2009 2:55 PM

    It’s the ‘piles’ that makes it so sinister. I have a friend in Atlanta (and an interracial marriage) who had something to say about this.

  44. mishari permalink*
    October 16, 2009 3:39 PM

    Too true, has visions of his ‘black friends’ stacked like firewood…piles and piles of them…

  45. October 16, 2009 4:04 PM

    I can remember, with Technicolor vividity, reading a *textbook* in some sex-ed or hygiene class, back in Vegas in 1972, something to the effect that race-mixing invariably led to stunted weird pariah kids and was therefore to be avoided at all costs; being a preposterously mutty mutt myself I was none too thrilled to read this. The teacher of the class (a beardless Viking with a little gut; they were all P.E. instructors “teaching” this subject) admonished us to tear out the page! Decent guy.

  46. daisy permalink
    October 16, 2009 4:47 PM

    As a mongrel myself, I’ve always taken satisfaction in knowing that biologically speaking, mongrels are almost invariably tougher and smarter than average. ‘Hybrid vigor’, biologists call it.

    I was especially amused by Bardwell using ‘they use my bathroom’ as evidence of his essential tolerance and decency. What a prince.

    Having said that, I’d be a bit more impressed if he’d said, ‘…they use my bathroom, they sleep with my daughter…’

  47. October 16, 2009 5:00 PM

    “As a mongrel myself, I’ve always taken satisfaction in knowing that biologically speaking, mongrels are almost invariably tougher and smarter than average.”

    Here here! Avid Exogamist, me. Which explains the early Anne Francis/ MTM fetish.

  48. October 16, 2009 5:17 PM

    PS “On a Glock-wielding, South Central Blood flashing bejeweled fangs and furiously throwing cryptic gang signs, a do-rag looks risible enough. On a podgy, middle-class white-boy, it’s an absurdity too far and kicks my immune system into overdrive.”

    You mean the Stoner Pirate Peace-Jock look? Standard-issue affectation for Liberal Arts Campuses from 1974-1984, roughly; can’t separate the bandana from the bong, the Frisbee or the CSN&Y-loving girlfriend as key signifiers of a particular age/class/era of male; the only foreheads I saw in college were female or old. Yes, and the Frisbee-catching dogs (named Kirby or Krisna) wore them around the neck. DFW may have been second-generation but I totally get the coded message that bandana transmits.

  49. mishari permalink*
    October 16, 2009 5:19 PM

    Hello, Daisy. You owe me some poems. I’m also a mongrel and (I suspect) the better for it (that is, I’d be an even less satisfactory human being if I weren’t). As you say, hybrid vigour rules…

    But it’s also a matter of strengthening the genotype. In-bred populations tend towards the expression of recessive and harmful genes. It’s always a wise survival strategy (or your DNA’s survival strategy) to seek your mate far away, eliminating any chances of co-sanguinity.

  50. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    October 16, 2009 6:13 PM

    i am a mongrel:
    part boarhound, part great dane and
    part german mastiff

  51. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    October 16, 2009 6:15 PM

    and i have piles

  52. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 16, 2009 7:01 PM

    I’m an example of pure-bred lethargy.

    Wallace’s Updike review is a scorcher. I liked that book. ‘Literary’ writers tackling sf is always interesting (Theroux’s O-Zone has been mentioned here before), but in this case the extended contemplation of ageing and death was what really got my interest, some of it fairly horrible but fascinating all the same.

  53. October 16, 2009 7:25 PM

    It’s a fantastic little book, MM. As good as anything in the LitFic-Sci Fi crossover category, I feel. A post-USA white male protag ruminating on sex in its (and his) twilight with filthy/brutal erudition may indeed be a baleful influence on adolescent girls in search of role models but there’s a simpler solution than banning the book (or savaging it with a hyperbolically unfair review). Let them read Alice Munro.

  54. mishari permalink*
    October 16, 2009 10:57 PM

    Sweet Jesus, I’ll be happy to see the back of David Fucking MilliVanilliBland. What a mealy-mouthed, evasive, double-talking sack of ordure he is. What a pleasure it would be to punch him in his lying mouth.

  55. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 17, 2009 12:09 AM

    You don’t like him, then? His hair seems artificial, as though he takes it off a stand and carefully fits it to his head before going out. I imagine it’s coarse and slightly oily to the touch. His brother might be more human, though he smiles less.

  56. October 17, 2009 3:17 AM

    So I’m playing catch-up again. I had a plan to turn up back here brandishing a glorious chant royal, but quite frankly if I wait for that you’ll probably never see me again!

    Is it bad that I’m sat here wearing a replica necklace like the one Airwen (sorry probably spelt that wrong) aka Liv Tyler wore in the LOTR film? Am I one of those doe-eyed foolish women who fall for such hippy rubbish? I just rather liked it because it was shiny…

  57. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 17, 2009 11:56 AM

    In my view personal jewellery of any style, barring fingernail chains (particularly on health professionals), is acceptable for women, Polly. I draw the line at simple gold bands for married men. Prince Mishari’s diamante earrings and platinum razor blade pendant is a step too far for me, and freep’s jewel-encrusted dogg collar quite unacceptable.

  58. October 17, 2009 12:41 PM

    Oh dear Melton, was there a fingernail chain missing after they’d finished treating you? That could have got anywhere!

  59. freep permalink
    October 17, 2009 2:39 PM

    Back in a summer evening in 1964 I remember slouching into a dark little hotel bar behind the Cumberland at Marble Arch. I had spent a youthfully busy day demonstrating against something at Speakers Corner – probably the wickedness of the 14th Earl of Home in keeping nuclear weapons in his orangery.
    There was a comfortable bench along the wall, on which two elderly men wearing paisley waistcoats and bow ties sat, each of them accompanied by a dachshund, each of which wore a diamond studded collar. I sat next to one of these fine dogs to compliment it. Its owner placed his hand on my knee, offered me a large whisky, and commented on my good taste in blancoed plimsolls. (I was, and remain, an innocent.) I accepted his whisky and stroked the delightfully calm sausage dog, while the dog’s licence holder stroked my thigh. I suggested this was over-familiar, which produced knowing and indulgent smiles. The sparklers on the dog collar were hypnotic, and it was only when a strongly indecent suggestion was made that I snapped out of the trance. This was, after all, pre-Wolfenden. Buggery was never part of my life plan.
    Ever since, I have resisted buying my dogg a diamond-studded collar. But, perhaps, now I am toothless and frail, next time I wander into a gentlemen’s outfitters for a paisley waistcoat and a bow tie, I may be tempted to pop along to the Woofery to buy the terrier a little something to dazzle the young and impressionable.

  60. freep permalink
    October 17, 2009 2:47 PM

    ‘…Wolfenden …’ : I meant, The Sexual Offences Act 1967.

  61. mishari permalink*
    October 17, 2009 2:50 PM

    …of course, then you’ll have to work on your thigh-squeezing skills.

    MM’s quite right, I do have to sport a lot of bling but that’s jus work, innit? My fellow crack dealers expect it. Ya feel me, dog?

    For the rest, I flatly refuse to wear any jewelery. My first wives were considerably exercised by my refusal to countenance a wedding-ring, imagining it was part of my nefarious womanising scheme.

    They were wrong. I simply can’t bear to wear jewelery of any kind. I never liked wearing a watch either and since the advent of genuinely pocket-sized phones complete with clock, I no longer do.

    Luckily, Inez understood immediately. Her father, like mine, also refused to wear a ring or any other kind of adornment. The Mowbray nipple rings/Prince Albert route is not for me…

  62. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 17, 2009 7:16 PM

    Nice snapshot of the declining years of the Waugh generation, freep. A man as attractive as myself wears a wedding band to discourage advances from lustful women, of course, though on some it acts like catnip: that’s why I carry a taser. The mobile does seem to obviate the need for a watch: unfortunately it means I have to carry glasses, since I can’t see the titchy numerals without them.

    The true horror is represented by the tattoo, which all my kids’ friends have regardless of gender, intelligence, social class or any other indicator. Neither of them have them, possibly through laziness, though they both profess disgust at the slag tag, Chinese characters (it could say ‘I am a fuckwit’ for all they know) and people who have their own names tattooed on themselves (what, in case you forget who you are?). A young colleague of Mrs M’s had his christian name in a design on his arm: as a result his students thought he was gay and it was the name of his lover.

  63. October 17, 2009 7:28 PM

    I just wear a watch for decorative purposes and have the speaking clock on speed dial, which nicely uses up the credit which I don’t need but which I add religiously every month to get free texts, which I then don’t use. I think I’m a victim of advertising.

    A wedding ring as a deterrent doesn’t work in these immoral times MM, the tazer is a much better idea. I shall put one on my Christmas list… oops, sorry I mean my winter festival list.

  64. mishari permalink*
    October 17, 2009 7:47 PM

    I met a fellow who had his name tattooed on both arms. Presumably, in case he forgot his own name and lost an arm simultaneously.

    The tramp stamp/slag tag says more about the herd mentality of the young than about their discernment or lack of same.

  65. October 17, 2009 7:47 PM

    I have an earring and nothing else, having a tendency to lose stuff that isn’t hooped through my flesh. I thought about having a tattoo of the queen (the on-a-stamp version) after a particularly far-out dream I had last year, but then I would have to spend the rest of my life explaining the dream to people to persuade them I’m not some youthful Telegraph-reading retired colonel.

    A friend of mine had (probably has) a tattoo of a dove over a CND symbol that looked like Joseph Merrick the Pigeon attacking a gallows.

  66. freep permalink
    October 17, 2009 9:36 PM

    MM, I agree thoroughly about tattoos. Both my offspring are covered in them. The boy has Sonic the hedgehog on one arm, and the insignia of a rock band he was in for about six weeks, which collapsed many years ago. Maybe tattoos will act like CVs in future, when we, the uninscribed generation, have died out. When I worked in the prison, there was a fellow who had a dotted line and ‘cut here’ round his foolish Teesside neck. That would go down well at job interview.
    Pollyanna, you are disgracefully modern.

  67. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 17, 2009 11:05 PM

    Sonic must be tattooed on my brain considering the number of hours I spent getting to the end of that game. I suppose we are the generation whose tattoos were writ in water. My father had a large dragon on his forearm, legacy of a drunken night when he was in the Navy during the war. He never exposed his arms if he could help it.

    A friend of my daughter’s had the Chinese character for peace inscribed on her ankle, or so she thought. A couple of months later a Chinese person told her it meant table. What I didn’t appreciate is that you’re supposed to have them redone from time to time to keep them fresh, and as you age their shape can change so much they are unrecognisable. One of my brothers-in-law, a rather portly middle-aged businessman, has several, and keeps adding to his collection. I wouldn’t want to see his canvases in a few years’ time.

  68. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 17, 2009 11:17 PM

    I should have mentioned the controversy over the pronunciation of the word tattoo. Mrs M’s students are always surprised by her tattoooooo. In their view, it should be tatu, as in the Sapphic singing combo.

  69. mishari permalink*
    October 17, 2009 11:49 PM

    I must confess to having a small ‘om’ tattooed on my arm, acquired in Kathmandu at the age of 19. In a perpetual opium/hash daze, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Of course, back then, it was quite shocking for someone of my background to have a tattoo, which was a major factor in my decision. It freaked out my elders and alarmed and fascinated my contemporaries.

    35 years on and it’s an ill-defined small blue blur. I suppose I could have it removed or re-done but it’s been a part of me for so long that I can’t be bothered.

  70. October 18, 2009 12:36 AM

    Freep I like to be as disgraceful as possible.

    I was thinking of getting a tattoo as well. Mid-thirties seems a good time to start on these things as the skin’s already sagging, at least a bit of art could cover up the wrinkles.

    Any sign of Billy and a new poem topic by the way?

  71. freep permalink
    October 18, 2009 12:38 AM

    and … Any sign of Billy’s fabled anthology? I am suffering from a fame deficit.

  72. MeltonMowbray permalink
    October 18, 2009 12:41 AM

    I toyed with the idea of an earring at the same age, but since I’d been refused service at pubs a couple of times on the grounds that I was a diddicoy (black hair, swarthy complexion) I knocked it on the head. Probably couldn’t be arsed into the bargain.

  73. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    October 18, 2009 7:28 AM

    I wear a wedding band. I once worked for a Palm Beach jewelry store, and there acquired many earrings and cow bells, but they have all been lost over the years. I do have a tattoo of a climbing rose, one flower and two opening buds, on my left upper arm. It stems from a short story I wrote when my wife and I had separated (twenty-odd years ago) to win back her affections. The protagonist, a cantankerous Yorkshireman and corner shop owner, ended the tale sporting an indelible token of his undying love, so I visited Marcel, and life imitated art.

    John Irving is another tattoo freak. He makes frequent reference to tattoos in his books, as he does to wrestling, absent fathers, sexual precocity, anger management, and sundry other character idiosyncrasies. My father was a part-time tattoo artist on Blackpool promenade, but doesn’t have any tattoos, apart from the odd test scratch, blue biro on manila envelope. His father had four children in four years then did a bunk, leaving my dad and his three siblings in the care of my grandmother and her three sisters. Here any resemblance to John Irving ends, as he is steely-haired, grimly determined, self-obsessed, physically fit, short and rich, and I am not.

  74. October 18, 2009 10:24 AM

    Henry, did the tattoo work in winning back her affections?

  75. mishari permalink*
    October 18, 2009 10:45 AM

    HLM, It’s been many years since I read Irving but in addition to the preoccupations you mention, I seem to remember he was obsessed by bears and Vienna…

  76. HenryLloydMoon permalink
    October 18, 2009 11:38 AM

    Yes, Polly. She’s a sucker for romance. She vased the flowers, read the story, I undressed, and we’ve now been married 25 years.

    Bears and Vienna? There’s one, bottom right. As it were.

  77. InvisibleJack permalink
    October 18, 2009 11:52 AM

    I agree with Freep when it comes to diamond collars on doggs. My own dogg (although, I should explain, in the Irish fashion she’s more of a cat, a palug cat if truth be known) has a collar studded with anthracite which glows red in the presence of devils and hobgoblins.

    As to tattoos, I must confess to being covered in them, but they are ritualistic in origin and are part of my Slua Shí heritage, so hopefully my confession won’t incur too much of MM’s disdain. Being also part Martian my skin has a natural tinge of green, which some people often mistake as an all-body tattoo and others equally imagine is a sign of being all night on the piss.

    I suspect that the PP anthology will be out now for the Christmas market. But I will gain no comfort from it in the least as I’m not in it. Hence, Freep’s feelings of fame deficit have me utterly unmoved.

    Mishari, when are we to write poetry again? My dogg is lacerating the carpet from boredom…

    Jack Brae

  78. mishari permalink*
    October 18, 2009 12:03 PM

    Jack, I’ll probably post a new poetry task today. Just contemplating subject matter, form etc etc…

    Actually, come to think of it the subject we’ve been discussing, i.e. body art and adornment seems a fitting one, so I think it’ll be that…

  79. October 18, 2009 1:11 PM

    ‘Whether or not the Conservatives can hold on to power for more than one term greatly depends on how they perform in office. Almost as important will be the behaviour of their opponents.’

    That Andrew Rawnsley is a genius.

  80. mishari permalink*
    October 18, 2009 1:21 PM

    Werl, thass why he gets the big money, innit? It takes a keen, forensic intelligence to uncover the…erm…well…the fucking obvious, actually.

    And the Grauniad and the half-witted glove-puppets that pass for ‘commentators’ wonder why we view them with amused contempt…

  81. Captain Ned permalink
    October 18, 2009 9:17 PM

    Rawnsley has had it easy for years because people mistake his distinguished baritone voice for a distinguished political intelligence. Fools. Still, he’s a cut above the dread Graun troika of Ashley/Toynbee/Kettle – not that that’s much of an endorsement.

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