Friday, August 6, 2010

Difficulty Revisited

A few months ago Justin Cooper, one of my friends from New Hampshire, told me that if a book required a class to be understood then it was a failure. He was talking about Ulysses. Part of me wanted to agree with his position. If any random person walking down the street can't understand or take something away from the experience of reading a particular book, what good is it?

I should mention that Ulysses is one of the greatest books I've ever read. Not because of the plot or the characters, but because it still stands as a manual on how to experiment with language. I should also mention that I took a class my junior year at Naropa in which we read Ulysses, and I loved it.

I'm fairly certain that if I shoved a copy of this book into the hands of anyone walking down Willoughby Avenue, they would a) think I'm crazy for asking them to read on a Friday night and b) think James Joyce is more a lunatic than an author. However, despite the difficulty that Ulysses may pose to any reader, it is still worth the effort. I think it may be more worthwhile if you're interested in experimental literature or becoming a writer, but, if not, it's good to challenge yourself every now and again.

This is an easy claim to make, that X book is valuable. But why is it valuable? This question often puts the person advocating for said book at a loss for words. If you don't care about what conceptual framework that Y unknown and unsuccessful author was writing under and just want a straightforward, no-frills reading experience, why is it important?

Because the best art is that which troubles us. Not in the way that "edgy writers" try to confront us by using shock value; rather, it is the art that we cannot make sense of yet are still drawn to like moths to a streetlight. The second we have everything figured out and the mystique evaporates, it becomes too easy to explain, reduce, or identify, like the image of moths congregating around a streetlight.

All of this is a result of me toying with the idea of reading The Cantos. After reading the first canto the other night, I realized it's going to take me a year or longer to finish, and a significant portion of that time is going to be spent researching allusions, identifying patterns, and generally trying to piece together one of the most notoriously difficult pieces of Modernist literature. The question I asked myself was: will it be worth it?

I think so, but I know that I won't convince anyone who doesn't already believe that there is a virtue in reading dense or difficult material. We'll see if I have the stomach to do this without the aid of a class.

PS: I found out that New Directions is releasing a new edition of Louis Zukofsky's 800+ page poem, "A". This is another piece of difficult literature I've been interested in reading. Now that a dog-eared copy won't run me $80, I'll finally be able to check it out. That is, of course, after I finish The Cantos.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Been a long time gone...

It's been several months since I've posted, but that doesn't mean I've been lazy--just negligent to maintaining this blog. My life has changed a lot in the last few months. Currently, I'm laying on my new leather couch in my new Brooklyn apartment. I've been here since Monday and have done little else besides unpack boxes and rearrange furniture in the last few days. Now that the place looks more like an apartment than a storage shed, I finally have some time to relax.

The first issue of Fuzz Against Junk has been printed, published, and bound. This isn't really current news though, since I finished it back in May. I read at Astroland in Boulder for the "Drunk Poet's Society" and sold some copies. Currently, I have less than half left, so if you're interested in snagging a copy ($4, includes shipping), send me a message and we'll work out the details.

Before NYC, I moved back to New Hampshire. That's not the exciting part. What's exciting is that I drove back to New Hampshire. In twelve days I visited New Mexico, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and pretty much every state on the east coast. The last day of the trip was a non-stop 24-hour drive from Smoky Mountain National Park to my house in rural Sanbornton, New Hampshire. Here are some thing I learned:
  • West Texas looks like the Moon, if the Moon grew cacti that looked they originated from a Doctor Seuss book
  • There are no rest stops in Louisiana. We drove for nearly four hours before pulling into a gas station and enquiring about the nearest rest stop. She told us to head back towards Houston
  • You can get cocktails to-go in New Orleans
  • West Virginians have a thicker accent than most Texans

Now that my life has begun to settle, I should be posting semi-frequently again. Until next time.