Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Functions Within Conjunctions

At long last I finished Conjunctions: 43. I already blogged about my lack of skill with poetry and my thoughts on Kelly Link's piece, so these are my thoughts on (most of) the rest of the issue.

T.M. McNally's "The Gateway" is probably the most instantly accessible. It's a somewhat circular story about a man and his wife Phoebe. The unnamed man was once a would be novelist who turned to writing screenplays for children's television and eventually left that for a career as a real estate agent. Phoebe is a painter who gave up her art to run a gallery. Much of the story revolves around their past relationships with famous people, and questioning how and why they came to be together. In the end the narrator agrees with his father that the best thing that happened to him was his wife. A very nice piece, and it hit on some thoughts I have been having in my own life lately.

Rick Moody's "She Forgot" is an interesting experiment in repetition and memory. This narrator's mother lives in a nursing home, and we see her memory deteriorate as the story progresses. Each segment is fairly short, running 1-10 sentences, and always starts with the line, "She forgot". The story brings up several interesting thoughts on memory and how it shapes our lives and relationships. Towards the end the narrator begins to question his own memory, wondering how much of what's in his head is real and how much is fabricated. The piece is also an excellent example of using a slightly experimental technique tied directly to the theme of the work.

Gilbert Sorrentino's "Head Arrangements" tells the story of a wife having an affair. The piece jumps around in time and point of view a lot, but it's an effective albeit unusual way to move this type of story around. In the end, you get a very full sense of the affair, the wife's reasons, and everyone's perspective on it. I've read a number of pieces by Sorrentino over the past year, and I find I like him more and more. I'll probably be adding him to my list of people to check out more deeply.

Two pieces I had great difficulty with: M.T. Anderson's "Nine Yelps From the Eisteddfod of Idiots" and "Just Because It Never Happened Doesn't Mean We're Still Alive" by Ben Marcus. Both hold a wonderful sense of language, but I'm hard pressed to say what they are about. There is probably some esoteric postmodern style I'm missing, and without knowing what they're working towards it's hard to interpret the pieces. I've had similar troubles with Ben Marcus before, most notably his collection The Age of Wire and String. Perhaps if I read a little more about the authors and go back to these peices, I'll understand them a bit more.

The issue closes with a translation of "A Certain Quanity of Conversations or, The Completely Altered Nightbook", a short Russian play written in the 1930's by Aleksandr Vvedensky. Although probably not the most intelligent way to describe it, I'd call it a blending of Seinfeld with Samuel Becket. Meaning, nothing really happens as far as plot but the author manages to take these situations and transform them into odd but witty dialogue that at times contain some hints of philosophical thought. The play is broken into several different segments, each one a conversation about or around a different topic. "A Conversation About Cards", for example, places some friends around a table setting up to play a round of cards. The characters (named the First, the Second, and the Third) banter back and forth on why they like cards, who else should be playing, and what else they could and should be doing besides playing cards. Needless to say, the segment ends before the cards ever get dealt. It's an interesting play, although I'm sure it works even better on stage than it does by reading it off the page.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the issue. The readings were diverse, and it challenged me in some ways I haven't been challenged in awhile. It's made me miss more experimental work. But, I'm afraid, duty calls in the form of the Anthony Kiedis bio, Scar Tissue.



LadyLitBlitzin said...

It sounds good. I think I want to check it out. How does it stack up compared to say, Gargoyle? In terms of experimental fare.

It's an interesting thing to say, "duty calls" and have it to do with the Anthony Kiedis bio! Have fun. I'm a little bummed... my gift certificate hasn't come yet and I'm just itching to get my list of items I"ve been compiling in my Amazon cart. (Scar Tissue being one of them.) I'm considering putting that Rollins book "Get in the Van" -- his journal from touring Black Flag -- in there too. I was reading the excerpts on Amazon and getting instantly sucked in...

Hebdomeros said...

In terms of Gargoyle, I'd say not quite as accessible overall. Even when Gargoyle gets really experimental, it's almost always very readable. Conjunctions, at least this issue, demands a little more of the reader. The pieces don't have as much drama, and several lack that ol' dramatic arc we learned in elementary school. Great work, just a little less traditional.

I've read a few pieces of Rollins, but never a whole book. Always meant to explore him a bit more (both music and writing), especially since I know someone who grew up with him and still knows him. Or so he tells me :)

LadyLitBlitzin said...

Interesting -- I'm intrigued. Gargoyle is pretty accessible overall.

You know someone who knew/knows Rollins? Wow. I have a friend who is a bonafide Rollins fanatic -- he puts the "fanatic" into the word "fan." Ha. (This friend's wife has a joke -- that she knows her husband's not gay nor would ever leave her, but if Rollins came proposing, it might be an exception, ha.) I liked Rollins in Black Flag (and was so moved to listen to old Black Flag today) but I never really got into Rollins Band or the spoken word stuff... always meant to, never did.

Anonymous said...

I also haven't gotten much into Rollins. Appreciate what he's done for music, but I do get annoyed with some of his over-the-top takes on certain issues. Particularly his involvement in the Free the West Memphis Three movement. I don't get it and just think it's placing unneccessary grief on the parents of the boys who were brutually slain. Sorry, I realize that's getting on to my own soapbox, but it just irks me.


LadyLitBlitzin said...

The Rise Above (the fund raiser for WM3) album is very cool -- Exene Cervenka singing "Wasted" springs to mind as particularly funny -- and my Rollins fanatic friend went to the show and said it was amazing. I'm not sure, I must have been asleep under a rock, seeing how I didn't go or know about it at the time, because I would have been all over it. A bad oversight (actually, it was while I was having problems with employment, I think, so I likely didn't have the money).

Yeah, I don't know much about the West Memphis 3 thing other than the question of whether those kids were really guilty or just took the fall so that there would be a scapegoat for an unthinkable crime. (And come to think of it, I suppose it is a "punk" issue, since there were shades of, "oh those kids were goth so they were satanists" blah blah -- over the years, especially since Columbine, wearing black and listening to punk and goth has really been turned into people thinking kids like that are, like, one step away from being psychotic murdering monsters, or something, which is completely ridiculous.)

That sort of situation is always unfortunate though -- it's always going to dredge up such awful things for the parents. Not to mention lack of closure and the thought of lack of "justice." So, I hear you about the high profile for it, but at the same time, it's unsettling to think of how many people wither away in jail who have flimsy convictions to begin with. It's kind of a catch-22.

Hebdomeros said...

I think Henry's just a passionate guy. And sometimes celebrities get involved with charity projects without knowing the full story. He's done good things, as well. But I understand your feelings.

I've only seen him in the spoken word context. He's a thrilling performer on-stage. The Rollins Band I've always meant to get into, particularly after they switched bass players. Their music got a lot more interesting when they brought in this avant jazz/funk guy.