Dec 312011



Here’s a very smart, fresh, angular essay about Martin Scorsese, a recapitulation of his films, his trajectory in the art, but crucially focused on the idea and markers of success (material and otherwise) and tainted success, the kind of success that betrays authenticity. What makes this essay especially fascinating is that the author writes from the perspective of a Catholic intellectual, a stance not necessarily popular in this arid post-liberal climate we inhabit but nonetheless full of hermeneutic vigor. Scorsese is a lapsed Catholic, but a world view founded on ideas of sin, the fall, and redemption suffuses his gritty films—at least, when the case is made, it makes sense.

Philip Marchand is an old, old friend. See his complete and charmingly self-written biography below the essay. Suffice it to say here that he wrote the best biography of Marshall McLuhan ever, a book that I revisit and treasure and not just for what it says about McLuhan—it actually helped me understand how subplots work in novels. And he also wrote a gorgeous book called Ghost Empire about the great French explorer La Salle (but also about the author himself, the history of North America, and the decline of the west, which yet managed to be amiable and friendly and charming). Here’s the opening of a review I wrote at the time:

In Ghost Empire, Philip Marchand’s new book about the voyages of the great and peculiar 17th century French explorer Robert de La Salle, the author doesn’t tell us much that is novel about La Salle. But in recounting the daring explorer’s epic wanderings Marchand manages to compose an amazingly fresh, surprising take on North American history, French-Canada, Catholicism, and the author himself, a faintly quixotic character, bookish, erudite, and appealingly self-ironic.

(Author photo by David Penhale.)



By Philip Marchand


Martin Scorsese ends King of Comedy in the same way he ends many of his films — with a man alone, overshadowed by a huge moral question mark. In this case, the question mark is also a narrative one. The final scenes of the movie show a cascade of newsmagazines featuring on their front covers the face of this man alone — the movie’s protagonist, the wannabe stand-up comic Rupert Pupkin. Pupkin, these magazine covers tell us, has finally become a somebody, a celebrity. But are those magazine covers “real,” or are they part of Pupkin’s fantasy?

There is an answer to that question, and we shall come to it, but more interesting for the moment is how starkly this movie’s ending dramatizes a dominant theme in Scorsese’s work. Pupkin is a character who, despite huge odds, obtains what he has long sought, a moment in the spotlight. Unfortunately he has accomplished this by kidnapping a genuine celebrity and refusing to release him until given a spot on the network so he can perform his comedy routine. Pupkin knows he is committing a crime but defiantly assures himself that it is better to be a “king for a night than schmuck for life.” He is expressing in milder form the same imperative that drives the gangsters in Goodfellas, who would rather be “whacked” or imprisoned than remain “content to be a jerk” (Tommy DeVito) or a “sucker” (Henry Hill).

On his own terms, then, Pupkin succeeds. It is a success, however, like the temporary successes of Scorsese’s gangsters, obtained by criminality and loss of conscience. This phenomenon of tainted success — a phenomenon rich in social implication — lies at the heart of Scorsese’s work.

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Dec 292011

This is a classic music video (in the ironic sense). A brilliant avant garde something or other written by John Cage. You might want to think of the famous blank chapter in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy as you watch/listen to this magnificent work.

I myself am making preliminary notes toward a complete blank novel, epic in scope, called, poignantly enough, Emptiness.



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Dec 232011



Everything Starts With Language: Gary Lutz’s divorcer

A Review by Jason DeYoung


Gary Lutz
Calamari Press, 2011
117 Pages, $13.00

Gary Lutz’s seven stories in divorcer are preposterous—in the best possible way. They disobey logic, scorn common storytelling technique, and frolic with destabilizing off-plot descriptions that are at once powerful and confounding. Yet Lutz never loses sight of his character’s emotions and how they squirm to “get around to” their lives.  He respects his characters—despite the grim maze of humiliations he puts them through—by giving them some of the best writing out there to take breath in. Built from an intense, ferocious vocabulary, Lutz’s fiction decries the mere functionality of language. Each unnerving story uproots expectations and delights with showing the reader the sun of a new approach in sentences that range from the overgrown to the monosyllabic to the fill-in-the-blank.

divorcer is Gary Lutz’s third full-length collection of stories (Stories in the Worst Way from Calamari Press and I Looked Alive from The Brooklyn Rail/Black Square are the two others, and A Partial List of People to Bleach is fourth collection, which was published as a pamphlet from Future Tense Books).  Lutz lists Barry Hannah, Sam Lipsyte, Christine Schutt, and F. Scott Fizgerald as influences, and he is a former student of Gordon Lish, who published many of Lutz’s early stories in the legendary The Quarterly, the avant-garde journal Lish ran between 1987 and 1995 (publishing (and introducing) such writers as Don Delillo, Nancy Lemann, Thomas Lynch, Tim O’Brien and Numéro Cinq’s Capo di tutti capi Douglas Glover).

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Dec 222011

The tried and true revenge plot takes on a decidedly yuletide flavour as “Treevenge” explores the trauma and abuse Christmas trees face, and then offers a cathartic glimpse into their ultimate, bloody revenge.

The film was created by local (to me) Halifax filmmakers Rob Cotteril and Jason Eisener who first got notice for their fake film trailer for “Hobo with a Shotgun” which won Robert Rodriguez’s SXSW Grindhouse Trailer Competition and was featured as part of the double feature theatre release of Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. They have since developed the fake trailer into a real film featuring Rutger Hauer.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Especially the trees.


Dec 212011

Here are three spoken word poems & recordings from a brand new collection by Toronto poet Liz Worth who is also the author of an unforgettably named nonfiction book Treat Me Like Dirt: An Oral History of Punk in Toronto and Beyond. The poems are personal/social commentaries, incantatory, and replete with surrealistic detours and juxtapositions and the three-syllable latinate nouns characteristic of the genre. The collection is called Amphetamine Heart, published by Guernica Editions. Liz Worth has also written three chapbooks, Eleven: Eleven, Manifestations, and Arik’s Dream. She lives in Toronto. (Author photo by Don Pyle.)



Amphetamine Heart: Poems & Readings

By Liz Worth


On Cheetah’s Speed

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we are taut and directionless,
networks of revolutions suspended
like fingertips to a temple,
poised and blurring into white spider legs,
their ends painted an intrusive shade of red.
At this angle everything looks better from the left,
even the accelerated aging of blondes.
Warts of perspiration radiate,
glossed by black lights and exit signs.
We are marked as wounded, fragile,
the stimulated strength beneath us, between us,

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Dec 202011

Here’s a wild and extravagant fictional account of a parallel-Barack Obama, a Barack Obama who never was but exists—as the imaginary biracial Dexter Arjuna—in the fevered imagination of a writer who, like Robert Coover or Thomas Pynchon or Don Delillo, takes contemporary events and re-invents them as satire and myth (and, yes, a teachable moment). Adam Lewis Schroeder was one of my favourites back in the Paleolithic when I edited Best Canadian Stories (his stories appeared in the 1999 and 2004 editions). He had traveled and lived in the Far East, especially Indonesia, and his inspired stories were rich with mystery and cultural observation and the clash of tradition and modernity.

Adam grew up in Vernon, British Columbia, and now lives in Penticton with his wife and kids.  He is the author of the fiction collection Kingdom of Monkeys (2001) and the novels Empress of Asia (2006) and In the Fabled East (2010.) Douglas & McIntyre will publish All-Day Breakfast, an apocalyptic road novel, in Spring 2012.  He teaches Creative Writing at University of British Columbia Okanagan.



The Fairy Tale of Dexter Arjuna, President-Elect

Adam Lewis Schroeder


Since the election on November 4 the fact of Dexter Arjuna’s biracial identity has been extolled even more often than the 2:1 majority with which he dominated the Electoral College, as though those mundane descriptions heard early in the campaign—“the candidate, whose mother was Indonesian” or “the Democratic nominee, who is half-Asian”—could suddenly not do him justice.  The very moment the election was called—11:07 EST, as many will recall—CNN, Fox News, the BBC World Service, Al Jazeera and the regular networks simultaneously took the phrase “the first biracial president-elect” into their mouths like dogs with a particularly meaty bone, as if simply being half-white and half-Indonesian were far too narrow a description for the epicentre of such support from the American electorate.  Because a president-elect who is biracial might be any combination of half-black, half-Latino, half-white, half-Jewish, half-Asian, half-RFK, half-Gandhi or half-MLK.  His heritage is the heritage of the beholder—hybrid vigour indeed.  What’s more (and could the networks have been unaware of this?) biracial seemingly straddles interracial and bisexual so that as Dexter Arjuna delivered his acceptance speech beneath Seattle’s Space Needle he was not just throwing the gauntlet down at the feet of foreign oil, terrorists, corporate bullies, bipartisan whips and extremists of any stripe save those committed to freedom, he appeared as all people to all people while simultaneously having carnal knowledge of all people.  “Yes, we can,” he declared, and a billion viewers world-wide were simultaneously sated and seduced (with the meagre exception of some 40 million American Republicans.)  Such was the power of President-elect Arjuna’s voice; his profile; his dreaming-yet-wrought-in-iron, 1000-yard stare; the untapped power at the corners of his mouth; and his cosmic new label—Biracial!  (Eternal! a hysterical crowd might mouth in the same breath.  Unyielding!)  Yet to side-step the plain fact that he is Indonesian on his mother’s side is to never comprehend the events which truly brought Dexter Arjuna to power.

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Dec 192011

L’Immacolata: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in Liguria,[1] Italy,
By Natalia Sarkissian


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Vivaldi-In Turbato Mare Irato, RV 627

(click and listen to the motet[2] sung by soprano Susan Gritton while viewing the following photographs)


On December 8, schools and businesses close throughout Italy. It’s the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.[3][[3]]A doctrine of the Roman Catholic church, the Immaculate Conception signifies that the Virgin Mary was conceived free of original sin. As dogma, it is conceptually distinct from the virginity of Mary and the virgin birth of Jesus.

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Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Liguria, a narrow strip of land to the north of Italy, lies on the Ligurian Sea and is ringed by mountains (the Alps to the north and the Appenines to the east). Liguria is one of the smallest regions (1.18% of the total land mass of Italy). Of this, 65% of the Ligurian region is mountainous with the remaining 35% made up of hills.
  2. According to musicologist Margaret Bent, “a piece of music in several parts with words” serves as definition of the motet from its inception in the 13th century and beyond. The Medieval theorist, Johannes Grocheio, believed that the motet was “not intended for the vulgar who do not understand its finer points and derive no pleasure from hearing it: it is meant for educated people and those who look for refinement in art.”