Writer, publisher of Sator Press, book designer, co-founder of Sweetspot for iPhone, St. John's College student, and human with Crohn's disease. Carbohydrates are my drug.
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To return to the idea of the avant-garde, real avant-garde writing today would frame and reflect our misuse of the world, our destruction of its beauties and wonders. Nobody seems to be taking this on in the literary covens. We are all just messing with ourselves, cherishing ourselves. Andrew Solomon wrote a mega-successful nonfiction book titled Far from the Tree in which he ticks off every emotional, physical, mental, social disability you could possibly imagine and yokes them to true tales of actual practitioners or victims—though Solomon would never employ such a word—which he then bathes in a golden humanist light. We are all so special, particularly the very special, whose needs must be met. We are all so different and some of us are even more different, and this difference must be cherished and celebrated. The critics were ecstatic. What a hymn to diversity! No one spoke of how claustrophobic Far from the Tree was, the tree being utterly metaphorical, how narrowly and pridefully focused, how dismissive of a world outside the human. Cultural diversity can never replace biodiversity, though we’re being prompted to think it can. We live and spawn and want—always there is this ghastly wanting—and we have done irredeemable harm to so much. Perhaps the novel will die and even the short story because we’ll become so damn sick of talking about ourselves.
– Joy Williams, in The Paris Review
It is said that while Paolo was labouring at this work, the Abbot who was then head of that place gave him scarcely anything to eat but cheese. Wherefore Paolo, having grown weary of this, determined, like the shy fellow that he was, to go no more to work there; whereupon the Abbot sent to look for him, and Paolo, when he heard friars asking for him, would never be at home, and if peradventure he met any couples of that Order in the streets of Florence, he would start running and flying from them with all his might. Now two of them, more curious than the rest and younger than Paolo, caught him up one day and asked him for what reason he did not return to finish the work that he had begun, and why he fled at the sight of a friar; and Paolo answered: “You have murdered me in a manner that I not only fly from you, but cannot show myself near any carpenter’s shop or pass by one, and all because of the thoughtlessness of your Abbot, who, what with pies and with soups always made of cheese, has crammed so much cheese into me that I am in terror lest, being nothing but cheese, they may use me for making glue. And if it were to go on any longer, I would probably be no more Paolo, but cheese.” The friars, leaving him with peals of laughter, told everything to the Abbot, who made him return to his work, and ordered him some other fare than cheese.
– Giorgio Vasari, from The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (via zaksmith)
Hey Ken. I have friends who attended the St. John's College in Maryland, and they found that many of their classmates were really conservative. Politically, but also in terms of things like getting pissed off about Anne Carson's translations of Greek works for taking too many liberties. Have you found any resistance to your avant-garde proclivities? Or are those aspects of yourself being played down to focus on learning?
It’s not like those people couldn’t fetch the Loeb edition from the library, so fuck ‘em.
I’m likely weirder than ever, as are the texts read at St. John’s. People who think that these books are fundamentally conservative are missing the fact great books are as radical now—i.e. weird, shocking, and novel—as they were when they first surfaced.
This is the argument that I always feel like never gets as much traction as the ‘tortured artist’ argument, [which] is that artists actually have it a little easier because everybody fucking suffers but artists have something to do with it.
No coffee, booze, soda, juices. No cigarettes, cigars, weed, cocaine, heroin, pills; no recreational drugs. No cable, no CNN, no FOX, no MSNBC, no NPR, no New York Times. No newspapers. No ESPN, no UFC, no Speed Channel, no Pay-per-view. No fast food, no candy bars, no Cheetos, Doritos, Lay’s, etc. A few summer blockbusters. No James Patterson, no Dan Brown; no books sold in grocery stores. No People, no Cosmopolitan; no Maxim or GQ; no magazines. Almost no cars. Basically no mortgage. No political party, no red or blue or Left or Right. No big dreams—well, yes not becoming very sick again, and yes, maybe, sadly, writing one great long book. Almost no stocks; almost no gambling. No casinos. No guns. No explicit racism, though yes you might find some. Sadly, ambition. Sadly, investment in common terms. Sadly, “hustling.” Almost no chocolate; no pizza. Yes free porn. No haircuts from barbers. No shopping for pleasure except bookstores. Almost no air conditioning. Almost no visible logos on clothing. No fucking bumper stickers. Sadly, tattoos. Wife, though: no tattoos, no piercings. Married, yes. No religion. No church. No one holy god, no one holy text. Almost no board games. Yes pets. Yes Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram. Yes five email accounts. (Sadly. Sadly.) No pet war, though yes taxes, so yes pet war. Yes college, though late. Yes many books; many, many books. No ideal outer country that I work towards. Unless: