Published in The Iowa Review
In 1934 at a public meeting organized by the Belgian Surrealists, Andre Breton delivered a lecture called "What is Surrealism?" in which he summed up the mission of Surrealism with this sentence: "Our unceasing wish, growing more and more urgent from day to day, has been at all costs to avoid considering a system of thought as a refuge, to pursue our investigations with eyes wide open to their outside consequences and to assure ourselves that the results of these investigations would be capable of facing the breath of the street."
Published in Film Comment
The male stuff Brando tapped into and made gush also made Martin Scorsese's career imaginable. The back alleys of sexual anxiety and bullies' rage in Scorsese come from the vein Brando started on, even when spliced and bypassed to suit Scorsese's Mulberry Street memories. When De Niro stands in front of that mirror in Taxi Driver, improvising the encounter that always ends with the tilted neck, the cracked smile and "You're dead now, fuck," the bailing twine of rage that twists around the performance is rooted in Brando, whose Mona Lisa smile, and what Norman Mailer once called his "muted animal voice," lends Travis Bickle's its sick promise. (...)
Published in Books in Canada
I live in Seattle, and the day after the recent November election, whose result winded me without exactly surprising me, I put on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, his still strange and unsettling record from 1965 that is also one of the towering pop artifacts of the last century. Listening, you can channel something else about American life, something mystic that is in the music and also sits a little to the side of it. In every song an assured 24-year-old reinvents popular music with quadruple rhymes and sliding, fragmentary story shapes. Gypsy Davey, Noah’s great rainbow, Miss Lonely, chrome horses, and the mystery tramp all meet and move among Jack Kerouac’s lyric hipsters, Walt Whitman’s cadences, Arthur Rimbaud’s visions. What better tonic is there for a major election that has gone the other way than Dylan’s potent language and swirling music which, together, form something like an incantation against deranging power: (...)
Published in Studies in Short Fiction, 1995
In this follow-up to his celebrated novel, Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh wrests a blistery and nervy Joycean haiku from his phoneticisms. One wispy section of the story, "Sexual Disaster Quartet," for example, casts a man's sexual history into a brief scatological scrawl: "Rab's nivir hud a ride in eh's puff; perr wee cunt. Disnae seem too bothered, mind you." Not every line in The Acid House crackles with such pink and new relish or such great ear for living speech, but a sense of the newly imagined clings to nearly every story, most brilliantly when the demotic, the drugged, the ironical, and, sometimes, the surreally flamboyant all come together to form a rough and fierce naturalism.
Despite the regularity with which critics and moviegoers alike rediscover Robert Altman, this gem-like middle work seems destined to remain underappreciated. Hard to comprehend why. In 1974, when he made it, Altman was in top form. He'd recently brought out McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Long Goodbye, and the next year would see Nashville, his touchstone meisterwork. Like these films, Thieves comes at us initially like back-porch skiffle music, a sunny, blues-y thing that shows, slowly, its jazz engine.
Review of 'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion.
Joan Didion's ground for departure for her writing has always been her body and her nervous system, though readers could be forgiven for believing that she starts with her note-taking eyes or her mind or her wit or her ears. She has put all to mesmerizing use for decades as a reporter on the American scene, telling the stories inside the stories, its conscience as well as its false fronts. That's not how it sounds on paper, of course, not right away. In essays on how she keeps a notebook or living in Malibu or the year 1968 or New York after the rape in Central Park she is, first of all, a sharp recorder of the small, the local, the throwaway, the debris before her. She is a great assembler of impressions, of world data. Her mode is to catch at this and that on the same flypaper -- horrible crime, for example, and the self-assurance of a young person -- and although nothing ration orders the two she lets them ping against each other suggestively so that her subject is ultimately a third thing, the stuff in the air that everyone is feeling but that hasn't been named yet. (...)