What I Read This Week - 29th April

A time/nostalgia/writing-themed list, sort of: - On Distractions, Briefly (Alexander Chee)

If you neglect your own writing, chances are something, or someone, or both, have given you the idea that your Freedom is missing. That you’re not free to do as you want. Surfing the internet feels a lot like being Free. So, you do that instead of your work.

Wise words. Reminds me of the Merlin Mann podcast mentioned here.

- We Danced to Become Machines (Cheri Lucas at Cyborgology)

In Generation Ecstasy, music critic Simon Reynolds writes that while techno can be performed live, it is seldom born in real time. Instead, it is programmed and assembled sequence by sequence and layer by layer, using synthesizers, drum machines, and other electronic instruments. Later, it’s the dancer who actualizes the sound in physical space, who translates electronic into corporeal and sensual. “Techno is an immediacy machine,” writes Reynolds, “stretching time into a continuous present.” The beats that drove us were quick and constant—a hypnotizing measure of time itself—and dancing was an intimate, often carnal, yet largely public interpretation of what now looked like.

I love how Cheri writes about time in this piece. Here's what I initially wrote in response to this, and when I was done I realized it was meant to be an essay in itself - hence this post: "It seems to me (right now, in this moment) that technology - or, rather, our conversations about technology, our thoughts about it as a subject - is all about time. In fact it seems to me that our conversations and our thoughts in general - whatever subject we land on - are all about time. Manipulating time, prolonging the present, connecting with the past or the future or both, "viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past". We can reside in a "now" padded as heavily with what has been and what might someday be as we want, and yet everything moves too quickly; we're nostalgic but not really looking backwards, manufacturing the impression or representation of nostalgia, knowing we should feel it (even knowing that we do feel it, perhaps) but unable to pause long enough for breath to let the weight of that knowledge sink in, pull us down or lift us up. I say "we" here but of course I mean "me", and maybe you, too, if you happen to also feel that way. I have a thing I've been wanting to write about this - a thing, in fact, that I started writing - but I hadn't realized until I read Cheri's piece that the thing I want to write is about time (I thought it was about photography, though I guess it's a little of both)."

- Heroic tedium and anti-nostalgia (Rob Horning at The New Inquiry)

But mainly what keeps me playing the album is anti-nostalgia. Beautiful Vision, though clearly an indulgent nostalgia exercise for Morrison (“Down the mystic avenue I walk again” and so on), inspires in me no memories of the good old days when I used to listen to it, it invokes no glory from my past, borrows nothing from the melancholy of my lost youth. Unlike Morrison, I don’t want to go back. He can go back for me. I’m moving forward. Or maybe I’m mythologizing my present moment for myself through sheer repetition.

- Dividing the Kingdom (Pico Iyer at Granta)

We moved from north Oxford to southern California in 1964 – when I was seven – and suddenly I noticed that living in the future tense could be as treacherous as living in the past; it was ideal so long as you were young and on the move, but it could be exasperating if ever you wanted to lay foundations underneath your feet.

- Lorrie Moore, The Art of Fiction No. 167 (The Paris Review)

I didn’t have the financial freedom to be a writer and have always struggled with that, but I also knew I didn’t want to find myself sixty-five years old and ruing the moment in my youth when I became prematurely practical. I wasn’t at all sure whether I would be able to survive as a writer for the rest of my life. But I decided to keep going for as long as I could and let someone else lock me up for incurable insanity.

This interview made me physically uncomfortable. I kept wanting to stop reading it because I kept thinking, I like Lorrie Moore's writing, I don't want to hate her, this interview is making me hate her. But she redeems herself, a little, at the end, I think. Anyway I don't know, it doesn't really matter if I think this one interview from a long time ago makes her sound cold, aloof, unwilling to participate in the interview dance (and maybe that's how you should be, as a writer) - I read it through to the end. Sometimes being uncomfortable is good for you.

- Is There Hope for Pete Campbell? A conversation with Mad Men's Vincent Kartheiser (June Thomas at Slate)

Kartheiser: With success comes a level of sadness. You think, “I’ll reach this goal, and then I’ll feel a sense of completeness, of wholeness. I’ll feel that I have accomplished something. I will see myself as a worthy man.” And it doesn’t really exist.

I'm not that fussed about Mad Men itself, but this particular quote about success - the thing that's always just out of reach - seems staggeringly true to me.