Month: June 2014

Notes on Gordon Lish: Introductory Musings 1.

For the last decade or so I’ve been pondering Gordon Lish’s importance to the American literature of his and our time; I’ve not seen it well written about, I’ve not seen his place properly outlined or even a real effort made to understand who he is outside the Svengali trope. This is partly because his life and his privacy are fervently protected by his closest friends, and partly because all the people who’ve known him professionally, studied with him, been published by him and slept with him have been so completely absorbed in his relationship with them, in how he moved, elevated, crushed, tempered, tyrannized, dropped, remained loyal to, betrayed, flew with, crawled with *them.* He is our Ezra Pound in so many ways, with the added touch of justice in being a Jew. You look at the beauty of a cliff, a beach, a canyon and you fall into the “inexplicable splendor” of the thing and give little thought to the massive super-heated tectonic forces of destruction that essentially created them. Or to all that might have been destroyed in the process. And therein lies our problem in coming to grips with Gordon.

I will continue with this at some point; for now I’m just putting a claim down on the real estate. 

This is sophisticated…..

….. and morally disturbing.  It’s a three-and-half-minute documentary style film, brought to you by Downey the fabric softener, featuring pairs of people — friends, siblings, lovers — describing to the camera and talking to each other about their relationships. In the background, fake Arvo Part music, that portentous, faux august two or three piano notes played in slow almost-regular rhythm over and over and over.  (I actually like Arvo Part but the repeated use of his music in film has made some his work feel worn – Spiegel im Spiegel is a beautifully tender and reflexive piece that’s been hammered into a cliche having been used in 17 films now by my count on IMDB — the only time I’ve seen it used well was in Tykwer’s and Kieslowski’s Heaven, when Cate Blanchette and Giovanni Ribisi slowly rise and hover in the stolen helicopter, hanging there amid endless blue sky over endless green and brown Tuscany.) Anyway you can see it here — not Heaven, alas, but the Downey Fabric Softener info-web-mercial, which started playing on my machine suddenly for no reason, having appeared as a side ad on Facebook. I kept having to jump among my eight or nine open tabs to find what was talking until I saw movement like a mouse in the corner of the eye, a wee ad with a big message. Here it is:

Perhaps, as we’re encouraged to believe, these are actual persons talking about their actual lives.  The stories feel real, the emotions experienced by the people telling them look real: and what is real and what is true have a long, overheated relationship that tries, at least, to give a good lashing to anyone who comes between them. You want it be true. But it’s made by fucking Downey. Downey. The fabric softener. It doesn’t clean your clothes, or rinse them or dry them. But you need it or no one will ever hug you again…. not like this.  What IS a fabric softener anyway? Are you to imagine, after taking this in, that you need a fucking fabric softener, ie some glutinous badly perfumed residue in your clothes,  in order to share in the kind of emotionally rich and blameless lives hinted at by these people? With fucking hugs?

If a serial killer writes very good poetry — poetry, as Eliot calls it, of the first order — technically masterful and toned with longing, anguish, grief, we have an aesthetic dilemma on our hands. If Satan were to write the poety though, we would say: no matter how good, that is fake. It is in its nature to be fake. It cannot NOT be fake.

To take the actual truth — if these are real people experiencing real emotions — and render it somehow tortuously and irremediably fake: that is actually a nasty business, an activity that stains the soul.

For whom is this ad intended? Whoever it is, he and she (the makers assume) see no difference between what is true and what is a lie. None. It just has to look right. I’m not going to get into the carefully chosen couples. I’ll get in too much trouble. But let us agree: there’s weirdness afoot, an atttempt to show one thing but calling it another.  What are the chances that two adult male brothers both — both — use Downey? What are you guessing? Me, I’m over on Slim Street and None Avenue. Text me when you’re near.