An English Catholic painter came to paint the Pope's portrait. Hadrian knew him for a vulgar and officious liar: detested him; and, at the first application, had refused to sit for him. His Holiness was not at all in love with His Own aspect. It annoyed him because it just missed the ideal which He admired; and He did not want to be perpetuated. Also, He loathed the cad's Herkomeresque-cum-Cameraesque technique and his quite earthy imagination: from that palette, the spiritual, the intellectual, the noble, could not come. But, He thought of the man's pinched asking face, of his dreadful nagging wife, of his children—of the rejection of all his pictures by the Academy this year, of the fact that he was being supplanted by younger grander minds. Ousted from livelihood! Horrible! Love your enemies! Ouf! The Pomtiff would give six sittings of one hour each, on the condition that He might read all the time.
The privilege alone was an inestimable advertisement. Alfred Elms looked upon himself as likely to become the fashion. Hadrian sat in the garden for six siestas; and he read in Plato's Phaidon, which is the perfection of human language, until His lineaments were composed in an expression of keen gentle fastidious rapture. Elm's professional efforts of conversation were annulled quietly and incisevely. The Pope blessed him and handfuls of rosaries at the end of every sitting. Sometimes His Holiness was so elated with the beauty of the Greek of His book, that He even was able with a little self-compulsion to utter a few kindly and intelligent criticisms of the painter's work. That was startlingly real, mirror-like. The varied whitenes of marble and flannel and vellum and the healthy pallor of flesh, gained purity from the notes of the reddish-brown hair and the translucent violet of the amethyst. The clean light of the thing was admirably rendered. The painter could delineate, and tint with his hand, that which his eyes beheld, with blameless accuracy. What his eyes did not see, the soul, the mind, the habit of his model, he as accurately omitted. Hadrian made him glad with a compliment on the perfection of the connection between his directive brain and his executive fingers. At the end of the last sitting also He gave him two hundred pounds, and the picture, and a written indulgence in the hour of death. The painter went away quite happy, and with his fortune made. He never knew how vehemently his work was detested, how profoundly he himself was scorned.
—Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian The Seventh, 1904
Literary men now routinely tell their readers about their divorces. In newspapers. In columns in newspapers. Special columns devoted to the personal papers of literary men. One literary man who reviews books wrote, in reviewing a study of Ruskin, that he had never read a book by Ruskin but that the study confirmed him in his belief that he didn't want to read a book by Ruskin. This man very often writes about his family life.
Is he a fool? No. Absolutely not. He is doing what is appropriate. He is following a sound instinct. Instinct is so important. You have to go with the gut feeling. The gut feeling is that nothing could matter less than Ruskin. The guy feeling is that there isn't any grid to support Ruskin. The two grids left are the grid of enormous success—the grid of two hundred million—and the tiny, tiny baby grid of you and me and baby and baby's problems and my problems and your problems and can we keep even this little baby grid together?
And comfort? What is comfort? It's focus. You bring this grid together with that grid, you get the images to overlap, and suddenly things have a bit of focus, as in a certain sort of 35mm camera. What shall we bring together? The two grids. You and me and baby and baby's problem breathing and the grid of two hundred million. It is such a comfort. So it is a comfort when the literary man who knows no Ruskin tells us how it feels in his marriage when a friend brings home a pretty young girl. And it is a comfort when a comedienne whom we know, whom we love, whom we've known for years and years, whom we've loved for years and years, tells us that there has been a drug problem in her family. Suddenly, the grids merge. You and me and baby and drugs together on the grid of two hundred million. It's so intimate. It's like waking up with a friend. But just for a minute.
—George W.S. Trow, Within The Context of No Context, 1981, Little, Brown. Originally published in The New Yorker; republished by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1997, with introductory essay "Collapsing Dominant"
Erasmus Darwin, M.B., grandfather and to some extent precursor of the more famous Darwin whose evolutionary hypotheseses were for some time accepted as law, was a Lichfield physician of some personality. His bodily and mental vigour was extreme, his eccentricities included that of drinking only "English wines," his temper was imperious and irascible, and he heartily disliked Dr. Johnson, who returned his dislike thoroughly: for each lion deemed the other a bore.
Darwin's grotesque verse, a critic has remarked, everywhere shows a powerful mind. The Loves of the Plants was published in 1789, and was followed by Zoonomia, or Laws of Organic Life, and Phytologia, or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening. The first was praised by Cowper, Hayley, and Walpole; two of these being men of piety and benevolence, the third a man of fashion. The vivid romance of Elize which follows is unique in that never before has an English (or any other) poet so clearly demonstrated the folly of taking the children to see a battle. Not only does the constant rushing about make them peevish, fretful, and overheated, but a ball may easily sink into their mother's neck and she may fall to the ground, hiding her babes within her blood-stained vest. The agony of the warrior after finishing the battle is graphically conveyed; yet he, too, has a blood-stained vest, in which he immediately wraps the children, thereby staving off the inevitable rash, whooping-cough, and croup.
It might be justly added that in this age of univeral exploitation in print of erotic situation Darwin's tribute to the chastity of the Truffle strikes a welcome note. His respiring lampreys will probably arouse little emotion in a generation to whom similar embraces have become, by assiduous contemplation of American superfilm, a commonplace.
—from The Stuffed Owl, An Anthology of Bad Verse, selected and arranged by D.B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee, 1930
I feel a little bit bad for Mike Daisey. Slightly on a personal level, mainly because he's a neighbor of mine. I think I had a brief bodega discussion with him once, a long time ago, around the time maybe he first moved into the neighborhood, definitely after a run of that Dog Years thing finished, and it was reasonably amiable, but it didn't lead to any kind of connection or even acknowledgable acquaintance. So after that I would see him around the neighborhood and I'd think, "Oh, there's that guy," and then, on this past Sunday evening, I saw him getting out of a cab on Court Street, and I thought "Ooh, there's THAT guy," which was an interesting phenomenological experience I guess.
But on balance, I have to say I'm kind of on the side of the outraged or at least irritated. Although I'm not inclined to get on board with Jack Schafer's tedious continuation of his largely ginned-up"what's good for Stephen Glass should be good for A.J. Liebling" argument. And when a guy as thoroughly smug and prolix as Michael Woolf is telling me "never mind the facts, focus on the writing," he's just giving me another good reason to ignore him. But even given the ostensible porousness of formats that Daisey is citing in order to absolve the fact that he just made shit up, I think he's being pretty goddamn disingenuous, and his crouching behind a "cause" is not likely to help him or his cause a whole lot in the long run. Daisey's case does differ from James Frey's largely in that he made shit up for a larger purpose, rather than to make himself look more badass/sad/pathetic; and the fact that Frey talked so much shit about other writers before his sins were discovered made his fall rather uniquely satisfying. One thing that makes the Daisey case so, um, fascinating for me is my own experience of having stood by and vetted the publication of a piece of writing that I was fully aware contained a large number of factual inaccuracies, and that I convinced the legal department of the publication's parent company that doing this was a good idea.
This is an odd thing to admit because of something that I'm reasonably sure a lot of this blog's readers are unaware of. That is, while I was at Premiere magazine, besides writing film reviews and occasional thumbsuckers and editing top-drawer literary types, I also worked on a number of investigative journalism pieces and such. One of my first editing jobs was shepherding a piece by Mark Ebner about the actor Peter Greene's struggles with drug addiction. This was a more sensitive piece than I was even aware of at the time, but that's another story. I also edited all but one of the pieces John Connolly (of late working for Vanity Fair) wrote for Premiere between 1997 and 2001, including a well-known article called "Arnold the Barbarian." One piece I worked on with John was so fraught that it took eight months between pitch and publication and was punctuated by regular confabs with very expensive lawyers. Lots of them. My attitude toward this kind of work was not atypical of an individual of my temperament at the time, e.g., I could be (and was) a complete fuckup in every other respect of my personal and professional life, but THIS I was going to get RIGHT. And I did, even while overplaying my only-guy-in-a-roomful-of-suits-wearing-a-Tex-Avery-t-shirt schtick.
And it's here that I'd like to direct the reader to a piece I wrote a little less than a year ago about David Foster Wallace's posthumously published unfinished novel The Pale King. If you're disinclined to read the whole thing, as they say, a particularly pertinent passage is below:
Reading Wallace or someone like him assert that a clear fiction is in fact “really true” brought to mind working with him on the piece that was initially published as “Neither Adult Nor Entertainment, It Turns Out” in the September 1998 edition of Premiere, and then printed in expanded and unbowdlerized form under its original intended title “Big Red Son” in the essay compilation Consider The Lobster. Here is a passage from the beginning of the piece:
Let us not forget Vegas’s synecdoche and beating heart. It’s kitty-corner from Bally’s: Caesars Palace. The granddaddy. As big as 20 Wal-Marts end to end. Real marble and fake marble, carpeting you can pass on without contusion, 130,000 square feet of casino alone. Domed ceilings, clerestories, barrel vaults. In Caesars Palace is America conceived as a new kind of Rome: conqueror of its own people. An empire of Self. It’s breathtaking. The winter’s light rain makes all the neon bleed.
Consider for a moment the phrase “synecdoche and beating heart.” (By the way, the "Rome, conquerer of its own people" riff is repeated, as it happens, in The Pale King.) Wallace just dashes it off, but its implications are kind of mind-boggling, particularly because of the use of “and” instead of “or.” We’re not just talking about a part referring to a whole, but that part being the driving, essential organ of the whole. It’s significant, but that phrase isn’t the reason I’m reproducing that particular passage; the reason is that one piece of data, that Caesars Palace contains “130,000 square feet of casino alone.” As it happens during the fact-checking process leading up to the publication of the article, we couldn’t verify that information. Dave didn’t give us a source for it, we couldn’t find a source, and so on. There were plenty of other pieces of data in the article that were entirely empirically verifiable for instance, the number of men that Stephanie Swift performs analingus on in Gang Bang Angels 1, and the number of gobs of spit she takes in the face from those men some moments after. You could sit there in front of the TV watching the tape and just tick them off. But the actions and the tales told by the fictionalized composite characters Dick Filth and Harold Hecuba (based on myself and Evan Wright, then writing for Hustler magazine and quite miserable about it) were not entirely above board in the actual fact department; the whole bit about Hecuba getting throttled by porn star Jasmin St. Clair and his “special autotint trifocals” disappearing into the “forbidding décolletage of Ms. Christy Canyon, never to be recovered (the glasses) or even seen ever again” becoming a source of particular concern and confusion for our unusually helpful and cooperative legal department, members of which I did not pester with rationales concerning postmodern practice or tensions between provable fact and larger truth or any such thing but merely said, “The author of this piece is a really big deal, it’ll be okay.”
I admit that I was not in fact QUITE that cavalier with the Hachette legal department when they raised an eyebrow at the piece that was then, and would again be, titled "Big Red Son." The two top vetters in that department were astute general readers as well as sharp legal minds, and they were well aware that, say, glasses that sink into a woman's exposed cleavage do not dematerialize, that even in the context of a career in adult entertainment no individual named Richard Filth would go by "Dick Filth," and so on. They were kind of nonplussed by the piece in general; "What IS this?" is a question I heard early on.
I've discussed the fact-checking process on the piece with someone who's working with D.T. Max on that writer's forthcoming biography of Wallace, and I don't want to step on her or his or its toes, but the Daisey affair reminded me of working on this article for a bunch of reasons, not least of which was that Daisey's protestation "I'm not a journalist" is something I heard a lot from Dave during the process. (The variant was "I'm not a reporter." By the same token, I've never seen anyone, journalist/reporter or otherwise, take observational notes with the furious intensity with which Dave did.) The way we were able to get the piece published in more or less the form in which it was written was, frankly, via what some would call collusion. The fact of the false first-person-plural narrative voice was a function of the article bearing a dual pseudonymous byline. Now, Premiere had agreed that Wallace was gonna write and publish the piece under a pseudonym anyway, so two psuedonyms wasn't a big deal. As for the fictional constructs/characters named "Harold Hecuba" and "Dick Filth," adult-industry journalists who were "guides and docents" for Matt Rundlet and Willem deGroot (for such were the dual pseudonyms of Wallace); well, as I note above, they were stand-ins for Evan Wright (the future Generation Kill author was, again as I note above, then at Hustler magazine) and myself. And Evan and I made it very clear to legal that we were not going to object in any way to our characterizations by proxy, as it were. I don't think we were asked to sign anything to that effect; I was, after all, a full-time employee at Hachette, and Evan aspired to freelance for Premiere. But I do remember having to reassure legal more than once that Evan and I were "cool."
Still, there were at least two things in the piece that could conceivably be considered as potentially actionable, the first being the above cited throttling of fictional construct Harold Hecuba by real albeit pseudonymous porn performer Jasmin St. Clair. Well, Evan had in fact been accosted in a similar fashion and for the cited sin of having gone public with St. Clair's get-rich-quick scheme concerning pornographic gumball machines, so when push came to shove he said he'd be willing to back that up. The other possible problem point was this statement attributed to Dick Filth, pertaining to the actual integrity of the AVN Awards themselves: "The best perception, backed up by tons of anecdotal evidence, is that they are totally, totally fixed and rigged." Now you don't need a law degree to ascertain just how much legal wiggle room is already built into that statment. But just in case, I believe I was gonna volunteer to be the fall guy on that one. Although my default first position in the event of any saber-rattling on the part of the aggrieved parties was gonna be to say, "Oh, come on, guys." (Some kinda-sorta saber-rattling DID in fact come to pass, and a person at the Wallace-enthusiast website The Howling Fantods was kind enough to preserve it; see here.)
And hand-in-hand with the invention was a particular conscientiousness. Wallace had an innate understanding of the margins he was playing with. When Evan pointed out that the pseudonymous porn performer Vince Vouyer had a real name that was, in a sense, even more ridiculous than his stage handle, Dave was dobermanesque in his determination to pin down that said name WAS in fact John LaForme, although this was a group effort and I do believe it was Evan who was able to track down the relevant documentation. When the piece was making the transition to book form, Dave was crestfallen/irritated at having learned that he had possibly misidentified one of the characters on the Felliniesque Adult Software exhibition floor as director Gregory Dark, and hedged a bit by mentioning Jeff "Hatman" Marton, and so on. There's also the matter of the fleeting moments that he got right in a way that's kind of scary, as in this passage: "Tom Byron, who is 36 and has precisely one attribute, affect the air of a Mafia don at the Sands' bar's nightly porn parties, extending his hand knuckles-up as if for obeisance." Yes, I was there, standing next to him (Wallace), we saw it, and it was exactly that. And on the other hand, no, Dick Filth wasn't drinking Grand Marnier, it was Jack Daniel's, and he didn't HECTOR any waiters for change, that he remembers, and dozens of other not-quite little details that didn't actually happen.
But for all that, well...I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right. We stand by our story.
Amber L. Younger was nobody's fool. He'd been around. Thirty-seven states and fourteen foreign lands including Germany, Japan, England, and the Canal Zone. When a man spends thirty years in the United States Army, he doesn't come out of it a hick, no sir. He comes out of it knowing what's what.
Younger had had some sort of title in front of his name for almost as long as he could remember. At twenty, a green frightened dumb kid from the hick town of Sagamore, in Nebraska, he'd become Private Abner L. Younger, USA. That was the time of the Great Depression; there was no work for Abner's father anywhere to be found, and if there was no work for the father there was sure as hell no work for the son. If he wanted three meals every day and a bed indoors every night, the only thing in the world for Abner to do was join the Army.
Promotion came slow both sides of the ocean in those days, and when the Second World War came along in 1941 Younger had advanced only one small step, up to Pfc. But with the war came promotions for everybody, and soft jobs for those who'd been smart enough to be in the Army, already when the war started. Younger spent his wartime service at a basic training camp, and wound up a buck sergeant when the war was over.
He had twenty years of duty behind him a few years later, and could have retired then, but he'd just got another promotion, and knew he had a good chance to make master sergeant by the time thirty years was up, which would mean a hell of a lot more pension, so he decided to stick it out the extra ten.
He made master sergeant. Almost anybody can, if he stays in the Army long enough. Then his thirty years were done, and while he was going through the discharge red tape a clerk asked him what his civilian address was going to be.
And he didn't know. Neither of his parents were still alive, and he'd been out of touch with any other relatives for decades. He finally told the clerk General Delivery, Sagamore, Nebraska, as a temporary address, because he couldn't think of anything else. He'd forward a permanent address when he had one.
That was the only reason he went back to Sagamore, to pick up his pension checks. But once there, there was no reason to leave, nowhere else to go, no one anywhere in the world that he wanted to see or that wanted to see him. So he stayed on. He joined the local American Legion Post, and through that got to know some of the better elements in town, and settled down to enjoy his retirement.
But he was only fifty. He'd had something to do all his life, donning a uniform every day and going to a specific place and having specific things to do. Time hung heavy, now he was retired. He had no hobbies, and his pension wasn't lavish. He found he was lying around the house late in the mornings, and going too often to the movies, and spending too much time in front of the television set either at home or down at the bar in the cellar of the American Legion Post. He was drinking too much beer, eating badly, getting too little exercise. He was putting on weight, and his digestion was going bad.
Then the police job came along. He heard talk about it down at the American Legion, about old Captain Greene retiring and wonder who'll take over, there's no men with good leadership qualities on the force at all. The pay's too low to attract first-rate men, somebody said, and that led straight into the old argument about property taxes, but Younger had heard enough.
So now he had the highest rank of all. Not Private Younger anymore, not Pfc. Younger, not even Master Sergeant Younger. Captain Younger. Yes, and it could just as well be General Younger, because he was the highest-ranking man on the force. Seventeen men, and he was their captain.
At first he wore the uniform all the time, dark blue with modified riding pants, and boots and a garrison cap. But the weight he'd put on never came off again, and he had to admit he didn't look good in the uniform. Besides, R.H.I.P. Rank Has Its Privileges. As captain, he could wear civvies if he wanted. As captain, he was the only man on the force who could wear civvies. So he started wearing civvies.
But that made a problem. In the uniform, he was declaring his rank for the whole world to see, but in civvies what was he but just another stocky civilian? He thought about it and thought about it, and finally settled on the cowboy hat. A good ten-gallon hat would set him apart, announce to the world that here was a man who held some rank, that was for sure. A cowboy hat and a good suit, the combination would show he was something special. Besides, he thought he looked good dressed that way.
At fifty-one, he'd reached the peak. Captain of the Police Department, a respected citizen, secretary of the American Legion Post; he was content, he had everything he wanted.
And then he was shown the possibility of wanting a lot more.
"No...You don't know what you're doing, you haven't done any research. You make it good for the rest of us by taking the crap off the market. Plus you're poor. [I told you he'd stop at nothing. It's this kind of thing that may well be Lou Reed's last tenuous hold on herodom. And I don't mean heroism.] And even if you weren't poor you wouldn't know what you were buying anyway. You wouldn't know how to weigh it, you don't know your metabolism, you don't know your sleeping quotient, you don't know when to eat and not to eat, you don't know about electricity..."
"The main thing is money, power and ego," I said, quoting an old Ralph J. Gleason column for some reason. I was getting a little dazed.
"No, it has to do with electricity and the cell structure..."
—Lester Bangs, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Death Dwarves," Creem, March 1975
You set particular by the use of irony in bringing me up, it was also especially fitting given your superiority over me. You usually reprimanded me like this: "Can't you do it this way instead? Isn't that a bit too much for you? Surely you don't have time for that?" or similar. And all of these questions were accompanied by a spiteful laugh or a spiteful face. You punished me sometimes even before I had done wrong. When you particularly wanted to antagonize me you would refer to me in the third person, as if I was not even worthy of an angry address; you would say ostensibly to Mother, but actually to me as I sat there too, something like: "We simply can't have that kind of behavior from our son" (This produced a counter habit in me: I never dared, or later never even thought, out of sheer habit, to address you directly while mother was present. It was far less dangerous for me to put questions to Mother as long as she sat beside you, so I would ask Mother: "How is Father?", thus protecting myself from any surprises). Of course, there were times when I agreed with your extreme irony, notably when its target was someone else, Elli for example, with whom I had been on bad terms for years. For me it was an orgy of malice and Schadenfreude when you referred to her like this at almost every meal: "Look at the fat cow, she has to sit ten meters from the table," and again when you imitated her, in spiteful and exaggerated fashion as you sat in your chair, without the faintest hint of warmth or humor, but rather with bitter enmity, as if trying to show how terribly she offended your sensibilities. How often scenes like this must have occurred, and how little they actually achieved. This, I think, was because the extent of your anger and spite was so disproportionate to the matter at hand, we felt that your anger could not have been caused by such a trivial thing as sitting so far from the table, rather it must have been latent from the beginning, triggered in this case purely by chance. Since we were convinced that it would eventually be triggered anyway, we did not really let it trouble us, we were also desensitized by your constant threats; little by little we gradually became aware that there was no danger of a real thrashing. We became surly, unobservant, disobedient children, constantly preoccupied with escape, mostly internal escape. And so you suffered, and we suffered. In your opinion you were doing no wrong when you stood there with clenched teeth and that gurgling laugh which had given me my first idea of hell as a child, and said bitterly (as you did recently on receiving a letter from Constantinople): "What a rabble!"
—Franz Kafka, Brief an den Vater (Dearest Father), 1919 (translation Hannah and Richard Stokes)
Winston stopped reading, chiefly in order to appreciate the fact that he was reading, in comfort and safety. He was alone: no telescreen, no ear at the keyhole, no nervous impulse to glance over hisshoulder or cover the page with his hand. The sweet summer air played against his cheek. From somewhere far away there floated the faint shouts of children; in the room itself there was no sound except the insect voice of the clock. He settled deeper into the armchair and put up his feet on the fender. It was bliss, it was eternity. Suddenly, as one sometimes does with a book of which one knows that one will ultimately read and reread every word, he opened it at a different place and found himself at the third chapter. He went on reading: