And so today I would like to sing the praises of whoever curates the "Readings" section in Harper's, you know, the section of the magazine at the beginning where all sorts of randoms are excerpted from elsewhere. Perhaps it's a male editor, or mostly male editors, because there are almost! no! women! excerpted! In December's issue a translation of Fernando Pessoa's fragments that appeared in Poetry was excerpted (and as I've mentioned, I kind of consider Pessoa a woman), as well as a piece by Robert Bolano, and a crazy-ass awesome interview with Christian Bok from The Believer, but nary an avant-female. (This can easily be changed, oh editors of the "Readings" section of Harper's, for example, I know of one person off the top of my head who has a book coming out in April, it can be easily amputated, this book, carve a leg or an arm off here or there, not much bloody mess or tendons. Ha. I'm a whore. But, seriously, I can name you like a trillion amazing women writers to excerpt who are not the Obvious Names.* Email me.)
*Although now I'm remembering that Danielle Dutton's novel was excerpted, so that's a good thing!
But I sound like I'm complaining! But I'm not. Because the "Readings" section of Harper's is brilliant. It's like an under-cover operation run by an anarchist Dada performance artist, designed to overthrow the bourgeois architecture of the rest of the magazine (okay, I really really loved Ben Marcus' essay spanking Jonathan Franzen and defending experimental literature, and I worship at the altar of anything William Gass writes, he even makes Henry James look sexy! and I'm about to read On Being Blue again, for my recent considerations of literary pornography, and I'm sure I would love the jottings of his dayplanner, I'm sure I would love his to-do list, I'm sure I would love his brief yet oh-so-witty business-like emails where he signs himself Best Bill, and, oh, I like when people write about religion in there, like Jeff Sharlet, and politics, and the Middle East, Harper's is very good for that, but for literature this month a story by Alice Munro! Yawn! And Jonathan Franzen can suck it.)
I think the Harper's "Readings" editor is actually Urs Allemann or Dennis Cooper in disguise. Wouldn't that be awesome! No seriously I think the editor of "Readings" is a total freaking madman, and in a really good way.
(I love Nabokov's definition of the madman vs. the hero vs. the artist. He said a hero would see a little girl screaming in a burning building, and he would rush in to save the girl. An artist would see the little girl screaming, and rush in to save the girl. But also save the girl's doll. A madman would rush in and take the doll, and leave the little girl. I love it! Although why the little girls always need saving, Vlad-man?)
Okay, I guess I should tell you *why* I like the section, as opposed to just wanking off. So besides publishing letters from old famous guys like Mark Twain or contemporary avant-stuff from literary journals, it's always the most macabre Law & Order SUV stuff printed in "Readings," like suicide cult letters or interrogation room transcripts with jihadists or legal transcripts of the wackiest things ever, but always exposing the ulcered underbelly underneath all of our Puritanism and listening in on boardroom and legal hypocrisy and the absolute absurdity of the fabric of American existence. Voices from what Mark Seltzer calls our "wound culture." Like recently they printed the journals of that wacko who mowed down those women in that gym in Pittsburgh and the journals were like the most amazing, sickest, saddest, maddest things ever. Totally a story I wish I had written (if I wrote stories, which I don't). It totally makes sense that Harper's excerpted "Letters to Wendy's" there because that is totally the aesthetic, all pornography and consumerism guzzled through the eyes of a sick, sad fuck of a narrator, just remarking at how we're all assholes. Oh my god! Joe Wenderoth is the editor of the Harper's Readings section! I just figured it out.
Anyway. In the December issue they published the email exchange between this guy who was blackmailing his ex-girlfriend to give him naked digital photos of herself or he was going to show their sex tape to everyone in her life ("You, on the other hand, can be seen very clearly having the time of your life being fucked by me") except the other person emailing was an FBI agent posing as the woman, which just adds this extra layer of pathos to everything. And they also published a survey by the British Psychological society in which psychologists had to name "one nagging thing" they didn't know about themselves, and everyone just comes off as SO SAD AND FUCKED UP (which has always been my experience with psychologists or psychology majors, but anyway, takes one to know one, I suppose). And they printed talking points of a meeting by the BPA Joint Trade Association, that chemical used in plastic bottles and cans that causes all of these health risks and like fetal retardation ("Attendees suggest using fear tactics (e.g. 'Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?') as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. 'You have a choice: the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh, or foods packaged in cans') as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging.")
But! The best most awesome one this month (titled under "Husbandry," see? that's a strange quick wit there) was a transcript from the court case of this guy who was videotaped make calves fellate him, like NEWBORN COWS, somewhere in New Jersey. And they print the conversation (not a legal term I know, do I seem like I went to law school?) between the judge, the defense lawyer, and the prosecutor regarding the animal cruelty charge (which was, amazingly, dismissed). And the conversation is about whether it's tormenting the calf to make them suckle something that doesn't provide nourishment (!)
Judge:What would the State contend was the nature of the vexation that the grand jury may infer was experienced by the calves? Is it, 'I want nourishment, it's not there, I do this to get nourishment, and therefore I'm puzzled or baffled'? Or is it that the calf finds it disgusting?
Prosecution: Judge, it's a little difficult for the State to get into the mind-set of a calf. But if you watch the tape, what you'll see is the calf repeatedly head-butting Mr. Melia in the stomach, because it thinks it's about to get milk. Well, the calf doesn't everget milk. A reasonable juror could say that a man's penis in the mouth of a calf is tormenting that calf. I mean, Judge, I think it's fair to say it's an act against nature.
Judge: But the cow doesn't know it's an act against nature. If the calf had the cognitive ability to form the thought and speak, the calf would say, "Where's the milk? Someobdy puts something in my mouth, and I engage in this sucking motion, and I'm not getting milk!" I mean, any of us who have children know that children love to suck their fingers. They love it so much they wont' stop. We also give them pacifiers, on which they perform the same physical act as they perform on a bottle. In all the time I sat in on child-abuse cases, I never had doctors come and say this torments the child. If we know that children just like to suck things, can we say that the calf, which has far less cognitive power than infant, simply doesn't enjoy doing the same thing?
Ladies and gentlemen, there you go. Babies like giving fellatio. Where's the torment in just giving your darling boo a little flesh pacifier once in a while? This reminds me, again, of this. This is totally how reason is used to advance any point, it's chilling yet totally hilarious.
But the BEST most awesome excerpt from the Readings section, that I read like once a week, still, seriously, this is better than any short story, ever, is from their August issue. It's anonymous comments from the message board of UrbanBaby.com about a poem by Sylvia Plath, "Three Women" that one set in the maternity ward, about the lines that go "I do not will him to be exceptional./It is the exception that interests the devil." The Harpers editor-genius hilariously labels the exchange under "Criticism," but it's really just mostly women shocked and abhorred that Sylvia Plath committed suicide ("Can't take anything seriously from a woman who writes about suicide and freaking kills herself. Sorry.") (this sounds so much like my students when we read Plath or Woolf or "The Awakening," "suicide is selfish," blah blah blah, what about the Buddhist monks during Vietnam? I ask, my students always consider me the ultimate authority on suicide), and then a few intelligent people with a brain sticking up for her, and bringing up Van Gogh, etc. But the devolution of the message board is amazing, like soccer mom brawl. Some choice bits:
She's missing out because she's rejecting out of hand the work of one of our generation's great poets because of some preconceived idea she has (and is stubbornly clinging to) about what she should take seriously in literature.
Wow. You are pretty freaking judgmental. You are also mistaken. For example, a Claude Debussy toilet may not be art to one person yet another may love it. That's what makes it art, bitch.
Do you know Debussy's medium. It is pretty obvious that you are, indeed, not an art lover.
Plath sucks and so do you.
Do Plath and I suck because we went to college?
Are you kidding? Do you mean Marcel Duchamp? you are an idiot. Debussy was a composer. You just proved that poster's point beyond a doubt.
What a pompous shitbag you are.
Disliking Plath's poetry is one thing. Disliking it because she commited suicide is another, and I think that is why everyone seems so taken aback. Most people dont' judge artists' work this way. If all of the work by womanizers, liars, and opiate-addicts disappeared, there would be very little great art in the world.
The last poster has a good point, obviously (although I love her list of the three major sins, lying, opiate addiction, and womanizing). But then this is my FAVORITE part of the exchange:
This is not literature. This is poetry. I might be able to enjoy literature if some of the characters have ideals I don't agree with. But I don't know why I'd enjoy poems whose theme I fundamentally disagree with.
Poetry is a type of literature, retard. It is so sad that there are people like you out there. You are smart enough to turn on your computer and type words, but you can't bring yourself to learn even the teensy bit about the world of letters. Why not enroll in an intro Western-lit class? Or pick up a book. One that's not a best-seller. Even a high school lit textbook, say.
Not bad advice for all of us, really. As I noted in my last post, I am perhaps functionally illiterate. So, perhaps you've already read about this like six months ago, but I am new to this blogging thing. I dare you not to go around the whole day saying "That's what makes it art, bitch" and "Poetry is a type of literature, retard."