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Archive for the ‘Fictional Non-Fiction’ Category

birdman

[mild, vague spoilers]

If Superhero Movies are our new mythology, Birdman makes our new mythology feel like crumbly newsprint and warped videotape. Not that Birdman will or should render Superhero Movies obsolete or anything. I still like, and still expect to enjoy, Superhero Movies. But Birdman reaches certain levels of truth, buried deep in the middle of an inescapable labyrinth, that might make it impossible for me to see our new mythology Superhero Movies the same from now on (at least until a movie comes along that can out-Birdman Birdman).

Things like “universal themes” and “timeless stories” are great, but I know now that I need more blood, more  super-realism.  Larger Than Life with more Life. If Superhero Movies are Led Zeppelin, Birdman is punk rock.

Darren Aronofsky dabbled in this kind of mythology with The Wrestler and Black Swan (before he got all Biblical with Noah). But where those two films hurtle towards death, Alejandro González Iñárritu & his co-writers wallop Aronofsky’s artistic defeatism with an optimism that’s more transcendent than anything I’ve experienced with a Superman story. Icarus need not be a tragic figure. There’s a Birdman in all of us.

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Fake Picasso?

Fake Picasso?

An art dealer once went to Picasso and said, “I have a bunch of ‘Picasso’ canvasses that I was thinking of buying. Would you look them over and tell me which are real and which are forgeries?” Picasso obligingly began sorting the paintings into two piles. Then, as the Great Man added one particular picture to the fake pile, the dealer cried, “Wait a minute, Pablo. That’s no forgery. I was visiting the weekend you painted it.” Picasso replied imperturbably, “No matter. I can fake a Picasso as well as any thief in Europe.”

Robert Anton Wilson, Ishtar Rising

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I always get a kick out of Ernest Hemingway’s account of trolling the drunken F. Scott Fitzgerald in A Moveable Feast:

Scott, I was to find, believed that the novelist could find out what he needed to know by direct questioning of his friends and acquaintances. The interrogation was direct.

‘Ernest,’ he said. ‘You don’t mind if i call you Ernest, do you?’

‘Ask Dunc,’ I said.

‘Don’t be silly. This is serious. Tell me, did you and your wife sleep together before you were married?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’

‘I don’t remember.’

‘But how can you not remember something of such importance?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘It is odd, isn’t it?’

‘It’s worse than odd,’ Scott said. ‘You must be able to remember.’

‘I’m sorry. It’s a pity, isn’t it?’

‘Don’t talk like some limey,’ he said. ‘Try to be serious and remember.’

‘Nope,’ I said, ‘It’s hopeless.’

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The following nugget originally appeared on 10Listens.com  as part of the “10Listens 500:” 

It’s more story than song, though the music is key to the message. It’s waggish and meta, yet tender and moving. Rambling folksy warmth cloaking prickly acid satire. Baby Kafka swaddled and lullabied by Grandpa Twain. Loopy hippie liberalism hiply dismissive of Big Bureaucracy and The System, and wise enough not to be strident about it. And instead of romanticizing war, it chuckles in war’s face. Far as I’m concerned, “Alice’s Restaurant” is America’s National Anthem.

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Check it out, FLAPPERHOUSE was interviewed by a real-live Interviewer!

Interviewer: FLAPPERHOUSE has described itself as “Dragging the future back through the past, like a rotting donkey on a grand piano.”

FLAPPERHOUSE: Chien! Andalusia! We are un!

Interviewer: Precisely. And by “the past,” more specifically you mean circa the 1920′s?

FLAPPERHOUSE: Yes and no. Mostly yes. We do think the future should have much more futurism. But with much less fascism. We’d also like to see more surrealism, expressionism, dadaism, psychological horror, and, of course, modernism.

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Memory, Rene Magritte, 1948

Memory, Rene Magritte, 1948

I remember reading James Frey’s drug-addiction memoir A Million Little Pieces in 2005, back when the book was still classified as “non-fiction,” and I could’ve sworn a lot of the details smelled fishy. So the following year, once Frey revealed the truth of his fictions, I felt a little happy about it. I wouldn’t call it schadenfreude; I got nothing personal against the guy. OK, maybe there was some schadenfreude. But for the most part, I simply felt nice knowing my suspicions had been validated.

Somehow I missed the similar controversy that arose just over a year later regarding Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier. In fact I wasn’t really familiar with the book at all. I saw it for the first time while browsing the shelves at my local library a couple weeks ago, and I thought it looked fascinating.* And until I’d finished reading it, I had no idea that its veracity had come under serious scrutiny not long after its publication. Which is not to say that I never suspected Beah’s account may have been significantly less than 100% accurate. From the beginning, I took it for granted that the memoir of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone would have to be at least a little fudgy, considering all the trauma and drug abuse that must’ve fogged up his rear-view mirror.

Then I got to page 51 and spotted this fat red flag:

“…Grandfather always gave us a special medicine that was supposed to enhance the brain’s capacity to absorb and retain knowledge. He made this medicine by writing a special Arabic prayer on a waleh (slate) with ink that was made of another medicine. The writing was then washed off the slate, and that water, which they called Nessie, was put in a bottle. We took it with us and were supposed to keep it a secret and drink it before we studied for exams. The medicine worked. During my primary-school years and part of my secondary school year, I was able to permanently retain everything that I learned. Sometimes it worked so well that during examinations I could visualize my notes and all that was written on each page of my textbooks. It was as if the books had been imprinted inside my head. This wonder was one of many in my childhood. To this day, I have an excellent photographic memory that enables me to remember details of the day-to-day moments of my life, indelibly.

Beah may as well have written “Just in case anything here seems too far-fetched, this harrowing true-life story is really truthfully true. All of it. Truly! Because my grandfather gave me Magical Memory Juice when I was a kid, that’s why.

Reading this passage saddened me. The author doth protest too much, methought. And it didn’t feel like the passage was Beah’s idea, either. Throughout the book, his voice is humble, blunt, and fearless. I could be wrong, but I couldn’t help speculating that an editor or agent whispered the idea in his ear, told him to write about the memory juice to convince readers of something they didn’t need to be convinced of.

Yet Beah’s Magical Memory Juice didn’t spoil the rest of his book for me. I believe A Long Way Gone is true enough. I believe most of these things happened to Beah, and if any of those things didn’t literally happen to him, then I’m sure they either happened to someone not unlike Beah.

I guess the reason I’m more forgiving of Beah than I was of James Frey– aside from the fact that being forced to become a child soldier sounds far more terrifying than being a drug addict– is that except for the Magical Memory Juice, Beah’s details felt truer than Frey’s. Beah’s story captures what Werner Herzog would call “Ecstatic Truth.” And if Beah had an ulterior motive, it wasn’t, as Adam Kirsch would say, to “seduce the reader with an ostentatious display of soul-bearing,” it was to shine a light on the horrors of Sierra Leon’s civil war.

If I had been Beah’s editor, I would’ve whispered in his ear: “Sell it as a novel. Just say it’s ‘Based on a true story.’ If it turns out some things didn’t happen quite how you remember them, then so what? They’ll still call you the Sierra Leonean Hemingway. Oh, and lose that part about the Memory Juice. I don’t care if it’s real; I simply don’t buy it.” 

* On the other hand, I did work in a large bookstore when A Long Way Gone was first published, so I admit there’s a chance that I had in fact heard of the book before and simply forgot. In my defense, I ingested many intoxicants in those days, and I never once ingested any Magical Mystery Juice.

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Prometheus Carrying Fire, Jan Cossiers

Prometheus Carrying Fire, Jan Cossiers

Thomas Jefferson developed his view that “all men are created equal” from the perception of the infinity within each of us, which he learned from the Scottish philosophers, Reid and Hutcheson. (It was also from Hutcheson that Jefferson got his idea of “unalienable rights,” which Congress in the interest of stylistic elegance altered to “inalienable rights.”) The Scottish Enlightenment, like the French and English Enlightenment, was the beginning of the materialization and manifestation of the Judeo-Christian vision of the Heavenly City.

It was also this 18th Century Illuminati circle which introduced the concept of progress— the conscious formulation of the symbolism of Prometheus. This vision has been under so much attack in recent decades that to defend it all will seem archaic and eccentric to many readers.

Nonetheless, evolution is real: quantum jumps do occur throughout the biosphere and throughout human intellectual history. We are riding a mounting tidal wave of rising consciousness and expanding intelligence which is accelerating whether we like it or not.

By and large, most people– and especially most ruling elites– have not liked this acceleration factor. The migration of capital (i.e., ideas) Westward has been largely a flight from oppression, an escapist movement– as critics today describe Space as “escapist.” Everywhere, everywhen, the rulers of society have tried to put a brake on the third circuit, to decelerate the acceleration function, to establish limits on what was printable, discussable, even thinkable.

The Greek myth of Prometheus Bound– the Titan who brought Light to humanity and is eternally punished for it– is the synecdoche, the perfect symbol, of how the third circuit [reason] has been handled in most human societies.

Robert Anton Wilson,  Prometheus Rising (1983)

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