Dissecting the "Twilight"

Deborah Eisenberg’s “Twilight of the Superheroes”

It took Deborah Eisenberg eight years to meticulously put together the six short stories which comprise “Twilight of the Superheroes”. Her gorgeous yet tightly wrought blend of poetic-prose, philosophy, politics and humor make the collection a page-turner in both directions.

One of the central conceits running through all six stories is how we organize ourselves through expectations interplayed within time. The titular story that opens the collection begins with a character imagining himself in the far off future. He tells his grandchildren about the miraculous dawn of the new millennium, the giddy excitement that was soon followed by a fear of computers going on the fritz, and an anxiety over questions like: “would all the airplanes in the sky collide?” The fears are replaced by joy over the fact that nothing happened at the end of the countdown to the new millennium. This imagined monologue, steeped in maudlin nostalgia, takes on an irony that becomes pitch black as we read about the main character’s temporary home in New York that overlooks the end of the Twin Towers. We are also encouraged to understand the scene from perspectives outside of America, from “populations ruthlessly exploited, inflamed with hatred, and tired of waiting for change to happen by,” whose expectations have been driven into rage.

But the brilliance of Eisenberg’s writing is that even though it’s chock-a-block with ideas and musings from a variety of characters, she always returns to the familiar. The exploration of how we shape ourselves through time, while occasionally towering up into brilliant tangents of thought, always returns to the tangible. The last story in the collection begins with an older woman in the midst of an affair. “Do we have to be careful about the time?” her lover asks. She doesn’t answer him directly, but rather we become part of her experience: “I reach for my watch from the bedside table and consider the dial — its rectitude, its innocence — then I understand the position of the hands and that, yes, rush-hour traffic will already have begun.”

To top it all off, Eisenberg’s stories can also turn into laughter. In “Some Other, Better Otto” the theme of age, time and perspective are all wrapped up in the main character’s complaint: “Everyone always says ‘Don’t you want to see the baby, don’t you want to see the baby,’ but if I did want to see a fat, bald, confused person, obviously I’d have only to look in the mirror.” Later in the story Otto is interviewed by his nine-year old niece who can only relate to people by talking into her fist and pretending to be a news-reporter. Meaning hides in absurdly hilarious imagery.

In an age of speedy efficiency and pre-fabricated purpose, it’s refreshing to read prose that’s been so carefully put together. The wisdom of looking at life through variegated lenses permeates each page resulting in an aesthetics of honesty that is an integral part of any good writing. It’s only within that honesty that we have freedom to think, because to deny the problematic impact of technology and our politics on the rest of the world would be to develop a habit of evasion. By acknowledging the complexity and confusions of this world, Eisenberg electrifies thought and makes the movements of the mind exciting and vital. At the age of 60, she overflows with wisdom in an interplay of perspectives that leaves you wanting more.

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Beat Yourself Up

Strangely, somehow, it’s almost cliche to say you like Jack Kerouac these days. Sure, On The Road is considered one of the great American novels and Kerouac became the voice of the beat generation, but while everyone knows about On The Road, how many people have actually read it? Moreover, how many people actually enjoyed it? I’m one of those who has and did, and its influence is felt every time beautiful words are put next to each other, or when words flow off the tongue or off the page in a way that makes something seen, seem like something new. But it can be hard sometimes to find yourself in the place where you can really get something that’s meant to be gotten. And if you’re not in the right head space, the form and feeling of something can go over your head and into space.

September 5th marks the 50th anniversary of the first publishing of the On the Road, and for the first time Viking Press is releasing the uncut version of the book. The story is that Kerouac spent 7 years on the road and 3 weeks writing the book, penned on a long teletype roll of paper without breaks or paragraphs so as not to break the flow. But while all this type of stuff adds fuel to the fire of his legend, it might do little to convince those who don’t dig his prose that he is actually worth the hype.

In 1959 Kerouac was a guest on the Steve Allen show, a live, weekly night time talk show featuring writers, musicians and other type of guests interviewed by the host, Steve Allen. On this particular occasion, Allen, also a respectable piano player, sat at the piano with a jazz band behind him and after a brief interview had Kerouac read from On the Road. This clip from the show is an amazing piece of television history and a truly beautiful moment that captures the poetry and pulse and renegade vitality of a great writer’s work. There is something magic in those words and in the way he reads them. Like Jack is jazz; free form and improvised. Opening up words across a closing landscape.

FILM SCHOOL: What Happened To Kerouac? (1986). A fascinating documentary by Richard Lerner and Lewis MacAdams that looks at his life, his work and his death at the end of a bottle. Features tons of rare home footage and interviews with all the greats.

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Lesley Arfin

Prettier than Harmony Korine

Dear Diary
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Powerhouse Books;
ISBN-10: 1576873838
Price: $26.95

In the space of not many years, Lesley Arfin has gone from writing “I’m the ugliest person ever” in her diary to having Marc Jacobs describe her beauty in i-D. In between those rather polarizing life events, she discovered boys, punk rock, raves and drugs, got her own Vice column, became a heroin addict, hit the Betty Ford Center and lived to tell about it in my new favourite book, Dear Diary. The book is a collection of diary entries, ranging from 1990 to 2003, put into context through updates and interviews with people from her past. Lesley and I talked about everything from silver foxes to living life on a ‘natural high,’ but mostly I just tried really hard not to ask her to be BFFs and invite her over to play Girl Talk.

ONLY: In the book, you make reference to hooking up with Leo Fitzpatrick from Kids. What base did you get to, and are you sure you guys aren’t soul mates?

Lesley Arfin: What base did I get to? Sloppy third. It was really fun! I didn’t mention that in the book because Leo and I are still pretty good friends and I just didn’t want to invade his privacy. I see him so often that I thought: “Well, I don’t need to put that in.” You know? He’s my friend, and I just wanted to respect that. I don’t think we’re soul mates.

ONLY: Aw.

LA: He’s an awesome guy. He’s smart, he’s funny, he’s nice, he’s very cute and he’s a great person, but I think that he and I are just meant to be friends. I know, it’s sad but true. He is super cute…

ONLY: Like on The Wire

LA: I know. He is aging very well, isn’t he?

ONLY: Extremely well.

LA: Especially now, when I see him. His hair is peppered with grey. It’s so striking.

ONLY: If you could go back in time to any entry in your diary, which would you choose and would you tell yourself anything?

LA: Well, you know, on one hand I think I would go back to a lot of places and tell myself things, but then on the other hand I don’t know if I would want to change anything, you know? ‘Cause I wouldn’t even wanna fuck with the person who I am today, in any way. I like to maybe think that I could offer myself all these different pieces of advice, but I don’t even know if I would… I wouldn’t want to tamper with life in that way.

ONLY: Now that Dear Diary is widely available, has anyone you wrote about approached you with regrets about how they were portrayed?

LA: Well, I mean, there have been some people, like Sheryl Rosenthal. I don’t think that she was too excited about what I wrote. And Nate, when I wrote that he wanted a job at Supreme [a store claiming to be the “home of NY skate culture”], he was kind of pissed that I wrote that. I mean he was really pissed that I wrote that.

ONLY: Oh no.

LA: And then I wrote about Stu Wildstein, and I loved what I wrote about Stu, but I don’t think that his brother is that happy. I almost wish that I could have explained more, like, that I thought he was such an amazing person. I thought he was such an amazing character. I don’t know if that translated so much in the book. But I try not to think about that too much. And, I mean, in terms of the interviews and other people who might be upset with me, who haven’t told me, there’s nothing I can do to change it at this point, so I try not to go to that place. But if anyone’s feelings are hurt, I definitely empathize and my intention was never to hurt anyone’s feelings.

ONLY: There are numerous references in the book to people who didn’t make it. Looking back, does it ever surprise you that you actually survived your own life?

LA: You know, it’s so funny because I was talking about this the other day with some people who I went to high school with, and the shit that went on with all our friends is just crazy. Like, so many people in our school died. There are even more people who died that I didn’t write about just because they didn’t come up in my diary, so I didn’t put it in. I am shocked. I mean, we used to drive around fucked up all the time and I had this feeling of being invincible, and I’m very surprised that I’m still alive and that certain people are still alive. Yeah, I mean, I guess someone had to survive it to write about all of it.

ONLY: Do you think that you really look like Harmony Korine, or do you think people are just trying to fuck with you?

LA: I think I’m prettier than Harmony Korine, personally, but my editor, Gavin, constantly tells me I look like Harmony and he definitely does it just to fuck with me. But you know, it’s funny. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t think that I look like him, but there are similarities…

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William Gibson

I knew people would do that shit

Spook Country
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: GP Putnam And Sons
ISBN-10: 0399154302
Price: $32.50

Throughout his career, William Gibson has maintained his status as one of the most innovative and visionary science fiction writers in his field. His debut novel Neuromancer, published in 1984, was the first book to be triple-crowned with all three science fiction awards: the Nebula, the Hugo, and Philip K Dick Award. It also spearheaded the cyberpunk movement and introduced the world to the term “cyberspace.” Gibson has since written six full-length novels that have imagined, with a technophile’s insight, a future that is both insane and plausible. His most recent novel, Spook Country comes out August 9.

ONLY: I had originally wanted to interview you regarding the Lonelygirl15 thing last year. Your last book, Pattern Recognition centers around a fictional web-video broadcast, called “the footage” which many people felt paralleled the first serialized show on Youtube.

William Gibson: I didn’t think that was that interesting anyway… in a situation like that, with regard to my work as an influence I always assumed that what I have is a “predictive talent.” Some capacity to imagine what people will do. If I imagine what people do and then people do that thing, I don’t go “Oh they did it because of what I wrote.” They did it because… I knew people would do that shit!

ONLY: I read somewhere that you were completely disinterested in the Internet when it began.

WG: I wasn’t interested in it, except, you know, theoretically, until it became “The Web.” As long as there was any learning curve involved I didn’t want anything to do with it. I mean, people forget that before the web template, you had to take lessons. Somebody had to teach you how to do it. In the early days, people actually prided themselves on being able to send email messages. I used to say that I’d send email when people’s dogs could send email, which is now pretty much the case. When I wrote Idoru, I didn’t know what a website was. I’d never seen one, which was a real advantage. The way I write sometimes, less information is better.

ONLY: Throughout many of your novels you have written about fictional artists, designers and musicians: tech-savvy creatives as opposed to inventor engineers.

WG: When I was doing imaginary fiction, speculative fiction, I had a lot of fun designing things. One of the things that so-called “cyber punk” writers talked about at the very beginning, before they had been labeled that, was “hyper specificity.” I really liked that. The idea that if you’re going to imagine something you have to imagine it more thoroughly than you are going to present it. I‘ve always worked that way. In my head I would have some pretty clear visual image of what a gizmo looked like. As long as I can remember I have been interested in what people now call “design.” Why people made a specific object. How functionality could be worked into an object or how an object could become uselessly baroque just from adding trim. I don’t know why I never studied it formally, but when I started writing science fiction it really came to the fore. I couldn’t imagine characters, and I couldn’t imagine plots but I could imagine objects. Really, my first couple of short stories could be read as linear catalogues of objects. You could just list the objects. The creative pleasure was in the dreaming up these bits and pieces. Having to do the storyline stuff was like pulling teeth.

ONLY: One of the things that distinguishes your work from mainstream science fiction writing is your fixation on the urban setting: you don’t write about intergalactic war at all.

WG: Well, one way to look at that is the contrast between reality and glib bullshit, because there’s no such thing as “intergalactic warfare!” There probably never will be! Who knows? Nobody knows about the specifics of that stuff, and cyberpunk kind of suspected that. If you read Charlie Stross’s argument that there will be no space travel, never be space colonization, it’s pretty convincing. I was stunned…like what if he was right? That it was all just bullshit? Anyways, I think that I’m pretty much a complete urban life-form at this point. The distinction between being urban and not being urban has more to do with bandwidth than where you live. Your little kids in Omaha with their bedrooms are totally urban creatures, but there’s no city outside their window.

ONLY: In the last decade, you have begun to write in the present day.

WG: When I started writing science fiction I already knew that it was never about the future. It’s about the moment in which it’s written. Nothing gets quainter faster than a piece of fiction set in an imaginary future. That’s really part of its charm. As the days go on, the fork widens and the flying cars become less likely… but it was never about that. The only way to read science fiction that made any sense to me was to make it about the period in which it was written. 1984 is about 1948. Orwell didn’t have to make anything up. He had Hitler. He had Stalin. Something like the Puppet Master is the United States under McCarthy. Lord of the Rings is the Anglican Church on crack. That’s how I read that stuff. I never thought it was about the future.

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