Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gift-Giving, Part Two (wherein we even the odds)

About a month ago we decided to hold a "membership" contest on both Facebook and Twitter. We offered to give away free issues of Fiction International by offering what we thought were similar goals: When the Facebook fan page reached 500, we would give away 5 issues, and when Twitter followers reached 300, we would give away 5 issues. We saw that each entity was just over 100 fans/followers away from reaching their respective goals, so we reasoned that the contest was fair for both.

Wrong! Simple gamblers' math would tell us that five issues divided among 500 fans is not the same as five issues divided among 300 followers - but we are not gamblers, so.... However, some of the fans/followers are better at gamblers' math than we are, and Twitter's followers quickly pulled ahead of Facebook's fans. As I write this (12/20/2011) we have added 287 Twitter followers (out of 300) and 446 Facebook fans (out of 500).

But the contest isn't over yet, so we've decided to even the odds a bit, plus we will increase the number of free issues we will award: When Facebook reaches its goal, we will give away 50 free issues, and when Twitter reaches its goal we will give away 30 free issues. (50 for 500 versus 30 for 300). This means - we think! - that the odds of winning a free issue will be one in ten regardless of which entity you use.

Plus we have a wide variety of issues to choose from! Take a look at our website, because we have a lot of issues that are still relevant to contemporary cultures. Our themes have a loooonngg shelf life. One or more will certainly interest you. Plus you can sample most of the issues: We have added links to a few of the stories for nearly every issue we will give away.

And the free issues will be distributed on a first-come basis so if you are selected as one of the Lucky Fifty (or Lucky Thirty) and act quickly, you will probably receive the issue you want. Win-win!

We are also trying to "clean up" the Twitter followers a bit, because at least three people created empty Twitter accounts, where we were the only person the account was followed, and without any personal information or tweets, so - to be fair to other Twitter users - we deleted these empty accounts from the competition.

Though we are flattered that so many people want a free issue of Fiction International!

Friday, November 18, 2011

GIFT-GIVING

By: Harold Jaffe


The holiday season is on us. Xmas muzak everywhere.

Terrorism is in the air, as it has been to one degree or another since the devolution of the Soviet Union to a polluted version of Russia.

Capitalism needed a demon to replace Communism.

Is there something that can be called benign terrorism?

Such as compassion, not just felt, but expressed for oppressed humans, such as the innocent and impoverished Iraqis and Afghans killed or maimed during the US's assault on those sovereign nations.

Compassion, not just felt, but expressed for the Bangladeshis, a made-invisible country of about 150 million souls, its crucial rice paddy industry largely overrun by the ice melt in the Antarctic which has transformed the Bay of Bengal into a maddened ocean.

Compassion, not just expressed, but enacted, on behalf of stock animals like cattle, pigs, chickens, whose lives consist of extreme torment crowned by slaughter.

Schweitzer put it this way: Extend your feelings, try to recognize the suffering of those animals that are slaughtered and eaten.

The suffering is greater than before. Stock animals shot with chemicals and hormones, in many instances spending their entire doomed lives in tight pens where they can scarcely move.

I call compassion benign terrorism because official culture excludes it from its criteria for happiness and unhappiness.

One is not permitted to become unhappy at the suffering of a stock animal, at the suffering of a brown-skinned family whose modest house is bulldozed because the adolescent son is suspected of throwing rocks at an armored vehicle.

What about plain speech, such as attributing oil as the leading if not sole reason for the invasions of Iraq and Libya?

Attributing Congress’s overwhelming majority in support of the homeland security bill and bank bailout to moral cowardice and cynical opportunism.

Global leaders denying climate change while proceeding full throttle with toxic chemical industries along with the reckless overuse of nuclear power plants and fossil fuels.

If referring to these perceptions as benign terrorism seems inapt, call them deviations.

But to deviate in this time of moral fervor, xenophobia, and the exponentially growing, manipulated disparity between rich and poor is about as reprehensible as terrorism.

In the eyes of official culture and most Americans.

Deviation, then, on the occasion of the holiday season.

Gift-giving comes to mind.

Gift-giving is deviant because it tends to be an impulsive action from the heart which has nothing to do with repayment, opportunism, or calculation, and is solely designed to benefit another.

"Tends to be" because there is a species of gift-giving which is calculated and opportunistic, such as political campaign contributions, and even ostensible gifts from the heart like wedding bands or communion dresses or Christmas presents.

That isn't the kind of gift-giving I have in mind.

Why would Georges Bataille say that strong art must always include the immoral subversion of the existing order?

Morality is possessed by the white gloves of the existing order.

Bataille's gift to us were his formulations and his mania.

I will risk sounding sentimental:

Examples of uncalculated gift-giving might include rescuing a stray cat or a wounded bird; giving alms to a homeless person; paying the toll for the car behind you on a toll road.

True, you can perform even these acts of mercy with one eye on divine compensation, but they are not commonly done that way.

Less tangible forms of gift-giving might include paying serious, unpatronizing attention to a child, animal, plant.

Attending to a human not used to be taken seriously, such as a so-called mentally ill or imprisoned human.

Less tangible still would be to spread goodwill like a gentle virus to everyone human, animal, vegetable with whom you come in contact.

But that is generally the province of spiritually elevated souls.

Bodhisattvas.

I recall an instance in NYC. A bus driver in one of the problematic parts of Manhattan sang rather than talked to his passengers, singing out the next stop, singing while he drove.

The Manhattan passengers, habitually stressed and suspicious, especially while en route to work in the AM, praised the driver for being so relaxed, so balanced, so -- as it seemed -- contented, thereby broadcasting this contentment.

Broadcasting contentment is good.

What about broadcasting righteous anger or anguish, as a conscience-bound German might have done during the Nazi period?

Or John Brown enunciating his "No! in Thunder."

"No, I refuse to stand by and watch my black and brown sisters and brothers be enslaved by the same professed moralists who aspire to imitate Christ."

Do those instances of righteous anger qualify as gift-giving?

Yes, they do.

In any case, you can see how a disinterested (not uninterested) gift-giving counters in principle the niggardly dictates of capitalism.

The difference between disinterest and uninterest is that disinterest implies a passionate, caring separation from the object in question, whereas uninterest implies a dispassionate, uncaring separation.

Potlatch, practiced by northwest Indian groups, is a complex prototype of ritualized gift-giving, part disinterested, part competitive.

Let's leave potlatch to the Native Americans; they have suffered more than most of the rest of us.

Their cultures are deep.

Their hearts and minds are integrated.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It's Getting Black Out There!

Fiction International is pleased to announce the winner of our 2011 short fiction contest (Blackness): "Rogues Gallery II" by writer Mary Byrne. Ms. Byrne will receive a cash prize of $1000.00 and her text will be published in the 2012 issue of FI (About Seeing). We'd also like to congratulate runner-up Dorothy Blackcrow Mack for her text "The Black Cradleboard" which will also be published in the 'About Seeing' edition.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The DV8 issue is coming to San Diego!




We expect to receive the DV8 issue from the printer on Monday and will begin to send it out to subscribers that same day! If you are a subscriber or contributor, look for the issue in your mailbox.

If you are not yet a subscriber, why not become one? Subscribe to Fiction International today and ensure your copy is mailed next week!






Also: Editor Harold Jaffe selected the winners of our "Blackness" contest and we are even now notifying them. Look for an announcement of the two winners - the grand prize winner receives $1000, and both stories will be published in the next issue of FI!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

About Seeing

"We don't see things as they are; we see things as we are."

"You gentlemen and ladies of quality who frequently don't know yourselves what Christian virtue and justice are, look at the sunken, deep-set eyes of the lower classes, where you can see all too clearly the sorrow and misery that weigh on their hearts. Not everyone who sees his grieved and martyred face in the washroom mirror in the morning is a murderer or drug addict." -- Harold Jaffe, excerpt from Death in Texas

Seeing, Noun: Perception by means of the eyes, beholding, visual perception.

"A presiding officer, even of an ordinary polling station like this, should, in all circumstances, be guided by the strictest sense of independence, he should, in short, always observe decorum." -- Jose Saramago, excerpt from Seeing

Seeing, Adj.: Having vision, not blind, being sighted - able to see.

Hurry! Only One More Month to Submit!
For an issue About Seeing: Addressing the Visual Arts (cinema, video, painting, photography, etc) Fiction International is looking for texts, stories, and visuals. Go to Fiction International for submission instructions.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Truth Force

Here's a piece Harold Jaffe posted on the Facebook Occupy San Diego discussion page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/161765230583534/):

--We see a broken human emerge from the canyon and avert our eyes.

--We read of homeless vets and pregnant women breaking into boarded-up buildings to escape the cold; we avert our eyes.

--The buildings have been boarded up for years; squatting in them is against the law.

--Law is not justice.

--We read of a polar bear and her cub trekking 900 miles south from the north Pole to find food, dying on the trek.

--See what's been done to our living world.

--We avert our eyes.

--We see brown-skinned women and children being slaughtered in bloody, fruitless wars across the globe, and we avert our eyes.
--We see people, young people, rebel in cities across the globe. The rebellions are labeled riots; the rebels are labeled criminals.

--We know otherwise.

--Still we avert our eyes.


--We see aircraft funded by caucasian corporate despots relentlessly bomb the country of a brown-skinned desert despot.

--Their mission, they claim, is liberation.

--We know otherwise, even as we avert out eyes.

--We see cynical, opportunistic industrialists and politicians line their pockets while lying to their constituents, and we avert our eyes.

--We see long lines of laid-off working people waiting to claim their unemployment checks which will run out before they find another job.

--We avert our eyes.

--We are not permitted to see the tens of thousand of people imprisoned unjustly in privatized prisons where inmates are denied parole and forced to do surplus labor so that prison owners and investors can extort their surplus profit.


Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.
Avert your eyes.
Don’t avert your eyes.

See.
Share the pain.
Have courage.
Bear witness.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Art as Cultural Activism

On September 5, 1981, the Welsh group that called itself "Women for Life on Earth" arrived on Greenham Common, in Berkshire, England. They had marched from Cardiff, Wales, with the intention of challenging the decision to site 96 US Cruise nuclear missiles on Greenham Common. On arrival they delivered a letter to the Base Commander which said "We fear for the future of all our children and for the future of the living world."

When their request for a debate was ignored they set up a "Peace Camp" just outside the fence surrounding the Royal Air Force Greenham Common Airbase. This surprised the authorities and set the tone for an audacious, lengthy protest that was to last 19 years.

The protesters refused to allow authorities to enter the camp, which became known as the Women's Peace Camp and gained international recognition with imaginative images such as eggs, spiders webs and children’s toys with which they decorated the chain link fences and contested area. In the end the UK and US withdrew their attempt to site the cruise missiles in Greenham Common.

*

During the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, a number of Chilean working-class women created complex tapestries depicting the harsh conditions of life and the pain resulting from the disappeared victims of Pinochet's repression. These tapestries, or arpilleras, get their name from the Spanish word for the burlap backing they used.

Working quietly and using traditional methods, the women's arpilleras came to have a wide influence within Chile and internationally. The tapestries preserved the memory of los desaparecidos and the dictatorship's brutality, as well as the unemployment, food shortages, housing shortages, and other hardships of daily life attributed to Pinochet's rule. Preserving this collective memory was itself an act of art-as-protest, but creating the arpilleras also empowered the women, many of whom experienced a liberation through their work and became involved in further protests against Pinochet's regime.

*

Krzysztof Wodiczko, born in Poland, emigrated to Canada, and currently lives in the US. He is particularly well-known for his guerrilla projections on official buildings purported to embody public values. Guerrilla, because his images were subversive and often projected without official permission. He sought, he explained, to unmask the buildings' existing rhetoric.

One of his first projections was a swastika on the façade of the South African embassy in London during Apartheid to implicate the British government and align them with the white Apartheid regime in South Africa. And to implicate the public building itself, which presented itself as an architectural emblem of moral value.

Later, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Wodiczko created a two-part projection in San Diego and Tijuana addressing the links between illegal immigration into the US and California’s economy, in which migrant labor plays a crucial role.

One projection is on the façade of a so-called Spanish style building in San Diego's Balboa Park, called the Museum of Man, which professes to be an anthropologically egalitarian repository of art and artisanry, but which Wodiczko sees as a muted celebration of western colonialism.

His projected image aligns a pair of white, male, well-groomed hands impatiently clasped, as if waiting for his meal. Above and to the right are two coarse outstretched hands -- manacled at the wrists -- but holding an ample basket of fruit, and, imprisoned as they are, ready to serve their colonialist master.

*

Rirkrit Tirivanija is a Thai artist. One of his installations consisted of the following: He bicycled around looking for space: empty warehouse or aircraft hangar, deserted K-Mart, abandoned Rite-Aid, haunted Burger King.

He rented the space and furnished it with stoves, cooking gas, freezers, fridges, microwaves, counters, bowls, cups, glasses, plastic cutlery, chopsticks, Tupperware, folding tables, chairs.
He purchased food: noodles, rice, potatoes, bread, soup, salad, tofu, fruit, green tea, bottled water, cocoa, curry spices. Comfort food.

He engaged the homeless as helpers.

Food prepared, he invited the homeless helpers along with the lined-up homeless to eat.
Continued through the day, into the night. Clean up, close for the night. Sleep on the premises.
Do the same thing for 60 days.

After 60 days he closed the space, got on his bicycle and looked for another empty warehouse or aircraft hangar, terrorized Rite-Aid, spooked McDonald's, gutted Gap, bombed-out Home Depot.
Select the space, rent it.

Feed the homeless for 60 days.

Close up, move on, find another space, repeat.

*

The preceding represents four examples of creating art in times of conflict. In every instance the art is problematic; not esthetic, as such; not even palpable in the instance of Tirivanija feeding the homeless.

What is the difference between art as it is usually constructed and what might be called crisis art, or cultural activism: the use of cultural means to effect social change or a wider social awareness?

Art that responds to a crisis is situational, hence created rapidly rather than painstakingly revised and refined.

Crisis art is directed rather than disinterested; more closely related to art as process than product.

Crisis art is keenly aware of text and context.

Crisis art often works best collaboratively.


Collaboration contests the auratic view of the artist? "Auratic," coined by Walter Benjamin, refers to the artificial elevation of the artist to a position above his or her fellows.

Crisis art is "immoral."

Georges Bataille insisted that the strongest art must function as an “immoral subversion of the existing order”; because "morality" is in the possession of the existing order, and as such is never what it professes to be.

Crisis art is (to quote a still fashionable term coined by the Russian critic Bakhtin), "dialogic".

The idea is not that the artist stands above the fray paring his fingernails, bemusedly observing his creations. Dialogic articulates the more humbling notion that the artist interacts, even integrates, with the community, on a largely equal basis, each affecting and affected.

Crisis artists must swallow the poison in order to reconstitute it. Expel it as art.

The poison, currently, includes our crazily spinning, electronic-obsessed, war-making culture and its profit-mad institutions; along with the rapidly worsening environmental crisis. The image of swallowing the poison and expelling it as art is shamanic.

But can art actually have any appreciable impact on the lives of humans who are oppressed, disenfranchised, struggling merely to survive? Can art affect cynical politicians and their corporate brethren?

There are precedents that were successful against great odds: Upton Sinclair's The Jungle; anti-slavery writings during the abolitionist period; French writers and artists helping to end the colonial war in Algeria; Solzhenitsyn's denunciation of Stalinism and the Gulags; Act-Up's culturally activist response to the demonizing of gay men during the AIDS crisis in the 80s and early 90s.

Do the kinds of strategies and calculations necessary for making and employing crisis art stand in opposition to the notion of the artist as dreamer, as creating from the deepest levels of consciousness?

Consider Goya, Blake and the French Revolution, the Mexican muralists, Grosz and Heartfield, Brecht, Picasso’s Guernica, B Traven, John Berger, Elsa Morante, Victor Serge, Clarice Lispector....

Surely these artists continued to imagine complexly, to -- as it were -- dream, even as they fought through their art against injustice?

Might socially activist art also be created for its own sake, its seeming ethical rightness, without calculating its effect?

If art of a certain strain is committed to process rather than product, it is especially difficult to sum up its final success. Was the art in the aftermath of Hiroshima successful? Was the art that characterized the takeover of Greenham Common successful? Were the arpilleras made by disenfranchised Chilean women successful?

Crisis art, dissident art, social activist art (largely synonymous) are perennial; one can't anticipate when an injustice or string of injustices, will invoke an art to register it.

But how will this art be appraised 40 years from now when the crisis that evoked it is no longer a factor?

Paradoxically, art produced rapidly under crisis conditions will sometimes have more lasting power and even esthetic appeal than the painstakingly created seemingly disinterested art that most people identify as quintessential. Crisis art has an energy and focus which more than compensate for its relative lack of refinement.

In the US there have been historical "moments" -- the Quakers, the Abolitionists and Transcendentalists, the Thirties Marxists, the Sixties counter-culture, Act-Up in the late Eighties and early Nineties -- but overall American writers have been contemptuous of socially-activist writing. It doesn't sell, it is more didactic than "esthetic." Moreover, why should artists be in a special position to address political crises?

Writers cultivate consciousness, contemplation, and in many instances learning. They view through a broader lens. If they have a reputation they can find a platform to make themselves heard and express their opinions precisely.

What good will it do? Wars, oppression, colonialism, profit-mania have been with us since human hegemony? And now authoritarian power is decentered, much less visible. Serious art of any kind has been rendered negligible in the market place, which in the US epitomizes the country's ethos.

With effort and intelligence, decentered power modules can be identified, as young dissidents and hackers have located and attempted to disable deliberately elusive nexuses of power and control.

Human history, however bloody and unjust, has not ceased; and, crucially, the planet we inhabit and have debauched is dying. Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries, with its people crammed into a delta of rivers that empties into the Bay of Bengal, which because of the Antarctic ice melt is behaving like an ocean, flooding ice paddies and entire villages. Animals and plants throughout the globe are becoming extinct rapidly. The sun, lacking sufficient protection from its ozone layer, has become toxic. Lethal bacterial agents set loose from leveled rain forests or industrialized seas migrate into the general population.

Possibly the hardest factor for concerned younger artists to accept is that there will always be an incommensurateness between their imaginative efforts and the result. The primary obligation is to not avert your eyes; to bear witness.


Harold Jaffe is the author of 18 books of fiction, "docufiction" and nonfiction, including most recently Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, Paris 60, and OD. Jaffe is editor of Fiction International.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Need a Writing Prompt?

There are two types of writers: Writers who use prompts to navigate past their blocks and writers who don't. It's entirely possible that you will be both types of writer at different phases of your career.

If you are in the "need a prompt" phase, why not subscribe to Laura Davis? Once you subscribe you will receive a weekly email newsletter with a prompt that's partly psychological - to help you learn more about your particular blocks. Here's the latest prompt:
The Writer's Journey Roadmap
August 30, 2011

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."

- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Today's Writing Prompt:

What keeps you from writing that shitty first draft?
Laura Davis is a professional writer's guide. Her Facebook fan page is here.

If you are not currently in the "need a prompt" phase of your writing career, consider yourself lucky,


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Blackness

FI's Blackness writing contest is deliberately elastic:

Skin


Sleep


Death




Meditation


Apocalypse


Birds falling from the sky, blanketing the sun


Love unloved


Obverse of white . . . . Contestants can take Blackness wherever they choose. In that regard, FI's editors will cede to them.

Deadline Aug. 31, 2011. Winners receive publication in Fiction International and $1000. Enter @ Submishmash.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

OD is being published

Harold Jaffe's newest volume of docufictions, OD, will be published in the Fall by Civil Coping Mechanism.

Each of the 13 docufictions features a well-known personage who either died of an overdose or was invested in "drugs" to the extent that they contributed to his/her death. Figures he addresses include: Billie Holiday, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Seberg, Diane Arbus, Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley, Walter Benjamin, Bela Lugosi, Jimi Hendrix, Abbie Hoffman, Mark Rothko, Lead Belly, Jim Jones (Jonestown), and Chet Baker.

If a potential reader wants a signed copy for the regular price, email Hal and he will ship it to you when it's published.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Blackness.

Fiction International is hosting a fiction (prose) writing contest intended to expose new talent to a critical audience of discerning readers. The contest is limited to writers who have no more than two published books.

The theme: BLACKNESS.  Submission period: February 1, 2011 - June 1, 2011.

Grand prize: $1000, plus publication in Fiction International for the prize-winner and two runners-up.

Final judge: Harold Jaffe, editor-in-chief, Fiction International.


Submit at Submishmash

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hal's readings

Hal is giving a reading next week at SDSU and in San Francisco. He will be reading some (not many) 50- or 100-word stories from a very recent volume called Induced Coma, an extension and variation of his volume Anti-Twitter which was published in 2010.

"In Anti-Twitter I adhered strictly to 50-word stories. In Induced Coma it is either 50 or 100 words. Most of the stories are found texts which I’ve altered or turned -- to tease out subtexts and contradictions."

Then he will read a number of short narratives from Paris 60, a sort of journal-slash-travel log he kept when he was in Paris in 2008 to greet the translation into French of one of his earlier books.

Paris 60 is based very loosely on Paris Spleen, a series of prose poems by Baudelaire published posthumously in 1869. The “60” in Paris 60 refers to 60 days, one entry per day.

The Green Arcade
1680 Market Street @ Gough
San Francisco CA 94102

SDSU's Living Writing series
Love Library
San Diego State University

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Trek Desking to Better Health, Episode 2: Ramping up

The broken part took nearly two weeks to arrive (after I was promised delivery in three days), but the technician showed up right on time and had the
treadmill up and running within an hour. In the interim, I reread the
instructions and realized that I need a dedicated, grounded circuit in which to
plug it so that when it inevitably fails (see Episode 1: Made in China) the
treadmill doesn’t electrocute me. This required a couple of hours of rearranging
of equipment, which made me once again realize that just about everything I own
runs on electricity. When the zombie apocalypse happens, all of this equipment
will be good for nothing except hurling at the zombies as they crash through
the door.

My first work session on the treadmill went surprisingly well. I was able to
get the hang of walking and typing at the same time very quickly. The main drawback of the treadmill is that upon starting and stopping, it makes an extremely loud beeping sound which
our dog Zachary associates with aforementioned zombie apocalypse. (Note to
exercise equipment designers: Is the only sound option available the same one
used for fire and smoke alarms? Really?) Equally unfortunate is the fact that
the treadmill will only run for 60 minutes at a time since presumably nobody
ever works out for more than an hour at once. I tried to make him get used to
it, but no luck. Every hour, the noise gave the poor guy a near heart attack
(and he’s too old for that much excitement). So, over the course of the
previous week and a half, I’ve gotten into the habit of letting the dog
outside, starting the treadmill, getting off, letting him back in, jumping back
on, then working/exercising for 59 minutes, jumping off, letting the dog out
until the timer goes off, restarting it, letting the dog back in. Repeat.

I went for two hours on my first day, then three the next, and have
gradually worked up to a high of five and a half hours, which I did yesterday
in two sessions. I had to buy new shoes on the second day because the crappy
old trainers, which I’ve had for years whose only use was on the elliptical machine at
the gym, were killing me. I went to Roadrunner Shoes in Greenlake where they do a lot of high
tech voodoo to help choose the right shoes, and I’ll say that voodoo do good. I
love these shoes. They are so well supported and cushioned, I feel like I’m
walking on baby butts. I will never wear them outside so as not to soil them,
but I wish I could have them implanted on my feet.

The only interruption in my daily use was the day I got sick last week, but
I was back on track the day afterward, and the exercise made me feel much
better. Other than the above, it’s been smooth sailing. I’m able to work, talk
on the phone, (ahem play video games), and there has been no
diminishment of a;lkdjf l;kajsdl;jd

Just kidding. No diminishment of accuracy. In fact, I think I’m doing better
work all around. (But perhaps this is just a delusion brought on by
exhaustion?)

The results I’ve noted so far from my Trek Desking:

1. I have much more energy than I did before,
2. I am thinking more clearly and tend to get bored less while working (I
know, it’s so alarming that I sometimes get bored at my job!),
3. I now find I want to stand rather than immediately try to find a place to
sit down,
4. I’m eating less and losing some weight already,
5. And many people think I’m a little crazy when I tell them about having this
work set up. Perhaps. Crazy like a fox with a higher metabolism.

 Total time on treadmill: 24 hours
 Total calories burned: approximately 4200

Monday, February 21, 2011

About Fiction International's Writing Contest

For over 40 years, Fiction International has published writers just like you -- intelligent, far-thinking, politically progressive, and stylistically innovative. We continue the tradition by giving away more than $1,000 in cash and publication in Fiction International to one deserving writer and publication (but not cash) to two others!

Deadline: June 1, 2011. Winners will be announced Fall, 2011.
Entry fee: $15.
Theme: BLACKNESS. The meaning of the theme is entirely up to you. Please do not submit any text not related to the theme.
To enter the Writing Contest, submit here.


PRIZES:

Grand Prize: $1,000 cash and publication in Fiction International. Two Honorable Mentions: Publication in Fiction International.


RULES:

You may enter as many manuscripts as you like.

We will only accept entries which are fiction, non-fiction, and indeterminant prose. No poetry will be accepted.

Enter online at Submishmash.

Your entry must be original, in English, and not previously published or accepted by any other publisher or producer at the time of submission.

We have set a wordcount limit of 2000 (approximately). Although we won't adhere to a strict word limit, any manuscript that egregiously exceeds the limit of 2000 will be disqualified.

JUDGING & NOTIFICATION:

Every entry will be read and evaluated by the judges. The top 20 entries (finalists) will be read by FI's Editor-in-Chief Harold Jaffe. The First Prize and Honorable Mentions will be selected from among the 20 finalist entries.

QUESTIONS?

Q: Is it okay to have illustration or pictures accompanying my submission?
A: Yes. Providing the artwork is original to you, submission of artwork as part of an entry will be accepted as long as it is part of a text and is not intended to substitute for text.

Q: If there is a word count, how many words am I allowed?
A: Approximately 2000.

Q: Are pen names allowed?
A: Pen names are fine. Write your pen name on all forms etc. so there is no mistakes on credits. Please be advised that we only need your real name if you are chosen as a winner (in order to issue prizes).

Q: What if I am not a U.S. resident?
A: Since we are named Fiction International, we encourage non-U.S. residents. All entry fees are due in U.S. Dollars.

Q: Is there an age limit for entrants?
A: No.

Q: Are there are any other limitations for entrants?
A: There are two limitations: (1) Because FI's editorial staff is also also judging the contest, staff and family members are not allowed to enter. (2) Because the contest is intended to encourage new writers, the contest is limited to writers who have published two books or fewer.

Q: What if I wanted to submit only part of my novel into the competition (to stay with in the maximum number of words)?
A: If you submit a portion of a novel, please understand that it will be judged as a complete story, not part of another work, so it needs to a complete story in and of itself.

Q: When will winners be notified?
A: Winners will be notified by email in Fall, 2011.

For additional questions, email Editor Harold Jaffe (hjaffe@mail.sdsu.edu).

PRIVACY PROMISE:

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Why I hate Valentine's Day

I know I'm not the only one out there who hates this holiday. Actually, I don't so much hate it as wish it would go away, and so I typically ignore it.

Thankfully, my wife is one of the rarest of women who a) says she doesn't care about Valentine's Day, and b) ACTUALLY doesn't care about Valentine's Day. It took me a few years of being with her to trust this fact. The day would go by, and lying in bed that night I would wait for her to start crying and then say, "I can't believe you didn't get me anything for Valentine's Day." To which I would have to reply, "But you said you didn't celebrate it." And then she'd say, "OF COURSE I DO! I just say that because I was testing your love for me." But it's never happened. Yet, at least.

The merchandising is part of my distaste for the holiday, which seems to me is second only to that of Christmas. It's not just the amount of advertising but the implicit extortion. "If you REALLY love your special someone, then prove it by buying them some very expensive flowers that will die, leaving you with a vase you never use for anything else." Or "Show her you love her by buying that enormous diamond ring she wants that will cost you more than your car and which some poverty-stricken African miner got paid a few dollars to dig out of a well with his bare hands while holding his breath underwater."

I was put off of Valentine's Day quite early. In elementary school, we prepared for Valentine's Day by decorating white paper sacks with construction hearts and glitter the day beforehand. These we taped to the front of our desks as cheery little mailboxes. We were then instructed to bring in our valentines the next day and sent home with a list of every child in class. Every child was to bring a valentine for every other child so nobody would feel left out. This was an ingenious plan except that in the few blocks between school and home, I lost my list.

I was mortified. I wasn't exactly Mr. Popular anyway, and this, I felt certain, would seal my fate. My solution at the time was very me. I told my mother, "Well, I'll just stay home from school tomorrow. You can say I'm sick." But my mother wasn't buying. She came up with a solution: "No, just write 'To a Boy' on half of the Valentines and 'To a Girl' on the other half. We have extra, so you won't run out of either." Even as a young child, I realized the flaw in this logic, which was that I would look like a FREAKING IDIOT. I pleaded with my mother to not make me go through with it and to keep me home from school instead, but she was adamant. To lessen the pain, she helped me fill them out. I have a vivid memory of her sitting next to me writing out the ones for the boys while I did the girls, feeling as though I may as well be issuing certificates of death to any possibility I would ever be liked by any one of these girls. (I wasn't wrong.)

I went to school the next day, taking the most circuitous route possible, hoping to be accosted by a stranger in a van with candy or be run over by same, but no such luck. Instead, I got to school, went into class, and sat at my desk, dreading what I knew what was to come. When the teacher had us distribute our valentines, we all got out of our desks and in a flurry of excited chatter, all of the kids deposited their cards, and then rushed back to their desks to open the ones in their bags. It didn't take long before the first person, a girl I liked, in fact, read hers aloud. "To a GIRL?!" The quality of female indignation in her tone was one I'd become intimately familiar with over the course of my adolescence and adult life, but that was the first time I remember hearing it delivered so well. And then it was repeated, by both boys and girls, for the next hour, as I sat in my desk, slouching, trying hard to disappear. I've never felt much differently about the holiday since.

So, fuck you, Valentine's Day. Love, a Boy

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Trek Desking to Better Health, Episode 1: Made in China

Some goddamn assembly required
Desk work has a number of drawbacks, the primary one being that it makes for a sedentary lifestyle. Even if you go to the gym (and I try, I try), sitting for eight or more hours a day just takes a toll on the human body, especially the human body past 40 years of age. So, after a lot of research, I decided to purchase a Trek Desk (http://amzn.to/fwTKvE) and a treadmill (http://amzn.to/i4m6Q3) so that, when I'm working at home, I can get exercise instead of allowing gravity, inertia, and a slowing metabolism turn me into this: (http://bit.ly/haW1p7).

The Trek Desk and treadmill arrived a couple of weeks ago via annoyed UPS man, and I assembled the desk a few days later only to find HOLY CRAP THAT'S BIGGER THAN I EXPECTED. (It did, however, have all the parts included and seems quite sturdy.) My study at home is not large and contained approximately a thousand books, a large "ordinary" desk, a bunch of guitars and music equipment, and sundry other toys and necessities for the 43-year-old adolescent, so it became immediately apparent that things had to change. One of the things I did was to purge half of my books and give them to charity (I hear the plaintive wail of several people who would've liked to have some of them, but I didn't have the patience or time to deal with that, sorry. I've instead increased the literacy of Seattle's homeless population, who may be some of the most literate in the country already.) I also had to take down shelving, which required me to paint my study for the first time in about six years.

So, after a weekend of industry, the desk is in place and last night my lovely wife and I assembled the treadmill. As an aside, I blame Ikea for making the Allen wrench the tool of choice for home assembly. The tool is ingenious for manufacturers because it costs virtually nothing to make and give away, but it is annoying to use IMHO especially if you're assembling something without the clearance to turn the wrench a full 360 degrees, meaning you have to put it in, turn a little, take it out, move the wrench, put it in, turn a little, repeat (sounds a little like something from the Kama Sutra, now that I write it out).

Once assembled (about an hour later because they didn't include the manual in the box and I had to get it off of the Internet--and it still wasn't complete), I plugged the treadmill in and VOILA! Nothing. No lights, no music, no nothing. (I didn't actually expect the music.) I then spent the next hour weaving a web of curse words and drinking a couple of glasses of wine while I tried to troubleshoot the problem. Finally figured it out and had to order a replacement part over the phone. Unfortunately, since it is one of the hardest parts to address, a technician has to come out to replace the part once it arrives. He'll be calling me within 48 hours for an appointment, which may be days later.

Total time on treadmill: 0 hours
Total calories burned: 0 (unless you count calories burned screaming and restraining myself from tearing the treadmill into pieces)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Blackness. And Publication. What more can you ask for?

Fiction International is hosting a fiction (prose) writing contest in Spring 2011. The contest is intended to expose new talent to a critical audience of discerning, literary readers, and is limited to writers who have no more than two published books.

The theme is BLACKNESS (FI always has a theme), and there's a 2000 word limit for entries. The submission period is: February 1, 2011 - June 1, 2011.

Entries will be read by Fiction International editors and comments will be returned to the entrants. The top 20 entries will be read by FI editor-in-chief Harold Jaffe (who will select the winners). The grand-prize submission will be published in the 2012 volume of Fiction International and the author will be awarded a $1000 cash prize. There will also be two honorable mentions that will be published in the 2012 edition of Fiction International.

Winner will be announced Fall 2011. Go to http://fictioninternational.submishmash.com/Submit to sign up for the contest.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aesthetic Wit(h)nessing in the Era of Trauma


I came across a strong article in EurAmerica (Dec. 2010, Vol 40, No 4, pp 829-886) today by
Griselda Pollock. She writes about Bracha Ettinger and the need for artists to approach their work with "ethical commitment" given the preponderance of trauma in the 20th century. A sample of Ettinger's art is provided here. The abstract is below.

Abstract
Israeli/French artist and psychoanalytical theorist, Bracha Ettinger has declared: "In art today we are moving from phantasm to trauma. Contemporary aesthetics is moving from phallic structure to matrixial sphere." In analysing the significance of this claim, this article will bring together the legacies of feminist, post-colonial cultural theories in relation to the current focus on trauma, memory and aesthetics in an international context. The understanding of the twentieth century as a century of catastrophe demands theoretical attention be given to concepts such as trauma, as artists with deep ethical commitments bring issues of traumatic legacies to the surface of cultural awareness and potentially provide through the aesthetic encounter a passage from the traces of trauma. This article introduces, explains and analyses the contribution of Bracha Ettinger as a major theoretician of trauma, aesthetics and above all sexual difference. In addition, it elaborates on her parallel concept of a matrixial aesthetic practice, enacted through a post-conceptual painting, that retunes the legacies of technologies of surveillance and documentation/archiving, as a means to effect the passage to a future that accepts the burden of sharing the trauma while processing and transforming it. The article demonstrates the dual functions of Ettingerian theories of a matrixial supplement to the phallocentric Imginary and Symbolic in relation to the major challenges we face as we seek to understand, acknowledge and move on from the catastrophes that render our age post-traumatic.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Enragez-vous!

A political essay by a 93-year-old former diplomat and resistance fighter has been at the top of the best seller list in France for weeks. The essay calls on French citizens to get outraged about social injustices. The World's Anchor Lisa Mullins talks to the author, Stephane Hessel. Listen here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Name Your Price

Genre fiction—such as fantasy, mystery, romance, and thriller—is written for mass consumption. I think we can all agree on this point. The decisions made in character, setting, and plot must adhere to certain conventions dictated by the genre and market. A recent trend popping up in genre fiction is to auction a character's name to raise funds for a charity. For example, the going rate for naming a murder victim, villain, or other character in one of mystery writer Thomas Perry's books is $275.15. If you're looking for an unusual holiday gift, then this might fit the bill. The auction ends on December 20th on Ebay. All proceeds resulting from the auction go to the non-profit law firm First Amendment Project. Another author participating in the auction is Andrew Sean Greer. He provides descriptions of the characters in his stories that need names. Two examples are "a soldier who has lost his hands and sight in WWI" and a woman who will be "a drunken bohemian at a party in 1918 Greenwich Village." The going rate is $305 per character. (See http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/11/become-a-fictional-character-free-speech.html for more information.)

Question—How much would a character name in Fiction International cost the winning bidder?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Fiction as Exception" by Bernardo Carvalho

Today I read an exceptional essay by Brazilian writer Bernardo Carvalho titled "Fiction as Exception" (Luso-Brazilian Review (47:1)). The upcoming theme for Fiction International is "DV8," and I found myself reflecting on Carvalho's constant attempts to subvert what he sees as the tropes of "best selling" or so-called "non-serious-fiction" by intentionally creating works of "experimental" fiction.

Perhaps Carvalho says it best toward the end of his essay: "Being a reactive writer, who often works out of tantrums, against what I see around me, I could not refrain from ending up associating fiction (a very particular kind of fiction, I must say, "experimental" fiction for the want of a better word) with authorship and rupture. I believe this is the main conscious motive behind my writings: to search for literature where it is least expected, to turn what would be considered flawed by collective standards into my own literary qualities." (page 8).

I believe it is in this spirit of experimental, ruptured, and flawed writing that Fiction International operates.

An excerpt of Carvalho's essay is below.

from FICTION AS EXCEPTION by Bernardo Carvalho
Luso-Brazilian Review 47:1

"What I am trying to say here - and this is what I really believe in as a writer - is something quite evident, but which is progressively being questioned from different fronts and angles: literature is the result of a subjective, singular and individual act. It is created out of conventions and, in the case of the modern western tradition, conventions which were often conceived against conventions. The problem now is that a new generation is coming of age under the spell of a general corporate ideology in which you do not want to use art and literature as a means against conventions anymore, but rather against your own capacity to break with the conventions. You should not question the net. It has become a second nature. It aims at not having anything outside itself. You can be a self-proclaimed writer in the internet with no original writing, reproducing what is being done everywhere around you, publicizing your personality instead of going against the conventions of your own time (in which case you probably would not be read on the net). It has become more important to be socially recognized as a writer than to write unexpected work, to have a function than to create rupture. Functionally, it is as if there were no conventions anymore and art (or literature) was just a natural act of expression and creativity which could be done, democratically, by anyone, and evaluated and shared by objective and measurable criteria. Of course, these criteria can only be given by the market (how many people read and praise a book or a blog) or by the previous and palpable reality a book represents (thus the hegemony of non-fiction and of fiction that expresses the direct experience of its author). By this logic, what makes a good book is less the ability of an author to invent, to imagine and to create new unexpected things or to go against conventional consensus than the ability of the author to share his or her own life experiences and to represent and reassert the world we already share, see and understand.

Being a reactive writer, who often works out of tantrums, against what I see around me, I could not refrain from ending up associating fiction (a very particular kind of fiction, I must say, "experimental" fiction for the want of a better word) with authorship and rupture. I believe this is the main conscious motive behind my writings: to search for literature where it is least expected, to turn what would be considered flawed by collective standards into my own literary qualities.

Recently, after hearing another Brazilian writer say that literature does not search for truth, as science does, but that it is the representation and incorporation of different discourses of reality, I understood more clearly that in fact the literature I am interested in is, on the contrary, the result of a search for truth, for a truth that is not in the world we see. It is a literature more interested in the invention of what has yet to be created than with representation of what we already recognize around us. Of course, this invention can sometimes only be conceived by allusion. It is a tentative act, which strives to say things that cannot be said, a literature (and now I am speaking about my books) that uses the conventions of realism to show the frailty of these same conventions. It is a literature that rejects the already established poetic and metaphoric standards, sometimes through apparently banal, neutral and non-literary language, as it tries to show literature where it is least expected. It is a literature, as you may have understood by now, fascinated by paradoxes. It is a working-process literature, as if truth could only happen in movement, before being said and understood, and could only make sense before making sense, before being unanimously accepted as truth.

Of course, there is in these books a consciousness of our time, of humanity as a self-destructive element. They are books informed by a kind of ill-resolved humanism, in which the consciousness of our own evil is not enough to make us refrain from it, since it is at the same time the reason for our immediate survival. Writing about Brazil, in his The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald, the late German writer, tells us that "Our propagation on earth comes with the carbonization of superior vegetable species and, in a more general way, the unstoppable burning of every combustible substance (...) everything is combustion, and combustion is the intimate principle of every object made by us." This consciousness of the human being as paradox is behind the narrative structures of my novels and the characters I am interested in, fighting their own conventions from within, in order to see what their condition forbids them to see. And it brings me to the place where I recognize the artistic act and its tragic nature, being the herald of a consciousness that is never enough, as if looking for an unconceivable truth that could save us from what we are.

I am not a religious person, I do not believe in any god, and I do not abide by any church, but I recognize the religious aspect of what I have just said. In fact, I would agree if you told me that it has to do with faith. Faith in literature as a way of transcendence, of widening the world we live in and its understandings - not necessarily with good will and good universal feelings that become commonplace and therefore can be easily marketed, but by tackling our most contradictory, paradoxical and obscure spots. This is what I call literary truth, the product of authorship, of an individual subjectivity that cannot be unanimously or consensually taken, nor can it be conceived before its own creation."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to not succeed in zine publishing

Fiction International is (naturally!) interested in publishing trends. This article from The Atlantic (of all places) provides a how-to guide for publishing gonzo zines, 21st Century style. Too bad the trio aren't as interested in distribution and marketing; if they were they would have a formula for success.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mashups and Mixtapes

I'm enjoying Rich Medina's mashup album titled "The King Meets the President." It is available for free download at http://www.soulculture.co.uk/blogs/music-blog/newmusic/free-downloads/michael-jackson-meets-fela-kuti-mashup-album-the-king-meets-the-president-in-africa/ . I highly recommend it if you are a fan of Michael Jackson or Fela Kuti or both. Imagine Michael singing his hits with Fela's Afrobeat orchestra as the backing band and you get the idea.

The mash-up is not a new concept in art. Simply put, it is the recombination of two existing works of art to make a new one. In the case of dance music the mashup often involves pairing two unlikely artists, such as rapper Notorious BIG and crooner Frank Sinatra. (For some fun examples of mashups please visit the following site: http://screwattack.com/blogs/Thunderbirds-blog/Thunderbirds-Top-10-Mashups.) It could be argued that the mashup is a forced and intentional act of dialectical creation.

A close parallel to the mashup in literature is William Burroughs' fold-In technique of poetry where he takes two pieces of printed text, folds them in half, and then reads the two halves together as if they were a single narrative. Burroughs himself was inspired by the Dadaists. Of course making the leap from Burroughs to Rich Medina is not without complication, but the similarities between the mashup and the fold-in are undeniable.

Meghan Langley recently wrote a profile of Fela Kuti in Peace Review (2010, Vol 22, No 2, pp. 199-204), which provides an overview of his early life in Nigeria, education in England, political awakening in the US through contact with Angela Davis and other Black Panthers, and musical accomplishment in Africa. Langley writes, "(Fela) used his lyrics to protest and the instruments to make you listen" (p 202). Are writers limited to only using "lyrics" and not "instruments"? The answer is certainly No.

This brings me to Kenzo Digital's remix album titled "City of God's Son." It is available for free download at http://www.cityofgodson.com/. It is essentially a mixtape of New York's most famous MCs, such as Nas, Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah, and Notorious BIG. What makes this mixtape different is that Kenzo Digital weaves in dialogue from actors, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Lawrence Fishburne, Delroy Lindo, and Al Pacino to create a cohesive story.

In short, Kenzo Digital has produced a work of spoken-word prose. Amidst the soundscape of gun shots, sirens, music, and dialogue, salsa great Joe Bataan narrates the mixtape by reading original prose by Kenzo Digital. This mosaic of voices and sounds coalesces into a type of noir novella. It is heard instead of read, but the characters, plot, and setting operate in the same manner as a conventional story. In fact Kenzo Digital promotes the album as the first "Beat Cinematic" and "viral musical sound art."

Just as Burroughs' use of the "fold-in" is analogous to the mashup so too is his use of the "cut-up" similar to the mixtape. The cut-up technique involves fragmenting a complete work of prose and re-assembling the pieces to make a new text. This is exactly what Kenzo Digital accomplishes in "City of God's Son" with music, film, and original prose narrative. Again, the leap from Burroughs to Kenzo Digital is not without complication, but the parallels in method are undeniable.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 5

In the final excerpt to appear on this blog, our wanderer (Harold Jaffe) spends an evening being civilized by a family of Parisians.

4.15 Deep River


Listening to Vivaldi's Stabat Mater on my iPod as I reprise yesterday evening with new friends.

This version of Stabat Mater features the Japanese contralto Naoko Ihara, which in turn reminds me of the Japanese Christian Shusaku Endo's last novel Deep River, about a group of Japanese pilgrims traveling to the holy Hindu city of Varanasi.

It is the homely, seemingly misbegotten Japanese who makes the final offering, carrying the dead and dying "untouchables" to the River Ganges so their immolated ashes might merge with those who came before and were yet to come.

Ynez and Guillaume Deveraux live in a spacious apartment on the top floor of a Haussmann-era building directly across from the Montparnasse Cemetery.

The apartment was donated rent-free for as long as Ynez continued her employment as manager in the state-run Ministry of Health.

Her husband Guillaume is an artist with a cramped studio in the apartment.

At my request he shows me electronic representations of his work -- impressive abstracts which resemble both Action Painting and the calligraphic paintings of Mark Tobey, who studied Buddhism in Japan.

They have two daughters, Celeste 11, and Marie-Jeanne 3. Celeste has Down syndrome and is a grand mal epileptic, though she hasn't suffered a seizure in nearly a year.

I meet Ynez for the first time downstairs by the elevator, 7:30 PM.

Slender, attractive, somewhat tense, she is only now returning from her job; I am the invited guest.

When we arrive in the apartment, Marie-Jeanne runs to greet her mother then stops as she looks up at the large stranger.

I stoop low to greet her and she kisses me on both cheeks.

Ynez then goes to the sofa in front of the bay window where Celeste is sprawled with her head turned to the side and the foot of a rubber doll in her mouth.

Ynez sits and takes Celeste in her arms, whispering tenderly to her.

I sit on the same sofa.

Guillaume enters, shakes my hand, kisses Ynez, smoothes Celeste's hair, then picks up the three-year-old who is staring at me with a wild surmise.

Guillaume pours the red wine but Ynez is still caressing and whispering to Celeste.

Meanwhile, Marie-Jeanne has carried over her small, red and gold tin box and is making offerings to me.

She places a tiny pink bead in my palm, then an orange ribbon, then a chestnut, a silver bead, a very small bit of jade, another ribbon, a feather.

She delivers them one by one, carefully selecting from her box.

She has created an impressive still-life in my wide palm.

After nearly an hour of quiet talking, Celeste, who had not even turned her head to me, suddenly leans all her weight on me, reaches back and takes my hand which she grasps firmly.

Noting this, Marie-Jeanne settles her tiny self on my knee.

Ynez smiles.

She, the mother, looks lovely and weary.

The late sun slanting through the bay window lights her eyes and forehead.


This is the last of the Paris 60 excerpts - to appear on this blog, that is. If you would like to read more excerpts from this amazing collection, go to his website and click the word "docufiction."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 4

One cannot spend any time in Paris - not one day, not one life - without attending the baguette.

4.11 Baguette


Van Gogh, who lived most of his fated life in France, shot himself in the chest, but somehow couldn't kill himself correctly.

He managed to stand and walk to his cot, where he died a few days later, head to the wall.

His whispered last words to Theo, his brother, were reportedly: "La tristesse durera toujours."

Sadness will last forever.

Consider the baguette which, it seems, has been with us forever.

Only in France; imitations can't rival it.

Perhaps the Italians come closest, though their "baguette" is prepared differently.

Unlike, say, Chartreuse, the liqueur composed by monks with its undisclosed ingredients, the ingredients of the baguette de campagne are eminently simple: flour, yeast, water, salt.

The alchemy is in the preparation, and perhaps the physical context.

A baguette purchased in the Montorgeuil quartier of Paris is not likely to taste the same in Glasgow, Prague, or Beverly Hills.

The baguette itself is rarely bagged.

Ordinary paper, even a strip of newspaper, wrapped round its center, or no paper at all.

Hot from the oven is best, but even unheated, the trick is for the purchaser not to devour it before reaching his apartment.

The admonition applies to children, adults, and seniors.

To bankers, gangsters, politicians, the unemployed.

Have your chauffeur lock the baguette in the limo's trunk.

Break it in half and stick it in your bicycle bag; make sure you zip the bag, and whistle all the way back to your flat.

Break it in thirds and fit them into your pockets.

Stretch it around your head like a halo.

(Un ange passe)

Light a cigarette and keep it in your lips until you reach home with baguette intact.

Make a vow to fast for the seven minutes it takes to walk from the boulangerie to your flat.

You're back home at last.

Sit at the plain wood table, such as Vincent would paint, and break bread with your lover or alone.

Have some vin de maison.

Like the young priest in Robert Bresson's 1950 Journal d'un Curé de Campagne, adapted from the Bernanos novel.



The priest, unjustly maligned by his parishioners, takes nothing but bread and red wine.

Imitation of Christ.

Contre la tristesse.

Sadness that will last forever.

Please tell me, pale reader, how Bresson's introverted young priest, with a sensibility much like Vincent's, rejected in his country parish, unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer and soon to die, whispers these last words to a seminary friend: All is grace?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 3

After recovering from the Parisian toilet, our intrepid author takes to the streets in search of Baudelaire.

4.6 Solitude


Baudelaire in Paris Spleen goes on about the virtues of solitude.

This was naturally before the advent of technology.

After despising Parisians with whom you're compelled to interact daily, returning to your flat at dusk and securing the locks on the door would seem reassuring.

The chalice of laudanum, half-open bottle of absinthe, and hashish laced with opium are arguably more productive than surfing the Net or texting a chum.

I've been isolated in New York, Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Mexico City, Quito, Tokyo, Singapore, New Delhi, Paris.

Paris is the most evocative city in which to be alone.

It is only the French who admit (or do not deny) the fou and folle.

The mad and palpably deviant.

I don't mean the functionally mad: bankers, corporate chieftains, uniformed child-murderers.

Those are welcome everywhere in the global village.

I mean the dysfunctional who smell bad, can't decipher the métro, do nothing but dream and rant.

True, Sade was imprisoned and Artaud institutionalized, but there were mitigating circumstances.

Parisians cross the boulevard at the red.

Drive their cars and motorcycles on the sidewalks.

Litter the Bois de Bologne with condoms.

Love their dogs but don't pick up the dog shit.

They welcome, at least in principle, the transgressive tradition in art and letters.

After a bad day with bad people, cross-dressing or undressing, getting high on anything.

Then going out in the Paris dark to a film or gallery opening and groping the human or sub-human to your left.

Stabbing him in the thigh with the poisoned tip of your umbrella.

It's a rush, cathartic, eminently satisfying.

And Paris is the only major city I know that grants you your donnée, won't even turn around to glare.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 2

For the second excerpt (from Paris 60) Harold Jaffe describes a bit of culture shock in the men's room.

4.2 Toilet


The French struck gold with the bidet, but now it's time to move on.

Show a hetero American male a bidet and he'll laugh or try to shit in it.

Enter a typical French café and the toilet is likely to be down among the catacombs.

Where it's not the squatting-on-your heels contraption, miserably close to your dung and the dung of those who squatted before you, it is a toilet without a seat and likely without toilet paper.

I am a claustrophobe.

Unlike Sarko, je suis grand.

In one of the old cafes near République, I squeezed my way down into the basement toilet which was about the size of the coffin in the 1988 Dutch-French film The Vanishing.

As I was using the clownishly loud dryer to blow my hands dry, I heard a sptttt, the dryer shorted, suddenly it was black as Hades.

The space was so tight I could scarcely turn around.

Moreover I forgot where on the door the lock was, which I spasmodically felt around for with both hands.

Next I was violently shaking and kicking the door, shouting, swearing, not in English but in "American" -- as the French put it.

Finally I more or less pulled myself together.

Remembered that the lock was a sliding bolt close to the top of the door.

Slid it open, bent my head, left.

Parisians make a point of being too smooth to acknowledge deviation, but the patrons turned to me questioningly as I climbed the stairs.

They had to have heard the racket I was making.

Under my breath I muttered: You're lucky.

I could be one of those American mass murderers -- in which case your Parisian asses would be escargot.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Harold Jaffe's Paris 60, part 1

Harold Jaffe, editor of Fiction International, will have a new book out (pub. Civil Coping Mechanism) in September, 2010. Called Paris 60, it was written in 2008 while he was in Paris to greet the French publication of 15 Serial Killers. It's loosely modeled on Baudelaire's Paris Spleen. This is the first of five excerpts we will publish here.

3.29 Oyster

More than two years since I saw him last, the Moroccan-French waiter in the small oyster bar near the St Paul métro stop in the Marais.

Recognize each other at once, shake hands.

After I speak friendly words he corrects my French.

Even the pissed-on ex-colonized are language pedants in Paris.

Never mind the Starbucks-McDonalds low-grade infection, Parisian cuisine is comme toujours, but expensive, and the dollar, formerly king, is not just shit, but reeks of it.

Maghreb French boys do the hip-hop thing -- rhythmic walk, sideways cap, gang-banger hand-signals.

Hand-signal -- the other hand strokes the mobile.

Myself, aimlessly walking, Baudelaire's flaneur, post-millennium, sans hashish.

Sidestepping shoppers, not catching an eye, nearly everyone tonguing their mobile.

Pause at a café for a Pastis.

No more colorful Gitanes or Gauloises packets laid on the cafe table.

Unexpectedly, the French have followed the US anti-smoking route, even as the streets and highways are congested, polluted.

Ah, but the métro is still a Cartesian marvel of efficiency.

Underpaid transit workers are threatening to strike.

In solidarity with university students who now pay more for less.

The strikers will ritually take over the streets.

In this 40th anniversary, books on the student almost-revolution in May 68 are prominently displayed in the bookstore windows.

No correspondence between Soixante-huit and Sarko's current repression.

Régis Debray, onetime revolutionary who fought with Che in Bolivia, has published his memoirs to critical acclaim.

They too are featured in bookstores.

Debray has rotated 180 degrees and now despises Che, Fidel, Mao.

Scion of a high-toned French family, Debray is proud to have finally acknowledged his birthright.

Revolution, even in this country of Communards, has devolved into a noun like "archeology" or "Social Darwinism."

Saturday, May 29, 2010

First light,Vegas: A Love Letter

The sun stumbles over the horizon in his wrinkled suit and pukes up dawn onto the Strip. A suffocating cacophony of traffic is in the air, as if it has forever been, like prehistoric birdsong. You squint against the bleak, sun washed streets. All is anticlimax outside the casino. A siren cuts through the air, opening a psychic wound: someone somewhere is dying. Humanity's pulse never fails to beat. This is a rude understanding in the land of suspended reality. In daylight, the high life appears to the eye like ordinary, pathetic debauchery and excess, so you retreat into the sanctity of the casino's perpetual night.

It takes battalions to cater to the whim of wealth and fantasy. Those who work here are from somewhere else, like those who come to play, to risk their wages and transcend the labor it took to earn them. Nothing makes a man feel less bound to debt and wage slavery than to lose money with impunity on games of chance.

As in the penitentiary, you meet no one's eyes here. To look at the eyes reminds the dead of life, threatens the resolve and perpetuation of fantasy, and, as the aborigine fears his soul stolen by a camera's lens, here people are afraid you’ll take their luck. All are wary. Suspicion is constant: a handshake, a nod, a smile is the prelude to a con, a ruthless seduction, a threat.

The sterile casino air dries the pores and sinuses and is infused with extra oxygen to give the pep to stay awake longer and lose more money. There are no clocks, no natural light, no unmanufactured fragrance. Without question or complaint, patrons wait on line to feed on acres of mediocre buffet food containing more preservatives than nutrients, served beneath sneeze guards.

Gluttony, avarice, sloth, vanity, lust, wrath, pride can be sated for a price, but for all the money one throws down or away, only imposters of love, empathy, trust, brotherhood are on offer. Despite this, because the city cultivates the rash, the impetuous, and the ill-advised: many marry impulsively here in one of quickie wedding chapels built alongside adult video boutiques, peep shows, and strip clubs.

Many come here to escape their normal lives, to act as children with adult desires and capacities. This is the danger. This city encourages the worst impulses and desires of the inner child: immediate gratification, constant entertainment and stimulus, an unrelenting attention to want. As long as the money holds out, the puerile fantasies and fixations and impulses need not be checked. Those who are able strive to extend the mechanical pony ride for as long as the quarters hold out. Even for a lifetime.

Do you submit to the fantasy--the fantasy that you are king of the city as you look out from of your hotel room of Bally's, as if from a penthouse of power? You are expected to do nothing here but feed the beast. You are not expected to work, to think, to strive, to build, to care. Only to eat and drink, sleep, and spend. Smoke or screw 'em if you got 'em. Fill your senses with the junk food of lights and chips and booze.

You walk away from the casino with a crank addict's hop and buzz but your body is exhausted. Your instincts about numbered spots-of-cards, dice, flashing slots are sharp and heightened. You can figure the odds of thrown dice or spinning wheels. You understand the odds of your actions here, but the statistics of your other life are a mystery: What are the odds of dying in an automobile today? Of hearing a kind word from someone you care about? Of losing a loved one? Your lover lies sleeping on the hotel bed behind you. When she wakes, what will be her words? Her desires? Her needs? Will she want food or sex or kindness? Solitude or society? No way to know, no way to predict. She might wake, pack a bag and never see you again. She might invite you into the bed.

These are the subtle but profound statistics that reveal the games of chance in the casinos below as the mere child's play that they are.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Writer's Technique in Thirteen Theses by Walter Benjamin

The world is crammed full of people (and books and videos and seminars) offering advice to writers. Talking and reading about writing are inescapable if you are a writer by vocation or avocation, but in my experience, they're usually also a diversion from the act itself. Over the past decades, I've no doubt read hundreds of pages and spent many, many hours listening to (and spouting my own) meta-commentary about writing, and much of it has been soothing in the way that therapy or AA meetings can be, but by and large it's been of little use in any practical sense for me. Exceptions exist, and this passage from Walter Benjamin is a noteworthy one. I return to this often, and I find it a useful guide. Perhaps you will as well.


Post No Bills


The Writer's Technique in Thirteen Theses

I. Anyone intending to embark on a major work should be lenient with himself and, having completed a stint, deny himself nothing that will not prejudice the next.

II. Talk about what you have written, by all means, but do not read from it while the work is in progress. Every gratification procured in this way will slacken your tempo. If this regime is followed, the growing desire to communicate will become in the end a motor for completion.

III. In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an étude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.

IV. Avoid haphazard writing materials. A pedantic adherence to certain papers, pens, inks is beneficial. No luxury, but an abundance of these utensils is indispensable.

V. Let no thought pass incognito, and keep your notebook as strictly as the authorities keep their register of aliens.

VI. Keep your pen aloof from inspiration, which it will then attract with magnetic power. The more circumspectly you delay writing down an idea, the more maturely developed it will be on surrendering itself. Speech conquers thought, but writing commands it.

VII. Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Literary honour requires that one break off only at an appointed moment (a mealtime, a meeting) or at the end of the work.

VIII. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written. Intuition will awaken in the process.

IX. Nulla dies sine linea – but there may well be weeks.

X. Consider no work perfect over which you have not once sat from evening to broad daylight.

XI. Do not write the conclusion of a work in your familiar study. You would not find the necessary courage there.

XII. Stages of composition: idea – style – writing. The value of the fair copy is that in producing it you confine attention to calligraphy. The idea kills inspiration, style fetters the idea, writing pays off style.

XIII. The work is the death mask of its conception.

One-Way Street, trans. Edmund Jephcott, Selected Writings, Volume 1: 1913-1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge: Belknap P of Harvard UP, 1996) 458-9.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

D V 8

For an issue on DEVIATE (DV8) Fiction International will read fiction, non-fiction and indeterminate prose between 9/1 and 12/15, 2110. Submit hardcopy texts or visuals (with SASE) to:

Harold Jaffe
Editor, Fiction International
Dept of English
San Diego State University
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-6020.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Donald Barthelme's reading list

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989) is known as the "father of flash fiction" because his stories typically avoid traditional plot structures, relying instead on a steady acculumation of seemingly-unrelated detail. By subverting the reader's expectations through constant non sequiturs, Barthelme creates a hopelessly fragmented verbal collage reminiscent of such modernist works as T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land and James Joyce's Ulysses, whose linguistic experiments he often challenged.

Certain parallels have also been drawn between Barthelme and Franz Kafka. However, Barthelme's fundamental skepticism and irony distanced him from the modernists' belief in the power of art to reconstruct society, leading most critics to class him as a postmodernist writer.

Literary critics have noted that Barthelme, like the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, whom he admired, plays with the meanings of words, relying on poetic intuition to spark new connections of ideas buried in the expressions and conventional responses.

The critic George Wicks called Barthelme "the leading American practitioner of surrealism today . . . whose fiction continues the investigations of consciousness and experiments in expression that began with Dada and surrealism a half century ago." On the other hand, he has been described by Josephine Henden (Harper's) as an "angry sado-masochist."

Read him (or read about him), and decide for yourself.



Saturday, February 13, 2010

Anti-Twitter is now on sale

Jaffe's newest book, Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories is now on sale - just in time for his presentation at the Google Authors Series on Friday, Feb 19, at noon, in San Francisco.

The Authors@Google program "brings authors of all stripes to Google for informal talks centering on their recently published books.... Googlers are treated to readings of everything from serious literature and political analysis to pioneering science fiction and moving personal memoirs; past participants have ranged from novelist Salman Rushdie and economist Jeffrey Sachs to journalist Bob Woodward and U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain."

Monday, February 8, 2010

One writer fights the Indian Wars in her own little way

This weekend the New York Times (enjoy it while you still can) printed an article about the effect of the Twilight books/films on the Quileute people. By using them in her books, Stephenie Meyer inadvertently renewed the 200-year-and-counting war which has been waged against all Native American cultures. Does anyone from Team Jacob support the Quileute with their merchandise purchases? Does Stephenie with her book sales?
"To millions of 'Twilight' fans, the Quileute are Indians whose (fictional) ancient treaty transforms young males of the tribe into vampire-fighting wolves. To the nearly 700 remaining Quileute Indians, 'Twilight' is the reason they are suddenly drawing extraordinary attention from the outside — while they themselves remain largely excluded from the vampire series' vast commercial empire.

Just last month, MSN.com issued an apology to the Quileute for intruding on its territory while videotaping a 'Twilight' virtual tour in September. MSN.com sought permission from the Chamber of Commerce in nearby Forks, Wash., but didn’t pay the same courtesy to the Quileute."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Go to Hell - with Dante

Want to create a course that might have students - especially male students - reading Dante's Inferno? Link it to a video game.

In the video game Dante is no longer a reedy, introspective poet but a knight who returns home from the Crusades to find that his beloved Beatrice has been brutally murdered. Her innocent soul has been taken captive by Lucifer, and Dante must chase the archfiend into hell, fending off wave after wave of advancing demons with a mighty scythe.

. . .

"A great intellectual property can live a second or third time in new media, because it gives you a head start."