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The Way the World Ends

February 5, 2015 | by

Being the last man on Earth.

From In the Mouth of Madness, 1981.

On a recent Sunday evening, trying to relax, I turned on the television and saw an ad for a new comedy series called The Last Man on Earth. It wasn’t clear how everyone else had died.

I had learned what I needed to know, or had remembered it: television does not relax me. I turned the television off, took an Ativan, and listened to The Teddy Charles Tentet, a terrific jazz record.

Phil Miller is the last man on earth—which makes him the world’s greatest handyman—world’s greatest athlete—[etc.]

The last man on earth.

But of course one is not the Last Man on Earth. There are other people, equal claimants to the Earth. It can be vexing to share it with them. Read More »

Turkey in a Suitcase

October 8, 2013 | by


“To define terms at the outset, this will not be a novel so much as a series of notes toward one. Nevertheless pay attention.” —Barry N. Malzberg, Galaxies, 1975

I began vomiting somewhere over Turkmenistan. But it was not until the second day on the ground in Benares that I became desperately ill, losing a quarter of a pound an hour every hour for forty hours. “I figured you would be all right in the end,” Jamie told me after the ordeal was over. “Then again, I have seen patients die, and that is more or less what it looks like.”

From my India notebook:

A pair of mouse turds on the table. Amazing to think that I ever planned to write about this place. Why not spend ten years becoming better acquainted with my own country. And spend more time with S, you fool, what is it you think life is about. The river priest, dressed in brilliant orange, gives me his blessing, custom-tailoring my reincarnation: “Not come back as parrot, not come back as mosquito, not come back as dog.” Malzberg for TPR: The Falling Astronauts, In the Enclosure, his Kennedy books, Galaxies. Just because I like it doesn’t mean it isn’t crap.

That’s how much I wanted to write my Malzberg thing. And I would have done it, too, if I had lived.

* * *

I first encountered Barry N. Malzberg in my twenties during a confused summer spent with David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels. Malzberg’s Galaxies was number seventy-seven.

Malzberg—author of Horizontal Woman and The Masochist and Oracle of the Thousand Handsand Screen and In My Parents’ Bedroom and many other books; aka K. M. O’Donnell, author of Final War, Universe Day, Gather in the Hall of the Planets, and so on; aka Howard Lee, who wrote novelizations of the 1970s television series Kung Fu, starring David Carradine; aka Mike Barry, author of Night Raider, Bay Prowler, Desert Stalker, Boston Avenger, etc.; aka Eliot B. Reston, author of The Womanizer; aka Claudine Dumas, author of Diary of a Parisian Chambermaid; aka Mel Johnson, writer of I, Lesbian and Instant Sex and Nympho Nurse and The Sadist and Do It to Me—was unquestionably a hack, God knows. He knew it, too. But what a workhorse! Read More »


Letter from Jaipur

February 7, 2013 | by


Last year’s Jaipur Literature Festival was exciting and boring at the same time—a death threat is exciting, but thirty death threats are boring; as Dostoevsky wrote, “Man is a creature who can get used to anything.” Salman Rushdie was scheduled to attend: Islamic groups agitated to deny him a visa, which he does not need in order to enter India, but never mind. It was suggested that instead Rushdie might address the festival via video conference: the government itself advised against this. Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil, Amitava Kumar, and Ruchir Joshi read aloud in protest from The Satanic Verses, still banned in India, but, after the gravity of their collective transgression had been brought home to them, they left the festival.

We know what comedy is: life is increased. Think of Rodney Dangerfield addressing the crowd at the end of Caddyshack: “Hey, everybody, we’re all gonna get laid!” And we know what tragedy is: isolation increases. I used to think that life was about winning everything, Mike Tyson once said, but now I know that life is about losing everything.

But what is India, with its boundless affirmation of life in general that befouls so many lives in the particular, with its joyous proliferation unto overcrowding, need, and misery? I did my small part, during my brief month there, to maintain those inequalities: Give me your shoes, I know you have other pair, you not need these, give them me, said a man as he tried to pull my sneakers off while a second man tried to pin my arms; and what he said was true, somewhere on the other side of the world I did have another pair of shoes, four shoes and only two feet; all the same, unhand me, my little friend, before I pick you up and throw you like a javelin.

I attended the 2013 JLF. It began in the same way. Read More »


I Opened the Door

November 16, 2012 | by

At last I had begun writing my long-planned book about Captain Ahab’s doomed enterprise in Moby-Dick—about Robur’s doomed enterprise in Verne’s Maître du Monde—about the doomed enterprise of Doctor Hans Reinhardt from the 1979 science-fiction film The Black Hole.

Eleven thousand words in, and may God grant that I learn it sooner next time or else not at all, I understood with blinding clarity that my book itself was another doomed enterprise.

As Don Quixote said: y yo hasta agora no sé lo que conquisto a fuerza de mis trabajos—I do not even know what I am conquering.

“Master of the world”! Robur-le-Conquérant!—what a delusion! what a farce! The quintessence of megalomania: Richard Wagner named his dog Robur.

Read More »


Solo Faces

April 12, 2011 | by

Our Spring Revel is tonight, April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.

Imagine: there is a man who likes to climb mountains. It’s the only thing he likes. Of course he likes women, too, but he won’t put them at the center of his life. “I’m not really a great climber,” he says, “I’m not that talented.” He just loves it more than anyone else does, or can. But he isn’t climbing. His name is Vernon Rand, and he’s bumming around, roofing, picking up work out in Los Angeles.

And then one day, playing father to his girlfriend’s twelve-year-old son, he encounters his old climbing companion, Jack Cabot. That they are lost brothers is admitted outright, but not that Cabot is Rand’s animating force, prophet, bird or devil, tempter sent.

As for Rand, he had had a brilliant start and then defected. Something had weakened in him. That was long ago. He was like an animal that has wintered somewhere, in the shadow of a hedgerow or barn, and one morning, mud-stained and dazed, shakes itself and comes to life. Sitting there [with Cabot], he remembered past days, their glory. He remembered the thrill of height.

That’s all it takes, Cabot’s tapping on the door. That in Rand which loves the mountain stirs.

There was something he had to tell her. He was leaving, she said. She could hardly hear him.


He repeated it. He was going away.

“When?” she asked foolishly. It was all she could manage to say.


“Tomorrow,” she said.

Read More »


A Week in Culture: J. D. Daniels, Part 2

August 5, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Daniels' culture diary. Click here to read part 1.


9:00 A.M. Slept eleven hours. A dream of my desk, very clean, nothing on it but a flower, inkpens, my hourglass. After waking, I arrange the desk to match the dream. I stare out the window for an hour until the phone rings: and this is why one must take the phone off the hook. My father calls to say he’s mailed two boxes of his old sweaters to me. Ninety degrees Fahrenheit projected for today. NYT and WSJ.

11:00 A.M. On the scale at the YMCA: I have gained forty-one pounds since January, thirty-five pounds of steel-hard muscle and six pounds of greasy trash. My goal is eleven more pounds before I go back to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Encounter with P at the grocery. I haven’t seen him for two years, not since I was so skinny that they called me the disappearing man. “Now you’re a monster,” he says. But I am not a monster: I am a nice person.

6:00 P.M. Walk along the river. Humid. A woman needed help untangling her garden hose: held her dog for her. Sparrows taking dust-baths, beating their heads against the ground. Starlings. A plague of robins. A single night-heron.

7:00 P.M. Pasta with red peppers. Finished Dash Shaw’s graphic novel Bodyworld.

8:00 P.M. Turned on This Old House and saw Bill Pierce from Agni sweeping polymerized sand into the cracks of his new patio. I gave a lecture to his night class at the Extension School last week. A student asked if I worry about what people think when I “write something cheesy.” “Cheese is very good for you,” I said. “It contains calcium and vitamin A and phosphorus. So fuck them.”

10:00 P.M. Staying up late to finish Leila Marouane’s novel The Sexual Life of an Islamist in Paris.


9:00 A.M. Rain. Re-reading D. H. Lawrence on Whitman at L’s instigation. NYT and WSJ.

11:00 A.M. I call downtown to see if I’m going to be able to hock my bass amp. The fellow on the phone—enthusiastic, not to say coked up—begins to describe his evaluative process to me. “It’s like Pawn Stars on the Discovery Channel,” he says, “have you ever seen it?” No, but I have been in a lot of pawn shops. The last time I was in this store I threw a fit, the kind of fit I thought I didn’t have any more. But I was mistaken. My analyst found it all very interesting. “Hmm,” he said. He’s always humming, that man. He sounds like an old refrigerator. Sometimes I’d like to break his fingers. There are ten of them.

1:00 P.M. Home, with the bass amp converted into not quite enough money to buy a used saxophone. “My mouth isn’t deformed,” I tell the guy on the phone. “I’m not following you,” he says. “What I mean,” I say, “is can a normal person learn to make a sound on it?” “It’s an easy instrument to begin,” he says, “the saxophone. At first. Relax.” People are always telling me to relax.

4:00 P.M. Cleaning the downstairs library. These other culture diarists are more interesting than I am. I wonder if they are lying. The temptation to lie is very great.


7:00 A.M. A cicada molting on S’s office window. Its slow green leg. NYT and WSJ.

11:00 A.M. To the Y. Maxing out my deadlifts again. I want more, I’m greedy, I’m weak, I have so far to go. I don’t know how Sven Lindqvist maintained his veneer of calm in Bench Press. I never cared about sports until I was thirty and I used to think it was ridiculous when I saw athletes getting psyched up, but now I’m scared enough of being crushed under my squat poundage that I sometimes have to slap my face a couple of times before I can begin. You lift weights with your mind, not your body.

2:00 P.M. Takeout: dumplings, pork with garlic sauce, beef with broccoli, chicken fried rice. Five fortune cookies have been included: apparently this was thought to be a meal for five.

3:30 P.M. Comatose for two hours.

6:30 P.M. To J’s house. Crates of books he must get rid of. Burnaby’s On Horseback Through Asia Minor, wonderful. Giants walked the earth in those days. They taught themselves to do without. Maybe they didn’t want it in the first place. See also: Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. Read More »