February 7, 2013 | by J. D. Daniels
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 »
November 16, 2012 | by J. D. Daniels
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.
April 12, 2011 | by J. D. Daniels
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.
August 5, 2010 | by J. D. Daniels
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 »
August 4, 2010 | by J. D. Daniels
9:00 A.M. July is now nearly over. And what have I done with it. My neck hurts. Slept ten hours last night after a three-hour nap yesterday afternoon. I’m overtrained.
9:45 A.M. A letter to H about The Web’s new record, Clydotorous Scrotodhendron. The track now listed as “Luxor” was called “Rookie Season” the summer I sat in with them. Took the phone off the hook this morning to protect S’s desk time—mine needs no protecting, it may need disrupting. Terror that my mother will call the moment the phone is reconnected.
10:00 A.M. The Essential Artie Shaw. Charlie Parker with Strings.
12:00 P.M. Walking to the Farmer’s Market. M says we can’t buy arugula from the Hmong because they use human shit as fertilizer—at least I think that’s what the problem is supposed to be: M can’t say shit or even allude to it, like Henry James not talking about the dog on his porch: “something black, something canine.” Something brown, something fecal. I buy arugula from the Hmong.
2:00 P.M. Reading Werner Herzog’s Conquest of the Useless, his Fitzcarraldo diaries. He has an iron confidence in himself and in his own vision, his own interests. It’s not about what Herzog thinks he’s supposed to want, it’s about what he actually does want.
4:00 P.M. Double espresso with honey and milk. The New York Times crossword.
6:30 P.M. At the grill. Crumpling newspaper in the bottom of the chimney starter. A single swallow in the sky, twittering. Ants on the bricks in the spilt olive oil. You can see why primitive man thought fire was a god. Now we don’t think there’s any god at all. How primitive is that. An hour later: bad steak, all my fault. Good salad from S.
8:00 P.M. Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra—a.k.a. Duke Ellington featuring Johnny Hodges.
10:00 P.M. Staying up late to watch Mad Men.
7:00 A.M. Decent weather for the first time in weeks. Windows are open all over the house. The air conditioner is silent. Whiz and honk of occasional cars. A far-off train. Wind in the trees. Birds squeeping and skronking. An angry, excited cawing. Gray light. This is a nature diary, not a culture diary.
9:00 A.M. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
11:00 A.M. To YMCA. Hit the wall on deadlifts—when you hit the wall, you need the man with the hammer. Kept going, ripped my palm open, almost passed out.
1:30 P.M. To Stereo Jack’s. Impulse CD of Coleman Hawkins with Ellington, a two-record set of Gene Ammons (“The 78 Era”), Astor Piazzolla’s The Rough Dancer and the Cyclical Night, Archie Shepp and Richard Davis live in Boston 1989.
2:00 P.M. Comatose for three hours.
7:00 P.M. Too hot to cook. Out to José’s for carne asada. Scorpion tattoo on our waiter’s neck. Read More »
June 8, 2010 | by J. D. Daniels
The apparent absence of any desire to please in the hard-boiled hero presupposes an absence of any need to please. When Diogenes saw a man drink from his hands, he threw his cup away. A real man doth not need either man’s work or his own gifts, his state is kingly. He doesn’t go to the grocery, he breaks off a hunk of himself and eats it.
Adorno’s “Tough Baby” from Minima Moralia:
There is a certain gesture of virility, be it one’s own or someone else’s, that calls for suspicion.
He-men are thus, in their own constitution, what film-plots usually present them to be, masochists. At the root of their sadism is a lie.
In the end the tough guys are the truly effeminate ones, who need the weaklings as their victims in order not to admit that they are like them.
Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe isn’t a man without needs: “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.” Chandler, a popularizer of this style of overtly wounded heroism—Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid—was a terrific boozehound, and the expertly casual scenes in which his detective is bludgeoned unconscious are extrapolations from a lifetime of research into blacking out. Marlowe’s stigmata demonstrate his fundamental invincibility. There is no man neither tarnished nor afraid: such a creature would be an animal, or a machine—or a god, where each gimlet is another station of the cross in a pornography of suffering that culminates in the hangover, the Crucifixion, the money shot.
When I tried to locate a certain phrase in Chandler, I can’t say I was shocked to find it instead in Travis Bickle’s mouth in Taxi Driver: “There’s no escape. I’m God’s lonely man.” Loneliness is a small price to pay for being God’s man of any sort: divine permission to be aggrieved, with an ensuing role as the avenging angel. In the absence of willing persecutors, you flay yourself, accumulating smaller or larger scars like skee-ball tickets on the carnival midway, until you can afford a Taxi Driver–style orgy of violence. I’d like to trade in this used 1974 masochism for a shiny new sadism, please.
Adorno again: “Here pain, as pride in bearing it, is raised directly, untransformed, as a stereotype, to pleasure.” Such a man must repress his pain imperfectly: his real aim is to experience it, and to display his experience of it. That is why it isn’t enough to watch the movie by yourself in the dark. You call your father, but his line is busy. He’s calling you.
J. D. Daniels lives in Massachusetts. He will contribute an essay on Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the fall issue of The Paris Review.