mardi 18 janvier 2011

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

You buttered me up. Flattered me. You memorized all my books. Perhpas to imitate me. And perhaps you will succeed with your imitation, perhaps you will be lauded for your imitation. Receive a grant or two. Maybe an award! A critic will marvel at your insightful and slick style. (Because the critics can only recognize the derrière-garde.)
But, Theo, it's not just about being a "good writer." That will get you nowhere. You must go much deeper. You must scapel your flesh, dig out your own bones, sharpen them on the stone of disappointment, strop them on anger until they're keen as quills, then dip them in your own painthickend blood. Then you can go to work. Awkwardly and publicly. With no guarantees. And that's how one makes one's way, "young scholar."
You will have to get angry, stay angry, at society, at the world, at the rich and the poor, the politicians and the academy, and me, for years, to find your way. This is what you need and what your work needs. And still, it may not come. Without anger, you cannot be a great artist.
(p. 270)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

I live the life everyone else wants to live. I am supercharged with the excitement of my work and my writing. And I am living life to its fullest here in New York. I am out every night, I have a wonderful lover and good friends, in fact everyone I meet in the streets, at parties, in the subway, every bum, every shop owner, every cop, hooker, hot dog guy, flower lady they are all my friends.
I'm like a tenth-century Persian poet, sipping the nectar from the many flowers. Wine, women, song. Delicious.
Discipline is the key. I am not hanging with Zim anymore. He is too distracting. He leaves messages on my answering machine, taunting me. He says I have no guts. He whispers accusations that I am a "schoolboy." Fuck him.
Katie encourages me. She helps me focus. She is my muse.
And I have been spending time with that Esquire editor, Leon. I entertain him with stories about John and the various street people I hung with. He loves to laugh this guy. Laugh and sniff enormous volumes of cocaine. He's teaching me about vintage wines and fine brandies. He respects me as a writer.
(p. 262)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

It's time to work. I've quit drinking. Quit smoking weed. No more distractions. I must finish my book. Writing a book is like preparing for a prizefight. I'm so focused, I'm not even masturbating. How else can I make the work that will pierce the world?
My schedule: Get up early, seven or eight. Read the newspaper. Thirty-five push-ups, a hundred sit-ups, stretch. Make a huge pot of espresso coffee and write until I can't write anymore. Usually until four or five. Then go out for a long walk. Breathe. Try to gather up more ideas. Then I eat something. Usually, I go by and visit Zim, talk philosophy and watch him sniff heroin.
Using this system I've cranked out sixty pages in the last week. And the stuff is good. I'm halfway through the second week of this. I'm going to dedicate this book to my mother.
Blake, my new agent, checks in every couple of days. He has sent samples of my writing to magazine editors. Then he asks me how the book's going. Sometimes he dishes about his star clients. He knows Raymond Carver personally. Represents a guy named Richard Price, who is very interesting. I guess I'm the big time now. But I have to get the writing done.
(p. 223-224)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

"Richard, you've never had defeat or disappointment. All you know is pussy and money. You are soft and you are decadent and you are addicted to fame and what it can bring you. So you write what the academy wants you to write. They tell you you're a genius and you believe it. But believe this, my friend, you're nothing more than court jester. You can't tell the truth. It's not in you. Your job is to distract from the truth."
"Are you accusing me of being commercial? Because I'm not."
"No, you fucking idiot, I'm talking about your total lack of spine. The academy only reckognizes ass-licking, nonauthentic, pseudo-intellectual, grade-A bullshit like yours. The frightening thing is that you believe in your bullshit. It's actually your worldview."
A nauseating fatigue set in. Why had I come to Leon's? To please him? To network? To remind people I have just published a new book? Zim needed an answer. "This is a rhetorical point, one I can't dispute because it's based on vagaries and syllogisms. You are jealous of me, so your entire argument is poisoned."
How could I be jealous of a man who doesn't even know what he is? A man who writes and writes and writes only the most empty and and soulless self-reflexive prose. You haven't written one honest word in twenty years. In your coward's heart, you know that. When did you last take a risk? When?" His lips were screwed into a sneer.
I smiled to cover my anger and said, "It's moot. I'm not writing anymore. I have heart problems."
But Zim wouldn't quit. "No, my friend, what you're saying is, 'You and me, Zim, deep down, we're the same.' But that's not true. We live different lives, Richard. It's wonderful to be rich and famous. It's intoxicating. And the intoxication has ruined you."
"Intoxication? Speak for yourself."
"I will, my friend, my good old friend. For myself and for you. Because when I leave here today, you won't give me another thought. You will return to your favorite topic, yourself. But nobodies like me, we must keep you in mind always. We have no choice."
(p. 216-217)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

I can't do this. I have no work, no money. I am seriously thinking of moving back to Stoneham to live with Dad. I mean what's the point? And as far as writing goes, why do I have to be in New York City to write? Why is it so important to make money writing? I can go back to Stoneham, work as a landscaper and write at night. Why do I need to be in the thick of things? Anonymity was good enough for Dickinson, good enough for Kafka. I need to write like a madman, then when I have achieved my goals, I will burn everything.
Zim says the objective of the writer is to persist, to survive, like a cockroach. Katie says I have no choice. I will have to stay until I get run out of town.
katie has convinced me to give myself another six months. The only way I can think about it is "if not me, who?" I know my writing is better than the others. But there's no proof of this "fact."
(p. 204)

lundi 17 janvier 2011

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

But ambition is not about seeking fame, but using fame is a tool. It's something you have to have to protect the work. It's all about the work. So it's up to me to protect my work by any means necessary.
I realized I have to force people to think of me as an interesting person. Then people will notice me, notice my work. I should have controversial girlfriends. Develop a reputation for being undependable, but in the end be brilliant. Show up late everywhere, talk about how hard I work, how I work through the night, get in fistfights, drink more booze than everybody else, do drugs in public, even narcotics, hang out with criminals, etc. This is important. It's as important as making the work. I need to get as much publicity as possible. Celebrity earns respect.
(p. 187)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

Been writing like a demon. Four stories in the last two weeks. I am boiling and churning with ideas. I am a juggernaut, sparks fly from my wheels. I can't write fast enough. And the guy from the first magazine wants more. Also the guy from The New Yorker called and was all enthusiastic and chatty. Said he wants to see what else I've got. Can't promise anything. I don't care. I don't even read The New Yorker.
(p. 164)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

I need a break. I need to remove myself from these grinding gears of commerce. How can anything constructive be accomplished with so much money at stake? How can I write? Of course it's my own fault because twenty years ago I let them produce a movie based on a story of mine. That started all this, didn't it? I danced with the devil and that's how I ended up in the crosshairs. But how is it possible to be known as a great American writer without the movies? The playwrights all had movies. Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman was filmed seven times! No wonder he got to fuck Marylin. And the novelists too. Capote, Harper Lee, Steinbeck, Updike, Roth, Dick, Mann. Everything Hemingway wrote. It comes down to this, a movie is the fast path to a reputation. No movie, soon forgotten.
(p. 143)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

These assholes cutting into me, each taking their little pieces of flesh. Bleeding me. Wearing me down. Trying to smother me. Next time I see Leon I will tell him he can't have my next book. That's all. No one can. I will write it for myself. I don't need this crap in my life.
All the same, the books are my progeny. And my children must be read in order to live. Someone out there needs them wants them. If I don't fight for them, who will? I need to promote them even if I have to act like a whore. Otherwise my children will die. And if they die, I die.
Ohers can have their biological children, nagging spouses and spiteful parents. I don't need any of that. I need to define my relationship to the world and I can only do that through words. Even if no one understands me today, they will someday. I am certain of this.
This is the invisible war, the war each author has to fight on his own behalf. They all did it - Hemingway, Capote, Faulkner, Carver, Roth - all. Otherwise the writing is forgotten. A writer's job is to promote himself. And to do that we must take the abuse. Fellini said "I drop my pants and everyone either laughs or applauds." Perhaps my battle is futile, beacuse I'm no Hemingway, Capote, Faulkner, Carver or Roth. I'm nothing. Maybe my books deserve to die and I will die with them.
(p. 142)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

I can't write. I can't move. What's the point of writing? To preserve my reputation? To make money? I have plenty of money. Plenty of reputation. The problem is that my reputation wil wither and die if I don't come up with new work. I have to generate new writing to keep the old writing alive. Like children working for their father. One nedds many children to survive. Even if the children will never be as great as the father.
I guess my first book of short stories will live on no matter what. A task completed over twenty years ago, when I didn't know my ass from my elbow. Now that I know how to write, now that I have something interesting to say, no one cares. Or the critics completely misunderstand. The irony is that I am the caretaker of the young man I once was. He's my responsibility.
(p. 122)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

Leon prattled on about himself until dessert was cleared away. From what he told me I gathered he's sitting pretty because he has signed this new kid, Joe Versa. Four hundred thousand copies of the second novel are in order. There's a movie deal. Etc. Etc. Blah-blah-blah. Not once did he describe the book itself. Obviously, the writing qua writing is of no interest to Leon.
That is, until I opined that Versa's first-person confessional novel was obviously a pack of lies. This is the current fad, "truth." I lectured Leon, "It's too easy, this writing. Leon, I'm warning you, break your addiction to this loathsome shit now before it's too late. This fake literature will destroy publishing and sooner or later destroy you. And me."
Leon's eyelids drooped with anger. I was spoiling his party. He was making money and I wasn't big enough to congratulate him. I read his mind: By not accepting money as the final arbiter of worth, I was implying that there is some other yardstick by which to measure literature. And to defend that "other" yardstick is to defend what? "Good writing"? Come on," Leon would argue, "what's that?"
(p. 102)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

Still, I like spending time in that barn. I once thought I'd turn it into a studio, a serene place in which to write, but the sheer pretentiousness of the move turned me against it. It's an old-fashioned affectation. Something that "serious" writers did back in the day of the federal works programs. Arthur Miller. Clifford Odets. The "artist" migrates from the smoke-filled city, finds a run-down farm, then writes in "the country." Bellow was different, he remained in his beloved Chicago. So Jewish to find resonance in the "country." Why is that? Because Jews are afraid of the wilderness, in it they see danger. Raccoons.
It's all gesture. Turn a barn into a writing studio. Turn a country house into an office. Everything represents something else. Even my money is symbolic. What is money? Sure, for the poor it's a solution to a problem. But for me? A symbol only. I lose sleep over this new book. Why? Because it's not selling? What should I care? I don't need the royalties or the kudos. I need the symbolism of the sales. It would be better if I didn't care anymore. Like a dog who has been fixed and lies on the couch all day. Forgets what he once was.
I write at the kitchen table. It's enough.
(p. 76-77)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

I've been here before. I built a career on bad reviews. On rejection. Me and Bulowski. Or sombody. They can't kill me. I hope. But they have sent me adrift one more time. What's the alternative? Figure out what "they want" and write the same shit over and over, move those units, make those bucks for the Man? If I was smart I'd do that, right? Stick to the tried and true, the formula. That's what all successful artists do. And in my case, that would be what? What is my formula for success? I knocked 'em dead with a collection of short stories tenty-fice years ago. What was I writing about that was so appealing then? Anger? Ambition? Drugs? Sex with my movie star girlfriend Elizabeth? Maybe I was dumber then, more outspoken and thus easier to read. Doesn't matter, that voice is no longer my voice. I'm not that guy anymore. Can't do it.
I wrtie my novels because I have to. That's all. And Leon publishes them. And now the new one is out there languishing. That's the way the artistic cookie crumbles. Not that anyone gives a shit. Just my own thing. Absurd isn't it? Writing for my own benefit. What's that? If no one's interested in what I have to say, then my writing is nothing more than the inner monologue of a lunatic, right? Might as well be pacing the streets of Manhattan in an old overcoat, flinging my arms about, ranting. What's the diff? Yes, I'm a petty, self-involved egotist. But I've dedicated myself to this thing. What does Ian McEwan call it? This "writing project." It is important. It has to be important or I could never stick with it. What difference does it make what they think? My conviction is what makes the art. (Spoken like a true mediocre artist.)
(p. 25-26)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

The New York Times review yesterday used words like "compelling" and "insightful", which is critic code for "Don't even bother reading the dust jacket." The killer line was: "A less heavy-handed writer would have given this material a much brighter treatment." Of course it was compared to the short story collections from twenty-five years ago. The Philosophy of Paradise was also mentionned. I have written five novels but I will forever be a "renowned writer of short stories one of which was adapted as a film, directed by Paul Schrader." Read: "not a major talent; negligible; a clown." Tell that to Kafka, to Nabokov!
The critic missed the gist of the book, of course. Completely ignored the themes of biography and anonymity and personal reinvention. Didn't mention the assassination sequence, probably the most exciting chapter. Skirted the shopping mall subplot.
That's how they get you, by synopsizing the plot incorrectly and then ctiticizing you for their mistaken sense of what the book is about. Or focus on the weakest chapters, in this case, the dreary relationship between Carin and her son, something I added at the last minute only as a background to Frank's story. Roth and Ford can digress all day long and every syllable is fawned upon. Me? I'm a dartboard.
(p. 22-23)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

Dad insisted on introducing me, even though I'd met his doctor thrice before. Dad loves the rush of saying "Have you met my son, the writer?" He's been nominated for the Pulitzer. Twice." My bile rises whenever he utters those words. Back in the day, my father fought my ambitions with undiluted venom. "Get a real job! You're wasting your time!" I will never forget the patronizing sneer. He even walked out of one of my readings claiming he had indigestion.
(p. 14)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

I am the literary representative of the family, I am the keeper of words. Something like a cantor, they all defer to me. ("Richard, what did you think of the President's speech last night?" "Richard, what do you think of The Da Vinci Code?") They know I've made money with my wrtiting, been written about in Newsweek, won prizes, although not one of them could tell you why, nor has any of them ever made it all the way through one of my novels, but they do know I'm a somebody "out there" - they know I am of the world.
(p. 10)

Eric Bogosian, PERFORATED HEART, New York, Simon & Schuster, 2009, 271 pages.

The winner, a tweedy, aging Ivy Leager, florid-faced and wet eyed (due to the quarts of vintagew wine he has consumed daily since his first literary bestseller) jugged up to the podium. The lickspittles leapt to their feet and applauded. With his usual tennis club jocularity he snatched the prize from Catherine Zeta-Jones, took her in his arms and kissed her on the mouth. I shivered with disgust.
The victor leaned into the microphone, thanked his wife, his agent, his housemaid and, of course, Leon, who digested this morsel with beatific sliteyed joy. I could only think, don't thank me, motherfucker. Your writing is vapid and ironic to no purpose. It is a wretched blendof overwrought creative writing school frosting. It is "cute" and it's pointless. All designed to sucker in the peanut gallery. I could never write what you write my friend. I don't "do" sentimentality and I don't do glib. I don't do cliché.
BUT WAIT, what the fuck had I been smoking? I forgot our hero's spot on the bestseller lists! I overlooked the most important aspect of this enterprise, that we're all in it to get RICH! Of course! The true measure of the artist. Does your stuff SELL? Why would anyone be doing this, making all this effort, if not to sell millions of "units" so that the author-hero can become a wealthy author-hero! Then the author-hero can attend more dinners and receive more awards and sell more movie options to the corporate leviathans, and spend more time at more Hamptons get-togethers to cluck and kiss the other author-heros' bronzed cheeks, dazzled by the reflection of the collective genius present. The artist is the antenna of the race and the race is venal and shallow.
(p. 2)