Rise of the planet of James Franco.

One of these days James Franco will write another book of short stories or a novel featuring a character called James Franco and it’ll be loved by dozens. He’ll also do the cover illustrations for the book. The front cover is a painting of the main character, and the author will model for it himself, and the back cover will be a conceptual void. The author will also personally model for it. The novel or book of short stories will be called simply “James Franco.”

Tiny liberal arts colleges in the corners of this great nation will feature small poorly-funded programs that delve into this book. The relatively minor success of the book and the mild interest in James Franco studies will also lead the author to securing a film deal. He’ll adapt the book himself and also direct it, provide the sets and the costumes for it, cater the affair, and do all the make up and choreography. And, provided the studio can meet his price, he might even star in the low budget film. This man was both an Oscar host and one of the stars of Spider-Man 3, remember.

All of this will be merely just the beginning.

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The blank page.

By Grant Snider, from here.

Las ruinas circulares.

And today, as the month comes to a close on All Hallow’s Eve, let’s enjoy a short story by everyone’s favorite Argentinian short story writer, Jorge Luis Borges. This, from his collection entitled Ficciones, is “The Circular Ruins,” and…

No one saw him disembark in the unanimous night, no one saw the bamboo canoe sink into the sacred mud, but in a few days there was no one who did not know that the taciturn man came from the South and that his home had been one of those numberless villages upstream in the deeply cleft side of the mountain, where the Zend language has not been contaminated by Greek and where leprosy is infrequent. What is certain is that the grey man kissed the mud, climbed up the bank with pushing aside (probably, without feeling) the blades which were lacerating his flesh, and crawled, nauseated and bloodstained, up to the circular enclosure crowned with a stone tiger or horse, which sometimes was the color of flame and now was that of ashes. This circle was a temple which had been devoured by ancient fires, profaned by the miasmal jungle, and whose god no longer received the homage of men. The stranger stretched himself out beneath the pedestal. He was awakened by the sun high overhead. He was not astonished to find that his wounds had healed; he closed his pallid eyes and slept, not through weakness of flesh but through determination of will. He knew that this temple was the place required for his invincible intent; he knew that the incessant trees had not succeeded in strangling the ruins of another propitious temple downstream which had once belonged to gods now burned and dead; he knew that his immediate obligation was to dream. Toward midnight he was awakened by the inconsolable shriek of a bird. Tracks of bare feet, some figs and a jug warned him that the men of the region had been spying respectfully on his sleep, soliciting his protection or afraid of his magic. He felt a chill of fear, and sought out a sepulchral niche in the dilapidated wall where he concealed himself among unfamiliar leaves.

The purpose which guided him was not impossible, though supernatural. He wanted to dream a man; he wanted to dream him in minute entirety and impose him on reality. This magic project had exhausted the entire expanse of his mind; if someone had asked him his name or to relate some event of his former life, he would not have been able to give an answer. This uninhabited, ruined temple suited him, for it is contained a minimum of visible world; the proximity of the workmen also suited him, for they took it upon themselves to provide for his frugal needs. The rice and fruit they brought him were nourishment enough for his body, which was consecrated to the sole task of sleeping and dreaming.

At first, his dreams were chaotic; then in a short while they became dialectic in nature. The stranger dreamed that he was in the center of a circular amphitheater which was more or less the burnt temple; clouds of taciturn students filled the tiers of seats; the faces of the farthest ones hung at a distance of many centuries and as high as the stars, but their features were completely precise. The man lectured his pupils on anatomy, cosmography, and magic: the faces listened anxiously and tried to answer understandingly, as if they guessed the importance of that examination which would redeem one of them from his condition of empty illusion and interpolate him into the real world. Asleep or awake, the man thought over the answers of his phantoms, did not allow himself to be deceived by imposters, and in certain perplexities he sensed a growing intelligence. He was seeking a soul worthy of participating in the universe.

from here.

After nine or ten nights he understood with a certain bitterness that he could expect nothing from those pupils who accepted his doctrine passively, but that he could expect something from those who occasionally dared to oppose him. The former group, although worthy of love and affection, could not ascend to the level of individuals; the latter pre-existed to a slightly greater degree. One afternoon (now afternoons were also given over to sleep, now he was only awake for a couple hours at daybreak) he dismissed the vast illusory student body for good and kept only one pupil. He was a taciturn, sallow boy, at times intractable, and whose sharp features resembled of those of his dreamer. The brusque elimination of his fellow students did not disconcert him for long; after a few private lessons, his progress was enough to astound the teacher. Nevertheless, a catastrophe took place. One day, the man emerged from his sleep as if from a viscous desert, looked at the useless afternoon light which he immediately confused with the dawn, and understood that he had not dreamed. All that night and all day long, the intolerable lucidity of insomnia fell upon him. He tried exploring the forest, to lose his strength; among the hemlock he barely succeeded in experiencing several short snatchs of sleep, veined with fleeting, rudimentary visions that were useless. He tried to assemble the student body but scarcely had he articulated a few brief words of exhortation when it became deformed and was then erased. In his almost perpetual vigil, tears of anger burned his old eyes.

He understood that modeling the incoherent and vertiginous matter of which dreams are composed was the most difficult task that a man could undertake, even though he should penetrate all the enigmas of a superior and inferior order; much more difficult than weaving a rope out of sand or coining the faceless wind. He swore he would forget the enormous hallucination which had thrown him off at first, and he sought another method of work. Before putting it into execution, he spent a month recovering his strength, which had been squandered by his delirium. He abandoned all premeditation of dreaming and almost immediately succeeded in sleeping a reasonable part of each day. The few times that he had dreams during this period, he paid no attention to them. Before resuming his task, he waited until the moon’s disk was perfect. Then, in the afternoon, he purified himself in the waters of the river, worshiped the planetary gods, pronounced the prescribed syllables of a mighty name, and went to sleep. He dreamed almost immediately, with his heart throbbing.

He dreamed that it was warm, secret, about the size of a clenched fist, and of a garnet color within the penumbra of a human body as yet without face or sex; during fourteen lucid nights he dreampt of it with meticulous love. Every night he perceived it more clearly. He did not touch it; he only permitted himself to witness it, to observe it, and occasionally to rectify it with a glance. He perceived it and lived it from all angles and distances. On the fourteenth night he lightly touched the pulmonary artery with his index finger, then the whole heart, outside and inside. He was satisfied with the examination. He deliberately did not dream for a night; he took up the heart again, invoked the name of a planet, and undertook the vision of another of the principle organs. Within a year he had come to the skeleton and the eyelids. The innumerable hair was perhaps the most difficult task. He dreamed an entire man–a young man, but who did not sit up or talk, who was unable to open his eyes. Night after night, the man dreamt him asleep.

In the Gnostic cosmosgonies, demiurges fashion a red Adam who cannot stand; as a clumsy, crude and elemental as this Adam of dust was the Adam of dreams forged by the wizard’s nights. One afternoon, the man almost destroyed his entire work, but then changed his mind. (It would have been better had he destroyed it.) When he had exhausted all supplications to the deities of earth, he threw himself at the feet of the effigy which was perhaps a tiger or perhaps a colt and implored its unknown help. That evening, at twilight, he dreamt of the statue. He dreamt it was alive, tremulous: it was not an atrocious bastard of a tiger and a colt, but at the same time these two firey creatures and also a bull, a rose, and a storm. This multiple god revealed to him that his earthly name was Fire, and that in this circular temple (and in others like it) people had once made sacrifices to him and worshiped him, and that he would magically animate the dreamed phantom, in such a way that all creatures, except Fire itself and the dreamer, would believe to be a man of flesh and blood. He commanded that once this man had been instructed in all the rites, he should be sent to the other ruined temple whose pyramids were still standing downstream, so that some voice would glorify him in that deserted edifice. In the dream of the man that dreamed, the dreamed one awoke.

from here.

The wizard carried out the orders he had been given. He devoted a certain length of time (which finally proved to be two years) to instructing him in the mysteries of the universe and the cult of fire. Secretly, he was pained at the idea of being separated from him. On the pretext of pedagogical necessity, each day he increased the number of hours dedicated to dreaming. He also remade the right shoulder, which was somewhat defective. At times, he was disturbed by the impression that all this had already happened . . . In general, his days were happy; when he closed his eyes, he thought: Now I will be with my son. Or, more rarely: The son I have engendered is waiting for me and will not exist if I do not go to him.

Gradually, he began accustoming him to reality. Once he ordered him to place a flag on a faraway peak. The next day the flag was fluttering on the peak. He tried other analogous experiments, each time more audacious. With a certain bitterness, he understood that his son was ready to be born–and perhaps impatient. That night he kissed him for the first time and sent him off to the other temple whose remains were turning white downstream, across many miles of inextricable jungle and marshes. Before doing this (and so that his son should never know that he was a phantom, so that he should think himself a man like any other) he destroyed in him all memory of his years of apprenticeship.

His victory and peace became blurred with boredom. In the twilight times of dusk and dawn, he would prostrate himself before the stone figure, perhaps imagining his unreal son carrying out identical rites in other circular ruins downstream; at night he no longer dreamed, or dreamed as any man does. His perceptions of the sounds and forms of the universe became somewhat pallid: his absent son was being nourished by these diminution of his soul. The purpose of his life had been fulfilled; the man remained in a kind of ecstasy. After a certain time, which some chronicles prefer to compute in years and others in decades, two oarsmen awoke him at midnight; he could not see their faces, but they spoke to him of a charmed man in a temple of the North, capable of walking on fire without burning himself. The wizard suddenly remembered the words of the god. He remembered that of all the creatures that people the earth, Fire was the only one who knew his son to be a phantom. This memory, which at first calmed him, ended by tormenting him. He feared lest his son should meditate on this abnormal privilege and by some means find out he was a mere simulacrum. Not to be a man, to be a projection of another man’s dreams–what an incomparable humiliation, what madness! Any father is interested in the sons he has procreated (or permitted) out of the mere confusion of happiness; it was natural that the wizard should fear for the future of that son whom he had thought out entrail by entrail, feature by feature, in a thousand and one secret nights.

His misgivings ended abruptly, but not without certain forewarnings. First (after a long drought) a remote cloud, as light as a bird, appeared on a hill; then, toward the South, the sky took on the rose color of leopard’s gums; then came clouds of smoke which rusted the metal of the nights; afterwards came the panic-stricken flight of wild animals. For what had happened many centuries before was repeating itself. The ruins of the sanctuary of the god of Fire was destroyed by fire. In a dawn without birds, the wizard saw the concentric fire licking the walls. For a moment, he thought of taking refuge in the water, but then he understood that death was coming to crown his old age and absolve him from his labors. He walked toward the sheets of flame. They did not bite his flesh, they caressed him and flooded him without heat or combustion. With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he also was an illusion, that someone else was dreaming him.


What makes ’em act that way?

Mad Linkage:

Thank the heavens, they may actually cancel Heroes!

…just like they (finally) canceled Law & Order.

(Sidebar: If I was doing porn [again], I think that “Dick Wolf” would be a strong contender for my porn name.)

Yeah, sure, they should replace Dermot Mulroney with Josh Holloway in The Rockford Files‘ remake.

from here.

How airport security changes your mood when traveling.

Why is the sky blue?

Spew” by Neal Stephenson.

Powerful images of the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

from here.

Arizona bans ethnic studies in public schools.

Also, Los Angeles boycotts Arizona.

Emma Stone deserves better movies to star in, right?

Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse talk about “Across The Sea.”

Joanna Newsom, Lady Gaga, Madonna. Whatever.

Tracy Grandstaff, the voice of Daria, is a Vice President at Comedy Central.

Taylor Momsen carries a knife!

Latest details of Lawrence Taylor’s sex scandal.

The infidelity of Matt Lauer.

by Sally Mann, from here.

RIP Frank Frazetta.

An invisible structure and a great view.

The performance art of James Franco and Marina Abramović.

The trailer for The Adjustment Bureau, the Phillip K. Dick adaptation starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

You can buy a shitload of Lost props, if you’re so inclined.

Here is a nice collection of hipster babes to keep you occupied.

Largest scientific instrument ever built to prove Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

The dead father of postmodern literature.

Today, just for you, a short story. A lovely short story, in fact, but aren’t they all?

 

from here.

That story is “The School” by Donald Barthelme, one of the fathers of American postmodern literature and here it is…

Well, we had all these children out planting trees, see, because we figured that … that was part of their education, to see how, you know, the root systems … and also the sense of responsibility, taking care of things, being individually responsible. You know what I mean. And the trees all died. They were orange trees. I don’t know why they died, they just died. Something wrong with the soil possibly or maybe the stuff we got from the nursery wasn’t the best. We complained about it. So we’ve got thirty kids there, each kid had his or her own little tree to plant and we’ve got these thirty dead trees. All these kids looking at these little brown sticks, it was depressing.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except that just a couple of weeks before the thing with the trees, the snakes all died. But I think that the snakes – well, the reason that the snakes kicked off was that … you remember, the boiler was shut off for four days because of the strike, and that was explicable. It was something you could explain to the kids because of the strike. I mean, none of their parents would let them cross the picket line and they knew there was a strike going on and what it meant. So when things got started up again and we found the snakes they weren’t too disturbed.

With the herb gardens it was probably a case of overwatering, and at least now they know not to overwater. The children were very conscientious with the herb gardens and some of them probably … you know, slipped them a little extra water when we weren’t looking. Or maybe … well, I don’t like to think about sabotage, although it did occur to us. I mean, it was something that crossed our minds. We were thinking that way probably because before that the gerbils had died, and the white mice had died, and the salamander … well, now they know not to carry them around in plastic bags.

Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

We weren’t even supposed to have a puppy.

We weren’t even supposed to have one, it was just a puppy the Murdoch girl found under a Gristede’s truck one day and she was afraid the truck would run over it when the driver had finished making his delivery, so she stuck it in her knapsack and brought it to the school with her. So we had this puppy. As soon as I saw the puppy I thought, Oh Christ, I bet it will live for about two weeks and then… And that’s what it did. It wasn’t supposed to be in the classroom at all, there’s some kind of regulation about it, but you can’t tell them they can’t have a puppy when the puppy is already there, right in front of them, running around on the floor and yap yap yapping. They named it Edgar – that is, they named it after me. They had a lot of fun running after it and yelling, “Here, Edgar! Nice Edgar!” Then they’d laugh like hell. They enjoyed the ambiguity. I enjoyed it myself. I don’t mind being kidded. They made a little house for it in the supply closet and all that. I don’t know what it died of. Distemper, I guess. It probably hadn’t had any shots. I got it out of there before the kids got to school. I checked the supply closet each morning, routinely, because I knew what was going to happen. I gave it to the custodian.

And then there was this Korean orphan that the class adopted through the Help the Children program, all the kids brought in a quarter a month, that was the idea. It was an unfortunate thing, the kid’s name was Kim and maybe we adopted him too late or something. The cause of death was not stated in the letter we got, they suggested we adopt another child instead and sent us some interesting case histories, but we didn’t have the heart. The class took it pretty hard, they began (I think, nobody ever said anything to me directly) to feel that maybe there was something wrong with the school. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the school, particularly, I’ve seen better and I’ve seen worse. It was just a run of bad luck. We had an extraordinary number of parents passing away, for instance. There were I think two heart attacks and two suicides, one drowning, and four killed together in a car accident. One stroke. And we had the usual heavy mortality rate among the grandparents, or maybe it was heavier this year, it seemed so. And finally the tragedy.

The tragedy occurred when Matthew Wein and Tony Mavrogordo were playing over where they’re excavating for the new federal office building. There were all these big wooden beams stacked, you know, at the edge of the excavation. There’s a court case coming out of that, the parents are claiming that the beams were poorly stacked. I don’t know what’s true and what’s not. It’s been a strange year.

I forgot to mention Billy Brandt’s father who was knifed fatally when he grappled with a masked intruder in his home.

One day, we had a discussion in class. They asked me, where did they go? The trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Tony, where did they go? And I said, I don’t know, I don’t know. And they said, who knows? and I said, nobody knows. And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of –
I said, yes, maybe.
They said, we don’t like it.
I said, that’s sound.
They said, it’s a bloody shame!
I said, it is.
They said, will you make love now with Helen (our teaching assistant) so that we can see how it is done? We know you like Helen.
I do like Helen but I said that I would not.
We’ve heard so much about it, they said, but we’ve never seen it.
I said I would be fired and that it was never, or almost never, done as a demonstration. Helen looked out the window.
They said, please, please make love with Helen, we require an assertion of value, we are frightened.

I said that they shouldn’t be frightened (although I am often frightened) and that there was value everywhere. Helen came and embraced me. I kissed her a few times on the brow. We held each other. The children were excited. Then there was a knock on the door, I opened the door, and the new gerbil walked in. The children cheered wildly.

Don’t ask me why, but I always smile when I read that one line: “It’s been a strange year.” It has, indeed.

I’d love to link you to George Saunder’s lovely essay about “The School,” where he talks about how wonderful the story is not just on it’s own, but as a prime example of how to craft a good, slightly mysterious, possibly philosphical piece of short reading. Said essay can be found in Saunder’s collection of non-fiction, The Braindead Megaphone. And here is someone talking about it. And if you click here, you’ll find Timothy Callahan, who does some of the very best writing about comics online, using Barthelme’s story and Saunder’s essay in comparison to Kazuo Umezu’s ultimate horror manga, The Drifting Classroom. Interesting stuff.

A reader til the end…

He read at wine, he read in bed, He read aloud, had he the breath, His every thought was with the dead, And so he read himself to death.

-from “Tarquin Of Cheapside,” from the collection, Tales Of The Jazz Age, by the one and only F. Scott Fitzgerald. The picture above is Liber Novice by the equally inimitable James Jean.

Someone like you.

We’ve talked a little about short stories here in the past few weeks, so now, let’s take a look back at another great story: “Lamb To The Slaughter” by the amazing children’s writer, wartime spy, and (sadly, also) anti-semite (amongst other naughty things), Roald Dahl.

There was something so wonderfully twisted about Dahl, something that comes out in his work for kids, things like The Witches and James And The Giant Peach, and of course, the Willy Wonka stuff as well. And I think that twisted aspect was really a frighteningly accurate understanding of the absurdity of humans. That’s why Dahl’s dark stories for adults were so perfect.

“Lamb To The Slaughter” is one of those stories that just feels classic, about an abused wife of a police detective. He comes home one night as she’s making him dinner, mistreats her, and having finally had enough, she kills him. But she does it with the most interesting of weapons…

Years ago I picked up a copy of a collection of Dahl’s stories, entitled Someone Like You, mostly because of the cover and the author’s name. And also the title. It’s simple and ridiculous, but I was in the mood for Dahl’s brand of storytelling and thought maybe the book was perfect for someone… like me.

Several of the stories in the collection are quite dark, almost crime stories in a way, but with an understanding, like I said, of how silly those dark places adults can inhabit are. “Lamb To The Slaughter” was adapted as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents in 1958, as well as an episode of the British series, Tales Of The Unexpected. Another classic story from Someone Like You, “Man From The South” was adapted quite a few times in various television shows and films, including that anthology film Tarantino was involved in back in the 90s, Four Rooms.

from here.

You can read “Man From The South” here. And you can read “Lamb To The Slaughter” here and here. I hope you enjoy them both.