Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review of The "No Hellos Diet"

             There are plenty of reasons for you to not like "The No Hellos Diet":  it is written in the second person which you may find gimmicky or strange, its paragraphs are one often sentence statements which you may find thin, lacking or undescriptive. You may find the main character unusual or disgusting, his relationships flawed his life disturbing. You may find Uptown Chicago, the environment in which he lives, frightening and cold, his job boring, his body decaying. You are kind, confused and you only have one friend: your ex-girlfriend whom you no longer love. But this book is about you. So you better learn to deal with it.
          There is an undercurrent of fear and paranoia that runs through the work: a piece of taffy could take out all your teeth, you watch people leaving a train to come out twice in case they are extras and you your life is fake. But they never are, and the taffy doesn't pull your teeth out. Perhaps you meditate on the fear and pain because they will make your life more interesting, more bearable in the monotony of work. There is however a certain comfort in the monotony of working a menial labor job at a giant department store: the security, the money, the safety from the streets.
            Most of the conversations that occur in the book are meaningless or incomprehensible. Simply repeating what the other person says or simply saying gibberish can have more meaning that speaking your mind. In a very funny section the question of what makes you a good person is considered: in the world of The No Hellos Diet (and ours really) charity can only fix a problem temporarily, kindness, may only elicit strange looks or suspicion but scrumptioness? Scrumptioness is the highest ideal, appreciated by all especially the millions of readers of romance novels. When conversation breaks down and love is impossible a high five becomes the best and most intimate form of connection with those around you: a brief, intense, universal sign of camaraderie, love and acceptance.3
             The No Hellos Diet is a perfect reflection of life: beautifully rendered mundanity that takes place in a dirty, poor, desperate place which is punctuated by small beautiful moments of blinding joy and sadness which then spiral off into transcendence. Hours or weeks can go by which require only a single sentence to accurately describe the few events that occur during that time. There is nothing really to this work except unadulterated human experience which makes it more beautiful than anything which could come from imagination. Those around you are simple, vulgar, misunderstood and misunderstanding. You experience total freedom, but have to ask yourself what really does that freedom get you in the end? Every time you see yourself, reflected in someone's eye or in the cellophane packaging of an item you are stocking you only see a small bit of white light. Your soul perhaps?
           This is modern literature at its finest: no dwelling on the role of the internet or endless product name dropping. It is a study on the irony of feeling intensely alone while living incredibly close to millions of other and the small attempts we must constantly make to reach out to them in order to stay alive. A lesson in how to find beauty in the passing of time, in the solipsistic exchanges that occur at your job or random exchanges that occur on a dirty crowded street corner.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Purchased last night/to be reviewed soon

Woke up at 2am last night and felt the spirit move me. Purchased:

"Cunt-Ups" Dodie Bellamy
            Hyper sexual poetry plagued by ADHD. Reviewed by Blake Butler here. What can I say? I'm very intrigued.

The No Helios Diet Sam Pink
            Young Chicago writer. Never hear of him before, sounds interesting. Writes about working at a grocery store and has my name.

Last Exit to Brooklyn Hubert Selby Jr.
            OG transgressive fiction. Pre-Requiem for a Dream, too hot shit to use punctuation.

The Recognitions William Gaddis
            Chronically unread post war masterpiece. Looks at the art world, forgery, and New York. Notoriously difficult and weights in at 900+ pages. My light summer beach read.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Performance art piece #2

Form a new art collective but keep it very hush hush in order to build hype. Announce show opening at converted store front, keep windows black/covered and get underground word of mouth hype (very important). On opening night hire models etc. to stand in long line outside gallery. Keep people waiting until late for opening. Inside the gallery: blank white walls, bar, not much else people doing whatever, milling around, looking attractive.
             Artist(s): one week before opening buy 8o's ski jackets and ratty sweaters at goodwill, spend maj. of week outside, no showers! rub dirt on face and under finger nails. During the performance artist(s) hangs out outside of gallery panhandling. Piece begins when artist attempts to angrily enter opening, shouting gibberish etc. Piece ends when artist is ejected forcefully (bouncers are not notified that artist will attempt this, even who the artist is) from the gallery. Everyone goes home and cries, drunk.

An Honest Resume

To Whom it may concern,

             I deeply apologize that you have to consider my resume, but since your business provides better benefits than professional alcoholism I figured it was worth a shot. I recently received my bachelors degree in a leisurely 5 years at a small, undistinguished teaching college in a highly specialized scientific field which requires at least a master's degree to get a job in the field. My grades were not noteworthy and I received no honors. I happened to be the president of a club at my school simply because I was the oldest person who wanted the position. In my entire life I have held two jobs, one: a bag boy at a supermarket which I loathed and in which I never advanced, the other a camp counselor at a small ideologically dubious summer camp. I was fired from neither job mostly out of sheer luck. And here I should mention my strongest personality trait: insidious, pervasive and constant laziness. I can't use a computer for more than 15 minutes without getting distracted for half an hour on news sites or Wikipedia. If I work inside I will be distracted by watching people passing by and if working outside I will stare at trees or perhaps just walk away from my duties. I know a wealth of useless facts which will have no application for whatever job you may have for me, but I will tell you these facts anyways, most likely at irritating or inappropriate times.
                    I have much experience getting frustrated with a range of computer software from Word to Powerpoint and even some obscure programs like SSPS and R. I don't have the wherewithal to look in the manual and will just ask you for help every few minutes if I can't figure something out. I work poorly in teams and lack independence. Since I was a child my family and education system instilled in me a strong sense of entitlement and false individuality. Anything you do which may threaten these will most likely damage my self esteem and I will treat any challenges to my ideas or intelligence with disdain or passive aggressive defensiveness. I use big words incorrectly. I have little aspiration other than to be famous or rich. Or both. Given the chance I will most certainly complete a task with the bare minimum of exertion, and I've never excelled at a single thing I have tried. My writing skills are weak, my math skills nonexistant. I loathe most people and have never worked a cash register. Others see me as strange or untrustworthy and I do nothing to change that image. I have a terrible memory and pay no attention to details. I'd like to think I am creative but the majority of the time my new ideas occur when I read something somewhere and forgot who wrote it.
            I'll be afraid to make a long term commitment to your business and have very weak leadership skills. If someone leaves food out I will most likely eat it. If you ask me to do a series of things I will inevitable forget one of them. I consider myself superior to those who: watch television, listen to mainstream music, have unusual skills, have poor taste in clothing, or have annoying idiosyncrasies. I do all of those things.
All in all I would be a poor addition to your business and you should under no circumstances hire me. I assure you you will regret your decision 6, 12 or 48 months on.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Two Untitled Poems


We drift without purpose
            dodging requests deftly
skipping along from desire to desire
             in a haze

And the absence of connection
             the relations held together
by slender ties and alcohol
             its a ripoff

 Absently bumping into one another
             on the way to the store
scraping your knuckles in the door jamb
              I'm still asleep

We always abhorred work
             the timelines and personalities
bit into my personal style but...
              I want to be someone, eventually

"Has there been a time you've
             followed through on a promise?"
"I pride myself on breaking
             everything in my path."

"Why don't you discover something,
            invent an infomercial device?"
"The world would only be worse off,
           my influence is inherently detrimental."  

   pouring molten gold
into hideous molds of
   vile gods in the act
 of eating the righteous
Everyone's got to make a
      living somehow

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: Cows

        I had assumed the reviews I had read of Matthew Stokoe's Cows had to be hyperbolic in their description of the extreme violence and Sade-esque sexuality. In hindsight they were all more or less spot on. This novel is almost unique in the depths of its depravity and the detailed description of the acts that occur. It is very hard to describe these parts of the book without quoting them verbatim so I am going to avoid them for the most part. Do be aware that they fill every unoccupied space in the book.  Fortunately Stokoe for the most part stays away from shock simply for shocks sake. In reviewing this work I think it is easy to get too caught up in the graphic scenes of Cows at the expense of glossing over the deeper parts of the novel. Cows explores depravity almost out of necessity as it describes evil acts while on the greater mission of understanding the animalistic side of man in the form of the drive to power and predator prey relationships. The transgressive violence in Stokoe's debut novel is only central for about the first two thirds of the book and seem to act as a weeding out process before the important and thoughtful parts of the book kick into gear. It's as if Stokoe is saying "If you can't get past the rough parts you won't be able to understand the message I have to give".
         The plot is, at least relative to the imagery, the sentiment, and the dialogue of the novel, unimportant.  The main character Steven (anti-Hero...) is a young man in an unbearable living situation and we find him at the beginning of the book beginning a new job at a slaughterhouse. Like any young man in his position he has a love interest, wants a family and is conflicted about working in a place where killing is central. Cows acts as an amplifier taking all the difficult and awkward parts of a young man's life: the search for love, the desire for independence, the drive to rise up the rungs of society and amplifies them to the extreme. Where many may be familiar of the common experience of an overbearing mother who serves sub-par food Cows depicts Steven's mother (lovingly known only as "The Hagbeat") as a genuinely evil emotionally abusive semihuman who serves him food that is literally killing him. By amplifying Steven's situation Stokoe is able to demonstrate in great detail to an outsider the difficulties that a real person in Steven's situation faces. Similarly where some may feel that life is a series of small positive events in a sea of failures and mistakes Steven's life is often punctuated by brief moments of light that inevitably turn around and introduce more tragedy into his life than had been there previously.
         Initially the dialogue in Cows seems forced, almost laughable. Many conversations come off as clunky, affected, and most of the characters appear pretentious or insane. Upon returning from his first day of work, stinking and covered in slaughter byproducts Steven Runs into his disturbed love interest in the hall of their council house. A piece of meat falls from his hair and she asks:
                     "They live don't they? They suffer. Like us. Haven't you seen the poison inside them? Hard and black and stuck in the intestines? Or under the liver or somewhere else?" 
             Her comment is practically unprovoked and one could imagine this scene playing out awkwardly in an uncomfortable amateur art film or an endless Godard monologue. It wasn't until well into the novel that I decided that Stokoe meant for much of the dialogue to be read more as a philosophical lesson than as actual conversation between two people. He places his characters in such unbearable situations that the only way to cope, the only way to process what they are going through is to do it out loud and in the most complex was possible. Viewed in this context the dialogue begins to work and adds a lot to the general feeling of the novel even if it is jarring to go from an extremely violent scene to a staid discussion of the transformative powers of violence.
            The cows in Cows serve to provide a number of different roles and as I'm sure you have gathered from the title are central to the book. To a certain extent the slaughterhouse workers and the herd switch roles as the humans go about their daily routines with a sort of mindless bovine servility and the cows search for existential fulfillment. The cows begin to speak to Steven and this lends an air of magical realism to the novel but their dialogue is so mundane that any whimsy fades into the background immediately. The herd mentality is played out perfectly in the manner and content of the cows speech and the discussions among the herd is unsettling similar to many current human political discussions. Ultimately the Cows are us: forever afraid, hopelessly searching, and composed primarily of various insatiable appetites. They bicker and fight while maintaining ignorance of the world around them and blindly follow the entity that gets them the most riled up.
            One cow, unnamed, stands above the rest in intelligence and leadership and a struggle between it and Steven form one of the most intricate and thought provoking relationships of the book. The nature of power is central to this relationship and the novel as a whole: power over another species, the interaction between power and sex, and power over members of our own species. Stokoe argues through the actions of the characters that we forever rationalize the power we exert over others but in reality the drive for power  comes from a wholly animalistic and ultimately destructive place. His argument is convincing and it would be difficult to explore this argument without the level of violence in the book.
          Steven's only emotional outlet and sole hope for the future is found in the vast quantities of television he watches. He imagines his life in the future as like those he sees on t.v and later in the novel strives to recreate what he watches. To a greater or lesser extent anyone who has interfaced with media has attemped this and realized the paradox of the illusion. Stokoe addresses the impossibility of attaining the televised lie straight on. In fact much of the tragedy that fills Steven's life comes from this search and in a sense Cows is  a cautionary tale of the lures of media. The novel was written just before the internet attained its current cultural status and it would be interesting to see how Stokoe would integrate the illusions of social networking and customizable media into Steven's life.
          Cows is Stokoe's first novel and his other books High Life and Empty Mile have received great reviews. I plan to pick them up in the future. Cows is a rare book, quick too and it certainly packs a punch along with thought provoking moments if you can handle the other bits. Stokoe's profile is fairly low key now but here's hoping that in the future he attains the attention he deserves .

Matthew Stokoe
October 1999
Akashic Books "Little House on the Bowery" series          

Monday, May 7, 2012

My nootropic experience

        The "Nootropics" constitute a wide class of substances, some pharmaceuticals, some vitamins and some nutrients that are claimed to increase a healthy person's mental functioning. The effects of the nootropics run from enhancing memory, boosting mood, increasing concentration, and others. This emphasis on "claim" is strong here as very few effects have been found to occur in healthy people. On a side note: I personally do not consider amphetamine or methylphenidate to be nootropics since even though they allow those with ADD/ADHD to achieve success in school these drugs are primarily remedying a disorder. Nootropics are thought to impart a cognitive benefit to those that are already healthy and while giving amphetamines to a healthy person may allow them to concentrate better or for extended amounts of time as far as  I have heard retention does not increase.  This status of course is arguable and I would be interested in hearing the other side of the debate if anyone could provide point supporting these drugs as nootropics.The term was coined by a Romanian Dr. Giurgea in the early 70's and the popularity of nootropics have waxed and wained since. The prototypical-and as far as I know first-substance to be labeled a nootropic was piracetam. It was the first in a series of "-racetam" drugs which work through a still unknown method of action and are used as anti-epileptics in Europe and possibly other areas of the world. For some reason piracetam was never approved in the US but was allowed to hold "supplement" status meaning it can be sold and used without a doctor's approval. At some point along the line piracetam was claimed to be a cognitive enhancer and began to be relatively widely used. One of the selling points of the drugs was its low potential for toxicity. It is so "untoxic" in fact that daily doses in the 2-5 gram range are recommended. This of course should make anyone even remotely familiar with how the brain and drugs interact a little suspicious.
            About two years ago I became interested in the potentials of nootropics and decided to pick up some piracetam from an online vendor. It was very cheap and came via post in a ziplock bag. Naturally  I can't recommend buying greymarket white powders over the internet but there are always risks inherent in science and I took this one. The powder had an insipid chemical taste that while not terribly strong eventually became unbearable. Every school day I would fill four "00" gauge empty capsules with the powder and take two in the morning and two in the afternoon. There were no subjective effects that could be distinguished from placebo. I continued on this regimen for almost 9 months only taking the piracetam on school days. During the first quarter I took piracetam (spring) I achieved some of the best grades of my college career up until that point. Naturally these results encouraged me to continue to take piracetam. The next quarter (fall) i began taking it again but my grades returned to my normal (B+) range. I continued taking piracetam until my supply ran out (about another 6 months) but my grades more or less hovered around my previous average.
           It was tempting to attribute my boost in grades-however brief it was-to piracetam. But in hindsight the fluctuation in grades was more likely due to my increased interest in my spring classes (that quarter I took abnormal psychology which I had been looking forward to taking for years) and disinterest in my fall classes (social psychology, among others).
           A year later I experimented with a premade cocktail of nootropics that I bought at a supplement shop. If I remember correctly it contained mostly vinpocitine among a few other less powerful nootropics and, this I remember vividly, cranberry juice extract for some unfathomable reason. This mix was costly and again had no noticeable subjective effects nor provided a boost in my grades.
          The nootropics are perhaps the most appealing class of drugs-at least to a certain class of drug user. There often comes a time, especially for those of us in school, where our desire to succeed butts up against our capacity to succeed. The notion that taking a pill will allow us to break through the bonds of our stupidity, the chains that bind us to mediocracy, is incredibly alluring.
          I don't want to discount the possibility of a placebo effect here; I think that the strong anticipation that comes with a first time nootropic user could well cause the drug to work, at least for a short time. This effect would compound especially if the financial cost of the drug is not inconsequential.  As for an objective effect of these drugs, one demonstrated by a well crafted study, I'm very doubtful. After all there must be good reason that the majority of nootropics are wholly uncontrolled in the U.S.
         At the heart of the popularity or at least allure of nootropics-I believe-is a fairly widespread notion that we are not achieving our full potential, that there is some aspect of ourselves that is waiting to be unleashed (independent of hard work) if we can just find the key. My experience with nootropics (so far at least) has made me very skeptical of this idea.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Current favorites list

Movies: Inland Empire dir. David Lynch
             Holy Mountain dir. Alejandro Jodorowsky
             Saragossa manuscript dir.Wojchiec Has
             Perfect Blue dir. Satoshi Kan

Books: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
            Ulysses by James Joyce
            Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
            Shoplifting from American Apparel by Tao Lin
            House of Leaves by mark Danielewski
            Collected Poems 1934-1953 Dylan Thomas

Albums: "Bitte Orca" Dirty Projectors
              "Blue Note Reissue" Freddy Hubbard
              "Le Sacre du Printemps" Igor Stravinsky
              "The Harder they Come" Jimmy Cliff

Thursday, May 3, 2012

New reviews

Just received The Blind Owl a masterpiece of Iranian modernist fiction by Sadegh Hedayat and Cows by Matthew Stokoe. Reviews forthcoming