December 15, 2008
“If one where to compare Henri Matisse’s work to something, it would have to be an orange,” so goes the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s memorable description of the great modernist’s work. I’ve always found Apollinaire’s collected criticism some of the most engaging, inventive words on the early years of modern art. Applying as he did the poet’s ability of verbal contortion in the face of the groundbreaking, neoteric tendencies of the day’s visual artists who were busy destroying the old guard’s perameters and familiar forms. In his introduction to his collected writings on contemporary art from Eastern Europe, Travis Jeppesen lays down his credence: What is at stake here is language and the ways in which it is deployed. The debates over the purpose of art criticism seem to ignore the simple, basic fact that the art of art criticism is in fact a literary act. John Holten reviews Travis Jeppesen's Disorientations.
December 13, 2008
Sonic Youth are cool to the point of distraction. Everything about them was and remains terminally hip. The avant garde pretensions (Raymond Pettibon, Gerhard Richter and Richard Avedon record sleeves, the Fluxus and Outsider Art allusions as well as the whole feedback as sound art) rankle and inspire in equal measure but frankly if you produce intermittently stunning albums like Sister, Goo, Daydream Nation and Dirty you’ve earned the right to do whatever the fuck you like. How their hipster allure would translate into writing may not be immediately evident but it’s clear from the off that, like The Fall book Perverted by Language, the influence is a cyclical one: Sister being partially based on Philip K Dick’s ghost twin to say nothing of Lee Ranaldo’s prodigious literary output. Darran Anderson reviews The Empty Page.
December 9, 2008
The well of transgressive literature is deep and, like the human psyche it reflects, bad things lurk there. Fiction that dares to broach the subjects others flinch at (whether to locate a greater truth, as an act of attention-seeking or just for the hell of it) has a rich if often concealed history. We live in an age where supposed sin is omnipotent, our senses have numbed to it and everything, no matter how debauched, is for sale. The fact is our liberal assumptions are not as solid as we would like to think and every now and then a work can come along that slips under our guarded sense of irony and seen-it-all-before complacency, books that question the consensus and test how genuine our devotion to free speech really is. Darran Anderson on the rise & fall of the literary nasty.
December 8, 2008
As Algren’s second novel, Never Come Morning is a seminal work, an incubator of sorts in which the writer introduces and tries out many of the themes and elements which he would hone to perfection in his next novel, the classic The Man With the Golden Arm: the struggling Polish lower class of Chicago’s Northwest Side, long, near-comic scenes set in police lineups and jail cells, a doomed protagonist blindly pursuing an unattainable dream, and characters who are overwhelmed by circumstance and fate. Peter Anderson on Nelson Algren.
December 2, 2008
Though his left-leaning beliefs were evident to even the most cursory readers of his fiction and journalism, Algren was no dyed-in-the-wool Bolshevik. His sympathies were instilled at an early age through experience. He grew up in a notoriously rough part of southside Chicago and came of age during the Great Depression. A heavy drinker, he struggled through a series of dead-end jobs and abject poverty. He wrote his first story in an abandoned petrol station in Texas where he was crashing and was jailed for four months for stealing a typewriter from a classroom. Writing wasn’t a career or even a calling, it was a life raft. Darran Anderson on Nelson Algren.