Blog 3: On the Heights of Despair

E.M. Cioran’s 1934 debut book On the Heights of Despair (written at the age of 21) was written to talk himself out of suicide. Amongst all the melancholy, the text still offers passages like this, titled “Absolute Lyricism”:

“I would like to explode, flow, crumble into dust, and my disintegration would be my masterpiece. I would like to melt in the world and for the world to melt orgasmically in me and thus in our delirium to engender an apocalyptic dream, strange and grandiose like all crepuscular visions. Let our dream bring forth mysterious splendors and triumphant shadows, let a general conflagration swallow the world, and let its flames generate crepuscular pleasures as intricate as death and as fascinating as nothingness. Lyricism reaches its ultimate form of expression only through delirium. Absolute lyricism is the lyricism of last moments. In it, expression becomes reality, ceasing to be a partial, minor, and unrevealing objectification. Not only your intelligence and your sensitivity, but your entire being, your life, and your body participate in it. Absolute lyricism is destiny which has reached self-knowledge. Such lyricism will never take an objective and separate form, for it is in your own flesh and blood. It only emerges at those crucial moments when experience is expression. Death’s only form is it’s experience. Thus lyricism is a juxtaposition of act and reality, because the act is no longer a manifestation of reality but reality itself. Absolute lyricism is beyond poetry and sentimentalism, and close to a metaphysics of destiny. In general, it tends to put everything on the plane of death. All important things bear the sign of death.”

There are so many points of register as this passage sings through me. The beginning reminds me of a line by Jean Genet, as cited by Mark Amerika in his book The Kafka Chronicles (my Bible as a college freshman in ’95): “…I want to swallow myself by opening my mouth very wide and turning it over my head so that it would take in my whole body, and then the Universe, until all that would remain of me would be a ball of eaten thing which little by little would be annihilated: that is how I see the end of the world.”

The Cioran passage brings to mind Roberto Calasso’s notion of “absolute literature;” the ’80s romanticism of Modern English where a stilled world allows lovers to melt into each other; the “Get Drunk” prose poem of Baudelaire’s Spleen; the “crepuscular visions” of Bruegel and Lautreamont and Vollmann; and my favorite song by Nine Inch Nails, “The Only Time” (fun lyrics, I am listening now. Especially loved when I was a teenager).

I also find a profound relation between art and action, act and potency, and art and reality, which is the crux of my dissertation, “On Cultural Guerrilla Warfare: Art As Action.” The dissertation includes a chapter on suicide and art, so Cioran will find his way back to my dissecting table in various turns for further treatments.

It is clear at least through the reading here, as with some other passages in On the Heights of Despair, that Cioran loved language, the world, and life too much to take his own. He was a 21yr old Nietzschean wrestling with the abyss, but who wasn’t? Hell, I am still listening to Nine Inch Nails.

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Blog 2: Favorite Books

I made this list, or group of lists, about a year ago quite spontaneously  lying in bed one night. The category titles were just as spontaneous, which is why some have two names. I have added a few books to each category over recent months in thinking about posting this. As in any taxonomy the categories are relatively artificial and some books are in more than one category.  The goal was to catalog the books that have been most important to me in my life so far, for one reason or another. Most likely I am leaving out some obvious books that I have always loved and are essential, but this is the fun of spontaneity, which is at least a basic parameter (many of these are sentimental choices). Several times I have been asked what my favorite book is and have been taken aback; it is a pretty impossible question to answer. In a way this is my answer. Maybe one day I will do a “desert island” top five. For now you get this:



Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll; Finnegan’s Wake – James Joyce; The Collected Edgar Allan Poe; The Tanakh; The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins; The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri; Fizzles – Samuel Beckett.


Resurrection – Leo Tolstoy; The Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne; A Burnt Out Case – Graham Greene; The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene; The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene; Scandal – Shusako Endo; Sonnets for Orpheus – Rainer Maria Rilke; Barabbas – Par Lagerkvist.

The World is Dense and Connected/The World is Wide and Reachable

Cities of the Red Night – William S. Burroughs; Moby Dick – Herman Melville; Fragments – Heraclitus; The Atlas – William T. Vollmann; A Tomb for Boris Davidovitch – Danilo Kis; The Illuminatus Trilogy – Robert Anton Wilson; Process and Reality – Alfred North Whitehead.

Life is Real and Serious Things Matter

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy; The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky; God’s Bits of Wood – Ousmane Sembene; East of Eden – John Steinbeck; These Dreams of You – Steve Erickson; Rising Up and Rising Down – William T. Vollmann.

Artistic Inspiration

Nothing Like The Sun – Anthony Burgess; Martin Eden – Jack London; Purgatorio – Dante Alighieri; The Diaries of Paul Klee; Noa Noa – Paul Gauguin; A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemmingway; The Post-Human Dada Guide – Andrei Codrescu; The Intimate Journals of Charles Baudelaire.

The Rational Hero

A Wild Sheep Chase/Dance, Dance, Dance – Haruki Murakami; The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle; The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler; Playback – Raymond Chandler; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce; Faust – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; The Book of Job.

Deities, Heroes, and Litanies

The Mahabharata; The Western Lands – William S. Burroughs; The Theogony – Hesiod; The Metamorphoses – Ovid; Labyrinths – Jorge Luis Borges; The Poetic Edda – Snorri Sturluson; The Encyclopedia of the Dead – Danilo Kis;  Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams – Sylvia Plath.


Zeroville – Steve Erickson; King Lear – William Shakespeare; A Midsummer’s Night Dream – William Shakespeare; Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes; The Complete Short Works of Kafka.


For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway; Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemingway;  Martin Eden – Jack London; The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler; The Samurai – Shusako Endo; The Bhagavad-Gita; The Rifles – William T. Vollmann; The Crossing – Cormac McCarthy; Siddhartha – Herman Hesse; The Aeneid – Virgil.


The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera; Tropic of Cancer/Capricorn – Henry Miller; The Atlas – William T. Vollmann; Twenty Love Poems and One Song of Despair – Pablo Neruda; Either/Or – Soren Kierkegaard; A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare; Nothing Like the Sun – Anthony Burgess; The Charterhouse of Parma – Stendhal; Nana – Emile Zola; The Stories of Anton Chekhov.

Darkness is Alluring

The Dwarf – Par Lagerkvist; The Oresteia – Aeschylus; The Complete Edgar Allan Poe; Le Fleur du Mal – Charles Baudelaire; Tristessa – Jack Kerouac; A Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad; Naked Lunch – William S. Burroughs; Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy.

I Gotta Go! or Restless Soul

Vertigo – W.G. Sebald; Ulysses (poem) – Alfred Tennyson; The Atlas – William T. Vollmann; Riding Toward Everywhere – William T. Vollmann; Histories – Herodotus; Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer; The Complete Stories of Paul Bowles (Library of America); Travels with Herodotus – Ryszard Kapuscinski; Leo Africanus – Amin Maalouf;

I Want to Throw a Bomb/Thought Bomb

The Illuminatus Trilogy – Robert Anton Wilson; Temporary Autonomous Zone – Hakim Bey; The Verso Book of Dissent; The Wretched of the Earth – Frantz Fanon; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; The Post-Human Dada Guide – Andrei Codrescu; Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee – Dee Brown; Beyond Good and Evil – Friedrich Nietzsche.

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First Blog (Ever!!!)

So this is my first blog, Work and Days. I hope the classicists enjoy the reference, Hesiod is one of my all time favorite writers. I in no way mean to copy his work of the same name, I am merely stealing the title. I admit that I have never been a fan of blogs. They seem a little too exhibitionist for my liking. The writer’s life, the artist’s life (and yes, I did cringe when I used those two words in regards to my self), is a dedicatedly private one. I need to work. Alone in this room, (and sometimes publicly in a coffee shop, or bar, or just wherever I am when I get out my notepad and put words down) I work. What more can I say that isn’t in the articles, essays, stories, novels, and facebook statuses that I compose daily? Or the non-personal stuff that ends up in my personal journal? I guess the rest goes here.


Another purpose for this blog, is that in conjunction with the rest of my website, I need to market myself, self-promote. I have some projects completed and several more in the works and now that I have begun publishing the stuff that I really care about (not that I didn’t care about the journalism that I have published, but it was what it was, and I will not disparage my bread and butter in any way) I need a greater presence online. Writers made it in the past without such a presence, but the industry is quite different now.


When I finished my first novel it was an amazingly great feeling, but the subsequent feeling was crushing. It was the feeling that went with the thought, “now what do I do with it?” I finished a first novel, it took three years, and no one cared. No one was waiting for it, no one was ready to publish it, it was done and then I (without an agent) needed to wear a very different title, “self-promoter.” It isn’t enough to be a writer, but until I have an agent, and really a publisher who likes me, there is a missing part to the reality of “writer.”


Can I just keep on working, making art, without the recognition of publication? Sure, as William T. Vollmann constantly quotes Gandhi on the subject (and Gandhi is likely taking it from the Dhammapada), “we must work without expecting results.” This is great for ethics and morality, and even for the artistic process, but it is tough in a world where it would be nice to make a living out of doing what one most enjoys. In an interview Vollmann also gives one tip to young writers, “never write for money.” I have written for money, but those were commissions I accepted for the paycheck. With my fiction or creative non-fiction I make the work the way the work should be without making any choices in consideration of sales. I hope people will like the works and that the works will find an audience (and a paying medium for that audience), but that is as far as my audience consideration goes. I am a reader, an audience for literature, and I rationalize that if I like it someone else will too, and consider that the odds are that many people will. So it just goes without saying (but here I am saying it anyway) that I write things I would like to read.


As I write I realize another reason for this blog. Though a writer/artist (cringe) is a private person, or a person who needs a lot of alone time, confidence is essential to self-promotion and the public part of being a writer/artist who is published and sells work. The exhibitionism of blogging, of having a place to declare my vocation as more than just an avocation to anyone who wants to listen (possibly a pretty large online audience) is good practice for me. I need to learn to not cringe. That is one of the hardest parts for me. There are good odds that some of you reading this (if you linked by facebook) had no idea that I was a producer of creative fine arts. Maybe you only knew me as an academic, or just some guy that owns a lot of books.


So this is Work and Days, it’s about my work and my relationship with the works of others, the arts, the way we fill our days.

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