Crime and Philosophy

Michael Norris is always welcome here at Bill Ectric’s Place.  He never fails to capture my interest and imagination with his essays. Here is Michael’s latest article, The Absurd Life of the Criminal, via Literary Kicks. Note: Jack Black, the author, is not to be confused with Jack Black the actor.

Norris says:

“I recently read You Can’t Win, the autobiography of Jack Black. This book was a best seller in 1926, and was a favorite of William S. Burroughs. As I read it, I could see how Burroughs’ first novel, Junky, was influenced by Black’s history. But what came to mind more often were recollections of Albert Camus’ The Stranger.

“. . . The common thread in these three books is the fact that their protagonists coast along, allowing external events to determine their fate. In fact, it is their reaction to external events, to the outside world, that defines them. Meursault is not a criminal at the beginning of The Stranger. He has a conventional job. But he gets drawn into a plan of revenge on Raymond’s girlfriend, which sets in motion the events that lead him to become a murderer. Jack Black occasionally thinks of leaving crime and embarking on a “straight” life, but the temptation to make one last, big score keeps him going down the path he is on. Burroughs rebelled against his upper-middle class upbringing, and was searching for a life that negated his bourgeois values. On the way he found heroin and became an addict. After that he did what his need for the drug dictated.”

Read entire article

Berlin: Lou Reed’s Dark Poetry

Via Literary KicksMichael Norris writes:

In 1973, as a follow up to his highly successful “Transformer” album, Lou Reed released the album “Berlin”. The ten-song concept album tells of the disintegration of a couple living in Germany. The couple, Caroline and Jim, follows a dark path that starts with drug addiction and descends into infidelity, spousal abuse, loss of children due to unfit parenting, and, ultimately, suicide. The album was a commercial flop upon release. Rock critic Lester Bangs, up until this point a huge Lou Reed supporter, called the record “a gargantuan slab of maggoty rancor that may well be the most depressed album ever made.” Reaction to the album was so negative that Reed did not perform the complete song cycle in concert for over thirty years.

And yet even when the album first came out, some critics called it a masterpiece. The record developed a cult following, and decades later Reed finally decided to perform the piece live.

 Read the full article

Three for “T” (Norris, Mcneill, & Agnelli on “V” Author Thomas Pynchon)

           Photo of Lauren Agnelli by Chion Wolf

I’m reading my first Thomas Pynchon novel, V.  and wondering if Pynchon created the urban legend about baby alligators being flushed down toilets and growing into big alligators in the sewers of New York, or did he simply take a pre-existing rumor and expand upon it. For that matter, is it only a myth, or is it true? 

Sometimes I think Pynchon is like Jack Kerouac with the added luxury of sleep, leisure time, and a global outlook. Other times, Pynchon reminds me of William Burroughs, with the hallucinatory traces of intrigue and skullduggery but without the homoerotic obsession. Then again, the humor is more Vonnegut. Of course, the rollicking debauchery of V.’s  “Whole Sick Gang” might evoke Bukowski, and/or circle back again to Kerouac’s crew of desolate angel outcasts.

I refer to these other writers because it’s an easy way to describe my initial reactions to V., which I am enjoying immensely. I get the impression from Pynchon fans that the comparisons should be reversed.

In a book review of Gravity’s Rainbow, on Amazon.com, William P. Mcneill says, “Read V.  first… Pynchon’s V.  is shorter and more accessible than Gravity’s Rainbow, but addresses the same themes in a similar style. If you enjoyed V. , you will have built up a reserve of goodwill for Pynchon that will carry you through the initial rough patches of Gravity’s Rainbow. This advice was given to me years ago, and I’m glad I took it.”

Michael Norris and I got into a side-discussion about Pynchon on one of Jamelah Earle’s Ulysses threads, then “stepped outside” the virtual room to continue our conversation by email:

BILL: Lately I’ve been reading (a Rudy Rucker essay) about the relative denseness of information in various novels. Someone suggested that I read Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I get the general feeling that Rainbow is similar to Ulysses in it’s layers of reference and meaning. Would anyone here agree with that? Comment by Bill Ectric June 27th, 2008 12:07 pm

MIKE:   Bill, you *must* read Gravity’s Rainbow. It is quite accessible compared to Ulysses, but yes the denseness of reference is there. To read Pynchon, you need to be versed in History, Literature, and Drugs. And have a sense of humor. Comment by Michael Norris – June 27th, 2008 2:57 pm

BILL: You’ve convinced me. I’m going to read Gravity’s Rainbow. Now, let me ask you this. Someone said it would be better to read “V” first. Have you read
V?  – email from billectric

MIKE: Yes, read V first. This will get you used to Pynchon’s style. Also, V is set
in a more contemporary period, whereas Gravity’s Rainbow takes place during
WWII. Also, some of the characters in V repeat in Gravity’s Rainbow. – email from Michael Norris

For some background on Thomas Pynchon, here’s a LitKicks article written by singer/musician/writer Lauren Agnelli. I once had the pleasure of seeing Lauren perform with the Washington Squares in New York City at the Bowery Poetry Club, a memory I will always cherish.