Sunday, November 29, 2015

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: Dosoevsky and Chernyshevsky

Commentators on the Notes and on the motif of.the Crystal Palace tend to appropriate the Underground Man's virulent invective and, in this case at least, to take it at face value. Thus they pour endless scorn on Chernyshevsky for his lack of spiritual depth: how stupid and banal this man must have been. to think that mankind is rational, that social relations are perfectible; how delightful that the profound Dostoevsky put him in his place. As it happens, Dostoevsky did not share this complacent condescension. In fact, he was virtually the only figure in respectable Russia to speak out, both before and after Chernyshevsky's arrest, in defense of his intellect, his character, even his spirituality. Although he believed Chernyshevsky to be both metaphysically and politically wrong, he could see how his radicalism sprang from "an abundance of life." Those who derided Chernyshevsky "have only succeeded in displaying the depth of your cynicism," which "serves current material interests, often to the detriment of your fellow men." Dostoevsky insisted that "these outcasts at least try to do something; they delve in order to find a way out;. they err and thereby save others; but you" -so he admonished his conservative readers-"you can only grin in a melodramatic posture of unconcern."

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.
But then the modesty of genius does not consist in what educated speech consists in, the absence of accent and dialect, but rather in speaking with the accent of the matter and in the dialect of its essence. It consists in forgetting modesty and immodesty and getting to the heart of the matter.

Monday, February 16, 2015

On YA lit

SL: There’s been heated discussion lately about the uptick of adults who read literature written for young adults. Recently in Slate, the journalist Ruth Graham declared that adults should be embarrassed if what they are reading was written for children, and that it would be a shame if readers substituted “maudlin teen drama” for the complexity of great adult literature. What are your thoughts?

JF: I don’t care what people read.

SL: You have no opinion on the question of whether or not readers might be cheating themselves if they’re reading YA lit?

JF: If it’s a loss, it’s their loss, not mine.

SL: Well, I guess that’s the point of Graham’s argument, that it is their loss and that it’s perhaps a greater loss, a collective loss, that fewer people would be—

JF: Most of what people read, if you go to the bookshelf in the airport convenience store and look at what’s there, even if it doesn’t have a YA on the spine, is YA in its moral simplicity. People don’t want moral complexity. Moral complexity is a luxury. You might be forced to read it in school, but a lot of people have hard lives. They come home at the end of the day, they feel they’ve been jerked around by the world yet again for another day. The last thing they want to do is read Alice Munro, who is always pointing toward the possibility that you’re not the heroic figure you think of yourself as, that you might be the very dubious figure that other people think of you as. That’s the last thing you’d want if you’ve had a hard day. You want to be told good people are good, bad people are bad, and love conquers all. And love is more important than money. You know, all these schmaltzy tropes. That’s exactly what you want if you’re having a hard life. Who am I to tell people that they need to have their noses rubbed in moral complexity?

SL: That is not the answer I thought you would give.

JF: Good.

Monday, November 3, 2014


I am not religious in the churchgoing sense or probably even many other senses, though I do believe in god, at least where the idea of god could be some force that exists outside reality. I do not necessarily understand why any human would imagine an illimitable entity and then think they can have a relationship with it as a human. My spirituality is more like silence, which is holier to me than wafers and wine.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, the wise are not moved by praise or blame.
The silence is so complete he can hear the whispers inside him. Mostly names of women. Women gone or dead. The ones we loved so easily. What is it, he wonders, that we had then and don’t have now, that we once were and are no longer.

Cors de Chasse

Memories Are hunting horns whose sound dies in the breeze
There is no worse hell than to remember vividly a kiss that never occurred.
Poetry is something in-between the dream and its interpretation.

Long After Midnight

A Witch is born out of the true hungers of her time. I am a child of the poisonous wind that copulated with the river on an oil-slick, garbage infested midnight. I turn about on my own parentage. I inoculate against those very biles that brought me to light. I am a serum born of venoms. I am the antibody of all time.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Spring Snow

He threw himself down at once on the dry brown grass warmed by the heat of the sun, and lay there, face up, knowing that he was completely alone, secure from every eye. Then as he sensed the numb chill that came from rowing in the fingers that cradled his head, he was suddenly overwhelmed by a wild rush of misery that he had been able to fend off while he was in the presence of other people. “This year was mine—and now it’s gone,” he cried out to himself. “It’s gone! Just like a cloud dissolving.” The words poured out of him, cruel and unrestrained, lashing him, intensifying his agony. Never before had he given way to such wildness. “Everything has turned sour, I’ll never be carried away with joy again. There’s a terrible clarity dominating everything. As though the world were made of crystal so that you only have to flick part of it with your fingernail for a tiny shudder to run through it all. . . . And then the loneliness—it’s something that burns. Like hot thick soup you can’t bear inside your mouth unless you blow on it again and again. And there it is, always in front of me. In its heavy white bowl of thick china, dirty and dull as an old pillow. Who is it that keeps forcing it on me? “I’ve been left all alone. I’m burning with desire. I hate what’s happened to me. I’m lost and I don’t know where I’m going. What my heart wants it can’t have . . . my little private joys, rationalizations, self-deceptions—all gone! All I have left is a flame of longing for times gone by, for what I’ve lost. Growing old for nothing. I’m left with a terrible emptiness. What can life offer me but bitterness? Alone in my room . . . alone all through the nights . . . cut off from the world and from everyone in it by my own despair. And if I cry out, who is there to hear me? And all the while my public self is as graceful as ever. A hollow nobility—that’s what’s left of me.”

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spring Snow

What had happened? With unerring accuracy, she had marshaled just those words that were calculated to wound him most deeply, like arrows aimed at his weakest points. She had tipped them with a poison distilled from the misgivings that preyed on him most. He should have stopped to reflect on the extraordinary efficacy of this poison. He should have tried to decide just why such a crystallization of pure malice had occurred.

But his heart was thumping in his chest, and his hands shook. Bitter anger so overwhelmed him that he was close to tears. He could not be objective and coolly analyze the emotion that wracked him. Worse yet, he had to rejoin the guests. And later in the evening there would be no escape; he would have to make pleasant conversation as though nothing were troubling him. He could imagine no task that he felt less fit to perform.