Issue No. 115
It’s hard to write about “The Moon In Its Flight” because it means too much to me. I have read it more often than any other story and have taught it every year for twenty years.
The first time I came across it was in a library in New Orleans. I was killing time in the air-conditioned stacks before I went to my waitressing job that night. I worked in a Turkish restaurant where I was required to dress up like a genie and read fortunes out of coffee grounds. I was twenty. Twenty-one maybe. It doesn’t matter really. Impossibly young, let’s say.
When I finished it, I just sat there, thinking, Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. “The Moon in Its Flight” is a funny story and because of this I’d been skating across the top of it, but when I got to a certain point it was like falling through the ice into freezing water. I felt like I’d been given a glimpse of what it would be like to be twenty years older once life had hammered the hell out of me.
I had never read a story that contained so much emotion in so little space. It swings from the most stunningly cynical moments to the most unnervingly tender, often within the space of one paragraph. And like all geniuses, Sorrentino makes it look easy. I will never write something as good as this story, but I like rereading it, seeing again how high he set the bar. Believe me when I say I wanted to kiss his shoe.
I’m tempted to quote line after line from the story here, but I don’t need to because you can just read it for yourself. If you like it, you should go seek out the rest of his work.
If you don’t like it, wait twenty years and read it again.
Author of Dept. of Speculation
Support Recommended Reading
by Gilbert Sorrentino
Recommended by Jenny Offill
This was in 1948. A group of young people sitting on the darkened porch of a New Jersey summer cottage in a lake resort community. The host some Bernie wearing an Upsala College sweatshirt. The late June night so soft one can, in retrospect, forgive America for everything. There were perhaps eight or nine people there, two of them the people that this story sketches.
Bernie was talking about Sonny Stitt’s alto on “That’s Earl, Brother.” As good as Bird, he said. Arnie said, bullshit: he was a very hip young man from Washington Heights, wore mirrored sunglasses. A bop drummer in his senior year at the High School of Performing Arts. Our young man, nineteen at this time, listened only to Rebecca, a girl of fifteen, remarkable in her New Look clothes. A long full skirt, black, snug tailored shirt of blue and white stripes with a high white collar and black velvet string tie, black kid Capezios. It is no wonder that lesbians like women.
At some point during the evening he walked Rebecca home. She lived on Lake Shore Drive, a wide road that skirted the beach and ran parallel to the small river that flowed into Lake Minnehaha. Lake Ramapo? Lake Tomahawk. Lake O-shi-wa-noh? Lake Sunburst. Leaning against her father’s powder-blue Buick convertible, lost, in the indigo night, the creamy stars, sound of crickets, they kissed. They fell in love.
One of the songs that summer was “For Heaven’s Sake.” Another, “It’s Magic.” Who remembers the clarity of Claude Thornhill and Sarah Vaughan, their exquisite irrelevance? They are gone where the useless chrome doughnuts on the Buick’s hood have gone. That Valhalla of Amos ’n’ Andy and guinea fruit peddlers with golden earrings. “Pleasa No Squeeza Da Banana.” In 1948, the whole world seemed beautiful to young people of a certain milieu, or let me say, possible. Yes, it seemed a possible world. This idea persisted until 1950, at which time it died, along with many of the young people who had held it. In Korea, the Chinese played “Scrapple from the Apple” over loudspeakers pointed at the American lines. That savage and virile alto blue-clear on the subzero night. This is, of course, old news.
Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (via booksalon)
Literary Word Count Infographic: http://shortlist.com/entertainment/books/literary-word-count-infographic
A truly unique work of fiction, ‘The Codex Seraphinianus‘ is a book that appears to be a visual encyclopedia of some unknown world or dimension. Written down in one of that worlds beautiful curving languages, the book by Italian artist, architect and industrial designer Luigi Serafini, explains the odd inhabitants and their colorful behaviors.
Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and two dogs sitting on a grass bank. Monk’s House (Rodmell, England), 1933.
“I try to invent you for myself, but find I really have only 2 twigs and 3 straws to do it with. I can get the sensation of seeing you—hair, lips, colour, height, even, now and then, the eyes and hands, but I find you going off, to walk in the garden, to play tennis, to dig, to sit smoking and talking, and then I cant invent a thing you say—This proves, what I could write reams about—how little we know anyone, only movements and gestures, nothing connected, continuous, profound. But give me a hint I implore.”
— Virginia Woolf in a letter to Vita Sackville-West
Oscar Wilde’s letter to an Oxford student on the uselessness of art:
My Dear Sir
Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.
A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.
Everyone in his life has drowned and he hates dogs and she’s a collegiate swimming coach with a thousand dogs.
He’s a collapsing star in the heart of the galaxy and she’s an ex-con with 5,000 spacebucks and nothing to lose.
He’s clever and she’s stupid.
He’s good-looking and she’s ugly.
She’s sort of interested in him, but he’s not sure how interested he is in her, though he is, a little bit.
He is always being ironic and she is disdainful of irony.
He’s a prosperous historian living in the present day, and she’s a historian struggling to make ends meet … from the future.
She’s a Nereid and he’s a Dryad.
She’s a sassy black oncologist and he’s a racist with prostate cancer.
She’s a plucky explorer of catacombs with a lust for adventure and smoldering good-looks, but he’s the quiet type, content to stay at home, reading about the exploration of catacombs only in books.
He’s moneyed and she’s a bitch.
He’s squeamish around blood but she is courteous around blood.
He’s a Muslim terrorist and she’s a normal Muslim.
He blew up the World Trade Center and she blew up when she heard he blew up the World Trade Center.
She’s a singer/songwriter but he’s just a songwriter/gay.
They’re both gay.
He’s a foot fetishist and she’s an amputee.
I keep trying to convey something which cannot be conveyed, to explain something which cannot be explained, something in my bones, which can only be experienced in the same bones. In essence it might be nothing more than that fear of the greatest things as well as the smallest, fear, convulsive fear of pronouncing a single word. On the other hand, maybe this fear isn’t simply fear, but also longing for something greater than anything that can aspire fear. Only I am at fault, because there is too little truth on my part, still far too little truth, still mostly lies, lies told out of fear of myself and fear of people. This pitcher was broken long before it went to the well. And now I am keeping my mouth shut in order to stick with the truth a little. Lying is horrible, there is no worse mental agony. Therefore I beg you: let me be silent.
Franz Kafka, Letters To Milena (via homo-infimus)
Edward Curtis - The North American Indian
“In 1906, J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. The work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs.
Morgan’s funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldwork for the books, not for writing, editing, or production of the volumes. Curtis himself would receive no salary for the project, which was to last more than 20 years.
Curtis’s goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before it disappeared.
He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907:
The information that is to be gathered…respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.
Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music.
He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes.
He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs.
He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only written recorded history although there is still a rich oral tradition that documents history.”
1. Klamath Indian at Crater Lake
2. Two Whistles, Apsaroke
3. Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon
7. Bear Bull - Blackfoot
8. Red Cloud
9. Apache Gaun
10. Offering to the Sun - San Ildefonso
What a picture of Indian character this affords: a mere infant starting out alone into the fastnesses of the mountain wilds, to commune with the spirits of the infinite, a tiny child sitting through the night on a lonely mountain-top, reaching out its infant’s hands to God! On distant and near-by hills howl the coyote and the wolf. In the valleys and on the mountain side prowl and stalk all manner of animals. Yet alone by the little fire sits the child listening to the mysterious voices of the night.
“All the faces I saw were of strangers, and would continue to be so for weeks and months as I didn’t know a soul here, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling that I was being watched. Even when I lived on a tiny island far out into the sea with only three inhabitants I felt like I was being…