What of the Ottava Rima in Byron’s ‘Don Juan’?
Lord Byron’s use of ottava rima—a form of poetry with an ABABABCC rhyming pattern—in his mock-epic poem Don Juan stems from his belief to deliver seriocomic material. The poem builds up content, alternating rhyming lines then cinches with a facetious end. Byron first used ottava rima in 1817 for Beppo: A Venetian Story—a good match for the extensive and quasi-exotic love story. So, it’s natural that he took up the same seriocomic tone of the ottava rima a year later, when he wanted to satirize Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey forms that he had just been using. Eventually this project turned into his long satiric poemDon Juan, a long and erotic adventure tale told in 17 sections. Regardless of how or why Byron decided on ottava rima for Don Juan, the form undoubtedly influenced the poem’s content through tone, pace, and lineation.
For a poem, Don Juan is a new approach to content, breadth, and action. In his essay, “Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel,” Bakhtin claimed that all forms of literature look forward to the novel and that in times when “the novel reigns supreme, almost all the remaining genres are to a greater or lesser extent novelized.” In drama, examples include Henrik Ibsen, Richard Hauptmann, the entirety of Naturalist drama, and epic poetry like Childe Harolde and Lord Byron’s Don Juan.”
Sci-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Dominated by Horny Bro Wizards
In a genre where supposedly Anything Goes, where the boundaries of narrative and potential reality are not only immaterial, but also intended to be shattered with pure acts of what-the-fuck, I’ve always been baffled by how 90 percent of science fiction works seem exactly the same—a glorified romance novel, unnecessarily set in a world where, like, computers can erase minds.
A LIST OF THINGS I NEVER UNDERSTOOD OR LIKED ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION
Why so much goddamn talking? The Earth is being pressed upon by black magnets piloted by a race of people made of lasers from the eyes of God, and here’s a four-page scene featuring two dudes having a conversation about who stole who’s Space Lamborghini. Dialogue is fucking stupid 90 percent of the time in the first place, but when written by someone with Asperger’s it becomes instant skimming material. Please stop.
Having a Premise
The worst thing about most science fiction is how the author gets an idea they like, and then that’s the book. Like, there’s an underwater city ruled by a blue cube that holds its citizens in eternal fear threatening to explode the glass walls that contain them if they don’t work tirelessly on building a machine gun powerful enough to kill the moon, but then people just run around trying to figure out a way to stop the cube’s cruel reign, and nothing interesting happens besides the idea on the back of the book. Call me a dick, but I don’t want one fun idea, I want 500.
Generally Shitty Writing
I imagine the thinking behind a lot of science fiction is that the ideas and conceits are so fantastic that it doesn’t matter how plain the writing is. I guess the crudity is supposed to be part of the appeal, but sometimes it’s nice to not feel like I could read one out of every 18 sentences and still get the same feel out of the book. Why can’t the language be as weird as the ideas?
All the Books Blake Butler Read This Year
A Day in the Strait by Emmanuel Hocquard
The Obscene Madame D by Hilda Hilst
A close friend of one of my favorites, Clarice Lispector, Hilst isn’t a far cry from the fragmentary, mutative mindset of that relation. This brief 57-page meta-monologue is stuffed to the gills with ideas of madness from a mind you actually want to see run rampant. It gushes in a somehow more intimate and raving Beckett-ian mode. I wish there were a shitload of little shattering novellas like this everywhere, available in gas stations, as a drug.
The Ruined Map by Kobo Abe
Prostitution by Pierre Guyotat
The Use of Speech by Nathalie Sarraute
The Box Man by Kobo Abe
Reflections by Mark Insingel
The Moon’s Jaw by Rauan Klassnik
Tenth of December by George Saunders
Red Doc > by Anne Carson
Three by Ann Quin
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Castle to Castle by Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Taipei by Tao Lin
No disappointment after the hype for this new novel from someone whom I’ve always looked to as an icon just ahead of the curve. Taipei takes everything Tao Lin was always astounding at—intricately bizarre observations of social contexts and the moment-to-moment shades of one’s emotions—to a newly effective depth. The book holds nothing back, fusing Wallace-sized sentence structures with Tao’s masterful minimalism, while somehow managing to infuse the mutative energy of the internet in what may end up being the most open look at the inner workings of a young person in whatever social era we’re currently trapped in.
The Face of Another by Kobo Abe
Read the whole list
The Book Report, by Leigh Stein
Image art by Alex Cook
The Book Report is a series that promises to deliver exactly what it promises: reports on books by the people who’ve read them. Catch evenings of live, in-person Book Reports that will remind you of the third grade in the best possible way with hosts Leigh Stein and Sasha Fletcher every month at The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in New York. The next one is December 10, and you should go.
Very premium literary masterwork Super Sad True Love Story begins in Italy, a beautiful place I have never seen, which is good way to start novel because it says, Reader, I have seen beautiful things and now I will tell you about them.
I learned a lot about Italian romance in this story. For example, in Italy, a woman with name of Eunice can be object of sexual desire. Also, in Italy, eating rabbit is prelude to semiconsensual oral sex. Most important thing I learn is this: I never knew what super sad, true love was until I meet Mr. Gary Shteyngart himself.
“I hear New York writer interviewed on NPR,” Mother told me, when I was home in Chicago. “He is Jewish and teaches at Columbia University?”
“Mr. Gary Shteyngart?” I inquired, hopefully.
“Very funny man. Have you met him?”
“No,” I said, thinking how ridiculous it would be to become proximal with famous writer.
"I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”
New fiction by Alejandro Zambra
"Thank You" – New Fiction by Alejandro Zambra
Alejandro Zambra is one of our favorite living writers. His first book, Bonsai, won the Chilean Critics’ Award for Best Novel of the Year in 2006. We first read his work when Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Ways of Going Home in 2013. What distinguishes Alejandro from his contemporaries is the sweetness and intimacy of his writing, and his confidence in letting himself be as he is. As you read his work, there’s never the impression that he is second-guessing himself, thinking, “So-and-so would do it this way,” or “Such-and-such editor would say that.” He exhibits this remarkable confidence on the page, one that allows him to be himself and to speak, a special kind of generosity. It feels like knowing and speaking to a sweetheart—it never feels like he’s an author who pretends, or tries to teach, or falls into egotistical traps. Flaws in writing often come from flaws in character. Alejandro doesn’t seem to have any of those. He’s just a lovely, special, strange person who seems to look at his actual world and describe it in his actual, natural voice, and he leaves it at that. He has the authority that J. M. Coetzee, V. S. Naipaul, and Bret Easton Ellis have all identified as the writer’s bedrock.
“I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”—“No we’re not,” they answer in unison, and it’s the truth: for a little over a month now they’ve been sleeping together, they eat, read, and work together, so that someone with a tendency to exaggerate, someone who watched them and carefully parsed the words they say to each other, the way their bodies move closer to each other and entwine—a brash person, someone who still believed in these sorts of things, would say they really loved each other, or that at least they shared a dangerous and generous passion; and yet they are not together, if there is one thing they are very clear about it is precisely this, that they are not together. She is Argentine and he’s Chilean, and it’s much better to refer to them like that, the Argentine woman, the Chilean man.
They’d planned on walking, they’d talked about how nice it is to go long distances on foot, and they even reached the point where they were dividing people into two groups: those who never walk long distances and those who do, and who they believe are, because of that, better. They’d planned on walking, but on a whim they hailed a taxi, and they had known for months, even before they’d arrived in Mexico City, when they’d received a set of instructions that was full of warnings, that they should never hail a taxi in the street, and up till then it had never occurred to them to hail a taxi in the street, but this time, on a whim, they did it, and soon she thought the driver was going the wrong way and she said as much to the Chilean in a whispered voice, and he reassured her out loud, but his words didn’t even get to take effect because right away the taxi stopped and two men got in and the Chilean reacted valiantly, recklessly, confusedly, childishly, stupidly: he punched one of the bandits in the nose, and he went on struggling for long seconds while she shouted, Stop it, stop it, stop it. The Chilean stopped, and the bandits let him have it, they showed him no mercy, they may have even broken something, but this all happened long ago, a good ten minutes ago. By now they’ve already given up their money and their credit cards and they’ve already recited their ATM PIN numbers and there’s only a little time left that to them seems like an eternity, during which they ride with their eyes squeezed shut, “Shut your eyes, pinches cabrones,” the two men tell them.
Book Report: ‘Frankenstein’
Last fall, as I prepared for my first semester of full-time adjuncting in New York, I thought it would be a good idea to teach texts that I’d always meant to read but never had. Maybe Heart of Darkness or Great Expectations. (The Old Man and the Sea or Wurthering Heights?) And I could read along with my students. It was not a very good idea. I still have not read 100 percent ofHamlet, even though I taught it and graded papers on it—but I did manage to keep up withFrankenstein by Mary Shelley.
I chose this book for both a freshman-composition class for international students and, at another school, an introduction-to-literature class. It seemed like a great choice: canonized young woman novelist, probably a straightforward ethical message, weird gender inversions with male birth narrative.
Prior to teaching Frankenstein, my knowledge of the plot was cobbled together from loosely interpreting Tim Burton films, the moment from the 1931 film adaptation when Dr. Frankenstein screams, “It’s alive! It’s alive!,” and a 1998 Twix commercial.
'Macbeth' – The Book Report
The Book Report is a series that promises to deliver exactly what it promises: reports on books by the people who’ve read them. Catch evenings of live, in-person Book Reports that will remind you of the third grade in the best possible way with hosts Leigh Stein and Sasha Fletcher every month at The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in New York. The next one is November 12.
OK right so first off there are these ladies hanging out in the woods over a trash-can fire with a cauldron and they are stirring it with probably brooms. Basically this is where the sign drops down saying “WITCHES” as a sort of stage direction to our lives. OK so there is this guy named DUNCAN and he is king of all the Scots. And OK so MACBETH is the main guy here because he gets first billing. And so the thing about MACBETH is that he killed some guys in a war and so that was good, and then he and his best buddy BANQUO get shit-housed and wander around the woods all shit-housed like a bunch of loud-ass drunk white dudes in positions of middle management obsessed and incensed with their own perceived lack of value, and they stumble across THESE THREE LADIES  and the THREE LADIES are all like, “O, yo, MACBETH we were just talkin about U,” and Macbeth is all, “Who me?” and the witches say, “Yes, U. U R gonna be king.” And Banquo is all, “What about me?” and they’re all, “U R gonna father a bunch of kings, but U ain’t gonna be one.” And the aformentioned dudes are all, “Whoa, this is so weird!” And the witches are all, “Poof, we vanished” because that is exactly what happened.
I be on that kryptonite… Straight up on that kryptonite… I be on that, straight up on that… I be on that kryptonite… I be on that kryptonite…
—Nobel Prize Winning author Alice Munro’s thoughts while being photographed
Thirteen Alternate Endings for Breaking Bad
1.) In a psychotic break following the discovery of his dad’s true nature, Walt Jr. goes on a meth binge, buying up as much of his father’s blue product as he can get his hands on and eating it in maniacal sadness, leading to frenzy. He robs three liquor stores and spends the cash on breakfast cereal, which he rolls around on in huge piles alone and naked in his room. He breaks into cars and drives them into walls, laughing and pissing on the wreckage. He burns down his parents’ car wash and their home, followed by his Aunt Marie’s home, and his high school. The next day he is found dead inside a local Denny’s, having broken in overnight and gorged himself on raw eggs, bacon, and waffle batter in a food-fisting binge-party before doing so much meth his heart exploded. Walt, upon learning what his son has done, blows his head off in a men’s room outside Portland after his own last breakfast at Denny’s, in his son’s honor. The show concludes with Skyler spreading the ashes of her dead husband and son in the desert behind a Denny’s.
2.) An international cartel leader, played by a heavily prosthetic-enhanced Tom Cruise, shows up in town looking for Heisenberg. He follows leads to each of Walt’s major relations, shaking them down for information and then killing them in broad daylight. After reading about the string of murders in the paper, Walt comes down from his snowy hideout furiously angry and ready for vengeance, armed only with his wits. An anticlimactic showdown between Walt and Tom Cruise occurs when, as they finally come face to face, the cartel leader takes advantage of Walt’s tendency to have a long discussion before killing someone, and simply blasts him in the face. The show concludes with Tom Cruise buying a case of breakfast sausage at Costco before returning to his native land.