I Have Voluntary Tourette’s (and Am Insane)
It seems like just yesterday when Blake Butler, all doe-eyed and full of weird collections of words, began writing for us on a weekly basis. Over time, what started as a regular space for him to write about literature morphed into something bigger. During the last couple of years Blake has branched out to explore topics as diverse as the horrors and wonders of a Wendy’s Pretzel Burger to thedusty rumors of literary giants to interviews with both emerging and established authors. This is Blake’s 100th post for VICE.com, and to mark the occasion he told us he wanted to write “something more personal” than his usual fare. In that spirit, he sent us the below peek inside his brain.
I have long been a creature of habit and repetition. The more any day feels exactly like the one before it, the more comfortable I am, and the more productive I become in whatever I happen to be working on. At the same time, I hate planning. I never know what I want to do until just before I do it. Plans—even fun ones like having dinner or watching a movie with someone at the house—seem designed to disrupt my concentration. As uptight as this might make me sound, on the outside I feel I’m generally easygoing, even at times when my insides are all screaming.
This daily masking of discomfort has instilled in my person an odd habit of regular stress relief in the form what I’ve come to think of as “Voluntary Tourette’s.” In other words, I make repeating patterns of private sounds that I don’t necessarily have to make the way someone with actual Tourette’s literally can’t control, but that I perform now throughout the day with such regularity that it seems like I can’t stop, or at least haven’t stopped for over a decade. For the most part I can keep myself from doing these things in front of others, though after a few days in the same room as someone I’m on a trip with or whatever they start leaking out, slowly opening into my regular manners of conversation.
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.
Rob Delaney, he of the funny tweets and sometime writer of VICE articles, is releasing his first book tomorrow from Spiegel & Grau. The book is called Rob Delaney: Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. and it is one of the most hilarious bundles of words we have ever read. It’s a collection of essays, some of which appeared in one form or another on this very website in Rob’s column, Take a Stroll… with Rob Delaney. In celebration of the book’s release, today we are publishing one of its essays, “La Sexualité.” To preorder the book and gaze into Rob’s hazelnut eyes, click here.
It’s easy to get fat. In fact, it’s beyond easy. It’s fun to do, too. When someone says something is easy as pie, I think, “What aspect of a pie? Cooking it? That’s not easy, and I know how to cook lots of things. No, Rob, they mean eating it.” It is easy to jam a tasty pie, or even a shitty pie that you bought at a gas station, right the fuck into your fattening faceblob. It’s also been said that the first bite tastes the best, but the rest of them taste pretty good too.
When I was a kid, my family and I would eat every Friday night at Pizzeria Regina in Salem, Massachusetts, just one town over from Marblehead. Every other family dinner was eaten at home, so Friday was a big deal. We’d eat a pie of pizza while “Rock You Like a Hurricane” or “Eye of the Tiger” played on the jukebox (because I’d picked it), then we’d walk by a small park with a massive sculpture of Nathaniel Hawthorne seated on a throne, and go to Alden Merrell Cheesecakes, and we’d eat a pie of that, too. And indeed, it was easy.
Spring Break: A Fever Dream, by James Franco
Image by Courtney Nicholas
Here’s the end of it all, and I’ll tell you why: because there will never be a movie or a character that is more important for this age than Spring Breakers and its protagonist Alien. As Harmony Korine’s friend Werner Herzog said to me on the phone call of all phone calls—I was out in North Carolina, sitting in a little Mexican restaurant called Cocula that I frequent on my lunch breaks from the low-residency writing MFA program at Warren Wilson College, just staring out the window that’s frosted over with a map of Mexico, at the dirty field across the roadway—when he told me that my performance in the film made De Niro in Taxi Driver look like a kindergartener, and that the film was the most important film of the decade. Imagine in a distinct German accent: “Three hundred years from now, when people want to look back at dis time, dey won’t go to the Obama inauguration speech, dey will go to Spring Breakers.”
I can’t even take credit for Alien. He is Harmony’s. As he says, Alien is a gangster mystic. A clown, a killer, a lover: the spirit of the age. Riff Raff wants to take credit for this creation, but that simplifies it. It is like Neal Cassady laying claim to Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty, which isn’t a great comparison because Kerouac was transparently and literally writing about Neal. Alien undermines all. He’s a gangster who deep-throats automatic weapons as well as Linda Lovelace would. He’s the guru of the age. He’s what you would get if you got every damn material thing you ever wanted and then relished in the realization that you don’t have a use for any of it. So you make one up. “Bring it on, little bitches, come to me, little bitches… We didn’t create this sensitive monster, y’all did. Look at his shit, that’s what y’all are working fo yo’selves.”
Untitled, a poem by Cass McCombs
Illustration by Albert Herter
Pages of poetry printed from her home computer
loose like the manuscript of life’s pages
loose and rough and running over to another page
of more poetry that may well belong to a different poem
but I’ve been reading it this way for a while
and built my own understanding
anyway the poet died today
she died and I regretted not asking more
I should have been lusty for her light
instead, I regret her death
indeed, death is regrettable
our friend, our sister
my true mother, our poet
is gone and we failed
All day before the news
I had every candle in the house
burning for her health
meditations on many saints, on Mary
even the ridiculous Infant of Prague
which reminded me of her wonderful sense of humor
but the flames are now out
No doubt she will touch us again, assist me again
Great Woman—have mercy on my stuttering
inject me with your magic fluid
the woman seed that goes against the grain
Implausible Literary Halloween Costumes That No One Will Get
Acquire a small loan from a local bank or a rich friend and use the money to buy the most expensive pair of black-rimmed glasses you can find. Maybe use a little hair gel or something, but only just enough so that you feel like you look cool but didn’t mean to. Wear a white oxford shirt and Duck Head pants with a braided belt and some penny loafers, maybe. If you want to be “edgy Jonathan Franzen” you could get a jean jacket rather than a blazer, but make sure it’s one of those jean jackets that costs as much as a blazer. You should smell a little musty, like a library mixed with birdshit, covered up with Annick Goutal’s Easu D’Hadrien cologne. I recommend practicing your disinterested-and-scornful-but-internally-knitting-suburban-majesty face in the mirror while blasting Michael Bolton. Make sure that throughout the night, when surrounded by people, this expression never changes. Maybe keep surreptitiously farting without gesture, always looking elsewhere while standing against the wall nearest to the exit, pretending to be reading an email from your agent instead of lurking through the profiles of single young women who’ve mentioned you on Twitter.
A Literary Agent
Dress like you did for Jonathan Franzen, but this time actually talk to other people, making sure to laugh more loudly than is necessary at jokes that aren’t funny. Don’t say anything yourself, just kind of stand there, awkwardly hovering near wherever the most active part of the room seems to be. Don’t be afraid to end an awkward or boring conversation by simply turning away from whoever’s taking up your time in mid-sentence and joining in with someone else. Make sure you spill some of your food on your shirt, but pretend not to notice. When it’s time to leave, accidentally walk into the coat closet. Then stay there.