death to jargon

Jargon is a plague eroding the sanctity of language. Every field of specialization has its own filthy corral of jargon that its writers pluck from with glee and force on anyone unfortunate enough to have to read the literature these hacks have regurgitated onto the page. And actually…I do wonder about their intentionality in selecting these despicably false words. How does one ultimately decide to use the word ‘learnings’ as a plural noun? Could that honestly be a conscious decision? [If so, there may be no hope.] Or does a person read an issue of Businessweek or any other waste of paper and ink (or pixels) dedicated to the field of ‘business’ (upon which we can squarely place the blame for the majority of jargon that has infiltrated the English language) and simply internalize all these awful excuses for words? I mean, I can’t imagine someone writing a report about a meeting and thoughtfully choosing to insert ‘convening’ as a euphemistic noun in place of ‘meeting’. And yet I see that disgusting ‘word’ in many reports I edit. What kind of so-called writer does this? A lazy one.

Now, I’m not one of these people who believes languages are frozen in time and has a minor coronary every time the Oxford English Dictionary adds a few new words. A living language should gain words throughout its history—admittedly at a conservative pace—in order to meet the needs of a changing society. This normal and necessary process is not what I’m talking about, though. Jargon dilutes the effectiveness of language because it serves to replace perfectly acceptable words with trendy, idiotic terms designed to obfuscate a person’s negligible writing skills and/or their lack of comprehension of the topic about which they’re writing. It allows someone to generate paragraph upon paragraph of sentences that mean absolutely nothing. If you boiled these paragraphs in a pot until all the meaningless jargon sloughed off, you’d be left with a vapid slurry.

There is an important resource called a thesaurus, the regular use of which can help a writer build their vocabulary. Maybe it won’t completely cure the jargon plague but it can alleviate its symptoms. I’m not too proud to say I use both the thesaurus and the dictionary a lot, both in my editing work and in my personal writing. You can also learn a lot just from flipping through the dictionary at random. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked up the dictionary to look up a specific word (often to simply verify appropriate line breaks while proofreading) only to become lost for several minutes in its gloriously delicate thin pages. (And don’t get me started on those charming little pictures in the margins…)

The Edge of the Object [book review]

A tripartite journey—both geographical and emotional—Daniel Williams’s debut novel The Edge of the Object follows the highs and lows of a young Englishman living in France for a period of six months. The book as an object is striking to behold: three perfect-bound A4-sized volumes smartly dressed in the colors of the French flag and packaged in a screenprinted and letterpressed case—all designed and produced by Tim Hopkins of London’s The Half Pint Press. The prose found within is equally well crafted, with the book’s design complementing it nicely.

Taking cues in part from the work of Georges Perec, this novel is simultaneously a celebration of French culture as seen through the Francophilic eyes of a post-collegiate young man, and a keen look into the headspace of a person far from home, isolated by way of a language barrier he is only partly able to breach and yearning for human connections beyond what he often feels capable of. An erstwhile photographer, the unnamed narrator feels alternately liberated and hamstrung by the absence of his Leica—the camera offering a valid excuse to be present at a remove while also preventing true engagement in any given experience. This tension resulting from being camera-less clings to the narrative, as we watch the narrator struggle to engage with his surroundings—taking as many steps backward as forward in this endeavor—as he moves from place to place.

Williams writes with exacting precision—mapping the interior emotional journey of his narrator as carefully as he describes his geographical progress through France. He has a journalistic eye for detail, snapping word-images in lieu of photos and placing scene after scene in front of the reader with aplomb. Moments of wry humor and painterly passages of the French countryside counter the heaviness of themes of left-behind love and debilitating incidents of migraine headaches. Also tempering the at times somber subject matter, the pages of the first and third sections of the book are graced with striking calligrams—images sculpted from the words on the page and representative of a central theme or object on each page. These calligrams gently encourage the reader to slow down or speed up accordingly, keeping step with the pacing of the story.

The first part of the book is written in second-person point-of-view—unusual but appropriate to the experience of being in a rural area of a foreign country, surrounded by its natives, yet only with a workmanlike grasp of its language. The central character is living in a falling-apart cottage, not much more refined than a cave (and perhaps even less dry). Whenever nature calls, he must journey through a warren of gardens to reach the privy, and—adding to the inconvenience—the only running water for washing up is also located outside. It is hard living, made even harder by his isolation.

In the second part, the point-of-view segues to first person as our man reaches the big city of Paris and makes contact with the first of a series of friends he will spend time with over the coming weeks. Gone are the calligrams in favor of straightforward text blocks, as the focus in narration begins to point outwards in concert with the narrator’s efforts to interact more with the people around him. He soon meets up with a friend’s indie pop group on tour and joins them for a number of club dates around the country, during which he becomes interested in a woman whose feelings toward him are slippery at best.

The final part of the book returns to calligrams and the second-person distance, as the narrator backtracks to his lonely cottage existence. Here he comes to a decision about one last adventure to embark upon before his trip comes to a close. This jaunt provides a suitable denouement to his time in France, as we feel this fellow we’ve traveled so closely with start winding down and perhaps pine a bit harder for home. And indeed, the last page finds him back in England with his camera once again in hand—facing a future unknown but now fertilized with a rich new layer of experience from which to grow, perhaps out beyond the self he became too much of while away.

And yet, while these six months have taken you further from the excesses of the world than ever before, they have plunged you into an excess of time, of memory, and of yearning. If anything, you have become too much yourself.

[Limited print copies of the book may still be available, and the ebook has recently been released. Details at The Edge of the Object site. See also Williams’s essay in The Quietus on Perec’s novella A Man Asleep and its connection to this novel.]

get your trinkets

The GPA archivists have begun a new series called ‘Trinkets’ that will explore the theme of Smallness. For this series, one collaborator provides a series of three photos to the other collaborator who must then caption them. In the first installment, we follow the escapades of a tiny cat who escaped from its tiny box.

new gpa interview

The GPA archivists managed to track down and interrogate…erm, interview a fictional character in a collaborative Victorian novel, who may or may not have also been the author of an extraordinary number of popular but now forgotten novels.

excerpt from a manuscript in limbo

Attar sits at the table staring at his daily calculations. Sweat drips from his brow onto the parchment, mingling with the still-fresh ink, causing it to run and distort into grotesque shapes that seep across the page. Attar absently runs his index finger through the dark fluid, further smearing the neat figures into an illegible dark blot. He considers with disinterest the resulting negation of six hours of work. Crumpling the parchment he throws it on the floor, which in uncharacteristic fashion is now littered with the detritus of a listless life.

Attar’s head feels heavy, like his neck might soon fail to hold it up. With great effort he stands, shuffles to his cot and collapses upon it. Staring up through the skylight he tries doing calculations in his head but the numbers resist his manipulation. He rolls onto his side and fades into the little death.

The next morning he rises early at his usual time, feeling unrefreshed. At the oval window he stares into the garden as the morning sun burns off the remaining wisps of night mist. It will be another day like the one before it. Turning toward the table his gaze falls upon the neat stack of parchment, the pen, the inkwell. An image of Nasef as an inkpot monkey passes through his mind, causing a vague smile to grace his lips.

After breakfast Attar walks the grounds, despite his anxiety over being outside for so long. But he must at least make some effort to look for Nasef. Now is also a good time to survey potential locations for the sentinel towers. Though he cannot leave the grounds in search of Nasef he can at least commit to build those towers. And once they are built he will be able to see Nasef coming from a great distance away. For Nasef will indeed return one day. He feels certain of that.

publications update

A Set of Lines front coverA Set of Lines is now available through the Ingram distribution network, so basically from anywhere that sells books. However, it will likely only be on the physical shelves of bookstores where I sell it on consignment. Currently that includes Quimby’s in Chicago and Atomic Books in Baltimore. If you’d like to support your local bookshop you can either ask them to special order it or you can order the book from Bookshop.org, where independent bookstores receive the full profit from each sale. You can designate which store you’d like to benefit, or it will go into an earnings pool that is distributed equally among independent bookstores.

Hatred of Writing, Bunker Diaries, and Inner Harbor Field Reports have also been restocked at Quimby’s Bookstore and Atomic Books. There are order links at the bottom of both of those pages. These are the last copies, so when they sell out these titles will be out of print.

No new publications on the horizon at the moment, but maybe that will change soon. In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to collaborate on writing for Ghost Paper Archives.

steve albini on goals

I’ve lived my whole life without having goals, and I think that’s very valuable, because then I never am in a state of anxiety or dissatisfaction. I never feel I haven’t achieved something. I never feel there is something yet to be accomplished. I feel like goals are quite counterproductive. They give you a target, and until the moment you reach that target, you are stressed and unsatisfied, and at the moment you reach that specific target you are aimless and have lost the lodestar of your existence. I’ve always tried to see everything as a process. I want to do things in a certain way that I can be proud of that is sustainable and is fair and equitable to everybody that I interact with. If I can do that, then that’s a success, and success means that I get to do it again tomorrow.

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

B12 – Void/Comm

2021 in reading

Better late than never with this, I guess. 2021 was even more of a chronological smear than 2020. When I look back at everything that went down—both in my personal life and in the world at large—I can’t comprehend how all of it happened in a mere 365 days, especially when the last few years leading up to this one seem in retrospect to have been so (relatively) uneventful (uh…no, scratch that…and hindsight in general). At times I felt like I was living in a horrorscape this year—partly of my own making and partly sculpted by forces outside my control. The second half of the year was much worse than the first, and now that it’s over I feel depleted. Normally I’d bury my head in the sand and try to read my way through these brutal periods, but that wasn’t working this year. I ended up reading just barely over half of my total for 2020. At a certain point I gave up on writing reviews for the most part, as well—there was simply no time for writing. Unfortunately this lead to a further feeling of disconnection from what I had read.

In looking at what I did manage to read, unsurprisingly I see a lot of aimless casting about for distraction. I ricocheted from new-to-me writers (for example, trying to find my footing with Marie NDiaye; finally reading Stoner after first shelving it seven years ago [not worth the long wait]; diving headfirst into Blake Butler’s work with Scorch Atlas, the experience of which by contrast actually made the last couple of years seem festive) to unread titles by old favorites (Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Denton Welch, Joy Williams). In between—when pages of prose alone felt too weighty—I gorged on a passel of graphic novels (highlights: Chris Reynolds’ The New World: Comics from Mauretania, Charles Burns’ Last Look trilogy, and several books by Martin Vaughn-James).

A few other stand-outs:

Best book out of left field: Negative Space by B. R. Yeager
Best book I wish I’d read a long time ago: The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark (read in omnibus edition)
Best book to suit my mood at the time I read it: The Moment by Peter Holm Jensen
Best book that is also a great movie: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders by Vítězslav Nezval

The most important reading lesson I (re)learned this year is that I can’t ignore the need to read for comfort. This year was a reminder that reading is not always about expanding my thinking, broadening my view of the world, or whatever other pseudo-lofty b.s. qualities I might in my weaker moments ascribe to it. Sometimes I need to experience the pleasure of reading solely for its own sake—unfortunately my ability (and willingness) to do that has declined in recent years. When I look back over what I read in 2021, I realize that I took the most comfort in reading Joy Williams and Denton Welch—two very different writers, but both masters of their craft whose skill at fitting words together facilitates a transcendent experience for me. In general I want more of that.

Looking ahead to 2022…I have no concrete reading goals, but I think I will probably read less and hopefully enjoy more of the books I’m able to finish. Writing more reviews again would also be nice.

Happy New Year!

beaver sighting!

My friend and I were birding in the park near my house last week and we came across this beaver waterproofing itself in the stream. It was quite mesmerizing to watch and ended up being the highlight of the day, despite a very good showing of birds, as well.

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