Correspondent “J. M.” in the UK writes:

Dear HelyTimes,

A bit of etymology found on a browse through the OED that I thought might delight and enlighten your readers.  I found myself looking up the word “douche bag” after a

Thanks JM!  Here is his discovery:

1966   Observer20 Mar. (Colour Suppl.) 41/2   A few belts, a tweed beret and a douche bag were all that was left of Eva Braun’s envied wardrobe.

The New Yorker Magazine

imageRecently, I had a chance to read this magazine.  It’s incredible.

First, take this letter to the editor:


I don’t know why I liked it so much, but somehow it did my heart good to picture  right-minded citizen Alison J. Bell in Stowe, Vermont taking the time to share her views in clear, even New Yorker-y style.

Then, how about this, in the profile of Lydia Davis:

Michael Silverblatt, the erudite host of the Los Angeles radio show “Bookworm,” says “Literary people know that at the sentence level and the word level she’s the best there is.”

At the WORD level!  Imagine that!  Does that mean she’s the best writer there is at picking words?

Anyway: then there’s the piece about Adam Lanza.

How about this, from the profile of Darren Aronofsky:

Nolte arrived at the studio in Santa Monica only fifteen minutes late  He came in slowly, a heavy man now, at seventy-three, his blue oxford shirt billowing over his pants like a caftan.  Aronofsky introduced himself and explained Nolte’s first scene, when the Watchers discuss what to do with Noah and his family in the pit, and an embittered Samyaza declares, “Leave him there to rot.”

“I know that pain,” Nolte said, “because the Watchers have got no purpose – and I understand that.”  After rumbling through some vocal exercises, he exploded into character, becoming a roaring bull elephant.  Then he tweaked his delivery to add every nuance that Aronofsky proposed: mor disgust, a heightened formality, a disenchantment with mankind.

Aronofsky raced into the control room and cried, “How fucking talented is that guy?  God damn!  He’s giving us character and emotion, which is what was missing.  I might have to write a movie for him.  Oh, it’s a shame – he’s had more work than Mickey, but he hasn’t done enough.  It’s so heartbreaking.”

After a rest, Nolte told an involved story about a small role he had in “Run All Night,” a forthcoming film starring Liam Neeson.  “Wow,” Aronofsky said, when the story appeared to be over.  “So who’s the director?”

“No idea,” Nolte said.

When the story appeared to be over.

(The director is Jaume Collet-Serra, I looked it up).

My one problem with this issue of the New Yorker, and it’s a big one, is this: profiler Tad Friend has been trying hard to get Aronofsky to take him to Coney Island, where he grew up.  At last he does:

In the summers, Aronofsky spent much of his time on Coney Island’s Cyclone, the rackety wooden roller coaster built in 1927.  He led me to it, then cried “Bawk, bawk” when I declined to go aboard.  “Everything about myself as a filmmaker is only understandable by going on the Cyclone,” he said.


(editor’s note: for the next two months we’ll be away from HelyTimes headquarters.  As a result, formatting on HelyTimes may suffer, as it’s a pain in the bun to format on an iPad.  Please bear with us.)

St. P’s

The story goes that one day Brendan Behan ran into Patrick Kavanagh on the streets of Dublin.  Brendan suggested a drink and unsurprisingly Patrick agreed. Patrick mentioned a nearby pub.

“Ah, can’t do it,” said Brendan.  “I’ve been banned from there for life.”   Brendan suggested an alternative.

“Ah, can’t be done,” said Patrick, “I’m banned from that one.”

So the two shook hands and went on their way.

Patrick Kavanagh, quite cleverly, wrote a poem describing exactly the kind of statue that ought to be built to commemorate him, and that’s what they built.

The actor Russell Crowe has stated that he is a fan of Kavanagh. He commented “I like the clarity and the emotiveness of Kavanagh. I like how he combines the kind of mystic into really clear, evocative work that can make you glad you are alive”. On 24 February 2002, after he won the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in A Beautiful Mind, Crowe quoted Kavanagh during his acceptance speech at the 55th British Academy Film Awards. When he became aware that the Kavanagh quote had been cut from the final broadcast, Crowe became aggressive with the BBC producer responsible, Malcolm Gerrie.[22] He said “it was about a one minute fifty speech but they’ve cut a minute out of it”.[23] The poem that was cut was a four line poem:

To be a poet and not know the trade,
To be a lover and repel all women;
Twin ironies by which great saints are made,
The agonising pincer-jaws of heaven.

In this other picture on his wiki page, painted by Patrick Swift, PK looks a bit like Larry David: Lovelorn, tragic, Patrick Kavanagh wrote the poem which became the lyrics to the song “On Raglan Road,” sung here by the heroically haired Luke Kelly:

(previous HelyTimes on St. Ps: herehere and here)


Wade Davis

reading up on ethnobotanist, photographer, anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis.  This guy goes to all the best conferences.

It’s interesting how these things change though. I find it fascinating that there is this ayahuasca phenomenon, it’s literally sweeping Europe and sweeping the United States. I meet young people who take ayahuasca and they speak so positively about the experience whereas I remember the whole point of ayahuascawas facing down the jaguar, being ripped away from the tit of jaguar woman. That was sort of what its point was.

I think our reaction to these substances can change over time too, almost as age cohorts move though. I’m someone who’s very happy to say that not only did I used psychedelics and enjoyed them but that they changed my life. I don’t think I would speak the way I speak, write the way I write, synthesise information the way I do, understand those notions of cultural relativism as reflexively as I do, if I hadn’t taken psychedelics.

I often think it’s interesting that if we look at the social changes of the last 30 years – everything from new attitudes towards the environment, new sense of the holistic integration of the Earth, women going from the kitchen to the board room, people of colour from the woodshed to the Whitehouse, gay people from the closet to the alter, that we always leave out of the recipe of social change that millions of people all around the world lay prostrate before the gates of awe after having taken some psychedelic.

We came out of a place with profound alienation of our cultures, experimenting with psychedelics in a very fresh way – there was not a lot of expectation. We rediscovered lots of new drugs and just tried them on ourselves so there were a number of things we could say we were the first to take. Not that I want to dwell on that, but the idea that were trying to find some idea of what it means to be human.

And also cultural relativism and just the idea that other peoples of the world aren’t failed attempts at being you, that comes powerfully from the psychedelic experience. I one point I remember I took some big heroic dose of some drug, I can’t remember exactly, San Pedro I think, and I was stopped by my friend just before I could send a telegram to my professor at Harvard that was going to say ‘Eureka! We’re all ambulatory plants!’ I don’t think that would have really got me too far.


This is good, too:

In his early 20s, Davis says he was so mixed up that he applied to both botany and law school at the University of B.C.

On one occasion, he stopped at the Vancouver law firm where his sister was articling. A receptionist demanded to know if he was the man who travelled in the Amazon and ate weird plants. Davis said he was.

She then marched him into a dusty law library, showed him a picture of an 18th-century English solicitor with a wig and crooked nose, and asked him if that’s what he wanted to become.

“I went back to the front desk, called UBC law school and retracted my application,” he says. “Thanks to that guardian angel, I went to graduate school in botany.”

(That, and top picture, from The Province, photo by Jenelle Schneider)

Karl Ove Knausgaard


Came to my attention that some HelyTimes readers are not following the book world’s frenzy over Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.

Some facts:

* Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard has been publishing a six volume book that recounts the minute details of his life, or at least the life of a man named Karl Ove Knausgaard the details of which match the actual details of the author’s life to an almost* exact degree.

* We’re only up to Volume 2 in English.  Here is my copy pictured next to a coffee mug for scale:


* One out of every ten Norwegians has bought at least one of the volumes.

The level of obsession around this literaryGesamtkunstwerk has been so intense that some Norwegian workplaces have reportedly instituted “Knausgaard-free days”, when staff are forbidden to talk about the books.

* Reviews have been rapturous.  Tyler Cowen:

I would put this among the greatest Continental novels of the last fifty years and not at the bottom of that tier.  It is not often that one discovers such books.


His wife had agreed to be included, telling him only: “Don’t make me boring,” and he gave her the manuscript to read on a long train journey. Having finished it, she called him three times. The first time she said she thought it was OK, but that she didn’t like it. The second time, she told him that their life could never be romantic again. Finally, she called him and wept.

“I was so frustrated that I didn’t foresee the consequences,” Knausgaard has said. “I thought, if the consequences are that she’s leaving me, then OK, she can go. That was how it was. There was a certain desperation that made it possible. I couldn’t do it now.”

Nonetheless, their marriage survived. Last year, Knausgaard admitted that he felt guilt, “for almost everything around this book. I was kind of autistic […] I was saying, ‘My book is more important than your life.'”

(Linda with cat, from here, a site of artists and cats)

* The kind of stuff that’s in the book:

A teenage mission to procure beer for a New Year’s Eve party, for example, occupies about 70 pages in book one.

* I’ve only read about 20 pages, at random, which were about Karl going to gymnastics with his kid and being frustrated that the attractive young teacher can only see him as an emasculated dad.

* I flipped to another section, which was musing about “what would it have been like to live in a world where everything was made from the power of your hands, the wind, or water?”  It was pretty engaging.

* The title’s provocative, obviously.  KOK says:

For two years, I worked as a kind of adviser on a team that translated the Bible to Norwegian. It was there I learned to read. The gap between the two languages was a shock, and made it possible to experience, not only to recognize, the gap between language and the world, the arbitrariness everybody talked about in the eighties was all of a sudden visible for me.

Another lesson was that in the Old Testament, everything is concrete, nothing is abstract. God is concrete, the angels are concrete, and everything else has to do with bodies in motion, what they say, what they do, but never what they think. No speculations, no reflections. Even the metaphors are connected to bodies. I became especially interested in the story of Cain and Abel, when Cain’s countenance falls and God says, “Why is your countenance fallen? Lift up!” Cain doesn’t look anyone in the eyes, and no one looks in his. This is to hide from the world and from the other. And that is dangerous.

In the sixth book of Min Kamp, I wrote four hundred pages on Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Hitler was a man who lived a year without seeing anyone, just sitting in his room reading, and when he left that room, never let anyone close, and stayed that way, intransigent, through the rest of his life, and one characteristic thing with his book, is that there is an “I,” and a “we,” but no “you.” And while I was writing about Hitler, a young Norwegian who had stayed some two years all by himself, and written a manifesto with a strong “I” and a “we,” also without a “you,” massacred sixty-nine youths on an island. In other words, his countenance fell.

* I’m told by a Scandinavian friend that the last volume was so long it couldn’t be bound into a book, so Karl took it home and cut it down until it was the EXACT length that could fit into a binding.

* I’d highly recommend reading this short take on it by Sophia Pinkham at n+1, which points out that what might strike an American writer is “how come this guy isn’t worried about money?”

* Karl himself:

“The critical reading of the texts always resulted in parts being deleted. So that was what I did. My writing became more and more minimalist. In the end, I couldn’t write at all. For seven or eight years, I hardly wrote. But then I had a revelation. What if I did the opposite? What if, when a sentence or a scene was bad, I expanded it, and poured in more and more? After I started to do that, I became free in my writing. Fuck quality, fuck perfection, fuck minimalism. My world isn’t minimalist; my world isn’t perfect, so why on earth should my writing be?”

Or this, from The Guardian:

“Concealing what is shameful to you,” he’s said, “will never lead to anything of value.” And the most indelible moments tend to involve his own humiliation. In book two, A Man in Love, for example, he describes getting drunk, breaking a glass and slicing up his own face, when the woman he loves rejects him. Even more abject and embarrassing are book three’s boyhood recollections, including an unhappy appraisal of his own penis, “like a little cork. Or a kind of spring, because it quivered when you flicked it lightly.”

Well, I’m glad it exists I guess.

Is art just the turning of yourself into “art” until you, yourself, are indistinguishable?

Is the cost always that your wife will be crying?

Is it “worth” it?

Should we honor a person like this or figure out what meds he needs?

Is this the logical end of writing?

Is it criminal to do this to your children/relatives?  Or worth it for the art?

How good does the art have to be to justify the cost?

Would we feel differently if Karl Ove did this and almost NO Norwegians bought it?

Do we have to respect his balls at least?

Is his desire for us to respect his balls part of this project?

If part of his motive is our respect, does that change it?

Do I actually have to read this or is it enough that it exists?

Is this admirable, like a kid doing an awesome trick on a playground, or just kind of horrifying or troubled, like a kid taking out his little cork on the playground?

What about this, the very first exchange in KOK’s Paris Review interview?:

Did you keep diaries when you were young?

Yes, I did, but I burned them when I was twenty-five or twenty-six.


I was so embarrassed, I couldn’t stand it. It’s the same with Min Kamp, I can’t stand it. If I could I would burn that, too, but there are too many prints, so it’s impossible.

Life develops, changes, is in motion. The forms of literature are not. So if you want the writing to be as close to life as possible—I do not mean this in any way as an apology for realism—but if you want to write close to life, you have to break the forms you’ve used, which means that you constantly have the feeling of writing the first novel, for the first time, which means that you do not know how to write. All good writers have that in common, they do not know how to write.

Anyway, here’s another picture from the Cultural Cat website:

* behind a paywall, but in her review Sheila Heti finds herself disappointed at a detail Karl admitted to her he made up or at least may not have remembered exactly.  

Good illustration.

IMG_8018 IMG_8019