Saturday, May 20, 2006

death and dying

I'm onto my second and third books out of my library pile now, having finished Bait And Switch and wondering if it was really such a good idea to read that book at this point of time when I'm about to make some drastic moves.

Anyway, that lovely compilation that is the Best of McSweeney's Vol 1 is sitting on the office table as I type this out (with the fullest intention to post this post the moment I get home, but of course I will get sidetracked and slouch on the couch for longer than necessary).

McSweeney's, in case you didn't know, is a literary journal started by author Dave Eggers (he of A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius). It also has a fascinating little website full of odd lists such as Possible Names for a Child Conceived by an Almond Fanatic and a Lover of the Movie Young Guns and Places to Which Eddie Murphy's Character in Coming to America Would Want to Move If, Instead of a Queen, He Wanted to Find a Prostitute
(although sometimes the lists themselves are not as intriguing as the title of the list)

In the book, Eggers explains how he hit on the name McSweeney's.

When I was a kid, our family periodically received letters from someone who called himself Timothy McSweeney, and who claimed to be a member of our family (my mother's maiden name was Adelaide McSweeney). In his letters, which were nonsensical and customarily unsettling, he usually included train and plane schedules, and vague itineraries - he was always promising to visit - for a reunion! - sometime soon.
And so the name of a journal of stories that had been estranged from the family of acceptable literature - if they'd ever been related at all - became Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern.

This volume has stories by Eggers, Zadie Smith, David Foster Wallace, Rick Moody, and a whole host of others.

But the one I've been musing on is William T Vollmann's Three Meditations on Death.

I suppose it stems from a mild fascination with the macabre. But more from the way this man writes.

He first muses from the depths of a catacomb, below Paris, where "I saw and inhaled death".

A quick wiki of the Paris catacombs tells me that these were actually depleted quarries put to use in the late 1700s by people who believed it would be better to remove bones from cemetaries and place them underground, to prevent contamination. These tunnels span more than 300km in length, and sneaking into them is illegal. Those who get caught by the cataflics (the special police who patrol the catacombs (!)) get slapped with a 50-euro fine.

In September 2004, the police found in a hidden chamber an underground movie theatre run by an artistic activist group.

Oh btw, in case you were wondering, his other two muses are sieges and autopsies ("The scalpel made crisp sucking sounds. He peeled back the chest-flesh like a shirt, then crackled the racks of ribs, which could almost have been pork. His yellow-gloved hands grubbed in the scarlet hole, hauling out fistfuls of sausage-links - that is, loops of intestine. Then he stuck a hose in and left it there until the outflow faded to pinkish clear. Beset by brilliant lavendar, scarlet and yellow, the twin red walls of rib-meat stood high and fragile, now protecting nothing, nearly split into halves.")

listening: U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday

1 comment:

Biao said...

Oh McSweeney's is hilarious. I did a little search and came up Ten Precepts From The Art of War That Never Made It Past Sun Tzu's Editor as well as Seven Band Names That Would Be Impossible to Book.

Nice choice of song given your preceeding paragraph.