Daniel Silliman

Notes on reading David Foster Wallace’s short story “John Billy”

by Daniel Silliman Fiction
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We passed the jars around and unscrewed Minogue’s bootleg lids.
We was silent at our table, expected T. Rex dead, or at least twisted, traumatized, Nunn-struck.
‘Hi,’ he said.

Tom Waits’ many, many moons

by Daniel Silliman Music
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Waits has a thing for moons, and has been working on lyrical variations of this one metaphor for gong on 40 years.

The photographic character of photographs

by Daniel Silliman Art
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A question I’ve been toying with: can one photograph in such a way as to make that invisible visible? In such a way as to make the photography part of the photograph? To show the texture of the thing, and not erase it?

In praise of crazy sculptures

by Daniel Silliman Art
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If all art does is make us stroke our chins and say in somber tones, “very interesting,” then art isn’t worth it to me.

The other thing grammar is good for

by Daniel Silliman Language
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Grammar can be a brutal, brutal thing.

The Bookshelf

by Daniel Silliman Memoir
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In books rowed up on the shelf you see, for the first time, your own death.

‘Those are not the words’: Walt Whitman’s collapsing taxonomy of poetry

by Daniel Silliman Language
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Whitman seeks to establish a taxonomy of poetry, a system classifying what is good poetry, what bad, but the structure he establishes keeps collapsing.

Moby-Dick and metafiction ethics

by Daniel Silliman Fiction
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There should be a warning on the cover of Moby-Dick. Beware, it should say, reading this will require blood.

To carve a face

by Daniel Silliman Art
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Cut triangles with the tip of your knife for eyes, pairs of triangles on each side of each eye. Connect them with thin, arching lines, cutting a curl of wood away, leaving a circle remaining, a mound, a pupil, inside. Practice until you have a whole boards of eyes.

Election Day Interregnum

by Daniel Silliman Fiction
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Nixon went down to the beach and sat in the sand and waited. The waves came in, the waves went out, and he sat there in his suit and waited.

Trying to do something important: a couple of thoughts on ambition in a work of art

by Daniel Silliman Aesthetics
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Melville worries that his ambition will fail, that his picture of the whale will “remain unpainted at the last.” He is always aware he’s always on the verge of the whole thing breaking down, but the ambition is there. Beating underneath. It acts as the will to will it onward, the drive to make it work, a promise to try to do something great, the stakes that are high enough to make it worth while even if the whole thing fails.

Ambition, all by itself, makes the work a thing of value.

The Paris Review’s implement fetish

by Daniel Silliman Writing
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William Styron didn’t write in notebooks. He tried notebooks, but they didn’t work for him. They do work for Paul Auster, though, so he writes in notebooks. He likes the ones with gridded lines, which he calls “quadrille lines — the little squares.” When Auster’s done with the notebooks he types everything up. He has a typewriter he bought in 1974.

What is that supposed to tell us? What does this reveal about Styron? What do we know or understand about Auster that we didn’t before?

Joseph Heller wrote stuff down on 3×5 cards he kept in his wallet, which he called a “billfold” in ’74. Gore Vidal writes fiction on yellow legal pads, but essays and plays on a typewriter. John Updike had a typewriter too and Jack Kerouac had two. Gay Talese wrote outlines in different colors of ink or the shirt boards he got when his clothes come back from the drycleaners.

What if none of this information actually acts to reveal anything?

Anxious yawp

by Daniel Silliman Language
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Whitman wanted the sign and the signified to be the same thing, to come together and, at the moment of poet’s invocation, be one. He wanted to cross the gap between sign and signified by poetic force …. He wanted the sign to be more than a sign, more than arbitrary, to really be alive, to be the thing, be filled with the spirit of the thing signified and the spirit of the people using the sign, but he consistently found that he was trapped in the realm of the sign, unable to bridge over to the reality of things, and that poems are made out of words – the vibrant life he wants to yawp is, on the page, only arbitrary symbols.