While writing this newsletter I listened to:
Refrigerator - How You Continue Dreaming
Carla dal Forno - You Know What It's Like
Ya Ho Wa 13 - Savage Sons
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week of 18 August 2019


The plot outlines are presented here. Please feel free to take and adapt these sketches as you wish. I hereby release these ideas into the public domain for anyone to do whatever they would like with them.
  1. A group of meteorologists are working together on a semi-secret university research project to investigate the phenomenon of ‘ball lightning’. The novel catalogues their struggles determining if ball lightning even actually exists, let alone how to reproduce it in a controlled, scientific environment. Much personal drama ensues, and office romances and other scandals, coupled with the intra-departmental competition to publish in highly ranked academic journals, leads to a state of heightened anxiety. At the end, some sort of grand mystical weather-based denouement occurs, in which everyone learns something new about life, love, and their inner/spiritual quests.
  2. Another ensemble novel; this is an epic that chronicles the lives of four or five artists as they struggle to reconcile their creative impulses with the contradictions of late capitalism. These characters, while young, are determined to live their lives differently –– communally, critically, and challenging themselves to exist outside of conventional middle-class aspirations. As their careers progress, each character is forced to seriously compromise these ideals, which they justify through variably convincing delusions and excuses. The novel is like a cross between the film Jonas qui aura 25 ans en l'an 2000 and Tolstoy’s War and Peace, but set within the context of a soft, safe, European, public-funded art scene.
  3. Il cavaliere is a novel set in 1850s Italy, shortly before Garibaldi’s unification. The protagonist is the illegitimate offspring of Florentine aristocrats who is deeply connected to the international crime underworld, and also to powerful merchants and other elites. He is determined to stop the republican efforts towards unification, but he also is really, really into leeches. He breeds them on his massive familial swampland and occasionally goes into a fugue state for three days at a time, during which he writes operas about his leech farm, all the while believing that the leeches are actually co-composing the arias with him. At the end of the novel, he is accidentally decapitated and forgotten by history.
  4. During the boom times of an unnamed or fictional Northern European country, governed by a centre-left social democratic party with a clear electoral mandate, a group of recent art academy graduates form a pact to exploit public arts funding in the most surreal and absurd ways possible. A competition ensues between them to obtain the largest grant, ostensibly for community outreach, networking projects, or capacity building exercises, but to use the funding for the most obtuse, ridiculous and insular purposes they can think of, without ever lying in their applications. The artists quickly find that the more inane the proposal, the more likely it is to get funded. Everything eventually culminates in a 16 million € grant for a project containing all of them as partners, stretched over a five year period, which is such a massively nonsensical inside joke that no one actually has the slightest idea what to do after the money gets deposited. The title of this one should probably be The Least Dangerous Game.
  5. This is an epistolary novel, entirely told in the form of online correspondence between two lovers who find each other through an online dating service, or Tinder, or something. Their chats are so intense that they quickly fall in love before meeting in person, and then both agree that the fear of disappointment if they actually meet is too great, so they vow to never actually encounter each other in the flesh and to live their lives physically separate, but happy as a virtual, chat-based relationship. However, both characters soon realise that they live extremely close to one another, actually on the same street, so their love must continue invisibly without them ever accidentally coming into contact. They go to great lengths to keep up this charade, with both of them eventually undergoing massive plastic surgery that renders them unrecognisable even to their own families, just to ensure that they look nothing like their original profile photos and thus don’t accidentally recognise each other at the local supermarket or on the street. In the last chapter, they accidentally end up stuck in an elevator/lift together for 17 hours.


Can Xue! Can Xue is definitively great, even though she’s hard to read, or at least hard to stay focused on. I’ve been halfway through Five Spice Street forever, but in the meantime my order of Love in the New Millennium came in at the library, so I switched over to that. And wow, what an insane, phantasmagoric web of ideas, mapped out through strange behaviours, in a bizarre style of which the word ’surrealism’ isn’t enough to describe it. Her writing isn’t like anything I’ve ever experienced before. Supposedly Frontier is even better. 

Another late summer impulse read, or re-read, is Thomas Pynchon’s V. Last read in summer 2005, as I remember taking it along on the Auk Theatre/Eyes and Arms of Smoke tour. This prose feels almost normal after reading Xue, but maybe there’s just a familiarity in Pynchon’s style that makes it feel warm despite the world-travelling adventures and raucous humour. It’s mind-blowing that this was his first novel. This time through I’m really feeling a nostalgia for the freewheeling, late 1950s Bohemian New Yorkers depicted as ’the Whole Sick Crew’ –– a false nostalgia, for I never existed in such a specific environment, but there’s some portrayal of the social fabric here that feels forever lost amongst the pixels and TCP/IP packets.


I just posted a new audio podcast on the Serious Introspection feed, recorded last night with my old friend Andy Beckerman. We’re talking about David Berman, who has still been constantly in my thoughts since the last Acedia; you might find something in our conversation even if you aren’t a Silver Jews fan. We discuss irony and honesty in art, and how we’ve been trying to figure it out ourselves, and how sensitivity and generosity mater more than ever in 2019. I think it’s a beautiful conversation and I’m really happy to reconnect with Andy, even in such sad circumstances. You can also listen to it here, with notes.

I skim The Atlantic every day via RSS; I selected it as my centrist-neoliberal media source of choice, as they occasionally publish some decent things despite giving way too many column inches to writers such as Conor Friedersdorf (whose takes are so massively, immorally wrong that it takes my breath away) and David Frum. Anyway, last week they published this fun piece about the notorious micronation of Sealand, which is one of the better chronicles about it that I’ve read. It ultimately left me more curious than satisfied, which means the writer did something right. 

A far better publication to read on a daily basis is The Baffler (I’ve been an on-again, off-again print subscriber throughout my adult life). Last week they ran this great essay on long-duration cinema, covering Béla Tarr, Lav Diaz, and Jacques Rivette. It’s motivation to go back and finish Out 1

I realised that these emails contained a copyright notification at the bottom. The situation has been rectified.

That’s all for now; I have a busy week ahead trying to get a few projects advanced to their next stages. Let me know how you like Acedia, and if there’s something you’d like to see me talk about besides books and web articles; I’m here for you.


John W. Fail/Icewhistle website
Not copyright  2019 No Culture Icons, 

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