Wednesday, December 29, 2010

All the Conspirators

Lonely Christopher is reading All the Conspirators by Christopher Isherwood; below are his initial thoughts.

I was recently given a copy of All the Conspirators, Christopher Isherwood’s first novel from 1928, and, by a fluke, began reading it immediately (instead of relegating it to languish on the shelf, next to my unread copy of The Berlin Stories). I am not a diehard Isherwood fan, having only read A Single Man after watching Tom Ford’s delicious film adaptation, and was wholly unaware of this novel’s existence.

All the Conspirators, from what I understand, is commonly perceived as a piece of juvenilia: an amateur attempt that falls too often into pastiches of various modernist writers. It is indeed rather tonally uneven, overly ambitious in technique, and lacking clarity of style. Despite its obtuseness, though, I instantly found the story to be engaging. Although Isherwood apparently lacked a fully developed craft-sense, he was the perfect age (at twenty-one) to tackle a story about a listless young man named Philip who harbors a perpetually unfulfilled desire to become a painter and writer while his mother pressures him to keep his boring desk job.

Philip’s lazy idealism betrays his unfocused nature, especially in this self-righteous speech he delivers to his sister: “Mind you, I need every bit of my time. Just because I don’t want to be cooped up in this room all day, it doesn’t mean I could be at a job. One must move about and see things. Get ideas. Go to theatres, cinemas. One’s mind’s got to be free. Oh, it’s so obvious. But, of course, nobody understands. How can you, unless you paint or write yourself? People think an artist ought to sit on a stool and do his seven hours like an office clerk.” Of course, when given the freedom, Philip merely sits about, brooding and chain-smoking cigarettes. His mother, a few pages later, rebuffs her son’s ideological stance in this way: “When one’s young one wants to have all the fun out of life one possibly can. It’s only natural. And it isn’t till you grow older that you begin to see how true that old proverb is of the Hare and the Tortoise. The people who’ve idled about and wasted away their time get left behind[.]”

Although, later on in the story, the narrative begins to focus more on the courtship and engagement of Philip’s sister Joan, I instantly connected and identified with the struggle of the young artist desperately trying to actualize himself only to fall further into a despondent rut. This is basically the story of a family ruled by a practical matriarch. Her daughter falls under her reasonable influence while her son petulantly (albeit unsuccessfully) tries to break free. I have about fifty pages to go and Philip has just decided to leave his office job to relocate to Kenya and work on a coffee plantation. I can only guess he is riding, again, toward humiliating defeat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


This week the Proust Questionnaire sheds some light on poet Christie Ann Reynolds. For the uninitiated, she co-wrote one of our great What Where chapbooks (Girl Boy Girl Boy) with Ben Fama (his Proustian answers can be found here). Enjoy!

An Introduction to Christie Ann Reynolds

Christie Ann Reynolds is a native New Yorker and was once the president of her sorority. She was the winner of the 2008 New School Chapbook Contest and has two other chapbooks out with Supermachine and The Corresponding Society. Christie Ann teaches writing at Hofstra University and her work can be found or is forthcoming in BlazeVox, Maggy, Lit, La Petite Zine, Pax Americana, So and So Magazine and Sink Review. She is the co-curator of the Stain of Poetry Reading Series at Good Bye Blue Monday.

Christie Ann Reynolds Answers the Proust Questionnaire

Your favorite virtue.

Your favorite qualities in a man.
Ambition, creativity, humility, friendliness, open-minded view of the world,

Your favorite qualities in a woman.
Same as men!

Your chief characteristic.
I had trouble with this one, because I would say, “friendly.” That seemed boring. So I asked Ben Fama and he said: Compassion in the long-run, stubborn in the short-run. Also you don't respect authority and it makes it impossible for you to use a GPS device.

What you appreciate the most in your friends.
Friends that weather all.

Your main fault.
Sometimes I’m really oblivious, even when I think I’m not being oblivious.

Your favorite occupation.
Teaching, writing, being just a little bossy

Your idea of happiness.
The excitement of planning for things and then that planning not happening but then still arriving somewhere amazing anyway.

Your idea of misery.
A room of old ladies wearing too much Jean Nate.

If not yourself, who would you be?
When I was little I thought I could actually grow up to be a horse. I love horses.

Where would you like to live?
Brooklyn--or any city within driving distance of a beach.

Your favorite prose authors.
Murakami, Brautigan, Jane Austen, Salinger, Capote

Your favorite poets.
Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Alice Notley, Jack Spicer, Larry Levis, Hayden Carruth and Henri Michaux is a new one!

Your favorite heroines in fiction.
Holly Golightly, Franny Glass

Your favorite painter.
Louise Bourgeois

Your heroes in “real life.”
The little kids I nanny for. They wear Batman capes and such.

What characters in history do you most dislike?

Your favorite names.
River, Cecily, Reeve

What do you hate the most?
People who don’t use their blinkers before making a turn.

What military event do you admire the most?
Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride

What reform do you admire the most?
Roe v. Wade, no cell phones while driving.

The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with.
I wish I could sing and also not hyperventilate while snorkeling.

How do you wish to die?

What is your present state of mind?

For what fault do you have the most toleration?
People who chew with their mouths open.

Your favorite motto.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.