feast long day
Review of Jim Feast, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Brooklyn: Autnomedia, 2017)
I must praised Feast for his depiction of me or, at least a character modeled on that
wayward waif, Steve Dalachinsky. At that time, I had not fully acquainted myself with
the book and find that the Steve character doesn’t have much of a role in the story. He’s
mainly occupied making pompous statements on art and getting scolded by his wife. I, of
course, never make such statements.
Here’s something I/he says: “I don’t know about China, but I feel what you were saying
about Tang poetry being all about capturing-the- moment hits the spot. That’s what
Ornette, Ayler and all the free jazz heads of today have been trying to do. Without a
prearranged score, they create a trellis of notes that match the ambiance of the room and
the assembled feelings of the players.”
What this has to do with Tang poetry is anybody’s guess, but I know the comparison of
jazz to Oriental art is not new. See Bill Evans’ less-than- enlightening discussion of this
in, of all places, the liner notes for Kind of Blue.
The second friend of mine who gets the Feast treatment is Yuko, my wife. Here is the
way he presents her in dialogue with another character. That character says, “That’s what
Japanese poetry was all about responding totally to the now in all its … its …”
Hiro [Yuko]: “Its nothingness.”
I’ll give it to him here. He does hit off Yuko’s conversation style of gnomic statements of
a proto-existentialist tone. In fact, I asked (to use the nickname I’ve given him) Feastie
Boy how he came to capture Yuko so well.
He pointed me to a book I had forgotten, her A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Museum.
I wasn’t sure what he meant but now, paging through it, I can see what sparked his
admiration for her brevity and concision. Take her piece “August,” in which she looks at
various photographs of people arranged according to their occupational fields: painters,
politicians, movie stars; thumb-nailing each. Of the last group, she writes,
Living in a celluloid mirror,
a moving wagon
or on a gilded stage,
actors, male of female,
know how to stare
into the void.
Yes, it’s the same nothingness motif the character Hiro brings up, though the poem says a
trifle more. To me, one of Yuko’s concerns is that today’s young people have become
unhealthily self-obsessed. Thus, actors, like today’s youth, are staring into a “void,” but
this is not some existential abyss but rather themselves. Young people’s inner lives are
voids, she says, because they don’t see themselves are fully part of a community. When
the film actor is acting in front of a camera, for an audience that will see the performance
later, she is, thus, forced by circumstances to act only for her own perceptions. But young
people internalize this attitude and begin acting for themselves, only themselves, in
public. So Yuko says.
At this point, I’m not being self-obsessed but Yuko-obsessed, and a reader may feel I’ve
strayed pretty far from reviewing the book. Not really. Look at Feast’s introduction to the
Unbearable anthology Help Yourself, the one with the flashy Shalom Neuman cover. In it
he describes a discussion between various characters modeled on his friends. Hint: Yuko
= Yoko Snapple. Here Yoko is discussing actresses!
The cover like most Feast books is by the Richard Lethem (the father of Jonathan
Lethem). Feast told me he met Lethem the first week he was in New York in 1975 when
he moved into a “commune” in Brooklyn. He has been championing the painter’s work
ever since, including a long piece in the important anthology, edited by Alan Kaufman,
called The Outlaw Bible of American Art.
Someone recently commented, after looking at the cover on the Internet, that it was
“gruesome.” Lethem depicts a head, thrown back on a hospital pillow, mouth gaping
open, forehead a bright crimson as if his head were bloody (an emergency room
admittee?) or maybe the person is just a redhead or maybe this is simply a slash of
brightness for artistic effect. A tangled wire rising to the right of the canvas is also red,
perhaps blood plasma. Is the guy depicted male or female? And is the depicted individual
dead, dying or in between?
Like other Lethem works everything Lethem paints seems to be in extremis. Feast puts
this down to an act of memory, writing on these lines, Lethem has as his subject “a biting,
emotionally caustic, superbly measured indictment of a society that impacted his
childhood [in the Midwest] decades ago, submerged somewhat only to surface in the
times of the civil right riots and postwar militarism.” This is what gives his work about
the present such a deep resonance, in that they scan and infuse depictions of, say,
contemporary racial tension with a continuity that links them back to the racism he saw in
his childhood in the 1930s.
I would also add that like Lethem, Feast’s work is filled with noir foreboding and deep
rich, mysterious textures rather than thick overlays.
Feast’s book has all the attributions of Lethem’s work though some cannot be applied to
this novel. His book is also set around hospitals. It’s actually a murder mystery. The
description on the back cover reads: “Raskin Hasp is dying of AIDS, given only a few
months to live. Then someone tries to kill him.” The book is set in 1998, yet, I also think
he is, like Lethem, referring to America’s deeper past. It is an atmospheric, dark serious
noir that has, in Feast’s own words “as much to do with the past as it does the present and
perhaps the future. Like the ravaged demi-world of Nathaniel West’s Miss Lonelyhearts,
in which a handful of broken losers battle an establishment that has all the power and
money but none of their guts.” This is a book, like the other of Feast’s novels in this
series, that overflows with exoticism, menace, theory and search. Highly recommended.
steve dalachinsky / with jim feast 2/18