This narrative repetition compulsion is particularly evident in the title story, and here, we see ever more sharply what gives the collection its retrospective flavor. One moment, a lover will hold forth on her fetishistic sexcapades, and in the next she will insist that she prefers the humble missionary position and can only orgasm in private.
In Attack of the Copula Spiders , Glover reveals the literary provenance of these maneuvers, which he has cribbed from Thomas Bernhard, who casts his shadow over several stories in the collection. The three principles [sic] — Gould, Wertheimer, and the narrator — are all graded variations of the same character… This grid of receding narrators and repeating character traits and plot motifs supplies a matrix over which the author drapes his phantasmagoric riot of rhetorical substructures — repetition, antithesis, rant, digression, word play — all of which add drama, interest, and comedy to his text.
As he assimilates those artistic landmarks, impressing them with the stamp of his new-forged Canadian cool, he exposes some latent meaning that they all hold in common. For this narrator death is, in fact, an imminent reality: call it a depth charge in the shallows of this truncated narrative.
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May it go viral, become a meme, a cultural shibboleth for like-minded pilgrims. Glover keeps the prose in this story on a short leash; the voice scans as a subdued lyricism or unaffected melancholy from which the narrator meditates on the doubtful pleasures and certain pains of desire. In the wake of their first tryst, Geills attempts suicide almost cheerfully , and the narrator visits her in the hospital, fondles her posterior through her open-at-the-back gown, but eventually effects her release from the ward. On the cab ride home, the two have sex in the backseat, which prompts the narrator to observe:.
She wore an expression that was both sad and beautiful, lorn from absence, from the knowledge that whatever happened between us, it would end badly, that all love ended badly, that we would one day part out of boredom or disgust, or that we would grow old and not be the people we were this minute, or that one or both of us would die and the electric liquid thing that was passing between us would dissipate in the ether. I caught her mood; the moment was worth any loss, any excess. Everyone except Geills, that is; only her dog, collared at last, stands in for her as a substitute.
This mood is contagious, too. I thought, Affirmative. I thought, Yes. And then I thought again, Yes. This story distills most clearly the conflict that reverberates throughout the book. The very pointlessness of the barking—a sign of, if not illness, then aberration—is precisely what recommends it, precisely why the narrator, in a drug-addled bacchanalia, himself takes up the song, baying irrationally in the night. In this light, Savage Love seems increasingly to be both an exceptionally masterful story collection and a heterodox kind of novel.
In the end, the assembled texts might not offer any coherent strategy, some simple, rationally progressing how-to for the attainment of this beleaguered nirvana. While extremes of sex and violence serve most often as the portal, it would be unwise to define these terms too narrowly. And each story then examines this metaphysical problem from different angles, in texts of various cut, with shifting dimensions and temporal frames, reconfiguring the archetypal quest again and again. It does a reader good to think so, anyway.
Surely, all of this — the technical mastery, the poignantly infarcted lives, the quiet music of the prose, the thematic heft — should suffice to compel the attention of any North American reader. But there is, as it happens, even more going on in Savage Love , because ALL of the stories are laced, charged, almost subliminally, with cross-references, echoes and reflections of images and motifs. The instances multiply, never so obtrusive as to derail the local narrative but recurring relentlessly in the margins of every tale.
This is more than aesthetic frippery. Eros intertwines with Thanatos by the back door, too.
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Yet even if such patterning were merely cosmetic, it would still detonate an experience of the sublime — a scalding vision, breathtaking, this lateral smearing of consciousness across the varied space-times of the narratives technically, the word for this is ecstasy. Why should this be so exhilarating? Is it possibly a punishment, visiting upon readers the self-destructive predicament of Tobin Thorn?
Or is there some grace inhering in this literary pattern-recognition, with Tobin counting among the blessed? At home, he lived in fear of his dad, a drunk who terrorized him and his sister and abused their mother. One of the few respites he had was the neighborhood hip-hop party, thrown regularly at the Center, a community space in the Bronx River Houses. DJs played breakbeats from soul, funk , rock, and Latin records while b-boys danced and MCs rhymed. The parties drew droves of people, especially teenagers.
It was at one of these parties, in , that Savage met Afrika Bambaataa , the mysterious and eccentric visionary who, alongside DJ Kool Herc and DJ Jazzy Jay, is considered one of hip-hop's founding figures. A longtime resident of the Bronx River Houses and former warlord of the gang the Black Spades, Bambaataa, among others, identified the four pillars of the nascent subculture—b-boying, MCing, DJing, and graffiti writing—later adding to it a fifth: knowledge. In a few years, he would release "Planet Rock," widely credited with launching him and the Universal Zulu Nation —the hip-hop and African American advocacy organization he conceived of in —to international stardom.
Acclaimed TV series The Get Down —not to mention countless documentaries and a recent showcase at Cornell University—credit Bambaataa with uniting a divided neighborhood, offering a way out of gang life, and helping to launch a movement that would place African American art forms at the center of global popular culture.
He was like a god," Savage, now 50, told me.
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Savage immersed himself in this new world. He loved how Bambaataa gave him and the other neighborhood kids special attention and remembers how the DJ would buy all the kids burgers from White Castle after getting paid for a gig. Afrika Bambaataa appears in an official Universal Zulu Nation publicity photo from Other individuals are unidentified. All archival courtesy of rushtown unless otherwise noted. I looked at him as a role model, because the role model I looked up to in my house was an alcoholic.
I used to see my father always arguing and fighting with my mother, and I didn't see that in Bam. So that's how I had the attachment to him. Savage said the attachment brought him very close—too close—to Bambaataa. In late March, Savage made headlines when he became the first of a series of men to accuse Bambaataa in the media of sexual abuse. In back-to-back interviews, first with controversial radio host DJ Star on his YouTube channel, the Star Chamber , and later in the New York Daily News , he graphically described how Bambaataa allegedly molested him when he was just Since his accusations came out, at least three more men have accused Bambaataa of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers.
Meanwhile, Bambaataa is at-large, his whereabouts unknown. The accusers, three of whom spoke extensively to me for this story, claim that these accounts of alleged abuse have been common knowledge in the Bronx River community and beyond since the early 80s, including among many of Bambaataa's closest friends and Zulu soldiers. They tell of a decades-long cover-up by the Zulu Nation and a hidden network of victims whose lives were allegedly haunted by death threats, suicides, drug abuse, and violence.
Beneath the disturbing headlines, two questions remain: How could the Zulu Nation have known about this for years, as the accusers and others claim, yet never done anything to stop it? And how did Bambaataa—a man universally hailed for decades as a musical pioneer and community hero—manage to evade public scrutiny for more than 30 years?
Back in the mid 70s, the South Bronx epitomized urban decay. The Cross Bronx Expressway, completed a decade earlier, had cut the area in half; by the 60s and 70s, property values had plummeted, racial tensions ran high, and more than 20 percent of the population—mostly middle class and white—had fled. Murder rates tripled, and arsons ravaged entire neighborhoods. Amid the poverty and chaos, street gangs with names like the Black Spades, the Savage Nomads, the Seven Immortals, and the Savage Skulls sprang up to take charge.
While the gangs provided protection for local residents and gave aimless young men with no opportunity a purpose and sense of belonging, they quickly became notorious for running drug, prostitution, and theft rackets, and engaging in staggering episodes of bloody urban warfare. Bambaataa, a member of the Black Spades, decided in to create an organization that would offer an alternative to the gangs that were wreaking havoc on the neighborhood. He called it the Universal Zulu Nation, named after the war film Zulu and inspired by the Afrocentric and Black Power ideologies that emerged in the late 60s.
Members were required to follow a strict moral code focused on self-improvement, closeness to God, community service, and universal equality. Bambaataa called those who succeeded "King" or "Queen," as a show of respect to improve self-esteem.
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Over the next few decades, the organization expanded its activities, which now include planting communal gardens, running neighborhood-watch patrols and after-school programs, organizing urban-reclamation projects, and even providing free legal services to members.
Zulus also threw hip-hop block parties and promoted and managed concerts for the genre's earliest artists, especially Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force. In , Bambaataa struck gold with "Planet Rock," a futuristic electro-rap track that was fueled by TR drum beats and spacey synthesizers. It became a massive local club hit and then a global sensation, one that would open the door for rappers and electronic-music producers across the world.
The success of "Planet Rock" made the Zulu Nation a lucrative entertainment business, while an affiliated security arm called the Zulu Warriors provided additional jobs for members. Savage joined the Baby Zulus, an apprentice group for future Zulus, earned the Zulu nickname "Bee-Stinger" which he keeps today , and became a "crate boy," an unpaid position that entailed carrying records and gear for Zulu DJs.
It was a goal for many poor, disenfranchised kids in the neighborhood. Savage loved being part of the Zulus, hanging out at the Center parties and having a front-row seat to the birth of hip-hop. But in , just two years before Bambaataa's career really took off with "Planet Rock," everything changed. One day that year, when Savage was 15, he said Bambaataa sent a cab to Adlai E. Stevenson High School on Lafayette Avenue to pick him up. Savage, a freshman, ditched class, got in the cab, and was driven to Bambaataa's house in the Baychester section of the Bronx.
Inside the house, Savage was met by Bambaataa and another man, who Savage wouldn't identify. When I went in the room, there was a photo book Bambaataa, he said, came into the room, saw him looking at the book, and asked him if he knew how to "jerk off.
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Bambaataa also took out his penis and had Savage do the same to him, Savage said. After they were finished, the second man came into the bedroom with his penis out. Savage said he was "scared" and ran out of the house, crying. As he ran through the Bronx streets sobbing, a woman noticed he was upset and picked him up.