I’ve been meaning to post something about this for a couple of months, but kept putting it off until yesterday when I was engaged in an off-blog conversation about the engaging/frustrating/etc. comment thread accompanying Adam’s finance/retirement thread. There was an interesting dynamic at work in it and other similarly themed threads here and abroad in which there was a palpable defensiveness from the word go alongside a striking propensity to interpret even self-deprecation as rhetorically aggressive behavior. I don’t say that as a chastising administrator. I mention it now merely to flag the motivation for my remembrance of a post from HTMLGIANT a couple of months ago that I intended to mention then but didn’t. I waited so long, in fact, that for some reason the entire post has since been deleted–presumably, given the subject, the comment thread became malignant and had to be removed from the blog entirely, lest it take down the entire enterprise. Thank heavens for Google Reader! (The post in question was in reaction to the comment thread here, which is probably worth clicking if the following paragraph makes no sense to you.) Continue reading “A Kind-of Follow-Up Post Re: Investments”
I’ve been somewhat obsessed by the work of Elias Canetti of late. I’ve written a little about his book Crowds & Power already, but have not said too much about his novel, Auto-da-Fé. Let me remedy that now.
Written in Vienna in 1935, Auto-da-Fé feels dated, other-worldly even, but not in a necessarily bad way. Perhaps it is best instead to say it feels like a fable, for that is what it effectively comes out as being. That is to say, it is a modernist fable: a skewering and embodying of high modernist sentiment. The novel’s protagonist, Peter Kien, the world’s leading sinologist and owner of a massive library subject to much envy and object of pride, fits the prototype of most modernist literature. For every action he takes–be it his writing of erudite papers on Confucius and Aristotle, his foolhardy marriage to his greedy housekeeper, “rescuing” books from their doom at the hands (& stomach) of an unseen pawnbroker, and even his incendiary actions in the novel’s climax–is more than offset by actions taken upon by him. Most notably is the physical and mental abuse Kien suffers throughout the novel. Indeed, each of the three acts–“A Head Without a World,” “Headless World,” & “The World in the Head”–highlights at least one new mode of assault & degradation. Continue reading ““I’m living in the future so the present is my past””
I recently subscribed to the @ParisReview twitter feed, and have been marveling on a daily basis at how utterly banal some of the greatest writers of the English language can be. I don’t know that this is the intention of pulling select quotes from interviews and de-contextualizing them in a random tweet, but it is almost always the effect. I could make a list of my top 10 “favorites,” but I think only one will suffice, because it is perhaps the dumbest thing ever said.
I don’t want to inundate you with quotes, but my desire will not stop me from doing so. For upon encountering the following two passages from, yes, William Gass’ The Tunnel, I realized his narrator was, in the course of describing a colleague, also describing many a participant in this digitized forum we call the theological blogosphere. Regular readers of our fair blog will get the gist of the jab. I suspect everyone else will not need their hand held either though.
“There may be some truth in what you say, Herschel says, with his customary Cream of Wheat agreement: mildness of a sort which could never cause a bilious blowup, bland as ordinary atmosphere and nearly as impalpable. I call him the hedgehog because he is such a believer in both sides. You have a point, he likes to say, he enjoys saying; there is more than a little merit in that, he declares, as if removing a pipe from his mouth (actually, Herschel never declares, or asserts, or avers–I do that; Governali avows and Planmantee affirms; they do that–Herschel assents, or suggests; he elaborates, or gently opines); yes, well, what you say seems, yes, well, plausible to me, upon my brief entertainment of it anyway, yes, at first glance a nice notion, on the face of it a pleasant guise; but will such an idea survive a long haul over stony ground, you think? the scrutiny of a dental pick? the footsteps of many a traveler across the same ground? and will it survive journalists and cameramen, you know? town meetings? picnics spread out abundantly open?”
“It is impossible—not to say, nettlesome—to carry on a debate with Herschel because he is invariably prepared to grant you your point . . . after he has blunted it. He is quick to applaud your overall attitude (for the most part, of course) (on the whole) (by and large) (in the main). Meanwhile, he has so effectively clouded the countryside that you can never perceive the defining edge of anything, or circumscribe an ordinary outline in order to locate its elbows or touch its tits. Blur, fuzz, smear: that’s what he does—his specialty. It’s not that . . . he hates distinctions, but rather that he makes too many, and lays them down on top of one another repeatedly like an angry scratch-out of lines. On the other hand, you can never come to an accord, either—sing harmony. Not with Good King Qualification, Handsome Prince Perhaps. Not with Mister Maybe. . . . Not with every idea developed as an endless polyhedron. No, you cannot quarrel with Herschel, yet the Hedgehog lets nothing pass. If thoughts wore ties, he’d always feel compelled, in his wifely way, to straighten them. So with Herschel one is habitually in a state of mitigated exasperation.”
Oh that last sentence especially. So delightful. It is tattooed in my brain now.
I’m still plowing my way very slowly, but more quickly in recent days, through William Gass’ troubling masterpiece, The Tunnel. I think I’ve managed to write more notes on some pages than there is text, what with the horrific gems on every tenth or so page. I offer this up for your edification, nude of context, in its birthday suit, as it were:
‘Doom’ has become a comic word as well: “Der Führer went recklessly to his doom.” It’s silly–‘doom.’ But I write down ‘doom’–I prefer the word ‘doom’ to others–because of its skull-like eye-holes, sockets into which darkness can be screwed like a dead bulb. Sein Schicksal ereilte ihn. Adolf Hitler could go to his doom because he had one. Only those who have made a pact with the devil have a doom. Hitler, Faust, Don Juan, Leverkühn, have dooms. I’m sure none of my students merits such distinction. The devil does not sign contracts with just anyone. Upon the tens of tons of anonymous millions, no judgment is pronounced. For them there is death, of course, but no doom. The trouble with history is its incorrigible and horrifying honesty. Only the truly damned matter a damn to it. History is the abyss of the doomed. How does that hit you, Henry? Doom. Yes. ‘Doom’ is securely Middle English. ‘Doom’ is not der Schicksal. Der Schicksal cannot hack it. Der Schicksal is a shop where you can buy pork. So I write down ‘doom’–I prefer the word ‘doom’ to its brothers–because it looks like a busker’s malevolent mask; the consonants hook over the ears. And those same ears do not fail to hear the snickers which arise from my class like a rustle of leaves when I complete block-lettering the big pair on the blackboard and turn my unsmiling face to them. Damn you, I think. What do you aspire to? Nothing. Me too. But I want to be made an offer. I want a doom to go to. I aspire to the abyss.” (William Gass, The Tunnel, p. 185).
The other day a reader & commenter on AUFS who is participating in our email discussion group on William Gass’ The Tunnel emailed to ask me about my favorite novels. It took me a while to respond, but this wasn’t for lack of reflection. It’s a common enough question (not just for me, but when you’re amongst well-read people in general), but one I continue to take seriously. I find it difficult to answer not because I’m worried what others might think of my choices. I can’t remember the last time I cared, quite honestly. The problem, such as it is, is that I’m always certain that any such list will simply emerge out of whatever state of mind or fickle disposition I find myself at any given moment or season. Ask me again in a month and the list could be completely different. That’s just my hunch, anyway — it’s not as though the question is so common that I’ve had the opportunity to experiment. My hope, of course, is that there would be some consistency. So, in response to my correspondent and reading partner, I opted for a list that is perhaps less my favorite novels, and more what I hope are my favorite novels. Continue reading “My Name is Brad, & I Love Modernist Literature”
A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.
No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind could lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorroah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s, clutching a naggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity by captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.
Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket he turned into Eccles street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. Well, I am here now: Yes, I am here now. Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow’s exercises. On the hands now. Blotchy brown brick houses. Number eighty still unlet. Why is that? Valuation is only twenty-eight. Towers, Battersby, North, Macarthur: parlour windows plastered with bills. Plasters on a sore eye. To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. To be near her ampled bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes. (p. 63)
I’m tidying up a paper on Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, and “the Catastrophe” for a conference next week (btw, thanks to all those who donated to the cause a while back — it was very much appreciated, and will be helpful), and in the process of doing so was reminded of this very old post I did back during the earliest days of AUFS. I still rather like it, and thought some of you who haven’t been around since Day One, or who haven’t dug into the 3+-year archives, might get something from it as well.
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Cormac McCarthy employs a scorched earth poetic in his newest novel, The Road, that even his magisterial Blood Meridian does not rival. Both are poetic marvels, danses macabre though they may be, of a writer in full control of his powers, but there is a profound sparsity to the former that the parched bleakness of the latter does not even try to conceive. Where, for example, the much-noted violence of Blood Meridian is overwhelming in its being so graphically detailed (e.g., the Comanche raid at the end of chapter four – it’s only two paragraphs long, but it stayed with me in my nightmares for two weeks), The Road is most haunting in what goes unsaid between the pauses that take the place of chapter divisions. Indeed, much more is unsaid here than is said. We don’t know exactly, for instance, what has happened to the world, but everything changed in an instant – the catastrophe we fear today was sprung upon humanity with a flash of light and a sudden shudder of the earth, leaving men, women, and children to their own devices. Most died; others banded in ruthlessly survivalistic hordes willing both to harvest and kill other humans for food; and then others, like the father and son whose story is told here, merely survived. Their survival, we learn, is contingent upon moving along the road, but to nowhere in particular.
Reading Donald Barthelme might be fairly called a moral imperative for an amoral world. In his own nonsensical way he makes sense of things, Big Things of Life, like sex and sadness, time and toys. He has been missed, even with so few having paid notice. That’s the way these things work. It’s not that the Great Ones are noticed after their death. That’s just happenstance. No. The Great Ones are those who are missed even when nobody knows they are missing.
At long last, I finally have the time and attention to devote the subject I brought up here too long ago — a book-discussion group. We had a lively discussion, several suggestions were given, and I went back and forth between a book we could all feasibly read & finish together and a book that I simply wanted to read again (& everybody else who doesn’t keep it up can go to hell). After much consideration and conversation, we’ve settled on our original intention, William Gaddis’ The Recognitions. This is a book, I feel, cries out for discussion. It is too often relegated to unread thesis manuscripts and/or obscure references by critics who may or may not have read it but appreciate the relative status bestowed upon those who have. I, however, think there is a lot there that deserves reflection and conversation. Whether you do, too, well, we shall see.
As a practical matter, reading The Recognitions is both laborious and time consuming. But rarely, I should note, tedious. Clocking in at just over 900 pages, for people with jobs and or a life at all, it will probably take between 1.5 to 3 months to finish. I’m under no illusion that everybody who starts it will finish it. There’s no shame in that, though, and you’re welcome to join in the discussion, too, provided you can adequately pretend you’re up to speed on the reading. There will be no tests. (For all the pretenders, as well as those of us who aren’t pretending but are still confused about what the hell is going on, The Gaddis Annotations is absolutely indispensable.)
Several commenters have already explicitly expressed an interest in The Recognitions. I trust they are still aboard. Those who were opposed to it (read: Hill) or preferred another book are obviously invited to reconsider. Should you do so, please let me know, simply so I have a vague idea of what kind of participation we can expect. The plan, such as one exists right now, is to read between 75-100 pages per week. Each week there will be one post or open thread devoted to the discussion. If you are especially blown away by a particular week’s reading, let me know and you can write something up. Otherwise, I hope most of the legwork will be done in the comment fields. (Side note: if, as the weeks pile up and we have no comments, we will safely assume nobody is reading, and we’ll all silently agree that this was either a really bad idea in general or a very book choice, and nothing more will be said of it.)
As to a start date: you can begin when you want. But those who wish to participate, let’s shoot for having having the first 75-100 pages read by Nov. 13. That gives us all a couple of weeks to buy or borrow a copy, as well a chance to read through enough of it to know whether it is something we think we’ll stick with for a few months.
Below the fold I’ve attached one of my favorite sections from the first chapter.
Continue reading “Book Discussion Announcement: The Recognitions“