30 April 2008

The Light Over the Ranges

"What better place for the keepers of the seals and codes to convene?"

I've reached the half-way point of Against the Day. This last line of p. 542's section gives me as good an excuse as any to celebrate the achievement by posting my scribblings thus far. Since reading Janet Malcolm's Two Lives, I've often thought of how she took a kitchen knife to The Making of Americans (in order to make it more manageable) and have considered following her example with Against the Day. But this sage hardback is too lovely--I couldn't bring myself to do it. So my progress is slow...but it is progress!

What follows are musings from the first of its five parts:

~ From the very beginning, with his Thelonious Monk epigraph ("It's always night, or we wouldn't need light") Pynchon lets the reader in on the extended riff that awaits--a jazz-like work of digressions upon multiple themes (the nature of reality, existence, and truth being just the beginning).

~ As I mentioned many moons ago, the first page's mention of the "World's Columbian Exposition" in Chicago made me go back and reread Henry Adams' "The Dynamo and the Virgin" (from The Education of Henry Adams). Does anyone know if any comparison of this work has been made to Against the Day? It would make a fascinating essay (or even book!). Electricity would only be the beginning... (I've just discovered this Adams group discussion. In the introductory post, Jennifer Schuessler remarks that "Adams’s ideas of inertia and entropy profoundly influenced Thomas Pynchon". Ah ha! I'll put any further developments into another post.)

~ p. 19: Zip:
"There's lights, but there's sound, too. Mostly in the upper altitudes, where it gets that dark blue in the day-time? Voices calling out together. All directions at once. Like a school choir, only no tune, just these--"

"Warnings," said Riley.
~ p. 20: Penny:
"Nobody saw any projectiles, but there was...a kind of force...energy we could feel, directed personally at us...."

"Somebody out there," Zip said solemnly. "Empty space. But inhabited."
~ p. 24: Miles' confession:
"Sometimes [...] these peculiar feelings will surround me, Lindsay...like the electricity coming on--as if I can see everything just as clear as day, how...how everything fits together, connects. It doesn't last long, though. Pretty soon I'm just back to tripping over my feet again."
~ p. 33: Tesla is bound up in this, of course--his "World-System" of free energy gets the usual reaction:
The Professor was literally having an attack of nausea. Every time Tesla's name came up, this was the predictable outcome. Vomit.
(This reminds me that I should try to read Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else soon. Her interview at Bat Segundo's was fun to listen to.)

~ p. 34: Of course, Edison's name isn't far behind--also,
"Bankrolling Tesla has given Morgan's access to all Tesla's engineering secrets. And he has operatives on the spot [...]".
~ p. 48: The hilarious (previously cited) scuffle with Franz Ferdinand.

~ pp. 49-50: William Blake's Jerusalem makes a logical appearance as an adapted hymn out of "the Workers' Own Songbook." A former professor of mine has a personal theory about Blake pre-envisioning quantum physics in some of his more complex (esoteric?) work. So it makes perfect sense to me that Pynchon generously includes him here. Makes me think that there's much more method to his "madness" than this sprawling novel divulges at first glance.

~ p. 58: Tesla's experimentation linked to "the luminiferous Æther"? The substance "'which can vibrate light...be sheared into positive and negative electricity'" and takes the form of a "religious question."

~ p. 60: Interesting to compare Lew and the Anarchists and their "church" (and Blake hymns) with Merle and the Ætherist community--"maybe as close as Merle ever came to joining a church."

~ p. 73: Merle becomes "sidekicks" with a "ball lightning" named Skip. Light communicating...

~ p. 97: Kit Traverse works for Tesla and considers himself a "Vectorist."

~ p. 99: Kit sees into
the Invisible, and a voice, or something like a voice, whispered unto him, saying, "Water falls, electricity flows--one flow becomes another, and thence into light. So is altitude transformed, continuously, to light."
This becomes a life-altering experience and the
vectoral expressions in the books, surface integrals and potential functions and such, would henceforth figure as clumsier repetitions of the truth he now possessed in his personal interior, certain and unshakable.
The faith-like language Pynchon uses suits the work perfectly. It blends well with the idea of "Word" being at the beginning of existence--Word and Light both taking on continuous reverberations of meaning in Pynchon's universe.

~ p. 104: Tesla to Kit:
"The same began happening to me also at your age," Tesla recalled. "When I could find the time to sit still, the images would come. But it's always finding the time, isn't it."

"Sure, always something.... Chores, something."

"Tithing," Tesla said, "giving back to the day."
~ p. 108: "As, no longer named, one by one the islets vanished from the nautical charts, and one day from the lighted world as well, to rejoin the Invisible."

~ p. 110: Miles drifts...
Wandering corridors of the spectral, Miles had begun, increasingly, to alarm his shipmates. Mealtimes too often were apt to revert to exercises in deep, even mortal, uncertainty, depending where Miles had been that day to procure his ingredients. Sometimes his cooking was pure cordon bleu, sometimes it was inedible, due to excursions of spirit whose polarity was never entirely predictable from one day to the next. Not that Miles would deliberately set out to wreck the soup or burn the meat loves--he seldom got that overt, tending more to forgetful omissions, or misreadings of quantity and timing.
~ p. 114: The first mention of Iceland spar:
Ordinary light, passing through this mineral, was divided into two separate rays, termed "ordinary" and "extraordinary," a property which the Japanese scientists had then exploited to create an additional channel of optical communication wherever in the layered structure of the pearl one of the thousands of tiny, cunningly-arranged crystals might occur. When illuminated in a certain way, and the intricately refracted light projected upon a suitable surface, any pearl so modified could thus be made to yield a message.
I hope to post on part two ("Iceland Spar") later this week--more bread crumbs to help me find my way back to present meaning.

29 April 2008

Rimbaud's end?

While watching news coverage of the ongoing book fair in Bogotá, I was intrigued by an interview with Orlando Mejía Rivera, author of El enfermo de Abisinia. This novelization of the last few years of Rimbaud's life also proposes an alternate theory regarding the illness that eventually caused his death.

Mejía Rivera draws on "fierce articles by the critic Lepelletier (which the author reproduces) and an invented correspondence between Verlaine and Nikos Sotiro [Rimbaud's doctor]." The text "presents all of the pieces of the puzzle that continue to constitute the life and personality of the visionary poet." Definitely a book I'll be keeping an eye out for on my next trip to the bookstore.

28 April 2008

Playing catch-up

27 April 2008

Great answers to a favorite question

Carolyn Kellogg interviews Steve Erickson (author of the amazing Zeroville) in preparation for this weekend's LA Festival of Books:
Jacket Copy: In "Zeroville," your most recent novel, movies shape the way the main character perceives the world. Are there any books that do the same for you?

Steve Erickson: I'm not sure there's a difference between books that affected the way I see the world and books that influenced me as a writer. The first books I remember having an impact on me when I was a kid were L. Frank Baum's "Oz" books, which were much stranger than the movie, at once rather whimsical and really dark. Later Faulkner's novels made sense to me for the way time was never literal, the way it seemed hot-wired to memory rather than experience, and Henry Miller's early work was revelatory for the way it so willfully assaulted all the formalist notions about literature that get taught in English classes. There was something very punk about Miller's juxtaposition of the transcendent with the primal, the sky with the gutter. When I was 25, during one scorching summer when I was house-sitting for a buddy, I read Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights." Dostoevsky is considered the first "modern" writer, but I vote to Emily -- one of the most subversive novels ever made, with a sexually obsessed main character whose object of desire is a dead woman, an utterly unreliable narrator, a structure built on a psychological interior that shifts like a house with moving walls. I had fever dreams that whole month. Gabriel Garcia Marquez influenced me for the way he applied Faulkner to his own landscape. All of these books, I think, were most influential in that, as far-flung as they were, there was something in them I instinctively recognized, something about them that confirmed what I already knew about the world but didn't know I knew.

23 April 2008

World Book Day

  • World Book Day in Bogotá is just the beginning of a 13-day book fair that showcases over 500 national and international events and exhibits, with Japan as the guest of honor.
  • In addition to this, 5,000 books will be left in the city's parks, shopping centers, restuarants, transportation sites, elevators, building entrances, movie theatres, and even in some public restrooms. Instructions are left in each book as to what the finder can do: read the book, write notes in it, and leave it somewhere else--or email the organizers with the reader's thoughts. The twenty titles include works by Jorge Franco, Mario Benedetti, Antonio Muñoz Molina, Elfriede Jelinek, Juan Gossaín, Oscar Collazos, Elliot Perlman, Gustavo Piero, and Matthew Pearl. There's even a list of the most likely places to find these books.
  • I'm very excited that Open Letter is finally up and running. The catalogue is brilliant and I look forward to reading them. Dubravka Ugrešić's Nobody's Home (reviewed at The Literary Saloon) will be the first to become available.

22 April 2008

No more depression

Thankfully, the editors of No Depression are finding other ways of keeping the publication alive:
As noted when we posted the news about the magazine, we'll be continuing with our website. Hopefully you've noticed that we've already begun adding fresh content to the site, with our recently-introduced sections for reviews of new releases, reissues, and live shows. We're also working on a new, enhanced website -- and to that end, we'd be interested in hearing what you might want to see on it. [...]

There's also news on the print front. While our May-June issue will be our last in bimonthly-magazine form, we're very happy to announce that we will be teaming up with University of Texas Press to present a semiannual "bookazine." Envisioned as a sort of hybrid between a book and a magazine, this new No Depression creation will make its debut in the fall. Look for #1 (or "#76", as we'll dub it, in deference to the magazine's precedence) in the music-books section of your local bookstore -- and also watch this space for upcoming details about ordering subscriptions. [...]

Some of the details will become clearer as we get further into the process of creating the first edition. Generally speaking, what we envision is that the bookazine will continue to provide a home for our long-form pieces which have less chance of transitioning to the website, where the editorial focus will be on more timely elements such as live reviews, record reviews, and news reports.
This is really wonderful news with a lot of great potential.

21 April 2008

This Wednesday

Over 40,000 books will be given away this Wednesday as Colombia celebrates the national Día del Libro:
Por primera vez y de manera simultánea, Colombia celebrará el Día del Libro. Quince ciudades del país se unirán a esta fecha con ferias callejeras del libro, actividades de lectura para niños, jóvenes y adultos, recitales, horas del cuento y un sinnúmero de eventos, que invitarán a los colombianos a disfrutar de la lectura y a motivar la costumbre de regalarse libros.

En Bogotá, la celebración estará precedida por el primer Bogotá Despierta (19 a 20 de abril) del año y el 23 el evento enmarcará el cierre de la designación de la ciudad como Capital Mundial del Libro.

El empresariado se ha unido a esta campaña regalando más de 40.000 libros.
I'm looking forward to the Book Fair we'll host here at school and the special events we have planned for the kids this week.

18 April 2008

Beyond yourself

Matthew Cheney posts a really wonderful snippet from Lydia Millet's conversation with Jonathan Lethem (found in the current issue of BOMB Magazine):
Novels should do anything and everything they can pull off. The pulling off is the hard part, of course, but my feeling is if you don't walk a line where you're struggling to make things work, struggling with the ideas and shape and tone, you're not doing art. Art is the struggle to get beyond yourself. And if you want to use talking animals to do that, and you can make them beautiful, nothing is verboten.

Glad that somebody believed

Nextbook has three poems by Adam Zagajewski (translated by Clare Cavanagh)--keys to an imaginary map:
“The Church of Corpus Christi” is a part of a sequence of poems which are supposed to provide the reader with an imaginary map of Krakow. The Gothic church of Corpus Christi stands next to the Jewish quarter—and this makes me think, whenever I visit the church, that its inner space is of double nature, that some dark signals from the neighboring body of Judaism have been registered here and produced a unique mix of cultures. Also, I always think this Krakow church is the closest analog of the church in Prague in which wanders the hero of Kafka’s The Castle . . . For me the the church of Corpus Christi is one of the magical spots on my personal plan of Krakow.
Elsewhere, Jorie Graham reads at Border's (as well as Paul Muldoon, Robert Pinsky, and others).

17 April 2008


16 April 2008

Narrow and constraining

Dan Green rolls up his sleeves:
In a recent profile in The Chronicle of Higher Education of M.H. Abrams, Jeffrey Williams comments in passing that "Today the New Criticism, the dominant approach to close reading from the 1940s until the 1960s, seems narrow and constraining." New Criticism was constraining only to the extent that to use it meant to attend entirely to the literary qualities of literature, to withhold biography, history, and politics as subjects tangential to the focused analysis of literary writing. Presumably those more interested in history or politics than in literature would indeed find New Critical close reading "narrow and constraining," although one could ask why such scholars chose literature as their course of study as opposed to, say, history or politics.

The cultural apparatus and "French Theory"

Scott McLemee on François Cusset's French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, & Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States (translated by Jeff Fort):
To put it another way: the very category of “French Theory” itself is socially constructed. Explaining how that construction came to pass is Cusset’s project. He looks at the process as it unfolded at various levels of academic culture: via translations and anthologies, in certain disciplines, with particular sponsors, and so on. Along the way, he recounts the American debates over postmodernism, poststructuralism, and whatnot. But those disputes are part of his story, not the point of it. While offering an outsider’s perspective on our interminable culture wars, it is more than just a chronicle of them.

Instead, it would be much more fitting to say that French Theory is an investigation of the workings of what C. Wright Mills called the “cultural apparatus.” This term, as Mills defined it some 50 years ago, subsumes all the institutions and forms of communication through which “learning, entertainment, malarky, and information are produced and distributed ... the medium by which [people] interpret and report what they see.” The academic world is part of this “apparatus,” but the scope of the concept is much broader; it also includes the arts and letters, as well as the media, both mass and niche.

15 April 2008

Dillard, O'Connor, Whitman

A couple of very marvelous discoveries have dramatically increased the quality of this day. Annie Dillard's The Writing Life was translated into Spanish last year by Miguel Martínez-Lage. Here is an old favorite passage, rendered anew in Vivir, escribir:
Una de las pocas cosas que sé acerca de la escritura es ésta: gástalo todo, dispáralo a bocajarro, piérdelo sobre la marcha, una y todas las veces que sea preciso. No conserves lo que parece provechoso para más adelante, para otra fase del libro: dalo, dalo todo, dalo ahora. El impulso de reservar algo bueno para un lugar aparentemente mejor es la señal que se necesita para gastarlo ahora, sin tardanza. Ya aparecerá algo distinto, puede que mejor, más adelante. Estas cosas se llenan por detrás, por abajo, como el agua de un pozo. Del mismo modo, el impulso de guardar para uno lo que ha aprendido no sólo es vergonzoso, sino que es destructivo. Todo lo que no dé uno libre y abundantemente termina por perdérsele. Uno abre un buen día la caja fuerte y se encuentra con cenizas.

La palabra escrita es débil. Son muchas las personas que prefieren la vida. La vida mueve la sangre en tus venas. Huele de maravilla. Escribir es la mera escritura, la literatura es poca cosa. Apela únicamente a los más sutiles sentidos -la visión y el oído de la imaginación-, al sentido de la moral, al intelecto. Esta escritura a la que te entregas, y que tanto te emociona, que tanto te conmueve y te alboroza, casi como si estuvieras bailando junto a la banda de música, es apenas audible para cualquier otra persona.
El oído del lector ha de ajustarse, rebajarse, para pasar del estruendo de la vida a la sutileza de los sonidos imaginarios que se desprenden de la palabra escrita.
This reminds me that yet another important work has recently been translated into Spanish--Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners as Misterio y maneras by Esther Navío Castellano. (Thanks for the news, Nora!)

And I've had Whitman's Canto a mi mismo (Song of Myself) for a while now (A. is currently reading it), but this is the perfect opportunity to mention that the entire American Experience Whitman documentary is now online. (Thanks for posting this, Jeff.) I hope to check it out later tonight.

You know you're incurably addicted to litblogs when...

...you can imagine exactly what Dan Green would have to say to this:
'The novel is dead. As dead as alchemy.' He cut out with his hands, with the calipers, dismissing that as well. 'I realized that one day before the war. Do you know what I did? I burnt every novel I possessed. Dickens. Cervantes. Dostoievsky. Flaubert. All the great and all the small. I even burnt something I wrote myself when I was too young to know better. I burnt them out there. It took me all day. The sky took their smoke, the earth their ashes. It was a fumigation. I have been happier and healthier ever since.' I remembered my own small destroying; and thought, grand gestures are splendid--if you can afford them. He picked up a book and slapped the dust off it. 'Why should I struggle through hundreds of pages of fabrication to reach half a dozen very little truths?'

'For fun?'

'Fun!' He pounced on the word. 'Words are for truth. For facts. Not fiction.'

'I see.'

'For this.' A life of Franklin Roosevelt. 'This.' A French paperback on astrophysics. 'This. Look at this.' It was an old pamphlet--An Alarme for Sinners, Containing the Last Words of the Murderer Robert Foulkes, 1679. 'There, take that and read it over the week-end. See if it is not more real than all the historical novels ever written.'
Naturally, I wrote "Pure Evil" in the margin.

It's been surprisingly difficult to get into The Magus. Nicholas is a self-deluded cad--but he's supposed to be. It's Conchis I'm having trouble with. The guy is not impressing me at all and strikes me as inanely juvenile. A third of the way through, and the novel still feels hollow to me.

But I'm sticking with it. Fowles is definitely up to something--and I've found more references to the central idea of the above passage. I'll say more when I've safely gotten through it (and try not to choke on all the egotism and pseudo-intellectual fakery in the meantime).

The greatest

Cat Power and The Dirty Delta Blues are doing a show in Bogotá on the 25th!

Of course, there's no way I can make it down, but this is very promising news. José González put on a successful show there this past January, so hopefully this is the beginning of a new trend.

09 April 2008

A handful of links

  • Inside Higher Ed discusses the "Next Chapter for E-books"--affordable text access for university students. Although I loved the legitimate "excuse" for buying expensive Norton Anthologies and other lit texts, this sure could've come in handy for Psych 101!
  • Mark Thwaite mentions Yale's exciting move of putting certain Open Courses online. Sit in on intro classes in Astronomy, English, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Psychology, and Religious Studies. This reminds me that a while back I found out about Harvard@Home--a similar idea. (My favorite is Helen Vendler's lecture on Yeats.)
  • The Literary Saloon announces that Reading the World 2008 has gone live. Many wonderful books will finally be getting the attention they deserve.
  • They also mention that the new issue of Poetry magazine is devoted to translated works. (I do miss being able to read the original Spanish, though. They should consider putting them up on the website, if nothing else--like the Poetry International Web does. But adding the translators' notes is a very nice touch.)

08 April 2008

Another look

Marcelo Ballvé explores how García Márquez subverts cliché in an essay on Love in the Time of Cholera:
García Márquez is not shy about exploiting a metaphor; but this cholera trope, unlike the quickly wilted rose metaphor, survives its multiple uses. The reason is that it points to a natural and classic symmetry, that between love and death, Eros and thanatos. So despite the fact that the metaphor is used not only frequently but for multiple purposes—to bring characters together or to highlight their emotional states—it continues to ring true. Love and death dance together in the novel, and it is a close dance.

In fact, García Márquez lets us know that nothing the novel describes, none of its loves, would have happened were it not for cholera. One of the 19th century cholera epidemics, we are told, wiped out a quarter of Cartagena’s population in only three months. And it is right after this particularly deadly cholera outbreak that Lorenzo Daza, a shady, widowed trader, arrives in Cartagena, like an opportunistic buzzard.

07 April 2008

Here's hoping he finishes

Natalia Solzhenitsyn talks to the Guardian about their constant work pace, in spite of her husband's health problems (he turns 90 in December):
'He hasn't left the house for five years. He has several serious problems, including with his spine - he's missing a vertebra - and he practically can't walk. Physically it's very difficult for him. His health is weak. But every day he sits and works,' she said.

'He writes on his own. His 30-volume selected works are currently being published; seven volumes are already out and five are appearing this year. This doesn't include his letters and notes, only finished books.' [...]

Solzhenitsyn's most recent years have been characterised by frantic activity - and an austere preoccupation with historical patterns rather than fleeting events, she added.

'We don't use the internet. We only watch the news in the evenings. We don't allow ourselves to look at it any earlier. We work. That's it,' she said.
(via Sarah Weinman)

02 April 2008

Jorge Edwards wins

Chilean author Jorge Edwards has won the Planeta-Casa de América de Narrativa prize for his novel La casa de Dostoievsky (written under the pseudonym Juan el Indiano). His novel honors an era of idealist poets in 1950's Santiago:
"Esta novela es sobre la poesía, los poetas y las ganas de ser poeta. Porque en el tiempo mío, los que no eran poetas--y yo finalmente no fui poeta--queríamos ser poetas. Y los que no querían ser poetas eran personajes que no mirábamos; que pertenecían a algunos fondos grises del paisaje santiagueño".
Aside from being a novelist, Jorge Edwards was Chile's ambassador to Cuba during Allende's presidency, which resulted in his being kicked out by Fidel in 1971. His subsequent memoir, Persona non grata, was controversial as the first leftist critique of the Cuban Revolution:
In 1970 Jorge Edwards was sent by socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende as his country’s first envoy to break the diplomatic blockade that had sealed Cuba for over a decade. His arrival coincided with the turning point of the revolution, when Castro began to repress the very intellectuals he once courted. In Kafkaesque detail, Edwards records the four explosive months he spent in Havana trying to open a Chilean embassy and his disenchantment with the revolution. His stay culminated in the arrest of his friend Heberto Padilla—the first imprisonment of a well-known writer by the regime—for giving Edwards a “negative view of the revolution.” In a menacing midnight political debate with Edwards immediately after Padilla’s arrest, Castro argued that in this phase of the revolution, bourgeois writers would no longer have “anything to do in Cuba.” Castro accused Edwards of “conduct hostile to the revolution” and declared him “persona non grata.” The winner of the Cervantes prize—the Spanish language equivalent to the Nobel Prize for literature—Jorge Edwards' memoir splendidly recounts this time and the wrath of Castro.
He recently shared his thoughts on Cuba's current transition phase.

Edwards was also a friend and personal secretary to Pablo Neruda and wrote Adios, Poeta, an anecdote-filled biography of Neruda's life and work.

01 April 2008

Keeping a low profile

El Tiempo links to an article discussing Hilda Hidalgo's adaptation of Del amor y otros demonios (Of Love and Other Demons). The "day on the set" piece describes the modest ambitions and artistic heart of the project, currently in its fourth week of filming in Cartagena.

Here's some additional (English) information:
Already Hidalgo has been treated more generously by the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author; while Garcia Marquez sold the rights to "Cholera" to Hollywood for $3 million, he was rumored to have given away the rights to "Of Love and Other Demons" to his fellow Latin American artist. "We agreed on a symbolic figure, an amount I'm not going to reveal," said Hidalgo, who is Costa Rican.

Hidalgo met the author when she took a class he taught in Cuba two years ago on "how to tell a tale."