29 May 2008

Privileging the reader

Kassia Krozser makes some excellent points in her recent post about how publishers should be serving readers when it comes to ebooks. A lot of it may sound obvious, but it's amazing how many of these ideas have not been as clearly understood by publishers as one would hope. I particularly identify with her third point:
3. Reasonable Prices — Ebooks are not the same thing as, physical matter wise, hardcover or paperback books. Consumers — real consumers, the ones who talk about buying ebooks, who buy ebooks, and who simply don’t understand why publishers don’t understand the differences in product — don’t like paying hardcover and trade paperback prices for ebooks.

What is even more amusing is that ebooks are priced competitively with physical books that offer a higher degree of flexibility, portability, and readability. What up? Are you trying to build a market or kill a market?
Over the weekend, I expanded my sidebar list of ebook distributors to 21 (!)--but only five of them are actual publishers' websites.

27 May 2008


How did Guillermo Martínez's La muerte lenta de Luciana B. ("The Slow Death of Luciana B.") become the much more generic The Book of Murder? Something tells me that it has more to do with marketing than with the translator, but I could be wrong.

24 May 2008


Notes on the third part of Against the Day (see also Part One and Part Two).

~ p. 431: Light as a "secret determinant of history"

~ p. 437: Using Iceland spar to read by...and the polarization of light in time as well as space

~ p. 438: The Manichæans make an appearance:
"Everything you appreciate with your senses, all there is in the given world to hold dear, the faces of your children, sunsets, rain, fragrances of earth, a good laugh, the touch of a lover, the blood of an enemy, your mother's cooking, wine, music, athletic triumphs, desirable strangers, the body you feel at home in, a sea-breeze flowing over unclothed skin--all these for the devout Manichæan are evil, creations of an evil deity, phantoms and masks that have always belonged to time and excrement and darkness."

"But it's everything that matters," protested Chick Counterfly.
Indeed. I could go on about how the Manichæan heresy has invaded fundamentalist Christianity, causing many "Christers" to miss the entire point of the Incarnation and the holiness of day-to-day existence...but I won't. Chick said it all.

~ p. 452-53: On the nature of Time (beneath a whirling tornado)

~ p. 456: Roswell and Merle discuss the lure of light--and its future in the movies, "'the whole idea of a movie projector being built like a clock,'" how Time is "'vulnerable to the force of gravity,'" and the need of making gravity "'impervious to time.'" Merle asks why, and
Roswell shrugged. "It's that one-way business again. They're both forces that act in one direction only. Gravity pulls along the third dimension, up to down, time pulls along the fourth, birth to death."

"Rotate something through space-time so it assumes all positions relative to the one-way vector 'time.'"

"There you go."
~ p. 458: The connection to "'all those Æther folks'" is pointed out: "'We were all probably on to somethin then, didn't know it.'"

~ p. 471: Pynchon draws an interesting parallel between the mothers Mayva and Erlys (who ran off with a magician):
"All the time we were growing up," Frank said, "you wanted to run away and join the carnival?"

"Yes, and there I was with all o' you, right in the carnival, and didn't even know it." And he hoped he'd always be able to recall the way she laughed then.
~ p. 476 & 503: He has "Wall o' Death, Missouri, built around the remains of a carnival, one of many inspired by the old Chicago Fair" where our story begins. Have things come full circle? On p. 503,
The world, since the Chicago Fair of 1893, had undergone a sudden craze for vertical rotation on the grand scale. The cycle, Yashmeen speculated, might only seem reversible, for once to the top and down again, one would be changed "forever." Wouldn't one.
~ p. 498: Yashmeen's preoccupation with Riemann's "Zeta-function problem" has proven to be one of the most thought-provoking elements of the book. I know virtually nothing about higher math, but Pynchon has got me thinking that I'm capable of filling in the blanks of explanations he all but spells out. There are certain connections that I'm just not making...but then, Yashmeen herself is on the verge of understanding as well:
[S]he was not quite able to ignore the question, almost as if he were whispering to her, of why Riemann had simply asserted the figure of one-half at the outset instead of deriving it later.... "One would of course like to have a rigorous proof of this," he wrote, "but I have put aside the search...after some fleeting vain attempts because it is not necessary for the immediate objective of my investigation."

But didn't that then imply...the tantalizing possibility was just out of reach...

...and suppose that at Göttingen [...] he had actually been unable not to go back to it, haunted as anyone since, back to the maddeningly simple series he had found in Gauss and expanded to take account of the whole "imaginary" mirror-world which even Ramanujan here at Trinity had ignored until Hardy pointed it out to him--revisited, in some way relighted the scene, making it possible to prove the conjecture as rigorously as anyone might wish...
(And it's only now that David Leavitt's The Indian Clerk goes into my TBR list...)

~ p. 525: Around the time I reached this page, I heard a reference made to Quaternions on Futurama and realized (I'm embarrassed to admit) that Pynchon did not just make them up. In fact, most of the fun of posting these notes comes from the discoveries of the real personalities and concepts that Pynchon writes about. It's been quite an education. I'd really love to read a mathematician's take on this novel.

~ p. 534: A Quaternioneer's lament:
"Actually Quaternions failed because they perverted what the Vectorists thought they know of God's intention--that space be simple, three-dimensional, and real, and if there must be a fourth term, an imaginary, that it be assigned to Time. But Quaternions came in and turned that all end for end, defining the axes of space as imaginary and leaving Time to be the real term, and a scalar as well--simply inadmissible. Of course the Vectorists went to war. Nothing they knew of Time allowed it to be that simple, any more than they could allow space to be compromised by impossible numbers, earthly space they had fought over uncounted generations to penetrate, to occupy, to defend."
~ pp. 535-36: There is no way I can not quote this:
"Heaviside was once termed 'the Walt Whitman of English Physics'--"

"What...excuse me...does that mean?"

"Open question. Some have found in Heaviside a level of passion or maybe just energy, beyond the truculence already prevailing among the different camps in those days."

"Well if Heaviside's the Whitman," remarked a British attendee nearby in a striking yellow ensemble, "who's the Tennyson, you see?"

"Clerk Maxwell, wouldn't you say?" suggested someone else, as others joined in.

"Making Hamilton I imagine the Swinburne."

"Yes and who'd be Wordsworth then?"


"I say, what an amusing game. And Gibbs? The Longfellow?"

"Is there an Oscar Wilde, by any chance?"

"Let's all go to the Casino!" someone invisible screamed.
~ pp. 538-39: More of Pynchon's little jokes:
"Cambridge personality Bertie ('Mad Dog') Russell observed," observed Barry Nebulay, "that most of Hegel's arguments come down to puns on the word 'is.'"
Due to its "'altogether disquieting square root of minus one,'"
"If you were a vector, mademoiselle, you would begin in the 'real' world, change your length, enter an 'imaginary' reference system, rotate up to three different ways, and return to 'reality' a new person. Or vector."
From one who practices this:
"Each time I become somebody else. It is like reincarnation on a budget, without the element of karma to worry about."
~ p. 543: The phrase "against the day" has a variety of meanings and interpretations, depending on when it appears in the story. This seems to be a central one:
"It's a peculiar game we all play. Against what looms in the twilight of the European future, it doesn't make much sense, this pretending to carry on with the day, you know, just waiting. Everyone waiting."
~ p. 554: Ryder Thorn visits Miles from the future and tells him that
"Flanders will be the mass grave of History."


"And that is not the most perverse part of it. They will all embrace death. Passionately."

"The Flemish."

"The world."
The foreshadowing of WWI runs all through the novel, but this is one of the more specific moments.

~ p. 558: The inevitable next step emerges: "'A weapon based on Time.'"

~ pp. 564-5: The terrible weapon is described and it involves light, lenses, and calcite (Iceland spar).

~ p. 571: Luca Zombini's process of creating doubles is a result of a three-dimensional mirror:
"We pass from a system of three purely spatial axes to one with four--space plus time. In this way time enters the effect. The doubles you report having produced are actually the original subjects themselves, slightly displaced in time."
~ p. 577: Hunter Penhallow agonizes:
"Political space has its neutral ground. But does Time? is there such a thing as the neutral hour? one that goes neither forward nor back? is that too much to hope?"
~ pp. 579-80: Penhallow on art (to Dally):
"The body, it's another way to get past the body."

"To the spirit behind it--"

"But not to deny the body--to reimagine it. Even"--nodding over at the Titian on the far wall--"if it's 'really' just different kinds of greased mud smeared on cloth--to reimagine it as light."
This leads into a discussion of a story about Jesus from the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas" that reminds Dally of "that Pentecost story in Acts of the Apostles":
"Apostles are meeting in a house in Jerusalem, you'll recall, Holy Ghost comes down like a mighty wind, tongues of fire and all, the fellas come out and start talking to the crowd outside, who've all been jabbering away in different tongues, there's Romans and Jews, Egyptians and Arabians, Mesopotamians and Cappadocians and folks from east Texas, all expecting to hear just the same old Galilean dialect--but instead this time each one is amazed to hear those Apostles speaking to him in his own language."

Hunter saw her point. "Yes, well it's redemption, isn't it, you expect chaos, you get order instead. Unmet expectations. Miracles."
~ p. 596: Is this describing the coin shown on the jacket cover and the page preceding Part One?
Today [Yashmeen] wore an ancient coin, pierced and simply suspended from a fine silver chain around that ever-fascinating neck.... "It's an Afghani dirhan, from the early days of the Ghaznivid Empire. He gave it to me, for luck."
Is Pynchon slipping us a good-luck charm against the day?

~ p. 613: Lamont Replevin and his religious persuasion:
"They worship it, this empty space, it's their highest form of worship. This volume, or I suppose nonvolume, of pure Akaša--being the Sanskrit for what we'd call Æther, the element closest to the all-pervading Atman, from which everything else has arisen--which in Greek obviously then becomes 'Chaos,' and so down to van Helmont in his alchemist's workshop, who being Dutch writes the opening fricative as a G instead of a Chi, giving us Gas, our own modern Chaos, our bearer of sound and light, the Akaša flowing from our sacred spring, the local Gasworks. Do you wonder that for some the Gas Oven is worshipped at, as a sort of shrine?"
~ p. 616: Yashmeen:
"Lenin himself is said to be writing a gigantic book now, attempting to refute the 'fourth dimension,' his position being, from what I can gather, that the Tsar can only be overthrown in three."
~ p. 633: Another joke at Bertrand's expense--a certain mural depicts: "a mischievously hydrophobic Bertrand Russell actually entering and departing the scene, depending on the viewer's position and velocity." Yes, that's right--rabid Russell.

~ p. 675: Vectors fail Kit: they "had not shown Kit, after all, a way to escape the world governed by real numbers."

~ pp. 678-79: "At the moment the two were on their way to see the comic operetta Waltzing in Whitechapel, or, A Ripping Romance, based loosely, and according to some reviews tastelessly, on the Whitechapel murders of the late '80s."

~ p. 681: This, of course, brings up a whole government conspiracy that links Franz Ferdinand's ascension to Jack the Ripper,
"working under contract. Considering that he disappeared from London around November of '88, and Mayerling was at the end of January '89--time enough for Jack to get to Austria and become familiar with his target, yes?"

"They were shot, Max," protested Werfner with exaggerated gentleness, "not butchered. Jack was not a firearms person, the only similarity is that the list of suspects in the 'Ripper' case is also long enough to populate a small city [...]. Hundreds, by now thousands, of narratives, all equally valid--what can this mean?"

"Multiple worlds," blurted Nigel, who had floated in from elsewhere.

"Precisely!" cried the Professor. "The Ripper's 'Whitechapel' was a sort of momentary antechamber in space-time...one might imagine a giant railway-depot, with thousands of gates disposed radially in all dimensions, leading to tracks of departure to all manner of alternate Histories...."
~ pp. 685-86: The Truth about Renfrew and Werfner. Despite all of the clues, I didn't see it coming. The answer to the mystery is even the title of this section of the book (!). And Light is at the heart of it all.

~ pp. 687-88: This extends into the Cohen's explanation:
"We are light, you see, all of light--we are the light offered the batsmen at the end of the day [...]. When we lost our æthereal being and became embodied, we slowed, thickened, congealed to"--grabbing each side of his face and wobbling it back and forth--"this. The soul itself is a memory we carry of having once moved at the speed and density of light."
He explains how they try to regain
"that condition of light, to become once more able to pass where we will, through lantern-horn, through window-glass, eventually, though we risk being divided in two, through Iceland spar, which is an expression in crystal form of Earth's velocity as it rushes through the Æther, altering dimensions, and creating double refraction...." He paused at the door. "Atonement, in any case, comes much later in the journey."
This is a key to understanding Yashmeen's pseudo-corporeal condition, and reminds me of the Genesis story of man being made "in the image" of God. If he is light, so are we. But it seems that all threads of this novel lead back to this--the fascination with light and its uses (for both good and evil). Again, science and religion weave in and out of the ideas expressed--some supernatural, some science fiction. But Pynchon makes the "fiction" bit seem very possible.

I was also strongly reminded of lines from Edgar Lee Masters' poem, "Emily Sparks":
That all the clay of you, all of the dross of you,
May yield to the fire of you,
Till the fire is nothing but light!...
Nothing but light!
~ p. 689: The railroad as the key to the "gigantic ten-miles-to-the-inch wall map of the Balkans," as it defines
"patterns of flow, not only actual but also invisible, potential, and such rates of change as how quickly one's relevant masses can be moved to a given frontier...and beyond that the teleology at work [...]."

22 May 2008

Thursday links

20 May 2008

Blindess at Cannes

So apparently there were quite a lot of negative opinions about the new adaptation of José Saramago's Blindness. But Saramago is reported as saying that he wants Meirelles to adapt another of his novels as well and that he liked it very much:
El pasado 14 de mayo, la cinta del brasileño Fernando Meirelles, Blindness -basada en Ensayo sobre la ceguera, del nobel José Saramago-, que inauguró la muestra, recibió una lluvia de opiniones en contra.

Tras asistir a la proyección del largometraje, Saramago aseguró que quisiera que Meirelles volviera a adaptar otra de sus novelas y les restó importancia a las opiniones negativas que ha recibido la cinta por parte de los críticos. El autor de la novela aseguró a los medios acreditados que: "Me gustó mucho, mucho. Me emocioné algunas veces".

Blindness (Ceguera), protagonizada por Julianne Moore y Mark Ruffalo, el mexicano Gael García Bernal y la brasileña Alice Braga, es una aterradora fábula sobre cómo sobreviviría la gente cuando una plaga de ceguera los azote. "Hay distintos tipos de ceguera. Hay 2.000 millones de personas que se están muriendo de hambre en el mundo. Esto está ocurriendo. No hace falta una catástrofe. Está pasando, y debido a que no hay un evento como Katrina, no lo estamos viendo", aseguró el director Meirelles. La cinta tendrá su estreno en Estados Unidos el próximo 19 de septiembre.
I look forward to seeing it, regardless of its reputed quality.

19 May 2008

Alonso Quijano would be proud

In commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the publication of Amadís de Gaula, Grupo Editorial Norma is publishing an anthology of Spanish chivalry from the 16th century. Colombian literature professor María del Rosario Aguilar is co-editor of the project and discusses their "best seller" status, as well as Cervantes' historic criticisms:
"La perspectiva de Cervantes es revolucionaria, en el sentido de que hay por primera vez un héroe que se enfrenta con el mundo que lo rodea, que quiere hacer del mundo lo que a él le parece y se estrella constantemente con la realidad, lo que abre la concepción moderna del mundo", explica Aguilar.

16 May 2008

Three things

that have helped ease me into the weekend:

Iceland Spar

Notes on the second part of Against the Day (see also Part One). As I continue reading the fourth part, putting down these stray thoughts has really helped me get a better handle on the numerous things Pynchon is up to.

~ p. 125: the mythic "extra man" (someone's doppelgänger?) appears aboard the Inconvenience

~ p. 126: How Iceland spar polarizes light

~ p. 127: "Of course he would leave--that was only fortune-telling--it could not interfere with her love."

~ p. 131: An academic argument for the colonization of Time (and "'additional dimensions beyond the third'"): "'Why not?'"

~ p. 132: The math of Time travel

~ p. 133: The Librarian on Iceland spar:
"It's the genuine article, and the sub-structure of reality. The doubling of the Creation, each image clear and believable.... And you being mathematical gentlemen, it can hardly have escaped your attention that its curious advent into the world occurred within only a few years of the discovery of Imaginary Numbers, which also provided a doubling of the mathematical Creation."
~ p. 143: Throyle explains bilocation and how the shamans' "'notion of time is spread out not in a single dimension but over many, which all exist in a single, timeless instant.'" Interestingly, this is also the perspective of light. In other words, if one were traveling at the speed of light, past and future would merge into "a single, timeless instant" (or an eternal now). Light is completely "present"--as well as being both particle and wave.

~ p. 176: Lew and the social invisibles:
There was always some Forty-seventh Street, always some legion of invisible on the one side of the account book, set opposite a handful on the other who were getting very, if not incalculably, rich at their expense.
~ p. 198: "Web found himself crying out the names of his sons. From inside the pain, he was distantly surprised at a note of reproach in his voice, though not sure if it had been out loud or inside his thoughts. He watched the light over the ranges slowly draining away."

~ p. 228: Madame Eskimoff on how she records her séances:
"We take electros of the original wax impressions immediately after every sitting. Part of the routine. I have listened to these tonight already several times, and even if details are here and there obscure, I felt it a grave enough development to summon you here."
I immediately thought of William Gass quoting Rilke:
"The coronal suture of the skull...has...a certain similarity to the closely wavy line which the needle of the phonograph engraves on the receiving, rotating cylinder.... What if one changed the needle and directed it on its return journey along a tracing which was not derived from the graphic translation of a sound, but existed of itself naturally...along the coronal suture, for example." At the present time technicians have done something similar for the movement of the heart, so that death is seen as a straight line, or heard as a continuous drone.

It is of course a fanciful project: to fill the world's cracks with needles that will let us hear those cracks speak.
~ p. 237: Anarchists as Trekkies! This is classic Pynchon:
This person greeted the Cohen by raising his left hand, then spreading the fingers two and two away from the thumb so as to form the Hebrew letter shin, signifying the initial letter of one of the pre-Mosaic (that is, plural) names of God, which may never be spoken.

"Basically wishing long life and prosperity," explained the Cohen, answering with the same gesture.
Also acknowledging sci-fi fans as a subversive element?

~ p. 242: Renfrew on Werfner: "'keen-witted but unheimlich'". Thanks to Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, I know that this last word means "uncanny." That whole digression of his about this word was one of the best parts of the book (that and "Echo"). I really should reread it sometime (and toss in The Whalestoe Letters while I'm at it).

~ p. 250: The complex combination of light, Iceland spar, lenses, and mirrors "'reveal the architecture of dream,'" allowing one to see into the Invisible.

~ p. 251: Miles sets them straight (yet again):
"As the Franciscans developed the Stations of the Cross to allow any parishioner to journey to Jerusalem without leaving his church-grounds, so have we been brought up and down the paths and aisles of what we take to be the all-but-boundless world, but which in reality are only a circuit of humble images reflecting a glory greater than we can imagine--to save us from the blinding terror of having to make the real journey, from one episode to the next of the last day of Christ on Earth, and at last to the real, unbearable Jerusalem."
~ p. 256: Pynchon describes artillery fire as "abolishing Time":
what they saw "now" in the sights was in fact what did not yet exist but what would only be a few seconds from "now"
~ p. 257: More mama jokes:
"Hey, Lindsay, you can still catch 'em if you hurry," taunted Darby.

"Or we might send in pursuit your maternal relation, Suckling, one glimpse of whom should prove more than sufficient fatally to compromise their morale, if not indeed transform them all into masonry--"

"Well, your mother," riposted the readily nettled youth, "is so ugly--"

"Gentlemen," implored Randolph [...]
Apparently, these date back to Shakespeare.

~ p. 306: Merle's idea of Iceland spar's potential is similar to Tesla's ideas for electricity. In this reading, "anarchy" simply means offering something that would make life easier for all--except the Powers That Be.

~ p. 312: "If she was not to be the great lost love of his life, she could've perhaps been the great unlistened-to commentator upon it."

~ p. 323: The true Anarchists revealed as Vibe's bombers.

~ p. 324: Kit's new direction:
"Dr. Hilbert at Göttingen is developing his 'Spectral Theory,' which requires a vector space of infinite dimensions. His co-adjutor Minkowski thinks that dimensions will eventually all just fade away into a Kontinuum of space and time."
~ p. 354-55: Magician Luca Zombini:
"Remember, God didn't say, 'I'm gonna make light now,' he said, 'Let there be light.' His first act was to allow light in to what had been Nothing. Like God, you also have to always work with the light, make it do only what you want it to."
His trade also involves strategic uses of the Nicol prism, double refraction, and the ubiquitous Iceland spar, which
"Doubles the image, the two overlap, with the right sort of light, the right lenses, you can separate them in stages, a little further each time, step by step till in fact it becomes possible to saw somebody in half optically, and instead of two different pieces of one body, there are now two complete individuals walking around, who are identical in every way, capisci?"
Of course, this creates other problems. Like having multiple versions of the same person roaming the world simultaneously.

~ p. 370: How music trumps Anarchist theory:
"Yet I've noticed the same thing when your band plays--the most amazing social coherence, as if you all shared the same brain."

"Sure," agreed "Dope," "but you can't call that organization."

"What do you call it?"

~ p. 375: Ewball Oust on Iceland spar in Mexico:
"Espato is what they call it down there. Sometimes you hear espanto, which is something either horrifying or amazing, depending."

"Like looking at somebody through a pure enough specimen and seeing not just the man but his ghost alongside him?"

Ewball regarded Frank with some curiosity. "Plenty occasions for goose bumps down in those drifts as it is. Espantoso, hombre."
~ p. 377: Pynchon invokes Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury:
They climbed up the red-brown mountainside, into sunlight and purple artemisia, where wild dogs wandered the roofless stones, till they were high enough to see, beneath the harsh radiance of the Good Friday sky, where cirrus clouds were blown to long, fine parallel streaks, the city below, spread east to west, stunned as if by mysterious rays to a silence even Frank and Ewball must honor--the passion of Christ, the windless hush...even the stamping mills were silent, even Silver itself taking its day of rest, as if to recognize the price Judas Iscariot received. Sunlight in the trees.
~ p. 391: More Iceland spar: "And there was this deep glow, though not enough ambient light in here to account for it--as if there were a soul harbored within."

~ p. 410: G.K. Chesterton references?:
The boys found their way down to West Symmes Street and into the Ball in Hand, which proved to be a particularly low and disreputable haunt.
For some reason, this line made me think of The Man Who Was Thursday's Gabriel Syme and The Ball and the Cross.

~ p. 415: Does Mr. Ace reveal the true motive of the existence of the Chums of Chance?
"You are not aware that each of your mission assignments is intended to prevent some attempt of our own to enter your time-regime?"

15 May 2008

A conceptual poem

(Eliza Triana as Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles--aka María Mandinga. Foto: Olga Paulihiac, CMO Producciones, Alicia Films)

Director Felipe Aljure visited the set of the current production of Del amor y otros demonios and was impressed by what he discovered:
Las tres productoras coinciden en que uno de los ingredientes que hace parte de su apuesta es el no haber acudido a ningún coproductor extranjero para que entrara en esta producción. Es un concepto lleno de poesía, los buenos productores no se limitan a hablar de plata, pues reconoce una unidad cultural latinoamericana y más aún caribeña, por ser Colombia, Costa Rica y México las tres nacionalidades más activas en el proyecto. Tres productoras, de tres países, pensándose como de una misma nación, es un poema conceptual sobre el cual se erigen otras fortalezas de esta adaptación, como por ejemplo usar actores de la misma nacionalidad de los personajes de la novela para evitar acentos falsos e impostados; o usar a Cartagena como escenario central del rodaje, por ser allí en donde la novela transcurre; o filmarla en español, idioma en el que la novela está escrita. Aunque la película aún no está terminada, Del amor y otros demonios tiene todos los ingredientes para ser un delicado espejo audiovisual capaz de reflejar con fuerza todas las sutilezas del libro.
Needless to say, I'm very excited about the potential of this film.

In the meantime, I was delighted to discover A.S. Byatt's 1995 review of Edith Grossman's English translation of the novel:
Mr. Garcia Marquez's pointed and resonant epigraph is from St. Thomas Aquinas's treatise "On the Integrity of Resurrected Bodies": "For the hair, it seems, is less concerned in the resurrection than other parts of the body."

What is body and what survives? What is flesh and what is spirit and what is demonic? Mr. Garcia Marquez's answer is an almost didactic, yet brilliantly moving, tour de force.
Also, I wonder if the opera will be released as an album someday. I look forward to reading reviews of the future performances.

Teaching oneself

Another excellent point about litblogs from Dan Green:
The question is not whether another "opinion" is needed but whether that opinion is linked to a specific analysis of the book--pointing out specific attributes of form, style, or theme through quotation or extended description--that might reveal to other readers some angle of understanding or interpetation they haven't previously considered.
In addition, I think writing one's thoughts down in this medium can be a way of teaching oneself. I know that I can have many ideas and impressions about a text, but it isn't until I flesh them out in black and white that I can fully comprehend the nuances and implications of these thoughts--which sometimes extend into even more illumination and ultimately lead to a better understanding of the text itself.

This ties in to what Darby wrote about "the notion of overpopularity." If you love something, why shut up about it simply because others already love it too? It isn't the topic or work that should be accepted or rejected, only the way in which we write about it. There can never be enough "specific analysis" of a text's merits.

13 May 2008

Intertextual intermarriage

Eric Griffiths' "Dante, Primo Levi and the intertextualists" is a wonderful essay that explores the erstwhile uses, true definitions, and revelatory functions of intertextuality. Perhaps I'm quoting too liberally here, but I suppose it's more for myself than anyone else. This is the sort of writing I never tire of rereading:
At one point during Dante’s impersonation of Arnaut Daniel, in Purgatorio 26, there occurs a word, “escalina”, which, Prue Shaw points out, “exists neither in Provençal nor Italian”. Amid the gloss of the mosaic, her knowledgeable eye singles out, as it were, one square of matted chewing gum. Maybe the agent Dante mistakenly believed there was such a word; maybe he thought it ought to exist and made it up (neologism is a permanent possibility in any language, reluctantly though langue admits this); maybe a corrupt scribe had a hand in the text, and Arnaut was not describing Dante as “al som de l’escalina” – “on the highest pavement of the stair”, as T. S. Eliot, whom the phrase haunted, once translated it – but as “ses dol e ses calina” (“without pain and without heat”). No system can spare us these “maybe”s. You may call this “literary word” an “intersection of textual surfaces”, but that will not help you cope with the fact that what we come across at this intersection is a crux.
Milton’s great poem is not, as Bakhtin was inclined to label all epics, “monological” but in dialogue over time with himself, both intersubjective and intra-subjective. This is why it often sounds like a play by Shakespeare. Sometimes the resemblances are probably happenstances. When, at the outset, he promises his readers “things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme”, we had better not hear “unattempted yet” as an echo of the same words from King John, Act Two, scene one (line 601), where the Bastard torrentially reflects that the only reason he is railing against bribery is that nobody has so far troubled to try greasing his palm. We discount this as “static”, interference from a shared, but insignificantly shared, atmosphere, unless we impute to Milton a desire to hint with inordinate faintness that we should think of him as a bastard, too. But when Satan leads Eve to the forbidden tree, and she explains that it is off-limits to her, “To whom the tempter guilefully replied. / Indeed?”, a family resemblance between two tempters may strike us. We can hear here an echo of that “Indeed?” with which in Act Three, Scene Three, Iago initiates Othello’s downfall. Textually, and a fortiori intertextually, there is more in common between Milton and the Bastard than between Satan and Iago – two words rather than one – but if we personify “Indeed?”, embody it with camp surprise and mock solicitude, with the paraded reasonableness that comes pat to both these insinuators, we find they are a match for each other.
An unargued preference for “more general discursive structure” over attention to a “particular intertextual source” or two has the further drawback that it conduces to fetishism of the categories brought to bear on utterances. “Structure”, “system”, “genre” and “discursive formation” remain drastically under-described pseudo-entities; like nation states, their existence and frontiers acquire a bogus solidity. As in nationalist historiography, sham demarcations are established; a weird protectionism envelops the resultant intellectual domains, so that when a writer like Primo Levi alludes in one of his poems to the “Shema Yisrael” this is called “appropriation” (who was expropriated by it ?). Contributors to the Cambridge Companion to Primo Levi think it odd that Levi, a “secular humanist”, according to them, “nonetheless uses the language of the Hebrew Bible in his poetry”. Yet Levi “uses” terms, cadences and their implied commitments from Diodati’s 1603 Italian version of the Scriptures (he does not quote Hebrew) throughout his prose as well as his poetry. When he speaks of the “shame which il giusto experiences facing a crime committed by someone else”, the Italian word is the equivalent of the King James’s “the righteous”. When he is drawn, as he so often is, to people who are “mite”, like his best friend, Alberto, “la rara figura dell’uomo forte e mite, contro cui si spuntano le armi della notte” (“the rare example of a man at once strong and meek, against whom the weapons of the night fall away blunted”), the magnificence of his phrase stems from Wisdom 2:19 and Matthew 21:5 and the many other places where that notable intersection, Judaeo-Christianity, transvalued meekness. You don’t learn about these detailed realities of Levi’s writing from the Cambridge Companion; the contributors’ attachment to their own labels is such that they even describe “compassion and forgiveness” as “Christian virtues”, a slur on the Hebrew Bible if ever I heard one. For them, an iron curtain has fallen between the “cultural” and the “religious”, so they imagine Levi must be a double agent, engaged in “ironic rewriting of divine utterances in secular terms” (they do not mention what the point of his irony is), whereas, in fact, the Scriptures are already written in “secular terms”, there being no other terms available even to God, supposing he wishes to speak with his creatures. The Word itself, as Bakhtin said, has to be “embodied”, “enter another sphere of existence” and “become discourse”.
To hear why Levi in the camp heard Ulysses’s injunction “Considerate la vostra semenza” (“ask yourselves what seed you spring from”) as “come uno squillo di tromba, come la voce di Dio” (“like the sound of the trumpet, like the voice of God”: Deuteronomy 4:33, Jeremiah 4:19), you need to bear in ear the continuity of promise carried through the word “seed” from Genesis to the offertory of the Roman Catholic Requiem where it begs God to be freed from death “which of old you promised to Abraham and his seed”. You need to recognize this “seed” as enshrining a concept of human solidarity across times and frontiers, a concept at the heart of Levi’s resistance to the violence unleashed upon the “human” by pseudoscientific expertise about “race”, for example, by Mussolini’s hireling academics who in 1938 issued a manifesto proclaiming that “we must regard as dangerous theories which . . . include Semitic groupings within the scope of a common Mediterranean race . . . . The Jews do not belong to the Italian race”. When Levi describes in the words of Diodati’s version of Scripture his response to Dante, an unbelieving Jewish Piedmontese writer (exiled in Poland), nourished on the words of a bible translation made by a devout Tuscan Protestant (exiled in Switzerland), comes to life at the sound from his own mouth of the account given by a Florentine Catholic poet (exiled somewhere in what was not yet known as “Italy”) of the response given to a Roman pagan by a Greek pagan (self-exiled till drowned in the antipodes). I don’t think “intersection” is a good enough word for what happens here; “intermarriage” would be better.
(via Light Reading)

Present concerns

  • A new free international e-mail list co-hosted by the Universities of East Anglia, Warwick and London Metropolitan has just been launched. STRAP - Stage Translation Research Adaptation and Practice - aims to promote collaboration and discussion between academics and practitioners working in the field of stage translation and adaptation. It is intended that this facility will help subscribers create networks and further the discipline of stage translation and adaptation.
  • Darby has spoken:
    I hereby propose that we banish the notion of overpopularity from the litblogosphere. Surely it's an idea that can do well on its without further help from us.
    Hear hear!

09 May 2008

Erickson's Soledad

I've been busy with freelance work, during the completion of which I discovered a few interesting things about Christopher Lee and his fidelity to Bram Stoker (in his opinion, a faithful adaptation has yet to be made). I also had to do some fact-checking and was surprised to see the name of Soledad Miranda in a film they did together.

So I discovered something that I probably should have already known: Soledad Miranda seems to have provided the inspiration for the character of Soledad Palladin in Steve Erickson's Zeroville. I haven't seen anyone ask him about this in the few interviews I've read. (Then again, I haven't seen anyone ask him about the Van Gogh connection, either.) It would be interesting to hear more about this connection, especially since Soledad's character is the mother of Zazi. Vikar's reactions to Soledad mirror his internal evolution (and not only because "soledad" is Spanish for "loneliness" or "solitude"), but it is Zazi who is the lynchpin of the novel.

06 May 2008

Gabo's at it again

García Márquez to publish another novel before the end of the year:
BOGOTÁ (Reuters) - El escritor colombiano Gabriel García Márquez publicará antes de finalizar este año una nueva novela sobre el amor, informó el martes un periodista cercano al Premio Nobel de Literatura.

El director de los servicios informativos de la cadena radial Caracol, Darío Arizmendi, dijo que se reunió el fin de semana en México con el afamado escritor, quien le contó que está dando los últimos toques a su novela, cuyo título aún no está definido.

"Se trata de una novela que García Márquez tenía en la nevera. La sacó, escribió un borrador, no le gustó, luego otro y otro y llegó hasta a un quinto borrador. Ya está listo. Es una novela sobre el tema del amor y saldrá antes que termine el 2008, en agosto o septiembre", aseguró Arizmendi a través de Caracol radio.

El periodista, un amigo cercano al autor de "Cien años de soledad" y "El amor en los tiempos del cólera", precisó que la nueva novela del escritor colombiano, ganador del Nobel de Literatura en 1982, tendrá unas 250 páginas y sostuvo que está plenamente lúcido a sus 81 años.
(With thanks to A.)

UPDATE: Marcelo at Sancho's Panza offers a reality check. We'll wait and see. I think of the Gabo who changed the ending to Memoria de mis putas tristes at the very last minute after pirated copies hit the streets of Bogotá. But I don't think we'll be seeing anything new before the end of the year.

04 May 2008

More on Pynchon and Henry Adams

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I decided to post anything from this marvelous group discussion of The Education of Henry Adams that reminded me of Pynchon. Against the Day got me thinking of Adams right off the bat, and my suspicions were confirmed by Jennifer Schuessler's introductory post, in which she states that "Adams’s ideas of inertia and entropy profoundly influenced Thomas Pynchon." (But how does she know this? Is it common knowledge? Does Pynchon discuss this somewhere? I'd love to find out.)

Here's something Thomas Mallon wrote next:
Adams’s “Dynamic Theory of History,” developed during a decade in which he was also playing with magnets and seeking revelation in the statistics of coal production, proceeds from a late-life awareness of himself a “a conscious ball of vibrating motions, traversed in every direction by infinite lines of rotation or vibration.” His discovery that, as of 1900, the world would “not be a unity but a multiple” freed him to write a memoir whose own ever-increasing entropy could be rationalized as a shape to suit the times.
I immediately thought of Skip (Pynchon's "ball lightning" that befriends Merle). I'm fascinated by the similarity of language and ideas. It appears that Pynchon carries Adams' ideas to another level (dimension!) and continues to consistently explore them.

Jill Abramson later observed:
It is mind-bending to think that the little boy marched to school by John Quincy Adams lived to see both the discovery of radium and the invention of the motorcar. He was prophetic and saw that American life was going to be completely transformed by technology, and not always for the better. He recognized the deeply disruptive potential of technology and internalized how modernity itself often inspires deep longing for spirituality.
In addition to this, I would add a "longing for mystery"--another aspect of the Virgin. The way in which Pynchon melds religion and science, addressing not only existential dilemmas but the ways in which these two spheres overlap, is truly revelatory. One cannot wholly exist without the other. Where would science be without an affinity for mystery to propel it? And religion gives to some a structure or "worldview" from which to interpret the evidence of the eyes (or at least the visible aspect of "reality").

What's most amazing to me is the artistic harmony that emerges. Of course, these issues aren't without their conflicts and contradictions. But I am in awe of the way in which Pynchon creates (mirrors?) a world in which they coexist, in which the questions are valid. This seemingly whole-hearted embrace of paradox is part of his genius. I feel honored to be reading him.

UPDATE: I've just discovered (thanks to Bud Parr) that today is Pynchon's 71st birthday. If I were in NYC and could send a fax to him, it would probably resemble aspects of this post. Many happy returns to one of the greatest writers in history!