[I realize the in thing right now is to publish revolutionary, anti-censorship reviews. Alas, this is not such a review. That said, it is highly off t...more[I realize the in thing right now is to publish revolutionary, anti-censorship reviews. Alas, this is not such a review. That said, it is highly off topic through almost the entire thing, not to mention explicit and possibly offensive to the mostly theoretical "Goodreads Team," and so I encourage you to flag it accordingly. --Ed.]
That night, as he was working the door at the bar, he amused himself by thinking about time with two speeds, one very slow, in which the movement of people and objects was almost imperceptible, and the other very fast, in which everything, even inert objects, glittered with speed. The first was called Paradise, the second Hell, and Archimboldi’s only wish was to never inhabit either.
In the same year that 2666 was published, though wholly ignorant of Bolaño and indeed of literature at that time, I first discerned the power of slowness. I was a freshman in college and utterly preoccupied with women and vanity. In particular, I had just begun to grow my hair long as an act of only symbolic rebellion and, more importantly, an act that I believed would attract the type of woman I lusted after: the creative girl, the liminal girl, who would never believe in crew cuts and Polos, symbolizing as they did the trappings of conformist attitudes and, more fatally, un-creativeness.
I was very fast at that time. I barely slept, I read 1,000 words per minute, I ran everywhere like a man possessed or crazed, which I was. In the gym I lifted everything as fast as I could, to maximize my time, but it was also there that I finally saw the slowest man I had ever seen.
It was his hair I first noticed. I did not sexualize it, exactly, and yet it was impossibly gorgeous: down to his shoulders and luxuriously curly, flawless. He was probably a senior and therefore bigger than me and much more muscular. But what I noticed more than anything was that when he lifted weights, he did it at one-tenth the speed of everyone else.
When he walked into the gym, he walked to the benches so slowly that I wondered at first if he were lost. He loaded plates one at a time, deliberately but unconsciously, and then sat or lay down and began to lift, impossibly slow. I couldn’t stop watching him because that slowness conveyed such a tremendous strength. He didn’t need to move fast, because he had complete control over everything he touched.
I began to see the energetic students speaking quickly, with feigned facility, in class as frauds, imposters. The business students or minor politicians on TV, running in circles around their bosses who ambled slowly through hallways were sycophants, idolators. Truly powerful men had no need for haste. Strength derived from slowness.
A year earlier, on the 15th of July, 2003, Roberto Bolaño died of liver disease, possibly related to abuse of heroin in his young adulthood, although interviews with his wife have lately cast doubt on the truth of this latter rumor. The massive (nearly 1,100 pages in the Spanish edition) 2666 was published posthumously.
The word posthumous, Bolaño apocryphally joked to Larry Rohter of The New York Times, “sounds like the name of a Roman gladiator, one who is undefeated.”
Yet in spite of such apparent levity, 2666 was the central preoccupation of Bolaño in his years of declining health. As readers of his work, we are obligated to perceive this preoccupation not as a fascination with fame or notoriety, but for two quite separate reasons, the first being the practical concern with providing for his family (he once called his wife and two children his “only Motherland”), and the second being the artistic drive for completion, both of these things being inextricable from the ailing man’s certainty of his own mortality. Of fame itself, the enigmatic author central to the plot of 2666, pseudonymously called Benno von Archimboldi says,
[Fame] was rooted in delusion and lies, if not ambition. Also, fame was reductive. Everything that ended in fame and everything that issued from fame was inevitably diminished. Fame’s message was unadorned. Fame and literature were irreconcilable enemies.
And we cannot help but hear in these words the voice of Bolaño himself, as indeed we see the flesh and bone and sexual ambivalence and inapprehension of nationalism of Bolaño in some variously small or large way in each of his characters.
But if it seems clear that neither Archimboldi nor Bolaño desperately sought fame in the twilight of his life, we do not therefore conclude that Bolaño was not desperate to finish, to be complete, for the reasons already mentioned. And indeed whenever I read Bolaño (not just 2666, but also The Savage Detectives), I hear in every single sentence, in the trajectory of every paragraph and page, an unmistakable franticness.
It is, in short, impossible to read Bolaño slowly.
Rather, Bolaño must be devoured, must be raced through; his reading must be frenzied, insatiable, the riding of a wave that we know must crest and then, suddenly, be finished, and yet we nonetheless paddle harder, contort our bodies in anticipation of that inevitable climax whose occurrence will put this all to an end at last and yet it never comes and so are we caught endlessly in this moment of anticipation through which we rush, furiously.
Updike, a great admirer of Russia’s Vladimir Nabokov, once remarked that “Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written: ecstatically,” which synopsis always struck me as wholly and magnificently wrong, as if Updike were a man who craved not to understand why he loved Nabokov so much as to impose upon that love an arbitrary significance that gave a sort of empathetic justification to his own reasons for writing. Nabokov’s prose is rarely, if ever, ecstatic. Nabokov’s prose is clever; it’s aristocratic; in some ways, it’s perfect. But if one detects ecstasy there, it is involute: ecstasy, perhaps, only with the self-awareness that it is even possible to craft language, so effortful, with such precision. Delight with the character’s (and, by extension, the author’s) ability to bridge the divide between semantics and lyricism, or rather, to make semantics and lyricism the same thing:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
In short, Nabokov can only be read one way: slowly.
But through all this I do not intend to praise one or the other (of Bolaño and Nabokov) nor to even create some sort of tension between the two, whether between their art or between their persons.
In fact, Nabokov and Bolaño have a great deal in common, particularly in their fascination with nationalism and national identity. Nabokov, we remember, was born into Russian nobility before the revolution of 1917, some time after which he emigrated to Berlin, and eventually to the United States where he was naturalized; most of his books preceding Lolita are in some way Kafkaesque and explore the arbitrariness and identity effacement central to the modern state apparatus.
Though Bolaño lived his whole life in various independent countries of the former Spanish empire (Chile, Mexico, Spain), his characters spend pluralities of their time living, working, or vacationing in most of the Western world, to include The United States, Mexico, Central America, Spain, France, Germany, London, Israel, Egypt, and so on. Indeed the fifth, largest, and arguably most important part of the 2666 quintet features the aforementioned protagonist Archimboldi who is a German (if a profoundly ambivalent one, after serving as a foot-soldier in the Third Reich), and takes place almost entirely in Germany. Bolaño’s voice as a German protagonist is easily as convincing as Nabokov’s rendering of Humbert Humbert as an English one, a comparison that is unique and complimentary considering that as a child Nabokov could read and write in English before he could do so in Russian.
This affinity between the two authors eventually returns to the question of their slowness or fastness and renders that distinction paradoxical.
Nabokov comes from a time of aristocracy, of leisure, in which the construct of class analyzed by Marx in the period just preceding Nabokov’s birth, despite all the reasonableness of his critique of its economic function nevertheless created a group of people who had the luxury of living life very slowly. With time and money, one can indulge any fascination to its logical limit or excess; and indeed, even when we think of a historical figure such as Peter the Great (the last Tsar significant for his accomplishments rather than his overseeing a period of revolutionary upheaval), traditionally associated with almost limitless industry and energy, we do not think of a frenetic energy, but a calm, measured one. A teenager spending casual years with his hobbies of hunting and shipbuilding and war gaming, which indulgences would later inform the rationality of his rule as well as his naval supremacy. I think also of the martial artist or Samurai of the Eastern world, who would spend years mastering some small, seemingly peripheral act, such as the tea ceremony, and how that mastery would regulate and center his role as warrior.
It is the dense reader indeed who does not discern this leisure, this slow mastery and fixed rationality in Nabokov’s craftsmanship of language. Indeed all his prose’s power derives from this slowness and deliberateness. Read Nabokov slowly, and you will feel your tongue dancing along with the words: a slow-motion, lingual ballet.
On the other hand, if we wish to associate Bolaño with an act of the tongue, we have to discard all the varieties of phonetic beauty and find ourselves left with, at best, fellatio, furious and messy, a sex act central to the misogynistic relationships both in Savage Detectives and 2666, an act of domination and machismo that harbingers the rapes of the barely-fictional Santa Teresa while also emblematizing the prose style of Bolaño itself, which dominates and leaves us metaphorically gasping. Here there is no slowness:
[comical Arturo Belano blow job scene from The Savage Detectives which I can’t cite right now since my brother stole my book]
Indeed, for Bolaño, all sex acts are exaggerated: fictitious, sexualized outlets of the activity of outsized egos. General Etrescu, one-time military superior of Archimboldi and lover of the Baroness von Zumpe who will eventually become the owner of the publishing house that sponsors Archimboldi’s writing, is said to have a phallus nearly a foot long, “the stamina of a horse,” and carries out the act of coitus with bizarre, other-worldly abandon:
… and then Entrescu closed his eyes and cocked his head as if to listen to something, the music of the spheres, and then he opened his eyes and sat at the table and set the [B]aroness [von Zumpe] on his cock, erect [yet] again (the famous foot-long cock, pride of the Romanian army), and the cries and moans and tears resumed, and . . . the Romanian general recited a new poem, a poem that he accompanied by waving both arms (the baroness clinging to his neck), a poem that again neither of them understood, except for the word Dracula, which was repeated every four lines, a poem that might have been martial or satirical or metaphysical or marmoreal or even anti-German, but whose rhythm seemed made to order for the occasion, a poem that the young baroness, sitting aside Entrescu’s thighs, celebrated by swaying back and forth, like a little shepherdess gone wild in the vastness of Asia.
Sex acts are not numerous in 2666, and oftentimes they are in the background, such as when Archimboldi’s sister Lotte becomes pregnant within a relationship that is rendered as sterile and conspicuously sexless; nevertheless, their few instances are critical to the novel’s reading. Sex in Nabokov – principally pedophilia in Lolita – is hinted at, suggested; though critics insist on calling it an “erotic novel,” explicit sex scenes are absent, actual acts of rape only hinted at, indeed their forms prefigured and then figured by intentionally not speaking of that which they consist.
Sex in Bolaño, on the other hand, is an energetic, hysterical prelude to climax whose occurrence is physical in the characters but utterly absent for the reader. Like being swept along in Bolaño’s prose, we are riding an impossible wave that never crests, partially because the sex acts themselves are impossible, and partially because the tonality and pace of Bolaño’s description of sex does not differ, in construction, from, say, his description of the inhabitants of a madhouse, or the endless, painful catalogue of the bodies of dead girls in Santa Teresa, their wounds, their sexual violation, the results of their autopsies, and the fruitless results of the subsequent police investigations.
Indeed, all is a kind of madness. And it only goes away when one stops reading.
And here we arrive at the paradox. For Bolaño, too, derives his power from a slowness. But we perceive that slowness through its absence, as in Lolita we perceived violation through its unmentionableness.
Returning to the real world after being immersed in Bolaño, one returns from a world where words and members and indeed all historical significance are so large, so much faster than what should be so, into a place of slowness.
And in doing so do we see that the real world possesses a power we never knew existed, an inexhaustible power, inexhaustible like the forces of procreation and the father whose seed yields a child. This child who now runs through the grass and makes guns out of sticks and crawls, infantry-like, through the dirt and mud and the father gazes upon him and says, “alas! the energy of a child!” and yet it is the father in his slowness who has the power.
And indeed the child sleeps and in his sleep he dreams of a fantastic eye, large and grotesque and horrifying, an eye which is all-seeing and wishes to consume him and which at first terrifies him utterly until he realizes that he was birthed from this eye, that its vitreous humour is equally womb and therein lies his genesis and there is nothing to fear. Yet, fearless, he awakes screaming for his mother, a mother who comes rushing into his room in the dead of night to comfort him and he knows that it is only she who can save him, and at the same time, just as strongly that she can never save him, for to do so she would need to possess of fatherhood, of its slowness and absence, and this is the one faculty of which she is eternally bereft. (less)
I wanted to hate this text, because Strang has one of those obnoxious voices where he pretends to teach you math like you're just two bros shootin the...moreI wanted to hate this text, because Strang has one of those obnoxious voices where he pretends to teach you math like you're just two bros shootin the shit at the corner store:
Hey dude, I know this is a l'il bit crazy, but to study general similarity transform matrices M, let's first check out some totally restricted examples where M has gotta be unitary. Weird, right? But I'll bet once you see Schur's Lemma you'll see why this was so rad. [not an actual quote]
Lots of contemporary texts try to pull this off, and it's just too Mr.-Rogers-y for my taste.
Fortunately, Strang overcomes his cutesy voice by having a really very solid presentation of the material: much better than that of my professor at an unnamed University currently charging extortionist fees for the privilege of learning math from a professor very good at research who hasn't actually spoken to another human being outside of peer-reviewed journals since that summer of 1961 when a girl mistook him for someone else at a coffee shop.
I also would complain, briefly, about Strang's notation, which struck me as about the same level as his authorial voice; which is to say, somewhat limited in rigor for the sake of plainness. I guess this is better than the opposite problem but, really, who uses a superscript H for the conjugate transpose of a matrix? An asterisk (*) is used in every single other text I've come across.
But complaints aside, Strang is to be commended for focusing on the conceptual framework of linear algebra, with matrices as general linear operators, and eigenvalues/eigenvectors of matrix as fundamental properties of systems' dynamical evolution, instead of just throwing all the math at us and hoping that we can sort it out. (less)
THE PEOPLE: May it please The Court, ladies and gentlemen of Goodreads, defense counsel, Mr. de la Pava. This book review is about crass opportunism....moreTHE PEOPLE: May it please The Court, ladies and gentlemen of Goodreads, defense counsel, Mr. de la Pava. This book review is about crass opportunism. It is about two very different books. The first book builds plot, character and narrative force in the tradition of realism; the second gives in to the tropes of post-modernism.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: In October of 2008, the man hyperlinked above, Sergio de la Pava, self-published a massive, 678-page novel on XLibris for the sum of $10,000; a work that he would later get published by the scholarly University of Chicago Press.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: The way that he got the book so published was simple.
DEFENSE COUNSE: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled, but do confine yourself to what this book review will discuss.
THE PEOPLE: In this review you will hear from Isaiah. This gentleman will testify that this book contains a seeming endless parade of disconnected ideas and intellectual, navel-gazing digressions. He will testify that this book contains, among other things: a recipe for empanadas, a chess opening, continuous references to David Lewis’ modal realism, a bloody heist and multiple decapitations, a brief depiction of the relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner, and nearly 40 distributed pages discussing the boxing career of Puerto Rican Wilfred Benitez.
But most importantly, Isaiah will testify that this book contains the most irritating trope of post-modernism of all: the use of the theories of quantum mechanics in narrative development. As an accredited physicist, imagine Isaiah’s intense irritation upon hearing the misuse of perfectly concrete mathematics to motivate explanations of subjectivity and awareness.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled. Continue, please.
THE PEOPLE: Isaiah will testify that the idea of probabilistic wavefunction collapse in quantum mechanics is no more mysterious than the idea of probability in the roll of a die, and is useless in explaining the radical subjectivity of human experience in a mechanistic universe. Similarly, a “Singularity” is a robust mathematical entity indicating a density distribution approaching a Dirac delta function. Imagine for a moment then how improper for de la Pava to use these entities to metaphorize both the collapse of meaning and subjectivity in his protagonist’s universe as well as – by extension – the limits of his art itself.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: He will testify that as he read deeper and deeper into this massive novel, he began to wonder to himself if these many digressions served any greater function to the novel at all. Were the various rambling, philosophical excursus of his characters actually developing for the reader the psyches and motivations of these characters, or were they merely serving as dummy mouthpieces for the author’s scattershot world-view?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: You will hear from Slate Magazine’s Paul Ford, who calls this book “unapologetically maximalist.” He will testify that the reader increasingly feels like a juror in a sort of Kafkaesque trial, where the contents of de la Pava’s mind are on trial more than the chronological passage of events themselves, as would occur in the novelistic tradition of realism.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection, your Honor.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: He will further testify that the ending of this book is ambiguous. After this review, The Court will instruct the jury that at the end of Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre gets married. At the end of War and Peace, War ends, with Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. At the end of Moby Dick, Moby Dick sinks the Pequod. What happens at the end of A Naked Singularity is left at least partially up to the reader to decide. According to the rules of reviewing, if you don’t know what happens at the end of the book, you should only give that book three stars.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: Such a belligerent departure from realism can only be rewarded with three stars.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: This is a three-star book.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection.
THE COURT: Overruled.
THE PEOPLE: At the end of this review, I will be asking you to click the only star that is consistent with post-modern tropes, the abuse of philosophy and science in developing the author’s abstract conception of art, and gross departures from realism. That is the third star in the line of five stars. To the only count in the indictment of three-star review, I will be asking you to return the verdict of three-stars. Thank you.
THE COURT: Thank you. Counsel, will you be making an opening statement?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: I will, but can we approach first?
THE COURT: No.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: Very well, though slightly bizarre.
Goodreads, the defense’s case is a simple one, and eminently clear. It requires no understanding of abstract nuances of the various novelist traditions, nor the slightest understanding of, much less an opinion on, matters of contemporary physical theory.
The defense’s only witness will be that of Isaiah, who found himself less than a week ago almost 50-pages into the execrable Blue Mars. Isaiah will testify that he was reading this book not because of any joy or interest it was generating, but because he read the first two books in the trilogy and felt obligated to read the third.
Yes, Goodreaders. Obligated.
Isaiah will further testify that he saw this book on his shelf and decided to crack it open in a moment of distraction from his reading of the execrable Blue Mars. Time logs for the subsequent week recorded by the witness will indicate that Isaiah proceeded to ignore all school, work, and personal obligations while devoting every free moment to reading this book.
In short, ladies and gentlemen of Goodreads, this book restored Isaiah’s faith in what a good book is, and what it means to fall in love with a story and the frantic mind that generated it. The court of Goodreads will then instruct the jury on star-bestowing convention, which states that when a reader is in despair of ever getting lost in a book again, and then a book comes along that shatters his ennui and reminds him why literature (in an important sense) gives life meaning, rather than the other way around – then that book should be given five stars. Thank you.
(Whereupon, the jurors leave the courtroom)
THE COURT: See you both at 9:30 sharp tomorrow.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: I need to make a record.
THE COURT: Make it tomorrow.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: No, I need to make it now.
THE COURT: Regarding what?
DEFENSE COUNSE: Before starting this review, you indicated that we, meaning the attorneys, would not be permitted to state a basis for our objections. I complied with that directive during the prosecutor’s wholly improper opening statement when I made many objections, all of which were denied. As I said at the time, I strongly object to this rule, which I feel prevents me from making an appellate record. Goodreads is clear in requiring that objections within a review must have a stated basis in order to preserve fairness in book reviewing.
THE COURT: I am aware of the Goodreads Terms of Service’s feelings on the matter, counsel.
DEFENSE COUNSEL: I’m glad to hear that. Although I fear it will be of little consolation to Sergio de la Pava when his book is handed down three stars and he is effectively denied his right to appeal.
For the record presently being entered, the reasons for my objections were these in order. The DA began by making reference to the novelistic tradition of realism then proceeded to circuitously but unmistakably contrast it with a completely fabricated tradition of “post-modernism” alleged to my client. This is objectionable for several reasons not least of which include it being an attempt to prejudice a Goodreads jury extremely well-read in the realist tradition. Moreover, I feel confident in assuming, and the DA can correct me if I’m somehow wrong, that in this review no attempt will actually be made to define what exactly “post-modernism” means. When Kundera breaks the fourth wall to discuss, conversationally, the psychological motivations of Tomáš in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, does this indicate a meta-fictional construct whereby the author’s own subjectivity enters into the narrative trajectory? Or is it simply a later stage of the omniscient narrator in realism? Nor would a discussion of these nuances even be conceivably admissible of course, being wholly irrelevant to the reader’s enjoyment of the novel. That objection was overruled without any comment or limiting instruction.
The DA then made improper reference to the book’s initial self-publication and subsequent publication by the, and here I use the DA’s own words, “scholarly University of Chicago Press.” Besides being wholly irrelevant, as a novel’s colophon at best peripherally indicates the class of contents therein, these references were an open attempt to prejudice the entire cross-section of Goodreads readership, as those accustomed to filling their shelves with the Penguin Classics will naturally recoil at the mention of Xlibris, while those more inclined to reading Twilight and Harry Potter will of course instinctively scorn an excessively scholarly press out of hand. That objection was overruled as well without any comment or limiting instruction.
The next objection was based on the fact that the DA was essentially testifying during his opening rather than making reference to what the review would show. Again that was overruled. The subsequent objection can be characterized as an attempt by the DA to create sympathy on the part of Goodreaders in the hopes that they will base their opinion of this book on their feelings about the excessive use or misuse of philosophizing and references to contemporary physical theory in novels, rather than on a holistic judgment of the novel’s effectiveness as a whole due to the uniqueness of the authorial voice actually in this case being complemented by rambling digressions on philosophical positions and tongue-in-cheek attempts to connect human morality to the increasing warmth seen in popular perceptions of modern science which nevertheless (and ironically) remains a sterile endeavor. I’m referring here specifically to the prosecutor’s reference to science as a “trope of post-modernism” and Isaiah’s “intense irritation.”
The prosecutor then segued from Isaiah’s irrelevant emotional response to a contrast between science/mathematics and philosophy/subjectivity themselves, in no case attempting to convey to Goodreaders what de la Pava’s personal epistemology might actually be. Of course, any close reading of the novel discovers that the relationship before the aforementioned contrasted entities is complex and, while it is true that part of the novel’s effectiveness relies on a metaphorical connection between vague ideas of science and vague ideas of subjective experience, de la Pava also comically mocks even the earliest attempts to draw subjectivity into science:
”As for this Hume character, what does he know? When did he write? The fucking thirteen-hundreds? What did he write on? Fucking papyrus? Fuck him. He’s just bitter that science has completely co-opted his cheesy field.”
Needless to say, I was not permitted to enter this contrasting perspective on science into the record.
For his next trick, the DA told the jurors the substantive content of Isaiah’s thoughts as he read the book. The law is clear that not only is this hearsay, but in this case is a bizarre, telepathic variety. Obviously the DA cannot do himself in an opening statement what he would not be permitted to do through a witness at trial.
The prosecutor then stated to the Goodreaders what Paul Ford may or may not have said in regards to the novel in a separate Slate Magazine review. Unless basic evidence law is going to be disregarded in this book review, Mr. Ford will not be permitted to offer opinion evidence, regarding the suitability of the length of the book or otherwise, unless he is first qualified as an expert. He has not been qualified as one, and based upon the articles I have been reading on Slate recently, including November 23rd’s “Why are Bigfoot Rumors so Persistent?” and “Baby Experts you should Definitely Ignore,” I would be strongly objecting to any such qualification, so the DA’s comment was at best objectionable as premature.
Lastly, I objected three times when the DA, after revealing the ending of no less than four novels to include that of my client without so much as a spoiler warning, repeatedly instructed Goodreads on what star-ruling it should hand down, and do so inaccurately in my view.
The fact that the DA continuously resorted to these improper comments evinces either a profound ignorance of reviewing custom, tradition, and courtesy, or a malevolent disregard for the same. More troubling is that each of my highly meritorious objections was overruled and the improper comment allowed to stand without any kind of limiting instruction. Moreover, I was then denied the opportunity to approach the Goodreads court to fully explain these objections at a time when an appropriate remedy could conceivably still be fashioned. Accordingly, the only proper remedy after such an inflammatory and prejudicial opening statement is an immediate awarding of five stars, which is what I am moving for now.
THE COURT: Denied. Anything further?
THE PEOPLE: Your Honor, if I may respond.
THE COURT: No need. Defense counsel’s application is denied. Anything else, counsel?
DEFENSE COUNSEL: No.
THE COURT: Then I’ll see you both at 9:30 tomorrow.
Not three hours after finishing Hyperion, the following message appeared in my inbox concerning an Amazon order I had placed the previous day:
We...moreNot three hours after finishing Hyperion, the following message appeared in my inbox concerning an Amazon order I had placed the previous day:
We're writing about the order you placed on July 07 2011 (Order# 105-4955524-3250661).
Due to a mechanical issue with our shipping carrier's aircraft or truck, your package may be delayed by 1 day. UPS will deliver the package as soon as possible. We're very sorry about this delay and we appreciate your patience.
The items listed below are included in this package with tracking number 1ZXX30861342409737:
To see full details of this order, including tracking details and the shipping status of other items from this order that may not be listed, please visit Your Account (http://www.amazon.com/your-account).
Suffice it to say, this is not the email you want to see after finishing Dan Simmons' Hyperion(less)
Cost of 24 linear feet of 1x12 prime cut pine: $41.68 Cost of 10 cinder blocks: $13.40 Cost of New American stain, 60 grit and 150 grit sandpaper: about $1...moreCost of 24 linear feet of 1x12 prime cut pine: $41.68 Cost of 10 cinder blocks: $13.40 Cost of New American stain, 60 grit and 150 grit sandpaper: about $10.00 Value in being able to use the phrase "retro-industrial chic" antecedent to banging some half-inbred North Texas hussy on my kitchen floor: vanishing, but non-zero.
This set of shelves I built last week: was originally of my own design, but in the course of investigating various options for my design's specifics, I discovered this book: Nomadic Furniture. The book is not quite what I expected, nor exactly what the description would lead you to believe, but more about that in a moment. First let's talk about my bookshelves.
I am currently highly nomadic, and have been for the past half-dozen years at least. On average, I move at least once a year. As a partial consequence, I do not desire more possessions than can fit in the back of my half-ton pickup. This limits the amount of furniture I can own to almost zero.
Compounding this problem is that I own about 300 books, a large proportion of which are gargantuan textbooks. And so my "library" (the entirety of which is not pictured above) fills very nearly half my truck bed on its own.
As a result, I am constantly looking for creative ways to store, transport and display my books. I used to just buy and sell bookshelves everywhere I went, but that gets expensive and onerous quickly. These shelves were a stroke of brilliance.
The wood portion of the shelves is a permanent possession. I took some care in their fabrication. The cinder blocks on the other hand, which are dirt cheap, are completely disposable. Between all my shelves, I now have a mere eight (and lightweight) pine boards which require transport from domicile to domicile. At each new residence, I simply buy new cinderblocks (less than $15), and rebuild the shelves. Fucking cool, right? And I know I'm biased, but I think they look great: speaking compared to my already spartan and industrial aesthetic, of course.
I was hoping that Nomadic Furniture would have more creative ideas in this same vein: cheap, attractive, and highly mobile options for someone with some woodworking skill and an eye for design. While such ideas definitely exist in this book (I gave it four stars, after all), they were in my opinion sparsely distributed.
Elsewhere, the designs ranged from the fancifully impractical (couches built entirely out of cardboard?) to the outright commercial. In the latter case, the book dated itself, as there were many references to current places where you could buy (not build) contemporary Danish and Norwegian furniture pieces. I definitely didn't buy this book as an ersatz IKEA catalog for companies from the 1970s. So those instances were disappointing.
However, it's still a very cool book, for the hobbyist carpenters and nomads out there. And even in the outrageous designs, there are key ideas that you can modify for your own creative uses. For example, this is one project that appears in the book: I think this is a little ridiculous. I'm not sure I know anyone over the age of 10 who would actually want a room built up like this. (Perhaps these flights of fancy are just another way the book is dated and silly room themes were common in the 70s?).
But if you look closely, there is a pretty cool idea in there. The angular cross-members (probably 4x4s or 4x8s) could be placed along the walls in practically any room, without permanently altering the existing structure. You could then string a hammock, or construct a set of cabinets, in the unused space above your head in any room. All without modifying the original frame or having to build freestanding load-bearing structure. Pretty cool!
I guess in that sense, the authors' admonitions "Make it Better!" rings true; and the book is worth thumbing through on that principle alone.(less)
I was frustrated because I had just gotten back from a flight training program for the duration of which my professor had granted me a course extension; the condition was that I would have 4 days when the program was over to learn the entire course and take a final. Clearly, my objective here was the rapid assimilation of knowledge, formerly known as cramming. And that Geradin book is like a lead brick! You can stare at a page for an hour and have no earthly idea what he's trying to say.
So, I went out, desperate, and dumped a bunch more money I don't have on this textbook. I'm glad I did. Now, my complaint here is not going to be that Geradin inhibits cramming and Shabana enables it. That would be a weak soapbox to stand on.
Actually, the Master's program I'm in is a rather unique distance learning option at a major university in which I remotely watch all the lectures, and turn in the same assignments and exams as the physically matriculated students.
At first blush, it sounds like this would be not much different at all from attending on campus; but in practice, the differences are vast. My complete lack of interaction with professors and peers means that I'm basically teaching myself all the course material, with the lectures sort of providing boundaries to what I'll be responsible for. Hence, I spend many, many hours alone with my books and notes.
In my opinion, this gives me a rather unique perspective on textbook pedagogy. And I begin to form very strong opinions about the techniques of various authors.
In my experience, one of the principal balances that must be struck in a hard science text is between rigor and clarity. This is really an analysis of notation more than anything; because, I mean, I can write down the most general expression ever -- something that holds true for all particles and systems at all moments of time in the expanding universe, and at both relativistic and quantum scales -- but if you can't understand what I'm trying to say because of the statement's notational complexity, it does you no good. This is Geradin's tragic flaw. His notation is extremely rigorous, and as a result it is nearly impossible to follow his arguments.
I want to give one fairly simple example. When they get to the excitation of continuous systems, Geradin and Shabana both devote a section to the orthogonality of the vibrational eigenmodes, which is an important, if standard, result. The conclusion that Shabana comes to is the following: as long j does not equal k, Ok, makes sense, right? The inner products of the eigenfunctions, and of the derivatives of the eigenfunctions, which are with some geometric and material functions which characterize the system (E,A, etc), vanish over the system volume. Later, Shabana shows the equally simple j=k case.
When Geradin comes to essentially the exact same result, he writes: Really, man? Really? I mean it's great that you've taken a simple expression and completely generalized it to all systems. Sure, I could take this exact same equation and apply it to the vibration of 11-dimensional membranes folded up inside space-time. And that's cool. But for someone trying to understand how structural vibrations are studied and engineered, this is excessively dense.
Well, let me say it another way. This kind of general expression is great for a reference book, or even a reference section of your own book. But in the development of principles that are not intuitive, there is far too much cognitive load demanded by your notation alone. It inhibits the conceptualization of the dynamics themselves.
I appreciated Shabana's book because it seemed like it was written with a reader in mind. Shabana wants you to understand. Geradin's book seems to have Geradin in mind. He wants to write out stuff he already understands in the most general notation possible. Sure, the book is rigorous and comprehensive. But it's not a teaching tool. (less)
My father used to tell a story about growing obsessed with an author as a young man. The name of the author escapes me, but imagine some early-70s Cor...moreMy father used to tell a story about growing obsessed with an author as a young man. The name of the author escapes me, but imagine some early-70s Cormac McCarthy: a gifted craftsman of language whose oeuvre spoke so specifically to his admirers that he could do no wrong. My father, living in LA at the time, discovered that this author did not live so far away.
I can't be sure of the mechanics of stalking in the pre-Google era, but somehow the man's address was acquired. My father broke into his estate, hopping a wall into the man's garden, only to find him there at work pruning. The author looked at my father.
“I've come to talk to you about your work,” my father explained.
The author didn't even blink. He stood up.
“Well, what do you want to know?”
My father opened his mouth, and then closed it again. He realized he hadn't the faintest idea what to ask.
He had grown so intimate with the work divorced from its author, and then so obsessed with discovering that author's secrets, that he hadn't once considered what it would mean to actually speak with the man. So, without saying anything, he turned around, and left the man's garden. He swore he would return once he had formulated the right question. But he never did.
I don't have this problem. If I sneaked into Rollo May's garden (to all the Freudians out there, please, allow me the luxury of literalism here), I would ask him one question:
“What did you intend by this book?”
By which I mean, what did you hope to accomplish?
If he merely wished to clarify a few things regarding the dominant theories of psychotherapy in the wake of Sigmund Freud, then I would say, hooray. Mission accomplished. But I would accuse him of a lack of ambition.
If, instead, his intention was to present a comprehensive theory of the modern psyche, in the wake of Sigmund Freud, documenting and exploring the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the modern neurosis, then I would say that he failed.
Not, mind you, because he is insufficiently clever, or insufficiently details his theory. Far from it. The truth is that Mr. May is so damn clever, and has such a deep understanding of how the human mind operates, that I almost asked nothing more of him. On the basis of a reliable recommendation and Mr. May's cleverness, I was convinced for at least the first 150 pages that I would be giving out 5 stars – a rating which decayed linearly as the book progressed to its eventual heat death.
Mr. May's probing insight into the human condition also makes him eminently quotable. And I have not since literary analysis in college concluded a book with so many sticky-tags and annotations as now adorn the leaves of Love and Will. But I guess, ultimately, I have to complain: isn't psychotherapy still a clinical enterprise?
If embracing sexual promiscuity as an ersatz freedom leads to a neglect of the Eros element in human relationship and experience, and ultimately an existential emptiness (which I believe to be true!), then where and how have you seen this to be true clinically? More importantly, where and how has knowledge of the etiology led to regeneration of the patient? Or at least where and how were the etiologies indicated? These are critical details which suffuse Freud's work, but which are startlingly sparse in May's.
Because of this, it is very difficult to see Love and Will as an independent pyschoanalytic theory on its own merits. It begins to feel more like a seamster has strung together some elements of Freud, a dash of Aristotle and (most questionably) Plato's views on sex, and then patched them up with some admittedly powerful, and very relevant insights of his own. All fine and well – now where do we go from here?
I guess the truth, is, though, that I don't think either of the motivations I have suggested were actually May's intentions. He wasn't trying to make a Rollo May reader, and he wasn't trying to make a Rollo May textbook. I think he was trying to write a book that would help the reader to understand himself and, thus, evolve as a human being. He was trying to write a self-help book in the mold of Thoreau's Walden.
But if it is true for the introspective man that the neglected element in his personal psychoanalytic conception of his selfhood is the aspect of intentionality, which links his will to the external world (which I believe to be true!), then what am I to do with this knowledge? Where and how has May seen this to be true clinically? Where and how were its etiologies indicated?
Maybe I'm being unfair here. Maybe I'll be told that it's silly that I've asked for explicit application in a book of psychoanalytic theory – that I am criticizing the book based upon my own preconceptions about what it had to offer me. And I'll tell you, you're right. I'm only criticizing the book based upon my own preconceptions about what it had to offer me.
I keep thinking back to On Solitude, a mostly ignored book on personal psychotherapy and philosophy written by John Cowper Powys, a rare copy of which I had to hunt down on Abebooks on the recommendation of some Goodreaders. On Solitude has a very similar vision of intentionality. Powys, in much the same way as May, identifies the breakdown of the will in the moment in which the individual reaches out to interact with the external world.
Compared to Love and Will, On Solitude is extremely weak and critical theory, and even weaker on aha! moments that make you jump up out of your seat. But On Solitude teaches so extensively about how the man can behave to heal that rift (part of the answer being right there in the title), that I find my mind wandering to it again and again. Love and Will didn't give me that. Love and Will gave me a full journal page of insightful quotes about what is wrong with modern man, and little to do with those quotes except cite them on my facebook page. (less)
Hardcore formalism porn for the vibrational cognoscenti. If you enjoy stroking it to nested summations and notationally obscure representations of Lag...moreHardcore formalism porn for the vibrational cognoscenti. If you enjoy stroking it to nested summations and notationally obscure representations of Lagrangian dynamics, this book is guaranteed to give you a rager. If, on the other hand, you want to learn about mechanical vibrations in dynamic structures anywhere beneath the level of abstraction of triple-coordinate changes into eigenmode bases, buy a bridge and a slinky. (less)
I know no one reads my math or exercise book reviews, but f*ck you guys because books that I can leave on the back of my toilet and read from a few pa...moreI know no one reads my math or exercise book reviews, but f*ck you guys because books that I can leave on the back of my toilet and read from a few pages at a time are the only books that I have been able to get through for the past six months. Do not judge me.
I mean, I do know it's kind of embarrassing. No one wants to like a self-help book. Not on here anyway. Because we're all educated, self-aware goodreaders, and when we hear that cloying, mutually congratulatory snake-oil rhetoric, we see right through it. And least of all do we want to like a guy like Timothy Ferriss. Because not only is he disarmingly comfortable with wielding the ingratiating confidence of the self-help franchise, but he's also completely fucking insane.
But that's cool with me. Do you know why? Because when I walk into a gym, I want to punch people. I want to punch almost everyone. No, not because I'm on a roid rage. And not because anyone in a gym does anything to offend me, but because exercise is so achingly simple, and almost everyone does it wrong. And so when I see girls sitting for 90 minutes on an exercise bike (at 60% max HR! Fat-burning zone!! LoL!) and then complaining that they work out 2 hours a day and can't lose weight, or when I see meatheads doing bicep curls and shrugs when they have quadriceps that look like they should be in a weelchair, I am filled with righteous indignation at whatever exercise and beauty industry brainwashed these people into thinking that these were the pathways to strength and health.
On the other hand, the principles that Ferriss uses to develop his crazy ideas are all perfectly sound. If you disagree, I will fight you.
I found myself writing down the following, aphoristically, a few days ago. The tag line was "Be one of the top 5% of healthiest Americans, in 75 words and 3 hours a week:"
Sit up straight. Whether male or female, do deadlifts, bench press, muscle-ups, and 400m sprints 3-4 times a week for about 45 minutes. Progressively increase loads. If you feel injured, stop doing that for a while. Eat lean meats, healthy oils, nuts, legumes, and a ton of vegetables. Avoid white starches, sugar in any form, and sodas like the plague. Drink lots of water. Get some sleep. Take cold showers. Stop being afraid of things.
And in a lot of ways what Ferriss has done is elaborate on this formula for 545 pages in order to make a lot of money. Which is fine by me, frankly. There's so much garbage and so many confused messages out there that anyone writing on these incredibly simple principles is on my good side.
But what Ferriss has done to make this a 4-star book instead of a 3-star book is experiment on his own body to push the envelope of what this formula circumscribes. Where he can't cite his own experience, he recounts anecdotes of prominent athletes or the highly suspect, uncontrolled experimentation of partially mad physiologists. I think this is awesome. Without modifying the essential formula, he wonders, "just how far can we take or tweak the principle?"
In some cases this results in some really weird experiments. Like torturous ice baths to exploit the thermic metabolic effect; or overdosing on cinnamon, cod liver oil, and cissus quadrangularis (I don't recommend any of these, by the way) to rapidly reconstitute the body's insulinic or testosterone response.
But in other cases, the experiments are more useful to the non-insane. For example, he cites a lot of evidence that in traditional progressive strength training and mass building, the body only needs a bare minimum of load to stimulate the desired hormonal and hypertrophic responses. In other words, if done correctly you can spend way less time in the gym for the same physiological response. I have been experimenting with this myself; so far, for hypertrophy, I have reduced the number of exercises I do to just TWO (deadlifts and bench press), and spend on them less than 30 minutes at a time, 3 times a week. So far the results have been excellent.
Now, I know this isn't science. Those who criticize Ferriss for not being scientific in his approach are missing the whole point entirely. And Ferriss even dedicates a portion of his introductory chapter to emphasize that he isn't trying to do science. He's trying to do anecdotes. In some ways, he's just presenting a Jackson Pollock of shit he's tried on his body (shit tied to sound principles, mind you), and explain what he found to work, and the quantitative evidence that suggested to him it was working. If you want to try one or two things for yourself, great! Here's a grab bag of tips and tricks.
I've had fun thinking about what physiologic pathways and mechanisms might be involved if some of the outrageous claims Ferriss makes are actually true. But more than that, this book's main effect has been a rather counterintuitive one: by providing me with a few creative, non-traditional techniques, it has reminded me just how simple the principles really are. (less)
If anyone can appreciate this fact, I expect that at least Goodreaders can. Reading is a solitary activity; it plunges us...moreThe world is a lonely place.
If anyone can appreciate this fact, I expect that at least Goodreaders can. Reading is a solitary activity; it plunges us into a universe of our own creation. For who can say that the various arrangements of words effected by such-and-such an author yield unto you the same variegated apperceptions that to me are so yielded? No one. Though we understand, at some faith-based level, that some other specific human out there crafted this arrangement of words that we read, and that they have some specific intent to that same human, their effect is subjective in the perfect sense. Unto us we have a prison cell, or a a field draped in snow, or a drunk in the corner of a bar, or an autist bewildered by human emotion, but the witness is only ever the third person singular of one's self.
Tonight I sat upon the tailgate of my truck, my music blaring and a bottle of Portuguese Vinho Verde swigged at regular intervals. Down the road orthogonal to my own, a girl in jean shorts gratuitously short flirted with a fellow high schooler at the door of a tank-like Escalade, the acquisition of which would be well beyond my own means. Her movements were sensuous, his perpetually naive.
Up the sidewalk hobbled a great heifer of a woman, clothed in what appeared to be rags. Darkness and tatters draped her face and form. She followed obediently an arthritic pit-bull whose obesity rivaled only her own.
Each time they passed me, they turned to the opposite side of the street to avoid verbal range. Who is this bizarre man, who dares seat himself upon his own truck, to gaze outward, to study that which the modern Earth has manifested and yet which is to him perpetually alien? His aloneness bewilders; it stupefies, as a pauper in a mall of plenty.
Cowper Powys does not have an answer for this. He can not tell you how to not be alone. He can not tell you how to punctuate the massiveness of human solitude. "A Philosophy of Solitude" is no confabulation of solicitude.
Instead, Powys would ask you this. He would ask you, "can you not find peace within that which is?"
Neither is "A Philosophy of Solitude" escapism. One does not retreat unto solitude because the world has wronged you, or because of your fantasized superiority. From the perspective of being, equality is not contingent, it's a simple reality of matter relations.
No, the philosophy of solitude is a simple meditation upon isness.
How does one deal with the crushing reality of a human being's aloneness in the objective universe? More pertinently, how does one harness the peace that comes from secluding oneself from the chaos of modernity, of socializing, of the forces of conformation?
The answer is reflection upon the simplicity of reality. Sitting quietly. Feeling the breeze of a summer wind: cognizing the breadth of its being, from the smallness of the random movement of an individual molecule up to the swaying of tidal air masses locked in eternal ballet with the stochasm of the sun and the infinity of stars that look upon her with fondness.
Breathe. Acknowledge infinity. Acknowledge finitude. Be alone. Such is being.