I don't think I've ever read 1500 pages this quickly. The remarkable thing is that it was so easy. The writing pulled me along with a combination of gI don't think I've ever read 1500 pages this quickly. The remarkable thing is that it was so easy. The writing pulled me along with a combination of great storytelling, philosophy, history, psychology, humor, character study, politics--basically everything I love mixed together perfectly. At times it felt like an adventure story. At other times like reading the encyclopedia if the encyclopedia were fun to read. Still other times I was moved to tears, my heart aching for these characters and their plights. The pages flew by. And all these pages for what? For telling a story that took up a measly few chapters in Genesis, a story I already knew from bible study long ago (although my memory is hazy in many parts). That's the thing though. The way Mann tells it, it doesn't matter if you know the story or not because that's the point of a myth--that it exists outside of time, and therefore it recurs... and every time as if for the first time.
In this book, Mann was able to do justice to that idea of recurrence, because he was able to bring out the humanity in the characters behind the story so that for the first time I could clearly see the complex psychologies, the cultural, historical, and/or personal reasons behind all of the surface action. (Nevermind if those reasons may not be the real ones, nobody knows for sure, what matters is that everything made so much sense to my reality that I believed them completely at the moment of their telling). By making these people real, Mann also reveals layers of moral ambiguity that wasn't in the original. He introduces us to these characters and their situations anew, and adds the necessary complexity to muddy the waters of simple Good vs. Evil.
And I don't mean he just humanizes the main characters, but also the minor characters. Characters like Tamar and Mai-Sakhme (a character who doesn't even have a name in the Bible, but was simply called the "keeper of the prison"), which I do not remember hearing about in bible study probably because 1. they are racy / sexy / violent stories 2. because often these characters are complex in a way that doesn't fit in and therefore are inconvenient or 3. there was just no need to expand into the backgrounds of characters that do not matter in the bigger scheme of God's plans (although there is reason enough for us, and for Mann, because we are more interested in humanity than divinity). Sometimes they are powerful/clever women, or sometimes they are good people who just happened to not believe in the God of the Bible. They don't fit into the "myth" in the way that it is traditionally told. It was amusing when I went back to read the Bible's version of Tamar's story: "And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother." After reading Mann's version, I realized that that Bible passage is bending over backwards just to avoid giving the woman (Tamar) any agency. And because it's doing all these contortions, the logic of the story suffers; it makes no sense and never has (without seriously reading between the lines, which is what Mann does for us).
But Mann not only humanizes his characters, he also humanizes God. For isn't God the one character that Mann himself would relate to most, being afterall the God of this book? (That this God's name is Mann only makes it all the more delicious). By creating a world and breathing life into it with words, isn't he also implicated in this story as a co-author of these people's fates? So that humanizing God comes natural to him, and by plumbing into the depths of His psychology, Mann does Him justice, for His actions are often puzzling until you think of Him as faulty and therefore subject to analysis, scrutiny... even sympathy. Think of Him as motivated by a psychology no different than ours, by jealousies, insecurities, weaknesses, and self deceptions.
As you can see, Mann takes many liberties with these stories. Anyone with a fundamentalist faith in the literal truth of the Bible would probably have fits reading this. But we need not concern ourselves with those people, since those who only have faith in the literal word have no faith at all, seeing as God himself isn't literal but is the epitome of figurative truth, a divine metaphor if you will (note: this is just my opinion, not Mann's). Mann has no qualms about making up new characters (I'm pretty sure there were no midgets in the original version, but I'm glad they're here and by the way, those midgets?--though a bit more two dimensional than the other characters, they had me cracking up uncontrollably on many occasions), new situations, even correcting the Bible. He will often come right out and acknowledge that the Bible says one thing, but that what really happened was more fuzzy/hard to define clearly, and that it was streamlined over the years for certain understandable reasons.
I found the voice of this narrator, in his sobering adherence to logic and common sense, his knowledge of the different political situations at the time, the historical context, and the customs and people of that region, to be strangely comforting. I trusted him more because I was able to see who all the other gods were that other tribes at the time were worshipping and how this tied in politically to whatever larger systems were going on in the region. I felt secure in his all-knowing-ness, even though I too knew that this was a game, much like Joseph's Holy Game. No one is being tricked here, in this game of fiction, although we are all at the same time being tricked, willingly. For don't we all know that there is no possible way for Mann to know all these facts down to the minutest of details? But that is exactly what he provides for us. Instead of 7 years passed as some accounts would have it, Mann gives us page after page (and most of them quite entertaining) of years passing! And we drink it up. For the suspension of belief required in reading a novel is not that different from the one that inspires religious nutcases to mouth such delusions as "everything happens for a reason" and "God works in mysterious ways."
It is now time for me to go all apeshit on certain main themes of the book, and my theories on those themes. Here is where you should tune out before it's too late, if you don't care for this kind of stuff.
And here, to be sure, what we have to say flows into a mystery in which our own information gets lost--the mystery, that is, of an endless past in which every origin proves to be just an illusory stopping place, never the final goal of the journey, and its mystery is based on the fact that by its very nature the past is not a straight line, but a sphere. The line knows no mystery. Mystery lies in the sphere. But a sphere consists of complements and correspondences, a doubled half that closes to a unity; it consists of an upper and a lower, a heavenly and an earthly hemisphere in complement with one another as a whole, so that what is above is also below and whatever may happen in the earthly portion is repeated in the heavenly, the latter rediscovering itself in the former. This corresponding interchange of two halves that together build the whole of a closed sphere is analogous to another kind of objective change: rotation. The sphere rolls; that is the nature of the sphere. In an instant top is bottom and bottom top, if one may even speak in the generalities of bottom and top in such a case. It is not just that the heavenly and the earthly recognize themselves in each other, but thanks to spherical rotation the heavenly also turns into the earthly, the earthly into the heavenly, clearly revealing, indeed yielding the truth that gods can become human and that, on the other hand, human beings can become gods again.
To tell a story is to inevitably deal with the passage of time, either explicitly or implicitly. The best storytellers, in my opinion, do both at the same time.
I already mentioned the implicit bit a little earlier, how Mann has a, let's say, natural predisposition for piling detail on top of detail, but in such a fully realized world that it is almost never boring. What happens in those seven years is told in details, tangents, smaller inconsequential stories. But what matters is that the pages are there, as a placeholder for time passing. I felt the journey that Joseph made with the merchants that took seven times seventeen days (or thereabouts), I felt those long days viscerally as I read page after page before finally seeing the outskirts of Egypt on the horizon. I'm reminded of certain passages in Moby Dick that seemed to me to reflect time's "slabbiness" (my word) or even the section of 2666 with all the deaths (though nothing in this book even comes close to that type of exhausting-ness). The surprising thing is that even though those pages are there and its passage of time is registered in my consciousness, those pages were in no way fillers. They were entertaining and full of interesting tidbits so that the words almost leapt up to greet my eyes, to borrow a phrase from Eliezer.
As for the explicit mention of time... Musil had his pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other with no stops in between. Mann's conception of time as a sphere is not that different. And the idea of time being cyclic in itself is not all that earth-shattering. What's interesting for me here is his blending of heaven and earth, of how Gods become human and humans become God (yes, there are many references to Jesus in this book, if you were wondering). One must also think of the storyteller's parallel mission--of making the mythic historic and the historic mythic.
Simply by choosing Jacob and Joseph's story, Mann deals with mythic time, by which I mean a story that exists outside of time, a timeless story, and one that necessarily repeats over and over like a motif with slight variations at each iteration. Mann makes us focus on a story which (we are continually reminded) is part of a much larger work, in which stories before and after it are echoed time and again... that this is necessarily a story in the middle of a story, as all stories should be, without beginning or end.
By creating a narrative echo chamber, he reminds us that these are not isolated events, but are part of a series that conform to a mythic template. Even his characters echo these stories to each other, for they are actors in this tradition and must know their roles. He echos things in the past (Abram, Noah) and in the future (Jesus) and by so doing implies that it doesn't matter which story we are telling because we are telling all the stories of the bible (as well as other mythic traditions) at the same time. It feels almost fractal in nature--you can zoom in or out as much as you like, you are still going to get the same general shape. The small story is echoed in the large story and vice versa.
But here the sphere turns and the mythic turns historic. Mann places the myth (which is timeless) in a very specific reality. To be sure, these stories were set in a specific time all along, but not with such detail to the facts of chronology, not with such painstaking concern for the illusion of verisimilitude. In a way, the original stories could have happened at any time. But Mann's insistence on taking these stories, which were previously in a vacuum, isolated to their own lessons only, and surrounding them in the sometimes inconvenient reality of culture, not just one culture but multiple cultures, clans, tribes, religions, sects, political groups, allows us to see that the things happening here are part of a much larger non homogenous real world, and other traditions/stories are happening in concert with what's central here, and each tradition sees itself as the center around which all others revolve.
At what point does flesh-and-blood become story, narrative, myth, and legend? And at what point does the sphere revolve yet again and from these mythic figures mere humans are spat out in all their complex and messy particularities?...more
It is 10 years since 9/11 and poetry doesn't matter. But this here is to revive my heart to the common palpitations of dance music, to the crowd who sIt is 10 years since 9/11 and poetry doesn't matter. But this here is to revive my heart to the common palpitations of dance music, to the crowd who sweats my sweat. This is the only poetry book that makes me feel like OK here's a something that actually reflects what it feels like to be half alive in this inexpressibly sad as fuck powerless paralysis of a 2012 where we pretend things matter but they don't they're just fucking status updates! Wow oh god OK this book makes me sad, or rather it just puts me back in touch with why I've been sad without knowing it for ten years, and I can't even say why I just now read it over my lunch break (it's short, read it now, it's free too, download it here) and you know how sometimes, very rarely, you read something that expresses basically everything that is the zeitgeist of what's going on in the moment in the world but nobody talks about it because it is so all-encompassing that nobody can see it enough to express it? Read this fucking book now!...more
How do I rate a book whose quality and style varies from chapter to chapter, though it holds together thematically and plotwise as a novel? It's an inHow do I rate a book whose quality and style varies from chapter to chapter, though it holds together thematically and plotwise as a novel? It's an intriguing and frustrating read.
At the end there is a "Making of" chapter that talks about how the book came into being. Turns out half of these were short stories Broch wrote at different times. He thought it would be more marketable if he tied them all together into a novel, so he wrote the other half of these with that purpose in mind. There are also a few (bad) poems in the midst as well.
Considering all that, it works surprisingly well.
Still, as expected, the stories that he had already written beforehand were much better. Ones like 'Sailing before a Light Breeze' were mindblowingly good. I can't put my finger on why I was so wrapped up in it, how it was so strange yet so familiar and irresistable to me. Broch can definitely write when he's on. But then there are chapters like 'Studienrat Zacharias's Four Speeches' which devolved into pointless diatribes and boring narration and 'The Commendatore' (both written later for the purpose of tying this book together) which were quite a bore to read.
Broch is philosophical, and it works for him sometimes. I found this passage very beautiful for instance:
This friendly warm rigidity, however, could not endure; the specific clarity, or one might say Biedermeier quality, which the afternoon light had given the overall picture, was somehow superannuated, yes superannuated, just as the garden itself and the human group that had gathered there were superannuated, projected into an almost false Indian summer, a false survival, a false rigity, which ceased to be static the moment one viewed the picture with somewhat narrowed eyes: true, even then there was no change in the primordial, light-engendered unity of all things visible, nor could there be any change; but whereas previously, on an outermost surface, as it were, motion was immobilized, so that the animal slipped into the vegetable, the realm of flowers into a realm of stone, now suddenly the reverse occurred, and where previously there had been a world of motionless contours that could at most be broken down into spots of color, there was now a world of motion in which things, regardless of their nature--stone, flower, color spot or line--were set in motion, becoming dynamic as the human mind itself, as though drawn into it, into this mind which in search of rest is forever fleeing rest and even in the storehouse of its memory does not become static, but preserves its stores only in the form of constant tension and action--creative infidelity of faithful memory--because only motion creates contours, creates things, and since even color is a thing, creates colors and a world. p. 181
Beautiful in that Wallace Stevensian way that some may find boring. And when taken too far, it definitely was boring.
But the other part of his philosophical musings seemed to be more political or something... concerned too much with hammering down a point, and came across as way too prescriptive and heavy-handed for me. Here for instance:
Yes, we, our generation more than any other, is faced with the threat that man will be cast out from his kinship with God and fall to the level of the animal, no, lower than the animal, for the animal has never had a self to lose. Doesn't our indifference, even now, mark the beginning of such a fall? For an animal may be capable of bewailing but never of help or even of willingness to help; smitten with the gravity of indifference it cannot smile. And for us the world no longer smiles; nor does the self. Our fear grows. ... Our task is too great, and that is why we arm ourselves with blind indifference. The dispersive force of our self is too great for us. Uncontrollable in its reasoning and terrible logic, it has created a world whose multiplicity has become unintelligible for us, too uncontrollable with its unleashed forces. ... p. 261
I enjoyed the last half of this book considerably less than the first half, perhaps precisely because Broch was trying to tie these different threads together a little too forcefully by the end. I really enjoyed the mysterious quality of the first half, where I couldn't quite put my finger on what he was getting at...
Also, to compare it with his fellow Austrian novelist of ideas Robert Musil... I'd say that Musil is a lot more funny and consistently excellent than Broch. But then again, this book may not be Broch's best.
One more thing, there is a passage in the 'Making Of' chapter at the end that reminded me of Mount Analogue, which was one of my recent favorites, so I wanted to share it...
For the totality of being that an art work is (by virtue of representing it), necessarily encompasses infinity and nothingness, and these two are the foundation of all conceptual knowledge, the foundation (denied to animals) of the most human of all human faculties: namely, the faculty of being able to say "I." Consequently both are irrevocably fundamental to man, though they are beyond the scope of his knowledge, in part because, though one can always think and even count toward infinity and nothingness, one can never reach them, regardless of how many steps of thought or enumeration one takes, because the ultimate foundations of existence (otherwise they would not be ultimate) lie in a second, logical sphere removed from it and accordingly cannot be grasped by the methods of the first sphere. Herein lines the absolute, unattainable in its remoteness, yet suddenly present in a work of art, immediately grasped, the miracle of the human as such, the beautiful, the first step toward the purification of the human soul. p292
Wakefield Press is publishing some of the most exciting new work today. Although when I say 'new' I really mean old, very old, mostly ignored word-expWakefield Press is publishing some of the most exciting new work today. Although when I say 'new' I really mean old, very old, mostly ignored word-experiments from other countries. Small beautifully designed books of strange unclassifiable curiosities.
This book in particular was highly entertaining, though I never knew how much of it was meant as a joke and how much was meant in all seriousness. Most likely, Scheerbart didn't worry about those kinds of distinctions, just as he didn't worry about the distinction between reality and fantasy.
Ignoring what scientists had agreed upon after the discovery of the conservation of energy, Scheerbart (a German novelist and exponent of 'glass architecture') dedicates more than a year of his life trying to come up with a perpetual motion machine. His writing, interspersed with many illustrations of his machines, is a combination of explanation, wit, philosophy, and speculation. A lot of speculation.
From day one, before he had even built any models, he speculates on the far reaching effects of his machine. People will be able to move mountains with perpets, nations will dissolve, scientists can concentrate on astral affairs, he will become obscenely rich and famous, and ...
Ultimately, we'll have no more need of the Sun.......
But not only did he madly speculate in the positive direction, he also speculated in the negative...
But if, after the discovery of the perpet, things become stupider than before--then one must in fact take care not to perfect the invention.
So I'm actually quite happy that, as of today, the contraption still won't work.
And tomorrow, too, it will remain inoperative--I'd be willing to bet on it.
The thought consoles me a little.
I won't go on quoting from the book because it is so short and it is full of good quotable bits so you should read it for yourself. However, I do want to say one word about the actual machines he invents. One look at them and it is pretty obvious that they will not work. It's quite shocking to me that he even thought they would work.
I think he has a fantastical understanding on the working of the wheel. He criticizes other scientists because "they always insisted that once a weight neared the center of the Earth, it would have to be raised up again. And so it seemed axiomatic to all of them that a perpetual motion machine would be impossible. But once the weight did not approach the center of the Earth--as in Figure 21--one would have to throw this beautiful "scientific" discourse on the scrap heap."
Figure 21 shows a contraption where the weight is elevated, but the problem is that it will never move the wheels he has in place because it is in a state of equilibrium. Only if/when the weight is allowed to drop or move in some way can it create motion. I think Scheerbart believes that potential energy alone can be transferred into the motion of wheels turning without the weight moving or dropping in any way. Even a kid can tell you this is not how things work in the real world. The fact that he could think this is a good indication of how out of touch with reality he really was.
However, this criticism is aimed at Scheerbart's science only, and is in no way a criticism of the book that came out of it... as Scheerbart's failings only make the book better....more
Update 8/1/2012: I have revised this Goodreads book review into a proper essay, now published on the Eyeshot website (thanks to Lee for taking an inte
Update 8/1/2012: I have revised this Goodreads book review into a proper essay, now published on the Eyeshot website (thanks to Lee for taking an interest! And thanks to all of you for for your likes and comments). I am leaving my original Goodreads review below, as a document of the first draft of this essay, flaws and all.
An Attempt At Exhausting A Book On Goodreads
Date: June 30, 2012 Time: 11:00 a.m. Location: Kavarna (Cafe), Decatur GA Weather: Sunny, Record Breaking Heat
A small book.
The pages are stiff.
Translator's acknowledgment is short, about an inch down the page, and relatively forgettable.
Some kind of introduction in a bold sans serif font, 2.5 inches down the right side. The left side of the page is blank.
Page 5, first solid page of text.
Date, Time, Location and Weather are given at top.
Many bullet points.
Page 6, observations go on.
A title: "Trajectories" in bold.
Sentences follow predictable form describing the destination of bus routes: "The (#) goes to (place)".
Short blocks of indented text, perhaps more personal observations?
Bus observations repeat.
I lose concentration slightly and have to re-read a sentence twice.
Another title: "Colors" in bold.
Page 9: last word is "Pause." about halfway down the page.
Page 10: part 2 is indicated with another set of Date, Time, Location. No weather this time. Does this mean it hasn't changed?
Sentences starting without a capital letter, erratic indents, what do they mean?
Page 11: back to normal format. Capitals at beginning of sentences.
Bus observations repeat.
An Attempt At Being Serious...
OK I was going to write a review of the entire book like that, but I don't think I have the stick-with-it-ness that Perec does. And it wouldn't be worth it just for a joke review, although I am not entirely joking... I did want to see how it would feel to inventory the normally un-noticed. Answer: it is exhausting and I started getting a heavy feeling in my stomach at the thought of finishing this exercise.
In case you haven't figured out by now, this short book is an experiment by Georges Perec to, as the title suggests, exhaust a place. That place is the Place Saint Sulpice, a busy corner in Paris both for car traffic, people traffic, animals, and inanimate objects (churches, cafes, candy wrappers). Perec says "My intention in the pages that follow was to describe ... that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds."
This was much more interesting than I had expected it to be from that description. Of course it was boring! Descriptions of people walking around looking not extraordinary in any way, buses passing by, pigeons landing, buses passing by again, he notices these things without attempting to select or curate them based on their interesting-ness, but just based on them happening. But 'curate' is exactly what he does, because he could easily have noticed and written about a completely different set of non-occurences: a bug flying by, or the color of the floor in the cafe he was sitting in, or the speed of the blue Mercedes truck instead of its color. Because the world has so much information in it, it is simply not possible to not select when writing, and this alone is interesting to me.
But it was interesting on a different level as well: what I started to notice through the boredom was that the smallest alteration of his syntax or the smallest change in what he noticed became a much bigger deal than if the book were full of interesting variety and non-boring content. So the reader is observing Perec's tiniest changes while Perec is observing the street for the tiniest changes (thus my review up top was not totally in jest). I started noticing things like:
- he would repeat things like the bus passing by, always with a complete identical sentence like "A 70 passes by" but by the end he shortens this to just "A 70"
- interesting word choices pop out more, like when some cars "dive" into the parking lot. Or when two tourist buses pass by "with their cargoes of photophagous Japanese" (guess what my new favorite word is)
- he visits the same place over 3 days, and is very concerned with the differences between the three days. What has changed since yesterday?
- this different-times/same-place obsession reminded me of Jenny Erpenbeck's book Visitation, which has a similar obsession, and starts with this epigraph: "As the day is long and the world is old, many people can stand in the same place, one after the other." -- Marie in Woyzeck by Georg Buchner
- he starts out being completely objective, sticking to the facts, but soon he starts tossing subjective things in like "A lady who has just bought an ugly candleholder goes by"
- I loved that I could see his thought processes come through every once in a while, like when he muses on the difference between busses passing by and everything else passing by. Several other times he analyzes why he has chosen a particular detail to write about rather than another detail. You get a sense that he is figuring out how he wants to conduct his experiment even as he is conducting his experiment.
Perec's saving grace here is probably that he didn't have too strict of a methodology. He had an idea, but he allowed himself to stray from it occasionally if he wanted to. This provided points of relief, humor, light, and variety (though you should not read this if you're mainly looking for variety) to keep a reader going despite the monotony of the endeavor as a whole.
Lastly: I enjoyed this book thoroughly, but I would never recommend it to anyone without a signed affidavit saying they won't blame me later.
An Attempt at Re-Exhausting a Place
Here's an idea: there is no reason I can't continue Perec's grand experiment by revisiting the very corner where he made his observations! Perec was interested in the passage of time. Well, it's been 38 years plus or minus some months now, and I will go to Saint-Sulpice myself, to see if anything has changed. Have the people become more ordinary, have the pigeons flown off for good? What, if anything, is the weather doing? And I will do all this not by sitting in that spot over three days, but by examining that spot in one specific moment, an instantaneous flash captured on top of a little car with the word "Google" written on the side. Surely Perec would have noticed such an out of the ordinary car, with a camera on top of it? But maybe he's fallen asleep. Or maybe it's too out of the ordinary, and he only notices 'infra-ordinary', boring things. So let's take a look, shall we?
It seems like Café de la Mairie is still in the same spot. And what is this? A bus, you say? "The 87 goes to Champ-de-Mars" Perec says on page 8. "The 87 goes to Champ-de-Mars" Perec says again, just to be sure, on page 9. Now I can repeat it: "The 87 goes to Champ-de-Mars" on page 2012!
And the people! Yes, there must be at least 50 people within view if I do a quick 360. Mopeds and bicycles everywhere. I don't remember Perec mentioning bicycles, but he did say he saw a few mopeds. One of them is going down the road right now in a business suit. Taxis lined up across the street from the cafe. "Agence de V---" my view is blocked. I'm clicking the arrows now, going up and down the street. A woman with red hair is standing in the bus, carrying several green plastic bags. A younger, perhaps asian woman (photophagous Japanese?) sits at the very back of the bus, her left hand on her chin. Oh, I can see the sign now in this view, it says "Agence de Voyages", possibly a travel agency. Among the list of things Perec mentions in the beginning is a travel agency. I have a hard time believing that a travel agency has survived so long.
A woman in a light brown trenchcoat is crossing the street. There are about 50 empty yellow foldout chairs in front of the Cafe de la Mairie, all facing outward. No, not all of them are empty. Will there be a concert across the street? Maybe this is just a form of compact outdoor seating, for maximum capacity/profit. Next to the cafe, two white trucks are at loggerheads.
'Sortie de Camions' My French is awful, I would be so lost in this country. I wonder what Perec would think about Google Streetview. He'd probably write 500 books based on it. A sign says 'Antiquaires.' Underneath it sit two men and a woman on a bench. A narrow alley is blocked off from construction, one side of an old building seems to be worked on. It looks like a government building, a courthouse maybe, but what is it doing with this tall section? http://goo.gl/maps/uuYY I don't remember Perec mentioning this.
The letter 'P' is still here. Perec noticed this too, maybe because his last name starts with a P. More mopeds, everyone is wearing helmets: good. The side of a blue truck advertises 'Bieres de Paris'. Next to the 'P' and the parked taxis is what appears to be a subway station. Was the subway here when Perec wrote in 1974? More trenchcoats, do the French love trenchcoats or what? Perec noticed several in his book.
Two men in light brown jackets walking down the street briskly (I can only assume, from their postures) one is carrying a plastic bag, can't make out the contents. Are they trying to catch one of these taxis? The trees are leafy, green. I don't know when this photo was taken, but probably spring, judging from the clothing and the lack of orange leaves. What appears to be tin huts: stalls in some kind of antique street market? Google won't let me go there to see.
Oh my. It suddenly looks like these photographs were not taken sequentially. This view shows the tin huts http://goo.gl/maps/ZPRL but this one from a few more feet down (meters? they're metric over there, right?) shows white tents in the same spot. Some sort of arts fair must have taken its place. http://goo.gl/maps/SJLe
Two large women are crossing the street, one is dragging behind her some luggage on wheels. Traffic light is red. A larger woman stands at the median. A man in a blue shirt stands waiting to cross the street with a manilla envelope in his left hand. What, pray tell, has happened to all of the pigeons of 1974? An ad reads 'GLAMOUR'. Oh, I have spotted a pigeon in the air! http://goo.gl/maps/8M7E Are you perhaps one of Perec's pigeon's great great grandchildren? Or maybe you're not a pigeon at all, too far to tell what kind of bird you are.
A black SmartCar, parked in front of what appears to be residences. I am moving down the street now, closer to Rue Bonaparte. A woman in a white sleeveless shirt and a blue purse next to men in coats. An apple green moped. Perec mentions a fountain decorated with the statues of four orators, but I cannot find it. Surely that would have survived if the travel agency survived. Where is it? Maybe it has migrated with the pigeons?
Still more Google-time has passed as I go down the road. Suddenly the residential building http://goo.gl/maps/u7eg is now covered in construction plastic http://goo.gl/maps/5wdZ it says: "traitement de facades" and even I can figure that one out despite my poor French. A woman with a very similar blue purse as the woman in the white sleeveless shirt is walking beside the building under construction. Now she is wearing many more layers. A traffic light is green.
I found it! The fountain and the statues! http://goo.gl/maps/Qvbx it seems that the white tents and (earlier/later... time is impossible in streetview) the tin huts had surrounded it and were obstructing its view. I'm so glad it's here, even though I had never seen it before. Why do I feel such relief? It is too far to make out the pigeons. Let me navigate to a better view. http://goo.gl/maps/SVO9 Incidentally, no pigeons.
At the end of the road, suddenly the white tents reappear. 'Alsacez-VOUS! a Paris..." it says. 20 or so mopeds and motorcycles have been cordoned off on the side of the street. A woman in a fierce violet jacket is walking fiercely. http://goo.gl/maps/xcG9 She is carrying an orange shopping bag. Her body, in the act of shopping, has the propulsive thrust of an Olympic gymnast. She is not ordinary or infra-ordinary, she is extraordinary.
I'm back on Google Streetview, feeling re-energized.
Not far from the woman wearing the fierce violet jacket: Two bookstores just a few steps from the Saint-Sulpice, surely one of these books on display is Perec's 'An Attempt'!
Incidentally, I just looked up 'photophagous'. It's not really a word, but apparently a play on the word phytophagous meaning "(esp. of an insect or other invertebrate) feeding on plants". I wonder what the original pun in French was.
Also, had a revelation during my break from Streetview. There is no clear indication that what I assumed was the subway station was indeed the subway station. Maybe it is the parking lot that features so prominently in 'Attempt'. If that is so, it would make sense that the cars 'dive' into it. If it is not so, then where is the parking lot?
Also have been re-reading Perec, and he briefly mentions a district council building, which I am pretty sure is the one next to the Mairie that is under reconstruction.
Police station. Police cars parked out front.
Spotted a 58 at the intersection of Rue Bonaparte and Rue de Vaugirard. I don't remember Perec mentioning the 58.
I think I'm kind of lost, so I'm going back to Cafe Mairie. Different view of the outdoor seating: http://goo.gl/maps/cAUZ Looks almost like student desks. A group of three elderly individuals (men or women? hard to tell with their faces blurred) talking leisurely. Another man appears to be reading the newspaper.
In the opposite direction, a woman in a white jacket and yellow purse walks by a green trashcan. Looking back at the opposite corner: the mopeds here are parked almost equidistant from each other, whereas they are usually bunched together in other places.
In the middle of the street, a young man in a denim jacket carrying an instrument and a young woman in a white jacket on her cell phone, carrying a yellow purse not unlike the earlier woman.
The 86 just happens to be the most mentioned one in Perec's book, at least that is my impression.
And in fact, it is the 86 because the 87 from the front view has a different side. Two buses were in the same spot in two different views, and Google alternated these two time frames within the same street.
"The 86 goes to Saint-Germain-des-Pres" Perec says.
I love how I have to keep backtracking on things I've said as I circle this block over and over again and understand more of what is going on and how Google has spliced together images from different times. What at first seems apparent gives way to multiple deceptions.
I feel oddly like I know this block very well now, when in reality this too is a deception. If I actually traveled to Saint Sulpice, I would be so lost. I would look for all these people, always rooted in their designated spots, as if they were landmarks, statues waiting for pigeons to land on, but they would all be gone.
It occurs to me that Streetview plays with time in a very interesting, almost artistic manner, when in fact it is a random outcome based on the different cameras' routes.
Three time frames:
1. tin hut/antique market (the 86 is in this time frame) 2. white tents in the same spot (the 87 is in this time frame) 3. no tents or huts, clear view to the fountain
There may be other time frames I am unaware of. I feel like a time traveler.
Here is the front of another bus. It could be the same 86, but I'm not sure. It is in the tin-hut time frame: http://goo.gl/maps/GVDF
MikiHouse is the name of the store on the corner of the residential building that is (in some time frames) under construction.
A tour bus that says Knipschild on it.
I think that if I keep going up and down this street I will unlock some kind of secret. I keep looking at the same people. Their frozen postures hold so many stories. Then I see new people too. New things that had escaped my attention the first time through. Each looking has more depth.
I see the same woman in the white sleeveless shirt, and I feel a sense of familiarity, like we've already met.
Tourist in all white and a yellow umbrella crossing the street. Further down Rue Bonaparte: Mom with stroller, baby on back. Dad walking beside her. Man with a baby blue book. Can't make out the title. White haired woman in black coat.
Here is a sign for the metro. So it is a metro afterall, and not a parking lot. Where is the parking lot Perec refers to?
Two bright green street sweepers parked on a corner. A few construction signs on the sidewalk. Corner of Bonaparte and Saint Sulpice.
Fierce woman in fierce violet jacket again. Feeling of familiarity.
In the other direction, asian woman in a pink top and blue jeans. Taxis. A silver Volkswagon with a sunroof. White tents.
A woman riding a bike very close to us. Carrying a small green purse. Tourist with a backpack and another bag slung over the shoulder crossing Saint Sulpice. Small Mercedes hatchback.
From this angle, another ramp leading down. Definitely looks more like a metro station than an underground parking lot. http://goo.gl/maps/wsTn
Starting over at the cafe, going down Place Saint Sulpice... another bookstore: http://goo.gl/maps/KnR0 Woman with shopping bag running down the sidewalk. Why the hurry? I see no taxis or buses nearby. Across the street a woman is unlocking her bike in front of the church.
Wandering off from the square seems like such a luxury. So many new sights and new people to see, easy eyecandy. New sights without effort, whereas in the square I have to strain my eyes to find something new (although every time there is something I've missed before).
Rare man with unblurred out face, looking back suspiciously at the camera: http://goo.gl/maps/cIKG I'm so used to seeing the veil of the blur that I feel oddly wrong, like a peeping tom, when I stare at his face, as if he were naked. But I cannot stop staring.
French taggers: http://goo.gl/maps/hMPr A store called JLR. A garbage truck. I've wandered kind of far now. I apologize if this review has stopped becoming entertaining. But it seems I am driven to look and re-look without any endpoint in sight, least of all entertainment.
A bit exhausted now. To be continued... (maybe)...more
"Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their l"Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments" Daumal quotes Alfred Jarry as saying. This means nothing to me. However, Daumal goes on to quote him saying this:
"It will study the laws governing exceptions," and that made so much more sense to me. Science in general is trying to come up with rules for the generalizing of everything. Pataphysics is the opposite. As a computer scientist (aka programmer), I have come up against this very conflict within myself. The scientist in me wants everything to be the same, homogenous, one big picture that works in every case. This is a dream for a programmer because it makes the job so much easier.
The hardest problems I've ever had to tackle as a programmer have always been those where exceptions creep in. And always there are exceptions! Why? Because computers do not work with computers alone, computers interact with human beings, who are prone to act irrationally and inconsistently.
But the other non-scientist/artist/writer part of me understands this and even celebrates the exceptions! The computer program should not define human behavior, it should yield to human behavior. It should become invisible in the face of the human. And exceptions make the human, because none of us are alike, i.e. each human being is irreducible ("The particular is absurd [...] The particular is revolting"). I think this may be why I'm attracted to writers who struggle with similar issues, writers like Musil and philosophers like Wittgenstein. And now René Daumal.
Speaking of Wittgenstein, Daumal's version of pataphysics reminds me a lot of Wittgenstein's language games (but with a more scientific and literary edge to it, rather than a math and logical edge):
"pataphysical sophism is a proposition which brings into play syllogisms in a nonconclusive mode, but which become conclusive as soon as certain terms are changed in a manner that the mind grasps as quite obvious [...] the object of pataphysical knowledge is none other than the very law governing these changes [...] The reality of thought moves along a string of absurdities, which is true to the great principle that evidence cloaks itself in absurdity as its only means of being perceived. [...] Just as pataphysics as knowledge is the reverse and exact mirror opposite of physics, it probably can also have a powerful effect against attempts to streamline work when applied to the flow of production." (italics Daumal's).
Ultimately pataphysics comes down to a game of language that twists perception beyond its limits. And when I say game, I mean it in the very consequential Cortázarian sense of play, or the serious almost spiritual element that Wittgenstein brings to his language games. Even the pataphysical laughter that Daumal mentions as a key component is a way of transcending an individual's consciousness: "The revelation of laughter will come to every man, but there will be nothing joyful about it [...] the obvious becomes absurd, light is a black veil and a dazzling sun slumbers, whereas my eyes do not."
I find this opening essay very intriguing because it wrestles head on with the forward dash of science. And instead of rejecting it outright or adopting it fully, it creates a third reality, one that assimilates science through a field of laughter into a parallel universe that makes us more human instead of less.
Not to give you the wrong impression, the essay on pataphysics is only a small portion of this book. The rest is filled with glorious pun-ridden prose-poem-like pataphysical particulars. It is almost impossible to explain or review this portion, but it is a pleasure to read:
2. ON INTELLECTUAL GELOIDS, PLUMS EXCEPTED
A projection on a horizontal plane of psychic activity, represented, for example, by A HUMAN FACE PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE PRECISE MOMENT OF PARAMNESIA, furnishes on a protoplasmic mass sensitized by potassium bichromate, after its solution and digestion by the aqueous medium of non-insolubilized salts, a sufficiently approximate image of the static intellect, in the best conditions of visibility. The odor, thanks to the idea of God, is pestilential.