Euthyphro Dilemma: incredible contribution to classroom philosophy as well as associated drunken arguments or searching stoned contemplation. That thiEuthyphro Dilemma: incredible contribution to classroom philosophy as well as associated drunken arguments or searching stoned contemplation. That thing about all of Western thought being composed of footnotes to Plato is pretty accurate; it's often not the case that Plato's stuff is very good or that the conclusions it reaches are impressively argued. It's that an incredible number of philosophy's most mind-bending and thoroughly absorbing problems have originally at least popped up in some form in Plato.
The five stars are perhaps given for an unsound reason: the Euthyphro dilemma plus metaethical implications are favourite topics of mine....more
Pynchon's narrative is groovy as fuck and at times reads like the only thriller worth compulsive page-turning, the only thing worth laughing with/at,Pynchon's narrative is groovy as fuck and at times reads like the only thriller worth compulsive page-turning, the only thing worth laughing with/at, the only thing in the world at all really. In Tristero's muted post horn Pynchon's created either the richest, most enthralling literary symbol known to Readers, or something like a pomo twist on the MacGuffin as theorized by Hitchcock. What it really is, of course, is neither, and both, or maybe just the first, or the latter, or not.
But, see, it's still really groovy shit, even now that I'm not reading it as a teenaged me would, or drunk as I was the first time I reread it (this was my fourth time [fifth time as of October 2013]), and missing almost everything in the book that isn't postal rivalry-related or generally hilarious. It's still one motherfucker of a trip. Believe that shit. So it's still easy not to really focus and pay attention to what's happening on the pages of this book. Because your (my) mind wanders, daydreams of writing by W.A.S.T.E., wonders whether a tattoo of the muted post horn is worth getting. Is it a cliche by now? Is it weird to get the same tattoo your ex-girlfriend has? And so on.
But the book's fundamentally about isolation, alienation, communication and lack thereof, and also about information overload, about communication overload, about communication in isolation, even in the service of isolation. About systems and those who try to find ways around them, and those who need to believe there's something else. And there's a joke about an orgy featuring, it is thankfully not explained how exactly, a trained seal and a small automobile.
Oedipa at the end seems stuck between two stations. One's the really compelling one. One is pure postmodern paranoia (regardless of which of the alternatives on this side you, or Oedipa, chooses). The other is nihilism. I don't really want to be the guy who debates whether postmodernism is over, or the postmodern is over, but man, it's real hard in the world I live in not to be a nihilist who needs to believe, or a paranoiac whose convictions, fluctuating as they are, are always shaken. So this book doesn't strike me as an LSD-tinted (what?) relic of the 60s, a literary curiosity of vast entertainment value (although it is), but more as an example of literary genius, of lit at something like its best.
And Pynchon thinks it's crap. Go figure. That is, if he does think it's crap. I think it probable They just want you to believe that.
In any case, unfortunately, as with most stuff that can make you paranoid for multiple reasons, the more I read this thing, the more seriously I contemplate its various dimensions and non-dimensions, the more fucking sinister so much of this book seems. There are some really sinister scenes (Dr. Hilarius' last scene, for instance; imagine that rendered in some Lynchian cinematic fashion, and enjoy your nightmares), but it's more that so many of the book's implications are not pleasant and fun.
I can't stop thinking about this thing. I think I might be going slowly mad. ...more
The First Set of Remarks: - It belongs to a family of American narratives that reveals a deep distrust oA Few Remarks on It, the Novel by Stephen King:
The First Set of Remarks: - It belongs to a family of American narratives that reveals a deep distrust of small-town-to-mid-range-city American imagery and values, while still being entirely formed by that same imagery and those same values - That family belongs to a larger family of American narratives that explores, using violence as a central theme, the disparity between Ideal America, as represented by typical imagery, and Real America, as represented by the corruption of that imagery - It, like those other narratives [see Blue Velvet for just one cinematic example; I'm thinking a lot of Lynch so I'll be using some of his stuff here, but this applies to other narratives as well], employs subterranean imagery to depict the menace, the evil, that lurks beneath the picket fences and green lawns - It, like those other narratives, depicts violence not so much as an intrusion on typical American life, but as a constant within it, if one that is mostly ignored - It, like those other narratives, is concerned with not only evil on a cosmic scale, or evil as practiced by the Other, but also with the violence, frequently connected to Evil Forces within these narratives, that is contained within the everyday American life, that lurks within the ordinary, and not only beneath it. Consider misogynistic violence in It (sometimes connected to It, and sometimes notably not) as well as in Blue Velvet (Jeffrey is all too quick to start acting like Frank) and Twin Peaks (plenty of assholes, BOB or no BOB) - It, like those other narratives, is concerned to some extent with the power of genuine good and human connectedness, more than it is with simple innocence, naivete, or ignorance - It, like those other narratives, presents a commentary that applies on multiple levels: to the world (within the novel and our 'real world') and to fiction and popular culture - It, like those other narratives, deals with evil and violence in terms of thought, emotion, and action, and not in terms of action alone
The Second Set of Remarks: - King's a good writer. Oh, he can be bad, but he can also be pretty great, not only as a storyteller but as a prose stylist and a writer of dialogue - It is undoubtedly one of King's finer works, and will surely continue to be popular and widely read - It is generally just one motherfucker of a book - It is grand and mythic, but relies on the minutest of human emotions and characteristics to really gain investment in its narrative - It has its Weird Thing with the ritual thing that nobody likes to talk about much or especially defend because one might seem creepy if they talk about how no, it's really not that fucked up and amazingly so because there's no way without reading it that you would think someone could pull off writing that and not having it be really fucked up and creepy but then again a lot of people still think it's really fucked up and creepy so maybe it's just me and I'm really fucked up and creepy or I'm just not fucked up enough to get why it's supposed to be so fucked up. But it is a little weird, I'll give you that - The Weird Thing at the end of It is bound to come up, but really come on, cause King's written this immense portrait of an American city, this immense portrait of community and its contrary, this immense portrait of childhood and of friendship, this immense portrait of love, this immense portrait of really fucking scary and creepy and fucked up shit, and you're gonna disregard all that cause it gets kinda weird at the end? - The Weird Thing at the end of It makes total sense within the narrative, I think - The Real Weird Thing, for me, is the thing with the word that starts with T, which what the fuck? - Disregarding the Weird Thing(s), It has just got to be one of the best horror stories out there. The concept is just so good. And the thing with King at his best, which for me has not been recently, is that he can do a fucking brilliant job of fleshing out the high concept so it delivers on its promise within a really solid piece of literary work. So it's not just the high concept, lying flat there on the ground, like so much other "genre" stuff.
A Final Remark: - I don't care what any of my fairly snobby friends, GR or not, might say. This is really good. So is Christine. I'm pretty sure The Stand is too. And some other stuff. Also The Long Walk, which I'm pretty sure is some kind of masterpiece. I'll need to read it again to make sure....more
As with Infinite Jest, 2666, Underworld, Moby-Dick, and a handful of other books that have affected me on some deep gut level most other books just haAs with Infinite Jest, 2666, Underworld, Moby-Dick, and a handful of other books that have affected me on some deep gut level most other books just haven't gotten to, I struggle to put into words what I want to say about Blood Meridian. I've tried to figure out what the issue is.
I think it has something to do with art working the way it's supposed to. Really great art ought to have qualities that are ineffable. Really great art ought to have an ineffable effect on someone experiencing it.
I think it has something to do with feeling like I want to say something that is worthy of being said. I know some people approach their entire lives with this attitude, and don't say much. Usually it's a successful strategy and these people have a certain gravitas most of us don't. I certainly don't possess that ability or desire to remain silent until I have something really worth saying. But with Blood Meridian and generally art that is at this level of excellence, I find myself able to discuss it with others face-to-face but not really able to contribute anything in written form that doesn't sound like a retread of what's in the jacket copy or in every review already written.
I'm aware, however, that this is exactly the kind of vague platitudinous stuff that people sometimes use to justify their love for mediocre art. Which is why I'd like to refer people to Notes on Blood Meridian, to Harold Bloom's foreword to the 25th Anniversary Edition (which is good even though Harold Bloom wrote it), and to the massive amounts of material already written on this novel. That stuff expresses a lot of what I would want to say anyway. That this is an epic in prose more than a novel. That it is American literature's Iliad. That it is the most violent work of literature you're likely to encounter, but that this violence is not the violence of fantasy gratification. That it is partly about evil, and sincerely so, but nonnaively so. That the language is some of the most beautiful ever written, but that it is used to tell one of the darkest tales ever told. Etc.
Since I'm referring people to stuff, and though it doesn't have anything to do with that last point really, I should also mention Lucero frontman Ben Nichols' album The Last Pale Light in the West, which is based on/inspired by this novel, but owes about as much to Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.
This is the novel that taught me what literature at its best can achieve. When I picked this up for the first time, I was in my mid-teens or so and essentially a nihilist and I liked the Beats and Ellis and even Palahniuk to some extent. This book taught me the value of literature. Its most noteworthy achievement, for me, is that it is about the very worst that human beings are capable of, but emerges, as I've said before somewhere, not with a seething, juvenile nihilism but with a genuine comprehension of evil.
When David Foster Wallace listed this on that list he made of 5 great neglected American novels or whatever it was many years ago, all he could say was "dont even ask" (yes, no apostrophe). Although it turns out "DFW’s copy of Blood Meridian is the most heavily annotated book [the guy providing this info has] ever seen. There is almost no white space left. The endsheets are filled with sequential questions to himself. On the title page he wrote MORE OR LESS NO COMMAS, in bright red ink."
So yeah, anyway. It's fucking great. It's the best work of fiction I've ever read, certainly one of the greatest works of American literature. It's also truly horrifying and draining. I guess the last thing I have to say is that part of the book's greatness is its strange pace. Its plot moves like that of a thriller. Its plot wants you to lurch forward, but the sentences require you to read carefully, to read slowly, to absorb, to contemplate, to reread, to think. But it does this while having this truly massive visceral impact. It is perhaps the single greatest example I know of of how fiction can be viscerally involving yet intellectual, sincere and authentic yet nonnaive and noncynical.
DFW said of The Broom of the System that it "seems like it was written by a very smart 14 year old." He's sort of right. Sort of.
It's minor Wallace.DFW said of The Broom of the System that it "seems like it was written by a very smart 14 year old." He's sort of right. Sort of.
It's minor Wallace. It contains nothing of the tremendous emotional range, brilliant characterization, and ingenious narrative drive of Wallace's other two novels and his better short stories. It is a collegiate novel which contains one too many snarkily dismissive lines about collegiate writing. It desperately seeks to attain the sort of tone and really really human quality of Wallace's later writing (even some of the stuff in his Girl With Curious Hair collection, published not too long after this), but ends up falling into too many predictable traps. It was written after Wallace read The Crying of Lot 49 and is so similar in some respects that it reads like a pale Pynchon imitation at times, with significant debt also to DeLillo and also to the whole zany farce comedy meets pomo lit type thing.
Worst of all, this is the only thing Wallace has written which maybe fits the description certain varieties of dung beetle attribute to him (soulless writer obsessed by pomo trickery, unnecessarily verbose and lacking in substance etc. etc.)
All of which is not even to say that this is bad or close to bad etc. It's a really, really entertaining book. It's funny as fuck (gut-bustingly funny on occasion, f'real) and whatnot and so on and so forth and contains some amazingly amusing and imaginative and sad and weird and effective and affecting bits and overall hangs together well enough that few aside from the grumpiest readers of Wallace's later fiction will object too strenuously to the book's many faults, nearly all of which are forgivable once we get to the final bit with the bird on TV and also the very ending of the book which is just terrific on so many levels.
"Brief Interview #20" is one of the finest pieces of recent American writing, period. "Adult World (I&II)" are pretty terrific, too. "The Depresse"Brief Interview #20" is one of the finest pieces of recent American writing, period. "Adult World (I&II)" are pretty terrific, too. "The Depressed Person" is exhausting but valuable. "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life" is worth committing to memory. The other Brief Interviews are mostly worthwhile.
The rest of the collection I'm not too sure about. There's no pardoning "Octet" or "Datum Centurio."
So, pretty seriously uneven and problematic as a whole, this book, but indispensable as it contains some of DFW's finest work. As far as the story collections go, this is better than Girl with Curious Hair, and significantly worse than Oblivion. ...more
Berkeley is basically the 18th century Plato. But not in that he does or develops further some of the interesting things Plato did all those years agoBerkeley is basically the 18th century Plato. But not in that he does or develops further some of the interesting things Plato did all those years ago. No. He's the 18th century Plato in that he proves amazingly adept at the straw man fallacy, at what amounts to name-calling, and at being a smug prick who is mostly laughably wrong about everything.
But this thing is real entertaining, and Berkeley is adorable when he is complaining about language....more
Apparently five years of life can dramatically alter one's perception of a literary text. This thing I despised and mocked on a regular basis is actuaApparently five years of life can dramatically alter one's perception of a literary text. This thing I despised and mocked on a regular basis is actually quite good. ...more
"Little Expressionless Animals," the title story, "Lyndon," and "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" are the highlights of this collection.
Th"Little Expressionless Animals," the title story, "Lyndon," and "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way" are the highlights of this collection.
There is a sense of academic experimentation here. A sense of a writer trying to write something like his later work but not having gotten there yet, except maybe in "Lyndon, "Little Expressionless Animals," and parts of the novella that ends the book: "Westward," which functions essentially as a mission statement w/r/t his later work.
Hence, the book seems uncomfortably artificial for a DFW book. Yet, it also contains within it something of a blueprint for Infinite Jest's earth-shattering brilliance. That book is in some ways Broom+Girl+artistic maturity.
The title story is almost like reading an alt-DFW, there is potential there for an entirely different writer to have emerged, who would have been great, but nowhere near as important as DFW.
DFW's last two books of fiction diverge slightly from his earlier path, but in a wonderfully true sense. Infinite Jest stabbed me in the heart repeatedly, but when Mark, in "Westward..." desires to write "something that stabs you in the heart," I can't help but think, and be glad, that DFW did get there, and in two unique ways with IJ and with Oblivion and The Pale King.
Hardly what you'd give to a newcomer, this, but nevertheless a pretty good collection....more
Oblivion is far and away DFW's best story collection. The stories here, for the most part, showcase DFW's most disciplined and complete writing, and hOblivion is far and away DFW's best story collection. The stories here, for the most part, showcase DFW's most disciplined and complete writing, and his most mature. The Pale King is more like Oblivion than any of DFW's other writing, but it doesn't match the sophistication of these stories.
This stuff is razor-sharp, and distills DFW's finest traits as a writer, and most of the thematic concerns broadly found in his work. There's a literary sensitivity and profoundly incisive attention to human and social realities in Oblivion that marks, in some ways, the most consistently complete achievement of what DFW was striving toward his entire career. For one thing, his concern with mediated narratives and the nature of language is finally entirely integrated into his fictional narratives. The result is that these stories are all that much more emotionally exhausting and sincere and communicative and important.
"Another Pioneer" and "Good Old Neon" are my favourites from this collection, but they're pretty much all great. "The Suffering Channel" really grew on me this second reading. ...more
The really obvious thing that everyone keeps talking about is how sad the reality of this unfinished novel is, how sad it is that DFW the man killed hThe really obvious thing that everyone keeps talking about is how sad the reality of this unfinished novel is, how sad it is that DFW the man killed himself and how sad it is that we lost DFW the writer. And it's understandable, talking about that is, because we're human beings and when a writer allows us to connect so deeply with him, when he takes us on the massively emotional trip that most fans of DFW think his books ultimately are, and then is taken by his illness, we feel just as we would if we were in a personal sort of relationship with said writer.
But this, I believe, is not the real source of the sadness. The real source of the sadness is that DFW was a man of immense philosophical aptitude and human understanding, and that in spite of this he could not persevere. The hopelessness comes not from his writing but from his reality. His entire canon of work is about finding some sort of way out, which way out never materialized for him in reality. And it is immensely hard, considering the sort of writer this guy was, to really sever his work from his person in our heads.
That's why it is a soul-crushingly difficult task to get through this book, especially certain chapters of it, in which he details and really exposes the importance of all the dull, banal issues we have and why they're really not dull and banal at all and why thinking of them that way just prevents us from getting at the real source and meaning of these issues, and traps us in a horrible, solipsistic, and plainly evil cycle.
The Pale King is, on the surface moreso than any other writing of his, about this sort of stuff. It's not solely about boredom or loneliness or... ... Instead, it's about the totality of what it is to be a human being and to deal with being a human being in our world. To say that its world is as engrossing and fascinating as Infinite Jest's would be a lie, and it's plain to see that this novel will never gain the traction that one did, will never be as well-regarded and seminal.
The reason why is not that this is any better or worse. The reason is that The Pale King is just too uncomfortable. It's too honest. It's too real. There are no wheelchair assassins or other absurdities. DFW's distinctive brand of humour is present, of course, but not in a way that allows us any sort of distraction from what is at stake on every page of this book and every moment in our lives. Compare Meredith Rand from this book, and her problematic prettiness, with Joelle Van Dyne's. Even Oblivion allowed us more distance from the shatteringly difficult nature of existence.
Of course, and I almost feel bad for writing this down, you have got to consider the fact that DFW wrote much of this book in his last days, closer to losing his battle.
And you have got to find that scary.
Depending on who you talk to, The Pale King is either DFW's most sophisticated and literary work, in which he eschews any sort of pretension found in his earlier work and forces us to confront serious realities, or it is his least sophisticated, least artful, because it is so tremendously straightforward.
I'm not sure where I think it stands in comparison to his other work. I do know it is, on a chapter by chapter basis, easily superior to Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. There are many chapters here that indisputably stand with some of the best American writing of the last 30-40 years-- some of the specific standouts are mentioned in other reviews here. I won't pick my own because it's too hard for me to do so and would maybe reveal more about myself than I am comfortable revealing even to my closest friends. But The Pale King is ultimately really its own beast, far less cute and far more gruesome than anything else DFW wrote, and very, very difficult to get through (to me at least) because of its nature.
It also somehow feels almost like his most important work, unfinished as it may be. One gets the sense that this book says things that need to be said, that few writers are really willing to talk about, at least in the manner DFW chooses to talk about these things. I get a similar sense about IJ and his short fiction, but it's not the same sense. It's difficult to really get at what the difference exactly is, but I think it has something to do with the crushing reality and mundanity of this book, which is exactly why, again, it will never be the cult item IJ is. DFW often tried to get at very human, basic realities or issues by introducing the extraordinary in one way or another. Here even when we get absurd, seeming diversions, they turn out to be immensely ordinary and mundane and real in a way none of his other fictions are. ...more
Raymond Chandler's prose style is up there with the greats. It's still hugely influential, incredibly important. None of his books fail to impress onRaymond Chandler's prose style is up there with the greats. It's still hugely influential, incredibly important. None of his books fail to impress on those grounds. It is, of course, real hard to try to write like Raymond Chandler writes and pull it off. There are probably as many woeful Chandler copycats out there as there are woeful Hemingway copycats.
The High Window isn't my favourite of the Marlowe books. That's mostly down to the plot, which is just okay, and doesn't really let Marlowe reach his full potential, or for that matter any interesting thematic threads.
But just read:
“The blond giggled and petted his face with her eyes.”
"He had a long nose that would be into things."
“From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from thirty feet away."
“A small tongue played roguishly along her lips.”
“Her eyes were as hard as the bricks in her front walk.”
And now for a masterpiece of descriptive prose:
“The lobby looked like a high-budget musical. A lot of light and glitter, a lot of scenery, a lot of clothes, a lot of sound, an all-star cast, and a plot with all the originality and drive of a split fingernail. Under the beautiful soft indirect lighting the walls seemed to go up forever and to be lost in soft lascivious stars that really twinkled. You could just manage to walk on the carpet without waders. At the back was a free-arched stairway with a chromium and white enamel gangway going up in wide shallow carpeted steps. At the entrance to the dining room a chubby captain of waiters stood negligently with a two-inch satin stripe on his pants and a bunch of gold-plated menus under his arm. He had the sort of face that can turn from a polite simper to cold-blooded fury almost without moving a muscle. The bar entrance was to the left. It was dusky and quiet and a bartender moved moth like against the faint glitter of piled glassware. A tall handsome blond in a dress that looked like seawater sifted over with gold dust came out of the Ladies' Room touching up her lips and turned toward the arch, humming. The sound of rumba music came through the archway and she nodded her gold head in time to it, smiling. A short fat man with a red face and glittering eyes waited for her with a white wrap over his arm. He dug his thick fingers into her bare arm and leered up at her. A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins. A cigarette girl came down the gangway. She wore an egret plume in her hair, enough clothes to hide behind a toothpick, one of her long beautiful naked legs was silver, and one was gold. She had the utterly disdainful expression of a dame who makes her dates by long distance. I went into the bar and sank into a leather bar seat packed with down. Glasses tinkled gently, lights glowed softly, there were quiet voices whispering of love, or ten per cent, or whatever they whisper about in a place like that. A tall fine-looking man in a gray suit cut by an angel suddenly stood up from a small table by the wall and walked over to the bar and started to curse one of the barmen. He cursed him in a loud clear voice for a long minute, calling him about nine names that are not usually mentioned by tall fine-looking men in well cut gray suits. Everybody stopped talking and looked at him quietly. His voice cut through the muted rumba music like a shovel through snow. The barman stood perfectly still, looking at the man. The barman had curly hair and a clear warm skin and wide-set careful eyes. He didn’t move or speak. The tall man stopped talking and stalked out of the bar. Everybody watched him out except the barman. The barman moved slowly along the bar to the end where I sat and stood looking away from me, with nothing in his face but pallor." ...more
A profoundly stupid book. It's a shame that this sort of feminist literature even exists, considering how much of feminism is perfectly valid and wellA profoundly stupid book. It's a shame that this sort of feminist literature even exists, considering how much of feminism is perfectly valid and well-argued, and how many sophisticated feminist philosophers are out there....more
Problematic not for its ideas and fundamental points, though those are flawed, but for the presentation, which is not very persuasive or sensible. GroProblematic not for its ideas and fundamental points, though those are flawed, but for the presentation, which is not very persuasive or sensible. Grounding ethics in the distance between self and other is a fairly fascinating idea in itself, but Levinas doesn't flesh it out well....more