so… here we have unearned value determined by structure alone: pile story atop story, set them at different time periods, offer up a thin connection b...moreso… here we have unearned value determined by structure alone: pile story atop story, set them at different time periods, offer up a thin connection b/t each, and everything seems a bit more than it is. for me cloud atlas is exactly the sum of its parts. perhaps less. (i'd love to hire 6 authors to independently write 6 stories set in different time periods, throw the whole mess together as one work, and watch people find all kinds of connections and deeper meanings. they would. they could.)
now don't get me wrong, i love all that 'russian doll' tale-within-a-tale borgesian-wormhole fuckoff, but the fact remains: all that clever stuff is worthless if not in service of a few well told tales (or some seriously innovative ideas: while mitchell has fun with a clever structure, there ain't nothing innovative here. see: borges, calvino, dick, joyce, etc). and this is where mitchell falters. a trite story about corporate intrigue? post-apocalyptic 'primitives' scavenging through the ruins of our time? sci-fi story about an 'almost human' finding her (more than) humanity in a futuristic corpocracy? a 'misunderstanding' gag right out of three's company to resolve frobisher's tale? impossible to unring a bell, but would it were, i'd challenge any five-starrer to jump back & read these stories as standalones: they're weak. and, no: the thread holding 'em all together just ain't enough to elevate five mediocres to one monolithic great. if you're gonna throw out some of that 'deliberately cliched' nonsense, back it up. 100 yrs earlier mr. joyce included a deliberately poorly written chapter in ulysses… with reason. am i overlooking something, oh legions of mitchell devotees? if so, tell me. admitting the luisa rey chapter is shite but explaining that it was meant to be shite won't cut it. here goes a wholly unnecessary & totally overblown, pointless, and inflammatory analogy: if stalin admitted he was an evil cunt, it certainly doesn't ease the pain. david mitchell = josef stalin. yay!
david foster wallace complained that television has become impossible to critique in that it critiques itself: i.e. those t.v. ads, 'don't just sit there. okay, just sit there.' it betrays enormous & self-aware insecurity on the part of the 'television people': rather than polish the turd, they joke about how turdish the turd really is. and, by extension, what a willing turd-swallower YOU are. but it's all good as it's in the guise of a fun, knowing riff on the (hyper)truth, ain't it? well, mitchell employs similar trickery. authorial dogwhistles blow all over the place in the guise of postmodern 4th-wall-breaking innovation. and i call fraud. loudly. if borges ever asked and/or apologized to the reader about a story rather than get that story in top-fucking-notch shape… i'd slap that blind bastard across his jowly cheeks. (and, yes, this kinda stuff can work if it was more the point, a kind of Greek Chorus commenting on the narrative; but as a few asides drawing the reader out & excusing the text? oh, just fuckoff.) when one character writes this about his musical composition:
”a sextet for overlapping soloists”….each in its own language of key, scale, and color. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky?
i wanted to kick mr. mitchell in the shins. and then, when a character, referring to the crappy luisa rey chapters, says this:
“Hilary V. Hush might … have written a publishable thriller after all … selling at Tesco checkouts; then a Second Mystery, then the Third … overall I concluded the young-hack-versus-corporate-corruption thriller had potential.”
a knee to the testes felt more appropriate. if this was deliberately bad… why? why write something crappy? a more complete catalog of humanity? a fuller spectrum of human communication? a means to show pulp beside 'high' literature? if so, it was ill conceived and unsuccessful. i suspect mitchell just wanted to bang out some easy pulp and used the above quote to excuse himself. lame.
so mitchell wrote a fun, if shallow, novel employing tricks used better elsewhere (if ya wanna read a less middlebrow & mediocre tale of reincarnated lives told over different periods of history in which our protagonists are linked by a common birthmark ((no, really. the same birthmark gag. i'm not shitting you.))… check out mishima's 4 books in his 'Sea of Fertility' tetralogy*.) and, look: the final few pages of cloud atlas are a nice poetic summation of the thematic strand less successfully conveyed throughout the previous 507 pgs. but y'know what? too little, too late.
a. hemon's article in the the new yorker on the making of the movie makes me root for it, but i predict a maudlin & turgid turd of epic proportions.
* Spring Snow Runaway Horses The Temple of Dawn The Decay of the Angel (read 'em!) (less)
all the great early-20th century physicists came up with this l. ron hubbardish conceit to invent a pornucopia of whackadoo sci-fi theories and sell '...moreall the great early-20th century physicists came up with this l. ron hubbardish conceit to invent a pornucopia of whackadoo sci-fi theories and sell 'em to the public as hard 'reality'… the solvay conference - where they came up with the first round of bullshit - was a blast! they eliminated absolute time, described light as particle & wave, defined space as 'curved', played with cats which were simultaneously dead and alive, came up with a slew of random constants, and - just as Area 51 info is passed on to every american prez ('except for the black guy! we can't seriously tell state secrets to the black guy, can we?!?!') - every new generation a select group of dreamers and thinkers are told of the great joke-slash-conspiracy and allowed to add on a bit. double slit experiment? multiverses? string theory? hadron collider? sure. have fun. just kick some of that grant money our way, sister.
the gossip is that feynman wanted to blow the whole thing wide open and one can see the first cracks in lecture #6 'Probability and Uncertainty' -- in imploring his listener to just shut up and accept what feynman says, our humble lecturer is just begging to be called out on the bullshit:
"It will be difficult. But the difficulty really is psychological and exists in the perpetual torment that results from your saying to yourself, 'But how can it be like that?' which is a reflection of uncontrolled but utterly vain desire to see it in terms of something familiar. I will not describe it in terms of an analogy with something familiar; I will simply describe it. There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativitiy. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, i think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. So do not take the lecture too seriously, feeling that you really have to understand in terms of some model what I am going to describe, but just relax and enjoy it. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'But how can it be like that?', because you will get 'down the drain', into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.'
feynman contracted two forms of rare cancer and died. hmmm…. (less)
all this quantum mechanics and relativity stuff being so incredibly counter-intuitive, language seems even more of a barrier than usual; it's tough to...moreall this quantum mechanics and relativity stuff being so incredibly counter-intuitive, language seems even more of a barrier than usual; it's tough to properly tease out if much of what's written is meant to be metaphorical, epistemological, or just plain hard-up muthafuckin' (relative... of course) truth. or maybe some kind of hybrid? so, while kaku does an admirable job of simplifying some of einstein's more abstruse mindfucks, there're other aspects that send a bug straight up my ass. i.e. regarding heisenberg's uncertainty principle:
'This was not just a by-product of the crudeness of our instruments; it was a fundamental law of nature. Even God could not know both the precise position and momentum of an electron.'
re: that final line... say what? now that just seems some kinda unnecessary & obfuscatin' booshit. maybe kaku is pandering to who he thinks must be the typical reader of a book of this nature (pop-science series called 'great discoveries', etc) but whhhhyyyy include that line? why bring a god who 'knows' things into the discussion? when you're dealing with all this existenzy shit you really can't use the expression 'god only knows' because, y'know, that might very well be the case. (less)
here's a letter a young einstein wrote to his pal. the 1st paragraph: more waugh than egghead, eh? and that 2nd paragraph? those 'papers'? "a modifica...morehere's a letter a young einstein wrote to his pal. the 1st paragraph: more waugh than egghead, eh? and that 2nd paragraph? those 'papers'? "a modification of the theory of space and time"? holy shit.
Such a solemn air of silence has descended between us that I almost feel as if I am committing a sacrilege when I break it now with some inconsequential babble. So, what are you up to, you frozen whale, you smoked, dried, canned piece of soul? Why have you still not sent me your dissertation? Don't you know that I am one of the 1.5 fellows who would read it with interest and pleasure, you wretched man? I promise you four papers in return.
The first deals with radiation and the energy properties of light and is very revolutionary, as you will see if you send me your work first. The second paper is a determination of the true sizes of atoms. The third proves that bodies on the order of magnitude 1/1000 mm, suspended in liquids, must already perform an observable random motion that is produced by thermal motion. The fourth paper is only a rough draft at this point, and is an electrodynamics of moving bodies which employs a modification of the theory of space and time.
and later in life he wrote this gorgeousness:
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man.
just for fun, let's compare/contrast with:
I very seriously doubt that Einstein himself really knows what he is driving at. The outcome of this doubt and befogged speculation about time and space is a cloak beneath which hides the ghastly apparition of atheism. - Cardinal William Henry O'Connell
and later, witnessing the rise of hitler, albert shot off this email to FDR:
c-squared ya dipshit, c-squared! That's a whole lotta motherfuckin' bango django. so we should figure out how to bake that cake before the other guys do and blow out our candles, yo!
the last one, not really. but it's a close approximation. (less)
'this stone will survive longer than all of shakespeare' speaks a character in to the lighthouse and it's a chilling thought: immortality through one'...more'this stone will survive longer than all of shakespeare' speaks a character in to the lighthouse and it's a chilling thought: immortality through one's work is fool's gold; even for the most long-surviving, even for shakespeare - possibly the best put-togetherer of words the world has known - once it all goes 'pop!' (and it will), the author of macbeth and stalin and the cabbie who took me home last night are all the same: nada.
a recent article claims that philip larkin - that other great Poet of Death - was upset with the pandering, Hallmarkian quality of the final line of his 'an arundal tomb', but i'm suspicious... doesn't the line which immediately precede it say it all?
'Our almost-instinct almost true: What will survive of us is love.'
and this is to the lighthouse: our 'almost instinct' and all that is 'almost true'; a masterpiece describing the crush of sadness and confusion and utter ineffability of what it feels like to be very briefly alive in a world filled with people (some of whom we love) who will all very very shortly become inanimate objects.
nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
all that said... it's phenomenal, really, that this somber british woman has managed to, in some form, reach up outta the grave & across the ether and the years, and knock the goddamned socks off a neurotic contrarian snotty skinny pale jewboy who spent his youth devouring comics, the cinema of orson (& tori) welles, and three chord rawknroll.
has there ever been a better match of form and feeling? so challenging while also so pants-crappingly* exhilarating and moving?
watching flies copulat...morehas there ever been a better match of form and feeling? so challenging while also so pants-crappingly* exhilarating and moving?
watching flies copulate on a windowsill, reminded of a day long ago in a field with molly:
"Hidden under the wild ferns on Howth. Below us bay sleeping sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion's head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you'll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweet and sour with spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft, warm, sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her; eyes, her lips, her stretched neck, beating, woman's breasts full in her blouse of nun's veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me."
hot i tongued her? holy shit.
brings to mind when years ago i stumbled into film forum and discovered the holy word of GOD(ard) in the divine form of pierrot le fou -- now, everyone talks about how 'difficult' godard is, which is all fine and good, but too-clever people overvalue this shit while pretty much ignoring that godard is amongst the most romantic artists of all time. dummies. hot jlg tongued me:
Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word . . . emotion.
apparently jean-luc's in his finnegans wake period. oh boy.
plato's cave myth has particular resonance in the age of oprah, dr. phil, and tea party/occupy jackassiness -- it reinforces the idea that I am specia...moreplato's cave myth has particular resonance in the age of oprah, dr. phil, and tea party/occupy jackassiness -- it reinforces the idea that I am special, I have a unique handle on the truth, that I am the one peering out there at the mouth of the cave & pity (but take secret schadendelight in) all you poor fools whiling away your days staring at flickering shadows. it offers a direct appeal to our egos, our fear of being ordinary, our fear of mortality, that there's something else out there so if it doesn't work out here... well, that ain't no thang. maybe that's why dick's experienced such a major bump in popularity over the past decade: b/c no other contemporary writer so powerfully taps into the cave myth? eh... i'm probably just talking outta my ass. occam's razor says this: sci-fi nerds persist. forever.
so why do i continue to give the individual books 3 stars and the collections 4? eh... maybe it's b/c when it's all crushed into one biggun, the great ideas, oddball characters, and nutball psychedelia can blot out all the slapdashittiness found in the individual works. lemme explain:
there's a scene toward the end of ulysses in which bloom, locked out of his house, scales a wall. joyce, who was not living in dublin at the time, contacted his aunt for the exact measurements of the actual wall so as to verify the believability of a stout 40 yr old jewboy making it over. now, the accuracy of this specific example doesn't really bring too much to the novel itself, but it's indicative of a larger attitude which does: all that painstaking detail junk is actually the glue which holds that disparate, difficult, obscure, & surreal novel together. and this is why PDK's novels, while much leaner & stylistically unified, frequently feel baggy, sloppy, &, yes, lazy.
should i ignore all that stuff and just respond to the emotional truth, the philosophical truth, the thematic truth...? naw. if you're working in a fictional world, and you've set up the 'rules' for that world, you've gotta adhere. PDK throws in way too many a plot contrivance and convenience -- one gets the feeling that an idea explodes into dick's head (<-- not meant as a joke; i don't go for PDK book reports with dick jokes) and in a rush to get it out he quickly comes up with any rehashed and lameasfuck plot mechanism at his disposal.
well, i've just blasted the hell through 15 PDK novels in a row. about 13 of 'em are - despite the 3 star ratings - must reads. just do your best to ignore all the so-so stuff. (less)
i've really come to love PDK, but this collection? a bunch of human-shaped exposition machines blasting out humorless profundities like so many breezy...morei've really come to love PDK, but this collection? a bunch of human-shaped exposition machines blasting out humorless profundities like so many breezy farts whooshing out of a loose anus.
but the transmigration of timothy archer is something else entirely: it dispenses with the sci-fi elements and windy assthoughts, and turns out to be a pretty affecting piece on belief and loss.(less)