This is a sometimes exhausting book which is a joint parody of hard-boiled detective fiction and time-travel science fiction. The jokes are very thickThis is a sometimes exhausting book which is a joint parody of hard-boiled detective fiction and time-travel science fiction. The jokes are very thick and fast. Not all of them hit the mark, and many actively disturb any sense of flow in the story, but at times there are moments of comic timing that put you straight in mind of classic Simpsons episodes, for example in this early episode when the lead character, Detective Burley, drops by a homeless man's home in the local dump to ask about a suspiciously valuable-looking possession:
There were fancy painting on the wall. I looked closer at one of them. It shoed an old lady sitting on a chair. "Did you paint this?" I asked. "Because it's good." "Yeah, I painted it last night. So what? Get outta here. You ain't invited to as many places as you show up." There was a brass plate attached to the frame that said "WHistler's Mother." "Wait a minute." I said. "This is Whistler's Mother!" "Used to be, maybe. It's my mother now." [pg 18]
At other times the cartoonishness didn't work for me at all, as scenes of high violence or action flashed by and were gone, with little affect on the continuing plot, in the space of a couple of sentences:
I called them up, told them where the car was, and jumped out. I was going over sixty at the time, but luckily I didn't hit the ground. There was a cliff there and I just went harmlessly over that. But just when you're sailing along, thinking everything is going to be okay, something unexpected comes along to jar you out of your complacency. For me, in this case, it was the bottom of the cliff. I got bruised up pretty bad - they say I bounced for an hour - but luckily no bones were broken. THat's where that protective layer of fat I was telling you about comes in. [pg 37]
Can you really imagine him bouncing for "an hour"? Many moments like this distracted me and were more funny curious than funny haha. Schwartzwelder has a reputation for obsessive oddness and secrecy and some passages did seem like they were like jokes being spit out unfettered by a machine-like comedy-writing idiot-savant.
I'm finish by saying that if you like the Simpsons you'll probably enjoy reading John Swartzwelder. He has that excellent quality of being able to tell jokes which seem dumb, but contain a fluent command of american cultural iconography. The plot device of the time machine allows Schwartzwelder to exploit this knowledge of americana to the full, and showcases a, if anything, over-fertile comic instinct, brimming with both affection and subversion. This book is flawed, but what with it being his first published, I would not say no to reading him again, and I can certainly recommend him for his better moments. ...more
No, I didn't end up understanding quite how Gödel's Theorem works, but I now understand a great deal leading to it. I understand how formal systems haNo, I didn't end up understanding quite how Gödel's Theorem works, but I now understand a great deal leading to it. I understand how formal systems have their powers and why it's such an important subject. I understand the idea of isomorphisms better, how formal systems resemble the flow of genetic information inside cells, the xen attitude to logic, and, with greater clarity than ever before, how "higher" and "lower" levels of a system can coexist simultaneously. The book is far richer than I can even credit it for, and given unlimited free time on a desert island I would dedicate a month to studying it with the careful, honest progression it asks you to invest. I did some of the easier formal systems for a few minutes apiece, but I admit that by the time of the "BlooP / FlooP" chapter, I had become intellectually lazy and just wished to steal the conclusions (easier said than done, there are few snappy, soundbyte-conclusions here). Aside from its value as a textbook, it is a work of great creativity and panache, just as awe-inspiring as the works of Escher and Bach it dissects and applies to scientific themes. This is simply as good as non-fiction writing gets: passionate without being prissy, philosophical without being pedantic, and designed with the reader at the very centre. If you do not learn anything that Hofstadter presents, it's your fault. If you're seriously interested in getting an introduction to the subjects in the book, then set aside the time and really make a project out of it. It's worth it....more
Verging on a four. Punchy, lyrical and a tight mix of the sinister and the absurd, but I thought some of the characters came and went far too quickly,Verging on a four. Punchy, lyrical and a tight mix of the sinister and the absurd, but I thought some of the characters came and went far too quickly, and I would have liked Packer's nemesis to have been given equal time to Packer, as his sections were the most intriguing and poetic for me. On another note - the ending doesn't make sense to me. Packer is frightened by his nemesis's gunshots, but he himself runs into the apartment of the crank surely by complete accident. At that point, nemesis begins to talk about how closely he has tracked Packer. Maybe this is a "clever" thing, but was the only point of confusion that I couldn't explain away as style....more
Great opening chapter. Does the rest of it capitalize on the strikingness of that image of the rocking chair? In my view it's a failure to create, inGreat opening chapter. Does the rest of it capitalize on the strikingness of that image of the rocking chair? In my view it's a failure to create, in mood and texture, what he eventually achieved with the trilogy (I've yet to read Watt).
Murphy is a novel by someone who hasn't really lived much except in his learning. It has the contagion of Joyce deep in its DNA. As much trilingual aphorism that it boasts, it's cleverness is only scholarly, and is not writing that speaks of experience or real human insight. In it's most amusing moments it mocks the conventions of the novel with a fatalistic cynicism- but then it can only think to respond to that grand old convention with bad farce. It's a naughty novel, that won't do it's chores - by favorable comparison, the trilogy is a new breed of prose entirely and is both funny and frighteningly depraved (though not through the obvious routes of Murphy's prostitutes, servile drunks and cliched lunatics).
Also, the chess game is probably the best example of a failed modernist gimmick that I can readily recall. Did you read that and plot it out? It was a mousy squeak of a "climax" (although I have heard it referred to in grave, high terms by fans on this page)....more
There's not a page of this book which is purely text, so I guess that's a clue that the words aren't supposed to be that important, but even so, the wThere's not a page of this book which is purely text, so I guess that's a clue that the words aren't supposed to be that important, but even so, the writing is so sloppy, dismissive and arrogantly stupid that it's remarkable anyone read it and considered it fit for publication - especially as the publisher, Thames and Hudson, and subject, Max Ernst (probably the best known Surrealist after Dali) are so esteemed.
I personally enjoy some Surrealist art because it's imaginative, vivid and amusingly absurd, and specifically because it has nothing to do with the existing world. Schneede, the writer of the text, clearly feels differently, and tries half-heartedly to connect Ernst's art to historical events whenever possible - even if it means, say, suggesting he prophesied the Holocaust in 1920.
Much of the commentary is bizarre and unelaborated:
Most sombre variations on the bird theme are The Elect of Evil and Bonjour Satanas. Glorification has given place to the manifestation of evil desires. Iconographical references to Christian mythology are often present, according to Werner Hofmann: thus, in the emblamatic system of the Baroque period, the pelican stands for Christ. (p.91)
Do these pictures still bear any relationship to surrealism? Surrealism is more than an attitude of mind than a stylistic tendency. Surrealism is the sum of Breton's doctrine, Dali's paranoiac-critical method, Magritte's intellectual semantics, Miro's automatism and Max Ernst's combination of guided chance and imaginative power. Each of the Surrealist painters goes his own way. In the last analysis there is remarkably little to hold them together. (p.99)
...With interpretations which are frustratingly inconclusive, pointlessly sourced, or syntactically strained):
John Russell has drawn attention to the fact that the Barbarians Marching Westwards call to mind 'the fantasies of Denos, in which idealized barbarians from the East would come marching in to save the western world from itself'. There is no denying that an element of discontent with civilisation, inspired by Surrealism, does have a part to play in these pictures, especially as the dogmatic Parisian leading lights of the movement did occasionally incline towards the idealization of anti-cultural impulses. Equally not to be denied is the fact that the Barbarians are conclusions drawn from political events, and thus point forward to the Nazi invasion of France. (p.134)
...Or speciously evidenced ("more or less current" here meaning "over 70 years old", just to pick one example from the small excerpt) or simply unimpressive:
The title of The Breakfast on the Grass is a borrowing from Manet; and Hunger Feast is taken from Rimbaud. Max Ernst likes [sic] to play around with more or less current concepts. On [sic] his own admission the titles only come in the final stages. As plays on words and ideas, that is, as independent entities, they exist alongside, or even run counter to, the visual work. There are direct references to Rembrandt (Polish Horsemen), Gericault (Raft of the Medusa), and the German Novelist Theodor Storm (Aquis Submersus); and paraphrases of Nietzsche (The Birth of Comedy), Baudelaire (The Elect of Evil) and Matisse (Lust For Life). So in the world of language, too, Max Ernst modifies found objects (p. 151)
The kisses I spied. Yours and his kisses, which most resembled some sort of feeding, intent, untidy, and noisy. Or w
Some classic Nabakov bush-beating:
The kisses I spied. Yours and his kisses, which most resembled some sort of feeding, intent, untidy, and noisy. Or when you, with eyes closed tight, devoured a spurting peach and then, having finished, but still swallowing, with your mouth full, you cannibal, your glazed eyes wandered, your fingers were spread, your inflamed lips were all glossy, your chin trembled, all covered with drops of the cloudy juice, which trickled down on to your bared bosom, while the Priapus who had nourished you suddenly, with a convulsive oath, turned his bent back to me, who had entered the room at the wrong moment. 'All kinds of fruit are good for Marthe,' you would say with a certain sweet-slushy moistness in your throat, all gathering into into one damp, sweet, accursed little fold. (p.120)
'What a misunderstanding,' said Cincinnatus and suddenly burst out laughing. He stood up and took off the dressing gown, the skullcap, the slippers. He took off the trousers and shirt. He took off his head like a toupee, took off his collarbones like shoulder straps, took off his rib cage like a hauberk. He took off his hips and his legs, he took off his arms like gauntlets and threw them in a corner. What was left of him gradually dissolved, hardly colouring the air. At first Cincinnatus simply revelled in the coolness; then, fully immersed in his secret medium, he began freely and happily to...
The iron Thunderclap of the bolt resounded, and Cincinnatus instantly grew all that he had cast off, the skullcap included. (p.29)
The novel was the famous 'Quercus', and Cincinnatus had already read a good third of it, or about a thousand pages. It's protagonist was an oak. The novel was a biography of that oak. At the place where Cincinnatus had stopped the oak was just starting on its third century; a simple calculation suggested that by the end of the book it would reach the age of six hundred at least.
The idea of the novel was considered to be the acme of modern thought. Employing the gradual development of the tree (growing lone and mighty at the edge of a canyon at whose bottom the waters never ceased to din), the author unfolded all the historic events - or shadows of events - of which the oak could have been a witness ; now it was a dialogue between two warriors dismounted from their steeds - one dappled, the other dun - so as to rest under the cool ceil of its noble foliage; now highwaymen stopped by and the song of a wild-haired fugitive damsel; now, beneath the storm's blue zigzag, the hasty passage of a lord escaping from royal wrath; now, upon a spread cloak a corpse, still quivering with the throb of the leafy shadows; now a brief drama in the life of some villagers, There was a paragraph a page and a half long in which all the words began with 'p'.
It seemed as though the author were sitting with his camera somewhere among the topmost branches of the Quercus, spying out and catching his prey. Various images of life would come and go, pausing among the green macules of light. The normal periods of inaction were filled with scientific descriptions of the oak itself, from the viewpoints of dendrology, ornithology, coleopterology, mythology - or popular descriptions, with touches of folk humour. Among other things there was a detailed list of all the initials carved in the bark with their interpretations. And, finally, no little attention was devoted to the music of waters, the palette of sunsets, and the behaviour of the weather.
Cincinnatus read for a while and laid it aside. This work was unquestionably the best that his age had produced. (p. 104-105)
to put it more simply, in my dreams the world would come alive, becoming so captivatinglu majestic, free and ethereal, that afterwards it would be oppressive to breathe the dust of this painted life. But then I have long since grown accustomed to the thought that what we call dreams is semi-reality, the promise of reality, a foreglimpse and a whiff of it; that is, they contain, in a very vague, diluted state, more genuine reality than our vaunted waking life which, in its turn, is semi-sleep, an evil drowsiness into which penetrate in grotesque disguise the sounds and sights of the real world, flowing beyond the periphery of the mind - as when you hear during sleep a dreadful insidious tale because a branch is scraping on the pane, or see yourself sinking into snow because your blanket is sliding off. But how I fear awakening! How I fear that second, or rather split-second, already cut short then, when, with a lumber-jack's grunt - But what is there to fear? Will it not be for me simply the shadow of an axe, and shall I not hear the downward vigorous grunt with the ear of a different world? Still I am afraid? One cannot write off so easily. Neither is it good that my thoughts keep getting sucked into the cavity of the future - I want to think about something ele, clarify other things... but I write obscurely and limply, like Pushkin's lyrical duelist. (p.78)
It's just as worthy as Kafka's The Trial. As Nabokov admits, "spiritual affinities have no place in my concept of literary criticism, but if I did have to choose a kindred soul, it would certainly be that great artist", Kafka... "rather than G. H. Orwell or other popular purveyors of illustrated ideas".
I think that Nabokov would prefer his "Bend Sinister" to be taken in the spirit of the institutionalized stupidity abundant in Kafka's The Trial and The Castle, rather than the polemical "purveryor of illustrated ideas", Orwell and Huxley. Both authors use the metaphor of prosecution to portray frustration and loneliness, though with occasionally light comic sensibilites. This book has made me more likely to search out Nabokov's early work, to see how much more the two have in common....more
This is book with complex qualities. The narrative tricks you into sympathising with feelings that it later tears down as navel-gazing pomposity, andThis is book with complex qualities. The narrative tricks you into sympathising with feelings that it later tears down as navel-gazing pomposity, and once it's built a feeling of optimism in you it continues to makes you feel deluded for your credulity.
It's a carefully structured story, claiming to be a manuscript left unpublished by an unemployed lodger; the retired, divorced scholar, Henry Haller. It is prefaced by the account of the son of the houseowner, who presents a vague picture of a man only met in casual acquaintance before he fled without a trace; an intellectual, quirky, polite, a drinker, a smoker, indoorsy. The manuscript itself is a stylised but journal-like story of his stay in the town. The first 'part' largely concerns his feelings of depression and philisophical dissatisfaction after nearly 50 years of living, alongside accounts of his aimless journies out to town. He explicitly tells us about his dreams, but even in his awakened state his accounts are dreamlike and infeasible, at times clearly the product of an insane mind.
Haller tells people his name is The Steppenwolf, an alter ego that represents his most self-destructive, unsocial thoughts. Conincidentally, one day he comes to acquire a book called 'A Treatise on The Steppenwolf'. The short text is a philosophical pamphlet that at first seems to vindicate Haller's most hateful conclusions regarding the average man through his own intellectual alienation; addressing Haller by name and echoing his philosophy of wild/civilised duality; but the text's attitude turns halfway through. It proceeds to accuse the aforementioned philosphy of self-serving egotism, and mock his view of age and personality as simplistic. Following his discovering of this strange document, he meets with an old friend, a professor, and burning this bridge spectacularly, Haller begins to contempalte suicide. So scared of his razor, he refuses to return home, staying in a bar in town. There he meets a free-spirited and aloof young woman, Hermine.
Haller's obsession with his own intellectual misery becomes replaced with a growing obsession with Hermine and her bohemian circle of friends, who challenge his aging sensibilities and tutor him in new, more youthful pleasures like dance, sex, drugs and jazz. As the book builds to its climax reality begins to merge with surreal symbols of time, personality, jealousy, aesthetics and violence, and events already described are cast into doubt. You find yourself returning in mind to the preface to anchor the story to some sense of reality, but at the same time Haller's rich flights of fantasy are so though-provoking that it's not clear which is the illustration of the other - a dreamy representation of some grim reality, or a fictional cast that represent Haller's internal aruments over his own nature.
The book is summarily about the pains of overbearing thought. It's outlook is more complex than the kind of self-pitying, glam-cynicism that Colin Wilson trumpets in The Outsider, however, as if any conclusion can be solidly made from the poetic jumble of images, dialogue and situation, it is that Hesse ridicules the sort of intellectual ludditedom that Haller often embodies. I don't feel like the ending should be taken as an inevitable and moral consequence of the thoughts and feelings that Haller indulges in, but the feeling remains that the root of his problems lie in his reluctance to learn from experience, rather than living his life through books and thought. The "manuscript"'s gradual disassociation from the everyday into free-flowing, associative imagery echoes a poignant metaphor that Haller himself makes to the landlady's son in the preface, quoting from an unnamed book of the philosopher Novalis:
'This is very good too, very good', he said, 'listen to this: "A man should be proud of suffering. All suffering is a reminder of our high estate." [Very] fine! Eighty years before Nietzsche. But that is not the sentence I meant. Wait a moment, here I have it. This: "Most men will not swim before they are able to." Isn't it witty? Naturally, they won't swim! They are born for the solid earth, not for water. And naturally they won't think. They are made for life, not for thought. Yes, and he who thinks, what's more, he who makes thought his business, he may go far in it, but he has bartered the solid earth for the water all the same, and one day he will drown.' (p.21)