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 ha...moreNo, 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.(less)
Worth the hype etc. etc. etc. many people have consistently said for six generations now why now it's time for you to hunker down and read the damn th...moreWorth the hype etc. etc. etc. many people have consistently said for six generations now why now it's time for you to hunker down and read the damn thing. It's a healthy dose of literary greens and the historical highpoint of prose realism, probably of literary prose period; and written at a time in which writers like Eliot faced society in all it's clumsy, runaway hugeness.(less)
A heartwrenching and thematically rich novel telling the tragic life of the mixed race laborer, bootlegger, and later fugitive, Joe Christmas. It is s...moreA heartwrenching and thematically rich novel telling the tragic life of the mixed race laborer, bootlegger, and later fugitive, Joe Christmas. It is set in the Southern slums of the early twentieth century; familiar to anyone who has read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The novel's most striking feature is that it is told mostly from the point of view of third persons, whose droll Southern cynicism relates the terrible events of the plot as apathetic gossip. This dispiriting but tense tale condemns this false assuredness of conviction that such gossip embodies. In a couplet of wisdom, Faulkner writes:
Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. [p.91]
The anti-hero, Joe Christmas, has his bleak future shaped by not one, but sequentially two religiously fanatical father figures. The second (adopted) father, McEachern, discovers him with his lover at the dance hall, having disobeyed his tight strictures:
'Away, Jezebel!' he said. His voice thundered, into the shocked silence, the shocked surrounding faces beneath the kerosene lamps, into the ceased music, into the peaceful moonlit night of young summer. 'Away, harlot!'
Perhaps it did not seem to him that he had been moving fast nor that his voice was loud. Very likely he seemed to himself to be standing just and rocklike and with neither haste nor anger while on all sides the sluttishness of weak human men seethed in a long sigh of terror about the actual representative of the wrathful and retributive Throne. Perhaps they were not even his hands which struck at the face of the youth whom he had nurtured and sheltered and clothed from a child, and perhaps when the face ducked the blow and came up again it was not the face of that child. But he could not have been surprised at that, since it was not that child's face which he was concerned with: it was the face of Satan, which he knew as well. And when, staring at the face, he walked steadily toward it with his hand still raised, very likely he walked toward it in the furious and dreamlike exaltation of a martyr who has already been absolved, into the descending chair which Joe swung at his head, and into nothingness. Perhaps the nothingness astonished him a little, but not much, and not for long.
Then to Joe it all rushed away, roaring, dying, leaving him in the centre of the floor, the shattered chair clutched in his hand, looking down at his adopted father. McEachern lay on his back. He looked quite peaceful now. He appeared to sleep: bluntheaded, indomitable even in repose, even the blood on his forehead peaceful and quiet. [p.154]
In a Faulknerian sentence, towards the end of the novel, Faulkner describes the waves of bystanders - the bystanders who have also collectively revealed the events of the plot - who gather as the pushover, Byron Bunch, surveys the outside scene of Joe Christmas's trial:
From the shallow, flagged terrace the stone columns rose, arching, weathered, stained with generations of casual tobacco. Beneath them, steady and constant and with a grave purposelessness countrymen in overalls moved (and with here and there, standing motionless or talking to one another from the sides of their mouths, some youngish men[:] townsmen, some of whom Byron knew as clerks and young lawyers and even merchants, who had a generally identical authoritative air, like policemen in disguise and not especially caring if the disguise hid the policeman or not), with almost the air of monks in a cloister, speaking quietly amongst themselves of money and crops, looking quietly now and then upward at the ceiling beyond which the Grand Jury was preparing behind locked doors to take the life of a man whom few of them had ever seen to know, for having taken the life of a woman whom even fewer of them had known to see. [p.312]
The story ends with some optimism: Faulkner has us momentarily believe he will bring all these characters to the same lonely destruction, but gives us just the slightest relief with a very moving final callback to the tale's beginning. This optimism comes at a cost, however, re the fate of Byron Bunch. Perhaps Faulkner is telling us here that happiness is only measured by the final balance of exploitations.(less)
I really really liked this book. Not only was it colorful and witty, but it was heartwarming and, at time, melancholy, too. The narrator is a likeable...moreI really really liked this book. Not only was it colorful and witty, but it was heartwarming and, at time, melancholy, too. The narrator is a likeable young married man whose central American adventure begins with this unforgottable opening paragraph:
My wife Norma had run off with Guy Dupree and I was waiting around for the credit card billings to come in so I could see where they had gone. I was biding my time. This was October. They had taken my car and my Texaco card and my American Express card. Dupree had also take from the bedroom closet my good raincoat and a shotgun and perhaps some other articles. It was just like him to pick the .410 - a boy's first gun. I suppose he thought it wouldn't kick much, that it would kill or at least rip the flesh in a satisfying way without making a lot of noise or giving much of a jolt to his sloping monkey shoulder.
Ray Midge's personality is supremely rational, and his character serves as a straight man for the many unbalanced friends he makes on his road trip to find his wife - most notably the "Doctor" Reo Symes and his ancient, devoutly Christian mother, Mrs. Symes, whom he meets on the way through Mexico and British Hondouras, successively. He is not merely a spock-like walking encyclopedia, however - he is fundamentally sincere, trusting, good-natured and philisophical. Midge never once pities himself, even though he feels at one point or another all the normal human emotions of frustration, discomfort, love, lust and anger.
The novel begins with Midge tracing the eloped couple's whereabouts, and ends with Norma finally revealing the events behind those billings. Between these ends is a far fetched aventure, with characters as strong and memorable as Joseph Heller's, and a snappy, dry, distinctly Southern-eccentric sense of humour in the tradition of Mark Twain. It's very funny indeed.
Some quotes from my folded down pages:
I was starting off for Mexico in [Dupree's] junker without so much as a new fan belt. There were health bar wrappers, at least forty of them, all over the floor and seats and I hadn't even bothered to clean them out. It wasn't my car and I despised it. I had done some thinking too. The shock of clean oil or the stiffer tension of a new belt might have been just enough to upset the fragile equilibrium of the system. And I had worked it out that the high mileage was not really a disadvantage, reasoning in this specious way: that a man who has made it to the age of seventy-four has a very good chance of making it to seventy-six- a better chance, in fact, than a young man would have. [p.19]
-- "His mouth was bleeding from scurvy, from mucosal lesions and suppurating ulcers, his gums gone all spongy. He was a broken man all right but by God the work got done. He wrecked his health of that we might have Wings as Eagles."
The Doctor went on and on. He said that all other writing, compared to Dix's work, was just "foul grunting," I could understand how a man might say such things about the Bible or Koran, some holy book, but this Dix book, from what I could see of it , was nothing more than an inspirational work for salesmen. Still, I didn't want to judge it too quickly. There might be some useful tips in those pages, some Dix thoughts that would throw a new light on things, I was still on the alert for chance messages. [p.66]
-- Melba brought me her stories. They were in airmail tablets, written in a round script on bot hsides of the thin paper. One was about a red-haired beauty from New Orleans who went to New York and got a job as a secretary on the second floor of the Empire State Building. There were mysterious petty thefts in the office and the red-haired girl solved the mystery with her psychic powers. The thief turned out to be the boss himself and the girl lost her job and went back to New Orleans where she got another job that she liked better, although it didn't pay as well.
Melba had broken the transition problem wide open by starting almost every paragraph with "Moreover." She freely used "the former" and "the latter" and every time I ran into one of them I had to backtrack to see whom she was talking about. She was also fond of "inasmuch" and "crestfallen."
I read another story, an unfinished shocker about a father-and-son rape team who prowled the Laundromats of New Orleans. The leading character was a widow, a mature red-haired woman with nice skin. She had visions of the particular alleys and parts where the rapes were to occur but the police detectives wouldn't listen to her. "Bunk!" they said. She called them "the local gendarmes," and they in turn called all the girls "tomatoes." [p. 130]
FIRST VOICE [narrator] Alone in the hissing laboratory of his wishes, Mr Pugh minces among bad vats and jeroboams, tiptoes through spinneys of murdering herbs, agony dancing in his crucibles, and mixes especially for Mrs Pugh a venomous porridge unknown to toxicologists which will scald and viper through her until her ears fall off like figs, her toes grow big and black as balloons, and steam comes screaming out of her navel.
MR PUGH You know best, dear [p. 63] --
MRS PUGH You should wait until you retire to your sty,
SECOND VOICE says Mrs Pugh, sweet as a razor. His fawning measly quarter-smile freezes. Sly and silent, he foxes into his chemist's den and there, in a hiss and prussic circle of cauldrens and phials brimful with pox and the black death, cooks up a fricassee of deadly nightshade, nicotine, hot frog, cyanide and bat-spit for his needling stalactite hag and bednag of a pokerbacked nutcracker wife.
MR PUGH I beg your pardon, my dear,
SECOND VOICE he murmurs with a weedle [p. 68]
ROSIE PROBERT Knock twice, Jack, At the door of my grave And ask for Rosie.
CAPTAIN JACK CAT Rosie Probert
ROSIE PROBERT Remember her. She is forgetting. The earth which filled her mouth Is vanishing from her. Remember me. I have forgotten you. I am going into the darkness of the darkness for ever. I have forgotten that I was ever born. [p. 71]
SECOND VOICE Conceived in Milk Wood, born in a barn, wrapped in paper, left on a doorstep, big-headed and bass-voiced she grew in the dark until long-dead Gomer Owen kissed her when she wasn't looking because he was dared. Now in the light she'll work, sing, milk, say the cows' sweet names and sleep until the night sucks out her soul and spits it into the sky. In her life-long love light, holily Bessie milks the fond lake-eyed cows as dusk showers slowly down over byre, sea and town. [p. 76]
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.(less)