[note: mine was a bilingual, facing-page edition with a long introduction, so my page numbers will probably be roughly double yours]
In tone, Leaves of[note: mine was a bilingual, facing-page edition with a long introduction, so my page numbers will probably be roughly double yours]
In tone, Leaves of Grass, is prophetic, mystical and reverent towards the universal. This poem has no consistent poetic meter or rhyme scheme. It reads like fragments of other poems, and seeing as it was constantly revised until his death, it could be considered a condensed life's work, not worth fussing over as if it contained some cathedralic, overarching meaning. But seeing as it represents the life work of the man, it does contain recurrent themes and preocupations. One great one is the threat of science to undermine our confidence in superficial appearances, when everything is truly underneath "flashes and specks" (gainsay means deny):
Affection that will not be gainsayed... The sense of what is real... the thought if after all it should prove unreal, The doubts of daytime and the doubts of nighttime... the curious whether and how, Whether that which appears is so... or is it all flashes and specks? Men and women crowding fast in the streets... if they are not flashes and specks what are they? p50
Another is the reverent relativist attitude towards other forms of life. The one animal that Whitman does not praise is man (gamut means musical scales)...
Oxen that rattle the yoke or halt in the shade, what is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.
...I believe in those winged purposes, And acnowledge the red yellow and white playing within me, And consider the green and violet and the tufted crown intentional; And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else, And the mockingbird in the swamp never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well to me, And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me. p.80
...except when the men and women are simple, honest folk:
Pleased with the native and pleased with the foreign... pleased with the new and the old, [...]Pleased with the quakeress as she putts off her bonnet and talks melodiously, Pleased with the primitive tunes of the choir of the whitewashed church, Pleased with the earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher, or any preacher... looking seriously at the camp-meeting; Looking in at the shop-windows in Broadway the whole forenoon... pressing the flesh of my nose to the thick plate glass, Wandering the same afternoon with my face turned up to the clouds; My right and left arms round the sides of two friends and I in the middle;p.142
Whitman's conception of the universe is like a oiled machine of "soft" parts, however not one machine for all, but one for each of us, each man, each woman, each beanpod:
And to glance with an eye or show a bean in its pod confounds the learning of all times, And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero, And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheeled universe, And any man or woman shall stand cool and supercilious before a million universes. p.198
...and the force of god is like the infinite potentiality within a single seed:
Speeding amid the seven satellites and the broad ring and the diameter of eighty thousand miles, Speeding with tailed meteors... throwing fire-balls like the rest, Carrying the crescent child that carries its own full mother in its belly, Storming enjoying planning loving cautioning, Backing and filling, appearing and disappearing, I tread day and night such roads.
I visit the orchards of God and look at the spheric product, And look at the quintillions ripened, and look at the quintillions green. p,144
You ought to read the final line out loud. It is an image of sound and meaning so complete and balanced that it would rot with further explanation, and so Whitman leaves it as it is. A more prosaic scientific gloss would be easy to produce: we have far more than a trillion (that's one thousand billions) sperm in a testicle, but only 7 billion people currently on an overcrowded earth.
Whitman was an incredibly well read man, by all accounts, and by labelling him as relativist and concerened with the threat of science I don't mean to demean the depth of his thinking to mere fear of the concrete: he can be both these things and also be very well informed about them. It's by going back to 19th century books like this, which suggest a secular spirituality, that we can balance our contemporary skepticism of the mystical and the universal with a temperment of well merited humbleness. Whitman humbled himself before ordinary men and women and in spite of his bibliographic lifestyle, never felt the need to drop names or learned references as his modernism children did. For this as well we should read this poem as Whitman read the world: open and in touch with wonder....more
This is a story of a band of killers who recover the scalps of indians by comission. The main character is something of a blank slate, other than hisThis is a story of a band of killers who recover the scalps of indians by comission. The main character is something of a blank slate, other than his instinctual aggression and hard-heartedness. The most memorable character is Judge Holden, who is introduced to us during an episode in which he sets a mob against an innocent man for the crime of child molestation, only to reveal that he did it as a joke. When we meet the character again we're prepared to find out what a world is like run by such "judges" with a contempt for "justice" other than that of natural in its starkest form.
The novel is visceral in tone, casting doubt on any notion that peace can exist outside of civilized rule and order. Appropriately, therefore it does not have much of a sense of progression in the narrative.
The number of characters is immense and it is difficult to attach much personality to individual names: they are, with few exceptions, faceless hired killers. With this large cast and in other aspects, including the quality of the language, the book is similar to Moby Dick: it is a sometimes hellish, sometimes blackly comic sequence of anedcotes from the outskirts of civilisation. The list of subtitles that begin each chapter (some subtitles referring to events that only last a couple of paragraphs) give an impression of the density and relentlessness of events.
One particularly memorable aspect of its style is the way in which the environments are described. "Harsh" hardly begins to describe it. There characters always seem to be surrounded by punishing terrain; the landscape doesn't seem so much like a endless arena for adventure so much as a constantly wearing, grinding hazard:
The expriest: The malpais. It was a maze. Ye'd run out upon a little promontory and ye'd be balked about by the steep crevasses, you wouldnt dare to jump them. Sharp black glass the edges and sharp the flinty rocks below. We led the horses with every care and still they were bleedin about hteir hooves. Our boots was cut to pieces. Clamberin over those old caved and rimpled plates you could see well enough how things had gone in that place, rocks melted and set up all wrinkled like a pudding, the earth stove through the molten core of her. When for augh any man knows lies the locality of hell. For the earth is a glove in the void and truth. There's no up nor down to it and there's men in this company besides myself seen little cloven hoofprints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going but what little doe ever trod melted rock? I'd not go behind scripture but it may be that there has been sinners so notorious evil that the fires coughed em up again and I could well see in the long ago how it was little devils with their pitchforks had traversed that firey vomit for to salvage back those souls that had by misadventure been spewed up from their damnation onto the outer shelves of the world. Aye. It's a notion, no more. But someplace in the scheme of things this world must touch the other. And somthin put them little hooflet markings in the lava flow for I seen then there myself. p.105
The most directly stated theme is that of war. The philosophy of Judge Holden is crytpically revealed in bits and pieces, and seems to make up a coherence whole. It seems that he views the prohibition of cruelty and murder as an imposition of narrowly human desires for permanence and guarantees: in his view, he accepts the world as it really is - that life is a battle with no end:
It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practioner. This is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way. p.197
The judge is, surprisingly, an intellectual with knowledge of several languages and freakish vocabulary. In this regard (and hopefully only this regard) he represents the author whose style is similar to Hemingway in its simulataneous obscurity and punchiness.. Like Hemingway, the McCarthy seems to love confronting the reader with terms that they haven't heard of, not because they are pretentious or difficult, but only because they reference ways of living that they haven't tried. In this passage, McCarthy also defends precision and economy of language, and subtly refutes that writerly use of rare words is some mere decorative choice:
Judge: Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. Toadvine: What's a suzerain? A keeper. A Keeper or overlord. Why not say keeper then? Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even when there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements. Toadvine spat. p.160
The book is difficult. Firstly, similar to Conrad and Faulkner, the cast is simply too large to quietly assimilate. Be prepared for a lot of flipping back. Secondly, like Melville, the narrative structure is only nominally there, and most of the book is like a list of events, after the striking opening and the return to conventional narrative in the denoument. The value of the writing is not in its narrative power (other books by the same author do however show this) but in the display of virtuosity and bleak human insight it offers....more
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