Ultimately, for most of the novel, it walks a thin line between allegory and farce, but towards the end it transgresses a little too overtly towards the farcical. At this point, notwithstanding the quality of the prose, it ceases to either convince or entertain, and therefore to reward the reader. Well, at least this reader!
Ballard uses Penrose as an example of what he calls "normalising the psychopathic." It allows him to personalise an ideology he believes has arisen, perhaps spontaneously, perhaps inevitably, in late 20th century capitalism.
Another book I re-read this year was by one of my favourite stylists:
Ruth Puttermesser's self-image is defined by the literary (as was Emma Bovary's). However, suddenly, she enters a world in which reality, fiction, fable and myth blur into one, by way of Ozick's expert objective, external description and careful attention to both outward appearance and inward perspective.
Ozick nevertheless adds a touch of the comic to her metafiction.
My review might make the novel sound very academic. The truth, however, is that it's exquisitely written. Not one word is surplus or out of place. It consumes our imagination so effectively that we don't need any distraction. However, having achieved its goal, it remains a distraction for the reader.
Even if some of the scenes are of less substantive interest than others, Chabon writes with a kaleidoscopic vitality, as if the only valid response to Hitler and the Holocaust is the creation of a vivid language experience.
I read and reviewed this wonderful novel under the spell of Prince, who had died just days before. R.I.P., Purple One.
Chabon's novel reminds us of the fragility of creativity and the imagination, the ability to construct not just a culture, but a family, a people and a society. Chabon writes and fights bravely against the disappearance of the past, the present and the future.
"The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place."
How is it that the maximalist novel has become just a way for a so-called writer to expend or spend their time in vast, expansive quantities? Any wonder that half of the book, even in the author's opinion, is "expendable"! Why does inspiration suffer when too much perspiration is devoted to it or to its avoidance? Why do we readers so willingly contribute our time as well? Why do we indulge the self-indulgent? Haven't we all got better things to do and think and create and enjoy?
Nabokov redefines the scope of a novel, so as to extend to both a work of fiction and a (fictitious) commentary on that work. This shaped my initial reaction to the work as a whole. It seemed that the dominant theme was the relationship of a reader's response, or an academic's criticism, to the work itself.
While we're used to believing that it is Shahrazad who is telling these stories to King Shahriyar, it is also her tale that is being told by someone else. These are literally tales within tales within tales, or stories within stories within stories.
Ironically, the tales told by Shahrazad are actually a compendium of disparate stories collected over time and recorded in the shape of one work.
Thus, the frame story is ultimately just an imaginative narrative vehicle by which a miscellany of diverse tales is brought and held together as a treasury or discrete work.
Howie is no hero, or at least he is only a modern day hero, whose journey to work, "gliding up the long hypotenuse" of the escalator to his mezzanine destination, is the tongue in cheek equivalent of Ulysses' mythic Odyssey and James Joyce's Modernist tribute to it.
Some of my other reading focussed on Post-Modernist criticism:
Ultimately, to the extent that we were ever concerned that the novel might be dead, it’s partly because of Barth’s own passionate virtuosity that it is still alive, even if it owes considerably less to his literary criticism.
There's one criterion that all the authors he praises lavishly share, and that is that Sorrentino thinks they've been unjustly ignored or neglected by other critics. His praise is motivated not just by redressing the balance, but by scorning his academic and professional rivals and implicitly or explicitly attacking the authors whom they have praised (he singles out Mailer, Roth and Updike as novelists).
Both of these writers (Barth and Sorrentino) are better authors of fiction than they are literary critics. Unfortunately, they have between them managed to orchestrate the reception of not just their own work and other Post-Modern fiction, but (negatively) the fiction and criticism of their rivals for popular acceptance or academic positions.
My wife, F.M. Sushi, and I are just about to head off to France, Ireland, Portugal and Spain for a holiday.
I've very ambitiously packed three books in my carry-on luggage:
Even if I get much time to read them, I doubt I'll have time to review them before my return. So they might dominate my reviews in early February.
For the rest of the year, I hope to return to DeLillo, catch up on a few minor Pynchons, investigate John Banville and J.M. Coetzee more thoroughly, and brush up on some economics and political philosophy (including Marx, Sartre, De Beauvoir and Zizek).
It's also about time that I re-read some of the major influences on Bernie Sanders:
Thank you for your interest in my reading and writing, and for recording your own experiences. I hope you have many more vivid reading experiences in 2017.
In the first essay of Gilbert Sorrentino's "Something Said", he argues that a book is just a by-product of the process of writing, in a sense, that, from the writer's point of view, the writing is where everything of importance occurs. The book itself is an artifact of the process of writing, which is not as important to the writer as the writing itself.
I'd like to extend this idea to the process of reading. And tweek it a bit. For me, what I love about books is the process of reading and reacting to a book and its style and content. However, I've said before that I dont think a book is finished, until I've written my review. The reading continues as I write my review, and my review is trying to capture the feelings I had during the process of reading and responding to the book.
Reading is a creative act, especially if you don't feel hamstrung by the scope of the book. A book that I've found truly creative and stimulating will usually inspire in me a review that quotes relatively sparely, whereas one that inspired me less will dictate that I write a review that is a mere sympathetic setting for quotes that I found worth passing on, either because of their subject matter or the quality of the prose.
I tend to buy and read books thematically. This year, I stayed away from newly published books, and focussed on books that I'd owned for a while or had read pre-GoodReads. With so much being published every year, an old book not only has to compete with the new, but with everything that has ever been published. In a way, every book deserves or needs an advocate, and this is one function of a review. I like to go into bat for a book, to identify things I got out of it (or didn't, but still think it is worthwhile).
I might get more or less out of a book than another reader, simply because of what I have read, heard, seen, thought, said, written or experienced in my life. The shere bulk of previous readings becomes a foundation upon which you can build each new reading. This is possibly one of the reasons why a re-reading of an old favourite can be even more stimulating than the first read. You've read and experienced a lot since the first read.
Anyway, despite what I've said about the nature and duration of reading, my reviews are just artifacts of the reading itself.
GoodReads as a (Re-)Source
What's equally important for all of us is that we continue to read, and to do this, we need to find books to read.
To the extent that GoodReads is a database, no matter how complete, it is a source of information about books to read. When I investigate a book, I first check out the reviews of my friends, until I get the sense that the book might be for me. In the absence of helpful reviews, I might check out some other online reviews, the sort in newspapers and websites and blogs that I used to devour pre-GoodReads. What I'm looking for is some sort of contextual advocacy on behalf of a book. I want to know that the reviewer has read it and enjoyed some process of reading that mattered to them. As a reader, I'm less interested in declarations or assertions that the book or author is the best (or most neglected) book or writer ever. I'm looking for evidence of your reading experience, rather than submitting to your pontification. If I'm reading your review, I am interested in it, and you have my attention already, unless you lose it.
Opinions or Declarations
"I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken."
Bob Dylan, "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall"
Declarations of greatness are a dime a dozen, and unpersuasive, unless I already believe and respect your taste and reading history, both in terms of what you like and don't like. A comparative analysis would help. If you elevate a book, what books does it better? And why? Anybody can describe a lemon as an orange. There's a point when you get sick of peeling oranges, only to find that beneath the skin, they're lemons. This is not a reaction against the expression of opinions, but the calculated marketing, promoting or spruiking of books via reviews, without proper acknowledgement of a financial, social or personal relationship, interest or motive. My motive primarily is to advocate that a book be read, rather than to advocate that it ought to be bought (even though I recognise it's difficult to do one without the other).
It doesn't really interest me that some reviewer has declared a book to be the greatest ever written or that they have placed it on a list or canon of sorts. That's marketing and promotion, not reading. I find official canons to be authoritarian, discriminatory (rather than discriminating) and exclusive. It's paradoxical and futile to replace them with alternative canons and commandments that simply replace one list of mandates with another. What matters to me as a reader is that somebody advocated for a book on the basis of its perceived merits, no matter how subjective. By merit, I mean something more than the length of the book or the fact that it has been neglected. Your review is the opportunity to identify the merit and remedy the neglect. Otherwise it's just an exercise in dictation.
I believe that you do greater honour and justice to a book by reading and reviewing it than you do by rating and ranking it....more
I wasn't close enough to the US election to be able to understand exactly what happened and why: why did so few people vote, why did so many women appI wasn't close enough to the US election to be able to understand exactly what happened and why: why did so few people vote, why did so many women apparently support Trump?
When you live outside the US and you look at the red and blue map of the states, you have to wonder how the Democrats could ever win any election. There's just so much red on that map.
Observed from afar, this election for many voters seems to have been a referendum on free trade and globalisation.
Free trade was a policy promoted by the World Bank, conservative economists and Republicans, only Obama seems to have presided over much of its implementation and its consequences.
One goal of free trade was to reduce poverty in the undeveloped third world. This would obviously benefit third world communities. However, if manufacture was shifted there, whatever was made there would be cheaper to first world purchasers, because the wage component of the price was so much lower than the US. If you bought a small car from Mexico rather than Michigan, then it would cost you less, and theoretically you would have more money left over to save or spend on other needs or wants. Think of all the possessions you regard as vital to your everyday life, and think of how many of them come ultimately from the third world.
The point is things cost less if they're not made in America.
If they're not made in America, the jobs leave America and go to where the wages are cheapest. So the cost of cheaper goods is lower domestic employment.
The problem for the American political system is that the people who have lost their jobs live and vote in America, whereas the people who have obtained work in the third world don't.
The pursuit of free trade has therefore been at the expense of domestic political support.
Hillary Clinton had economic policies that were designed to address the unemployment problem. However, I doubt whether they were framed in such terms that anybody had confidence that they were targeted at them or that they would work.
In Marxist terms, her agenda seemed to be less directed at the economic base than the cultural superstructure.
On the other hand, Trump focused on getting these jobs back, building new factories and protecting American manufacturers from low wage competitors in the third world.
If Ford has just committed to spending $1.6BN on a factory in Mexico, would it turn its back on its investment and return production to the US? Would it expect wages to be comparable to those in Mexico? Who would want these jobs (or these third world wages) in the US? Trump supporters?
The other Trump strategy is to reduce corporate taxes, in the expectation that the funds will be spent on jobs. However, what projects will these funds be invested in? Will they contribute to infrastructure development or maintenance? Will the savings simply be passed onto shareholders in the form of higher profit distributions and dividends? Will the shareholders spend their profits on jobs?
These are the challenges that confront the Trump administration. Whether you voted for him or not, he will be presiding over an economic experiment that might or might not work.
However, internally, he has earned the right to conduct his experiment, because he prioritised domestic American employment over third world poverty.
I picked it up cheaply, so I could do some secondary reading about Husserl. For the first tPhenomenological Elucidation
This was a roller-coaster ride!
I picked it up cheaply, so I could do some secondary reading about Husserl. For the first two-thirds, I thought it did a pretty good job of making sense of Husserl. In fact, it contained some of the most lucid writing about phenomenology that I've encountered in my limited exposure to the discipline.
Then, in the last chapter, Welch went right off the track and started comparing and contrasting Husserl with/to realism and critical realism. Here, the focus became what Husserl might or would have believed (rather than what he did believe or at least document in writing). At this point, I decided to see whether there had been any professional criticism of the book, and that's when it started to get interesting.
Welch studied under Husserl in the 1920's. On his return to the United States, he resolved to write a dissertation (1934) and then a book (1941) about phenomenology that would introduce Husserl's philosophy to Americans.
While writing his dissertation in 1933, he wrote to Husserl to clarify some issues. Reading between the lines of Husserl’s full and frank response, it seems that Husserl didn't regard Welch as his best or brightest student, or the person best suited to the task. Husserl actually recommended that Welch consult another one of his American students, Dorion Cairns, who subsequently translated and wrote widely about Husserl's works.
Unfortunately, Welch failed to heed Husserl's advice and didn't consult Cairns. Nor did he include anything he’d written in his comprehensive bibliography.
Even more unfortunately, Cairns reviewed the resulting book (apparently an earlier version of this one) in the journal "Philosophy and Phenomenological Research".
The review has to be one of the most amazing demolition jobs I've ever seen.
"The essay's chief result is a novel synthesis: ...Few of the concepts, fewer still of the doctrines in Mr. Welch's synthesis ever figured in Husserl's thought...It is obviously no attempt to borrow prestige for novel opinions by reinterpreting a widely respected thinker's statements...Under sympathetic examination, the surrounding exposition usually testifies that Husserl's words were among the immediate stimuli to the author's thinking.
"Why, then, did he produce and attribute to Husserl doctrines Husserl expressly rejected, propositions Husserl could never have entertained, concepts and verbal usages wholly alien to Husserl's thought? And why did he do so neither sporadically nor only in details but regularly and in fundamentals?
"...His misconceptions are too thoroughgoing and extreme to have resulted primarily from a failure to surmount occasional linguistic obstructions. What was honestly put forth as a description is, in fact, a fundamental and perfect misrepresentation."
I guess I’ll have to read Cairns’ book to get a more accurate or orthodox explication, or maybe I could be so bold as to read something by Husserl himself. If his adherents allow me. It seems his legacy is closely guarded. Nobody enforces orchestrated reception like philosophical and literary academics concerned about their tenure. Unless you count their surrogates on GoodReads....more