In a genre plagued by gamergate bullshit and rabid puppy idiocy and mad NRx fedora hatters and #whitegenocide stupid, this author stands out as a clasIn a genre plagued by gamergate bullshit and rabid puppy idiocy and mad NRx fedora hatters and #whitegenocide stupid, this author stands out as a class act. Readers should be aware that Abercrombie was targeted for abuse by ROH, regarding the handling of a non-heteronormative character in The Last Argument of Kings, and instead of nuking the vitriolic presentation, engaged the underlying criticism and accepted it in part on aesthetic grounds (that all occurred in a thread at asoiaf.westeros.org).
This text accordingly reads almost as an apology and attempt to rectify any mishandling of the lesbian characters in volume III of The First Law, insofar as half of it is devoted to a non-heteronormative protagonist. These stories also read as though they were a feminist revision of the old Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser stories, and are sort of a novella, very welcome. (I say all of this as a straight guy, so FWIW. Am unable to detect any patronizing or mocking here.)
We know that we are deep into the agembenian state of exception with proclamations such as “when there is no law, there is no crime” (78) and someone “had seized the grand dukedom of the city and there’d been less law than no law” (185).
Stories touch on Shy, Temple, Gorst, Craw, Glotka, and other familiar characters. Perhaps advances the narrative a bit beyond the end of Red Country, with much back-filling of some blanks in the story. Maybe our favorite thoughtful barbarian makes an appearance.
Recommended for those who believe that work is no substitute for talent, persons who offend God to the extent that he feels obliged to end creation, and readers of grand appetites. ...more
An exercise in taking out the trash, the key concept, uttered without objection in reference to human persons by several characters in the novel, to wAn exercise in taking out the trash, the key concept, uttered without objection in reference to human persons by several characters in the novel, to wit:
“We Finches do not marry the children of rednecked white trash” (36):
your father took him in hand when he was a boy, and because the war came along and paid for his education. Fine a boy as he is, the trash won’t wash out of him. Have you noticed how he licks his fingers when he eats cake? Trash. Have you ever seen him cough without covering his mouth? Trash. Did you know he got a girl in trouble at the University? Trash. Have you ever watched him pick at his nose when he didn’t think anybody was looking? Trash. (37)
The “same people who were the Invisible empire, who hated Catholics; ignorant, fear-ridden, red-faced, boorish, law-abiding, one hundred per cent red-blooded Anglo-Saxons, her fellow Americans—trash” (104). “I’m talking about the—you know, the trashy people. The men who keep Negro women and that kind of thing” (177). “—tailor-made audience for any trash who wants to get up and holler nigger” (229). “That’s the trash in him” (232). “God damn it, I’m part of Maycomb County’s trash” (234). “Jean Louise Finch, who was exposed to all kinds of guff from the white trash she went to school with, but she might never have gone to school for all the influence it had on her” (248).
This bataillean insistence on waste components of southern society is always racialized ‘white.’ It should go without saying that the ‘trash’ is always already ranked above non-white persons in this setting, considering the ‘trash’ constantly sorts itself with reference to ‘negros.’
The trashiest is of course Atticus Finch, whom all’y’all greasers liked so much in Mockingbird. His entrance is to pooh-pooh Brown v. Board as “the Supreme Court’s bid for immortality” (24). We know early, also, that something’s rotten here to the extent that
Farther downstream, beyond the bluff, were traces of the old cotton landing where Finch Negroes [!] loaded bales and produce, and unloaded blocks of ice, flour and sugar, farm equipment, and ladies’ things. Finch’s landing was used only by travelers: the steps gave the ladies an excellent excuse to swoon; their luggage was left at the cotton landing—to debark there in front of the Negroes was unthinkable. (74)
Whatever. Gross. Slave-owner scion Atticus' reading selection includes titles such as The Black Plague, “its cover was a drawing of an anthropophagous Negro” (101). Turns out furthermore that Atticus is a member of a ‘citizens council,’ an old cypher for segregator fascist bullshit (103). Turns out furthermost that Atticus is member of the KKK (229-30). So, yeah, fuck Atticus Finch, unworthy of the law license.
I appreciate the numerous references to communist agitators in the citizens council meeting scene (107-11). This was not merely fascist paranoia; the Alabama CP was active in working toward race equality. Consider:
That is of course the correct disposition of historical forces. The refrain is taken up at a tea party later by the local dumbasses (174-76), emblematic of our own teabaggers, who are just klanspersons who lost their sheets.
More obnoxious than Atticus is his worthless waste of space sister, also a racist, who solemnly intones that “the cause of most trouble in this world, people not doing what they’re told” (30)—ironic, however, as she is not sufficiently introspective to comprehend that the trouble here is the failure of southern conservatives to abide the judgment of the Supreme Court, supra. (Aunt thinks “there’s a lot of truths” in The Black Plague (102).) She wants to “keep them in their places” (150).
Novel advises us that it is an exercise in what we might designate as decentricity (what's a review without a slick neologism?), as the founders of Maycomb “with a view to promoting the domestic tranquility of the new county, sent a team of surveyors to locate its exact center and there establish its seat of government” (43). But this got cocked up because a local landholder “made the surveyors drunk one evening [and] induced them to bring forward their maps and charts, lop off a little here, add a bit there, and adjust the center of the county to meet his requirements” (id.). This setting has accordingly always already been decentered for the sake of local landowning slaver scum. These people should’ve been extirpated. Had it been me, instead of Lincoln, none of these motherfuckers would’ve survived to create Jim Crow; they’d’ve been subject to what the Romans might designate as aberuncatio.
Title arises from Isaiah 21:6--
For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
This line is presented in the novel as part of a sermon (95). The scriptural context is that the prophet’s vision predicts the war on Babylon, and the watchman is to read the horizon for signs of who wins the war. However: “Jean Louise made a sincere effort to listen to what Mr. Stone’s watchman saw, but in spite of her efforts to quell it, she felt amusement turning to indignant displeasure” (96) concerning a change in the church’s musical program. The novel’s central thematic, then, is decentered by the protagonist’s inability to be attentive thereto. (She later reflects, however, that the preacher “set a watchman in church yesterday” and that “I need a watchman to lead me around and declare what he seeth every hour” and “to tell me this is what a man says but this is what he means, to draw a line down the middle and say here is this justice and there is that justice and make me understand the difference” (181-82), which indicates that she detects the heraclitean/heideggerian polemos at stake in the historical confrontation here, but is unable to make the distinction herself, suffering from some sort of acute hermeneutical defect. The desire to be subject to hermeneutic authoritarianism is of course completely irredeemable, and is precisely Fromm’s ‘escape from freedom,’ Adorno’s ‘authoritarian personality.’)
The lack of attention to the central agenda of the narration is further confirmed in a bizarre & gross prolepsis:
Had she been able to think, Jean Louise might have prevented events to come by considering the day’s occurrences [i.e., the citizens council meeting] in terms of a recurring story as old as time: the chapter which concerned her began two hundred years ago and was played out in a proud society the bloodiest war and harshest peace in modern history could not destroy, returning, to be played out again on private ground in the twilight of a civilization no wars and no peace could save. (122)
That’s a bit obscure, perhaps referring to how awesome the US south was in the halcyon days of the chattel slavery and how the awesomeness continues but is declining away, because the commies and the blacks are evil, or something?
Anyway, this is presented as an omniscient narrator’s pre-flaubertian impository commentary on the moral defect of the protagonist. So, yeah, wtf? (The scene juxtaposed immediately thereafter is an analepsis of protagonist’s menarche, with a juvenile and erroneous pregnancy scare, another wtf for me.)
The New Deal in Maycomb apparently resulted in a decentric anger such that “the seeds of states’ rights were sown in the hearts” of the Finch kids’ generation (45). Town is subject to liberalization after World War II insofar as the soldiers “returned with bizarre ideas about making money” (id.); “its streets were not only paved, they were named” (id.). Protagonist reports that the sermon aforesaid continued in standard illiberal vein with “a Christian can rid himself of the frustrations of modern living” (96). Protagonist engages in a fairly gross confrontation with her rightwing populist uncle who describes Atticus as “fighting a sort of rearguard, delaying action to preserve a certain kind of philosophy” (188). (The confrontation is built up at various places (e.g., 154).) We know this is a rightwing populism because one character is described as having extraordinarily “subscribed to the Wall Street Journal in the depths of the Depression” (192). Uncle thinks “some pervert [!] invented machinery” (194) and thereby ruined “an agricultural society” (id.), which was able to supply “an army of individuals” (195) for the CSA. FFS. Uncle is presented as a sage, even though he’s just a cynical cock “with a constitutional mistrust of paternalism and government” (198), and Atticus is said to be the same. “The only thing I’m afraid of about this country is that its government will someday become so monstrous that the smallest person in it will be trampled underfoot, and then it wouldn’t be worth living in” (id.). Just let’s get this straight: the only thing that this motherfucker (and Atticus by extension) fears is that the state will trample them—in the context of civil rights agitation by African-Americans who want the right to vote, equal employment, and the end of lynching--specifically because that stuff is just awful Big Gubmint. Motherfucker. Motherfucker.
Protagonist’s ‘trashy’ fiancé is a real peach:
No, the first of the treasure trove cases: possession holds good against all comers except the true owner. The boy found the brooch. He looked down at Jean Louise. She was dozing. He was her true owner, that was clear to him. (53)
(NB: the bad redundancy in the last line there.) Otherwise, he regards a “carload of negroes” as a “public menace” (80). He's also citizen council/klansperson material.
Protagonist offers no solace to the reader, as she admits first to “‘conservative resistance to change’” (46), and then states “‘I just don’t like my world disturbed without some warning’” (75). For this protagonist, Lovecraft’s description of the writing of ‘The Nameless City’ is applicable: “I aim at a cumulative succession of horrors--thrill upon thrill and each the worse!”
To her credit, at one point--though not the ultimate--protagonist rebukes her father with “You who called me Scout are dead and in your grave” (151). But then the novel falls into total, abject failure in her ultimate confrontation with her father. She is unable to cut his throat and instead is just Elektra. I.e., she was “furious” with Brown v. Board (238); “‘there they were, tellin’ us what to do again’” (239). She concludes that “‘in trying to satisfy one amendment, it looks like they rubbed out another one” (239), referring to the alleged conflict between the 14th and the 10th, with the “Court just breezily canceling one whole amendment” (240). These are WTF/FFS marginal notes for me, and that marginalia continues basically until the end of the book, wherein ‘Jean Louise’ reverts to ‘Scout,’ developing retrograde away from hating her Klansman father (and fiancé, and uncle, and aunt), back to the adoring daughter for whom these politics are unproblematic. Much of the WTF/FFS is Atticus’ bullshit klan rhetoric (do you want them in our churches? Do you want them dragging down our schools? &c &c &c) without protagonist being able to challenge any of it, or at times simply ratifying it. In the end: “Your ends may well be right—I think I believe in the same ends—but you cannot use people as your pawns, Atticus. You cannot. Hitler and that crowd in Russia’ve done some lovely things for their lands [!?!?!?], and they slaughtered tens of millions of people doing em” (251-52)—which is the worst use of the categorical imperative that I’ve seen in adhering to his racist ends. It gets even grosser than that—but enough. It’s obvious who the fucking trash is here, and I’m taking it right the fuck out.
Further proof that this book sucks: no Boo Radley. Where the fuck is Boo?
(Awaiting the inevitable mashup in To Kill a Mockingjay wherein totalitarians oppress the population contrary to the wishes of young protagonist, who responds with archery and nauseating adolescent melodrama.)
Recommended for readers who go through life at no cost to themselves, those with the greatest talent for dullness, and NAACP-paid lawyers standing around like buzzards down here waiting. ...more
terrorist operation fails and accordingly the crack assassination & sabotage squad (ASS, recall) enacts plan B by splitting into separate cells interrorist operation fails and accordingly the crack assassination & sabotage squad (ASS, recall) enacts plan B by splitting into separate cells in order to infiltrate neutral governmental organizations and thereby corrupt them toward the general sabotage plot....more
non-governmental organization conspires to commit perhaps the ultimate act of terrorism in world literature by setting up crack cosmopolitan assassinanon-governmental organization conspires to commit perhaps the ultimate act of terrorism in world literature by setting up crack cosmopolitan assassination & sabotage squad (hereinafter 'ASS'), inclusive of four barefoot ragamuffins with a taste for the sweet leaf, four worthless aristocratic sons placed therein as nepotistic favors, and a pious greybeard who gets ganked in his first fight....more
Everything that its immediate predecessor Underworld is not, and accordingly demonstrative in conjunction therewith of author’s not inconsiderable ranEverything that its immediate predecessor Underworld is not, and accordingly demonstrative in conjunction therewith of author’s not inconsiderable range. Opens with a conceptual quotation of To the Lighthouse regarding the (view spoiler)[death of a spouse (hide spoiler)]; Woolf’s scene is my all-time favorite in world literature. The handling here is structurally identical—but whereas Woolf does not examine the effects, preferring a quick, dreadful textual locus, this novel focuses clearly on the effects. So, kickass, as one could do much worse than attempting to gloss Woolf. (Protagonist desires to be “alone by the sea” (50), incidentally.)
Some interpretations consider this to be a ghost story or the narrative of a squatter. That’s all fine, but those readings don’t cohere with protagonist, whose art “inhabited the bodies” (111) of others, a “solitary otherness that becomes familiar (111-12)—“a body artist who tries to shake off the body—hers anyway” (106). She has “vanity” in its etymological sense of “emptiness” (id.) and is “always in the process of becoming another or exploring some root identity” (107). For instance, “part of her knowledge of [her husband’s] body” included “the smell of tobacco,” “the aura of the man, a residue of smoke and unbroken habit” (21). Standard DeLillo narration that juxtaposes bizarre marriage to horrific trauma. After the trauma, protagonist’s residence is inhabited by the seeming ghost aforesaid. After hearing rats-in-walls sounds, she “found him the next day” and “felt her way back in time to the earlier indications that there was someone in the house and she arrived at this instant, unerringly, with her perceptions all sorted and endorsed” (43).
Home invader “was always as if. He did this or that as if” (47), a sort of radical contingency: “
He came into the room then, edgingly, in his self-winding way, as if, as if. She watched him try to adapt his frame to a wing chair and allowed herself a certain measure of relief, a kind of body lightness that disengaged her dreamily from the stolid woman with the book. (80)
Guy’s “future is unnamed,” and he is distemporalized, “simultaneous, somehow, with the present” (79). Perhaps he is “a piece of found art” (83)?
Lacking perhaps his own substance, dude is some sort of representation:
It wasn’t outright impersonation but she heard elements of her voice, the clipped delivery, the slight buzz deep in the throat, her pitch, her sound, and how difficult at first, unearthly almost, to detect her own voice coming from someone else, from him (52)
This is a sort of undecidability that is typical for protagonist, however:
In sleep [husband] was no more unknowable than anyone else. Look. The shrouded body feebly beating. This is what you feel, looking at the hushed and vulnerable body, almost anyone’s, or you lie next to your husband after you’ve made love and breathe the heat of his merciless dreams and wonder who he is, tenderly ponder the truth you’ll never know, because this is the secret that sleep protects in its neural depths, in its stages, layers and folds. (56)
She is in fact not even self-identical, seeing “her face in the bathroom mirror and tried to understand why it looked different from the same face downstairs” (65). At one point, her dislocation is total: “she tries to pull him down to the floor with her, stop him, keep him here, or crawls up onto him or into him, dissolving, or only lies prone and sobs unstoppably, being watched by herself from above” (90).
Protagonist experiences some sort of distemporalization:
at the backs of her hands, fingers stretched, looking and thinking, recalling moments with [husband], not moments exactly but times, or moments flowing into composite time, an erotic of see and touch (51)
In her act, as it happens, she “wanted her audience to feel time go by, viscerally, even painfully” (106):
The last of her bodies, the naked man, is stripped of recognizable language and culture. He moves in a curious manner, as if in a dark room, only more slowly and gesturally. He wants to tell us something. His voice is audible, intermittently, on tape (109)
As much of this is descriptive of how the interloper acts, fairly plain that the guy is not a separate character, but rather her inhabiting a role as rehearsal for her performance? And in so inhabiting, she propounds some sort of represented identity, a diremption from her own? Am reasonably certain that what begins in the reader's perspective as a ghost story/home invasion transforms radically by means of this schwerpunkt--which is exactly what a novella is supposed to do, formally. Is this then the metatextualist thesis for how writing works?
Other things of interest, surely—the normal roll call of author’s cool observations on late capitalist society and whatnot. There is a spectre of later Falling Man here, both with figures related to falling/sliding/&c., but also the performance artist thematic.
Recommended for bodies shedding space, readers placed in a set of counter-surroundings of simultaneous insides and outsides, and those gone upstairs and dropped into a night of tossing sensation, drifts of sex, confession and pale sleep, confession as belief in each other, not unburdenings of guilt but avowals of belief. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I must be a complete cock, because whenever anyone talks about football—including, as here, the august DeLillo—I immediately revert to my Waterboy rooI must be a complete cock, because whenever anyone talks about football—including, as here, the august DeLillo—I immediately revert to my Waterboy roots:
Foos-ball? Buncha overgrown monsters man-handlin' each other... 'Member when dat man wanted you to play foos-ball, Bobby?
As I’ve said elsewhere, it’s more probable than not that I’m an original goodreads asshole. For this review, at least, this is because I was traumatized by high school foos-ball and still have fucking nightmares about it, except that I’m me, now, 40 fucking years old, getting ritually abused by the same coaches and upperclassmen and whatnot. By the gods, it’s horrible. When foos-ball ended, I felt just like the guy in the novel: “No more football. No more hitting. No more sweat and pain. No more fear” (179).
That cleared up, same format here as will have been used later for White Noise: three sections, each of which is broken into shortish chapters; second section is the shortest section, but is also coterminous with one chapter, the longest in the novel; middle section/chapter is furthermore the novel’s thematic center of gravity (the ‘airborne toxic event’ in WN, recall), and as such is a howl of such outrage as to stitch a caesura in the pulsebeat of the novel, to paraphrase Cormac McCarthy.
Opens with the great premise of “the first black student to be enrolled at Logos College in West Texas” (3) as the new star tailback, along with narrator being an “exile or outcast” (6). These are haunted figures of thought, perhaps, through the novel, but it’s not a sustained examination of either thing, sadly. (Tailback “rightly or wrongly, no more than haunts this book” (3), NB, a derridean non-presence/non-absence.) We might note that narrator is homo sacer within Agemben’s meaning:
The protagonist of this book is bare life, that is, the life of homo sacer (sacred man), who may be killed and yet not sacrificed, and whose essential function in modern politics we intend to assert. An obscure figure in Roman law, in which human life is included in the juridical order solely in the form of its exclusion (that is, of its capacity to be killed) has thus offered the key by which not only the sacred tests of sovereignty but also the very codes of political power will unveil their mysteries. (loc. cit. at 12)
No son of mine is gonna play any foos-ball, perhaps? Early meditation on “the modern athlete as commercial myth” (3), maybe, also? When narrator proclaims “My life meant nothing without football” (22), he is invoking the agembenian distinction between bios and zoe, no?
The tailback and the exile are tied closely together in “Technically you’re integrating the place but that’s only because nobody else ever wanted to come here. Who the hell would want to come to a place like this?” (26). Narrator’s exile is generally not unaesthetic, except “silence pleased me least” (30). The locus: “We were in the middle of the middle of nowhere, that terrain so flat and bare, suggestive of the end of recorded time” (id.), which is a decentering so radical that it places the apocalyptic therein. This is the imaginary of Blood Meridian and The Road, yes?
Exile in a real place, a place of few bodies and many stones, is just an extension (a packaging) of the other exile, the state of being separated from whatever is left of the center of one’s own history. […] Day after day my eyes scanned in all directions a stunned earth, unchangingly dull, a land silenced by its own beginnings in the roaring heat, born dead, flat stones burying the memory. (31)
Dude walks in the desert as “demanded by the mythology of all deserts and wasted places” (42), wherein “all colors were different shades of one nameless color” and “water would have been a miracle or mirage.”
Text is reminiscent of Ratner’s Star to the extent that narrator trips along from one extraordinary confrontation to the next, some of whom are “a voluntary exile of the philosophic type” (14). Some are just silly names (E.g., “Onan.” FFS. Onan!) Best is dude’s roommate, who has come into exile in order to “unjew” himself:
You go to a place where there aren’t any Jews. After that you revise your way of speaking. You take out the urbanisms. The question marks. All that folk wisdom. The melodies in your speech. The inverted sentences. You use a completely different set of words and phrases. Then you transform your mind into a ruthless instrument. You teach yourself to reject certain categories of thought. (46-47)
He’s “tired of the guilt,” “the guilt of being innocent victims” (47). (Yeah, I’m WTFing, too.) Anyway, “the desert was an ideal place in which to begin the process of unjewing” (187).
Also prescient of Ratner’s Star insofar as “Our radio astronomers will communicate with beings at the very ends of the universe” (78).
Delillo must’ve played the foos-ball at some point, as his coach characters capture all of the annoying coach mantras that horrified me in my six-year juvenile foos-ball durance: “You’re saying that what I learn on the gridiron about sacrifice [NB!] will be of inestimable value later on in life. In other words if I give up now I’ll almost surely give up in the more important contests of the future” (19), which is pure foos-ball coach ideology. There's plenty more, but that captures it.
Contemporaneous to the foos-ball, narrator takes some military theory courses (“modes of disaster technology” (20), technically) and becomes enamored of “contemplation of millions dying and dead” (21). The marketing copy for the text in a publisher advertisement in the end flyleaves notes “the barriers of language collapse and the games of football and warfare become virtually indistinguishable” (243). This is of course a horrible interpretation of this text, and those who think that warfare is a game or indistinguishable from foos-ball are fucking crazy or fascists or something I don’t know what. The text shall manifestly reject this interpretation: “I reject the notion of football as warfare. Warfare is warfare. We don’t need substitutes because we’ve got the real thing” (111). Likewise, at a wargame exercise in narrator’s military theory course: “one of the major problems with war games, whether they were being played at the Pentagon, at NORAD or Fort Belvoir, at a university or think tank, was the obvious awareness on the part of all participants that this wasn’t the real thing” (219)—in direct contrast to foos-ball, which is manifestly the real thing, despite being merely a game.
That said, the novel does draw some parallels, even tendentiously, “I was granted an interview with two subalterns of the athletic department, types familiar to football and other paramilitary complexes” (22). Player aggression noted, however: “I really wiped him out, the bastard” (25). One character draws the comparison to “ancient warriorship,” “cults devoted to pagan forms of technology. What we do on that field harks back” (36). “Hyperatavistic […] gladiatorial” (63). Narrator likewise wore “a smudge of lampblack under each eye” (41) and “liked the idea of painting myself in a barbaric manner before going forth to battle in mud” (id.)—tres Braveheart, I guess. We see also that “the not-too-distant future” features “humane wars” wherein the adversaries agree “to limit the amount of megatons” (81), which I suppose is sporting. One coach is praised for “ruthlessness of mind” (49), a “distinctly modern characteristic. The systems planner. The management consultant. The nuclear strategist” (id.).
As that last bit suggests, the stronger parallel is the lexicon of nuclear strategy (“words like thermal hurricane, overkill, circular error probability, post-attack environment, stark deterrence, dose-rate contours, kill-ratio, spasm war” (21)) as juxtaposed fairly plainly with business school economics (“Time-adjusted rate of return […] Redundant asset method. Capital budgeting. Probable stream of earnings. Independently negotiated credit balances. Consolidation. Tax anticipation notes” (23)).
“The words we spoke did not seem particularly ours” (48)—the svoi/chuzhoi distinction in bakhtinian linguistics. Similarly, “maybe the words were commissioned, as it were, by language itself, by that compartment of language in which are kept all bits of diction designed to outlive the men who abuse them, all phrases that reduce speech to units of sound, lullabies processed through intricate systems” (54). Because “there’s no way to express thirty million dead,” “men are recruited to reinvent the language” (85)—“the problem goes deeper than just saying some crypto-Goebbels in the Pentagon is distorting the language” (id.).
The linguistics ties to bakhtinian grotesque realism as developed by “the new asceticism” (49):
all the visionary possibilities of the fast. To feed on plants and animals of earth. To expand and wallow. I cherished his size, the formlessness of it, the sheer vulgar pleasure, his sense of being overwritten prose. Somehow it was the opposite of death. (49)
Compare that position with the unfavorable presentation of human corpulence in A Confederacy of Dunces, say.
Narrator’s girlfriend embraces the carnivalesque insofar as she declines “the responsibilities of beauty” (66):
Things to live up to. I feel like I’m consistently myself. So many people have someone else stuck inside them. Like inside that big large body of yours there’s a scrawny kid with thick glasses. Inside my father there’s a vicious police dog, a fascist killer animal. Almost everybody has something stuck inside them. Inside me there’s a sloppy emotional overweight girl. I’m the same, Gary, inside and out. It’s hard to be beautiful. You have an obligation to people. You almost become public property. (67)
Further: “And anyway who’s to say what’s beautiful and what’s ugly?” (id.). Likely that the responsibility for beauty is diffuse, as with warfare: “Weapons technology is so specialized that nobody has to feel any guilt. Responsibility is distributed too thinly” (86)—as with corporate crime, mens rea at the executive level and actus reus in middle management.
On the other hand, dude and girlfriend work it out linguistically: “The words were ways of touching and made us want to speak with hands” (217).
Narrator looks up words everyday in the dictionary, settling one day on apotheosis (162). We see the application in “The bombs are a kind of god” (80) and “science is a religion” (92). Foos-ball itself involves “the urgent breathing of men in preparation for ritual danger” (106). The tailback: “The legend of black speed. Perhaps twenty thousand people watched, overjoyed to see it finally, to partake in the ceremony of speed, in statistical prayer” (190). But, because he’s black, it’s Othello accused of witchcraft: “loved him in the dark art of his speed,” “their difficult love for magic” (191).
Someone is taking a course in “the untellable” (64), in which “knowledge of German was a prerequisite for being refused admission” (73)—and thus we are come full circle with homo sacer as the indistinction between the excluded and the included. (“The theory is if any words exist beyond speech, they’re probably German words” (181).) Good times.
Recommended for those who appreciate the slowly gliding drift of identical things, persons prevented from attaining their destiny by accidents, and readers who go through the motions and the motions seem to reciprocate. ...more
This is as severe as it gets, insofar as it opens with “figures in windows a thousand feet up, dropping into free space” (4), jumping to avoid death,This is as severe as it gets, insofar as it opens with “figures in windows a thousand feet up, dropping into free space” (4), jumping to avoid death, ruled nevertheless homicide, from the burning WTC.
Confirmed that trauma is transformative to the extent that narrator “began to see things, somehow, differently” after the “second fall” (5). As with the narrator, so with the setting: “Everything was gray, it was limp and failed, storefronts behind corrugated steel shutters, a city somewhere else, under permanent siege” (emphasis added) (25). We are in a different place, after the event. Confirmed, the decentering of the setting by partial quotation of a Basho haiku: “Even in Kyoto—I long for Kyoto” (32).
As is normal for a Delillo novel, horrific trauma is juxtaposed with “the eventual extended grimness called their marriage” (7). Despite this, “she liked the spaces he made” (18). He is an “ex-husband who was never technically ex, the stranger you married in another lifetime” (35); “It was a mark of the distance between them that she listened so eagerly” (41). Dude is “a model of dependability to his male friends, all the things a friend should be, an ally and confidant, lends money, gives advice, loyal and so on, but sheer hell on women” (59).
She works with persons afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease:
Sometimes it scared her, the first signs of halting response, the losses and failings, the grim prefigurings that issued now and then from a mind beginning to slide away from the adhesive friction that makes an individual possible. (30)
NB: etymology for latinic translations of slide:
from Middle French laps "lapse," from Latin lapsus "a slipping and falling, flight (of time), falling into error," from labi "to slip, slide, sink, fall; decline, go to ruin." Meaning "moral transgression, sin" is c. 1500; that of "slip of the memory" is 1520s; that of "a falling away from one's faith" is from 1650s.
(I think that means the patient is a ‘falling man.’) One of wife’s patients is “not so much lost as falling, growing fainter” (94). Even as the patient is falling, so too the patient’s condition is ready to fall: “They approached that was impending” (id.): impend as in in- "into, in, on, upon" + pendere "hang.” Loss of memory is therefore a mutually falling together, a gravitation of sorts between afflicted and affliction.
All somewhat self-reflexive in the analysis of the ‘Falling Man,’ a performance artist who recreates the famous non-fictional photograph of the same name, who’d “appeared several times in the last week, unannounced, in various parts of the city, always upside down, wearing a suit, a tie and dress shoes” (33); some were “shouting at him, outraged by the spectacle, the puppetry of human desperation, a body’s last fleet breath and what it held”: “the gaze of the world,” which nevertheless had an “awful openness” to it (id.). Wife “wished she could believe this was some kind of antic street theater, an absurdist drama that provokes onlookers to share a comic understanding of what is irrational in the great scheme of being” (163) when confronted with the Falling Man. In interpreting his act, she wonders “if this was his intention, to spread the word this way, by cell phone, intimately, as in the towers and in the hijacked planes” (165)—“or she was dreaming his intentions. She was making it up, stretched so tight across the moment that she could not think her own thoughts” (id.), which is a beautiful little summation of the position of all reading and how the intentional fallacy/death of the author arguments are omnipresent. (Nice joke here, as next paragraph is dude telling her “what I’m trying to do” (id.), which is “I’m trying to read her mind”—so doubly the intentional fallacy.)
‘Falling’ itself is an oddity, contingent upon the movement from one place to another, which is, as the title might plausibly suggest, the master figure of thought here. It’s probably worth recalling Zeno’s paradoxes in these circumstances:
Zeno makes a mistake in reasoning. For if, he says, everything is always at rest when it occupies a space equal to itself, and what is moving is always ‘in the now,’ the moving arrow is motionless. […] the arrow is stopped while it is moving. This follows from assuming that time is composed of ‘nows.’ If this is not conceded, the deduction will not go through. (Aristotle, Physics, 6.9239b)
Similarly, Simplicius reports Zeno as arguing “If place exists, where is it? For everything that exists is in a place. Therefore, place is in a place. This goes on to infinity. Therefore place does not exist” (Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics 562.3-6). Good stuff. Silly, but fun. Thing is, we might locate (!) an aporetic in the notion of position itself. Position etymology:
late 14c., as a term in logic and philosophy, from Old French posicion "position, supposition" (Modern French position), from Latin positionem (nominative positio) "act or fact of placing, situation, position, affirmation," noun of state from past participle stem of ponere "put, place," from PIE *po-s(i)nere, from *apo- "off, away" (see apo-) + *sinere "to leave, let". [emphasis added]
We should note the diremptive effect of this etymology: a ‘leaving’ ‘away’—i.e., position is linguistically always already away from itself, always already a falling, i.e., place as already a thing in motion—ergo, the contrapositive of Zeno’s paradox, which denies the possibility of motion in extended space? So this would be a double double-bind: the master figure of the text is simultaneously contingent upon two statements that contradict each other, that are themselves internally aporetic—stasis is both necessary and impossible; kinesis is likewise both necessary and impossible. It’s fuckin’ crazy, yo.
Fine debate between wife’s mother and the mother’s lover, which boils down respectively to the positions (heh) of “they think the world is a disease” v. “They strike a blow to this country’s dominance” (46). Three sections detail the internal monologue of one of the 9/11 hijackers, whose own opinion is more or less all that is solid melts into air: “A feeling of lost history. They were too long in isolation. This is what they talked about, being crowded out by other cultures, other futures, the all-enfolding will of capital markets and foreign policies” (80), which mediates somewhat between the two positions aforesaid. (NB: wife’s patients await reassurance from her “where what is solid does not melt” (127).) Lover’s position is similar to mine:
It went on for a time and Lianne listened, disturbed by the fervor in their voices. Martin sat wrapped in argument, one hand gripping the other, and he spoke about lost lands, failed states, foreign intervention, money, empire, oil, the narcissistic heart of the West. (113)
Mother’s point is by contrast “It’s a misplaced [!] grievance” (112). Hijacker believes that “what they hold so precious we see as empty space” (177).
Not uninvolved in this connection is wife’s understanding that “religion makes people compliant […] to return people to a childlike state” (62). Significant, then, that her Alzheimer’s patients develop elaborate mythologies regarding 9/11, such as “I don’t forgive God for what He did” (63) and so on. As it happens, her own kid participates in an elaborate mythology of how one “Bill Lawton” “flies jet planes and speaks thirteen languages but not English except to his wives. What else? He has the power to poison what we eat but only certain foods” (74). The tragic and the traumatic must invite childish mythologies, and it’s fair to say that the state’s official narrative about 9/11 is likely to be a self-serving mythology only believable by political children (just as the truthers’ counter-mythology also flatters those immature mythopoets’ political preferences, which are not worthy of a serious leftist’s attention).
The Hegelian interest, as always: hijacker “had to fight against the need to be normal. He had to struggle against himself” (83). Wife notes at one point that “I could hear myself speaking. My voice was like it was coming from somebody else” (124) (as we have otherwise noted, of course, ‘voice’ is always already “from elsewhere thrown,” the same aporia as in the etymology of position). One of wife’s patients is “two women simultaneously” (125); her mother has “thoughts I can’t identify, thoughts I can’t claim as mine” (id.). Of course, “everybody has two brains” (126). In developing a post-apocalyptic affair, dude decides to tell his wife about it, “a way to stop being double in himself, trailing the taut shadow of what is unsaid” (161), which is probably the primary significance of Poe’s “William Wilson.” (Wife similarly “was doubled over, like there were two of her” (169).) Hijacker is similarly “not here, it was not him” (175).
Some involvement with dude’s poker game, which passes from liberal at its inception to a rigorously regimented affair, a display of “how disciplined can we be” (97): “no food [...] no gin, no vodka, no wan liqueurs […] they agreed to limit themselves to one game only, five card stud.” (98); “The fact of self-imposed restriction, all the more unyielding for being ordered from within” correlates well with the increasingly “large sums they bet” (id.), if one considers it all from the perspective of Geertz’s “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight”:
Bentham’s concept of ‘deep play’ is found in his The Theory of Legislation. By it he means play in which the stakes are so high that it is, from his utilitarian standpoint, irrational for mend to engage in it at all.
The card players “banned sports talk”; “Rules are good, they replied, and the stupider the better” (99). This stupid is good is placed (ha) into juxtaposition (!) with hijacker, who “spent time at the mirror looking at his beard, knowing he was not supposed to trim it” (82); Indeed, “the beard would look better if he trimmed it. But there were rules now and he was determined to follow them” (83). Later, hijacker is “looking past the face in the mirror, which is not his” (178). Is this mutually satirizing? Are the poker rules preface to the hijacker rules, or the converse? Which the tragedy, which the farce?
The wrinkle with mother’s lover is that he may have been some sort of Red Brigades bomber himself in his youth (146), and now operates legitimately under a different name; “Maybe I don’t know his real name” (145). “He’s somewhere. I’m somewhere else” (id.). Dude regrettably “thinks these people, these jihadists, he thinks they have something in common with the radicals of the sixties and seventies. He thinks they’re all part of the same classical pattern. They have their theorists. They have their visions of world brotherhood” (147). This is kinda gross, I think; there shall be little ideological overlap between medievalists and marxists.
The hijacker’s lacanian mirror stage is itself satirized by a discussion of wife’s mother’s lover’s face:
“Who is that man? You think you see yourself in the mirror. But that’s not you. That’s not what you look like. That’s not the literal face, if there is such a thing, ever. That’s the composite face. That’s the face in transition.”
“Don’t tell me this.”
“What you see is not what we see. What you see is distracted by memory, by being who you are, all the time, for all these years."
“I don’t want to hear this,” he said.
“What we see is the living truth. The mirror softens the effect by submerging the actual face. Your face is your life. But your face is also submerged in your life. That’s why you don’t see it. Only other people see it. And the camera of course.”
He smiled into his glass. Nina put out her cigarette, barely smoked, waving away a trail of smeary mist.
“Then there’s the beard,” Lianne said.
“The beard helps bury the face. (114-15)
So, by simple mathematical reasoning: hijacker beard buries hijacker face, which is also the hijacker life. The Falling Man also has a “blankness in his face, but deep, a kind of lost gaze” (167); wife “thought the bare space he stared into must be his own, not some grim vision of others falling”; “he turns his head and looks into it (into his death by fire) and then brings his head back around and jumps” (id.). Falling Man is accordingly absent, not here, in the manner of other dislocated persons in the novel, and emblematic of same. Wife in seeing this “could have spoken to him but that was another plane of being, beyond reach” (168) (i.e., not here); she saw “no sign” of another witness previously present (id.); a third witness, “attached to this spot for half a lifetime,” “was seeing something elaborately different from what he encountered step by step in the ordinary run of hours,” as he had learned “how to see it correctly, find a crack in the world where it might fit” (id.) (something out of place, then?). As she fled, she thought of Falling Man, “back there, suspended, body set in place, and she could not think beyond this” (169). Falling Man is otherwise likened to a “Brechtian dwarf” (223), a reference perhaps to Life of Galileo:
I, as a scientist, had a unique opportunity. In my days astronomy reached the market-places. In these quite exceptional circumstances, the steadfastness of one man could have shaken the world. If only I had resisted, if only the natural scientists had been able to evolve something like the Hippocratic oath of the doctors, the vow to devote their knowledge wholly to the benefit of mankind! As things now stand, the best one can hope for is for a race of inventive dwarfs who can be hired for anything.
Not sure if the thesis is that Falling Man was market driven rather than principled, or if the reference is more generally to Brechtian verfremdungseffekt. Whichever way, is the Falling Man forming the counter-narrative of 9/11 that Delillo describes in his well-known 9/11 essay (“In the Ruins of the Future,” Harper’s, December 2001 at 35)? Is it true, as in the same essay (loc. cit. at 34) that “the terrorists want to bring back the past”? If so, is the counter-narrative of the Bush regime aptly described by Benjamin’s sixth thesis, insofar as “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins, and this enemy has not ceased to be victorious”?
Punchline of the entire text is granted to mother’s lover, who explains at length how “we’re all sick of America and Americans” (191), “America is going to become irrelevant,” “It is losing its center” (id.). As if this radical decentering were insufficient to make the point (Jingo rejoinder: “If we occupy the center, it’s because you put us there” (192)), lover ties it back, perhaps too tidily:
“I don’t know this America anymore. I don’t recognize it,” he said. “There’s an empty space where America used to be.” (193)
The United States is according the Falling Man, no? (“God is the voice that says, ‘I am not here’” (236).) The US as indispensable impossibility, stasis, kinesis--but also lapsed, fallen into amnesia, its own crimes forgotten even as it itself is victim of crimes in unlawful response thereto.
Develops otherwise the interest from Mao II and other loci the misanthropic notion of “being a crowd, this was a religion in itself” (185). Marks out this ugly topos, however, as specifically “a white person’s thoughts, the processing of white panic data” (id.). Probably a bit more severe than Bleeding Edge.
Recommended for those who develop bumps caused by small fragments of the suicide bomber’s body ('organic shrapnel'), readers for whom God would be a presence that remained unimaginable, and white persons, white their fundamental meaning, their state of being.
Gives away the great professional secret of practicing attorneys—that we all start off in vampire slaying.
Good politics substantively in associating,Gives away the great professional secret of practicing attorneys—that we all start off in vampire slaying.
Good politics substantively in associating, kinda tendentiously, slaveowning (and by the end, the NSDAP) with the villainous vampire cabal that seeks to reduce all humanity to livestock. But: bad procedural politics insofar as it recommends cutting people up because they occupy the antipodal political position. We really don’t need to behead the rightwing; we can just outvote it, yaknow?
The barbarian presentation is confirmed by the presence of an oft-sharpened battle axe in Abe’s hands, plus the notion that he is ill-educated for much of the narrative (though he does manage to keep a well written journal most of that time?).
Something nifty insofar as it is a structured as a modern commentary on Lincoln’s journal of vampire hunting. That could’ve been interesting, but text isn't really interested in that sort of nuance. A history lesson otherwise.
I still think that the classic/horror mashup that needs desperately to be written is Catcher in the R'lyeh Wgah'nagl Fhtagn. ...more
Nutshell: intellectual property infringement apocalypse averted through clever use of communism.
I was immediately put off this text because it has anNutshell: intellectual property infringement apocalypse averted through clever use of communism.
I was immediately put off this text because it has an attorney narrator, who apparently works in intellectual property litigation, but who likewise has the nuts to refer to infringement as ‘piracy’ (13), which is of course an awful, deplorable lay term that gets substituted in for infringement by rights holders who are typically sophisticated litigants and should accordingly know way better.
Basic definition of piracy is robbery on the high seas. The weaker version is that IP infringement is said to be theft; larceny at common law was however, as everyone knows, asportation with the intent to deprive permanently. Copyright infringement by contrast is use of copyrighted works without permission. Applying the basic Blockburger rule, we see that there is absolutely no overlap whatsoever between infringement and theft or between infringement and piracy, FFS.
So fuck you laypersons who say ‘piracy’ instead of ‘infringement.’
Anyway, some decent satire on occasion of the recording industry, lawyers, and leftwing extraterrestrials. ...more
Nutshell: warmongering heideggerian buggers off to the desert of the unreal.
“Everybody was watching somebody” (8). “The film made him feel like someonNutshell: warmongering heideggerian buggers off to the desert of the unreal.
“Everybody was watching somebody” (8). “The film made him feel like someone watching a film. The meaning of this escaped him. He kept feeling things whose meaning escaped him” (11). Watching Hitchcock’s Psycho slowed down to play once over 24 hours:
This film had the same relationship to the original movie that the original movie had to real lived experience. This was the departure from the departure. The original movie was fiction, this was real. (13)
Some sort of heideggerian interest: “The true life is not reducible to words spoken or written, not by anyone, ever. The true life takes place when we’re alone, thinking, feeling, lost in memory, dreamingly self-aware” (17); “we become ourselves beneath the running thoughts and dim images, wondering idly when we’ll die” (id.).
Warmongering tool had been hired by the Pentagon to assist in prosecuting the recent asinine Iraq War:
He was there to conceptualize, his word, in quotes, to apply overarching ideas and principles to such matters as troop deployment and counter-insurgency. He was cleared to read classified cables and restricted transcripts, he said, and he listened to the chatter of the resident experts, the metaphysicians in the intelligence agencies, the fantasists in the Pentagon. (19)
But he “exchanged all that for space and time” (id.), “the distances that enfolded every feature of the landscape” and “the force of geologic time” (id.). He prefers the desert because “time slows down when I’m here” (23), “elsewhere, everywhere, my day begins in conflict, every step I take on a city street is conflict other people are conflict” (id.). (That's the heideggerian polemos, I suppose.)
Dude left because his employer’s “war was abstract”: "They think they’re sending an army to a place on a map.” However, “no map existed to match the reality we were trying to create” (28), which is just taking Baudrillard’s commentary on Borges and playing it straight:
Human perception is a saga of created reality. But we were devising entities beyond the agreed-upon limits of recognition or interpretation. Lying is necessary. The state has to lie. There is no lie in war or in preparation for war that can’t be defended. We went beyond this. We tried to create new realities overnight. (28)
Despite these defects, “I still want a war. A great power has to act. We were struck hard. We need to retake the future” (30), so, yeah, eww? Fascist bullshit is not cool, yo. Dude has a bizarre pre-linguistic philosophy, wherein “words were not necessary to one’s experience of the true life” (34).
Narrator by contrast is a filmmaker who goes to desert to make a documentary about warmongering heideggerian, and “all the energy, all the nourishment gets sucked up by the film” (24), very similar to the “stealthy genesis of abnormal tissue” (23) in his subject. (This type of malignancy is probably the text’s master figure.) Narrator’s first project is a film “assembled completely from documents, old film footage” (25), similar to Benjamin’s dream to write a novel entirely of quotations.
“Cities were built to measure time, to remove time from nature. There’s an endless counting down” (45), which is kinda another Baudrillard argument.
Weird warmonger isn’t really a heideggerian, but rather:
We want to be the dead matter we used to be. We’re the last billionth of a second in the evolution of matter. When I was a student I looked for radical ideas. Scientists, theologians, I read the work of mystics through the centuries, I was a hungry mind, a pure mind. (51)
“I studied the works of Teilhard de Chardin” (id.): “Human thought is alive, it circulates. And the sphere of collective human thought, this is approaching the final term, the last flare.” …mmmkay? But at least we understand the title: “We’re a crowd, a swarm,” which is a gross right-existentialist conceit, “We think in groups, travel in armies. Armies carry the gene for self-destruction. One bomb is never enough. The blur of technology, this is where the oracles plot their wars. Because now comes the introversion. Father Teilhard knew this, the omega point” (52). “There’s almost some law of mathematics or physics that we haven’t quite hit upon, where the mind transcends all direction inward. The omega point” (72). Alrighty then? “Point omega. A million years away. The omega point has narrowed, here and now, to the point of a knife as it enters the body” (98)—alrighty then!
Second movement involves warmonger’s disaffected daughter, who comes to visit the desert and about whom narrator develops an infatuation. Nice apophasis develops about her:
I didn’t imagine walking in and standing behind her and leaning into her, didn’t see this clearly, my hands slipping under the T-shirt, my knees moving her legs apart so I could press more tightly, fit myself up and in, but it was there in some tenuous stroke of the moment, the idea of it, and when I moved away from the door I made no special effort to leave quietly. (55)
Her father had the converse of a lacanian primary narcissism insofar as she “Was her father’s dream thing,” “I’m not sure he understood the fact that she was not him” (56). Daughter adopts the boustrophedon which may be a protocol of reading in author’s The Names:
Walking down those long and mostly empty streets on weekday afternoons and unspokenly bypassing the art and then crossing the street and walking up the other side of the same street and turning the corner and going to the next street and walking down the next street and crossing to the other side and walking up the same street, again and again, just walking and talking. It honestly deepened the experience, she said, made it better and more appreciative, street after street. (68)
Anyway, daughter buggers off into the deep desert, not to be found, apparently—kinda like those imaginary weapons of mass destruction that douchebag warmonger couldn’t find even while killing hundreds of thousands of persons, all for the privatization of the Iraqi state sector, inclusive of mineral rights. This shall constitute the novella's schwerpunkt, I think. So, contemplate that you worthless wastes of space who supported the war. Nevermind; don’t contemplate; there is no redemption; all of you can go die. As it happens, some “come to the desert to commit suicide” (82).
Recommended for those who find the sunset to be a human invention, our perpetual arrangement of light and space into elements of wonder, readers who want a haiku war, and persons who need no imaginary friends because they are imaginary to themselves. ...more
One of the great satires. Set in New Orleans, “famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addictsOne of the great satires. Set in New Orleans, “famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft” (3), which is of course why I will never fucking leave this city. Opens with an epigraph situating New Orleans in a “homogenous, though interrupted, sea” consisting of the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico (ix), “in the orbit of a Hellenistic world that never touched the North Atlantic.” And, as the text informs us, “outside of the city limits, the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins” (9).
Principal protagonist is Ignatius J. Reilly, a pre-modern theistic illiberal trapped in liberal secular modernity, for whom “possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry” (1). By contrast, his modest and slightly gross “outfit was acceptable by any theological and geometrical standards, however abstruse, and suggested a rich inner life” (id.), indicating that vestimentum is a signifier for the underlying signified, the anima. IJR is basically Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue: “Veneration of Mark Twain is one of the roots of our current intellectual stalemate” (41). IJR or MacIntyre: “I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking” (137)?
The “theology & geometry” bit is a common refrain, and likely deserves some attention (spoilering over an obscure & lengthy etymological excursus!): (view spoiler)[The former term is easy enough, as a premodernist may reasonably be attracted to theism as a counterweight to liberalism’s melting of solids into air. Geometry, however? Online Etymology Dictionary tells us:
early 14c., also gemetrie, gemetry, from Old French geometrie (12c., Modern French géométrie), from Latin geometria, from Greek geometria "measurement of earth or land; geometry," from comb. form of ge "earth, land" (see Gaia) + -metria (see -metry).
Earth as a goddess, from Greek Gaia, spouse of Uranus, mother of the Titans, personification of gaia "earth" (as opposed to heaven), "land" (as opposed to sea), "a land, country, soil;" it is a collateral form of ge (Dorian ga) "earth," which is of unknown origin and perhaps from a pre-Indo-European language of Greece.
And of course –metry, which refers back to meter:
also metre, unit of length, 1797, from French mètre (18c.), from Greek metron "measure," from PIE root *me- (2) "to measure" (cognates: Greek metra "lot, portion," Sanskrit mati "measures," matra "measure," Avestan, Old Persian ma-, Latin metri "to measure").
Developed by French Academy of Sciences for system of weights and measures based on a decimal system originated 1670 by French clergyman Gabriel Mouton. Originally intended to be one ten-millionth of the length of a quadrant of the meridian.
So, definitely an interest in taking the measure of the earth itself, with a curious paganism to the etymology. ‘Measure’ is of course theological: “with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2, KJV). We might therefore think of theology’s central task as the measurement of the Earth. (hide spoiler)] Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin, I suppose.
IJR is “an anachronism” (51), and is “writing a lengthy indictment against our century” (5)—and his writings, presented throughout the novel, are the best parts of the text. A sample: “After a period in which the western world had enjoyed order, tranquility, unity, and oneness with its True God and Trinity, there appeared winds of change, which spelled evil days ahead” (24). This religious sincerity is however insufficient to prevent IJR from adopting the paganism inherent in Boethian mysticism: “As a medievalist, Ignatius believed in the rota Fortunae, or wheel of fortune, a central concept in De Consolatione Philosophiae, the philosophical work that had laid the foundation for medieval thought” (25). I.e., “a blind goddess spins us on a wheel” (26). Another: a co-worker is described as a “medusa of capitalism” (64). So, along with the etymology, supra, something of a conceptual inconsistency in his theism.
But nevermind the theological discord, IJR has a more pressing practical diremption:
“Please go away!" Ignatius screamed. “You’re shattering my religious ecstasy!”
Bouncing up and down on his side vigorously, Ignatius sensed a belch rising in his throat, but when he expectantly opened his mouth he emitted only a small burp. Still, bouncing had some psychological effect. Ignatius touched the small erection that was pointing downward into the sheet, held it, and lay still trying to decide what to do. [...] he thought somewhat sadly that after eighteen years with his hobby it become merely a mechanical physical act stripped of the flights of fancy and invention that he had once been able to bring to it. At one time he had almost developed it into an art form, practicing the hobby with the skill and fervor of an artist and philosopher, a scholar and gentleman. (26)
He “manipulated and concentrated. At last a vision appeared, the familiar figure of the large and devoted collie that had been his pet” (26-27), which means that IJR masturbates to the thought of a dog. Right? Right?
IJR is good, despite the foregoing, at making his objections known, which is one of the principal sources of humor: “I can’t possibly drink that […] it’s an abomination” (8); “Canned food is a perversion” (18); “Goodness knows what degenerate uses he will find for that hat” (21); and so on. IJR demands that “as a mother, you should be interested in the traumas that have created my worldview” (16) (cf. RSB, of course!). The connection between the traumas and the objections is patent insofar as IJR actively seeks out the traumas in order to make the objections, such as watching television: “What an egregious insult to good taste”; “Do I believe the total perversion that I am witnessing?”; “The children on that program should all be gassed” (34-35). It ends with a peroration familiar to readers of Griffin, Paxton, Neumann, & Lemkin:
‘The ironic thing about that program,’ Ignatius was saying […], ‘is that it is supposed to be an exemplum to the youth of our nation. I would very much like to know what the Founding Fathers would say if they could see these children being debauched to further the cause of Clearasil. However, I always suspected that democracy would come to this […] A firm rule must be imposed on our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.' (36)
Very much dantean in his insistence “in my private apocalypse, he will be impaled upon his own nightstick” (42).
He is thoroughly retrograde, failing to support the then current pope, as “he does not fit my concept of a good, authoritarian Pope. Actually, I am opposed to the relativism of modern Catholicism quite violently” (44), which must be a reference to the Second Vatican Council, ongoing at the time of the novel’s setting, as evidenced by the films that IJR goes to see. Regarding the films, there is a baudrillardian interest here, in how IJR wanted to “go out to a movie and get more out of life” (47).
A bit annoying, the focus on grotesque realism, which forefronts IJR’s corpulence as a negative attribute worthy of ridicule. So that’s demerits. The grotesque realism is however very precise, as his ‘pyloric valve’ is often the subject of violent convulsions, rendering him unable to return to work. IJR is very bad with biology, proclaiming, for instance, over a trifle “I am deteriorating into a state of total anxiety” (120); the bad diagnoses are kinda a metaphor for the silliness of old school degeneracy theory. And he does advocate old school degeneracy theory: “Only degenerates go touring. Personally I have been out of the city only once. […] Outside the city limits there are many horrors” (185) (as a fellow New Orleanian, I concur in that last).
Great secondary cast. Good portraiture of New Orleans. Narrative may in fact be picaresque, as jobless university graduate is forced to find employment to pay for his mother’s motor vehicle accident damages. (view spoiler)[Despite his illiberalism, he ends up organizing an abortive strike on behalf of segregated workers and starts a political party to advance the interests of homosexuals, inter alia. (hide spoiler)] Anyway, I laugh audibly every time offended IJR proclaims an unlikely injury and threatens to contact his attorney, or every time he exclaims Oh my God! in horror at some alleged perversion. Great stuff, this archaeology of anti-modernism. Bonus points insofar as IJR’s conception was similar to Tristram Shandy’s: “Mrs. Reilly remembered the horrible night that she and Mr. Reilly had gone to the Prytania to see Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in Red Dust. In the heat and confusion that had followed their return home, nice Mr. Reilly had tried one of his indirect approaches, and Ignatius was conceived” (79). Confirmed: “Please blow your smoke elsewhere. My respiratory system, unfortunately, is below par. I suspect that I am the result of a particularly weak conception on the part of my father. His sperm was probably emitted in a rather offhand manner” (261). (the irony there is that there's probably some degeneracy theory explanation for IJR's ill conception, as perhaps described in Krafft-Ebing or in The Unfit).
The satire does not merely go to premodern theistic illiberals, but also to postmodern bourgeois liberals, who have accused IJR of being a communist at times. IJR’s riposte:
‘Oh my God! […] Every day I am subjected to a McCarthyite witchhunt in this crumbling building. No! I told you before I am not a fellow traveler. […] Do you think that I want to live in a communal society […] What I want is a good, strong monarchy with a tasteful and decent king who has some knowledge of theology and geometry and to cultivate a Rich Inner Life.' (187)
The undecidability between communism and monarchism for dumbasses in the US is lolarious. (IJR on liberalism, NB: “This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion” (189).) His premodernism is thorough: “‘They would try to make me into a moron who liked television and new cars and frozen food. Don’t you understand? Psychiatry is worse than communism. I refuse to be brainwashed. I won’t be a robot!” (271). All that is solid melts into air, yo: “The only problem those people have anyway is that they don’t like new cars and hair sprays. That’s why they are put away. They make the other members of society fearful. Every asylum in this nation is filled with poor souls who simply cannot stand lanolin, cellophane, plastic, television, and subdivisions” (id.).
IJR’s reading list: “Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books” (226).
Recommended for human bodies that produce certain odors which we tend to forget in this age of deodorants and other perversions, those whose valve is subject to vicissitudes which may force them to lie abed on certain days, and the avenging swords of taste and decency.
Oh my God! Stop your appalling obscenity and read this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A memoir from the actual person who stands behind the character in Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, which character is of course the source of my nomA memoir from the actual person who stands behind the character in Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, which character is of course the source of my nom de guerre. (The name may translate roughly as ‘alone anywhere’ in Slavic languages.) Should be taken seriously—but only up to a point, as dude is plainly a crusty old tsarist/theocrat who nevertheless survived the soviets, even while referring to tsarism as a “beautiful dream” (218).
Off to a bad start in the outworks when complaining about “the midst of chaos, shattered traditions, and wholesale destruction of the social order” (xi), which sounds kinda pro-tsarist. “The church was being crushed” (id.), uh oh. Proceeds to re-up the crazy with “the country, enslaved by a communist dictatorship” (3), which is of course a normal far right topos wherein leftwing regimes are ‘slavery’ and systems that actually use slaves are ‘free,’ the normal recitation in Ayn Rand. Author is a true tsarist insofar as “if it had not been for treason at the front and in the rear, Russia would have carried off one of the greatest victories” in 1917 (112).
Refers unhelpfully to 1917 as “the cataclysm” (6), as though the year initiating the revolution were the problem; perhaps it is because “then the active propagation of atheism began” (id.)—OH NOS! I always marvel that these sincerely held religious beliefs are always so fragile that they cannot withstand the active propagation of contrary ideas. FFS. Grow the fuck up. By contrast, atheists in the West exist in the midst of tons of religious ideology and are not threatened with conversion. They might burn us, but that merely kills the body. This weakness is intrinsic rather than incidental to the perspective: “A godless dictatorship both sullies and disfigures a man. Only a deep religious faith can provide him with stout armor” (12)—the equivocation here is that the religious advocacy of the state should not matter if the armor of faith is stout; why should the religious person care if the state is secular or even atheist? ON NOS religion doesn’t get special treatment any more. FFS. Grow the fuck up. It is very bizarre, the repeated refrain: “At the same time torrents of atheistic propaganda flood their minds. The matrices of the brain cannot help but retain some scraps of the Marxist litany” (42) – OH NOS someone somewhere might think a non-rightwing thought. These motherfuckers accuse the left of thought control totalitarianism, but the only ones I see actually whining about it is the rightwing when someone else challenges them.
Oddly admits that “never did I so much as hear of a group protest in public” (7), which is material to the consent of the governed, it seems. Admits further “I was not there to watch the process” of collectivization in the 30s (7), which shall limit the credibility of those portions of the narrative, such as when he proclaims, without more, that “since the days of Attila and Genghis Kahn, the world had not been witness to mindless cruelty on such a colossal scale” (id.). Admits still further that “I had lived by now twenty years under this regime, but this was the first time I had come in contact with the naked fact of monstrous injustice against a man innocent of any crime” (18). Rather, “From childhood on I had heard about arrests and tortures […] Knowledge gained secondhand is superficial” (20). Admits moreover “Nor did we hear of cannibalism, except for a single case” (65). Further concedes that a prisoner might be “certified as unfit for work—permanently if possible” (170), which is a bit weird for a labor camp.
Displays the normal overconfidence of his profession by proclaiming “the strongest in that class—the engineers” (8). Dude, just because you can fix an engine doesn’t mean you know shit about philosophy or politics or law or literature. For instance
As to whether our nation should revert to capitalism, we had no doubts whatsoever. We would have consented even to its primitive nineteenth-century form. After all, slavery as we now know it did not exist then; labor was voluntary; capitalists could be bargained with; legislative bodies and philanthropists often promoted the welfare of the working man. (10)
So, yeah, eww. Not really surprising, though, if dude also thinks that the Whites “were honorable men” (11).
Obnoxious in the manner of Ayn Rand in desiring “a war of liberation led by the West” (9). Let’s just make it unambiguous: “Hitler’s promise of a war against Stalin gave the hope, strength, and patience we needed” (12). “Hitler’s support of anticommunist forces in Spain spoke in his favor” (13).
Fundamentally misunderstands Marxist doctrine by accusing that the Stalinists “fanned the flames of class hatred” (10)—of course class struggle exists irrespective of any subjective emotional states related thereto, and independently of anyone’s agitation therefor.
I love how the mind of the anti-commie works: “What amazed me was the fact that the uneducated clearly saw through the Communist fantasies, while the well-educated for years remained captives of these wretched delusions” (29). Might as well substitute in ‘evolutionist’ or ‘round-earth’ for ‘communist’ there. That said, dude is not completely irredeemable: “It amused us whenever the Communist dogmatists, schooled in Stalin’s political lore, endeavored to prove that we live under socialism. With no difficulty we proved to them the contrary: according to all the trademarks of the Stalinist tyranny, it was a cruel variety of enforced state capitalism that was flourishing” (31), which has become a fairly standard Trotskyist, Menshevik, and western Marxist reading of the Soviet Union. Similarly, bytovik “includes many whose only crime consisted in showing private initiative, thereby in some way encroaching on the monopoly of the ruthless state capitalism that in the Soviet Union goes by the name of ‘socialism’” (131). Dude nevertheless fucks up by proclaiming that “every nation, unfortunately, has its moral degenerates with their misshapen souls and perverted minds” (31), which is just dumb far right bullshit.
Alleges that the communist party “has modeled itself as an underworld gang” (40), which makes a bit of sense, considering how the SDP originally worked underground against tsarism. An ugly producerism in “the parasites were accomplishing their filthy business, sucking out the blood” (48).
Deploys the normal rightwing topos of making historicist excuses for some persons, but not for the villains of the narrative:
The reason for such behavior lies in the brutalization that takes hold of a man whose intellectual development is at a rudimentary stage, who has been deprived of the light found in Christian precepts [!]. Under the influence of a bestial environment, the basic goodness and humaneness within his heart become atrophied; gradually his compassionate feelings shrivel up and disappear altogether. He justifies his actions with standard sayings made up of the vilest underworld speech. His assessment of people and events reverts to the law of the jungle: ‘You die today, and I’ll die tomorrow.’ The zek was acquiring habits of a jackal—wagging his tail in the presence of the mighty, preying on the weak, and taking anything he found lying around unattended. I have no intention whatsoever of passing judgment on any working man at the end of his tether. He should not be held responsible. Those who have created this regime of universal corruption and mass extermination are the ones to blame. (64)
This is very similar to arguments laid out by Ayn Rand for the abuses of capitalism—some people inherit a raw deal—but the communists are Evil. It’s outrageous, as though leftwing regimes were somehow outside history. The irony here of course is that the typically philistine & non-historicist rightwing adopts a historicist argument to excuse the defects of its preferred historical protagonist.
Wants to proclaim various multi-million death tolls, but confides “nothing will be found in the archives about the Stalin camps, since all evidence has been carefully destroyed” (90), which is not really true, I think, as it turns out. Fucks up by advocating “small scale war” by the West against Stalin in the early 30s (100). FFS. Adopts the Marxist rationale that the 30s crisis was “a result of overproduction” and suggests that a war might’ve alleviated same--gross (101): “a war that would have destroyed a focus of international contagion which by its existence favored the counter-development of Nazism” (id), which is von Hayek’s position, as I recall it.
Author concedes that there’s lotsa fiction circulating in the gulag: “In the camp there was a persistent story, regarded by many as a legend, that whole bands of prisoners—in fact an entire brigade—who, after disarming their guards, had broken out and were still roaming the forest” (121). I suspect that much in gulag literature is this type of persistent legend.
Otherwise endorses some odd beliefs, such as “the yogi’s secret of utilizing the energy that accumulates in the gonads” (164). Is also a major asshole: “aspiration toward so-called equality—especially with one’s betters [!]—is a manifestation of envy” (228). FFS. Whatever, tool.
Has completely unsurprising gender politics:
between the male and female realms there was a sharp dividing line that one had to observe: if was for the man to resolve life’s more serious problems; it was for the woman to look after the home and children, to involve herself in art and religion. Now that I am in my declining years, I can see that my view still holds true: women are designed expressly for motherhood and caring for the family. (232-33)
Is furthermore an asshole insofar as “terrorism and partisan warfare against a ‘conventional’ conquering enemy […] are certainly not admissible” but “against the Bolshevik regime was completely justifiable” (239)—nothing better than an open and notorious double standard.
Adopts taylorist ideas: “forging technology can be transformed from an uncoordinated set of operations into a streamlined system by clearly defining the time factor for all the separate phases, which are thus combined into a single whole” (226), which system of course was adopted by the Leninists. Duh. Welcome to modernity, premodern douche.
Overall, good insight on Solzhenitsyn in the later sections; the bond of affection is readily apparent and generally impressive. Books such as this one should be read by lefties who are interested in the Soviet Union. It is a serious internal critique and deserves to be read. It is less essential for rightwingers, as it will simply reinforce their blinkered opinions. Text is good at explaining gulag slang: blatnyi, kantova, tufta, bytoviki, dokhodyaga, &c.
Recommended for those thrown into the maw of Baal, slaves in an atheistic state, and readers whose prayers throw an invisible cloak of protection around them. ...more
Opens with kid running down the hill from his home: “I wasn’t running for the law, but the law found me” (8). Acute meconnaissance in “The boy, I, hadOpens with kid running down the hill from his home: “I wasn’t running for the law, but the law found me” (8). Acute meconnaissance in “The boy, I, had said his mother killed his father” (9)?
“Our house was at the same level of the slope as those of a few weatherwatchers and hermits and witches you could call our neighbors” (5). House has “two small, less finely finished bedrooms, my father’s and my mother’s” (6). Father earned a living in making keys:
His customers would come up from the town and ask for the things for which people usually ask—love, money, top open things, to know the future, to fix animals, to fix things, to be stronger, to hurt someone or save someone, to fly—and he’d make them a key. (17)
So, sortilege, contrary to the Witchcraft Acts, and subject to the writ de heretico comburendo. Other than that, father likes to kill animals and throw down a pit wherein “you wouldn’t hear it hit any bottom” (24).
The dog was born to descend this way. Millions of years ago, the stone had split to receive it. My father stared down into the hill with such focus it was as if he had all of this, this killing, because he had to see an animal fall. (25)
“I knew that day my father was feeding only darkness” (63).
Text’s center of gravity is the book typology chapter (29-35), laying out how one has three different books: “I started my first book three years ago, in a distant country, and on my third book a year after that. Now at last it’s time for me to start writing this second book” (30), which indicates that the ordinals are not chronological. Explains: “my first is a book of numbers” (id.), and “is for everyone, though almost no one wants it or would know how to read it” (31). The third book is “for me” (id.), “for “you alone to read, in which you should write secrets” (id.). The “second book’s for readers” (id.). Also: first book is a “ledger”; second, “this box of papers”; third, a “notebook” (32). Text proceeds through first-, second-, and third-person narrations, so am not sure if those different narrative perspectives are supposed to emulate the three books that narrator is writing.
Standard mievillian estrangement: “The dream of a bridge is of a woman standing at one side of a gorge and stepping out as if her job is to die, but when her foot falls it meets the ground right on the other side” (41). Similarly, “It’s a combination gun. Look, two triggers. This […] a shotgun. It spreads possibilities. […] And this? […] This rifle’s a long-range single shot […] shoots right down the very center of the spread, like an average. A range and a mean. This is an averaging gun” (167).
Setting is post-robot-apocalypse, apparently: “Before we were born, rumors of distant insurrection had meant the ordering of destruction, the gleeless dismembering of all such geared constructed figures” (87). Thereafter a census developed to “count foreigners” (88). Eww?
Census taker: "I count people and count things” (168), all very Discipline and Punish. Ends on an odd acrostic regarding census-taking. No idea. Whatever. I do like the syntactic ambiguity of the conclusory allegation: “I counted absences in my head” (206). Probably has a piece of Tehanu and Dreamsnake insofar as it involves a juvenile who has likely been subject to abuse.
Recommended for readers who recall things overlooking them and gusting at the limits of the flat and open sky, people who see themselves there as if their own watchers of discerning ineluctability, and those who add to the substance of the hill with the substance of the hill....more