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Women & Men Chapter Discussions > 0008 BETWEEN US: A BREATHER AT THE BEGINNING

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message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Our first Breather.

Since chapters are not numbered I am using page numbers in the topic titles in order to make navigation a bit easier.


message 2: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Thanks, Nathan. You are getting me all fired up for this book!


message 3: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "Thanks, Nathan. You are getting me all fired up for this book!"

I fear the temptation that I find myself also re-reading it. Beautiful memories.


message 4: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Go for it, Nathan!


message 5: by Stephen M, Tome Terminator (new)

Stephen M | 81 comments 'cha dude, that'd be tight.

Thanks again. This also has me fired up for reading.


message 6: by Stephen M, Tome Terminator (last edited Sep 20, 2012 03:19PM) (new)

Stephen M | 81 comments For Those Who Have Read the First Page Already
I think it's important to note that the book begins with a scene of birth.

To navigate a book as dense as this, we should try to keep our heads above water by mentioning important (seemingly obvious at the time) events, because I bet we'll forget about a lot of them. So when we look back at all the major events, perhaps that will help us piece together the narrative by the end.


message 7: by Stephen M, Tome Terminator (new)

Stephen M | 81 comments Any spoiler-free comments you'd like to add about the significance of the birth Nathan?


message 8: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Stephen M wrote: "Any spoiler-free comments you'd like to add about the significance of the birth Nathan?"

"Birth" might be a misdirection. But, true, it's there. Remember the title. Of the novel.


message 9: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Stephen M wrote: "To navigate a book as dense as this, we should try to keep our heads above water by mentioning important (seemingly obvious at the time) events, because I bet we'll forget about a lot of them. So when we look back at all the major events, perhaps that will help us piece together the narrative by the end. "

Perhaps, with y'all's help, I/we could piece together a tether which I/we could construct in the initial discussion comment for each chapter. I'm not sure exactly how that might look--themes, motifs, outlines, persons-places? By the end we might have on our hands a Blamires-type skeleton key for folks like MJ when they get around to reading it. With that in mind, anything outline-ish or note-taking-ish that you find yourself constructing, please call attention to it as something to put together into a master document. We are reading rather uncharted waters.


message 10: by Stephen M, Tome Terminator (last edited Sep 20, 2012 03:48PM) (new)

Stephen M | 81 comments That sounds like a great plan. I'll start off my comments on each thread outlining very basically what has happened in the corresponding chapter. That way we can keep track of what's been going on at a very basic level. Also, discussion of basic plot lead inevitably to the themes/motifs etc.


message 11: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I finished this chapter, but it looks like I'm going to have to go back, highlight and figure out the passages. Not easy reading, this. Metaphors abound.


message 12: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I highly recommend reading the first article in the outside materials section,
"History as Accretion and Excavation", to help with understanding the approach of this book. I was scratching my head for a while. Now I can reread with a better understanding.


message 13: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Question--

What's with the first person plural? Follow it. I think (I recall) it means something.


message 14: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Thanks, Nathan. Will make note of that. More highlighting.


message 15: by Aloha (last edited Oct 08, 2012 06:01AM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I read this article to understand better McElroy's approach.
http://www.electronicbookreview.com/t...

The accretive method that requires the participation of the reader makes me wonder whether McElroy accounts for the varying background of the readers. For example, I'm a naturalized citizen, so all this accretion of history is different as applied to me, compared to someone whose relatives came here on the Mayflower. I had to learn the American English language. I was not born into it.


message 16: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan wrote: "The first chapter starts with someONE not being 'so sure what had happened, or when it started', but BETWEEN US, WE 'already remember what's been going on'. We are not alone. How? That's another qu..."

Hold onto whatever remembering and memory occurs with this "we" and "us" in order to shortly figure out how to contrast it with James Mayn's memories, dreams, etc. There will then be the story which James' Grandmother will tell etc. A lot of stuff gets introduced quickly in this section, but only hinted at; just allow a few impressions to be made; if you miss them, they will be made upon you again shortly; breathe here.


message 17: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "The accretive method that requires the participation of the reader makes me wonder whether McElroy accounts for the varying background of the readers. For example, I'm a naturalized citizen, so all this accretion of history is different as applied to me, compared to someone whose relatives came here on the Mayflower. I had to learn the American English language. I was not born into it.
"


I think it was written for you. There was much historical material which was not familiar to me. Also, it is not, as Paul points out, an official history, but a personal and family history. I believe the text does much more in regard to shaping its material in conjunction with the reader than assuming that the reader will know things to which reference might be made. McElroy is interested in a reader that will think and experience along with him, not a reader who already has a lot of stuff rattling around in his/her head. I do believe it is a democratic and egalitarian novel in the broadest, widest and most literary sense. But that remains, perhaps, yet to be seen.


message 18: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Thanks, Nathan. It'll be fun figuring out this story. I enjoy putting pieces of the puzzle together. I have a lot of stuff rattling around in my head, but it's not schooled rattling as far as literature or history, only a lot of math, science and art. That might be a good thing. And I'm a grown woman who's gone through a lot of life experiences. It'd be interesting what each in this group will offer in interpretation.


message 19: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Wonderfully done, Jonathan.


message 20: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Thanks, Jonathan! I'm considering blasting through the whole book so that I can piece it together in my mind, basically to see the forest. Then I can go back to look at the trees. That has worked for me in complex works such as Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and House of Leaves. That's how I like to do puzzles, too. Lay out all the pieces, then quickly put them back together.


message 21: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "I think it was written for you. There was much historical material which was not familiar to me. Also, it is not, as Paul points out, an official history, but a personal and family history. I believe the text does much more in regard to shaping its material in conjunction with the reader than assuming that the reader will know things to which reference might be made. McElroy is interested in a reader that will think and experience along with him, not a reader who already has a lot of stuff rattling around in his/her head. I do believe it is a democratic and egalitarian novel in the broadest, widest and most literary sense. But that remains, perhaps, yet to be seen. "

After almost done with the Choor section, I have to differ on this. It's written for people with the most knowledge of the references he pulled to create his work. Postmodernism seems to me that it is meta-writing, if that is the term. In
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, there is a section on the type of messages. Unlike traditional novels, which gives you direct messages, postmodernism requires you to have a decoder in order to understand the meaning of the novel. Skippy Dies was an effortless novel that I blasted through 600 pages in about 2 days without having to go back, because I have a good background in Physics and know something about classical music. Unfortunately, American history is not my strong suit. I partially grew up in Hawaii, where I learned a lot about Hawaiian history, but not too much about general American history. I have no regrets about that because I prefer learning about the Hawaiians.

Anyhoo, this book is not for me, so I will have to work hard to gather my decoder. It is, however, for people who have a strong American history background and knowledge in topics he used as his message mechanism.


message 22: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments That's terrific information, Jonathan. That's why I think it's best for me to blast through the book first to pick up the patterns, instead of pausing to focus on the details. It helps me to see his structure first, then go back to clarify. That helps me a lot when reading complex books.


message 23: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments After seeing the interview with McElroy, I doubt he's the intellectual type that is trying to show how smart he is or make people feel stupid when they're reading his work. I believe he is building this novel from an authentic effort based on what he knows and wants to do. I'm not complaining, but I am saying that I have a lot of work to do to build that decoder. It's a challenge that I am going to enjoy taking up.


message 24: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Jonathan, I can't leave you alone in your decoding. Okay, instead of blasting through, I will go through each section with you. Where's my highlighter!!! Ironic that it's one woman and one man decoding this book. And a Nathan, but he's a mod., so he doesn't count.


message 25: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "I have a lot of work to do to build that decoder. "

I'm not a fan of the decoder metaphor for reading this novel. I don't think that there is a hidden message which needs to be wrested out of an obfuscated language. I think the better analogy is music, musicmusic in the tradition of Bach-Mozart-Beethoven-Wagner-Schoenberg-Varese-andJazz (gotta be lots of Jazz, not my forte). The theme(s) is introduced and developed. I don't know very much about your reading habits, Aloha, but I'm not sure that steaming through the book for a bird's-eye view and then returning to figure out the details is a good strategy for this book. The details is the only thing there is. I think its written for the reader unknowingly and gropingly pushing forward. I would recommend that you alter your strategy slightly and instead of plowing through to the end and then coming back to the beginning, to plow through section-at-a-time and perhaps two or three sections further, and then return to that earlier section; especially as regards the Breather chapters; a system of epicycles rather than complete recycles. As to the non-breather chapters, many will be stand-alone pieces which, like the breather chapters, will together accrete, but not accumulate in a standard climactic story-arch.


message 26: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments obfuscations wrote: "It's written for people with the most knowledge of the references he pulled to create his work.

i wonder about this as well. for example: have commented elsewhere (i think) that its hard for me t..."


I agree with you, Obfuscations. I also think it's not impossible. It requires outside sources of information that is beyond what this book provides, a decoder mechanism for varying areas of the book. Like solving a puzzle, it can be frustrating, but when it's done, you feel better for having done it. Yes, the birthing scene is a great example. If you've never gone through a pregnancy and a birth, you would have missed some of the details. I understood very well that scene.


message 27: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "After seeing the interview with McElroy, I doubt he's the intellectual type that is trying to show how smart he is or make people feel stupid when they're reading his work. "

I would say he is the most democratic and egalitarian of our novelists. He will expect the reader to step up and undertake some of the responsibilities of storying, but he also won't beat us over the head. He is creating the opportunity for us to undertake a common experience, not merely to hear gossip and reportage of that experience.

I also would like to reassure you, Aloha, that there was a lot of history in W&M that was not familiar to me prior to reading it. We USAians tend to be poorly educated in history--Ojibway? Since having read W&M I see reference made frequently to the Ojibway. Speaking of which:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ojibwe_p...


message 28: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "I have a lot of work to do to build that decoder. "

I'm not a fan of the decoder metaphor for reading this novel. I don't think that there is a hidden message which needs to be wres..."


I don't think he's intentionally doing a hidden message, but it automatically has a hidden message if you lack the background information. I was surprised when people gave up on Skippy Dies because I thought that was an easy book to read. Then again, I read Physics concept in combination with the metaphysical like it's kindergarten work, so my background makes it an easy read.

Each author has his own background as he builds his story. This is especially obvious when you read a postmodernist novel that pulls references. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid was not difficult for me because I understand math, art and music. House of Leaves is an ergodic literature. That is easy for me to read because I came from a visual background and am used to seeing type as part of a visual structure and spacial metaphors.


message 29: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments obfuscations wrote: " i am stunned and discouraged to learn how much else of this book is soaring way over my head. many basic occurances didn't even register with me"

This is the odd thing about McElroy's method. I just had a similar experience with Actress in the House, thinking that I must have missed at least 40% of what was there. But once I finished it, took a quick gander at its whole, I thought perhaps maybe I had grasped a good 85% and the rest was nuance. Reading McElroy is like learning a second language--one learns and learns and learns and grows exhausted and despairs and takes a break from word lists and grammar and goes out to the pub and chats with some native speakers in some form of pidgeon and the next day goes for a bike ride and returns in the evening and actually understands the dialogue on the sitcom on the telly. A break now and again from W&M may be all that's needed to let that recently gained knowledge solidify and become confident, or a revisit to a favorite passage.


message 30: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "I also would like to reassure you, Aloha, that there was a lot of history in W&M that was not familiar to me prior to reading it. We USAians tend to be poorly educated in history--Ojibway? Since having read W&M I see reference made frequently to the Ojibway. Speaking of which:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ojibwe_p... "


So are you saying that I don't need to read up on the Ojibwe and other references in order to understand the book?


message 31: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "I don't think he's intentionally doing a hidden message, but it automatically has a hidden message if you lack the background information."

There is no doubt a great deal of information here, but I don't think its at all about that. Information is one of his found-stuffs which he orchestrates. For all the science and economics and history that is in here, I don't think its used qua science and economics and history--rather this is music which is to be listened to, not interpreted or translated or decoded; it tells itself. I might be wrong here, but I don't think the meteorology stuff requires a meteorology degree to understand; it is rather an orchestration (musical) of meteorology.

Nobody "gets" the first few sections the first time around. This is McElroy's world and entering it and learning it does indeed take a great deal of effort. I don't recall exactly where I found my legs, but I'm sure it was somewhere around or after Ship Rock. "Between Us" and "Choor Monster" should offer some rewards for rereadings.


message 32: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "So are you saying that I don't need to read up on the Ojibwe and other references in order to understand the book? "

Exactly. You may do so, but it's not required. This was the book that made me aware of the Ojibway. One begins somewhere. I did no background reading on whaling before reading Moby-Dick, but given what Moby-Dick is teaching me about whaling, I am more prepared to take a greater interest in such adventures.


message 33: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "I don't think he's intentionally doing a hidden message, but it automatically has a hidden message if you lack the background information."

There is no doubt a great deal of informat..."


Either way, I love reads that I have to figure out how to approach it. Let's see what his music is like. Thanks, Nathan.


message 34: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "So are you saying that I don't need to read up on the Ojibwe and other references in order to understand the book? "

Exactly. You may do so, but it's not required. This was the boo..."


Okey, dokey, smokey, Nathan. Let's see how it goes.


message 35: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "Either way, I love reads that I have to figure out how to approach it. "

: )

It's the figuring out how to figure out that gets me!

My assumption is a foundational trust in McElroy's mastery of the material. I assume that I will not be able to master all of the novel initially, but I also trust that McElroy believes that I will be eventually capable of also mastering the story. I'm not an habitual re-reader, but re-reading this one is going to be very worth my while.


message 36: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "Either way, I love reads that I have to figure out how to approach it. "

: )

It's the figuring out how to figure out that gets me!

My assumption is a foundational trust in McElroy'..."


I trust he knows what he's doing, too. I wanted literature that is unique so that I can learn something from it. This is literature that I can learn from.


message 37: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "I trust he knows what he's doing, too. I wanted literature that is unique so that I can learn something from it. This is literature that I can learn from. "

Seriously. This is a book that was still teaching me how to read. I'm old and I still need to learn to read.


message 38: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan "N.R." wrote: "Aloha wrote: "I trust he knows what he's doing, too. I wanted literature that is unique so that I can learn something from it. This is literature that I can learn from. "

Seriously. This is a boo..."


LOL! A lot of people I know thinks that these authors that I've been getting into need to learn how to write.


message 39: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I'm wondering about whether McElroy is inspired by the Native American dialect style of using a descriptive way to name things, like Grace Kimball's "Body Room."


message 40: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Also, why does he make the choice to frequently use the word "cunt", which is a vulgar term for a female genitalia?


message 41: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments With my usual meandering, I decided to put in "cunt" to see how often it comes up in the book. I didn't scroll to the bottom to see that it was 18 times, but I did notice the numerous repetitions. I was rushing, but upon closer inspection of the context of the sentences the word is embedded in, it looks like it's mostly in Grace's section. It seems what Jonathan said about the pro-sex feminist stance of reclaiming the term is correct.


message 42: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan wrote: "Please discuss things like what it means to "fall into the horizon" because my head hurts a little. "

This section is one to keep in mind for revisiting when, later in the book, you feel over-loaded with stuff piling upon stuff and you become exhausted for a spell. You'll find elements being veryvery quietly introduced here and elsewhere, only to recur and possibly be fleshed out later or much later. Characters won't receive their names, for instance, until later or much later.

The question about falling into the horizon is quite interesting. So far I've not come across anything in the text which would explicate it. But "horizon" is an important word in Heidegger's Daseins analysis. Essentially "horizon" refers to the boundaries or limits of the human being's possible experience. It is a constitutive curving around of the world which we inhabit and in which we have our being, our experience. To fall into an horizon (not a Heideggarian phrase, but perhaps a McElroyian twist to what sounds Heideggarian, because "fall" is also Heideggarian) would be akin to coming up against our outer-most limits, but limits which are the very thing which make us what we are. I don't know if (thinking aloud) this might be related to the angels becoming human. Angels would not have anything like an horizon because they are not mortal.


message 43: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan wrote: "Nathan: What you've written regarding the Heideggerian terms seems to fit well, and I have found at least one event in the text which may explain the phrase in places (though I haven't gone back to..."

That sounds like a reasonable clue. Sarah. Let us know if you run into any other deciphering passages. And drop a note in the relevant thread or spoiler-tag it here.

Meanwhile, I realize I misused the word "curve" in that comment, or at least added unnecessary ambiguity. "Curve" is not a Heideggarian word, but a Greek materialist curve. Epicurus said something about matter being created by a curving of space. I know McElroy knows his philosophy, I just don't know which and what, so I don't think I'm off track to think that he's using "curve" technically, and he does use it, but I've not followed very closely yet. I do know that he's read Heidegger, but only specifically the Building, Dwelling piece.


message 44: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments obfuscations wrote: "((disclaimer: drunk post)) the word 'curve' repeats i bet a hundred+ times in this text. i interpret it every time as connected to 'curved space' of relativity theory even tho i can't tell you wtf ..."

Just only that I haven't been watching "curve" and should have been. I doubt that there is any contradiction between the Epicurean Curve and the Einsteinian, if only because it's metaphor in our novel. The Einsteinian curve plays very well with the wind and the obstacle (I think, maybe) which also get repeated a hundred plus times. [but so does the Epicurean curve] I like those repeated phrases which are not interpreted for us, or at least not yet. Curved space.


message 45: by Aloha (last edited Nov 07, 2012 09:53PM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Ah! I should have read these posts! I remember Heidegger. It all makes sense now. *slaps forehead* That explains the historical authenticity theme and the time theme. It's also strangely mixed in with the Navajo sense of time, which is non-linear time.

Heidegger's idea also fits in with Jim trying to figure out his own potential, of who he really is. Then there's this whole relations thing, librations points, that are part of existential determination.

Regarding the "curve", how about the Archimedean spiral? If there is a constant distance between the coils, then you have parallel curves.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archimed...

Note the quote in the book, don't know the page, because I'm doing a search on eBook since I remembered it and I don't feel like flipping through the pages:

"...Just as we got to be at high times the very angles we saw by, and knew in a rush this was none other than the angels sharing what they could with us— their intuitions not unlike what we term telepathy; their sympathy with another being or beings as close as what our own recent formulae infer to be Simultaneous Reincarnation; their patience much like the mind-bending trip our recent research promises, mapped of detours that arrive by curves that prove parallel by crossing."

The parallel curves can be symbolic of Simultaneous Reincarnation. The Archimedean spiral reminds me of storms, too, as in tornado. That's significant with the weather symbology. The directional/Four Corners is also significant with the Heidegger idea.


message 46: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I'm doing my second reading of this chapter this morning. Loving the second reading. It's making sense now. I love books that demand I read it a second time. No easy dismissing here if I want to know what it's about.


message 47: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Nathan, what were the sections you suggest to read up on in Cole's meteorology book. It's a great book. I'd like to read the whole thing when I get a round tuit.


message 48: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Aloha wrote: "Nathan, what were the sections you suggest to read up on in Cole's meteorology book. It's a great book. I'd like to read the whole thing when I get a round tuit."

I've no idea. I'm not sure I'm familiar with the book. Er, or from W&M? I'm thinking that's in 0792 THE HERMIT-INVENTOR OF NEW YORK, THE ANASAZI HEALER, AND THE UNKNOWN ABORTER. I think that's where the long discussion between the HIofNY and the Anasazi Healer takes place.


message 49: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Thanks, Nathan. I'll check.


message 50: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments I could have sworn you mentioned the part to read in the meteorology book somewhere.


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