Women and Men discussion

Women & Men Chapter Discussions > 0093 the unknown sound

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (last edited Nov 02, 2012 10:36AM) (new)

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

It may have been this chapter which was originally published as "The Sound," in Fiction 5.2/3 (1978).

message 2: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan wrote: "which leaves my mystified at the readers who find W&M mostly "cold"."

I can't believe that such people exist.

Someone straighten me out, Marvin/Martin the free-lance diver is different from the Marvin of Sue-Marvin-Larry, yes?

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I thought this chapter was absolutely beautiful, and was arguably the most lucid ten pages of the book thus far. I think it lends itself to multiple interpretations, and raises a lot of questions that I assume will be addressed throughout the book.

What we are presented with is a moment of intimacy between an unnamed man and woman, even though the identity of the former is implied to be Marvin, as Jonathan mentioned above. I think the chapter is asking us to question how intimacy between people functions in a shifting metropolis such as New York, and modern life in general. Before the last two pages, the question as to whether the woman is going to stay the night looms over the chapter. By doing this, McElroy elicits a sense that the two people are longing to connect, but that the stratified and individualised nature of the city doesn't allow for this kind of connection. Even when they agree that the woman will stay at the chapter's close, there is a fumble in the conversation; the woman clumsily says "I was going to ask," and then immediately regrets it, suggesting not necessarily discord but an absence of interpersonal harmony. Everybody lives in their own apartments, their own separate section of the universe.

As for the sound from the TV, I have an inkling that this could be a kind of address to the reader, as though McElroy is directly telling them that the true sound (meaning) is there, beneath the surface of the noise we are hearing directly. Kind of like that scene with the cowboy in Lynch's Mulholland Drive, where the cowboy tells Adam to pay close attention, and that he is "too busy being a smart alec" to be really thinking.

With regards to the "cold" quality of McElroy's writing, I definitely wouldn't refer to it that way myself, but I can see how it could be construed as such. I think there is a fundamental sense of detachment in McElroy's writing that seems inseparable from his concerns with modern life and interpersonal relationships. This doesn't prevent his writing from being beautiful, because, in my opinion at least, his writing is some of the most beautiful around. It's just that it doesn't have the warmth of, say, Pynchon's lyricism in Against The Day.

message 4: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments And thanks to you, Jonathan, for making the discussion come alive with your wonderful posts. I have a weekend with which I can go crazy looking at the book in detail, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as a story. The ending, I would have to look at first, because it had some weird SciFi elements to it that explained the nature of things in the book. I don't have a clear grasp of that because it's modified science to suit McElroy's purpose. I hope my science background won't throw me for a loop with preconceived notions.

message 5: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Jonathan wrote: "I am of that impression. If Martin (as the diver character is usually referred to if not in the ambiguous Martin or Marvin) sometimes does go by Marvin then that will be the (starts raising fingers..."

I counted more than 3 Martins, and I was focusing on a small area.

message 6: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Lisa wrote: "This chapter so much reminded me of the writing of David Foster Wallace! I wonder if DFW was familiar with Mcelroy and if he was influenced by him..."

Oh my! That's a sore spot around here. About W&M he said, and I do quote, it "sucks canal water." [even DFW can be wrong about stuff] But some of IJ was taken/borrowed from Lookout Cartridge, mostly just the samizdat video plotline.

message 7: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Lisa wrote: "Where did he say that it sucked canal water?"

There's a link around here somewhere. It was an online chat transcript ; so a rather spontaneous remark.

[can't find the link at the moment]

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

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Lisa wrote: "You got me interested in reading Lookout Cartridge too.. But I also want to read A Smuggler's Bible. Which one would you recommend after W&M? "

After W&M I'd suggest a rest ; and go with Smuggler's Bible. I've not gotten to LC yet myself, but I understand that it's another pile of density. Smuggler's is a little lighter, earlier. Or, for lite-McElroy, his charming Letter Left to Me.

message 9: by George (new)

George | 21 comments I believe this is what you were talking about Nathan, for Lisa.


message 10: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments George wrote: "I believe this is what you were talking about Nathan, for Lisa."

That is indeed the unfortunate evidence. thanks, George.

message 11: by George (new)

George | 21 comments Nathan, I found that reading through some reviews of Lookout Cartridge, and the link was someone's review.

message 12: by George (new)

George | 21 comments You are welcome Lisa, and I'm sorry to bring out the " unfortunate evidence", I don't want to stir up sad emotions in the group.

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

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan's deleted posts :::

Like the first chapter with the all-lower-case title, the unknown sound is smaller, dealing primarily with interactions between one woman and one man. The man is Marvin, or is it Martin, the diver for the police (sometimes he fishes out dead bodies for them). The woman is unnamed, but is comfortable enough in the man's apartment to lay around naked, but not so entrenched in his life that she doesn't already know whether she is spending the night or not. Their relationship is new, and they are learning new things from one another. She teaches him how to oil part of his turntable. He has her smell nutmeg for the first time. There is something really beautiful between them that McElroy captures, which leaves my mystified at the readers who find W&M mostly "cold".

So, she hears a sound coming from his TV. He hasn't heard it before, but now he can, not a sound at first, but...a 'pressure', a 'whistle', the speed of light w/o light...

Can he really hear it or does he just know the TV is on because of the glow and is just amusing her? He closes and covers his eyes. She thocks the TV on and off until he doesn't know if it's on. He hears the sound, describes it, then the TV is thocked off and he still continues to describe the sound, feel the sound. He opens his eyes, sees that the TV is off. She never accuses him of being disingenuous, because 'the other thing goes on'... Is the unknown sound coming from [her], or is it just the current still flowing into the TV even though it is off?

I am of that impression. If Martin (as the diver character is usually referred to if not in the ambiguous Martin or Marvin) sometimes does go by Marvin then that will be the (starts raising fingers one by one, starting with pointer, ending with the thumb jutting out sideways) fifth pair of characters (so far! sometimes I have to remind myself I'm not even halfway through this novel!) who have the same name.

I see what you're saying regarding the association of warmth with lyricism. The common McElroy sentence is too precise or too vague or too odd syntax or word choice wise to feel lyrical. Most of them don't glow (you know, with warmth) on their own (exceptions abound. Some just knock you down dead). But, I feel like the warmth comes from the sensations he's successfully (for this reader) captured in the words, no, by transporting you beyond the words. The numerous sorrowful parting scenes in Against The Day (which you rightly, I think, identify as warm and lyrical) or the any of Pynchon's meet-cutes (that I always enjoy) almost always sounddd beautiful but, but I don't feel them quite as hard as I do with McElroy. This is almost certainly, not even really a matter of personal taste, but a personal matter the nature of which I can't put my finger on.

I think you are right to point out the fumbling and disconnection, but I also think the book is about how there is this fumbling and disconnection all over everywhere and yet somehow we can connect. 'We suffer alone. We are not alone.' All that. Too gnomic? I can't put it any better. I feel like I might need like 1192 pages to do so.

Oh, and I'm really happy about the major pickup in the group. Not that it was ever dead. Can't forget the insightful Obfuscations and the W&M FINISHER AS OF TODAY, ALOHA! And of course Nathan back for seconds. Thanks for posting Sean.

Thanks for posting Jason. I too love when McElroy uses his powers to capture these fleeting interpersonal moments---such subtlety, such power, no false sentimentality.

back to top