Women and Men discussion


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

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

message 2: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments LOL! It's a turtle orgy.

message 3: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Thank you, Jonathan. I will go back and compare notes when I'm ready to go through this book with a fine tooth comb. I'm touching page 1000! It's nice seeing the marker toward the back of the book. The fun for me is the deconstructing of a book. That's why I love these types of books. They stay with me in the long run, too, as one of the most memorable reading experiences.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

once again, wonderfully perceptive Jonathan. this was by a long stretch the toughest BREATHER yet, for me at least. I agree that Larry is a wonderful character. 'I am Larry. I am.' That hit me.

message 5: by Aloha (last edited Jul 01, 2013 04:07PM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments W&M doesn't strike me as a novel close in comparison to a Dostoevsky. It's postmodern in the repetition of the names, the confusion of which forces us to take note of each of the character, what distinguishes them beyond the name. The spiral movement of the structure and the displacement of time and history is also postmodern. There's a lot of purposeful postmodernist displacement that, paradoxically, causes attention to be paid, to history, to the VOID, to the meanings that are there and not there. A work by Dostoevsky may be existential in nature, but it is realism instead of hyperrealism.

message 6: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Not so definite. It's only 2 to 1. Any BREATHERS? Anyone?

message 7: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments Gawd, I told myself I wasn't going to use fancy cliché words. I repeated postmodern three times, then used existential, realism and hyperrealism.

message 8: by Aloha (last edited Jul 01, 2013 06:02PM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments The only significant similarity is the jump in the point of views, so you do get more of a "realism" in that you can empathize with each of the characters. But you were comparing W&M with the postmodernists as well as with Dostoevsky. That's why I brought in the postmodernist techniques that clearly differentiate W&M and Dostoevsky's writing, and why W&M has more similarity with postmodernist writing.

message 9: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments No worries, Jason. This is an interesting discussion. Don't cut yourself short. You said some great stuff.

message 10: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments BTW, I'm self-taught in literature, too, so you're not alone.

message 11: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jason wrote: "One thing I'm finding interesting is how this novel is more "realism" than I thought it would be. I mean, this is not Pynchon. There aren't any talking dogs or anything like that.

Can I say that it's more like a Dostoevsky novel than the post-modern writers? Is that allowed? Sure, the narrative is scattered and experimental, but the characters are more like ones you'd find in The Brother's K. (I care more about Alyosha and Grace/Jim than I ever did about Tyrone Slothrop)."

I think you're spot-on, Jason, with the comparison to Dostoevsky. McElroy does write a realism like nearly no one I know of this side of William Gaddis. And the kind of characters he's got in this book do have that kind of Dostoevskian psychology. Nietzsche once called Dostoevsky the greatest psychologist ever, and I think there's reason to believe that McElroy is standing in those same shoes, 100+ years later. Indeed, it is an unexpected comparison to make, but it sheds a lot of light on the kind of novel W&M is.

Your comments about caring for the characters in W&M in comparison to GR is also interesting; another reader had described the characters in Joe's earlier novel Hind's Kidnap (which I haven't read yet) as robotic, which I found a very odd thing to say in light of the characters in W&M. [it's also interesting the characters in Pycnhon's later novels are also a lot easier to care about than those from his earlier novels]

Looking forward to more comments from you. There is still something untethered for all of us reading Women and Men for the first time. There's just not many people reading him and all of us get lost swinging around trying to figure out what this novel is and how to read it.

message 12: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

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

message 13: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan (nathandjoe) | 51 comments What an extraordinary piece of writing this section is. I think what impressed me most was the emotional build-up - in particular with Mayn. The gut-punch of the final few paragraphs is powerful, and well-earned.

In contrast to J above, my reading was that she said those words directly to him. That was the particular horror of it.

message 14: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

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

I will only denote, in a choppy way, very important relationships and/or events that are revealed in this BREATHER (it's simply too long, and sometimes note taking prevents me from reading smoothly) and most importantly correct misconceptions I had while reading earlier sections.

So the Opera Diva is friend of Clara and Exile-economist. She is not their daughter. Her father is under house arrest in Chile.

The Sydney Opera house looks like 'two turtles copulating.' Only two?

[two photos actualizing that sentence]


A bit on the foci and design of the BREATHERS

The first two BREATHERS are called BETWEEN US, and they both have Mayn, Kimball, and the Diva as primary foci with everything else swirling around these centers. Thus far in the first of the BREATHERS known as BETWEEN HISTORIES, these three foci have remained, and we have added at at least two more, Larry (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in this and any novel), and Lincoln.

The BREATHERS are getting easier for me, and I think they are designed to. Not that the text is simpler, no, but like our Opera Diva looking out into the audience, do we "just see the mass?" No, because certain parts of the mass are becoming more intimately known to us. "I see friends sometime if I know where to look." Not only do we have the mass in the sense that in the BREATHERS, Joseph McElroy taps into the consciousnesses of so many characters "at once", in this BREATHER we have many characters actually massed in the same location, though often they do not know one another, yet? Maybe, though perhaps never. Do we need to know one another to affect one another? This is central to W&M.


How about that Diva? We "had minimal designs on her", she was only our "transit" appearing only in these BREATHERS thus far. But the text indicates that she is about to become more important now that she has recalled to herself (and to us) a "forgotten scene from that Hamlet opera by the Chilean woman who could not get it put on." Her mufti lover is aware of Mayn watching Dr. Mackenna.


She's in a restaurant recommended to her by Clara. She's in one of Grace's sessions with Clara, possibly Flick. She has heard Flick read the letter Flick has received from Mayn about Ship Rock (It turns out several characters have passed by Ship Rock before) and also about his future (the two-into-one). Lincoln feels like she is in love with this Mayn she has never met. Lincoln, like Mayn, is a journalist and reported on Thích Quảng Đức. The name may not ring a bell, but the picture below likely will. Mayn was there too, in the "stored radius" of Lincoln's tape.

[photo of self-immolation]


Did I miss where the novel states how Mayn knows Larry? (edit: p.350 ''Lar' had by chance heard Mayn discussing basketball in the lobby with the doorman in Spanish and joined in...' ) Larry asking for advice (for his "friend") from Mayn about what he is to do about his mom Coming Out is almost as heartbreaking as the last page of the chapter that bears Larry's name. He is so frail. Larry is still pining after Amy but suspects that Mayn may be foe, after Amy himself, rather than friend. The solution to this tangle, and I don't have it worked out entirely, surely lies in Amy being Mackenna's assistant...

Dr. Mackenna reads Shakespeare's


Or I shall live your epitaph to make,
Or you survive when I in earth am rotten;
From hence your memory death cannot take,
Although in me each part will be forgotten.
Your name from hence immortal life shall have,
Though I, once gone, to all the world must die:
The earth can yield me but a common grave,
When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live -- such virtue hath my pen --
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

Diva Luisa (she gets named this BREATHER) continues to see the Pinochet officer, trying to get answers regarding the condition of her father. Luisa is in communication with Clara, but it is unclear exactly how much she knows about the (supposed, according to what Spence tells Lincoln) plan of Clara's, Clara is suspected of helping to spring from a NY state prison an anti-Castro nationalist so he can 'liquidate a key general officer of the junta and abduct a famous, old socialist presently under house arrest.' Luisa turned down the role of Horatio in a production of a Hamlet opera with an enigmatic lineage, possibly linked to a Verdi fragment.

Larry rides his bike to this father-appointed therapist, coming near and then avoiding collision with various NYC folk. He is barraged with information including multiple TV screens in shop windows, one of which Grace lectures from. He ends up turning around before he gets to the therapist, rides back to his building and runs into the non-TV version of Grace there. He realizes his father has to pay for his therapist appointment whether he goes to it or not.

Mayn, over the course of different bar visits in different years covering various events for The News(all interesting, all of which I'm sorry will escape my summary), tells two stories, one of his past, the other of his future. The future he tells to Chilean reporter Mayga, who ends up falling off a cliff and dying (accidentally? She has connections that lead one to suspect...), you know the basic story by now, but we get details about the torus, about food production there out in the libration point, etc. Mayga takes notes. Mayn suspects she may even have believed him...

Mayn tells his past to Ted and mulls over much in his mind that he doesn't tell. Of a day at the beach where his mom looks out into the ocean, only to later, on the phone say "I have to get out of all this. I just want to die sometimes. I could just disappear into the sea" within earshot of her Mayn that night. Mayn finds out that Brad is only his half brother, but did he know back then? We suspect Brad's father is the man Sarah seemed disturbed by on the beach, Bob Yard. Is he really the Hermit Inventor of Choor Princess fame? He seems so unassuming. [edit: No, BY drove the Hermit Inventor to the beach to see Margaret, H-I was waiting on her porch when Yard came across him.]

As always, please let me know if I need to make corrections and add anything you think is important that I didn't summarize.

#11----(response to deleted, "once again, wonderfully perceptive Jonathan. this was by a long stretch the toughest BREATHER yet, for me at least. I agree that Larry is a wonderful character. 'I am Larry. I am.' That hit me.")-----

Yeah, you don't want to screw up your momentum. Text accretes and meaning builds---some of what you don't get it here is because McElroy hasn't dropped you X bit of info used to connect A and B. When you get X, it all lights up and it's fireworks.

If you have any specific questions, I may be able to answer them by going back through my notes, now that I have seen "the forest" a little better.

I agree, that of the big canonical postmodern tomes, this one is on the more realistic end--no wraiths, no talking light bulbs--but it has its uncanny strain! The characters, yes, feel very real, both the known focal characters and the unknown ones lurking in the periphery. Dostoevsky isn't the first thing that pops into my mind, but I get it---in a sense, W&M seems evolved from the nineteenth century novel, reaching a kind of postmodernism by its own course.

Jason wrote: ":-) I wasn't talking about literary techniques between Dostoevsky and McElroy. That would be silly. They're 100 years apart and wrote in very different ways. I was talking about some of the the..."

I'm thinking specifically Brothers Karamazov & Women and Men: They both revolve around family(s)! Both are spiritual books to me, though with very different conceptions of God. Both have distinct characters but, as in real life, they can sometimes turn on a dime.

Not sure where to put this, but it seems much of the lore surrounding the Hamlet opera (its origins multiple?) that's been popping up this breather is based in fact. Behold, Amelto: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amleto

If anyone knows Neruda and the meaning and/or context of Letter to Miguel Otero Silva, in Caracas, I think it would shed light on what exactly Luisa is trying to communicate to Clara on pp.437-439. I've read the poem and translated all the Spanish on the pages and I still can't work out Luisa's intent to the degree that I would like to (is the question re: the poem some kind of coded warning? I take comfort in Clara being confused as well). (view spoiler)

I'm glad our readings contrast--any reason to revisit the text!

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