Saturday, May 24, 2008

Underworld

Everyone wants to read my disjointed, off-the-cuff observations about books I'm reading for exams, right? Right!

Don Delillo, Underworld

5/13

I am two hundred pages into this book, and it's not entirely apparent where it's going, but you can see certain obvious themes emerging: the fragmentation, or apparent fragmentation, of social experience seems to be one. The present is no longer contiguous with the past. The novel opens at a baseball game in 1951, where the Giants beat the Dodgers for the National League pennant, and there's a sense of togetherness, kind of. Then, of course, both teams leave New York, right? And we see a game in the present, 199something, but it's not the same, and the main character, Nick, doesn't care about the team anymore that he used to worship and stuff. Nick works with waste; garbage--the detritus of our culture. La. He purchases, for a ridiculous sum of money, the supposed baseball that was hit for the winning home run in the game in 1951, which a black kid whose name is NOT Cotton Mather but sounds like it had recovered at the time. It represents failure to him; he isn't quite sure why he wants it. Is it a connection to the past, or a rejection of same? There's also a woman, Klara, with whom he had some sort of brief affair when he was small. Now she's a conceptual artist, working on a thing where she and various volunteers repaint old fighter planes--looking for a connection to the past, and to redeem the violent things of the past?

The book's not bad, but it seems sort of facile in parts. Been years since I looked at a real map, Nick sez. It's a sort of Robert Louis Stevenson thing to do. We have maps of highways and motels. Our maps have rest stops and wheelchair symbols. Wow, so the past isn't the present? Whodathunkit? There's a lot of stuff like this: really banal observations that you get the impression are meant to be profound. It can get on your nerves a little. And there's no real emotional resonance so far. But we'll push on and see what emerges.

5/14
I think I've decided I like the third-person parts, but the parts narrated by ol' Nick--not so much. It might just be the parts with Nick period, but for now let's just say the parts he narrates. I just read a chapter about nuns doing social work in New York slums, and it was quite good--contrasting the medieval kinds of associations that you get with nuns with the modern stuff--drugs, AIDS, science. How does the past play in the present? How should it? How can it?

5/15
So he goes to a hotel room with a strange woman he meets, but do they just get on with it? No no no...first they have to have a long, rambling conversation, like something in a Godard film, only annoyinger. I may have mentioned this before, but the big problem with the Nick sections is that they're sooooo cool and restrained. Nobody ever shows any real emotion over ANYTHING--like they think they're being all terribly witty and sophisticated. But they're not. Hmph.

5/17
Dellilo's success rests entirely on "accidental and intermittent moments of non-utter-vapidity." So says Scott Eric Kaufman. Mean, but perhaps not wholly inaccurate!

5/18
640 pages in. I haven't written a lot because it's just so unbearable. I know I should try to say something meaningful, but really, I just want it to be OVER. There are interesting moments: there's a scene with people watching a lost film of Sergei Eisenstein which is juxtaposed with nuclear testing in Utah, and it's kind of interesting, but seriously, this whole thing is SO emotionally sterile. There's a part with a kid--who later goes on to become a nuclear technician and tells horrible stories about people affected by radiation fallout--and while he's a kid, he's masturbating into a condom because it reminds him of a rocket. He's obsessed with rockets. And all I can think is, Pynchon did this more effectively, much more succinctly, and much funnier with the rocket limericks in GR. This just feels trite and artificial. Delillo is a dimestore Pynchon at best.

At any rate, I'll be done in a few days. I SHALL BE RELEASED!

5/24
I haven't been keeping up-to-date here because I'm lazy and I suck. Naturally, I finished the book on Monday. The ending section, featuring the nuns from earlier on and a young feral girl being raped and murdered and then appearing on a billboard in the lights of a train was, I must admit, pretty weird and haunting, and it makes me willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the book. Sort of. To an extent. I still can't really accept the emotionally anesthetized tone of much of the book, but there's definitely SOMETHING there. Is "something" enough? Dunno. I might end up having to reread the damn thing, god help me. But for now, onwards and upwards.

Next: Infinite Jest

5 Comments:

Anonymous marcus pontificated to the effect that...

I've read a bunch of Delillo's stuff and he always leaves me feeling like I stayed up too late the night before. Underworld was an ordeal yes? There is some substance to his writing but... I just finished Americana, his first, and couldn't wait to finish it. Might be my last. Haven't read Cosmopolis and might not. Tired of the blood thirsty executive theme.

Saw somewhere he said Pynchon was an influence on him. Possible but you may be right about the dimestore thing. Have yet to find a more compelling American writer since Faulkner than ol Tom except for maybe Cormac. But then I haven't read everything.

David Foster Wallace is for me quite unreadable. Good luck with Infinite Jest. I may be the only person in the whole world that can't stand being in the same room with him.

11:48 AM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

Sneak preview: I'm eight hundred pages into Infinite Jest, and I'm loving it to death. You're definitely not the only person who isn't a fan, but I sure am. I can see how it might not be to your taste, but "unreadable?" I find it much more accessible than I would have anticipated.

You're just winding me up with that Cormac McCarthy comment, aren't you?

1:59 AM  
Anonymous marcus pontificated to the effect that...

... well I dunno, depends on what floats your boat. I thought The Road got Oprahized into road kill and No Country For Geezers got over-Hollywooded bloat and all that and I read them each in about a day but I think The Border Trilogy and Blood Meridian is High Art and being from Texas, well you know, I can relate to horses and scalpings a-and shootings.
Suttree and Child of God ought to be required reading or at least on the list to choose from along with Look Homeward Angel or Sometimes a Great Notion or War & Peace or 100 Years of Solitude or fucking Gravity's Rainbow. Against The Day is a sleeping giant for extra credit but I digress...
Whatever, I don't know what the kids are reading these days. I would hope progressive teachers and parents are exposing them to something disturbingly good.

Okay, maybe "unreadable" was the wrong word describing my dislike for Wallace and his presumptuous glorification of addiction and his Pynchonesque attempts at modern literature. Maybe the freshman class needs to read about teeth grinding and wall crawling. It's certainly disturbing enough to give pause but is it art?

9:34 PM  
Blogger GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

You know, I personally would pose that last question about Blood Meridian. But that's just me. As I oft say, I've read books I hated more, but never any that were so critically acclaimed. Given the number of clearly intelligent fans that McCarthy has, I try to hold open the possibility that there's just something I'm missing. But every fiber of my being screams in protest against this kind of open-mindedness.

Is DFW "glorifying" addiction? I suppose you could make a case for such, but it's not one I'd care to try to mount. There IS a slightly obsessive quality to his depictions of AA meetings and the like, but I would argue that anybody who writes a thousand-page novel must have an obsessive component to his/her (although more often his) character. "Art?" I dunno. I feel like the word's so nebulous as to have very little signification. I think it's a fairly nuanced piece of work. I would certainly place it above Delillo, although that's damning with faint praise.

2:30 AM  
Anonymous marcus pontificated to the effect that...

Where would we draw the line between violence and/or drug abuse in life and it's depiction thereof in something nebulous called art? Does one imitate the other? Is there a line to draw and does it matter or effect good judgement?
Hellifino but I wondering yes I am.

See what Sam Peckenpah's Wild Bunch did for every shoot em up movie in 1/4 speed made since or what McCarthy's scalpings or Brigadier Pudding's bad habit does for post-modern realism in literature. He's not the only one that explores vile impulse but McCarthy and his peculiar and biblical style whisper whisper whisper and strike me pink the images work, for me. Young Mr. Wallace on the other hand, and here's where I wonder too; am I missing something, seems to be writing more for himself and fails to fully engage my 2 brain cells the way Delillo numbs me into submission.

Can or should I as a writer or videographer self-censor my violent dust filled shoot out and gang rape scene because of queasiness of readership and does violence and drug abuse deserve recognition as something other than pornography? As you alluded, just a matter of taste. But the art I think comes in the repulsive realism that is really life, The Whole Brisket and faint praise or not, that's how the artists find the topology and how they convey to us as they see it. It's a mean old world out there and it will kill you Jim. Look @ this rendition here. See? Don't touch but you see in there? See that? That's you in there staring back. That's right. Staring staring...

So whether ones knows art or merely knows what they like, it's still the effort that resembles talent that counts and that's what sets the writers apart from the readers... whether we like it or not.
I'm just saying.

11:08 PM  

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