Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Sun-Gazette prints the best letters EVER.

...from semi-literate men with TWO alleged PhDs. Gay marriage causes high gas prices! You heard it here first.

If you aren't a Christian or you aren't sure if your are a Christian -- please delete this now -- this isn't for you.

The Bible says "Faith without works is dead." You can't believe or say you believe the Bible and sit on your hinny and do nothing. In the years since the death of Jesus many sins have been committed by christians and governments.

I am not a great historian but I do hold two Ph.D. If you aren't saved you only see why nations and governments fall because of natural reasons such as a dictatorship. Every nation or government that allowed or condones gross sexual immorality has failed without one exception!

Over the past 10 years there has been a move to engage in homosexual marriages and the condoning of these practices as being normal both in the secular world and in the church. Churches are ordaining open gay ministers.

California has started gay marriages and the church and the people who call themselves christians have done nothing! A few sermons here or there but nothing has been done to stop the flood of sin. America will fail, it will suffer so--called natural disasters, rising fuel cost, rising food and energy cost while God gives us a chance to get right with him.

It isn't to late but it is getting closer. Open our hearts and eyes before it is too late!

Rev. Dr. Kenneth H. Balliet

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Recognitions

Okay! William Gaddis! This is a book that I had started some years ago, got two hundred pages into, wimped out. I'm glad to have the chance to revisit it. The impression I had of it back in the day was "sort of mean, but funny." That may well be accurate, but it's a little bit difficult to really get a lock on what the exact viewpoint is. I've regained that two hundred pages, is where I am now.

The first section, featuring the Reverend Gwyon--the putative hero's father--and his son's upbringing is pretty enthralling, it must be said. The Reverend (who never gets a first name) is a likable character, who ends up confusing his congregation by alluding to non-christian/pagan themes in his sermons and the connections between the two. The theme of forgery/imitation is well-established right from the start.

In the second section, Wyatt is living in France, and the vehemence of Gaddis's dislike of French culture is almost comical. For being artificial, mainly. Expatriate Americans buying into it being the only thing he might hate more. Actually, this strongly reminds one of Balzac's depictions of the glittering corruptions of Paris; the difference is that Balzac shows you the excitement, the giddy rush, the thrill of it all, as well as the bad parts; Gaddis does not. Although he's frequently funny, I would have to say that Gaddis's view of the world is actually rather humorless, or humorous only in a very bitter way.

I don't know about Gaddis and women: I can't quite tell if HE is displaying misogynistic tendencies, or whether it's just the characters. The fact is that the only notable female characters to date--Wyatt's Aunt May and his wife Esther--seem to mainly exist to thwart the soaring ambitions of the men around them. But you know, I'm not even completely confident in that assertion. Wyatt is actually kind of a dick to Esther, and I can't decide whether or not Gaddis means him to be dickish. If he doesn't, I think he has problems, since his main character--the guy who seems to be supposed to represent authenticity in an increasingly fake culture--kinda makes you root for the fakery.

I think all this makes it sound like I'm more down on the book than I actually am; it IS often funny: the character of Otto--the guy who's writing a play that consists of a mary sue character spouting overheard semi-profundities--is perhaps a bit broadly drawn, but still wonderfully entertaining. Also, Gaddis does have an ear for dialogue. For the time being, I am withholding judgment.

Esme is an interesting character, maybe. Entirely artless, she effortlessly sees through Otto's attempts at self-romaticiziation. I'm not sure but that Gaddis' heroes and villains might be a bit too exaggerated in their heroism and villainy, however. I still like Otto, even though Gaddis shows him behaving increasingly assholishly by the minute. What can I say? I think the problem with Wyatt's relationship to Esther is that, even if Wyatt isn't trying to be a dick, you cannot function in some sort of exalted, artistically pure way and pretend that other people, whatever their flaws, either don't exist or don't matter. We haven't seen Esther lately, so it's possible that more will come of all this, but I'm having a hard time forgiving Wyatt at the moment.

You can definitely see the postmodern in here: long scenes of fragments of unrelated conversations, characters who barely appear in one scene becoming the viewpoint character in the next, and of course the apparent idea that art is done--I'm not sure if this is what Gaddis is going for or not, but it seems as though all one can do is riff--parodically or not--on previous high culture, rather than coming up with anything new. Of course, Gaddis also has choice words to say about originality.

Sometimes I'm not sure about this book, but then I get to a chapter like this one, at about the halfway mark, where Wyatt, having had some sort of nervous breakdown, returns to his childhood home with the aim of following his father's religious calling, and all these people--his grandfather, the maidservant, these women from some charitable society, even his father to an extent--all mistake him for various religious figures. Very impressionistic; very striking. On the one hand it strongly recalls Faulkner--half-mad remnants of a decaying ancestral estate hanging on like ghosts--but it's also very postmodern: All of this confusion precipitates in Wyatt a crisis of identity where he keeps asking "don't you know who I am?" We see in this--as well as in the fact that his name is rarely if ever used after the novel's initial section--a kind of fragmentation of identity that inevitably brings to mind Slothrop hisself.

Otto meets with a man who he thinks is his father he's never known, but who is actually a counterfeiter who mistakes him for the guy he's meant to deliver his latest batch of fake cash to. Hijinx ensue! Very funny hijinx, as a matter of fact.

I'm starting to get into the swing of things! And I'm not two thirds of the way through yet! It comes together to a large extent once you more or less figure out the characters, which is not all that easy because of the way they come and go in profusion and confusion. There is absolutely no doubt that an immediate reread would be enjoyable and profitable, but there's not really time for that, is there?

Stanley and Anselm are both identifiably Dostoevskian characters, the former being a kind of holy fool; the latter, a tumultuous, angry soul tortured by cynicism, disbelief, frequently expressed in blasphemous terms, but who nonetheless, although he'd never admit it, badly wants to believe. It's quite fascinating how this novel traverses so many different novelistic styles and modes. Don't look now, but I think I may be in love.

So as not to sign off without a little complaining, though, I have to say: the introduction, by William Gass, is totally fucking self-satisfied and insufferable. Yes yes, all those fools who do not appreciate the awesomeness of this novel--aren't they irredeemably stupid? Aren't we initiates just ever so much better than them? The Tunnel is on The List a little way down the line, and this makes me feel even more trepidation about that. We shall see.

Long scene at Esther's Christmas party. Seventy pages of mostly dialogue--bunches of different conversations going on at once, complete with random snippets from unidentified characters. I won't say this section wasn't a little difficult to read, but as I've mentioned before, Gaddis does dialogue very well, even if characters occasionally lapse a bit more into speechifying than realistic. Not on a Dostoevskian level, though. Thankfully. Anyway. All very postmodern.

I'm reading the older Penguin Twentieth Century Classics edition, which is 956 pages; however, the current edition is twenty pages longer, so I'm going to use their page count so as to sound more impressive. But why would you fuck up citations everywhere by messing with the pagination? Seriously. Not cool.

Anyway, things started to explode today, as we find ourselves at a party Recktall Brown is holding where he drunkenly squeezes into a suit of armor and topples down the stairs to his death. Wyatt and Valentine are the last people to leave; Valentine makes what I consider an on-the-mark criticism of Wyatt's work: that while he, Wyatt, thinks of his paintings as containing elements of the divine, the fact that he insists on filling in details everywhere; that he can't stand leaving space indicates that he's actually insecure about this alleged numinous quality and doubts the presence of God at all. Wyatt stabs him three times and leaves him for dead. I don't think he's actually dead though. The only good thing to come out of all this is that Brown's slightly insane black servant, Fuller, is emancipated.

Things really are falling apart: the Reverend Gwyon devotes himself wholly to Mithraism, and is consigned to an insane asylum, where he is apparently--I say "apparently" because it's a very elliptical scene--is crucified by his insane roommate, a Mr. Farisy (ho ho!). A sad end for a good character. His successor has to write a funeral oraison for him, and then we get a pretty funny passage:

It was in this inert position, with no change in his expression at all (as a matter of fact he had finished the cigar and was picking his nose) that "Dick" was inspired to take his text from I Corinthians, "the foolishness of God..." what was it? "Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" He got up mumbling--"Unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness..." looking for the familiar gold-lettered black spine,--"But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise..." His blank look gradually focused as his lips, pursuing "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men..." slowed and went dead. There, on the marble table, lay one of seventeen and a half million copies of the latest issue of the Reader's Digest, in which he became so engrossed, that he took it to bed with him.

Doesn't that just perfectly tell you who the guy is?

Otto actually breaks his arm in an actual Central American revolution, where previously he had been just pretending. Does this mean that he will have no choice but to start behaving as an authentic person?

Fuck me. Taking an enforced week-long leave of absence isn't exactly good for one's rhythm. Well anyway. Today we have Frank Sinisterra, disguised as a Romanian named "Mr. Yák," and Wyatt, given the guise of a Swiss named "Stephan," in Spain. They're both consistently referred to by their pseudonyms, emphasizing their fractured identities. "Mr. Yák" acts for a while as a father figure to "Stephan," which is especially meaningful inasmuch as he was responsibly for "Stephan"'s mother's death waaaaay back at the beginning of the novel (as the fake ship's doctor). Also, the Reverend Gwyon's original name for Wyatt was Stephen, before Aunt May stepped in. Whatever that may signify.

"Stephan" is theoretically searching for his mother's remains in this chapter, but he seems to spend most of his time sleeping with prostitutes (love vs counterfeit, obviously). I think now that my previous moral condemnations of Wyatt are actually rather beside the point, but he remains a cypher, aside from apparently being rather crazy. Earlier, in a little meta-comment on the novel, Valentine proclaimed that he could write a novel about him, Brown, and Wyatt, but Wyatt wouldn't work well because the idea with a novel is to be able to receive privileged psychological information about a character, but Wyatt is just a blank. I go back and forth on the question of whether or not, at least as far as THIS novel is concerned, he had a valid point.

Okay: all I have left is the epilogue. Fifty-odd pages. So I AM going to finish it tomorrow, right? Right? No more bullshit? Okay. Anyway, Wyatt's story seems to be over; he has achieved some sort of inner peace, apparently, although it's not totally clear to me how or why. I've been reading some essays by Steven Moore which detail the trajectory of the novel, and the religious symbolism that fuels much of it, so I'm pretty sure Gaddis knows what he's doing. I'm not sure that's enough, but it's late, so I'll say more tomorrow.

Okay done. All nine hundred seventy-six pages. Now I belong to an exclusive club, although not as exclusive as the one of people who have UNDERSTOOD every one of those pages. Actually, I think Steven Moore might be the only member of that one. And his membership is still probationary. But still--not bad!

The epilogue takes place partly in France, leading to more of Gaddis's bizarre fulminating about how France fucking sucks and he hates it hates it HATES IT OH GOD HE HATES IT SO MUCH. Any valid point he might have been trying to make is obscured by what I can only presume are very large, unresolved, irrational ISSUES he has with the country. It's really strange: even if it's sometimes tedious, the novel is clearly very carefully constructed for the most part. And yet...

That aside, the epilogue is pretty effective in terms of dealing with the fates and paths of the characters. Aside from poor Esther, who gets nada. Gaddis definitely does not do female characters with a great deal of nuance, and it is unfortunate. Still, said epilogue is kind of beside the point. Wyatt's been taken care of. And as I said, I really don't know. I feel like the human side of the novel is sometimes obscured by Gaddis's intricate, symbolic plans. I reckon that's a charge that many people would lay at the feet of post-modern fiction in general; I would argue with that in some cases, but not so much here. Let us not overstate things, however: there's a lot to like about this novel, and the constant religious imagery, while hard to deal with at times, definitely creates a distinct atmosphere. The link between modern and postmodern is also vital and useful to think about.

I've probably said too many mean things about the book to be in the good graces of scary cultists like Gass and the dude who wrote the book about how much all Recognitions-reviewers suck and should be fired, but who cares what they think?

Next: TBA

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Who doesn't like internet traditions?

It has been fun and fascinating to watch this meme growing in real time at a massive rate of speed. I can't help it. I love the shit out of goofy internet memes.

One thing that has also come to my attention--not that it's a shocking revelation--is that certain liberals are out of their fucking MINDS. I read the first few comments in that thread accusing the poster of AGEISM! thinking they were jokes. Because come on, how could they NOT be? And then it slowly dawned on me that these people were DEAD SERIOUS. Yes: making jokes about how John McCain is fucking ancient are deeply offensive and inappropriate.

Even though right-wingers who accuse liberals of being overly up-tight and PC are really just mad about not being able to hate on blacks and gays as publicly as they'd like, it's things like this that give their whining a veneer of plausibility. Because the ultimate point I'm trying to make is JESUS CHRIST TALK ABOUT HUMORLESS. That is all.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Firefox 3 is sexy.

And notably faster than F2, at least on my somewhat creaky laptop. I recommend it. Just be sure to install oldbar in order to do away with that horrible 'awesomebar.'

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Service advisory

I would be well done with The Recognitions and onto something else by now if I hadn't had the luck to contract the grippe bug from hell. All I've been doing these past few days is lying around and moaning softly. Goddamnit.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Found art in amazon reviews

Heathcliff Has Spring Fever

[One Star] Sare's Review, October 23, 2002
By A Customer
"Heathcliff has Spring Fever" was a kind of confusing book. It didn't really have a point or moral to the story. It is about a crazy orange cat named Heathcliff and a kid named Iggy. Heathcliff is always getting into to trouble and making the neighbors mad. One day he leaves the house to go cause some trouble, and the sunlight bounces off a trashcan and hits his eye. Suddenly he starts acting nice and being kind to people. His owners take him to the doctor and they tell him he has spring fever. The book really doesn't have any ending, he just ends up getting into a fight. I wouldn't really recommend this book for children because it is kind of hard to understand. They might enjoy the illustrations though.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Random picture from my cellphone #4

Some people insist on seeing something sinister about this plate, but in fact, I'm pretty sure this car just belongs to Giorgio Moroder. It's really quite useful: if he commits a parking violation, and a cop's writing him up, he'll check the license plate and realize, whoa, this car belongs to the man whose 1984 album with the Human League's Phil Oakley spawned the hit single "Together in Electric Dreams?!?" No way am I ticketing him! It's a real money-saver.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Infinite Jest

I am three hundred pages in, and I have to say, although I was skeptical at first, partly because I'm instinctively wary of popular things and partly because Wallace looks like kind of a dick in his picture on the back, but my cynicism has crumbled under this book's onslaught. It's really quite wonderful. Parts of it are sort of reminiscent of Underworld, in that they consist of characters talking around one another, but that's about as far as it goes: there's really feeling here; real emotion. It's both funny and harrowing as hell. I don't know what if any personal experience Wallace has in this area, but he writes about addiction scarily convincingly. The last thing I read was an account of an itinerant, gender dysphoric individual going into heroin withdrawal, and WOW. You are there. Addiction of various sorts is one of the book's major themes, and thinking about contemporary culture in these terms, while not a new idea by any means, is well-explored and has interesting results. The idea of subsidized time ("Year of Dairy Products from America's Heartland") is also rather potent.

A large part of this book takes place at a tennis academy: so why tennis? One character theorizes that with tennis, you have a kind of aloneness even within the collective, because it's not a team sport. Everyone's preoccupied with his or her own status. Isolation within a super-connected world: that's a good post-modern thing. Orin, the brother who gives up tennis for football, still maintains this tennis-y thing: it's suggested that his weakness in tennis was his ability to only master a part of the game, which translates somehow into football where, as a punter, all he has to do is this one thing good: he's kind of on the periphery of the team. Mario, the brother who can't play sports due to physical disabilities: is he more connected than the others? He's the one who talks frequently about their father's death.

Addiction kind of works the same way: you have the halfway house near the tennis academy where all the inmates are forced together, but at the same time they're fighting their demons in their own heads; the institution tries to help them, but it can't force them out.

Dude's interest in addiction borders on the obsessive, I have to say. There was a LONG segment in today's reading about AA meetings. I still don't have my head quite wrapped around what POINT he's trying to make. It's most compelling reading, but what with the massive, unbroken blocks of text on the SAME SUBJECT for pages and pages, it sometimes takes on a manifesto-like quality. There's a recurring bit featuring a US agent and a Quebecois separatist meeting to exchange information in shadowy ways, and the Quebecois has a kind of proto-fascist philosophy where American freedom is only the freedom to not have to do anything, and compares it to a parent letting a kid eat candy all the time. There's certainly a relationship here. Wallace's personal viewpoint remains somewhat murky, however.

There were also kids playing a complicated nuclear brinksmanship with tennis equipment simulation called Eschaton, which breaks down into bedlam, as the boundaries between the players and the playing area--between, dare I say it, signifier and signified--come into question. A map is not the territory kind of thing. The full implications remain slightly out of reach to me, but it's clearly a world come unstuck.

There's also a thing with Hal's brother Orin having a crush on the aforementioned agent, who is undercover as a woman. A classic literary device, from Shakespeare to Ranma 1/2!

Okay! Halfway point, more or less. The most striking thing in today's reading was a part with a pair of brothers, bumbling, ineffective Quebecois separatists, quite horrifyingly assassinated by more committed separatists--these here wheelchair assassins--and you don't really KNOW these characters or anything, but it's really hard to read, as the harmless ineffectualness of Lucien is emphasized even as he's being killed in a way that I don't really want to describe, and there's a sort of life-flashing-before-his-eyes thing at the end that is just absolutely DEVASTATING.

We also get a lot of background on the founding of this here Organization of North American Nations--certainly the ONAN acronym could be analyzed endlessly--as well as the move away from network TV to a sort of netflix-esque content-on-demand thing. It's fairly prescient, although I really can't see the networks actually *dying off* anytime soon, as they do here. The only thing that I find rather strange is that media is still being distributed on cartridge-y things. The book was published in 96, so written early 90s--surely even then CD-based media was enough of an emergent technology for Wallace to have extrapolated. OH WELL. I am nitpicking.

Also: more back-and-forth about what America's "pursuit of happiness" means and how it works when one's happiness impedes on others', and things of that nature.

The most likable character in the novel, I find, is recovering narcotics-user/burglar and current halfway house live-in counselor DW Gately. Yes! There are likable characters! Suck it, Delillo!

It was hard at the beginning to tell who the main characters really are, since there are a lot of disconnected sections of people major and minor. But now it becomes apparent that Don Gately really is the hero of this novel, if it has a hero, and I have a sick feeling bad things are in store for him--well, bad things have happened already. It may well get worse. There's an inmate who gets, I don't know, catharsis from killing rats then cats then dogs, which is a little hard to an animal person like me to read, although it's never in super-graphic detail. Anyway, he's chased back to the house one night by burly Canadians, and Gately enters a kind of fugue state, going back to when he was using, and beats the shit out of them, killing at least one. Not a good scene. I am uneasy.

There's a section where Steeply is telling Marathe about how his father became addicted to MASH and came apart more and more until he DIED, albeit from seeming unrelated causes, which raises many questions, and raises issues related to the isolation of the postmodern condition.

This is a pretty intense book, and reading it so quickly I think only exacerbates that. Sometimes I have to take a step back and remind myself: it's only a book. There's a world outside. There are (pleasepleasepleasesaythereare) no actual Wheelchair Assassins doing horrible things to people. There's a lot of horrible stuff going on right now, and we're still waiting for the ultimate shoe to drop: in the beginning section, which is after everything else so far, chronologically, what is wrong with Hal (something drug-related--dmz related, to be specific--presumably). I predict that the book will not end on an upbeat note.

A mean but rather funny bit where Hal accidentally finds himself not in an NA-type group but one of these Men's Support Groups.

Marathe is actually a pretty intriguing character. A genuine anti-hero, I would say, although we'll see how things turn out.

Gately having a long, hallucinatory discussion with the late Incandenza. Pretty interesting stuff.

Still not sure where this is going, but it's gotta get there in a hundred pages. So we'll see. I wish I were being more substantive here, but I'm distracted by wanting to know what happens :-(


Next: The Recognitions

...okay, to be more specific: this book has no ending. As in, it just STOPS. I have no doubt that any number of people would argue that this is indicative of the postmodern condition endless narcotizing sameness blahdy blah blah...but, although I am open to reasoned arguments, I'm thinking that's basically a cop-out. I don't think Wallace puts in the necessary groundwork to pull off that kind of ambiguity. All of Pynchon's novels have endings.

Do not get me wrong: I liked the book a lot. But I think the bottom line is that Wallace is a ridiculously talented motherfucker who--at the time of the writing--did not quite have the experience or discipline to bring it all back home. There's a temptation on the part of a lot of people to look at something so fucking massive and erudite and automatically declare it a masterpiece--which is probably actually rather unfortunate for the writer, as it encourages complacency. There are many things about Infinite Jest that are fucking awesome, but ultimately, I think it has to go into the category of journeyman work. I just hope that DFW doesn't consider it some sort of definitive novelistic statement, because, although it isn't the Next Great American Novel (there's a reality show for you), I strongly suspect that, with this experience under his belt, the next one very well might be.