Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Gioconda Belli, The Inhabited Woman (1989)

I read this book because a friend lent it to me when she saw that I was reading Latin American novels. It's probably one of my less-lovable traits: I always feel annoyed at having my reading imposed upon in this way. I want to read what I want to read, how dare anyone make me modify my plans argh! And especially if someone actually gives you a book; if they just recommend it, it's easy to make vague, affirmative noises and then keep doing what you're doing, but in that case, you really feel obligated. Hey, as I say, I'm not saying these are particularly admirable thought processes, just that I have them.
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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Demetrio Aguilera Malta, Seven Serpents and Seven Moons (1970)

Demetrio Aguilera Malta (1909-1981) was an Ecuadorian author regarded--so I'm told--as hot stuff, but certainly not with any great amount of cultural cachet in English. This, regarded--again, so I'm told--as his masterpiece is long out-of-print in its English translation (by Gregory Rabassa, no less). What does it mean? Will the world ever know? Maybe! I'm actually kind of surprised that Dalkey hasn't scooped it up to keep it in print.
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Monday, March 19, 2018


"You can't say 'more unique,' or 'very unique,'" is a thing pedants sometimes say. "Either something's unique or it isn't!" But is that really true? First, we have to determine what exactly we mean by "unique." Isn't it self-evident? No, not really! And if you're a pedant, you have to care about exactitude in definitions.

If we think "unique" must denote an absolute, there are two ways we could potentially think of it. First, we could posit that something is unique if any aspect of it is different in any way from something else, down to the molecular level. But that's not really useful, is it? It would mean that everything, even mass-produced products, are "unique" in a really trivial and meaningless way.

Alternatively, we could say that something is unique if and only if absolutely every aspect of it is utterly dissimilar from anything else--again, down to the molecular level. However, this seems equally unhelpful, as it means that absolutely nothing is unique.

So what do we do? What do you mean when you call something "unique" anyway? It's pretty obvious that if I call this animal or that academic program unique, I'm not using either of the above definitions. Rather, I'm--wait for it--talking about something somewhere in the middle. It's clear that, for all practical purposes, there's a sliding scale of uniqueness, and if you attempt to hew to absolutes you just define the word out of useful existence. Hence, it's perfectly okay to say that something is more unique than something else or, indeed, very unique, queue ee dee.

I suppose you could make a better case for "perfect," but only a little. In any case, why bother?  Does being tedious really bring you that much personal satisfaction?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo (1955)

Here's how this novel opens: "I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Páramo, lived there. It was my mother who told me. And I had promised her that after she died I would go see him. I squeezed her hands as a sign that I would do it. She was near death, and I would have promised her anything." In her introduction, Susan Sontag declares that from this, "we know we are in the hands of a master storyteller." But here's my question: do we? Do we really? Because I feel like maybe I personally don't. I'm not saying it's bad or anything, but I feel like the alleged greatness here needs a bit of unpacking, which Sontag fails to provide.
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Thursday, March 08, 2018

José Lezama Lima, Paradiso (1966)

Welp, this is a Cuban novel. A lot of people seem to think of it as THE Cuban novel, so I wanted to read it. Due to our horrible foreign policy, Cuba has always seemed mysterious and remote to me. Anyway. This is this.
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Friday, March 02, 2018

Literally indistinguishable

I noted this on facebook, but I also wanted to do it here, because it is the world's most perfect comparison, and no one else appears to have made it.  The Trump White House IS the last scene of Aguirre, the Wrath of God.