Thursday, June 28, 2007

the rest of June books

Books read for June for fiction-only summer, 2007 with short, very short discussions.

1. Started: 6/8/2007 Finished 6/13/2007
Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov

Mixed into a story of finding one's double, belies some Nabokovian treatises on art and duplicity. The narrator attempts the pefect murder under the guise of suicide. He is perceptually flawed, since he does not have the objectivity to see if the double he has selected can really pass for himself. The authorities reveal his crime as defective. Nabokov somehow entertwins some ideas on literary criticism parallelling with the presses persecution treatment of the murder within the story.

Should you read it? Yes, if you like Nabokov and/or if you like stories of psychologically questionable characters.

2. Started 6/13/2007 Finished 6/16/2007
Contempt, by Alberto Moravia

Obssessive story of a man's loss of his wife's love. The narrator, a writer, sells himself out by writing screenplays instead of the works he was inspired to do. He blames his wife's need for a house and other material necessities which drove him to write for money instead of writing for art. We never know the wife's perspective, all we learn about the relationship is completely based on his interpretation. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that the narrator is not to be trusted, but in fact he misunderstands and misinterprets many scenes.The language obscures the narrator's growing mania, since the story is written in an analytical and detached manner.

Should you read it? Yes, if you like to peer into the dark mind of the psychologically spurious, (see also, above book) and if you like to read about a relationship slowly going to hell.

3. Started 6/17/2007 Finished 6/18/2007
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë

Gripping Victorian love story of a unloved orphan (Jane Eyre) and her eventual, but tantalizing falling in love with the Byronic (i.e. tragic & brooding) "hero", Mr Rochester. Along the way, she acquires a good education, develops ladylike qualities, becomes a governess and a teacher, and inherits some money from a long lost uncle.There's a mad woman in the attic which disrupts some marriage plans, and second marriage proposal, just to keep things lively.

Should you read it? Yes, if you like gripping Victorian romances written by previously underappreciated women writers.

4. Started 6/18/2007 finished 6/21/2007
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad

Nefarious collision tale between civilization and barbarism and the madness that imperialism and colonialism produces. Marlow sneaks up the Congo to track down the elusive and diabolical Kurtz. Classic novel focusing on the construction of "the other".

Should you read it? Yes, if you are fascinated by Coppola's Apocalypse Now and Herzog's Aguirre,Wrath of God and if you want to know the origin of that quote: "the horror, the horror".

5. Started 6/22/2007 Finished 6/23/2007
Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, by Sam Savage

A book eating rat becomes literate and devours classics while holing up in a bookstore. The rat observes humans from afar, and seems to love them despite their foibles. A depressed and drunken science fiction writer gives the rat some moments of happiness and love. All the while, Boston gentrifies.

Should you read it? Yes, if you want to read one of the bloggers' buzz favourite ficiton, or if you like rat tales.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

math minded

Last night I read this great New Yorker article about a Russian mathematician, Grigory Perelman, who may have solved the Poincaré conjecture. The Poincaré conjecture as described by Wikipedia.

And an excerpt from the article, Manifold Destiny, from an August 2006 New Yorker, I most likely picked it up from some library magazine giveaway stack, as I am wont to do:

Mikhail Gromov, the Russian geometer, said that he understood Perelman’s logic: “To do great work, you have to have a pure mind. You can think only about the mathematics. Everything else is human weakness. Accepting prizes is showing weakness.” Others might view Perelman’s refusal to accept a Fields as arrogant, Gromov said, but his principles are admirable. “The ideal scientist does science and cares about nothing else,” he said. “He wants to live this ideal. Now, I don’t think he really lives on this ideal plane. But he wants to.”

Friday, June 22, 2007

modified heart-break haiku

Was I so difficult for you?

Many questions

better off silent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Here lies an atheist, All dressed up, And no place to go

In the war on religion: Religions = ∞ atheism =4

I'm still on the side of atheism anyway.

from the article:

Blaise Pascal wrote that "men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." Napoleon thought religion "keeps the poor from murdering the rich." Freud regarded religions as "mass delusions."

Konner's choices also remind us that Bible-bashing is next to godliness among atheists. Issac Asimov viewed the Bible as "the most potent force for atheism ever conceived." Paine described it as "a book of lies and contradictions," "the work of a demon" more than "the word of God," and denounced its "obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries . . . the unrelenting vindictiveness."

Voltaire shared Paine's disapproval, defining the Bible as "what fools have written, what imbeciles command, what rogues teach." Leading 19th-century American atheist Robert Ingersoll castigated it for presenting a God who upholds slavery, commands soldiers to kill women and babies, supports polygamy, persecutes people for their opinions, and punishes unbelievers forever

I know one thing, no matter how dressed up I am, I do not ever want to go to a wedding, or have one!


About a dozen years ago, an old friend of mine was told by his daughter that she was going to get married. This suited him fine, but he balked at pouring untold thousands of dollars down the drain of a full-dress wedding. "I'll tell you what," he said to her. "I'll give you a choice: You can have a wedding, or you can have $30,000 to help you get started on your new life." Without a moment's hesitation, she astonished him -- and me, too, when he told me the story -- by replying, "I'll take the wedding."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

obiter dictum

If someone wants to know you, they will ask questions and listen to the answers. How rare the questions are asked.

"A memory is a beautiful thing, it's almost a desire that you miss."
Gustave Flaubert

Friday, June 15, 2007

F&@! Frank Gehry?

Some New Yorker tidbits~

Barnaby Harris made some t-shirts with F**k Frank Gehry on it. Mr. Gehry found out, and this is what happened: As reported in the New Yorker, 6-4-2007

an excerpt

"Within days, a sample batch was on its way to Gehry’s office.

'Somebody sent it to me,' Gehry said the other day, over the telephone, 'and I thought it must have been the people in Brooklyn who are sort of angry. But then I thought, well, it must be loving, too. So I decided it was funny, and I put it on. And I wore it to the office, and everybody got a kick out of that, and then I wore it to the gym'—Gehry lifts weights at a Gold’s in Venice Beach—"and everybody got a kick out of that. The tough gals at the gym said, ‘If it’s an offer, you better be able to deliver, Mr. Gehry.’ ” Gehry’s wife, Berta, found this all funny. (“She’s Panamanian, so she doesn’t get rattled by much,” Gehry said.) In a Queer Nationesque move of appropriation, Gehry decided to begin sending the shirts out as gifts.

And another tidbit from the New Yorker 5-28-2007

"The latest stunt-eating politico is Eric Gioia, a city councilman from Queens. Last week, he concluded a Food Stamp Challenge, during which he ate only what a New Yorker could typically afford on a week’s worth of food stamps, or the equivalent of twenty-eight dollars.
'I did this to draw attention to the issue of how people are living in New York City,' Gioia said the other day, in his parents’ kitchen, in Woodside. 'It’s been terrible. I feel lousy. I’m tired. I just don’t feel like myself.'

…Gioia did not look for loopholes. For instance, he didn’t scrounge free condiments at fast-food restaurants, as Homer Simpson might do. At the office, he drank water from the bathroom faucet rather than from the cooler. But public life has its snares, and during a gala at the Museum of Modern Art last Tuesday, after he waved away a plate of veal Milanese and asked for a glass of tap water, he inadvertently drank some Pellegrino—a violation he claims to have discovered only when the bubbles tickled his throat. He was seated next to David Childs, the architect, and gazed longingly at Childs’s raspberry dessert. 'These raspberries cost more than your whole week,' Childs told him."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

After Dark, Days and Nights

This summer is my read-novels-only season, here are the first two I've read so far. There is no method or order to the books I have chosen to read. I am simply dictated by random book lust, sporadic book reviews I've read, and some books leading to other books.

Alfred Jarry Days and Nights
I read this book a few years ago, but I decided to read again to see if I could make any more sense of it this time around. If it was any longer than its slim 130+ pages, it would've have taken me a month to read it. This contradicts one's intuition, since, on the surface it appears easy to read. The book is broken into a number of very short chapters, but one must be aware of the style which can slacken the reader. Days and Nights is a satiristic autobiography of Jarry's Sisphyean military stint. But acquiring a linear story would be near impossible, since the novel weaves in and out of hallucination and interior streams. The point of reading it, would be to immerse yourself in Jarry's strange, word-ordered universe. It's a work that presages the non-linear, stream-of-consciouness often found in modernist writers: Joyce, Faulker, Burroughs, and etc.

Haruki Murakami After Dark
I have never read any Murakami's books, but I became obssessed with the need to read After Dark when I read a review. What struck me most is the point of view within the book. The reader is a "neutral outside witness" spoken to by a comforting, semi-omniscent speaker. We see it as though we are looking through the camera lens, swooping down on the characters' actions and conversations. Most of what we do learn about the characters are revealed by themselves in conversation. But we never really get to see or understand what motivates the character, or what is happening emotionally within. The characters are likeable, yet they remain opaque. The language is simple but not simplistic and the pacing moves ahead with out feeling rushed; Basically it's a fun to read novel: entertaining, not very thought-provoking and kind of strange.

Here are some real reviews:

After Dark-

and on another blog-
which the reader thought more about the book than I did. I haven't read enough Murakami to agree or not, however I can see some of these points after reading this novel, and I was not really compelled to read another Murakami novel soon, if ever. I doubt I will remember much about After Dark a year from now, except I may remember that is was strange. An excerpt:

"The problem confronting Murakami's readers has always been that, despite his otherworldly talents, he has nothing to say. Nothing of any real interest or significance, at least. Although his stories often hint at a metaphysics of unreality, the books are mostly surface and, unlike one of his professed influences, Raymond Carver, seem to lack any insight into the human condition (or any other condition, really). Instead, they content themselves with cataloging the discontents of the modern age, particularly the alarmingly numerous forms of ennui, all of which, after three or four volumes, begin to bear a striking resemblance to one another.

While this was all well and good when Murakami started his career, with After Dark it seems he has become so enamored of his own abilities that he has ceased to care whether what he has chosen to show us actually matters. Or is even interesting. The more I read Murakami, the less his work resembles genius, and the more it comes to resemble a symptom of autism or obsessive compulsion. As Murakami translator Jay Rubin notes in his biography Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words, around the time Murakami finished A Wild Sheep Chase, he began to obsess over his writing, fearing that he might die before finishing the book, a thought he apparently found untenable. His anxiety led to a major overhaul of his life. He quit smoking, began to exercise regularly, changed his diet. Over time, his books have come to reflect this obsession with writing and not necessarily in a positive way. As Rubin explains it, Murakami works not because he has an idea for a book, but because he feels compelled to write. It's suggested that he often sits at his desk, writing whatever comes to mind, until the glimmerings of a story appear. Those who are familiar with Murakami's novels can see this process at work. Often, the first fifty to one hundred pages of his books feature characters loafing around, looking for something to do, a reflection, perhaps, of Murakami's own mental state. The result is a presumably faithful depiction of his inner life with an ironic lack of self-awareness."

Days and Nights. by Harvey Pekar.
The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Summer 1993 v13 n2 p257(2)
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction

When the major modernist writers are listed, Alfred Jarry is often excluded, forgotten about, and yet what a tremendous impact on modernism he had. Dadaism, surrealism, and absurdism were all derived from his work. In addition to this, much of his writing is very enjoyable and stimulating to read. Maybe that's part of the trouble: not enough people read him, a major reason being that his books are very difficult to find. Congratulations, then, are in order to Atlas for publishing so much of it recently. Many historians and critics seem to underrate Jarry as a technician and intellect. In his twenties he was already pretty well-read in several areas including science, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary politics. As a very young man he'd already been a coeditor with Remy de Gourmont of L'Ymaginiev, "which published and analyzed ... medieval and popular prints, usually of a religious nature," according to Alastair Brotchie's helpful introduction. The play Caesar Antichrist, Jarry's second book (1895), was illustrated as well as written by him. In it there is a good deal of theoretical information about the discipline or quasi-discipline he created, pataphysics. Opposites and their tendency to neutralize each other, thus, in his opinion, eventually amounting to the same thing, get considerable attention here. Caesar Antichrist claims, "I and the Christ are Janus." In the midst of abstract dialogues involving Christ, Caesar Antichrist, and Saint Peter, Jarry inserts a condensation of his humorous, earthy Ubu Roi play, which was to be performed in 1896 (it had been done with marionettes as early as 1888). This is done not only to shock, but to set up a contrast between it and other sections of the play, in accordance with Jarry's theory of opposites. Days and Nights, Jarry's first novel, appeared in 1897. An autobiographical work, it deals with his thirteen months in the army (he was drafted) and his method of securing a medical discharge so that he did not have to serve his entire three-year stretch. Jarry (he calls himself Sengle here) had a friend who showed him various ways to deceive doctors into thinking he was sicker than he was, such as sticking a thermometer under his armpit to make his temperature appear unusually high. Part of his novel is devoted to criticizing the army and military medicine; a lot of this is funny. Other chapters are devoted to his dreams and hallucinations; Jarry got high a lot on alcohol and drugs, so they are pretty vivid. Jarry comes across as a likeable character, a lot less weird than some accounts of him would lead you to believe. For one thing, his beefs about the military are pretty much like other soldiers' and can easily be identified with. His methods of getting out of work and goofing off have plenty in common with Sergeant Bilko's; that's a definite plus. Alastair Brotchie, whose introductions and notes in both books are quite astute and useful, implies that Jarry influenced James Joyce, an interesting observation. On one hand, Joyce's work can be accounted for without Jarry; he was influenced by French symbolist poetry (as was Jarry) and the pre-1900 stream-of-consciousness work of Eduard Dujardin and George Moore, plus Moore's post-1900 "melodic line" style. But Jarry at least anticipated Joyce in several ways: both employed complex symbolism, both devoted a great deal of attention to interior states, such as dreams, both used sentence fragments and free association of ideas, and both employed wordplay, including neologisms. In any event, very few writers marked twentieth-century literature as strongly as Jarry. His work should be taught in universities along with Joyce's, Eliot's and Pound's, and it should be realized that there is more to his oeuvre than the Ubu plays, as the innovative prose writing in Days and Nights, The Supermale, and Dr. Faustroll make abundantly clear.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Antikythera Mechanism

This summer: presenting strange discoveries from my readings.

From Wikipedia:

The Antikythera mechanism (Greek: O μηχανισμός των Αντικυθήρων, O mēchanismós tōn Antikythērōn) is believed by many to be an ancient mechanical analog computer (as opposed to most computers today which are digital computers) designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was discovered in the Antikythera wreck off the Greek island of Antikythera, between Kythera and Crete, and has been dated to about 150-100 BC. It is especially notable for being a technological artifact with no known predecessor or successor; other machines using technology of such complexity would not appear until the 18th century.

I encountered this subject in a May 14, 2007 New Yorker article I read while I was in Dublin the third week of this past May. Pretty fascinating stuff.

Next- Murakami & A. Jarry novels.