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Against the Day August 12, 2012

Posted by The Typist in books, cryptical envelopment, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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“As an era of uncertainly comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it’s theire lives that pursue them.”
–From Thomas Pynchon’s own back cover summary of Against the Day

The Internet version of Cultural Anthropology 2052 is the only section with four books, one a thick and expensive text, which is why I got up this morning and after ordering as many books as I could from Alibirs, I downloaded Against the Day onto my new Kindle: all 1,085 pages of it. We won’t go into BIOS 1053, but I managed almost half of that before I got hired back and started dropping courses. Stay awake, make 3×5 cards and it won’t be so bad. (Yes, 3×5 cards. I remember card catalogs).

The only consolation is that the online version of the course looks much more interesting from the titles. In addition to the text Conformity and Conflict (14th edition; if you have one lying around call me) there are: Writing Womens’ Worlds: Bedouin Stories by Lila Abu-Lughod and Righteous Dopefiend by Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg. There’s another reference book on ethnographic field notes already on the Kindle as it looks mostly like a reference.

I hope to bill a good 40 hours a week. I only get paid for what I bill. I hope to manage both classes with good grades. It wouldn’t do any harm to pull up my mediocre 70s gradepoint (all A’s in English courses, barely C’s in others and we won’t even talk about my semester at LSU. In the midst of all this there will be Poetry Book Club’s monthly suggestions, books lingering on the unread pile, and now Pynchon’s twisted, sprawling tale of the death of the Guilded Age. I considered Infinite Jest and the Kindle Store pointed out people who purchased this book also bought Gravity’s Rainbow. As someone who has plowed through the latter at least a half dozen times, each with more relish and discovery, I could have followed the augury of online marketing but it was as if an unseen hand over ruled that algorithmic affinity. After I had pushed the button, I then remembered Daniel’s Handler’s “What The Swedes Read” column in The Believer.

“I would defy anyone to read Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, for instance, and not be tempted to give up more than once, so bamboozling and bitchslappy are the tougher sections. But if the books doesn’t defeat you, you will close it with the rare and deep pleasure of “Now that’s a book.”

How can I resist such an endorsement from a man with regular space in The Believer bold enough to start sentences with conjunctions? And it’s Thomas Pynchon. Infinite Jest will have to wait for next semester.

Last semester work slowly ramped up from 20 hours to closer to thirty and I carried three classes, a senior/graduate class in Writing American Nature and the obligatory course in English Literature Before 1690 or some such date. I choose Chaucer and haven’t had that much fun since I discovered Zap Comix. And as I managed all that, I read 2666. Perhaps I didn’t read it as closely as I should of. It was mostly my nighttime companion with all the skipping back that entails and at 898 trade pages that doesn’t exactly speed things along. Still, I managed it and will certainly go back through it again and more carefully. Two words divirged in a wood and some followed Wallace and Jonathan Franzen into the blank America panorama and others followed writers like Bolaño into a different nightmare, into something difficult, bracing and with a sense of danger, “an oasis of horror in a desert of boredom” as 2666′s epigraph from Chalres Baudelaire says. Somewhere along the path you pass Pynchon as well as the entire parade of Latin American writers of the late 20th century. Section Four, “The Part About the Crimes”, reads like a perverse combination of Julio Cortazar’s Hopsctoch and Blow-Up.

OK, you hate Pynchon. You hate Bolaño. There is a very black and white division among readers on these folks. But that is not the point of this ramble into insanity. If you see me bleary-eyed on the bus but intent on my Kindle, you will know why. If I must toil for Moloch I will take a C and genius over sleep.

A Successful Adaptation December 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, Toulouse Street.
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…his understanding of the depressive personality type and its seemingly perverse persistence in the human gene pool was that depression was a successful adaptation to ceaseless pain and hardship…For Katz’s Jewish paternal forebears, who’d been driven from shtetl to shtetl by implacable anti-Semites, as for the old Angles and Saxons on his mother’s side, who’d labored to grow rye and barley in the poor soils and short summers of northern Europe, feeling bad all the time and expecting the worst had been natural ways of equilibriating themselves with the lousiness of their circumstances….This obviously wasn’t an optimal way to live, but it had its evolutionary advantages. Depressives in grim situations handed down their genes, however despairingly, while the self-improvers converted to Christianity or moved away to sunnier locales. Grim situations were Katz’s niche the way murky water was a carp’s.”

— novelist Jonathan Franzen reading from Freedom while discussing his friend David Foster Wallace on NPR