Posts tagged "books"
All really short, mostly pretty exciting. Especially essential: La Belle Captive, Everything that Rises Must Converge, and Against the Grain.
Crash [J.G.Ballard, 1973, quotes]
My Work Is Not Yet Done [Thomas Ligotti, 2002]
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories [Franz Kafka, 1995]
Everything That Rises Must Converge [Flannery O’Connor, 1965]
The Complete Stories [Flannery O’Connor, 1971]
Topology of a phantom city [Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1976]
Speedboat [Renata Adler, 1976, quotes]
Against the Grain [Joris-Karl Huysmans, 1884, quotes/images]
The Voyeur [Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1958]
The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye [Jonathan Lethem, 1996, re-read]
La Belle Captive: A Novel [Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1975]
The company that employed me strived only to serve up the cheapest fare that the customer would tolerate, churn it out as fast as possible, and charge as much as they could get away with. If it were possible to do so, the company would sell what all businesses of its kind dream about selling, creating that which all of our efforts were tacitly supposed to achieve: the ultimate product — Nothing. And for this product they would command the ultimate price — Everything.
This market strategy would go on until one day, among the world-wide ruins of derelict factories and warehouses and office buildings, there stood only a single, shining, windowless structure without entrance or exit. Inside would be — will be — only a dense network of computers calculating profits. Outside will be tribes of savage vagrants with no comprehension of the purpose or nature of the shining, windowless structure. Perhaps they will worship it as a god. Perhaps they will try to destroy it, their primitive armory proving wholly ineffectual against the smooth and impervious walls of the structure, upon which not even a scratch can be inflicted. (p.43)
Okay, so I’m not crazy about this. It gets mired in genre-ness (horror genre-ness at that), but it has moments that end up being as effective as they are histrionic:
But what can we do about it? We’re just pictures painted on the darkness. (p.134)
Which, okay, I see now that that doesn’t sound like much out of context. But in context, I’m not going to forget it.
He dreamed of alienated brothers and sisters, by chance meeting each other in head on collision courses on the access roads of petrochemical plants, their unconscious incest made explicit in this colliding metal, in the haemorrhages of their brain tissue flowering beneath aluminized compression chambers and reaction vessels. (p.13)
In this overlit realm ruled by violence and technology he was now driving for ever at a hundred miles an hour along an empty motorway, past deserted filling stations on the edges of wide fields, waiting for a single oncoming car. In his mind Vaughn saw the whole world dying in a simultaneous automobile disaster, millions of vehicles hurled together in a terminal congress of spurting loins and engine coolant. (p.16)
I had thought of his last moments alive, frantic milliseconds of pain and violence in which he had been catapulted from a pleasant domestic interlude into a concertina of metalized death. (p.36)
The same unseen sexuality hovered over the queues of passengers moving through airline terminals, the junctions of their barely concealed genitalia and the engine nacelles of aircraft, the buccal pouts of airline hostesses. (p.40)
The enormous energy of the twentieth century, enough to drive the planet into a new orbit around a happier star, was being expended to maintain this immense motionless pause. (p.151)
And I also feel a need to include this now, even though the story behind it isn’t actually Crash-related:
Incidentally, I now better understand the Paranthetical Girls song “Evelyn McHale” much better.
He was on the phone. I will ask her to dinner, he thought. I will accept her invitation to a party. I will laugh at whatever seems to constitute a joke in her mind, if she will only permit me, with the pact of affection still securely in our voices, to hang up. She continued to talk through her end of the phone, though. When he sounded unamused, her voice seemed to reproach him. When he tried an animated tone, she seemed encouraged to continue. She kept patting every sentence along the line with a little crazy laugh. (p.11)
It might have been one of the world’s true wonders: nine crisscrossing, overlapping elevated tracks, high in the air, with subway cars screeching, despite uncanny slowness, over thick rusted girders, to distant, sordid places. It might have been created by an architect with an erector set and recurrent amnesia, and city ordinances and graft, this senseless ruined monster of all subways, in the air. (p.11)
In Bootsy Garn’s final college year, my first, the girl across the hall from me bought a snake. The girl’s father had been a famous American fascist in the thirties. It was assumed the girl had problems. But pets were not permitted in the dorms. The college knew nothing of the snake. The girl in the room next to mine bought an alligator. Her father was the head of a chemical corporation in Cincinnati. The girl was beautiful. She held seances. (p.25)
I think when you are truly stuck, when you have stood still in the same spot for too long, you throw a grenade in the exact spot you were standing in, and jump, and pray. It is the momentum of last resort. (p.27)
We have all, of course, had childhoods. (p.30)
“Well, you know, you can’t win them all,” the old bartender said. “In fact, you can’t win any of them.” (p.39)
Our obituary writer is an extreme, pedantic gossip. He gets things wrong but he gets them in detail. (p.44)
I have been writing speeches for a politician. Jim, who is a lawyer from Atlanta, has been running the campaign. My normal job is reporting and reviewing at the paper. By mistake, these last few months, I also teach. Normally, left to myself, i am not inclined to work much. To the contrary. “To the contrary” is what the head of the mine workers’ union said when he was asked if he had ordered the murder of a rival and his family. It is hard to imagine what the contrary of ordering a murder might, exactly, mean. Jim thinks ordering a birth, perhaps, or else a resurrection. The man was convicted anyway. I have now written “fairly and expeditiously,” and “thoroughly and fairly,” and “judiciously and seriously,” and “care and thoroughness and honor,” and so on, so many times that it may have affected my mind. I now eat breakfast fairly and expeditiously. Jim cuts his bread thoroughly and fairly. It rains judiciously and seriously, with care, and honor, and dignity, in full awareness of the public trust. Our politician, anyway, is a good and careful man — who always sounds a little pained, as though someone were standing on his foot. (p.74)
A women lifted the lid of her toilet tank and found a small yachtsman, on the deck of his boat, in the bowl. They spoke of detergents. A man with fixed dentures bit into an apple. A lady in crisis of choice phoned her friend from a market and settled for milk of magnesia. A hideous family pledged itself to margarine. (p.77)
“Literally,” in every single case, meant figuratively; that is, not literally. (p.83)
I just finished reading J.K. Huysmans’ A Rebours (“Against the Grain” or “Against Nature”). For all his faults, Des Essientes has excellent taste in art. Here are the specific works he supposedly hangs in his home, with Huysman’s breathless descriptions:
Gustave Moreau, Salome Dancing Before Herod, 1876 (or thereabouts)
Des Esseintes saw realized at last the Salome, weird and superhuman, he had dreamed of. No longer was she merely the dancing girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old ice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs the flesh and steels her muscles, a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning, like Helen of Troy of the Classic fables, all who come near her, all who see her, all who touch her.
Someone asked what the deal was with Thomas Pynchon, and I wrote way too much about him in response:
Thomas Pynchon writes a kind of erratic, digressive, post-modern adventure story. They are adventure stories in the sense that they are filled with explorers seeking lost cities, ill-fated expeditions, sewer crocodile hunts, epic war sequences. They are not really adventure novels in the sense that the often very engaging plot episodes ultimately exist to pull you into the overarching ideas that dictate them, and usually end up burying them (sometimes frustratingly, if you really wanted to know about that macguffin). Likewise his huge, typically very likeable and memorable casts (he can’t mention someone in passing without spitting out their whole life story) tend to be subject to his plot devices, rather than vice versa, but unlike say Gunter Grass, he really seems to want to give his character life in spite of this. And so you can recognize they exist to express ideas, but still get drawn into their interlocking lives. Also, he often writes a lot of:
-Weird, sometimes fetishy sex, often in really interesting ways. (the most touching, emotionally compelling three-way guy-guy-girl romantic unit in fiction (the one in Dhalgren comes close though)).
-Paranoia, founded or unfounded. Conspiracies real and imagined.
-Shaggy dog (or shaggy were-beaver) stories, puns, jokes, some groaners, some perfect, hilarious and then devastating. (“When Franz Ferdinand pays, everybody pays!” Oh yes they did, for half of the 20th century).
-Science! math! history! (always a mix of hard research and completely implausible yarn-spinning
-Little attachment ot realism. Cyborgs, killer squids, time-travel, and the hollow earth.
-Songs! Singing nazis! Explicitly choreographed dance numbers!
I really, really like Pynchon.
Here are his works, chronologically:
Slow Learner (published 1984) :: book of early stories, haven’t read it
V (1963) :: This is my favorite. A secret history of 20th century world politics by way of a son’s search for an unknown “V” in his father’s diary, illustrating a progression from animate life to inanimacy and death that culminates off-screen in WW2. It’s one of the most readable for offering its own map to its web of symbols, and the episodic chapters range from sarcastic renderings of beat new york, to ersatz fin-de-siecle Paris, to horrific indictments of colonialism. It is incomprehensible how he managed to write this at age 26 or so.
The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) :: a brief, funny novela of spiralling paranoia in contemporary California, centered around a suppressed renegade postal organization. A good starting point.
Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) :: Probably the best known, but also trickiest in its elusive plotting and poetic but opaque stream-of-conciousness whirlpools. Set during and immediately after WW2, it deals with the fetishization of death and the search for a mysterious modified V2 rocket.
Vineland (1990) :: Haven’t read it, by all accounts the low point.
Mason & Dixon (1997) :: The story of two royal astronomers, two transits of Venus, and a long surveying job in the New World in between, dealing with all kinds of rebellion and formative American experience. The pseudo-Victorian language and much less familiar pre-20th-century historical references made this one really hard for me. Maybe his most humanistic though: Mason and Dixon and their fictionalized camaraderie are very well rendered.
Against the Day (2006) :: This is the story of light, electromagnetic radiation, and the disaster of the 20th century (the world gone wrong in first one world war, and then, inevitably another. Spans 1100 pages and 100s of significant characters scattered across the globe from the 1880s up through the 1920s. Anarchism, the early labor movement, and Tesla free energy are pitted against sinister industrialists and the world governments that eventually lead everyone into war. This is my favorite after V. It’s so long that few will ever read it, but it has a fairly concrete plot, many of Pynchon’s most compelling characters, moments of breathtaking beauty and pathos, the Tunguska event, and sand submarines that travel sunken cities by vibrating the grains out of the way. It’s so good.
Inherent Vice (2009) :: brisk, funny noir story capturing the collapse of the 60s into the 70s. He’s never been so on task with his plotting, making this one of his most approachable. Filled with 60s Californiana, drugs, surf rock.
Yes, but who will cure us of the dull fire, the colorless fire that at nightfall runs along the Rus de la Huchette, emerging from the crumbling doorways, from the little entranceways, of the imageless fire that licks the stones and lies in wait in doorways, how shall we cleanse ourselves of the sweet burning that comes after, the nests in us forever allied with time and memory, with sticky things that hold us here on this side, and which will burn sweetly in us and until we have been left in ashes. (p.383)
“You believe in the principle,” said la Maga. “How complicated. You’re like a witness. You’re the one who goes to the museum and looks at the paintings. I mean the paintings are there and you’re in the museum too, near and far away at the same time. I’m a painting.” (p.20)
By aptitude or decision (genius lies in choosing to be a genius and in being right) they have their pseudopods stuck out as far as they will go in all directions. They encircle with a uniform diameter, their limit is their skin projected spiritually to great distances. It does not seem that they need to desire what begins (or continues) beyond their enormous spheres. (p.407)
But does he retilate your murt? Don’t lie to me. Does he really retilate it? (p.85)
Take a step back, please. Go ahead, it’s not hard. Words disappear. That lamp is a stimulus to the senses, nothing else. Now take another step back. What you call your sight and that stimulus take on an inexplicable relationship, because if we wanted to explain it we would have to take a step forward and everything would go to hell. (p.161-162)
The best trait my ancestors have is that of being dead; I am waiting modestly and proudly for the moment when I come into my inheritance from them. I have friends who would not fail to erect a statue of me in which they would represent me face down in the act of peeping into a puddleful of authentic little frogs. By putting a coin in the slot they will see me spit in the water and the frogs will get all stirred up and croak for a minute and a half, just enough time for people to lose all interest in the statue. (p.461)
He knew that without faith nothing that should happen would happen, and with faith almost never either. (p.541)
“Between sleep and wakefulness, diving into washbasins.” And it’s so easy, if you think about it a little, you ought to understand it. When you wake up, with the remains of a paradise half-seen in dreams hanging down over you like the hair on someone who’s been drowned: terrible nausea, anxiety, a feeling of the precarious, the false, especially the useless. You fall inward, while you brush your teeth you are really a diver into washbasins, it’s as if the white sink were absorbing you, as if you were slipping down through that hole that carries off tartar, mucus, rheum, dandruff, saliva, and you let yourself go in the hope that maybe you’ll return to the other thing, to what you were before you woke up, and it’s still floating around, is still inside you, is you for a moment, until the defenses of wakefulness, oh pretty words, oh language, take charge and stop you. (p.353-354)
The invention of the soul by man is hinted at every time the feeling appears that the body is a parasite, is something like a worm adhering to the ego. It’s enough to feel that one lives (and not only life as an acceptance, as something-that-is-good-that-it-happened) for what is even closest and most loved by the body, the right hand, for example, suddenly to be an object that participates with repugnance in the double condition of not being me and of clinging to me. (p.403)
“It’s easy to see that Morelli doesn’t complicate life just because he likes to, and besides, his book is a shameless provocation, just like anything else that’s worth something. In this technological world you were talking about, Morelli wants to save something that’s dying, but in order to save it, first it has to be killed, or at least given such a blood transfusion that the whole thing becomes like a resurrection.” (p.444)
“Shut up, you myriapod from four to five inches in length, with a pair of feet on each of twenty-one rings dividing the body, four eyes, and horny hooked mandibles which on biting exude a very active poison.” (p.240)
He plans one of the many endings to his unfinished book, and he leaves a mockup. The page contains a single sentence: “Underneath it all he knew that one cannot go beyond because there isn’t any.” The sentence is repeated over and over for the whole length of the page, giving the impression of a wall, of an impediment. There are no periods or commas or margins. A wall, in fact, of the words that illustrate the meaning of the sentence, the collision with a wall behind which there is nothing. But towards the bottom and on the right, in one of the sentences the word any is missing. A sensitive eye can discover the hole among the bricks, the light that shows through. (p.370)
Just as I had looked at the skin on my little finger in a magnifying glass one day, something like a field with furrows and hollows, so I looked at men and their actions now. I could no longer perceive them with the simplifying look of habit. Everything was breaking down into fragments which in turn were becoming fragmented; I was unable to grasp anything by means of a defined notion. (p.456, a quotation from Hofmannsthal’s Lord Chandos’ Letter.)
But the fact is that everything is in bad shape, history tells you that, and the very fact that you’re thinking about it instead of living it proves to you that it’s bad, that we’ve stuck ourselves into a total disharmony that the sum of our resources disguises with social structure, with history, with Ionic style, with the joy of the Renaissance, with the superficial sadness of romanticism, and that’s the way we go and they can turn the dogs on us. (p.497)