May 6, 2009

Total Eclipse of the Heart Video

A very baroque song and video. Do you like Ninjas?? So do I!!

April 29, 2009

Ethan's Canon

For your perusing pleasure:

Download file

April 28, 2009

DFW review

Likely you've read his commencement address before or seen it written about recently (since it was published a couple weeks ago as a book). But just in case, here's the link to it and Sunday's NYT review. Many of the concerns in the address are scattered through the stories we read in Oblivion...

April 26, 2009

Kafka and Wallace

This is an aside. I'm putting it here rather than wasting class time, at the risk of only having an online conversation with myself on different days. The corporateness of Mr. Squishy made me think of Kafka, particularly what Camus says about him.

"A symbol, indeed, assumes two planes, two worlds of sensations...In Kafka these two worlds are that of everyday life on the one hand, and, on the other, that of supernatural anxiety."


"..if Kafka wants to express the absurd, he will make use of consistency. You know the story of the crazy man who was fishing in a bathtub. A doctor with ideas as to psychiatric treatments asked him 'if they were biting', to which he received the harsh reply: 'Of course not, you fool, since this is a bathtub.' That story belongs to the baroque type. But in it can be grasped quite clearly to what a degree the absurd effect is linked to an excess of logic. Kafka's world is in truth an indescribable universe in which man allows himself the tormenting luxury of fishing in a bathtub, knowing that nothing can come of it."

It is this excess of logic that seems to operate in the first story of oblivion, except the universe of Wallace is describable.

April 22, 2009

Max and his Maxims


Attached in pdf format are some notes taken by former students of Sebald. There are some gems in there, mixed in with some serious idiosyncrasies.

Also, it took me a minute to get the play on words in "maxims" but apparently W.G Sebald like to be referred to as Max.

The Collected Maxims

April 21, 2009

Robert Boswell - On Omniscience


So, for all you auditory learners out there: The lecture is too large a file to post to this blog, but anyone who wants the audio (in which Boswell says he sticks very closely to the essay from Half-Known World) can download it here:

April 19, 2009

W.G. Sebald

I'm about half way to the end. Is this book about more than "following one's thoughts" wherever they go? Sebald slows down these reminiscences and pays a great deal of attention to them. Several of these reminiscences touch on broad themes. I'm struck by how often we have repeated observations on war/destruction/the purposes of the human species from some of these seemingly random thoughts.

...starting an entry...

April 1, 2009

More on Housekeeping and EPJ

There's much more to say about _Housekeeping_, including the particular ways that the novel begins to wander and drift about, approximately from chapter seven until the end. Because the material world can no longer answer the questions Ruth poses in its directions, much less satisfy her needs and longings for it, some other world has to be found. This is the route of transfiguration, a spiritual or religious or meditative path. (This may be why the novel moves out of narrative into meditation.) The novel knows, and Marilynne Robinson knows, perfectly well that most of us are Lucille and not Ruth: i.e., we're more or less satisfied with the material world as given to us, and we want the usual things: money, a career, someone to love and/or to love us. But somewhere in us--this is Ruth's appeal--there is a part of our selves that is unsatisfied, permanently unsatisfied, with all this, that wants to be free of it. We feel our own weirdness and don't want to be a part of the human community that is satisfied by what it can obtain at Circuit City. Some small part of us wants the essences; we become neo-Platonists.
I think Marilynne Robinson's long silence after _Housekeeping_ had to do with the fact that she couldn't see a way to make an advance on what I'd call the novel of meditation. She tried it (I heard her read from a novel she discarded) but it didn't work. What she turned to were novels of overt religious thought in a context of American history and racial politics.
The transition from MR to Edward P. Jones may seem difficult but won't be if you notice how EPJ's stories often have to do with losing direction, wandering, getting lost, losing something precious to you, a general disorientation associated with his characters' experiences of their lives. Again, the passion in the stories is not based on Eros but on something else. Does anyone want to be the enabler next week, btw?

March 25, 2009

In Defense of Carter!

I'm sorry to have missed class! I hope the Carter discussion went well -- wow, what a prose stylist! Her sentences are gold. When I chatted with people they seemed frustrated with the apparent repetition of subject matter, and the "unradicalness" of her retellings of the fairy tales. But consider this: she clearly enjoys the deep, disturbing aesthetic of the fairy tale, and she wouldn't want to disrupt that, I think, with postmodern experimentation (although there is a bit of that; muted). What I like about her writing is that she stays true to the baroque machinations of the fairy tale, the laquered language, the assumptions of otherworldliness. What I think is so innovative about her approach is, in fact, that reverence for language itself as a fairy tale: an impossible and aestheticized system of rules where reality is heightened or even dismissed, and where pleasure (this is key; sheer pleasure and tittilation) dictates linguistic boundaries. The richness of her sentences are like meals: fettucine alfredo, chicken kiev, a salted avocado eaten whole. Has anyone read her novels?

March 23, 2009

The Company of Wolves

Can we please have a viewing party for this? Preferably a themed viewing party where everyone comes in wolf costume. The movie is based on Angela Carter's wolf stories and she co-wrote the screenplay. Plus, super duper special effects!

March 17, 2009

Wild Surmise

I don't want to say "I told you so," but I was re-reading _The Bloody Chamber_ when I came upon those two words, "wild surmise," which had also appeared in _Under the Volcano_ (anybody remember where?), and I thought: well, they--meaning "you," my students--can say that I warned you that this phrase, and more particularly this idea, would show up in our reading. Please do yourselves and me a favor and think seriously about why this idea/phrase/condition keeps turning up in our reading. It will take you into some interesting cognitive corridors.

And if you want a pop culture parallel, think about those moments in Spielberg's films when someone (often a child) looks at something (usually looks up) and sees something that he/she doesn't understand but which causes his/her jaw to drop open; the word for this (recently corrupted and co-opted by the Bush Administration) is "awe."

March 5, 2009

Under The Volcano-The movie

a under the volcano.jpg

Under the Volcano, the movie, was shot in 1984 by the great John Huston. Though I have yet to see this film, I have seen Huston's version of Joyce's The Dead, a film that is very faithful to Joyce's text. Reviews for Volcano say the film follows Lowry closely, though Charlie did mention in class that he thought there was a "problematic" nature to a part of the movie, if I remember correctly. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Albert Finney as the Consul). If anybody has a big TV, let's have a screening!

March 2, 2009

South American Fiction

When it comes to phantasmagoria, South American writers have been at it for decades. They haven't labored under quite the same tradition of empiricism that we have; they go off into derangement of the senses quite easily. If you really want your head immersed into a dream world whose prose is so thick and baroquely oxygen-deprived that you feel as if you're deep-sea diving, try some of the following: Clarise Lispector's _The Apple in the Dark_ (she was a Brazilian writer, originally from Russia, I believe). The book used to be available and probably still is from the University of Chicago Press in what my Portugese-reading friends tell me is a good translation. Then try José Donoso's _The Obscene Bird of Night_. Then anything by Alejo Carpentier, who was Cuban. My favorite of his is _Reasons of State_, a bit hard to get your hands on, but beautiful and funny. Garcia Marquez's _The Autumn of the Patriarch_ is brilliant, of course. Faulkner was a big influence on some of these people, Garcia Marquez in particular. There are many, many others.
Probably one of the best American practitioners of this sort of writing, whom I haven't assigned, is John Hawkes, who was Marilynne Robinson's teacher. Try to find a copy of his book _The Beetle Leg_; see if you're big enough to stand up to it. This stuff makes David Lynch look like a walk in the park.

February 27, 2009

David Lynch et al.

I can't seem to write a comment connected to Sara's question, so I'll just write another note here that's a response to the gist (I hope) of her inquiry.
There's a certain kind of story that plunges us into a set of mysteries and then does its best to explain those mysteries--Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" is an example of that, as is Poe's "The Purloined Letter." Modern or contemporary examples might include Richard Bausch's "What Looks Like the World" or Grace Paley's "The Little Girl." The mystery I'm talking about is purely plot-related, i.e., what actually happened? Other kinds of mysteriousness need not be explained away: why does Greta Conroy go on loving Michael Furey long after he's dead in James Joyce's "The Dead"? This is the mystery of human emotions, which need not be explained.
But David Lynch does something else: he presents a milieu much of the time that seems familiar--Twin Peaks, Idaho, or Los Angeles, and then he proceeds to create situational peculiarities that seem to require some sort of explanation. How did the surveillance camera get in the house? Where is it? Why is the little dancing dwarf uttering prophecy? Most of the time, Lynch does not actually give you much or any explanation. The result--the switch from realism to quasi-fantasy--for me is often not mysterious, but mystifying. And I guess I'd argue that mystery is fine, but mystification (the apparent promise that a solution will be offered followed by no explanation at all) is ultimately frustrating and aesthetically unsatisfying. Sometimes it feels like cheating. If I sound like Uncle Grumpy again, it's because Lynch's films are often mind-haunting but finally achieve their effects through narrative short-cuts. _Inland Empire_ just comes across as a series of unconnected vignettes, brilliant though they are.
So I'm arguing for mystery but not mystification. There you go.

February 25, 2009

Hi all--the computer ate my first version of this question, so now I just sort of want to ask "What's up with David Lynch?" and call it a day.

More precisely, what's up with Lynchian narratives (like Josh's story) that seem to operate on bending/breaking the rules under which the reader assumes the story is operating? This move seems "allowed" in the same way we allow characters to turn into crabs in magical realism, or characters to hallucinate major plot events (Thompson, since Charlie brought him up), but it feels to me like a different sort of strategy. Aside from Josh's piece, and David Lynch, fiction with intentional (uncommented-on) anachronisms also strikes me as being in this category, just to list another example. At least to me, it seems that these pieces tend to hew much closer to strict realism than someone like Marquez.

So, question: how do these succeed (which involves, I think, the reader's acceptance of the rule-breaking), and what are the effects of this strategy in the first place? I'm drawn to fiction like this and find it interesting, but I'm sort of unable to articulate why or how it's working.