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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?