Category: Pynchon, Thomas

communion w/ cockroach (notes)


i cant write posts on the last three novels i read; they move me to silence. at the end of Clarice Lispector’s amazing PASSION ACCORDING TO G.H. are six em-dashes. she ends with the unsayable, but the punctuation is a way to make silence a part of language.

the novel is this incredible mind journey that works circularly, from G.H. to the dying cockroach in the wardrobe and back. she’s disgusted by the white and yellowish roach guts which ooze out of its carcass, but this paste is no different from mother’s milk. so she eats it. it’s not the most transgressive thing ive ever read, but it’s visceral. in communion the bread actually is the body of Christ, not a symbol or substitute. God in this novel works more like Spinoza’s god–this god exists everywhere. and the roach can actually be itself, not just its own representative; it’s the dream of true communication, and it’s right there in front of her and us, but it’s the circuitous and experimental route that is necessary to arrive at this point.

–Bear with my telling you that God is not pretty. And that because He is neither a result nor a conclusion, and everything we find pretty is sometimes not only because it is already concluded. But what is ugly today shall be seen centuries from now as beauty, because it shall have completed one of its movements. (167)

the novel moves towards the symbolic feminine. G.H. is a well-to-do sculptor. her work is rarefied, with a defined end point. women’s work (the work of her maid) is tedious, monotonous, and circular — no end to doing the dishes or the laundry. when G.H. enters the maid’s old bedchamber (a black woman who was invisible to her), she’s also in a disavowed part of herself. but female is not just one half of a dualism–it also contains the potential to dissolve that entire set-up. Christa Wolf’s CASSANDRA is similar, female also includes everything and everyone who is marginalized, and feminism can serve for the liberation of all of these people, that is if we don’t let it get any more co-opted by neoliberalism.

it’s a reductive book, which i dont mean in any pejorative way. it strips away everything you get from novels so that all that is left is the gaze and a particular experience. at the same time, the prose is super analytical, and i didnt really understand any of it.

there’s something about time as well.

I was seeing something that would only make sense later — I mean, something that only later would profoundly not make sense. Only later would I understand: what seems like a lack of meaning — that’s the meaning. (27)

G.H. is the first person narrator, but she also dissolves into the space around her, as well identifying with the cockroach. She addresses a “you” who is just as protean, her ex-lover, her doctor, her mother, the reader perhaps. autobiography, autofiction, autotheory, confessional; these are powerful first-person genres. Lispector’s modernism questions the capacity of the “I” to relate anything from the past. the failure to recall, to re-present, to own, frustrate our desire to reach “now.”

for “I” is just one of the instantaneous spasms of the world. My life does not have a merely human meaning, it is much greater — so much greater that, as humanity goes, it makes no sense. (188)

G.H. is like Oedipa Maas in Pynchon’s novella CRYING OF LOT 49. buffered from the world, each lives in a metaphorical tower, examined in the wonderful lyric passage that ends chapter 1:

What did she so desire escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant , visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else? (12)

the great experimental/modernist novels have a layer of literary criticism to them. they theorize about their own methods, teaching you how to read this shit. there’s a vinyl metaphor, in which Oedipa skips along the grooves, jumping out of linear time. this is the step that legitimates Pynchon’s digressive flashbacks into history; the astounding architecture of GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. 

Oedipus solved the riddle of the sphinx. as a postmodern detective story, LOT 49 conflates the detective and the mystery into one being, so that Oedipa contains her own riddle.

Nabokov’s DESPAIR is also a detective story that is simply told from the P.O.V. of the villain. i thoroughly enjoyed it, and that’s all i really have to say.

(that chubby hardback from NDP of Lispector’s stories is way cheaper than i expected, but i bought Laszlo K.’s DESTRUCTION AND SORROW instead….)