THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK
Doris Lessing Harper Perennial 2007
About the homophobia of these characters. Anna admits in the first notebook set that she’s repulsed by homosexuality and views it as a political fad. Far later on, in the yellow notebook, Ella, the protagonist of The Shadow of the Third, is bothered by how salient the criticism of men has become as the basis of her friendship with Julia; she fears this makes them lesbians, “psychologically,” at least. Anna bases Ella off herself, but Ella is heavily unpoliticized as a person while Julia is still a red. Anna has the political orientation, which she voices in Free Women 1: namely the sexual division of labor. The men in their life coast on a labor-saving household run by a labor-saving wife, and the labor-saving secretaries they fuck. The open secret in this bizarre postwar Britain (where two good friends can share a therapist), is that marriage as an institution leads to affairs while the wife and kids are sequestered in a second house. Given our sanctity debates, this relation between homophobia and marriage was really interesting.
In each of the long dialog scenes in the novel, the narrator can pack in so many different sexualities, which is really apparent is the black notebook’s Colony memoirs. The thoroughness of observation is amazing, even something as simple like how Maryrose, after making a stinging comment against the boys after another unproductive meeting, feels the need to pander to their political thought (they use the jargon, she doesn’t): “I’m not saying it right, but you see what I mean…” (99).
Ella is a novelist who wrote a book about suicide. In part, it’s a sublimation of Tommy’s suicide attempt that blinds him. Mental illness and radicalism across the generation gap are two more issues explored just as resourcefully. Both Tommy and Janet are unsatisfied with their free mothers. The freedom (which they paid a dear price for) these children inherit is scary. It’s the rapid flux of issues, all crying for attention and acknowledgement of the other issues, which in a mental storm show us the limits of knowledge, after which follows collapse. In the Colony narrative, Paul gets blind drunk before his first mission and walks into a propeller. It’s a nihilist sublime, which Anna places near the beginning of the story, which in her memory is dyed with a “nostalgia” for death, a “longing for death.”
A sequence I loved was in later set of the black notebook, where we get a taste of the London literary world, “so prissy.” Anna’s cynicism makes so much sense here; even the most austere Communist Party would be more appealing. Actually it’s the world of TV and film producers looking for adaptations. One of them an American woman, after another stretch of bourgeois postwar conformist tedium (still tons of fun to read), this passage:
‘Are you thinking of visiting the States? I would be so happy if you would give me a call and we could discuss any ideas you might have?’ I hesitate. I almost stop myself. Then I know I can’t stop myself. I say: ‘There’s nothing I’d like better than to visit your country, but alas, I wouldn’t be let in, I’m a communist.’ Her eyes snap into my face, wide and blue and startled. She makes at the same time an involuntary movement — the start of pushing her chair and going. Her breathing quickens. I see someone who is frightened. Already I am sorry and ashamed. I said that for a variety of reasons, the first being childish: I wanted to shock her. Secondly, equally childish, a feeling that I ought to say it — if someone said afterwards: Of course she is a communist, this woman would feel as if I had been concealing it. Thirdly, I wanted to see what would happen. (266)
We’ve all been there, but maybe I shouldn’t speak for us. She reflects on her own inconsistency, one that mirrors her comrades in the Colony, who would physically touch the cook within Mrs Boothby’s sight, but had plenty of patience for working class racists at other instances.
“Of course things are quite different here in England,” the poor lady spits out as she tries to recover. Anna realizes she could be endangering her job. But she also reacts sharply against this being “embodied” by other people, ie embodied in their presence as a communist the moment she outs herself. But what the hell is a communist anyway? In mid-paragraph Anna switches to a memory of a Russian writer she met two years ago. The spoke “the same language — the communist language.” But “The fact was that the phrases of our common philosophy were a means of disguising the truth. The truth was we had nothing in common, except the label, communist.”
I glossed the final blue notebook set, with Anna’s encounter with Saul. The psychoanalytical issues didn’t age quite as well, and the dream sequences were tedious. This was the only spot in 600 pages that was anywhere close to dragging. But Saul, after inscribing some doggerel in the golden notebook Anna buys, gives her the first sentence for writing. It’s the first sentence of Free Women. Now the opening realist novel, taken as the master level of the text’s world, is brought to even keel with the notebooks. Is Anna fictionalizing herself beyond Ella and her name, endless mirrors and such? It’s a way to confront the jaded attitude with everything, with the creative powers of the novel and the political power of the left in its century of defeat — sure, the sixties are coming, but what we are seeing today is still the historical consequence of the left’s defeat. The text is a fixing up of bits and pieces, the remains of the past (modernity blown apart, like after a nuke), but also ominous dispatches from the future of an emptier world.
Why re-read the mighty ULYSSES this year, when the centennial Bloomsday was back in 2004, or when we could wait til the anniversary of the book’s publication in 2022? It was because I’m Stephen Dedalus’s age this year. I’d like to go again when I’m 38, but I dunno, I don’t like Bloom all that much. Still too much of a nobody.
I resisted posting about it. There’s so much official commentary and unofficial posting already (a river of secondary text to match the sacred flow of language). God knows I was reading most of that shit (the CRITICAL ESSAYS edited by Clive Hart, Burgess’s REJOYCE, Ellmann’s ULYSSES ON THE LIFFEY, various anthologies and monographs) in order to put off the forbidding novel, but at least I didn’t dare think the commentary could supplement the actual work.
If anything we should be more like Beckett, stripping away the superfluous critical language (with more language, though?).
This time around I thought the Homeric parallels were overplayed. They’re not any more or less salient than the other systems at work: the organs of the human body, the rhetorical techniques, the color symbolism. Ulysses was not an uncommon name for boys in the 19th century, and every Ulysses of historical note gets mentioned in the book (like Ulysses S. Grant). So even that name is in a context of everydayness.
When I went into an MFA program I actually kept these lines from Stephen’s consciousness in chapter 2 on my phone for motivation:
Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake’s wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid final flame. What’s left us then?
So elegant to make fable a verb (but it has been a verb since the Renaissance, the etymology dictionary tells me). Stephen is teaching Roman history to some well-heeled boys in the brutal call-on for comprehension way, and catches one staring out the window. But of course history is a fabulation. And Joyce’s hero Blake, the outsider artist with so much insight into the 19th century, on which Joyce’s book is the capstone. (There’s still some time left for another encyclopedic novel to appear and capture the 20th century with Lovecraft as a lodestar of sorts.) “The ruin of all space.” An apocalyptic tone is laid down, which I had taken to be a lament for the loss of rational coherence, but is also linked by Joycean scholars to the political violence of the 19th century. Liberation struggle and mysticism mix together for Joyce as it does for Yeats.
I first heard about ULYSSES from the Modern Library’s top 100 list. I didn’t like high culture of any sort in my tweens and early teens. It was pretty much all comic books and anime, which still included great stuff like AKIRA or FROM HELL. It’s likely that those books, owing to the timing, when the window of purity was still open, will remain the biggest influences on me.
And sure enough it was the Modern Library’s edition I took at the public library, with the portrait of the author with the eyepatch, which was cool, and the big S which leads to “Stately, plump…” I didn’t know anything about modernism except that it was interesting. I got excited just by running my eyes over the text because it looked different. The emdashes for speech, the ornate sentences with their alliteration and iambs and vowel rhymes — sometimes it was really gaudy, deliberately so.
And I still tilt my head like a happy dog when I see a novel that simply looks different, like Burroughs or Barnes or Bernhard.
But back then I was one pretentious, socially absurd dickhead. I could only sort of parse out the first half of ULYSSES, when the second half, if more difficult, is way more interesting. I was monomaniacal and had a hard time talking about things other than my interests. I sunk at least a couple of years into Joyce’s transformation of Dublin.
What other literature was I reading at the time? Hemingway, sort of. No Vonnegut at all, unlike my friends — I wish I had read him instead of Joyce like a well-adjusted teen. I was peeking through anthologies rather than novels or collections, so I had a big dose of realist short fiction by white Americans, some of whom, like Faulkner, were close in time to Joyce and admired him.
The only naysayers (who I gave a shit about) were Woolf and Stein, who I couldn’t read back then but love to read now.
My Penguin Modern Classics version is what I bought for myself, just for the cover. Molly Bloom’s monologue down to the final Yes. Why don’t more books put the last page on the front cover?
It has a long introduction that’s probably very interesting, but otherwise I don’t recommend it. The print is large, which means this edition has like 200 more pages than the Modern Library version, which I think uses the same ’60/’61 version, which makes my Penguin version pretty useless since no one’s going by its pagination.
Other than a handful of phrases cut out and some extra attributions popped in, I couldn’t notice any major differences between my copy and the Irish radio broadcast in 1982. Did they use the Gabler edition? Perhaps the differences come from the production, which happens sometimes. But I read along as I heard it, and really enjoyed it. The sound effects and music were tasteful. There’s a huge cast of narrators, one for every character (I thought some voices were doing double or triple parts, but apparently not!), and a reverb effect is put on interior speech, which helps sort out a prose that seems undifferentiated on the page.
My arbitrary start-date for “modern art” is 1750.
Bloom’s streams of consciousness do feel like pointilism, as an Italian fascist critic once complained. Quite paratactic. Is the book sticking a net into a pre-existing torrent of atomized thoughts, or is it more like how Auerbach describes the narration style of the Odyssey in that other major text I read last month MIMESIS, where all the narrative elements are given a uniform externality above all other effects, like suspense or psychological realism.
He knows he will be cuckolded today. And lord who would have guessed the cuckoo meme would make a comeback thanks to the alt-right? Now you only have to think women are human beings and that philosopher kings and a CEO of America is a bad idea to be a cuck.
Bloom’s streams keep coming back to this sore point like a blister on the gum line but he keeps repressing.
When it comes down to it. Totally inaccessible and publishing poison, forced to self-publish with the help of two (inadequately celebrated) lesbians, thought to be a madman, and still cursed to this day. No one really wants to be James Joyce, living in borderline poverty with an insane daughter and a layabout son, quietly changing the world but very rarely, if at all, acknowledged for it. So completely out on the frontier his books were confiscated and destroyed by multiple governments.
No one’s made a pendulum swing like Joyce. From true avant-garde to the academic bureaucratic canon. Gass is right: vanguard art lives a short life, whatever its fate, be it recognition or obscurity. I once heard Stephen Wright, while reflecting on Melville’s poor fate, dying in the gutter when he had composed America’s gospel, that Thomas Pynchon had to be the luckiest writer alive. “To write books at his level and have the success he’s had…” But if your surreal door-stop masterpieces get published by Penguin Randomhouse, are they still avant-garde?
I used to get annoyed like the snob I am when writers like Ian McEwan get what I think is undue postmodernist cred. But even more annoying, now that I’m trying to be a writer, is every time an author or journal promises to be a bold experimentalist and it ends up being a posture. Everyone wants to play it safe while keeping up radical appearances. Literary fiction is more ossified a genre than epic fantasy. It’s not allowed to do much beyond entertain people with college educations. So perhaps the most artistically successful of the bunch are those without the delusions.
An entire entertaining realist bourgeois novel could be written in the style of chapter 10.
That’s how it is. Some great artists go broad, and some go deep. You have your Ozus, who in their late period seem to make the same film over and over, but it’s really more like each film is a slice of a metanarrative told with recurring stylistic motifs with incredible rigor. Or Bernhard, whose short novels could amount to a larger totalizing project.
But there’s also Weather Report: where every studio record seems to be exploring a new direction, and a later band could carve a career-long aesthetic out of one of them. And so too with Joyce’s stylistic exercises in each chapter. (Look what Beckett and Wallace did with chapter 16.)
Bloom lets out a fart while reading the last words of Ireland’s great martyr Emmet (the croppy boy of the song in the Sirens chapter).
Political blasphemy? The Joyceans say he read Bakunin and Proudhon with interest. He was anti-British and anti-nationalist. I’d call him an anarcho-pacifist, like Tolstoy but non-religious.
But Joyce is also about the modern, and one of the big crises of the modern, which Sterne also observed, is that without God, everything dissolves into sentiment. There’s a danger in repeating the ballad of the croppy boy so that only sentiment remains; not that useful for anti-colonial struggle.
But there are arguments to be had that the artist shouldn’t participate in that kind of stuff. Propaganda is fun to make, but can be awkward when you’re trying to do something poetic.
You may have heard the observation that Stephen represents Joyce’s fate had he chosen to stay in Dublin rather than exile. Dublin, provincial, bigoted, colonized Dublin.
And Stephen is depressed, snippy, a bit of a shit. But cut him some slack: he hasn’t eaten in like two days. He blows his wad on alcohol, including two absinthes, which is insane considering how empty his tummy is.
PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST is a bildungsroman, the purpose of which is to guide a boy’s way to bourgeois liberal subjecthood with a nationalist consciousness, which would be extra complicated for an Irishman. The bitter discussions with Haines who dreams of black panthers in chapter 1 reflects on this.
I cheered silently for Bloom as he tells off the anti-Semitic Citizen as he rides away. “Jesus was a Jew! Marx was a Jew!” A hooker yells out to him that his fly is down. Ireland and Israel will meet soon.
This chapter has long lists of names which devolve into absurdity, and it’s definitely worth hearing it read aloud in the radio play. There are also a lot of Wagner’s imagery and sensibility in this chapter, and everywhere in the novel.
How did the novel get attacked so much? Did people actually read it? How did they know there was shit and jizz as it happened? Was it rumors that got people outraged?
It’s not Bloom jacking off after getting an upskirt from young Gerty, very unseemly, that would offend the Duke University sensibility, but the incredible detail of lingering semen stains sticking his dick to his pants and messing with the foreskin. I also liked how exhausted he is afterward. Ah to be growing old.
Oxen of the Sun. Still far and away the hardest level. The audio was a big help here.
A latin invocation of the sun (“quickening and wombfruit!”), a midwife bounces a newborn boy (“Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!”), then a survey of English through time — it was good to read Auerbach concurrently or the actual writers being spoofed here would escape me.
Bloom has an incredibly self-loathing fantasy:
BOYLAN (bumps surely from the car and calls loudly for all to hear. ) Hello, Bloom! Mrs Bloom up yet?
BLOOM (In a flunkey’s plum plush coat and kneebreeches, buff stockings and powdered wig.) I’m afraid not, sir, the last articles…
BOYLAN (Tosses him sixpence.) Here, to buy yourself a gin and splash. (He hangs his hat smartly on a peg of Bloom’s antlered head.) Show me in. I have a little private business with your wife. You understand?
BLOOM Thank you, sir. Yes, sir, Madam Tweedy is in her bath, sir.
MARION He ought to feel himself highly honoured. (She plops splashing out of the water.) Raoul, darling, come and dry me. I’m in my pelt. Only my new hat and a carriage sponge.
BOYLAN (A merry twinkle in his eye.) Topping!
BELLA What? What is it?
(Zoe whispers to her.)
MARION Let him look, the pishogue! Pimp! And scourge himself! I’ll write to a powerful prostitute or Bartholomona, the bearded woman, to raise weals out on him an inch thick and make him bring me back a signed and stamped receipt.
BELLA (Laughing.) Ho ho ho ho.
BOYLAN (To Bloom, over his shoulder.) You can apply your eye to the keyhole and play with yourself while I just go through her a few times.
BLOOM Thank you, sir, I will, sir. May I bring two men chums to witness the deed and take a snapshot? (He holds an ointment jar.) Vaseline, sir? Orangeflower?… Lukewarm water?…
This is so funny and heart-breaking.
Stephen has an ashplant walking stick. How does a 22 year old carry a walking stick without looking like a douchebag?
In Bella’s house he uses his cane to smash up the chandelier, which in his absinth trip becomes the ghost of his mother. He screams “Nothung!” (Sounds like “no tongue.”) That’s the name of Siegfried’s sword in Wagner’s RING, which was buried for a long time under –you guessed it — an ash tree. (And the “ruin of all space” line gets a play back.)
It’s like being high on books.
I love this painting, and think it’d be a good choice for a cover for ULYSSES. That or Simon MacLeod’s “Sandymount Strand.”
Father and son united at last. But Bloom has a hard time connecting with Stephen, and like the narrator of this chapter, overworks himself to come off well. He’s as wrong about Stephen’s politics as he is about Shakespeare (all free-verse, he thought in chapter 8).
My favorite chapter. I love the slyness of the catechism format, the references to astronomy and geology.
Return to Ithaca is a useful metaphor for realist fiction. Reassuring foundation. Obstacles are overcome. The world is understood, and the hero understands himself. Joyce mounts up these ridiculous inventories of the Bloom residence, like a realist novel’s narration turned to 11. Of course, if you want to write realistically you need a good instinct for which details are pertinent to your story. Georges Perec did not have such an instinct, and was content to be exhaustive in his sociological listing — no wonder Joyce was such an inspiration for him, if not a revelation.
ULYSSES kills the 19th century, and in its heart of hearts it’s still in that realist vein. And so are the other great modernists of this period: Proust, Woolf, Mann and Musil.
Father and son sneak in, talk about culture, share old rhymes from their old languages. Joyce is at pains to avoid sentiment in this and the previous chapter, but all the same, it’s very sweet.
They look at the “heaventree of stars.” And they part.
And with Chapter 17 the novel ends. “Penelope” is not an ending but a slice of an infinite space which might actually envelope the rest of the novel we traversed.
I’m a little sad to put the book back on the shelf. And it’s very hard to read anything else, which sucks since I have a growing pile of books. It’s not necessarily that Joyce’s novel is so amazing (honestly, I’m over that guy at this point), but I had only just begun to get into its logic, and now anything else is too hard for me to comprehend.
I value how novels and paintings don’t have an instrumental value; I’m skeptical they even have an intrinsic value. And while I never got on board with Stephen’s notion of literature “affirming the spirit of man” or whatever, I do feel larger after this odyssey somehow. How grand we are this morning…
i finished it a week and a half ago, and like a really good weed bender i cant remember much of it anymore. im still up in the air about it. the final brace was really compelling, though it wasnt free of tedious shit.
do i regret reading all 544k words of the JEST? not at all, but i do regret choosing to blog about it — as if DFW isnt oversaturated with scholarship and online commentary as it is.
but here’s a thought from Bradley Fest, a Wallace critic: dfw’s first novel is open to an “apocalyptic reading,” so that when the novel stops mid-sentence, it’s because Bombardini has actually consumed the universe, or at least the novelistic landscape. the last we saw him he was leaning against the office building, where most of the cast had converged, and then they just kinda disappear, and we follow Rick Vigorous alone with Mindy, but perhaps Bombardini caught up with them too.
maybe the JEST sustains a similar reading. i like to think the wheelchair assassins successfully reproduce the master of Himself’s film, disseminate it, and that everyone sees it and everyone dies. There’s a hilarious dialog scene between president Gentle’s people and some media folks to make PSAs about un-labeled cartridges, so im assuming the separatists have made headway.
but the book’s opening scene, in the Year of Glad, has got to be almost a year after where the novel stops in late November of the YDAU; you’d figure society would be a little more destabilized by then. perhaps Hal has seen the film and is hallucinating everything, rather than having a DMZ flashback — although these symptoms of not communicating anything appropriate or understandable show up in the last reading set.
i enjoyed learning more about Himself’s filmography, especially One Tough Nun.
Himself, at certain dark points when abstract theory-issues seemed to provide an escape from the far more wrenching creative work of making humanly true or entertaining cartridges, had made films in certain commercial-type genre modes that so grotesquely exaggerated the formulaic schticks of the genres that they became ironic metacinematic parodies on the genres.
interesting in light of Wallace’s essay “Fictional Futures” (people dont seem to talk much about this one). there he very strongly argues in favor of USen fictioneers reading more theory: Derrida (who seems to be underemphasized in Wallace’s work compared to Wittgenstein), Husserl, Heidegger, Bakhtin, Lacan, Barthes, Structuralism, post-Structuralism, Freudianism, Feminism, you get the idea. but above is that anxiety that this is just a compensation for being unable to write something “natural.” of course naturalistic fiction is just as artificial as anything else — it’s the values assigned to it that make the difference. the bigger point im thinking about is that Wallace always seems to come up short on his own theorization of literature in his fiction: he cant manage to get rid or irony or self-awareness, the fiction’s a lot more conservative than the non-fiction (until CONSIDER THE LOBSTER, i still wonder if a feminist colleague where he was teaching jabbed at the JEST too much). the novel opens with Hal surrounded by “heads and bodies” still an odd way to formulate the Cartesian subject, but perhaps Wallace’s non-fiction is the head, and the fiction the body, that is, what his own body actually allowed him to produce, even as it seemed to avant-garde for anyone’s good. The worry is that they come off the way Himself’s body of work does to Joelle: “Cold, allusive, inbent, hostile: the only feeling for the audience one of contempt.” (and consider what happens to the audience of Medusa v. the Odalisque and anyone unfortunate enough to see the JEST.)
a very important scene is between Marathe and Kate Gompert.
[Kate]: ‘My dad emotionally abandoned us and moved to Portland, which is in Oregon, with his therapist.’
good joke: Maine is gone, so there’s only one Portland left, so Kate’s being redundant.
there’s a long endnote with an ETA kid plagiarizing a paper, and we learn about how these wheelchair assassins injured themselves playing a hardcore train chasing game which the academic the student is lifting repeatedly describes as “nihilistic” which i take to be a serious primer for how to think about these guys.
Marathe shares his story from despair at his crippledness to activism:
I am too painful to care enough to fight. To me, the fight seems without point: our own Swiss leaders have been subverted to pretend the invasion is alliance; we very few legless young cannot repel an invasion; we cannot even make our government admit there is an invasion. I am weak and, in pain, see all is pointless: I do not see the meaning of choosing to fight.
“You’re depressed is what you are,” Kate answers.
then over two pages we hear how Marathe falls in love with his chronically mutated wife and then:
for now I saw the point not of winning but of choosing merely to fight
love brings Marathe from passive nihilism into active nihilism. actually, if he were easy to understand, he has the best politics in the novel. he makes the distinction between negative liberty (freedom from, US style) and positive liberty (freedom to, Marxist style). he also recognizes the pleasure-principle that has condemned the entire cast of this novel to living hell. but im not sure even militant politics is a way out of the suffering, or to face the dark questions of our nihilistic era, which drugs, tennis, entertainment, or whatever addiction of your choice staves off. the Dworkinite feminists are still a laughing stock (and the novel shows its age as a very 80s book in that sense). i mean, Wallace elsewhere writes about how irony betrays a fear of seeming to care, but…these people care. and they impact the course of events more than anybody else. but we still indulge in the South Park-style, smug white guy humor of deriding anyone who has a stake in social justice or what have you.
we find Molly Notkin again! she’s interrogated by the intelligence folks (ONAN’s “unspecified” stasi) regarding the film and family that concerns the wheelchair assassins. there’s some good info here about the Entertainment, how Joelle got deformed (finally explaining why Orin is an acid-dodger extraordinaire), and there’s a gag with a fictional book by Deleuze called Incest and the Life of Death in Capitalist Entertainment, posthumously published. Deleuze killed himself in ’95, so i figure this is a very late addition to the text. (so many suicides in this novel.)
and finally i arrived on the fantasia with Himself’s ghost visiting Gately in the hospital, revealing his motivation for creating the Entertainment:
The wraith feels along his long jaw and says he spent the whole sober last ninety days of his animate life working tirelessly to contrive a medium via which he and the muted son could simply converse. To concoct something the gifted boy couldn’t simply master and move on from to a new plateau. Something the boy would love enough to induce him to open his mouth and come out — even if it was only to ask for more. Games hadn’t done it, professionals hadn’t done it, impersonation of professionals hadn’t done it. His last resort: entertainment. Make something so bloody compelling it would reverse thrust on a young self’s fall into the womb of solipsism, anhedonia, death in life. A magically entertaining toy to dangle at the infant still somewhere alive in the boy, to make its eyes light and toothless mouth open unconsciously, to laugh. To bring him ‘out of himself,’ as they say. The womb could be used both ways. A way to say I AM SO VERY, VERY SORRY and have it heard. A life-long dream. The scholars and Foundations and disseminators never saw that his most serious wish was: to entertain.
whoa, it’s all in this paragraph isnt it; the “plateu” image from ETA, the “inner-infant” pleasure-principle business, the older-generational help like in One Tough Nun (a pattern that’s overwhelmed by all the sexual abuse from fathers). i wonder if Hal has seen the film before his opening Year of Glad scene. maybe unlike the cartoons, he’s not too stupid for the killer cartridge to work but too clever. maybe combined with DMZ he’s actually escaped sideways out of the text like Nabokov’s Cincinnatus C. and found something more than the flight from the novel’s unreal reality. but the result is that he’s completely incomprehensible to the rest of the world (the classic symptom of encountering the Unnamable) and will be institutionalized.
i barely scratched the surface in this work. there’s a lot i avoided talking about, like the politics of the actual reconfiguration. im like a hundred pages into GRAVITY’S RAINBOW and the JEST is different in a lot of obvious ways, but the influence is still there and Wallace is in dialog with Pynchon. Drugs are an umproblematic prompt into reverie with Pynchon, but in Wallace it’s like gravity has finally taken hold. there’s no one in the JEST who is not addicted. it’s an incredibly hopeless world. but at the same time you’re invited to love all of these broken miserable souls, from the Reagan-like Gentle down to Poor Tony and yrstrly. (it’s a lot like how it feels to live in New York.) but im glad i read IJ before GR, ’cause Pynchon is fun; i want to read the episode with the dodo birds over and over — i dont want to see another word put down by Wallace for at least two years. im Wallaced out. all the same im glad the JEST exists, that novels like it are possible. there wont really be anything like it again.
oh! we also learn Rush Limbaugh was assassinated. suddenly this story world doesnt seem so bad.
i had twenty pages left of this reading set, and then i became disinclined to do much of anything for a little bit. then i had the worst cold of my life for two weeks, and basically, i didnt glance at this novel for almost a month until i read up to p. 700 yesterday morning. so much for finishing it by the end of 2015. this wasnt a good place to break since these hundred pages had a lot of important information in them.
one thing ive felt for a while is this: i wish i hadnt read the D.T. Max biography, EVERY LOVE STORY IS A GHOST STORY. it’s not terrible or anything, but it has juicy life details which i then see or project to be embedded in the JEST. there’s the resentful feelings towards the mother, Orin’s sex addiction, the black widow spiders, and the AA business of course — the edition notice has an extended disclaimer:
Besides Closed Meetings for alcoholics only, Alcoholics Anonymous in Boston, Massachusetts also has Open Meetings, where pretty much anybody who’s interested can come and listen, take notes, pester people with questions, etc. A lot of people at these Open Meetings spoke with me and were extremely patient and garrulous and generous and helpful. The best way I can think of to show my appreciation to these men and women is to decline to thank them by name.
Max has an anecdote i cant remember for how this note came to be. it seems wheedling to me right now as i go over it. its not like withholding the real names to the crazy stories an author filches is above the line in terms of consideration. (Max also goes into the mysterious dedication, F.P. Foster, R.I.P., which i cant remember either but it’s something bitter, like Rot in Pieces.)
But so what there are bits of Wallace’s autobiography in the text? i resist reading it in this light because it seems too easy or reductive, but there’s nothing wrong about fabricating around elements from your life. though it is a tricky balance: real life is so absurd that it’s far beyond any average reader’s threshold for credibility in literary fiction, so just telling it as it happened is actually unbelievable. Your mom as a character in the story would never have behaved in that way, even though the real mom in real life did. the writer has to make shit up to give it — not coherency, but an even more elusive quality, credibility perhaps. i took a stab at auto-fiction, mostly to re-arrange events that took place across two days into one action-packed night, and it was dead on arrival when i sent it in for workshop. the “I” persona in my essays is perceptive but very cold and aloof, so once the work became a fiction, the narrator was a bloodless heel who couldn’t react to anything that was happening. it struck me as true: a great deal of the time i feel so estranged from my true emotions that it’s hard for me to make simple decisions like what i want for lunch, or what do i really want to write. this is why two characters that fascinate me deeply are Camus’s Mersault and the narrator of Tom McCarthy’s REMAINDER. Two murderous white male sociopaths — i dunno how that bodes for me.
It only took 500 pages, and strangely enough as my enjoyment began to increase it’s become harder to read, or maybe that’s just my stamina lowering. But I’ve finally realized that even though the novel has a consistent literary persona, that DFW quirky, verbose, earnest voice, it’s still free indirect discourse depending on the given strand’s central character. So we’re getting the ETA boys’ or Gately’s bits of cluelessness along with the authority and control (yet untamed) of the narrator. I remember hearing James Wood quoted as saying no matter what character we’re aligned to, it sounds like Wallace is still talking, which is right.
No activity on the blog this week. ive been chronically tired, that is exhausted, heavy head, foggy thinking, all the time regardless of how much i sleep or how well i eat. It happens pretty often. (It took a while to recognize this as one of the symptoms of depression since it’s not in the routine narrative.) Moreover, i actually dont have a lot to say about this reading set, even though it’s huge. i liked it quite a bit tho. Especially the brief history of advertising, involving some surreal and shocking art used to sell aspirin — these data dumps are my favorite strands by far. Forgive me if i just gloss over this section. i cant vigilantly address everything that happens all the time anyway.
In the seventh grade, when i was twelve or so, my best friend and i were assigned to invent a game from scratch to be played in P.E. So over the weekend we cooked up something really elaborate, with a convoluted point system and involving every ball on offer in the gym. Implementing the game with our class on Monday was so frustrating that the teacher, swear to Satan, threw down her clipboard on the floor.