29 April 2009

Articles of Faith

The Nostalgia of the Infinite, Giorgio de Chirico.

This is the first in a new series here on WoW.

Long-time readers will have noted a thread, motif, or even theme related to the topic of 'theology'. This has been a lifelong interest of mine. I've thought a lot about it, reflected on it, even meditated, and at times prayed—all this on top of post-grad studies. It is sure to annoy and even alienate some readers, just as my political and economic posts most likely annoy my literary readers. I apologize in advance; however, I will not be doing apologetics for any sort of doctrine. If you want to avoid reading these particular types of post, I will label them (as I've done by heading my review/critical essays "Ur-story...") "Articles of Faith."

You will not get religious ideas in any form you've probably ever encountered them. From my earliest posts, I have staked out my stance as agnostic. That's from the Greek for 'not knowing'. My position, though, might better be called 'questioning' or even 'questing'. That is to say, these posts will be exploratory in nature. You are welcome to come along for the ride.

First of all, however, don't look to me for answers. I don't have all the answers, and I will not claim to. This may be the one and only bit of dogma you get from me. I long ago rejected dogma and dogmatics and their necessary entailment: dogmatism. And that includes, as I've argued here and elsewhere, the dogmatisms of BOTH the religionists AND the atheists.

As a corollary: I am not trying to preach or evangelize anyone. I'm really not concerned whether anyone else agrees with me. Or not. On the other hand, open-minded dialogue is always welcome.

Here's a premise: Myth and religion serve a basic function in human society—or at least they have throughout the long history of civilization. Traditionally, they have helped explain the cosmos and humanity's (both corporate and individual) place in it in terms coincident with the contemporary state of corporate human knowledge. Thus, they have served a consolatory function as well. In a sense, they are a sort of pre-scientific science. That is why, I believe, there is always going to be a conflict between true religion and true science; when scientific knowledge progresses, it threatens, supplants, and often destroys religious beliefs. For example, in the Bible there are several accounts of humans physically ascending to heaven: Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and Jesus (Luke 14:36-43, 50, 51), e.g. (And possibly Enoch, Gen. 5:24) The Roman catholic church, likewise, teaches that Mary, the mother of Jesus, physically ascended as well, i.e., the Assumption (Pope Pius XII Munificentissimus Deus of November 1st, 1950). Of course, science teaches us that the velocity of light is the cosmic speed limit for physical matter, and even then mass is necessarily transformed into energy. Thus, at something less than the speed of light (to preserve their bodily integrity), Jesus's and Mary's bodies are traveling somewhere in space less than 2000 light years from earth. Most likely, they haven't gotten out of the Milky Way. Of course, if, like Elijah and Jesus, they are supposed to return physically to earth someday, then they must've turned around at some point and to head back. Either way, they haven't ascended to any kind of heaven outside the physical plane of the material universe as we now understand it.

Of course, this is reductio ad absurdum. But it dramatizes the point. These religious and mythic beliefs (and there are many, many more) are grounded in abject scientific ignorance (as we moderns understand things). Religion is a habit that dies hard, and holding to these beliefs today is atavistic. Yet, adherents derive some benefit, some consolation, from them, and they become prickly and even hostile when confronted with reasoned views contrary or contradictory to their own. I hope to explore both these consolations and these insecurities as part of this series. But I hope to do more.

Now that we live in a high-tech, scientifically sophisticated era in which we have fairly precise, verifiable views of the cosmos and an emerging sense of our place in it (how small we really are), what role do the superstitions and myths (or their contemporary substitutes) that religions traditionally provided humanity play today? Are we on the way to becoming post-religious? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Is that necessarily a good thing? Taking into account the current state of knowledge, what sort of thing is human spirituality? Is it necessarily a quarrelsome thing?

I ventured a few early posts relative to this topic. If you're interested, you can find them by clicking on some of the self-refererential links above.

Astronomers Spy Oldest Object In Universe

No, no, no. Not that one. That's Sen. Arlen "Single Bullet Theory" Specter (D-PA) who's just announced he's switching parties from the GOP to the Dems, sending shock waves through the U.S. Senate and the Republican Party.

I'm talking about shock waves sent out by an exploding star even older than Himiko, which I blogged about the other day. Through some phenomenal bit of luck, astronomers have managed to capture an image of a ten-second gamma-ray burst from a star estimated to be about thirty times larger than our own sun. They estimate the event to have occurred more than thirteen billion years ago when the universe was only about 630 million years old. Seriously, what do you think the odds are of capturing such a distant event? I find it hard to imagine.

You can read more about it here and here. Here's a pic:

Here's another, close up

I'm sure we'll learn more about it as time goes on, which is more than I can say for that theory of Specter's, I'm afraid.

28 April 2009

We Report, You Decide

According to James Wood at a lecture to creative writing students at Columbia (blogged about here):
"many of us take up fiction to experience and, hopefully identify with, certain or other characters. We look for books that play to “our awareness that a character’s actions are profoundly important,” Wood said, even if the writing must attend to “the difficulty, or even the impossibility, of knowing other people.” The creation of character is, therefore, the most important task for a writer of fiction—as well as the most reliable measure of his success.

Wood continued to sort out the matter by explaining two approaches to the creation of character: that of super-realists, like E.M. Forster (whose Aspects of the Novel is surpassed by How Fiction Works), who “want character to be as big as life” and can’t accept the limitations of fictitiousness; and that of anti-realists, like John Barth, who maintain that character ought to be “as small as the words on a page.” ...

While he did take a few shots at fellow critics like Harold Bloom (who has “a tendency to over-identify with certain characters”) and William Gass (a “formalist fatalist”), he generally kept his cool."

Gass had an opportunity to respond in an interview before his own lecture there, and apparently punted:
SPEC: James Wood spoke to students in Columbia’s Writing Program a few weeks ago, on the centrality of character to the fiction writer’s work. Toward the end of his lecture, as he was discussing different attitudes re: character-creation, he referred to you as a “formalist fatalist.” (To be fair, he also criticized Harold Bloom for being too invested in certain characters, to the point of over-identification.) Do you think that this is a common perception of your approach to fiction? Is there anything that you would say to revise or correct it? And, for the sake of fairness, do you have any thoughts on James Wood?

WG: I’m surprise [sic] that he had time for me.  I do identify myself as a formalist (in my sense of the word), and I am proud to be an elitist (in my sense of the word).  My formalism has nothing to do with pre-established structures.  It holds that the key to esthetic experience does not lie in terms but in relations - ideally internal relations: i.e., not as an apple lies on a plate, but as H and O make water.  For me, character is defined linguistically: it is any recurring subject that is repeatedly modified by elements of the text which stand as predicates to it.  So David Copperfield is indeed a character in Dickens, but so is a movie poster or a mountain in Malcolm Lowry.   A perfectly organized book would end up as Hegel said the Absolute should: every word would ultimately modify or affect one and only one subject.  This is nonsense as far as the world goes but fiction is not the world. It’s important relations are internal the way they are in a Cezanne still life.  I don’t know what he means by fatalist.

Perhaps it is someone who has given up trying to be understood.  By the way, I don’t pick fights, except with the church.  I am sure his opinion is well considered and well informed.
That "I don't know what he means..." is a bit of a put down in the discipline of philosophy that non-philosophers often don't get. Then, Gass's use of the word "opinion" seals it. It's subtle, but it's a jab something along the order of 'He doesn't really KNOW what he's talking about; he hasn't really demonstrated or proven anything. I don't really take him that seriously. His is merely an opinion—to which he is, of course, entitled—but it isn't philosophically grounded." Believe me, to Gass, Wood is beneath contempt, held in low esteem.

Feel free to click on Gass or James Wood over in the right-hand column for my own thoughts on these two.

23 April 2009

Just How Old Are You?

"Using information from a suite of telescopes, astronomers have discovered a mysterious, giant object that existed at a time when the universe was only about 800 million years old. Objects such as this one are dubbed extended Lyman-Alpha blobs; they are huge bodies of gas that may be precursors to galaxies. This blob was named Himiko for a legendary, mysterious Japanese queen. It stretches for 55 thousand light years, a record for that early point in time. That length is comparable to the radius of the Milky Way’s disk.

The researchers are puzzled by the object. Even with superb data from the world’s best telescopes, they are not sure what it is. Because it is one of the most distant objects ever found, its faintness does not allow the researchers to understand its physical origins. It could be ionized gas powered by a super-massive black hole; a primordial galaxy with large gas accretion; a collision of two large young galaxies; super wind from intensive star formation; or a single giant galaxy with a large mass of about 40 billion Suns. Because this mysterious and remarkable object was discovered early in the history of the universe in a Japanese Subaru field, the researchers named the object after the legendary mysterious queen in ancient Japan."
Here's the full article: "Mysterious Space Blob Discovered at Cosmic Dawn." [If I were this mysterious ancient Japanese queen, I would be none too happy to have a giant blob of gas named after me! I'm just sayin'...]

Some people think it's a picture of god which has been pixellated (or otherwise blocked) so as not to scare us. Others just think we need better cameras.

Of course, speaking of god, if you believe the bible is true, this blob can't be 12+ billion years old; the creation itself is only 5769 years old (or thereabouts) and you don't get to believe both—that, by definition and essence, is precisely what a dogma is: all prevaricating aside, it's either all true or none of it is.

Here's my question: The big-bang theory holds that the universe is 13 billion years, give or take. Now, if we take our best telescope cameras and we aim them at a given point in the heavens 'above' (relatively speaking) the plane of the Milky Way galaxy we can see back pretty close to the original cosmic event. But the same is true if we aim them at a point 'below' (that is to say, in the opposite direction) the plane of the galaxy. And, in fact, at any point in any conceivable direction. How, then, does space-time in every direction (imagine a giant sphere with a radius of 13 billion light-years) bend back to a single point of origin? In Euclidean space, we have to posit a sphere with a 26 billion light-year diameter. However, space is not Euclidean, it's curved. I think I understand that part: no matter which direction you look, if you look far enough you'll see the same thing. I just don't know how it works in practice. It's all so vast, I have difficulty imagining a model.

I guess I'll just have to muddle along.

21 April 2009

Ur-story: The Muddle's the Thing

[continued from previous post]

Much has been made of the use by Vladimir Nabokov ['VN'] (the dead writer, married to Vera, father of Dmitri, teacher of Thomas Pynchon at Cornell) of mirror subjects, or doppelgangers. In Pnin, he employs one Vladimir Vladimirovich ['VV'] who, it must be remarked (because it has so often been), bears considerable affinity with VN, to narrate the rather simple, sentimental story of Pnin. VV is a fictional character who is something like VN—but not to be identified with him. The details of VN's life and their similarity with those of VV are not at all relevant here. Nor is the question of who was the real-life model for Pnin—though much ink has been spilled doing precisely this. We are more concerned about how Pnin works.

VV, the narrator, presents Pnin as a compelling, sympathetic character whose story, though slightly comic, is relatively simple and uncomplicated: Pnin, 57 year old untenured professor of Russian at a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, takes wrong trains because he uses out-of-date schedules. The idioms and nuances of English, his second or third language, confound him. He is absent-minded and myopic. He has heart seizures that send him into reveries about his past. He moves from rooming house to rooming house practically each semester. He lectures to his classes from printed texts, rarely looking up to acknowledge his students. He puts calls on library books he has already checked out (and which nobody else on the campus could possibly want). He has all his teeth pulled and enjoys the improvement. He is genial. He makes a near-heroic effort to adjust his old world manners to new world customs. He is an old school scholar (running down endless strings of obscure footnotes) in a pragmatic, career-oriented education system. He misses his ex-wife, the feckless Liza (with whom, we are led to believe, VV had an affair), and wants desperately to connect with her teenaged son, Victor—an incipient artist. Pnin is a former social acquaintance of VV. He, like many in his rootless, emigre community, is nostalgic about pre-civil war, Czarist Russia. He enjoys brief, cooling swims in summer. He is a gracious, generous host. He loses his job at Waindell College when his benefactor, Hagen, takes a better position at another college.
"[Y]ou'll be glad to know that the English Department is inviting one of your most brilliant compatriots, a really fascinating lecturer—I have heard him once; I think he's an old friend of yours."

Pnin cleared his throat and asked.

"It signifies that they are firing me?"

"Now, don't take it too hard, Timofey. I'm sure your old friend—"

"Who is old friend?" queried Pnin, slitting his eyes.

Hagen named the fascinating lecturer.

Leaning forward, his elbows propped on his knees, clasping and unclasping his hands, Pnin said:

"Yes, I know him thirty years or more. We are friends, but there is one thing perfectly certain. I will never work under him." (169-70)
We also learn along the way that Pnin was separated from his former youthful crush, one Mira Belochkin, by the Russian civil war and revolution. She, a Jew, was slaughtered at Buchenwald.

What do we know about VV, then? For all intents and purposes, Pnin disappears at the end of Chapter 6, and VV steps forward and takes over Chapter 7 to justify his narrative: "My first recollection of Timofey Pnin is connected with a speck of coal dust that entered my left eye on a spring Sunday in 1911." (174) He claims to have met Pnin socially a couple of times in and around old St. Petersburgh, though Pnin refutes this. As ex-pats, they met again in Paris. There, VV also met Liza, an incipient poet. She sends VV her poems. He tells her they are bad and she should stop composing. Later, VV reviews them in her room—"the cheapest room of a decadent little hotel"—and, apparently, they have a brief, torrid affair: "In the result of emotions and in the course of events, the narration of which would be of no public interest whatsoever, Liza swallowed a handful of sleeping pills." (181-82). A few weeks after that incident, Liza importunes VV for his advice on a rather pedantic marriage proposal by Pnin. She tells him: "I shall wait till midnight. If I don't hear from you, I shall accept it." (182) He shuns her seemingly desperate plea, and she marries Pnin. VV, it seems, is a bit of a cad. Later, Liza "told Timofey everything," and he pardoned her. (184) VV meets Pnin some years later, and Pnin insults him: "Now, don't believe a word he says... . He makes up everything. ... He is a dreadful inventor." (185) In the forties, VV and Pnin (now divorced from Liza) meet in New York, and all seems to have been forgotten. Later, VV accepts the English Department position at Waindell and, indeed, offers Pnin a job:
"When I decided to accept a professorship at Waindell, I stipulated that I could invite whomever I wanted for teaching in the special Russian Division I planned to inaugurate. With this confirmed, I wrote to Timofey Pnin offering him in the most cordial terms I could muster to assist me in any way and to any extent he desired. His answer surprised me and hurt me. Curtly he wrote that he was through with teaching and would not even bother to wait till the end of the spring term." (186)
When VV arrives at Waindell, after an evening of lampooning Pnin with another colleague, he crank calls Pnin and, the next morning, stalks him as he's leaving town. That is the last we see of Pnin and his dog, and that is the end of the book.

The two men have a long and complicated history. Both remember fondly their pre-war days in Czarist Russia. VV seems to have adapted to the American ways and language, while Pnin still retains his Old World manners. VV seems to have been more successful ("brilliant", "fascinating lecturer") as well. And then there's the matter of the woman. Yet, this does not explain why VN needed to interject VV into the narrative to tell the story of Pnin.

Or, to frame the question another way: Why does VN need to use this so-called post-modern technique? What purpose does it serve? Stylistic devices, it seems to me, need to have some rationale. It's like the twenty-minute drum solo in Iron Butterfly's "In-a-gadda-da-vida": sure, it's long and technically show-offy, but how does it contribute to the song? Is VN merely being self-indulgent, here? Showing off? Let's look:

We know VV is not entirely reliable. As I pointed out in the last post, he relates things he cannot possibly know. Even Pnin knows this ("He makes everything up.") And to drive the point home, we are told in the last paragraph of the book that VV is being told "the story of Pnin rising to address the Cremona Women's Club and discovering he had brought the wrong lecture." (191) Of course, we recall that the first chapter is about Pnin taking the wrong train to Cremona where, as he is about to rise to deliver his lecture, he has a vision about the past (including his parents, an aunt, a friend killed by "the Reds", and "shyly smiling, sleek dark head inclined, gentle brown gaze shining up at Pnin from under velvet eyebrows, sat a dead sweetheart of his, fanning herself with a Program. Murdered, forgotten, unrevenged, incorrupt, immortal..." (p.27) Of course, this is Mira.).

Pnin is, at first face, a comical character, often the butt of jokes and lampoonings on campus. This is the way the world—especially the American world—sees him. VV invents stories about Pnin's inner life that show Pnin's endearing side. He shows Pnin's pain (as, e.g., about Mira); his pride (as, e.g., his proposal and dignified commitment to faithless Liza); his poignancy (as, e.g., when he connects with Victor, tosses out the soccer ball he'd bought for him when he realizes it would be inappropriate, and receives as a trophy a beautiful punch bowl which he nearly breaks in one of the few really suspenseful moments in the book); his passion (as, e.g., for the arcana of Russian culture). This takes an act of the imagination, and however unreliable it might be, is, perhaps, the only way one human can come to empathize with another. And, VN seems to be showing us, it is the lack of precisely this sort of sympathetic imagination that resulted in the unfathomable horrors that defaced the 20th Century:
"In order to exist rationally, Pnin had taught himself, during the last ten years, never to remember Mira Belochkin—not because, in itself, the evocation of a youthful love affair, banal and brief, threatened his peace of mind (alas, recollections of his marriage to Liza were imperious enough to crowd out any former romance), but because, if one were quite sincere with oneself, no conscience, and hence no consicousness, could be expected to subsist in a world where such things as Mira's death were possible." (134-35)
Art and literature—i.e., The Imagination—are the best we have for overcoming our aloneness and our alienation, for transcending our own egos and entering into the experience of another.

According to James Wood, in How Fiction Works, "the history of the novel can be told as the development of free indirect style." In this regard, he cites Pnin and shows how Nabokov sort of backs into a kind of FIS almost by accident in Wood's close reading of the book's description of a nutcracker as "the leggy thing." ("Nabokov is here using a kind of free indirect style, probably without even thinking about it." Section 20). Wood, here, misses the impact of VN's having VV mediate the narrative of Pnin's interiority. It doesn't matter whether VN gets out of the way and gets Pnin's words right. The unreliability of the narrator is key here—it means something—because VV is attempting something quite impossible: sympathetically imagining and portraying another person's thoughts and memories, entering the experience of another. He's going to get it wrong. [I'm planning a subsequent post comparing the free indirect style and the writer's notion of 'voice'.]

Pnin is mediated by VV's narrative, and VV is imagining another being, another mind. It doesn't matter if VN gets the language of Pnin right because we know VV doesn't (and can't) get it right. Here, in a very real way, VN's style is precisely the substance. VN is more of a master of the free indirect style than Wood can see. That is to say, Wood is just plain wrong here: VN employs the free indirect style to bring us the character of VV vainly trying to imagine the inner world of Pnin! [One thinks of such cliches as nesting Russian dolls, and 'riddle[s] wrapped in [m]ysteries inside enigmas'.] Wood is right only to the extent that VV's (not VN's) use of 'thing' represents a success at imagining the inner life of Pnin. VN is entirely successful at representing the language and thought of VV (which Wood utterly fails to see).

VV is necessary thus. It is his effort—the supreme spiritual effort, if you will, of attempting to imagine and understand and empathize with another person's interiority—that matters. And, for the record, it has nothing to do with faith or dogmatism.

The muddle's the thing.

19 April 2009

Ur-story: A Portrait of the Scholar as an Old Pnin

The first major issue confronting the novel writer is how to frame the story he wants to tell. How, if at all, does the writer naturalize the text? How, if at all, does she disguise the fictional artifice? What is the justification for this book's being here? Why, in other words, is this novel being written? Let me explain.

Legion are the ways in which writers seek to justify the existence of their fictional works. Some are organic to the text, others not so much. Thus: this is a collection of letters (epistolary novels like Pamela and Shamela) or diary entries (think: Adrian Mole, Bridget Jones, Tintin); this is a confession (The Book of Evidence, Lolita) or a memoir I've hacked out for posterity or simply to pass the time (Malone Dies); this is a story told to me by someone I trust (or don't); this is an account of something that happened to me or somebody else; I pieced this story together from a variety of sources and this is what I discovered; despite what you may have read in the papers or the legal casebooks, this is what really happened; here's what I saw (Sherlocke Holmes); here's what the butler saw; etc., etc. These are, by and large, attempts to disguise the artifice of the fiction: to make it seem true (even though we secretly know it isn't).

Then there's another set of works that make no attempt to justify themselves; the writer does not trouble over the whole notion of a frame story. You are 'in' the story once you start reading. They might begin in media res, or, e.g., 'Once upon a time' or 'It was a dark and stormy night' or [insert your favorite filmic establishing shot here] or 'Stately, plump Buck Mulligan...' or 'As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect,' or however. Naked stories, if you will, which, by their very being, imply they are works of fictional art and are to be taken as such: "This is unashamedly an artifice," they seem to say. "It participates in the artificial category: fiction." It may even say so and be titled something like: Netherland: a novel, just so there's no mistaking it.

Some works, however, try a third approach by having the story purportedly told, narrated, dictated by purportedly dead people: The Third Policeman, where it works to marvelous and compelling comedic effect; Transparent Things, where it works to brilliant, technical effect (about which more later); and The Lovely Bones where it doesn't work at all—or rather, to be generous, works to cheap, sentimental effect. One also thinks of the Torah a/k/a the Pentateuch, purportedly written by Moses whose account of his own death and burial at the age of 120 on Mt. Nebo is particularly compelling.

This is by no means systematic, but you get the drift.

Some few works problematize the whole issue by inserting the author (or purported author or implied author) into the story as a character: one thinks here of Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star, e.g. In my most recent Ur-story post, I showed how William Gillespie used a Nabokovian Pale Fire pastiche-type strategy to achieve an original effect, challenging the reader to piece together the justificatory framework and with it infer the meaning herself.

Nabokov is notorious for playing around with frameworks. Case in point: Pnin. The story is ostensibly about a bumbling, old world, scholar at a small, upstate New York liberal arts college. For the first few pages, we read what appears to be a fairly standard, straightforward, third-person close narrative about Professor Timofey Pnin, a Russian emigre who fled both Stalin and Hitler. We pick up tidbits about his history; we enter his private thoughts; we learn things he is unaware of; we see him in defining, anecdotal moments: in other words, we encounter him in his aloneness.

Along the way, however, we get a few hints that things are not all they seem: "Now a secret must be imparted," we read on p.8 [the second page of text] of Vintage Books edition; "How should we diagnose his sad case?" (p.13). We gloss over these casual references, perhaps thinking them to be rhetorical devices or flourishes of the master stylist we know VN to be. But then, on p.16, our sensibilities are shocked when we hit this sentence:"
On the third hand (these mental states sprout additional forelimbs all the time), he carried in the inside pocket of his present coat a precious wallet with two ten-dollar bills, the newspaper clipping of a letter he had written, with my help, to the New York Times in 1945 anent the Yalta conference, and his certificate of naturalization..."
"Whoa, whoa whoa!" we think (after appreciating how VN is able to work the word 'anent' so naturally into the sentence), "with 'MY' help? Who the heck is this person interjecting himself into the narrative, referring to himself and how he 'helped' Pnin? How can he possibly claim to know these facts about Pnin's private, interior life we've been reading? This must be a mistake, a typo or something. A slip of the tongue if you will. Or else it's just Nabokov being Nabokov. What an ego, eh?" And we let it pass again, but a little more skeptically this time.

Further on, on p.19, we read: "What was our poor friend to do?" Again. Is this 'I' making us complicit in the narrative, or is this merely the rhetoric of the royal 'we'? Our Spider-sense is aroused. Then, on the very next page, we are completely confounded by this passage:
"My friend wondered, and I wonder too. I do not know if it has ever been noted before that one of the main characteristics of life is discreteness. Unless a film of flesh envelops us, we die. Man exists only insofar as he is separated from his surroundings. The cranium is a space-traveler's helmet. Stay inside or you perish. Death is divestment, death is communion. It may be wonderful to mix with the landscape, but to do so is the end of the tender ego. The sensation poor Pnin experienced was something very like that divestment, that communion. He felt porous and pregnable. He was sweating. He was terrified. A stone bench among the laurels saved him from collapsing on the sidewalk. Was his seizure a heart attack? I doubt it. For the nonce I am his physician, and let me repeat, I doubt it. My patient was one of those singular and unfortunate people ..."
This has been no mistake, we realize. The narrator has now established himself as a full-fledged character in this narrative. But this is problematic. Who is he? He knows too much; he is telling us things he cannot possibly know about Pnin's inner states. He must be imagining things, or projecting. What gives? How can he be trusted?

So we step back, reflect, and think to ourselves, 'Well, maybe this is some sort of philosophical disquisition on the problem of 'other minds' or something?'

We read on to see. More clues, like breadcrumbs, are scattered about throughout the text:
"Some people—and I am one of them—hate happy ends. We feel cheated. Harm is the norm. Doom should not jam. The avalanche stopping in its tracks a few feet above the cowering village behaves not only unnaturally but unethically. Had I been reading about this mild old man, instead of writing about him ['AHA!' we shout], I would have preferred him to discover, upon his arrival to Cremona, that his lecture was not this Friday but the next." (p.26)
And that is Chapter One. Here, the implied author drops another veil (to mix the metaphors): He is ethical, he implies, adhering to the 'truth' of the situation and not his more sadistic predilections.

Oh, Vladimir Nabokov (vlah-DEE-mur nuh-BOH-cough), you're such a scamp, playing around with our perceptions, interjecting complexities and confusions into an otherwise simple story-line. What are we to think?

[continued next post up]

15 April 2009

03 April 2009

Spring Break

Well, it's that special week of year again: Spring Break in the ATL! UNC is playing in the Final Four! Opening Day is rolling around, and the Braves are still in the hunt! And the Masters is next weekend!

WoW will be dark for a week while I'm down on Florida's Forgotten Coast. Thanks to all for reading!

Jim H.

Some music I've loaded on my iPod for running on that beach above: