31 March 2010

Articles of Faith: Parameters of the Last Ark—Pt. 1

"Geologists from the University of Leicester are among four scientists—including a Nobel prize-winner—who suggest that Earth has entered a new age of geological time. The Age of Aquarius? Not quite.—It's the Anthropocene Epoch, say the scientists writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology ... [T]he Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet."
We teeter, it seems, on a precipice: will this purported new era issue in a new round of environmental degradation and species extinctions (resulting, ultimately, possibly in our own) or is this the necessary next step in the advancement of our civilization and the evolution of life on this planet? Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Much, it would seem, depends on us: How attuned are we to environmental concerns? Are we truly pro-Life (with a capital 'L') or, as a species, self-destructive?

One assumption I make is that human life is the expression of something—let's call it DNA, or better Life itself—to survive in the face of an indifferent universe. Do we, as the human race, have the same will to survive or have we been been untrue to our nature?

The jury is out, but I firmly believe it is a question worth asking.

Another way of looking at things: Life itself is part of a complex entropic cooling process. In its simplest form, as sunlight pure heat reaches the earth where it is processed through photosynthesis, the consumption of plants by animals (including us), and the subsequent fertilization of plants by animal waste. Plants and bacteria convert the sun's light into energy, absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen and water in the process

Byproducts of this complex cooling process include the carbon dioxide we exhale and methane gasses in our excrescence. These reheat the atmosphere, but not perfectly. Life serves to cool the planet, converting heat energy into inter alia fecal matter and decaying bodies.

Civilization, on one view, resulted as human beings banded together to make the process of Life more efficient. However, it takes energy to fuel the process of civilization. At this stage of human civilization, we fuel this process mostly through the burning of cellulose- (e.g., wood) and carbon-based (oil, natural gas, etc.) forms of biomass—which, according to the vast majority of reputable scientists, is releasing all stored-up carbon dioxide from the photosynthetic process back into the atmosphere and causing the planet to heat up more than it should.

In other words, we are acting against our human nature—heating the planet instead of cooling it. If the Anthropocene hypothesis is accurate, this is a problem.

Other problems arise, of course, because there is only a finite quantity of biomass, and we will certainly someday run out, thus threatening our civilization and, possibly, life itself with an energy crisis of cosmic proportions.

Today, President Obama announced the U.S. would open up "vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling."

This move addresses a pressing concern: U.S. dependency on oil from the politically unstable and repressive region of the Middle East as the West seeks to convert its economy to a more sustainable energy basis—assuming, of course, this is not simply some short-sighted "Drill, Baby, Drill" political move to placate the entrenched oil industry powers that brought us the last eight nightmarish years of war and global economic collapse and environmental degradation under those inveterate oilmen George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their close friends amongst the Saudi royalty.

There must be a delicate balancing act here, and, in this, we must hold this government's feet to the fire. There can be no doubt that in the long run we must look to more sustainable forms of energy to preserve our civilization, our environment, and, indeed, Life itself. In the short term, however, if we continue to let the anti-democratic forces of the corporate and totalitarian oil industry maintain a chokehold on global economic growth and development, we stand to lose even more of our freedoms and wealth. And, to be sure, no one whose power ultimately rests on a platform of controlling the flow of fossil fuels to hopelessly dependent customers is going to willingly allow a sustainable energy industry to take root and grow into a competing factor. It will strangle it in the cradle, so to speak.

So, is Obama's move an attempt to buy time and cover so we in the West can innovate and develop a sustainable energy industry (as he's promised) or merely a caving to entrenched oil interests that have had their grip on power lo these many years? Is this Obama's attempt at a grand strategic solution to the same set of problems that G.W. Bush and his father sought to answer by foolishly and misguidedly invading Iraq? No one can say for sure now; the real political battle is just beginning. But it is the crucial—nay, it is the existential question to ask.

(to be continued)

29 March 2010

Ur-Story: Straight, No Chaser

Can a pedophile priest inculcate a true sense of religion in a young boy? Can the son of a whore grow up to have a real moral sense? Who makes a better, truer friend: a fierce, but equal rival or a cunning sycophant? If your catechism teacher is a horrible, mean bitch, can she nevertheless serve as a guide for your spiritual formation? If your science teacher is a wondrous humanitarian, does that necessarily mean he can show you the meaning of life—or the way to escape from the oppressive materiality of existence? If you seduce a shy, virginal, Christian girl and then dump her out of lust for a Communist slut, do you bear any guilt? What if she eventually goes insane? Does being a great artist make you a great person? Does being successful mean being good? Can the individual find salvation under the torturous boot of tyranny?

These are the sorts of questions William Golding sets for himself in his novel, Free Fall (1959).

For many of us, William Golding's first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), was required reading in high school or college. And deservedly so. His vision of the conflict between savagery and innocence in our social nature was powerfully dramatized in this adventure of a group of boys shipwrecked on a deserted island. "Soon a kind of primitive society takes shape and is split into warring factions, one marked by decency and willingness to cooperate, the other by worship of force, lust for power and violence." (Sound vaguely familiar?)

Lord of the Flies is, at base, a novel about human society, allegorical according to most. It has the same currency, roughly, as George Orwell's 1984 for describing contemporary politics. Anyone who has played on an organized athletic team or worked in a corporate culture or been even peripherally involved in politics knows what Golding was getting at in this ripping good yarn—a close cousin of Robinson Crusoe.

Though it is by far his most famous and popular novel, it may not be his best or most important. I want to look at another of Golding's novels, Free Fall, in this post. Less a social novel, Free Fall is an ethical story of one man's coming to grips with his own humanity.

Free Fall is a novel of superior craft. Yet it has no plot. Except for a few summary pages at the beginning and the short last chapter, the entire novel seems to take place in a pitch dark mop closet in a Nazi POW camp. The only action, it seems, is in the mind and memory of one Sammy Mountjoy.

The frame story is that of a man reflecting on the key events of his life that led him to his current situation in the hope that these putatively random anecdotes will reveal his soul not only to himself, but to us, his readers.

Sammy, a prisoner of war, keeps trying to answer the simple question: "When did I lose my freedom?" (5) Technically (literally, that is), he never really answers that question, for we never find out quite how he got captured by the Germans, learning only that he was a British captain during the war. [This, I think, is the great technical flaw in this otherwise tightly-structured novel—its failure to resolve the 'objective correlative' of Sammy's physical imprisonment.] However, the question quickly morphs into the metaphorical crisis of free will: "Free-will cannot be debated, but only experienced, like a colour or the taste of potatoes." (5)

Sammy Mountjoy is an artist whose work hangs in the Tate. During the war, as a POW he is subject to psychological torture and the threat of physical torture if he does not betray what he knows of an escape plot by other officers. He claims he does not know, or has forgotten, so the camp's torturer, a psychiatrist in civilian life(!), has Sammy locked in a mop closet pending his eventual physical torture. Sammy, as he explores his tiny cell like a Beckettian protagonist, must decide whether to inform or not. And the stress and terror of impending torture and pain and possibly death causes him to examine his life.

Sammy explores a series of choices that define who he has become beginning with his birth and early years in Rotten Row, a London slum. His tremendous talent, and pure chance, leads him out of these straits and into the guilt-ridden arms of the Church. He receives an education, but ultimately rejects the Church for the Communist Party. No external system is sufficient.

Golding sets up a series of structural oppositions at every turn for Sammy along the lines of the questions I posed at the top of this post. Sammy makes his ethical choices and must live with the consequences. As such, the novel has a schematic feel (spiritual vs. material): What does it mean to be a spiritual being? What does it mean to be a physical being? To be complete, you need both; but because you are a fallen creature, you cannot have both. The best you can hope to do is to connect with another fallen being. Yet, even though the urge to communicate, to connect with an Other, is the aim of our fallen existence, it can only be imperfect.

This is Sammy's ultimate reason for writing down his 'memoirs'. He says:
"It is the unnameable, unfathomable and invisible darkness that sits at the centre of him [Sammy Mountjoy], always awake, always different from what you believe it to be, always thinking and feeling what you can never know it thinks and feels, that hopes hopelessly to understand and to be understood. Our loneliness is the loneliness not of the cell or the castaway; it is the loneliness of that dark thing that that sees as at the atom furnace by reflection, feels by remote control and hears only words phoned to it in a foreign tongue. To communicate is our passion and our despair.

"With whom then?


"My darkness reaches out and fumbles at a typewriter with its tongs. Your darkness reaches out with your tongs and grasps a book." (8)

Deep calls out to deep. Our communion (communication) must of needs be imperfect for we are fallen creatures, yet we must of needs make the effort.

Many reviewers have noted the autobiographical aspects of this novel—excluding, of course, the POW aspects. Those do not interest me. Sammy Mountjoy, proxy for Sir William Golding, Nobel Prize winner, reaches out to us from the darkness of his cell—from the darkness of his Self. Though the form of the communication (this novel) is structured, even schematic, its rationality is in service of its spiritual aim: the examination of our fallenness. And, to Golding, in this sense, the novel is the most spiritual art form.

In his 1983 Nobel acceptance lecture, he had this to say about the novel (in general):
"Even the novel, if it climbs into an ivory tower, will find no audience except those with ivory towers of their own. I used to think that the outlook for the novel was poor. Let me quote myself again. I speak of boys growing up—not exceptional boy, but average boy.
"Boys do not evaluate a book. They divide books into categories. There are sexy books, war books, westerns, travel books, science fiction. A boy will accept anything from a section he knows rather than risk another sort. He has to have the label on the bottle to know it is the mixture as before. You must put his detective story in a green paperback or he may suffer the hardship of reading a book in which nobody is murdered at all;—I am thinking of the plodders, the amiable majority of us, not particularly intelligent or gifted; well-disposed, but left high and dry among a mass of undigested facts with their scraps of saleable technology. What chance has literature of competing with the defined categories of entertainment which are laid on for them at every hour of the day? I do not see how literature is to be for them anything but simple, repetitive and a stop-gap for when there are no westerns on the telly. They will have a far less brutish life than their Nineteenth-Century ancestors, no doubt. They will believe less and fear less. But just as bad money drives out good, so inferior culture drives out superior. With any capacity to make value judgements vitiated or undeveloped, what mass future is there, then, for poetry, for belles-lettres, for real fearlessness in the theatre, for the novel which tries to look at life anew—in a word, for intransigence?"

I wrote that some twenty years ago I believe and the process as far as the novel is concerned has developed but not improved. The categories are more and more defined. Competition from other media is fiercer still. Well, after all the novel has no build—it claims on immortality.

'Story' of course is a different matter. We like to hear of succession of events and as an inspection of our press will demonstrate have only a marginal interest in whether the succession of events is minutely true or not. Like the late Mr. Sam Goldwyn who wanted a story which began with an earthquake and worked up to a climax, we like a good lead in but have most pleasure in a succession of events with a satisfactory end-point. Most simply and directly—when children holler and yell because of some infant tragedy or tedium, at once when we take them on our knee and begin shouting if necessary—"once upon a time" they fall silent and attentive. Story will always be with us. But story in a physical book, in a sentence what the West means by "a novel"—what of that? Certainly, if the form fails let it go. We have enough complications in life, in art, in literature without preserving dead forms fossilised, without cluttering ourselves with Byzantine sterilities. Yes, in that case, let the novel go. But what goes with it? Surely something of profound importance to the human spirit! A novel ensures that we can look before and after, take action at whatever pace we choose, read again and again, skip and go back. The story in a book is humble and serviceable, available, friendly, is not switched on and off but taken up and put down, lasts a lifetime.

Put simply the novel stands between us and the hardening concept of statistical man. There is no other medium in which we can live for so long and so intimately with a character. That is the service a novel renders. It performs no less an act than the rescue and the preservation of the individuality and dignity of the single being, be it man, woman or child. No other art, I claim, can so thread in and out of a single mind and body, so live another life. It does ensure that at the very least a human being shall be seen to be more than just one billionth of one billion."
Free Fall threads us in and out of the events in the fictional life of Sammy Mountjoy William Golding has deigned to commit to paper. It is, as it tells us, an act of communication, ultimately an unalloyed spiritual act. And that is its art.

26 March 2010

Just Biding My Time

I've got several posts working, but not quite ready for primetime. And baseball season's in full swing. BDR's complaining (so what's new?) about lack of activity in blogosphere, so here's some random cool stuff that's caught my eye recently:

For some of us, this is pretty big f'ing deal. You only had to grow up with 'duck and cover' and the threat of nuclear annihilation to appreciate that serious people are still trying—albeit excruciatingly slowly—to rid the planet of these damned satanic engines of death. It's not a complete solution, but it is a step in the right direction.


Speaking of Armageddon*, I was recently contacted by the Feds who have inquired—discreetly, to be sure—as to my availability to serve on a 'death panel'. Anybody got a granny they need to off?

Yeah, I think the passage of a health insurance reform bill is a major f'ing deal. I don't think it's near sufficient yet, though.

Seems like we could save some money by cutting back on, say, the militarism budget. Maybe then we could afford a public option or even a single-payer system.

*BTW: 'Armageddon' is dog-whistle code for the christers involving the last battle with the 'Anti-Christ'. Anybody think Mr. Boehner, House minority leader, knew what he was saying when he called this weak-tea health insurance reform bill this? I certainly do. Demonizing your opponents is uncivil and provocative.


Speaking of health care, do something nice for yourself: cut this stuff out of your diet completely. As I pointed out recently, high fructose corn syrup sucks. Dont' believe me? Princeton scientists think so, too. It's bad for your health and your weight, individually. But it's an epidemiological thing:
"In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported. High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year. "


See this? Seems we've got some new, long lost cousins. One wonders how many different types of hominins were roaming around the earth at one time, how many there ever were? Amazing pics here. Recognize anyone? UPDATE: They call her X-woman.

Our descent is simply not simple.


In case you mislaid your galactic clusters.


Does plot matter? (h/t BDR) D.F. Myers, in his usual mien, says "Absolutely".

Daniel Green disagrees without being disagreeable.

Myers gets defensive (yawn!) here.

LitNow weighs in, too.

Funny thing that: I just made the argument w/r/t Coetzee's Summertime that the writer may dispense with plot and still achieve thematic unity and emotional depth, though it is necessarily a trade-off w/r/t one's readers and their competence and desire, i.e., to some, the readability of the text.

UPDATE: Named Tomorrow lends a new voice to the issue, (h/t to Richard of The Existence Machine in the various Comments for bringing this new blog to my attn.)


By the way, did anyone notice it's SPRING! YIPPEE!

23 March 2010

Bloody Nipples

Last November I wrote several posts about running. This post is a quick follow-up. This past weekend I accomplished something I've never done before in my more than half-century life: I ran and finished a half-marathon road race: the ING Georgia Marathon and Half-Marathon. A new distance: 13.1 miles. And I did it in the same shoes I wrote about in those earlier posts: my VFF Sprints. (Race photos to follow)

I'm not going to lie to you, there were some moments when I was really hurting. At the 10-mile mark, I had to shift the constriction brace I was wearing around my right calf to my left knee because I felt it weakening (front, exterior, above and to the left of the patella). The good news: my calves weren't hurting.

Around mile 12, near the Georgia Tech campus, the course headed up a series of long hills and I simply had to walk. Until that time I was on a pace to finish with twelve-minute mile splits. But, with about three quarters-mile to go, I saw the drum line from my son's high school one of whose sponsors was a good friend of mine. When I waved at Teresa, she started cheering me on with such warm and genuine enthusiasm I was motivated to run the last bit. (Thanks, T!) And to me, simply finishing was a victory (seeing as how I DNF my last race, an 11.5 mile trail run in 24 degree weather).

After the race, my friend Charlie and I hobbled to the MARTA station and eased down the steps to the trains. We were so sore we could barely move—especially going down stairs. (Charlie finished about an hour faster than I. Way to go, C! And thanks, again, for waiting around for me and giving me a shoulder to lean on when I got a little light-headed in the subway station.) What's remarkable to me is that afterwards—Sunday evening and Monday—I was not nearly as sore as I was after that first 10k or that first 15k race. No calf pain whatsoever. No top of the foot pain. No swollen feet. No toe pain. My knee didn't hurt either.

Bottom line: my training was almost good enough. I need to run a long, slow training run greater than the race distance at least once or twice before the actual race. I hadn't run more than 11.5 miles before Sunday. My body was simply not prepared to go that distance. Endurance first, then I can work on speed.

The biggest casualty—after that early, understandable soreness—was my shirt. When I got home and took off my outer shirt, I saw two bloody spots on my silk undershirt. Apparently the friction of running for nearly three hours can rub the skin off the tips of your nipples, causing them to bleed—chafing even against silk. Who knew? (Sorry, no pics.) Wisdoc kindly rinsed out the shirt's stains before they had a chance to set in while I soaked for a long time in a hot, hot tub. Next time at this distance or greater, it's Vaseline or Aquafor for them.

18 March 2010

I've Been Crying All the Time: RIP Alex Chilton

Growing up in the South in the '70s Alex Chilton & Big Star were RELEVANT! I can't explain. You had to be there. That first album didn't sell much, but I had a copy and I absolutely wore out the grooves on the first side. There was nothing—NOTHING—else like it. Did it change my life? Not saying. Was it a thing of beauty by someone from my own generation? Absolutely.

Thanks, Alex. And goodbye.

"Hanging out.
Down the street.
The same old thing
We did last week.
Not a thing to do
But talk to you.

Steal your car
And bring it down.
Pick me up.
We'll drive around.
Wish we had a joint so bad.

Bust a streetlight.
Out past midnight.

05 March 2010

Ur-story: Second Story Pt. 3

(cont'd from previous posts)

Summertime, J.M. Coetzee's latest work of fiction, presents the reader with a portrait of the absent character 'John Coetzee' (deceased) from a "range of independent perspectives"—none of which can lay claim to perfect reliability. J.M. Coetzee, the author, dispenses with the elements of traditional dramatic structure in favor of pastiche. Though he is able to achieve a coherent portrayal of this fictional 'John Coetzee'—who resembles in many ways, but not every way, the writer—it comes at the cost of plot.

For this maneuver to be more than mere gimmickry or the gamesmanship of a Nobel laureate who is entitled to publish whatever the hell he pleases because of who he is, something must be gained. What, if any, benefits does the work gain as a result of this trade-off?

[Side Note: In the Comments, long-time blogger and lit blog-friend Richard [Yo! la Crary {Tengo?}] of The Existence Machine, one of WoW's most influential reads, chides WoW for use of the term "metafictional games" w/r/t Summertime. He makes a good point, but not necessarily the one, I believe, he intends. I think there can be no question that J.M. Coetzee is engaging in some sort of gamesmanship here. Upon reflection, the games may not be precisely 'metafictional'; rather, they are metabiographical or metacritical games. Every other review I've seen, to the best of my memory, focuses on how J.M. Coetzee is commenting on the nature of how people read his books and how they look for episodes from his book in incidents from his biographical life and how he is attempting to set up his legacy. This is certainly a form of gamesmanship, and that stuff is all in Summertime. But I believe it is peripheral to the core of the book. [See infra]

Summertime never takes us into the emotional interior of John Coetzee; we always see him as others see him—except, presumably, in his notebook fragments. And they clue us into the emotional core of the book.

A quick recap:

The first entry shows us John Coetzee's father's disdain for the brutality of African politics: "He resolves the problem by immersing himself in the cricket scores. As a response to a moral dilemma it is feeble; yet is his own [John's] response—fits of rage and despair—any better?" p.5

The second deals with John's conflict over his own mortality: does one seek immortality by constructing a perfect concrete slab around "[t]he house that he shares with his father ... [though] [t]o insulate them from the damp is an impossible task" [p. 6] or "persist[-ing] in inscribing marks on paper, in the faint hope that people not yet born will take the trouble to decipher them?" [p. 7]

The third deals with a different type of patrimony: "Zoom lenses capture every intimate moment as they [Breytan Breytanbach, the ex-pat S.African writer back to visit his ailing parents, and his Vietnamese (that is to say 'colored' in the parlance of the times) wife] picnic with friends ... . Breyten calls Afrikaners a bastard people." [p.8-9]

The fourth is a response to a "stodgy bureaucrat's" pathetic plea in an early Kurosawa film. John [?] Coetzee wonders "[h]ow would he react if his father were to grip his arm like this." [p.9]

The fifth fragment deals with John Coetzee's refusal to provide expert testimony on behalf of a widow who seeks to lodge a ridiculous challenge her husband's clearly expressed last will and testament.

The sixth fragment contemplates the politics of the day: "The old rallying cries—Uphold white Christian civilization! Honour the sacrifices of the forefathers!—lack all force. ... How to live one's life outside politics, and one's death too: that was the example he [Jesus] set for his followers." [p.12]

In the seventh fragment, an old school chum, Truscott, moves into the house across from John. Though Truscott was a bit of an mediocre student, he now is a successful marketing executive while John is somewhat of a schlub. The irony is palpable. Truscott asks John: "'Do you have children?' 'I am a child. I mean, I live with my father. My father is getting on in years. He needs looking after. ...'" [p.14]

In the last fragment in the introductory section of the book, John points out the irony that the white suburbs of Capetown where he lives have grown out and swallowed up the land around the notorious Pollsmoor Prison, eventual home of Nelson Mandela.

In the series of undated fragments at the end of the book, he takes his father to a rugby game. His father is aging and has no friends, and "[c]lub rugby is on its last legs." [p. 246] John seeks his father's forgiveness for his emotional coldnesses of the past, but his father, a deeply unhappy man, does not recognize the effort—nor the need for it. "Theme to carry further: his father and why he lives with him. The reaction of the women in his life (bafflement)." He locates his sense of resistance to the world in his mother (one of the few times she is mentioned) and his Montessori education. Theme to be developed: "His attested incompetence in matters of the heart; transference in the classroom and his repeated failures to manage it." [p.255]. [Sounds vaguely like the set-up to Disgrace, no?] John helps his father, a disbarred lawyer, in a menial bookkeeping job. He imagines ways of committing suicide to escape the misery of his life. And he confronts the decision that has hovered over the entire book: his father contracts cancer of the larynx and John, finally, comes to this:
"It used to be that he, John had too little employment. Now that is about to change. Now he will have as much employment as he can handle, as much and more. He is going to have to abandon some of his personal projects and be a nurse. Alternatively, if he will not be a nurse, he must announce to his father: I cannot face the prospect of ministering to you day and night. I am going to abandon you. Goodbye. One or the other: there is no third way." [p.266]
John once abandoned his country and his father and went to America and is now returned. At the end of Summertime, John is facing a crisis: he has an ethical decision to make, a decision that goes to the heart of the theme of patrimony that threads through nearly every page of this book. It is a decision with such overwhelming impact, it is enshrined as one-tenth of the Laws that JHWH JHWH's Self actually enscribed on Moshe's stone tablets: "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Indeed, as I pointed out in my first post in this series: this is the first relationship. It is the first of the Ten Commandments having to do with interpersonal relationships, coming after those having to do with honoring god himself (god, of course, being the great 'I am', the subject of the Ur-story).

It would be facile to state that John's father is, of course, a symbol, thus taking interpretation of Summertime down a sociological or political or ethnocentric alley. And J.M. Coetzee brilliantly controls all the symbolic meaning by means of the episodes he chooses to include in this book. But, because the relationship between an adult child and an aging parent is so fraught with emotional significance it is sufficient to indicate that this is the emotional, humanitarian heart of the book which all the various episodes serve to elaborate.

Thus, in answer to my question at the top of this post, J.M. Coetzee is able to achieve a certain systematic ramification of the theme of patrimony by focusing strictly on the relationship between John Coetzee and his father.

The five 'witnesses' to this relationship are not necessarily aware that this is the reality they are testifying to; they believe they are commenting on the writer John Coetzee they knew peripherally during the 1970s. But John's father is integral to all their accounts; they just don't know it. And neither, apparently, does Vincent.

From a technical, writerly standpoint, J.M. Coetzee, then, is also able to achieve a remarkable six unreliable narrators in one very post-modern pastiche. It is up to the individual reader to say whether it was worth the cost of the plot, and that would, most likely, depend on how hard the reader cares to work to mine the text. If the reader wants to be spoonfed meaning, then probably not.

One last point: Summertime finds J.M. Coetzee impersonating five different interviewees and one interviewer (plus John). This gives rise to another question, more nebulous and more difficult to answer: Is J.M. Coetzee dramatizing his own personal search for an authentic 'voice' in Summertime? This is a question I cannot answer. It entails a precise, systematic understanding of the nature of fictional 'voice'. It requires a fairly comprehensive knowledge of J.M.'s actual writing at the time—published and unpublished. And, most importantly, it demands a knowledge of what J.M. himself thought about his own writing and his sense of his own development as a writer, something I simply do not have access to. However, as you (I) (re-)read Summertime, it might pay to keep this thought in mind.

01 March 2010

We Interrupt...

...your regularly scheduled serial blog post (about J.M. Coetzee's latest work) to bring you this important announcement:

Once again, WoW has been nominated for a prize at 3QuarksDaily. This time it's for Literary Post of the Year.

As you can see from the sidebar, one of my posts was a finalist for the 3QuarksDaily Political Post of the Year.

I urge you ALL to go to 3QuarksDaily, read the nominated posts, and, if you are so inclined, vote for mine: "Wisdom of the West: Realisms." It is the next to last choice at the bottom of the page.

Semifinalists will be chosen by popular vote. Finalists will be selected by the 3QD editors. And Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate, will choose the winners.

Even if you don't like my post, there are a number of terrific literary bloggers nominated. You will expand your world by reading them.

Here is the link to the list of nominees.

Here is the link to my nominated post: Realisms.

And here, if you're interested, is the political post that made it to the final round: "Blunderbuss".

Jim H.

And now we return you to your regularly scheduled reading.