30 September 2010

Ur-Story: Dash Dot Dash Dot

As you may recall, I was an ardent admirer of Tom McCarthy's Remainder. If, as I noted, Samuel Beckett was the presiding spirit over that novel, the Vladimir Nabokov of Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle presides over the early goings-on of his new novel, C—and I have that on the best authority. But Ada and Van Veen are not the only fictional ghosts haunting this text; James Bigglesworth and T.E. Lawrence (advisedly) and Gregor Samsa are merely some of the more obvious ones.

But if there is one overarching spirit (pun intended [you'll see]), it would have to be the Thomas Pynchon of Gravity's Rainbow. Full stop.

Pynchon in GR portrays the demise of the individual in the rise of the paranoid style of politics. GR confirmed the suspicions of a generation of Luddites that the incursion of technology in human affairs, historically sited in the WWII "Zone", betokened the rise of a culture of death. The love of technology is the lust for death. Our hopes and aspirations for our creations, artistic and scientific and technological, ascend along the arc of the rainbow, reach their natural apogee and then, under the weight of gravity, come screaming across the sky and crash explosively back to earth.

Now, think visually for a second: turn the finite rainbow arc on its side and what do you have? The letter C! Topple the letter C and what do you have? The arc of the rainbow. Coincidence? I think not.

Thematically, C reads like a WWI prequel to GR. The new technologies of communication, wireless and telephonic, were thought by many at the time to be opportunities to connect up with the spirits of the dead. As deaf as we are to the finite reality of our human situation, there was at the time of the novel still open-ended hope for our eternal aspirations—hopes Pynchon dashes with a sardonic laugh and McCarthy has Serge Carrefax ultimately fall prey to.

Remainder was linguistically terse, stylistically minimalist, and structurally recursive. The prose of C, by contrast, is detailed, the style generous, the structure episodic. Much, again, like its inspiration, GR.

(to be continued)

Now I'm Pissed

As a rule I don't use my blog to vent, but I'm really pissed now. Sorry if I offend anyone who stops by here.

I just read that Snooki, that illiterate drunken fucking troll from some godawful vulgar 'reality' television show, just got a book deal—and not some tell-all quasi-celebrity memoir: a novel. A NOVEL! And this is the shitty industry I've been struggling to break into for the last several years.

God damn it all to hell. What do I have to do?

I give up. Life has no meaning.

Go away. I need to be alone.

27 September 2010


My father is 86 years old. He walks a couple miles every morning and can nearly shoot his age on the golf course. That's him in the picture, with my mother, sitting, applauding just behind the fellow standing foregrounded in the red jacket.

On September 18, 2010, Wisdaughter and I drove up to Winston-Salem, NC, to honor his service in World War II. The local Rotary Club has been sponsoring "Flights of Honor" to send WWII veterans to Washington, DC, to view the WWII Memorial. My father was on the flight that day.

There were over 100 cute little old men (and a few women) tottering around the airport. It was hard to imagine that they were 18-21 at one time and unselfishly left their provincial North Carolina homes to fight for their country and their ideal of freedom for the rest of the world.

My father served on the U.S.S. Cepheus, an Andromeda Class attack cargo ship, with the U.S. Coast Guard. He participated in the invasion of Southern France and the assault on Okinawa. He came under attack by kamikazes and made port in Kure, Japan, just after THE bomb. We have pictures.

He is a modest man, always has been. Only recently has he spoken to us about his service to his country. He was, by his account, one of the most popular men on board because he was the mailman and unofficial chaplain.

That generation is dying off—some estimate at the rate of about 3,000 service members per day. I am proud to have been able to honor my father for something he did long before I was born. I am glad he survived the hell of war—else I would not have been born. I am thankful the Nazis didn't prevail.

I love you, Dad.

24 September 2010

Fear of Metaphor, Part 2


There is a long history of philosophical antipathy to metaphor, dating back practically to the origins of philosophy.

Patrician, conservative, utilitarian Plato felt that poets should be banished from the public discourse of the ideal Republic because their use of figurative language (like the sophist's use of enthymemes) is a bewitchment, a rhetorical incitement which stirs childish passions without regard for the truth or the betterment of the polis.

As is his wont, he sics his annoying, perverse, deformed persona, Socrates—his attack dog or avatar, if you will—on the offenders:
"[Socrates]: If you consider, I said, that when in misfortune we feel a natural hunger and desire to relieve our sorrow by weeping and lamentation, and that this feeling which is kept under control in our own calamities is satisfied and delighted by the poets;—the better nature in each of us, not having been sufficiently trained by reason or habit, allows the sympathetic element to break loose because the sorrow is another’s; and the spectator fancies that there can be no disgrace to himself in praising and pitying any one who comes telling him what a good man he is, and making a fuss about his troubles; he thinks that the pleasure is a gain, and why should he be supercilious and lose this and the poem too? Few persons ever reflect, as I should imagine, that from the evil of other men something of evil is communicated to themselves. And so the feeling of sorrow which has gathered strength at the sight of the misfortunes of others is with difficulty repressed in our own.

How very true!

And does not the same hold also of the ridiculous? There are jests which you would be ashamed to make yourself, and yet on the comic stage, or indeed in private, when you hear them, you are greatly amused by them, and are not at all disgusted at their unseemliness;—the case of pity is repeated;—there is a principle in human nature which is disposed to raise a laugh, and this which you once restrained by reason, because you were afraid of being thought a buffoon, is now let out again; and having stimulated the risible faculty at the theatre, you are betrayed unconsciously to yourself into playing the comic poet at home.

Quite true, he said.

And the same may be said of lust and anger and all the other affections, of desire and pain and pleasure, which are held to be inseparable from every action—in all of them poetry feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue.

I cannot deny it.

Therefore, Glaucon, I said, whenever you meet with any of the eulogists of Homer declaring that he has been the educator of Hellas, and that he is profitable for education and for the ordering of human things, and that you should take him up again and again and get to know him and regulate your whole life according to him, we may love and honor those who say these things—they are excellent people, as far as their lights extend; and we are ready to acknowledge that Homer is the greatest of poets and first of tragedy writers; but we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praises of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State.

That is most true, he said.

And now since we have reverted to the subject of poetry, let this our defense serve to show the reasonableness of our former judgment in sending away out of our State an art having the tendencies which we have described; for reason constrained us. But that she may impute to us any harshness or want of politeness, let us tell her that there is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry; of which there are many proofs, such as the saying of ‘the yelping hound howling at her lord,’ or of one ‘mighty in the vain talk of fools,’ and ‘the mob of sages circumventing Zeus,’ and the ‘subtle thinkers who are beggars after all’; and there are innumerable other signs of ancient enmity between them. Notwithstanding this, let us assure our sweet friend and the sister arts of imitation that if she will only prove her title to exist in a well-ordered State we shall be delighted to receive her—we are very conscious of her charms; but we may not on that account betray the truth. I dare say, Glaucon, that you are as much charmed by her as I am, especially when she appears in Homer?

Yes, indeed, I am greatly charmed.

Shall I propose, then, that she be allowed to return from exile but upon this condition only—that she make a defense of herself in lyrical or some other meter?


And we may further grant to those of her defenders who are lovers of poetry and yet not poets the permission to speak in prose on her behalf: let them show not only that she is pleasant but also useful to States and to human life, and we will listen in a kindly spirit; for if this can be proved we shall surely be the gainers—I mean, if there is a use in poetry as well as a delight?

Certainly, he said, we shall be the gainers.

If her defense fails, then, my dear friend, like other persons who are enamored of something, but put a restraint upon themselves when they think their desires are opposed to their interests, so too must we after the manner of lovers give her up, though not without a struggle. We too are inspired by that love of poetry which the education of noble States has implanted in us, and therefore we would have her appear at her best and truest; but so long as she is unable to make good her defense, this argument of ours shall be a charm to us, which we will repeat to ourselves while we listen to her strains; that we may not fall away into the childish love of her which captivates the many. At all events we are well aware that poetry being such as we have described is not to be regarded seriously as attaining to the truth; and he who listens to her, fearing for the safety of the city which is within him, should be on his guard against her seductions and make our words his law.

Yes, he said, I quite agree with you.

Yes, I said, my dear Glaucon, for great is the issue at stake, greater than appears, whether a man is to be good or bad. And what will any one be profited if under the influence of honor or money or power, aye, or under the excitement of poetry, he neglect justice and virtue?

Yes, he said; I have been convinced by the argument, as I believe that any one else would have been." Plato, Republic X (Jowett translation)
Plato here is defending philosophy—reasoned, fact-based argument—against prior attacks of poetry and rhetoric, disciplines which have their bases, he says, not in truth but in the emotions, passions, and ideologies of the people. The source of the initial attacks is lost to time, but it is clear from the Dialogues that the Homerians and sophists were prevailing in the public discourse of the time.

Plato's philosophical defensiveness and his desire to establish a rational basis for public discourse have had a profound impact on Western attitudes about metaphor. And, indeed, a certain skepticism about any politics based on metaphor—e.g., mama grizzly, trickle down economics—is not entirely unhealthy; specificity, rationality, and a basis in causal fact are fair demands to make on the policies and pronouncements of our public figures.

This, however, tells nothing about the place of metaphor in fiction and poetry. Nor does it enlighten us to the nature of metaphor, language, and thought.

Could Plato have been wrong about the emotive basis of metaphor? Are metaphors necessary to frame and, thus, communicate political ideas?

(to be continued)

16 September 2010

Fear of Metaphor, Part 1

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet" Wm. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act II. Sc. 2.

"A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Gertrude Stein, Sacred Emily

"'Le style c’est l’homme', 'Le style c’est l’homme meme'. The first expression has cheap epigrammatic brevity. The second, correct version opens up quite a different perspective. It says that a man’s style is a picture [image] of him." Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, p. 78e
Welcome to the beginning of a new series of posts on the topic of metaphor.

Let's start with some basics. A metaphor is a rhetorical device which attempts to identify one thing with another. Unlike a simile or analogy, a metaphor asserts that one thing is another thing, not just that one is like the other.

My Handbook to Literature defines metaphor as "An implied analogy which imaginatively identifies one object with another and ascribes to the first one or more of the qualities of the second or invests the first with emotional or imaginative qualities associated with the second." (313-14)... "I.A. Richards' distinction between the tenor and the vehicle of a metaphor has been widely accepted and is very useful. The tenor is the idea being expressed or the subject of the comparison; the vehicle is the image by which this idea is conveyed or the subject communicated." (314)

Examples are plentiful:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Gospel of John 1:1

Moth: They have been at a great feast of languages, and stol'n the scraps.
Costard: O, they have liv'd long on the alms-basket of words. -Wm. Shakespeare, Love's Labour 's Lost. Act V. Sc. 1."

"...while he learned the language (that meagre and fragile thread, Grandfather said, by which the little surface corners and edges of men's secret and solitary lives may be joined for an instant now and then before sinking back into the darkness where the spirit cried for the first time and was not heard and will cry for the last time and will not be heard either)…" Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

"Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language." L. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 109

Metaphors are strange and wondrous things. How is it we can say of a man that he is a lion, or a wolf, or a jackrabbit, or a robot? How is it we can say of a woman that she is a kitten, or a bunny, or a cougar, or a planet? And then, even more strange and wondrous, how can we expect to be understood when we do so?

And when writers speak of language as a "meagre and fragile thread," a "great feast," or as a bewitcher, or even as "God", are they speaking of the same thing or different things or different aspects of the same thing? Or do all the metaphors about a thing add up to give us a picture—however incomplete—of the thing, or at least our understanding of the thing? Or are they merely expressive?

Aren't some metaphors better than others? Don't some just fit better? Aren't some simply more precise? And when we get to greater degrees of exactitude are we still using metaphors, or are we merely being descriptive?

What, then, counts as a metaphor? And how do we recognize them when we see them?

Some metaphors are obvious. But recognizing them becomes more problematic when we go beyond individual words, phrases, or thoughts. How do we deal with extended metaphors? Some say an entire novel or poem might be an extended metaphor for ... [whatever]? What if it is and we treat it literally instead of figuratively? Do we miss something? Can it still be meaningful? Is it still a metaphor? etc.

Is the presence and recognition of metaphors strictly contextual? Isn't there a community aspect as well—commonplaces? For example, if we're reading a poem, we know to look for them. If we're listening to a political speech, we know to listen for them. But is that enough?

Is it as with Justice Potter Stewart's gloss on hard-core pornography: I know it when I see it?

What does the nature of metaphor tell us about the nature of language itself? And why, if you're a writer, are they so damned difficult to create? Do the metaphors we use tell us more about ourselves (qua users) than the things they are meant to illuminate?

These are some of the questions I hope to pursue in this new series of posts. I invite you to stay attuned.

14 September 2010

A Quick One While He's Away

A brief apology for being neither productive nor responsive of late. My modem and my browser got fried in a thunderstorm last week, and I only just now got back on-line. Meanwhile, workers in my front yard are digging a trench to replace the water line from the street which ruptured this weekend and nearly flooded my basement. If I hadn't been up early to get Wesdom to a cross-country meet it could've been a disaster.

In the meantime, horses:

06 September 2010

Dan Green @ The Reading Experience

Dan Green has a new post up at The Reading Experience. Turns out he's hanging up his keyboard. Well, not exactly. TRE is morphing to a new form: TRE2.

His other blogs will stay active, and the invaluable TRE archives will remain on-line and searchable. He will be publishing an edited compilation of some of his exemplary posts, both electronic and print versions.

Dan has been an awe-inspiring presence in the lit- and crit-blogosphere lo these many years. He was an early linker and commenter here, for which I'm truly grateful. WoW wishes him the best and looks forward to what comes next. I'm sure it'll be well worth all our attentions. Keep stirring things up, Dan.

A fan,
Jim H.

02 September 2010

End-of-Summer Miscellany

You may notice a subtle change to the blog: now when you click on a link it will open in a new window. Let me know if you hate it. I learned how here.


Results of WoW's "America is…" poll as voted by you the readers:

Fat 81%
Empire 45%
A corporate regulatory zone 45% (my personal choice)
A nation of immigrants 45%
Neither 36'%
Both 27%
Hopelessly corrupt 27%
A third world nation 18%
Bankrupt 18%
Shut up you DFH 18%
The last best hope on earth 9%

Thanks, everyone, for voting.


It's September and the Braves are still in the hunt! There's something pretty cool about rooting for a team in a late season pennant race. I've been a Braves fan pretty much since they moved to ATL back in the 60s. I fondly remember listening to their night games on my AM transistor radio under the covers long after my mother made me turn out the lights. To this day I enjoy listening to games on my car radio—tipsy baseball commentators are wonderfully colorful and insightful, and the game lends itself to description; the field, the positions, the nomenclature, etc.

As in each of the past 7 or 8 years, one of my kids is singing the National Anthem at a game this season. But this year it's in October and against the Phillies! How freaking' cool is that!


You might have noticed from the posts for the last few weeks, as well as being a frustrated baseball player and/or play-by-play man, I'm also a frustrated musician and/or DJ. Thus, I indulge:

New album by Thieving Irons:

Tow The Line by Thieving Irons

You can stream the whole album here. Interview with Nate Martinez here.


Sorry. Had to do it.