Tag: lists (page 1 of 2)

Why a List is not a Puzzle

I swore at some point that this would not be the sort of blog that documented actual things that happen to me, Mark, the person. The factors that determined this decision were probably something like, a) most people who read this blog probably know me anyway and will therefore probably find out sooner or later “what is up” with me via routes other than the internet, and b) a kind of impersonality in writing that I’ve just grown accustomed to. Clearly I’ve abandoned all of that, so what the hell.

I thought about this passage from Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual today as I was looking over my orals lists:

The pieces are unreadable, take on a sense, only when assembled; in isolation, a puzzle piece means nothing – just an impossible question, an opaque challenge. But as soon as you have succeeded, after minutes of trial and error, or after a prodigious hald-second flash of inspiration, in fitting it into one of its neighbours, the piece disappears, ceases to exist as a piece. The intense difficulty preceding this link-up – which the English word puzzle indicates so well – bot only loses its raison d’etre, it seems never to have had any reason, so obvious does the solution appear. The two pieces so miraculously conjoined are henceforth one, which in its turn will be a source of error, hesistancy, dismay, and expectation.

la-vie-mode-demploi-g-perec__080722033139Later in the novel we meet Bartlebooth, who spends his life learning to paint, so he can make a series of seascapes, have those seascapes made into exceedingly intricate jigsaw puzzles, and then spend the rest of his life putting the puzzles back together. And towards the end of the orals process, one feels like Bartlebooth for sure. You’ve built this thing without really knowing what it is, and as you try to reassemble the concept behind it from all of its contituent pieces, you realize the monumental parallax built into that process of REconstruction has alienated you entirely from the initial (turns out, somewhat arbitrary) method of assemblage that spurred the whole thing.

Unfortunately, though the Bartlebooth analogy holds together, it doesn’t adequately capture the sense of pervasive disorder, of panic. Only Bartlebooth’s affluence, and the void of desire that affluence engenders, allows to him to give himself over to his project, to invest himself fully in a totally arbitrary, all-consuming structure of his own devising, but outside of his mode of being. He lives deliberately, slowly – even his asceticism betrays his privilege. All-consuming structure is the ur-commodity he designs and purchases for himself. That’s not how things feel from this end.

Probable Futures

Books I’m excited about:

1. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2. The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littel

3. The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity and Chinese Pain by Eric Hayot

4. The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing by Mark McGurl

5. (Re)reading The Oresteia, Medea, and Antigone all in the next month.

Eschewing Meaningful Content Since 1983

Here’s a list of books I’ve read so far in 2009:

1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

2. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

3. An Anecdoted Topography of Chance by Daniel Spoerri et al

4. The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

6. Studies in Classic American Literature by D.H. Lawrence

7. Remainder by Tom McCarthy

8. The Pit: A Story of Chicago by Frank Norris

9. The Order of Things by Michel Foucault

10. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Not bad for one month, but really it just makes me wish I could get away from Orals List reading long enough to crack open 2666, which is now looming imperiously over my bed. Unfortunately, non-school-related reading of that magnitude is not going to happen until mid-March. By that time, though, the English translation of The Kindly Ones will finally be available as well, and I can rip through two massive, depressing novels as a reward. Or I’ll fail my oral exams, and I can rip through two massive, depressing novels as an act of self-flagellation. Whichever.

Also, here’s a picture of Paul McCartney for you to cry to.


Via Progress Report’s truly fine interview with the Wrens.

The “All Filler, No Killer” Post

It’s end-of-the-semester Hell, so all substance is going into term paper writing, research paper grading, and strategizing for next semester. Blog post of substance coming soon, most likely concerning a book. Most likely an old book. But here are some capsule reviews of recent literary and cinematic intake.

1. Milk (dir. Gus Van Sant): Biopic actually directed by another director’s biopic rather than director himself. Sean Penn’s character from I Am Sam turns in a stirring performance as Penn playing Harvey Milk. Got a bit choked up towards the end, and then railed against the biopic form (in my head). And we don’t get to see the post-conviction riots?

2. Twilight (dir. I’m not even going to bother IMDB’ing this one): Vampires = dreamy stalkers who bite you because of your smell. I giggled along with the thirteen year old girls who dreamed of being stalked by dreamy vampires, and then I railed against the teen romance form (in my head) because it was complicit in preventing me from getting girls in high school.

3. Brand Upon the Brain (dir. Guy Maddin): This film is complicit only in preventing me from railing against itself (due to its awesomeness). In my head, this is what getting girls in high school is like. So a little dreamy, but not as dreamy as a vampire stalker who won’t be my bio lab partner.

4. How We Became Posthuman (by N. Katherine Hayles): Certain early and second-wave cyberneticists (Norbert Wiener, I’m looking at you) are complicit in advancing theoretical models that maintain the hegemonic (though mistaken) belief that information is separable from its material instantiation. Hayles rails against this, and also the Liberal Humanist Subject, who sounds like a real dick.

5. The House of Mirth (by Edith Wharton, crappy preface by Anna Quindlen [go fig]): Money is the root of all evils, but also fancy parties, so I’m giving this one a “complicit in making me want to eat dainty cakes and call for a hansom, if that’s even still possible.” Also, Selden’s dreaminess DWARFED by the dreaminess of that vampire from Twilight.


BONUS FACT: the cat dropped a live mouse in my bed at 4:30 in the morning. Hilarity ensued.

Racist Utopians Get Lonely Too

Receiving a link to this thread on Stormfront White Nationalist Community message board (NSFW, unless you work for racists or are this guy) from my “transhumanism ” Google Alert was the highlight of my afternoon. The Aryan Transhumanist: proof that a super race of super assholes is possible.

Weirdly, not ten minutes ago I was reading Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future. Though a lot of Fukuyama’s claims make me nervous, he doesn’t make me half as nervous as some transhumanists. Straight-up white supremacists tend not to make me nervous at all (unless I actually meet them face to face) because my cultural optimism (Obamaptimism?) is such that I think their views will never again acquire the kind of currency they used to have (what kind of sub rosa currency they still have, though, is a different story). While crazy, transhumanism in its strong form is not racist, but it does share some features (misreadings of evolutionary theory, utopian hopes posited on wing-and-a-prayer cocktail napkin calculations, core beliefs whose sustainability strains common sense) that could render it appealing to those whose political affiliations it would probably shun.

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