Reading list… The recently read!

November 21, 2009 at 1:49 pm (General, Reading)

Ok, so this isn’t much of a post, but I thought I’d put up the list of books I’ve read since coming to Japan and those I was in the midst of reading. Recently, I’ve reached a point where I read a novel or two about every week or two. So, by next week this will undoubtedly be expanded; though, I by no means intend to come back and add onto it. Anyway, here they be:

Thomas Pynchon’s V.
David Mitchell’s number9dream
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (Lionel Giles trans.)
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

V. is Pynchon’s first novel, and it is epic and helluva ride. I recommend it highly to anyone, esp. if you’re used to some more difficult reading as this story gets convoluted in a hurry and doesn’t look back. David Mitchell was a welcome find. He taught in Japan as well for awhile and has gone on to write some acclaimed books that are in fact quite fun reads. They mix in Japanese culture very well, while telling an exciting and fast-paced story that also has some clever writerly (not in the Barthes tradition, leave me alone you literary people) approaches. Slapstick was great. It’s really funny in a tongue-in-cheek way, and you can in fact read it pretty quickly. I read it in a few hours where I didn’t have any work at work. I never actually read The Art of War before, always having meant to. The edition I read had a forward by James Clavell, and was fairly interesting to read. I think I’m going to try and tackle as many different translations as I can because it is a lot of information, and it needs to be ingrained a little more thoroughly in my brain, I think. The British version of the first HP book was left me by my apartment’s previous tenant, and at the moment I have embarked on Barthes’ S/Z and need consistent easier reading to keep my mind at peace. I first read the book as a kid in middle school and loved it; however, now it seems much less exciting and enjoyable. It only took me a couple break periods at work to put down, and it was nice to revisit the childhood memory.

In Process:
S/Z by: Roland Barthes
House of Many Ways by: Diana Wynne Jones

S/Z is in fact repeatedly and forcibly raping my mind. It’s not terribly difficult to grasp, but it must be read slowly in order for things to be allowed to actually seep in and take root. I hope to post some initial responses to the early sections of S/Z that seem to better transcend the specific text of Balzac that Barthes is looking at. House of Many Ways is one of two sequels to the novel Howl’s Moving Castle, which I first became aware of because of the Miyazaki movie. The novel seems equally interesting, however, and I do intend to get back to and read the other sequel as well as the first novel in this series. This book is quite good. I think it falls into a similar category as HP, though the overall mood is much more laid back and less hectic, so it’s actually a lot of fun and fairly relaxing to read. It is still a bit of a kid’s fantasy story, but enjoyable nonetheless. I have a feeling the first thing I turn out when I get back to writing may very well be children’s fantasy the way things are going. I am halfway thru House of Many Ways, so that might even be finished this weekend if I get bored. It’s a quick read, but still lengthy enough to make me be involved in the text. S/Z will probably be the work of a month or more. I’m at about page 30 of 200 and some. But it’s well worth it — interspersing 10-20 pages of true literary genius with 200-400 pages of children’s fantasy. Also whatever Firefox or Window’s built in internet spellchecker is doesn’t seem to recognize the word “children’s.” Really?! Come on guys!


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Uncertainty and Ontology: Doris Lessing’s Wordless Statement

April 20, 2009 at 5:36 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

It’s alive!

“Uncertainty and Ontology: Doris Lessing’s Wordless Statement”
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First Draft of Golden Notebook Paper

April 9, 2009 at 12:54 pm (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

This is the first draft of my paper for my senior seminar in postmodernism concerning the structure of Doris Lessing’s novel The Golden Notebook. For those of you who follow my Twitter, you’re already aware that I’m rewriting the whole of this from scratch. This was not the most effective or clearest way of presenting my argument, so I’m redoing the whole of it, which may seem to defeat the purpose of a rough draft; though, actually this seems to be the purpose most of my rough drafts serve. There were 3 complete rewrites of the Chaucer paper. The ability to explore one avenue of discourse and find it fails is a very effective way of deciding what other avenue will have a better chance of success, which is what has happened here. Regardless, I am posting my first draft, which will eventually, hopefully, be followed by the final draft for comparison.

To view the final draft click here.
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Pan’s Grove in Gravity’s Rainbow — Cursory Thoughts

March 27, 2009 at 12:37 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     Something caught my eye on 674, about two-thirds of the way down the page, and it was the reference to “Pan’s grove.” Looking at Weisenburger’s companion to Gravity’s Rainbow, I thought it was interesting that he only put down the allusion to Pan’s grove being a meeting place for witches, and while there is an interesting parallel there that I would like to come back to, it seems to me that there is also a strong connection between Pan’s grove and being the place where it all comes together. “Pan” of course has this additional meaning of universal or all-encompassing, and I think there is strength in seeing it this way with all that is going on, in addition to the words “a textured darkness in which flows go in all directions, and nothing begins, and nothing ends” closer to the bottom of the page. I think that at this point with all the talk of “transcendence” and being “free” we are meant to recognize that greater strands of the story share a connection here. If transcending pain is entering into “Their province” then we are at the spot where Them and Us are joined by whatever bridge can be said to exist between the two. It is similar in notion to the Norse rainbow bridge Bifrost, which joins the lands of the gods to our own lands—Them to Us. This is a meeting place, but in a certain sense it is also a place of overlap. We get a glimpse of the past of Katje and the future of Katje, as well as several other characters. Time loses some of its weight here, and what They are does not seem distinct anymore from what We are.
     Now, I said I wanted to revisit the idea of the meeting place for witches for a few reasons. One, a gathering of witches alludes to prophesy—Macbeth uses a similar notion. And two, we had a witch back during the events of the kinderofen—the witch who wants to eat Hansel and Gretel. Given Katje and Blicero are at the center of conversation here, it is a rather obvious connection to make. The way events are being talked about, however, has a definiteness to it that seems more certain than prophesy or even preserving the forms, but I cannot help but think that that is somehow what is occurring here: preserving the forms of tradition. The system is preserved here; although, we seem to have stumbled across the place in which it truly co-exists on equal footing with those it controls, which presents a bit of a problem with that theory. Is the system our way of preserving the forms? Is the superseding system just that, a traditional form or manner of expectation, which we predict and maintain in spite of the ways in which it has come to control us? I think there is some allusion along those lines that could present this conclusion about our relation to the invisible hand present in the book and its origins: “toad to prince, prince to fabulous monster”—another fairytale and another way of interpreting the world. Weissmann makes the gesture of suggesting that he could devote himself to Katje’s fantasies, in a similar gesture of control and controlled, while analyzing her as a sacrifice. This section would suggest that Weissmann knows the story that is being told, what the form resembles, what the truth is, but his own contradictions and desires seem to obscure even for him what the underlying cause of it all is. We get glimpses, snapshots, and I feel as if this is a point where the book brings it altogether and simultaneously unravels as the need to find Slothrop arises. Of course, these are mainly preliminary thoughts, but this part of the book seems the most intimately interesting to me because of how densely packed the evidence is and how promising the winning of the struggle with unpacking it seems to be. Then again, it could all be a façade.

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Gravity’s Rainbow on Rocket Limericks

March 27, 2009 at 12:36 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     There is a rather entertaining song that is sung from page 309 to 312, and is woven into the goings-on of pretty much everyone getting blotto, including—perhaps especially—Slothrop. Not that no one ever gets drunk otherwise, but I liked the effect of backgrounding it or perhaps foregrounding it—depending on your perspective—with the verses of the song. And I thought I would write about this ineluctable modality of the audible. There is an interesting cross-cultural blending that occurs in this section. We have the Americans singing, but in “German Storm Trooper style”; we have a “fat cracker Pfc.” (the truly white American); the Russians are standing around drinking as well. There is a strange conglomerate of many of those involved in the war, both axis and allies. The pieces of song are mostly laced with somber ideas: the first verse is about the bomb killing people, the refrain alludes to having garbage but not food, the fourth ends badly for Hector, in the fifth Moorehead loses his wife. And these comical but sad notes (a seemingly Modernist technique because it focuses on the manner of experience in many ways; also fits with the description of Modernism as “the laugh with a scream at its center”) punctuate the events at regular intervals for a few pages, disappearing briefly and coming back on 315. Interestingly on 315, when the refrain comes up again, it is truncated with “u.s.w.” rather than having the whole of it written out. One might expect to see “etc” for et cetera, but the German side of this event is made very clear with the “usw” meaning “und so weiter,” the German equivalent of et cetera.
     The parallel between sex with the rockets and Slothrop’s conditioning is a fairly obvious one to make. The sexual connotations of all these different parts of the rockets ring humorously out in limerick form, but the somber endings to many of the verses are suggestive of the desperate state Slothrop is in; although, perhaps less aware of as he drinks. There is a suggestion of others being involved in the rockets the same way that Slothrop is, given all the characters mentioned in the limericks who have taken a liking to the deadly phallic symbols. There’s even a suggestion that everyone should get likewise involved with the line “But if you ain’t tried it, don’t knock it!” This connection of others to the rockets as well as others to Slothrop seems particularly strong because of the line “Slothrop does not know that they are singing to him, and neither do they.” This goes back to the idea of the invisible guiding hand, or the system that controls all those involved. Slothrop can be seen as a sort of rallying point—although perhaps a failed one—for these people. Of course, he fails because no one knows that that is what he is.
     This suggests a problem with the established system. The system has to remain concealed to a certain extent, otherwise it becomes readily identifiable by the populace and much easier for them to rebel against or disassemble; however, Slothrop is the cog that people need to see in order for the system to function at its full efficiency. The problem with the system is that it is transparent by nature, so no one will recognize Slothrop, even though his function requires him to be seen. These limericks could even be seen as a side-effect of this situation. They are a means for Slothrop to be recognized, but of course, no one has any idea that that is the case.
     In the midst of the section, Slothrop does manage to get everyone’s attention by hollering “Major Marvy sucks!” Then again this gets him more hostile attention than the sort of attention that would be beneficial to the system. Still, it seems to largely be drunks playing games, including mock Kamikaze attacks. But the situation is legitimately dangerous—Marvy firing his .45s wildly, and warheads abounding. What we end up with is a strange metaphor of the war to Slothrop. Slothrop is the instigator who the war chases after. He has sex at the locations V2s will hit before they hit there—similar to shouting at Marvy, although presumably he is directed by the V2s, and shouting at Marvy gives Slothrop the power to select the site by his actions. Then Slothrop and Glimpf take off, the war following close behind—the V2 hitting the location where Slothrop has been promiscuous. This is supported by the relation of the verses of the song towards the end of the encounter to Slothrop and Glimpf and their escape. Slothrop and Glimpf think at several points that they have lost the group in pursuit of them, but they quickly discover otherwise as song erupts behind them about the bizarre sexual relationships to rockets. Slothrop thinks he has escaped the system, upset the order, finally broken free, but in fact it is rampaging behind him, ever in pursuit, announcing his sex life as it goes—sex being more or less the trail it tracks him by.
     At the end Slothrop does manage to push a warhead into the way of Marvy’s cart, allowing him to escape. Could this be foreshadowing? Maybe. Also, because I didn’t know where else to mention it, I want to briefly make a note of the midgetry that pull the mock kamikaze attacks (is there a joke here about the Japanese people being short?). They seem to be the predicate in an extreme way. Slothrop and Marvy have commandeered what they think of as belonging to them in order to play their dangerous game. And there does seem to be some parallel established with the kamikaze attacks, as presumably kamikaze flyers would be the Japanese equivalent of the predicate—sacrificed for the system.
     I really liked this scene, as it was really amusing but paralleled large parts of the book so well. The way the music interrupts the going on at times, and at other times fills in the empty space of waiting for something to happen, has its own connotations that I think are interesting. It has a pervasive quality, where it invades whatever space it can find. Whether this is a sort of rebellion or just a sort of added part of the system to disable any possible freedom of movement by its participants is hard to say based solely on the context of the scene, and perhaps it can be said that the verses are both of these things. Some additional actions of people will play into the system, and some additional actions occupy the space between the system’s controls without giving in to it, which is perhaps why Slothrop can escape at the end.

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Gravity’s Rainbow — Issues of Character

March 13, 2009 at 6:35 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

Hume, Kathryn. “Repetition and the Construction of Character in Gravity’s Rainbow.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 33.4 (1992): 243-254. MLA International Bibliography. Ames Lib. 12 Mar 2009 .

     I initially decided to look at this article on Gravity’s Rainbow because its title suggested a look at something I had not yet considered in regards to the novel; namely, how Pynchon constructs his characters and what effects that has on the work. Of course, I felt ever encouraged to read it because it began with a reference to Joyce. Hume’s initial observation is in fact that unlike Joyce, whose characters’ struggle we can observe through the psychological portraits he constructs, Pynchon does not ground the struggle of his characters in the psyche of the individual. Hume then presents what she considers to be the two popular explanations for this: 1) as a result of the book being a satire or 2) as a way of invoking postmodernism. I am not convinced by these premises, which could make it awful difficult for the article to prove anything to me. Just because Pynchon paints the psyche differently than Joyce and often uses it as a source of enigma does not mean that that internal struggle is absent or even unrepresented. Also, I don’t think that the book is so preoccupied with being a satire or invoking postmodernism that it directly constructs flat characters. I would hesitate to call many of the characters flat, anyway. Slothrop I certainly think of as dynamic. And any simplifications that appear to exist I think play to the theme of people that are controlled. They only seem flat because they are constantly under a state of being controlled and are forced into situations where the freedom to be a dynamic human being is denied them—they are reduced to conditioned cogs in the machine that is the system represented in the novel. However, it would be unfair to simply abandon the article so early, before it really even gets to utter its initial analyses of these premises. And of course Hume doesn’t disappoint, responding to these “popular” explanations with the following: “I would like to focus on material that their assumptions necessarily obscure for them and their readers” (243).
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Gravity’s Rainbow — Gory Gnahb

March 7, 2009 at 6:04 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     I wanted to take a look at a scene in particular that amused me, involving Frau Gnahb and her sea chanty on page 506. First of all, the song is awesome—flat out fantastic (“fuck ye not”; need I say more?). What drew me to this particular passage, or what I perceived as something hiding within the song, was the allusion to the Flying Dutchman. My pirate lore might be a little rusty, but I think I have enough to run with (just like scissors). Clearly the purpose of the Flying Dutchman in the song is to show how terrifying Gory Gnahb is because even the Flying Dutchman, the legendary ghost ship, is no match for her. What gives the image its strength as an element of the text is the relation of Slothrop to Gory Gnahb and what that could mean. She is taking Slothrop to the Peenemunde at the moment, and her voyages in general have been described in song as a “desperate enterprise.” The “bones and skulls” tied in with the Flying Dutchman, along with Gory Gnahb’s proclamation of herself as the “Pirate Queen of the Baltic Run,” all seem to point to a rather ominous position for Slothrop. Or perhaps it’s more a setting of adventure. And while the Flying Dutchman may want very little to do with Gory Gnahb, seeing it, as Gnahb has claimed to, is still to be considered a bad omen. The tie-in to the immediately following conversation seems worth investigating.
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Gravity’s Rainbow Thoughts — Der Kinderofen

March 7, 2009 at 6:02 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     I want to look at the Hansel and Gretel game with Blicero that starts around 96 and lingers well beyond that, as well as a few choice lines that caught my eye, near and within that section. I have selected three in particular:
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Reading Journal on Golden Notebook

February 19, 2009 at 11:07 pm (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     I started into one article on The Golden Notebook entitled “Doubletalk and Doubles Talk,” which seemed interesting and to coincide with some previously encountered analysis of the novel, but a different article caught my eye: “Breakthrough in The Golden Notebook” by: Marjorie J. Lightfoot. What caught my eye was this: “The sections called ‘Free Women’ are not presentations of what purports to be objective reality, but Anna Wulf’s ‘fictional’ account of possible adverse consequences should fragmentation and fear of chaos continue to govern people like herself and her friends and threaten the next generation” (277). While it is not especially interesting to recognize that “Free Women” is written by Anna, it is an interesting reading to take that as possible consequences of continued fragmentation. There was also a well put description of Lessing as “breaking through form to reflect content” with which I am inclined to agree (277). This seems like a very modernist undertaking in that respect, where mode of experience is privileged above more conventional objectives of a novel. Sometimes this leads to confusion, but we are meant to experience the confusion as Anna also experiences it, so that we might understand her emotions or state of mind clearer via what is essentially a wordless statement. I would say that Lessing does not break through form so much as manipulate it to reflect content, and in that sense she creates a sense of how interaction is taking place because it resembles how the reader is interacting with the novel.
     One of the distinctions the article draws as support for the notebooks as reality and the “Free Women” section as fiction is that the notebooks are written in first person and “Free Women” is written in third person. While this does not necessarily confirm which is which with certainty, I do agree that it provides a strong support case. There are many plays on the classical novel and the concept of what it means to be a classical novel, and this in particular is a similar gesture but one that renders a desired effect. First and third person can readily be understood as real and fiction simply by virtue of what those points of view achieve in most other works of fiction. I do not think it was unintentional of Lessing to make this distinction, but whether she did it in irony or in order to nudge her readers in the right direction is hard to say.
     The author of this article took the same tack I did when asked to reconcile “Free Women” and the notebooks, which is that Anna in the notebooks writes “Free Women” after the events in the notebooks occur. It is an easy thing to ask why we need to reconcile these ontological levels, but if they are readily reconciled in this way, that is with little difficulty on the part of the reader, why shouldn’t we? I believe that the possible infinite regress of notebook Anna writing “Free Women” Anna who writes notebook Anna, so on and so forth, is interesting, but I do not feel this critic is discredited in reconciling the events of the novel to a chronological timeline (perhaps because that is in some ways how I envision the underlying structure as well). Any number of avant garde pieces of literature manipulate structure in similar ways in order to manipulate the readers perceptions for the sake of theme or message. Sometimes these things can be resolved and sometimes not. Calvino, Kundera, Joyce, et cetera, et cetera, are all guilty of similar methods.
     Another interesting observation that I agree exists as a dichotomy in the novel is that although the “fictional” Anna of “Free Women” discredits the truth value of her notebooks, the notebooks are in fact open to us in the novel, which suggests that on one of the multiple ontological levels, faith in those words exists. The suggestion that the entirety of the book gives us true insight into a person, specifically Anna Wulf, seems like a highly effective method for a bildungsroman. At the very least, I think it can be said that Doris Lessing had faith in the capacity of the words in the notebooks to convey to her readers who Anna Wulf was, what the situation was, and what the stakes were. I doubt highly at this point that there is anything in The Golden Notebook that does not also have its opposite or a contradiction represented somewhere. Since this novel has been called an encyclopedic novel before, this seems only natural.
     The article overall gives praise to Doris Lessing, but she seems to cut short and not make a fully developed argument for anything in particular. The article reads more like varied investigations, which I do feel to a certain extent are fruitful, just not necessarily as cohesive as perhaps the writer thought.

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Golden Notebook entry #3

January 30, 2009 at 2:58 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     “There we all stood, the five of us, surveying the triumph of common-sense” (399). This comment is made by Anna as she narrates the scene of Paul placing the little mating grasshoppers with each other and the big mating grasshoppers with each other. There are a few sides to this line that I want to take into consideration. The first is in taking the sentiment literally—what does this line designate common-sense to be? What value does that give to common-sense, as Anna sees it? Also, it seems fairly apparent that the comment is made in good humor, giving it a possible ironic reading (in fact this seems very likely). If read ironically, then why is it funny? What is going on that is not common-sense or plays on typical ideas of common sense? Okay, enough questions; here I go!
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Golden Notebook entry #2

January 30, 2009 at 12:47 am (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

     While hunting for articles that would interest me on The Golden Notebook, I came across an article by Doris Lessing regarding the less than positive reception the book received when it first came out. The article was published in The Guardian’s website on January 27th of 2007 with the title “Guarded welcome: Doris Lessing on the history of The Golden Notebook’s troubled reception.” This article intrigued me for two reasons: 1) because it was something about the book straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak 2) I have been enjoying the book thoroughly and was intrigued to learn that the book was not initially well received, which engaged me from an interest in a historical perspective of the work and from a literary interest in what changed that the book was now given such high academic consideration.

(The article can be found here.)
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Golden Notebook & Gravity’s Rainbow journals

January 30, 2009 at 12:41 am (Critical Writing, General, Prose, Reading)

I am keeping on-going writing journals of both Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The entries are written during the process of reading the books, so the observations may feel in some ways incomplete because all the facts aren’t in yet. Either way, I hope to offer some useful observations.

This first entry is taken from near the beginning of The Golden Notebook:
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the desense of nonfense, by: Megan A. Volpert

January 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm (Critical Writing, Poetry, Prose, Reading)

So Kenyon Review decided that my review of Volpert’s new book was not the best “fit” for them; although, it was a fairly friendly rejection letter, albeit brief. Anyway, you can buy the book off of It’s only $16, and well worth the price. Since I am already in the midst of writing another review of the book (and conducting an interview) for New Delta Review, I am posting the first review I wrote of the book here:
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Old Thoughts–David Jones & Heart of Darkness

December 7, 2008 at 1:03 pm (Critical Writing, Prose, Reading)

Another old and somewhat flung together essay that will probably never see revision, this brief analysis focuses on a definition of Modernism given by David Jones in a response to a claim about his work. The response was titled “Past and Present” and was written in March of 1953. This quick write-up is especially rough.
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Old Thoughts–The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot

December 7, 2008 at 3:49 am (Critical Writing, Poetry, Prose, Reading)

This is a bit old, but I thought there were some good thoughts in it, so I decided to go ahead and post it. It’s a very quickly written draft of an analysis of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”
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