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The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

John Stuart Mill

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Monday, June 30th, 2003

🦋 Summer Reading

Inspired by Invisible Adjunct and Kieran Healy, I am seeking input from my readers as regards my summer reading list. I am, however, doing it a bit in reverse: I went to the bookstore this weekend, bought a bunch of books which caught my eye -- these will make up my summer reading (at least until they are exhausted); and now I want to find out if any of you have impressions about them. I do not, alas, have a comments feature; but if you send me e-mail in this regard I promise to put it up as part of this post. So fire away! Here is this list, with comments:

  • Travels in Hyperreality, by Umberto Eco
  • The Ginger Man, by J.P. Donleavy
  • Under the Net, by Iris Murdoch
  • Nuns and Soldiers, by Iris Murdoch
  • The Beginning of Spring, by Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Journal of the Fictive Life, by Howard Nemerov
  • Quetzlcoatl and the Irony of Empire, by David Carrasco
  • Black Spring, by Henry Miller

posted evening of June 30th, 2003: Respond
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Wednesday, July 23rd, 2003

🦋 Weird Coincidence

This morning I picked up Nuns and Soldiers by Iris Murdoch to read on the train. When I opened it, the first word on page 1 is "Wittgenstein" -- this after LanguageHat had linked yesterday to an essay on translating Wittgenstein by Marjorie Perloff, and quoted a statement (from Culture and Value) that I found most intriguing: "Ich glaube meine Stellung zur Philosophie dadurch zusammengefa√?t zu haben, indem ich sagte: Philosophie d√ľrfte man eigentlich nur dichten." Hmm...

So what do I think of the book? This funny coincidence aside, it does not seem particularly promising at this early point, 15 or so pages in. I'll stick with it a few more days though to see if it picks up. What I read today reminded me a bit of Caleb Carr -- overly mannered, self-consciously cerebral -- but without the action.

posted morning of July 23rd, 2003: Respond
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Tuesday, July 29th, 2003

I have gotten further into Nuns and Soldiers and am enjoying it. The plot is pretty easy to follow thus far, as long as you keep track of where the flashbacks begin and end, and interesting. I like the prominence of Tim Reede in the section I'm reading now as I find it easy to identify with his character, moreso than most of the others. One annoying thing is Murdoch's tendency to break into the middle of a dialog with a long expository couple of paragraphs -- this is ok in moderation but she makes use of it way too often. Her descriptions are vivid and even moving; but when she is narrating a scene I often get a pretty clear picture of where she is going with it way before she gets there.

posted evening of July 29th, 2003: Respond
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Saturday, August 9th, 2003

So I finished Nuns and Soldiers yesterday and found it to be a bit of a disappointment. I was really getting into the story through Tim's character and really enjoyed it when he got back together with Gertrude. But then the last hundred pages or so were really downhill -- it seemed to be a lot of extremely self-conscious tying up of loose ends on Murdoch's part. I think the book was supposed to be about Ann Cavidge, whose character is not really too interesting; when Murdoch realized she had written a book more about Tim and Gertrude, she decided to write another couple of chapters to focus on Ann -- bad idea. The penultimate chapter in particular, in which Manfred and Mrs. Mount have their big conversation, was not related to the rest of the book in any organic way -- that is to say, it was tied in to the rest of the book by bringing up plot devices from earlier on -- ones which had not seemed particularly important at the time -- and revealing that Manfred or Mrs. Mount or both had played key roles behind the scenes -- which does not strike me as a very useful method of character development. And the last chapter too, with Ann searching for Daisy and hearing people talking about her, was out of left field.

posted evening of August 9th, 2003: Respond

Tuesday, August 12th, 2003

I'm backpedalling from my assertion that the author of whose voice Martel's reminds me might be Rushdie -- I think the only reason I seized on Rushdie is the India connection, well and maybe also the accident-while-traveling-from-Asia-to-North-America* connection. Now the echo I'm hearing is of Vonnegut; equally likely is that Martel has simply an individual, unique voice, one with echoes in it of many authorial influences.

Thinking of Vonnegut leads me into a distinction I wanted to draw between The Life of Pi and Nuns and Soldiers -- Murdoch was annoying me more and more as the book drew on with her absolute refusal to leave anything to my imagination; she insisted on following every germ of description up through its fullness of flower and keep going until it was a withered husk -- I wanted her beautiful descriptions a little less baroque, wanted some hasty sketch in with the luxuriant detail. Martel (from my reading thus far) tends a bit toward the Baroque but reins himself in, lets me figure some of it out.

And I'm going on a hunch here but I think -- if I were to sit down and catalog the books I have loved -- that I would find some inverse correlation between how much detailed description is in the book, and how much I like it -- and I realize as I am writing this that I am phrasing it wrong, I'm not sure just how to put what I'm trying to get at -- if you have a better idea for phrasing let me know.

Vonnegut would be an exception to this rule in a funny way. "Baroque" I guess is not at all a good description for his writing -- but I think he leaves very little to the imagination in his description of his characters' motivations and the consequences of their actions. And yet he was for a long time my very favorite author and is still up there on my (vague) list. I'm not sure quite why -- I have some ideas which I'll try to develop for a post on Vonnegut sometime.


*Update: And now I realize how long it's been since I read The Satanic Verses; I don't think Rushdie's accident even occurred en route from India to America. I'm pretty sure one of the countries involved was Great Britain. Oh well, disregard the whole Rushdie thing.

posted afternoon of August 12th, 2003: Respond
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Thursday, January 19th, 2012

🦋 Hurrying back

Dora was hurrying now and wanting her lunch. She looked at her watch and found it was tea-time. She remembered that she had been wondering what to do; but now, without her thinking about it, it had become obvious. She must go back to Imber at once. Her real life, her real problems, were at Imber, and since, somewhere, something good existed, it might be that her problems would be solved after all. There was a connexion; obscurely she felt, without yet understanding it, she must hang onto that idea: there was a connexion. She bought a sandwich and took a taxi back to Paddington.
Reading Murdoch's The Bell lately, I have been conflicted as to how I feel about the characters. I identify with them at points; but they have an air of falseness around them, the characters and plot elements seem almost like scenery for Murdoch's philosophizing and fable-telling. Not sure I mean this as a point against the book -- I am liking the book a lot -- but it does seem like an important stylistic element.

Then again I got a similar vibe from The Little Stranger, which was pretty clearly not written for philosophical argument.

posted evening of January 19th, 2012: Respond
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