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Improvement makes straight roads; but the crooked roads without improvement are roads of genius.

— William Blake


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Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Rereading

I left this comment to Roy's fine post on reading Swann's Way:

Here's a thought: many of the very best books I have read, I have come to in the same way that you came to Swann's Way (which I have not read or even made any serious attemt to) -- as Everests to be clumb, as adversaries to be bested. With all of them that I consider "very best books", there was a metamorphosis at some point, where the reading project turned into something my heart was really in, that I was really enjoying. Frequently I have given up on a book halfway through because this metamorphosis has not yet occurred; and frequently I have gone back to the book in question years later, and found that I enjoyed reading it -- sometimes this has taken multiple cycles of putting it down and coming back to it. Books that I finish without ever feeling like I was digging it, I'm pretty unlikely to go back to.

And even as I typed it I knew I was proving myself wrong -- I am now rereading Pynchon's V., a book which I slogged through to the end of despite losing the thread of, and -- well:

I started the reread last week, and early in the book I remembered how my reaction when I was first reading it was, the storyline set in the present tense, featuring Benny Profane, is a lot of fun though not particularly substantial; and the storyline set in the past, featuring the elder Stencil and any number of other oddball characters, is totally mystifying. And I felt all set to recapitulate that experience of the book when I read the chapter set in Egypt and could not understand what was going on. But as of this evening's reading (the chapter set in Florence) I have gotten in the groove and am loving the book. (It was kind of cool to be reading the scenes in and around Florentine landmarks, after a few nights ago Sylvia and I were reading her children's tour of Florence book, which we bought while we were there this summer. Also: Florence is where I started playing with yo-yos!)

posted evening of February 21st, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about V.

Monday, February 27th, 2006

Mondaugen's Story

A question: are the dreams of 1904 which Mondaugen undergoes at Foppl's Siege Party, based on experiences that Foppl had in 1904? Or is that even what's going on? The story switches out from what's happening to Mondaugen, into the dreams -- there's no direct statement that Mondaugen is the dreamer, and there are constructions like "Firelily's rider" to keep him masked -- but I'm pretty sure it is Mondaugen. Ad first I thought the experiences were Godolphin's, but now I don't think that would make as much sense as if they were Foppl's.

Update: Yes, the dreamer is definitely Mondaugen -- I found this passage at HyperArts:

"His horse drowsed and collected dew while Mondaugen squirmed on the seat, trying to control anger, confusion, petulance; and below the farthest verge of the Kalahari, that vast death, the tardy sun mocked him."

posted morning of February 27th, 2006: Respond
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Lots of good V. stuff from last February at Josh Blog.

posted morning of February 27th, 2006: Respond

Monday, March 6th, 2006

My current reread of V. is officially over, bogged down in the course of reading about Fausto Maijstral. Over the course of this chapter my relationship to the book went from loving it, to sweating my way through and hoping that the next chapter would be easier going, to reading the sentences for sound with no comprehension. I put a bookmark in on Thursday and haven't picked it up since. So, better luck next time through.

posted evening of March 6th, 2006: Respond

Friday, November 24th, 2006

Against The Day

I've been looking forward for a couple of months to Pynchon's new novel. And here it is! I just started it this morning and am sort of curious as to whether I'm reading the story of the novel or the story of another work that is contained within the novel -- and whether the narrating voice is Pynchon's or a character's. I'm leaning towards the latter (presumably I'll find out soon enough) -- the first chapter is reading a bit like a parody of what somebody critical of post-modern fiction might expect a new book by Pynchon to sound like.

posted afternoon of November 24th, 2006: Respond
➳ More posts about Against The Day

I am finding the frontspiece of Against the Day a little mysterious:

"It's always night, or we wouldn't need light."
-- Thelonious Monk

Any one have information that will help me place this in context and make sense of it? Drop me a line.

Update -- here is a transcription by Steve Lacy of some advice from Monk, including "It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn't need lights."

posted evening of November 24th, 2006: Respond

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Sin and Penance

From Against the Day: I am really liking this line, from p. 41:

"Many people believe that there is a mathematical correlation between sin, penance, and redemption. More sin, more penance, and so forth. Our own point has always been that there is no connection. All the variables are independent. You do penance not because you have sinned but because it is your destiny. You are redeemed not through doing penance but because it happens. Or doesn't happen.

"It's nothing supernatural. Most people have a wheel riding up on a wire, or some rails in the street, some kind of guide or groove, to keep them moving in the direction of their destiny. But you keep bouncing free. Avoiding penance and thereby definition."

It is Drave, leader of the order which Lew Basnight has just joined/drifted into, telling him not to expect forgiveness to come out of the works he is doing.

I am still finding the narrative voice kind of jarring and thinking it sounds more like a parody than like Pynchon's authentic voice. But against that, I'm really enjoying the story being told.

posted morning of November 25th, 2006: Respond

The Voice

Funny -- the narrative voice in Against the Day that I was thinking (as of p. 41) was a parody, goes away right about p. 41 and is replaced by/transitions gently into a voice that sounds much more like Pynchon's to my ears. I like The Great Quail's suggestion that this opening is a way of poking fun at people who expect Pynchon's language to be pretentiously wordy. ("Pretentiously wordy" isn't exactly what I'm looking for here; it is the closest I can come on short notice.)

posted evening of November 25th, 2006: Respond

Friday, December 15th, 2006

I have been on-again, off-again with Against the Day; after the first bit, which I quite enjoyed, there was about a hundred pages where I was reading and thinking, well I really owe the guy big-time for Vineland and GR and Lot 49, I really should keep reading; and then there was about a hundred pages where I was liking the story a lot but not quite connecting with the characters; but suddenly yesterday afternoon, as I was reading of Kit's exploits at Yale and on Long Island, it hit me with a flash that this is Great Stuff, on a par with anything Pynchon has written before. And reading today about Dally working her way around NYC, that impression is still with me. I am feeling the need to reread though, since Dally and her father and their story were introduced during a bit where I wasn't paying very close attention.

posted evening of December 15th, 2006: Respond

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

Two fine blogs having to do with Against the Day: the Against the Day Weblog of the mysterious Basileios -- I don't know if that URL is going to continue to be the correct one -- and Research Methods for Professional Writers by somebody named Stevens.

[...Later:] You know that blog of Stevens' is really good. (Basileios' may be great too, I don't know -- haven't started looking in the archives much yet.)

Update:Also Adam Kotsko has compiled an index of some of the best Against the Day reviews. Update: some great writing, in Spanish, about Against the Day at El pez volador.

posted morning of December 23rd, 2006: Respond

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