The Crying Of Lot 49′ by Thomas Pynchon (first published in 1967)
This is not a review because, having struggled with this novel, I can’t think of anything meaningful to say that hasn’t already been said elsewhere on the net. It has the feel of a novel written while under the influence of LSD and probably makes more sense if the reader is tripping too.
Here are two quotes from pg 66 of the Picador paperback edition I read :
“Oedipa wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end) she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements. intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold; which must always blaze out, destroying its own message irreversibly; leaving an overexposed blank when the ordinary world came back”.
“I’m not sure I understand, Oedipa said”. Continue reading
SIGNIFYING RAPPERS by David Foster Wallace & Mark Costello
(Back Bay Books, 2013 – originally published 1990).
“Can blue men sing the whites, or are they hypocrites?” was the surreal and satirical question posed by the Bonzo Dog Band in 1968. In Signifying Rappers, David Foster Wallace (DFW) and Mark Costello are more in earnest when they ask themselves “What business do two white yuppies have trying to do a sampler on rap?”
In both instances, the question could be reframed as ‘What do privileged white people know about the music of disenfranchised blacks?’
Section one of the DFW & Costello’s book is called ‘Entitlement’ and, in it, they seek to convince the readers that they are qualified to analyse rap music despite being of the ‘wrong’ class and color. We learn of their frustration with Punk and other supposedly anti-establishment music which has been appropriated by the mainstream as the acceptable (i.e. unthreatening) face of rebellion. Continue reading
I have this ambitious (probably crazy) plan of re-reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and making my own ‘reader’s guide’ to try to examine just why and how it is a masterpiece. Often I read novels carelessly and miss connections or subtleties. This novel represents the ultimate challenge for a more attentive study. It is something I started and set aside a few years back and this is the preamble I wrote at the time:
Infinite Jest was written in 1996 and is, by any standards, a big novel. It stretches to 981 pages with a further 96 pages of footnotes to push it beyond the 1000 mark. Footnote is probably a misnomer since many are more than just clarifications or references. One (110) runs to 17 pages. So, it’s not a novel you’d pick up lightly or cast aside easily (unless you wanted to do someone an injury!).
It is a definitive example of a genre of contemporary fiction that British critic James Wood memorably calls “hysterical realism”. In this category he also places U.S. heavyweight writers Thomas Pynchon & Don Delillo and British post-colonialist authors Salman Rushdie & Zadie Smith. Wood writes:
“Storytelling has become a kind of grammar in these novels; it is how they structure and drive themselves on. The conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted, and overworked”
With some relief, I have finally come to end of another term of teaching English as a foreign language at Bologna University.
How to end courses on a positive note is always an issue for me. I dislike scheduling an end of course test for the final lesson, preferring to get this out of the way beforehand.
In this way, I can set aside the last class to include a kind of ‘where can you go from here’ pep talk.
My model for this kind of address is David Foster Wallace’s amazing ‘this is water’ talk at South Kenyon college. Brilliant as this speech was, there’s also something reassuring about the fact that the students who heard his talk were not immediately in awe of Wallace’s brilliance.
I am happy if my more humble speech avoids sounding too pompous or obvious.
On the whole, I probably need to include more humour. For better or worse, here’s what I said [my bracketed comments were added afterwards]:
“Nowadays, it’s common to hear people talking about life-long learning.
[I ask who has heard of lifelong learning – nobody has!]
One time, there was the mistaken idea that when you finished school or university, your official period of learning was finished – your next goal was directed solely to working and earning a living.
Learning is not a finite thing. In one sense it never ends.
[The students look as though they are thinking: ‘Where is all this leading? / Does he think we’re dumb?]
People who remain curious about the world are, in my view, those who are most alive.
Learning a language is a very particular case.
[The students look as though they are thinking: ‘He DOES think we’re dumb’]