Scribbling Again

Month: September, 2012

The Father of Stories: Another Excerpt from Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler

Another excerpt from Calvino’s novel cobbled together by other fictional novels (which reminds me of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s works). In the following excerpt the Reader reads a letter given to him by a staff member at a publishing company in the hopes of discovering something about all these pesky unfinished novels he’s constantly suckered into starting.

Another letter, again from Cerro Negro, is written, on the contrary, in a tone of inspired evocation: reporting-it seems-a local legend, it tells of an old Indian known as the Father of Stories, a man of immemorial age, blind and illiterate, who uninterruptedly tells stories that take place in countries and in times completely unknown to him. The phenomenon has brought expeditions of anthropologists and parapsychologists; it has been determined that many novels published by famous authors had been recited word for word by the wheezing voice of the Father of Stories several years before their appearance. The old Indian, according to some, is the universal source of narrative material, the primordial magma from which the individual manifestations of each writer develop; according to others, a seer who, thanks to his consumption of hallucinatory mushrooms, manages to establish communication with the inner world of the strongest visionary temperaments and pickup their psychic waves; according to still others he is the reincarnation of Homer, of the storyteller of the Arabian Nights, of the author of the Popol Vuh, as well as of Alexandre Dumas and James Joyce; but there are those that reply that Homer has no need of metempsychosis, since he never died and has continued through the millennia living and composing, the author, besides the couple of poems usually attributed to him, also of many of the most famous narratives known to man. Ermes Marana, putting a taperecorder to the mouth of the cave where the old man hides…



How You Stumbled Upon “If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino

So then you noticed in a newspaper that If on a winter’s night a traveler had appeared, the new book by Italo Calvino, who hadn’t published for several years. You went to the bookshop and bought the volume. Good for you.

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for . Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move in the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

the Books You’ve Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case, the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe to Read This Summer, the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves, the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this  relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s NOw Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

With a zigzag dash you shake them off and leap straight into the citadel of the New Books Whose Author Or Subject Appeals To You. Even inside this stronghold you can make some breaches in the ranks of the defenders, dividing them into New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Not New (for you or in general) and New Books By Authors Or On Subjects Completely Unknown (at least to you), and defining the attraction they have for you on the basis of your desires and needs for the new and the not new (for the new you seek in the not new and for the not new you seek in the new).

All this simply means that, having rapidly glanced over the titles of the volumes displayed in the bookshop, you have turned toward a stack of If on a winter’s night a traveler fresh off the press, you have grasped a copy, and you have carried it to the cashier so that your right to own it can be established. (4-6)


William Gass, in his 1977 Paris Review interview


Is the reader an adversary for you?


No. I don’t think much about the reader. Ways of reading are adversaries—those theoretical ways. As far as writing something is concerned, the reader really doesn’t exist. The writer’s business is somehow to create in the work something which will stand on its own and make its own demands; and if the writer is good, he discovers what those demands are, and he meets them, and creates this thing which readers can then do what they like with. Gertrude Stein said, “I write for myself and strangers,” and then eventually she said that she wrote only for herself. I think she should have taken one further step. You don’t write for anybody. People who send you bills do that. People who want to sell you things so they can send you bills…

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Yo Classic

If the literary establishment wants our teenagers to fall in love with literature, it must stop cynically writing and imprudently reviewing books like “The Art of Fielding” as though they were examples of adult literary fiction. There is nothing worth thinking about in it — fancy word choice, sure, but no language that delves into what it means to be human.

It seems to go without saying that the literary works newspapers and periodicals go around promoting almost always end up being mediocre sitcom-novels where attention isn’t demanded. I know this article came up when everyone discussed the value of negative reviews, etc. but this is an obvious observation that shouldn’t go away just because that conversation’s over (or maybe I’m just hoping it’s over). Other authors and publishing companies like New Directions or Dalkey Archive Press seem to be the best indicators of worthwhile work rather than the tired reviews coming from the people who often don’t think much of how to take apart and piece together fiction, poetry, etc. (I’m looking at the NYT, GQ, Salon, etc.).  While I agree with Platzer I’m bothered that these kinds of observations didn’t surface years ago. When the titles chosen by scholars, poets, or authors differ so drastically from what the “critics” in daily print have to say then we have a problem.

Against Analysis

I was a little confused by this essay over at the NYRB which seems to argue against the idea that readers can understand conflicts and ideas in texts. Parks might only mean to show how singular many read novels but it strikes me as an argument for delight in tiny, insignificant things. I read for a mixture of pleasure and the love of analysis (read: thinking) rather than escapism or humor. Thus if the local settings and dialogues in a work don’t play within the patterned reality a piece sets forth why bother? Parks seems to misunderstand why certain works are meritorious.

Is Homestuck the Ulysses of the Internet?

Welp now I know what I’m doing for the next 2 years

It’s sad that an accessible and just-hard-enough author like Wallace gets panned as “pretentious.” Come on Ellis, up your game punk.


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Reflections on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Part 2


Part 2

Chapter 1

The story that ends the chapter in which a PSP user pulls his own eyes out serves as a memento mori for Thompson and his attorney. Eventually neither of them will maintain the pace they set for themselves during this trip. Perhaps that reflects back on their search for the American Dream and how they wanted to maintain a high speed in the convertible toward it? Sounds about right. Also note that Thompson doesn’t acknowledge this story with speech. Only the silent printed word bears the weight well.

Chapter 6

The distortion of speaker’s voice mirrors the falsity of their info. Also it’s important to note the lagging sound system and the way in which the voice or information becomes disconnected from the speaker further hinting at instability. That lines up pretty well with the consciousness alteration Thompson and his attorney participate in, but at least they make their own choices about what to believe rather than existing in an authoritarian hierarchy as the police around them do.

Chapter 8

“The glazed look in her [the waitress’s] eyes said her throat had been cut. She was still in the grip of paralysis when we left” (160)

The cutting of the phone’s wire a page before this mirrors this image. This fits nicely with my Foucauldian reading of expression as power which I implemented earlier. Also on display in this scene (the one where the attorney slips their waitress a napkin with “Back Door Beauty?” (159) written on it and an altercation ensues) is outrage at the idea of the waitress being associated with a minority discourse that participates in anal sex. However, and more likely the waitress takes offense at being asked for sex. Whether she was a hooker as Thompson suggests or not doesn’t matter. The fact that she’s then put with the minority discourse of sex workers angers her which again all goes back to Foucault.

Also note that the napkin’s message remains unspoken throughout the entire conflict reinforcing the idea of expression as power. Taboo’s like anal sex or positive ideas on recreational drug use freak the majority discourse out whenever they’re expressed non-verbally, much less if they were actually spoken.

Chapter 11

“What Leary took down with him was the central illusion of a whole lifestyle that he helped to create…a generation of permanent cripples, failed seekers, who never understood the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acide Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody–or at least some force--is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel” (178-9).

Right. Imposing a hierarchy of understanding on a culture that spawned out of an emphasis on individual experience and perception betrays the whole thing.