Named Tomorrow


“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

Quick update

This blog is two and a half years old now, and what I’ve put here has been quite… hit or miss, I think, during that time. I started it back in 2007, near the end of my senior year of undergraduate, because I intended to take a year off before ‘pursuing’ an MA (how they flee, those degrees), and had been warned by numerous people, professors and graduate students alike, that it is very easy to stop writing without a grade looming, making the transition back to writing for school very difficult.  As such, posts have ranged from practice just putting thoughts into sentences (“(and thoughts are nothing if they never pass through the windowpane of a sentence)” – Roubaud) to trying to work out what has interested me in a book, or to put that interest into a vaguely academic-ese language in the hopes of future use for school, a language which I never had the energy or a strong enough desire to sustain (let’s just say a PhD is highly unlikely). Having finished with academia for as far as I can project, I hope to scrub a bit of that encrusted language off— it did not suit me in the first place, I don’t think.  All to say, I intend to get less nose-half-heartedly-to-the-grindstone-because-what-else-does-a-BA-in-English-do.  I’m sure I will still turn up with the occasional over-long post that hangs together only by the loosest threads (I just started The Loop, after all), but since my reading is no longer determined primarily by a syllabus, what I am reading and what I want to write about will, I hope, converge more often— and will thankfully not be hijacked by “How can I turn this thing I want to write about into the subject of a paper I don’t particularly care to write?”

Onwards, then.  I picked up a nice selection of books with Christmas gift cards, mostly novels by contemporary authors I’ve never read, and have also been trying to finish up the books I picked up in the Dalkey Archive summer sale a few months ago as well as the various used books I’ve grabbed since moving back from England.  Two books that I began and could not get into were Harry Mathews’ The Conversions and Kobo Abe’s The Box Man. The Abe I will probably give another chance; I’m almost certain it didn’t take only because I started it in the middle of holiday travelling, with all its attendant distractions and interruptions— intercoms and babies and flight attendants and noisy seatmates.  The Mathews… we’ll see. It’s his first novel and, based on the two chapters I read, seems to suffer from all the worst tendencies Oulipian constraints can produce: extreme esotericism that might be amusing given the right mood, but is completely nonsensical without the intentionally hidden key (e.g. I learned from an essay surveying Mathews’ work  that the host’s first words to the narrator, “The cheek of our Bea!” is in fact the narrator mishearing the title of a song— “The Sheik of Araby”— being sung by another character, Bea).

Aside from those hiccups, though, I’ve been reading some excellent books.  Around Thanksgiving I stumbled across D. H. Lawrence’s “St. Mawr” and “The Man Who Died,” the first of which I’d been curious about after reading Richard Poirier’s rave in A World Elsewhere, where he calls it one of the finest novellas ever written.  While I don’t know that I’d go that far, I did enjoy both novellas and am very interested in reading more Lawrence.  The scene where Mrs. Witt defends the horse’s life against the Dean and his wife’s insistence that it be put down was the most unexpectedly funny piece of writing I’ve come across in a while. I had not been led to believe Lawrence had a comedic bone in his writing hand, just vitriol and passion.  Either way, these felt like a good place to start with Lawrence, though not substantial enough for me to say much about him, considering the volume of the rest of his work. I’m unsure about which of his novels to go to, though, so any suggestions would be welcome.

The other books I’ve read recently I want to cover a bit more than cursorily, though.  Maso’s Ava and Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress, two books by Aira, Solstad’s Shyness and Dignity, and the first Handke book I’ve read should get some words here in the coming weeks. I start a new job this week, and knowing that work I don’t want to do usually inspires me to do work I do want to do, I intend to be back with those relatively soon.


Filed under: Books, Meta

“An idealized scene. Space as reassurance.”

August 14th, 2008

My bed is my writing table. My floor is my desk. Right now, I am sitting on the floor, cross-legged and leaning forward onto the bed to write, glancing at the many stacks of books around me, the stacks which I am sorting through and into numerous piles: books which I need access to, books which I want access to, books which I do not need access to, books which will be perfectly fine sitting in a box in a room in a different country while I am away for the year, books which I do not by any means need but nevertheless want access to, etc. All these stacks give me an overwhelming desire to have a small house in the distance in which I may set up a regimen, eat simply, read regularly, write when I feel I must, ‘learn to be good’… I am tired of moving.

I paused just then to consider which direction I wanted to pursue: something I thought to write after reading the first few essays in Perec’s Species of Spaces, or this idyll of isolation with language (“Is the aleph, that place in Borges from which the entire world is visible simultaneously, anything other than an alphabet?”).

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Filed under: Books, Perec, Vuillard, Writing

The Gay Way: Inversion and Religion in Proust

A friend gave me, as a graduation present, the box set of A la recherche du temps perdu.  I began the first volume on the long drive from Texas to California, but was distracted by other books for a while and only over the past month dove fully into and finished Swann’s Way.  The word I find I want to use, and I’m sure has been used before, is virtuosic.  There is such a fine balance of construction within each section, and within the sections as they compound into the whole work, with which I am enamored; an underlying structure of thematics which, just as Swann & Odette’s love-theme appears throughout their relationship, seems to play out at various magnifications and degrees of unity across the whole work.  I am anxious to see how the themes are parlayed into the other books.

For now, though, having finished the first volume, I am particularly interested in the way Proust treats homosexuality, as I was a bit surprised to find lesbianism portrayed so blatantly in the first volume.  I was under the impression that Proust waited until the fourth volume to depict the lascivious underworld of homosexuality, having read some while ago a review that decried so few people reading past the pleasantries of Swann’s Way and never getting to the grittier reality of the later volumes, including the scenes of gay cruising in Sodom and Gomorroh.  What is interesting about these early depictions of homosexuality is their carefully layered inversions, which confuse the possibility of making the “correct” moral judgements, and indeed make “correct” a rather ambiguous term whose initial social grounding gives way to a paradoxical construction.

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Filed under: Analysis, Books, Proust, Sexuality, , , , ,

Books today…

I read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in a day’s time on one of my Christmas-break-at-home reading binges after hearing its name floated on various blogs and from the lips of a respected classmate or two. It’s a truly enthralling book, well-balanced in style and form with a gimmick put to masterful use. If you haven’t read it, the most striking formal aspect is its nested structure: the first halves of the stories, each one about a century apart, culminate in a central story set in the post-apocalyptic future, after which follows the second halves of the stories in reverse order. Each section is a meta-fictive written account in the sense that each story is a self-contained written record (i.e. a private journal, a political thriller novella of a “true” story, etc.) that is somehow discovered by the character in the next story. E.g., one character finds the first half of the preceding story being used as a stump to balance a wobbly bedframe and his attempts at finding the second half become a subplot of his story, and the preceding story (the bedrfame prop one) resumes with the end of the character’s own story in the second half the novel and his discovery of the second half of the journal. A sort of russian nesting doll of a book, as it has been described. All that to background my having just finished his book written prior to that one, number9dream.

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Filed under: Books, Mitchell, Reviews


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