Saturday, September 14, 2002

Greatly exaggerated

[Fragmentary post follows; it's been a busy month or so. I'm going to keep up with this weblog, though most likely on a different server, which is just beginning to approach viability. More details to come.]

I've been on a vacation of sorts, and will soon leave on a vacation of an entirely different sort, so my already sluggish blog will continue to languish in obscurity.

I've been reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and it's got me thinking about the civil rights movement, as well as social protest movements in general. I want to learn more about the civil rights movement, what I know now is the fairly facile information one picks up in your basic American History class.

It strikes me that in a lot of ways it isn't really all all that important if, eg, Martin Luther King's non-violent protests directly affected the laws; what is more important is that there was a highly emotional symbol associated in the public eye with the movement for civil rights, and this makes him relevant regardless of his actual effectiveness. (Note that I think King and the civil rights movement were very effective, but it's hard to pin down a single cause for an historical change.)

Anyways. Invisible Man is interesting. The first several chapter reminded me strongly of Dante's Inferno, and the book as a whole has a very theatrical mien, with lots of monologues and stagy-seeming settings (eg, an auditorium). I don't like theater all that much, and especially one-man shows, but this book seems like a good candidate for one.

Monday, August 05, 2002

Fer Fook's Seke!

Continuing BlogSpot problems continue to make it difficult for me to get piping fresh new content to you, gentle readers. I've been considering moving everything to my home server, though the prospect of having to pay the electricity bill for having a machine running all day isn't terribly appealing. Meantime YACCS has been crashing just as the first comments have begun to appear on the site.

Noise, noise, all of this is noise. I've been reading Notes From Underground and Valis, both of which seem appropriate for standing in line at the DMV which I've also been doing. I'm feeling scattered today.

I'm curious about how a site that displays text ads which the displayer hasn't even read can call itself BlogSnob. I have nothing against snobbery, but it seems like a trait that's based on discretion.

Real life has been demanding more of my time than the pristine and hermetic weblog world, but I enjoyed reading a recent MeFi thread on contemporary literature and a long thread comparing cartoonists and literary authors on the Comics Journal messageboard.

[PS: thanks for the comments, poorhouse, and good to meet you, briefly, IRL. YACCS seems to suck.]

Saturday, August 03, 2002

Libra

I've just finished reading Libra, by Don Delillo, and am left with a somewhat unfulfilled feeling. The novel takes a fictionalized look at the Kennedy assassination.

I was most interested in the character of Nicholas Branch, who is engaged in writing a secret history of the assassination for the CIA. Branch, like us (and presumably Delillo while he was doing his research) is tasked with sorting through vast amounts of data and trying to find the coherent thread in them. This, to me, is what is so interesting about the literature of paranoia: the search for meaning.

Unfortunately, Delillo is pretty obvious in going about this. There's plenty of room for a light touch here, and one needn't say outright that the character representing the reader is puzzled by the wealth of detail and has trouble fitting it into a whole.

Probably the best moment for me was around 350 pages in, when I suddenly realized that two of the large, tangentially related networks of people in the book were obscurely related. This gave me a little rush and a sense of possibility for a time, but 350 pages is too much buildup for the amount of rush, and from there the book sags for a while before heading towards a fairly obvious conclusion.

Perhaps Delillo is sticking too closely to the historical record. The book jumps (confusingly) backwards and forwards through time, but he still can't build a sense of momentum for it, even when he has his present-day historian wonder agog at the complexity of it all. Maybe my sense of suspense was damaged by already knowing (*SPOILER*) that Kennedy was shot to death in Dallas that day.

I've always heard that this book is a good introduction to Delillo, but I didn't like it much. It just doesn't seem unusual enough to warrant the kind of attention he seems to draw. On the plus side, a lot of the dialogue was very well-done (in contrast to the mostly unremarkable prose), and I did find several of the characters to be interesting, especially Win Everett, who functions as a kind of dark mirror to Nicholas Brach, lost in tangled plots and schemes.

As an aside, I almost put up a review of this book at amazon.com, titling it "not postmodern enough." The book isn't, but I'm going to save that title for a review of, say, Pynchon or David Foster Wallace—one of the usual suspects. Or maybe I'll put down "not enough symbolism" for Moby Dick or "too limited in scope" for War and Peace.

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Yeah, rite

I've been meaning to put down some thoughts on weblogs that have been kicking around in my head for quite some time now, and have come to the conclusion that it would be best to start with little finite chunks, rather than pore over some interminable essay.

I took an opportunity to rant (mildly) about the word "blog" in a recent thread on Blogroots, and was rewarded with some gratifyingly similar opinions, along with a few good suggestions for alternate words (also some good-natured snarkiness, which in hindsight I guess my complaint is kind of anal).

I was pleased enough with the discussion to check out some of the participants' sites. At occam productions, I came upon an interesting article in three parts (so far) on "the poetics of weblogs". I am a sucker for a title like this.

Yikes. Have not had time to finish this post—I'll jot down some thoughts on blogging later.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

The waver waving purpling wands

I've been reading quite a lot of Philip K. Dick of late. I was surprised to learn, in a little biographical blurb, that he wrote 35 novels in his lifetime; I've recently gone through Dr. Bloodmoney, The Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and Ubik, along with numerous short stories. When I was just a wee lad living on a diet of science fiction and candy, Dick was one of my favorite authors (along, alas, with Larry Niven). Returning to him, I was pleased to find that I really enjoyed his fiction, and that he is a much deeper writer than I'd assumed he was.

I'm also reading The Underground Man, Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, and The Odyssey, which maybe has something to do with why I'm able to get so much enjoyment out of the mostly plot-driven Dick novels, and why I'm able to get through them comparatively quickly.

Take a gander at this paragraph from Time Out of Joint, the one I'm currently on. This occurs slightly after Ragle Gumm watches a soft-drink stand slowly dematerialize, to be replaced by a slip of paper bearing the words "Soft-Drink Stand":

Central problem in philosophy. Relation of word to object... What is a word? Arbitrary sign. But we live in words. Our reality, among words not things. No such thing as a thing anyhow; a gestalt in the mind. Thingness... sense of substance. An illusion. Word is more real than the object it represents.

Word doesn't represent reality. Word is reality. For us, anyhow. Maybe God gets to objects. Not us though. (p. 60)

(Most of the prose isn't in this overwrought style.) What's interesting to me, other than the extremely concise definition of semiotics, is the notion that "Word is reality" is literally true for a character in a novel. Oftentimes Dick's characters seem to sense something like this, and one way or another reality is rarely what it seems. Overall the passage is strongly reminiscent of Michel Foucault, and in fact Dick has many hallmarks of (*cough*) postmodernity. There were many times during my reading when I thought I'd stumbled upon a lost Thomas Pynchon novel.

I'll try to post more of a review/analysis type thing later on. My Philip K. Dick soundtrack has been the 9 Beet Stretch, which is somewhat reminiscent of Blade Runner's soundtrack. It's got just the right mixture of desolation and transcendence, and is my favorite online audio find since SpamRadio.

Friday, July 26, 2002

The blog that waren't

Despite all appearances to the contrary, I've been attempting to update this blog, but technical difficulties have made things difficult. In the interests of keeping the blog updated, I have been reading Philip K Dick, I got a metafilter account, and I'll be back to edit this post later on.

Monday, July 15, 2002

No Logo

I've recently been reading No Logo, by Naomi Klein. (I'm taking a little break from the Bible, as some of my friends have expressed concerns that I'm in danger of getting religion.) It's really good, though having read through the first half I'm beginning to feel that either Klein's prose or my attention span is beginning to wander. Her broad theme is the growth of the branding industry and its implications for (generally) Western culture in the large (and also its effects vis-à-vis globalization and world economics). I found several passages good enough to quote, for example this one:

...More indifference has met Apple Computer's appropriation of Gandhi for their "Think Different" campaign, and Che Guevara's reincarnation as the logo for Revolution Cola... and as the mascot of the upscale London cigar lounge, Che. Why? Because not one of the movements being "co-opted" expressed itself primarily through style and attitude. And so style co-optation--and indeed any outside-the-box brainstorming on Madison Avenue--does not have the power to undo them either... It may seem cold comfort, but... it's worth remembering that extreme sports are not revolution and rock, despite its histrionic claims to the contrary, is not revolution.

I especially appreciate Klein's acknowledgement of rock's histrionics, a topic that Thomas Frank's Baffler has covered in some depth.

In fact, there seems to be much in the book that owes an indirect debt to other cultural critics I've read, and though Klein's research seems to be meticulous and the book is very well-footnoted, the index is sadly lacking. Frank and the Baffler were referenced in the first several chapters, for instance, but neither appears in the index. I suppose that I could read the very fact that I raise this objection as an indication of ever-encroaching OCD and Comic Store Guy Syndrome. More on No Logo to come; the book has actually got me pretty excited about its content, so my quibbles about its formal aspects are secondary for once.