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Moby Dick Big Read
Audio, different reader every chapter - Tilda Swinton, Benedict Cumberbatch, China Miéville ...

"But, oh, for one brief, shining moment ..."

Ulysses annotated online
  • Infinite Ulysses (crowdsourced, some dodgy shit)
  • The Joyce Project (not crowdsourced, UI not as slick, why do I have to hover over a word to see if it has an associated note)

Mersey Beats
I'm going to try something new in 2015: I'm going to write at least a little about every book that I read. (Ok, I'm going to try. This isn't a job.) I just finished "Tune In", the first volume of a projected three-volume history of the Beatles by Mark Lewisohn. It was really surprisingly fascinating and I want to try to explain why before all the images and impressions the book created fade from my memory.

Why do you care about those old men anyway?
I feel like an apologia for Beatles fandom is kind of required at this point. They're so central to the rockist canon, such a touchstone for the type of reactionaries who would dismiss hip-hop, techno and everything living and vital that I care about in music, that caring about them enough to read a book on them (three books!) seems suspect.

First, a generic defense of the study of history:it's not only not opposed to a progressive outlook, it's an important part of any understanding of the present. I say this as foundation-laying, I doubt any of the three people reading this would disagree.

Second, a more specific understanding of the Beatles - actually grokking their context, their rise, their loves, hates and ambitions - helps in understanding them as a specific group of people operating in a specific context, reacting to the music around them, expressing a particular Liverpool sensibility. All the talk about them as "timeless, central to rock history, giants" just obscures who they actually were and why they did what they did.

Finally, their rise coincided with - helped bring about - the rise of a new kind of music, a new youth culture, a new music industry ... every stage of their story so far involves people doing things no one had ever done before. Even if you think rock would have reached more or less the same place without them, a lot of things changed in the Sixties and the history of the Beatles is a fantastic lens for viewing it.

I'm pretty sure you were going to tell us about a book
It's engagingly written, a tiny bit amateurish in the best sense of the word, astoundingly well researched but wearing that lightly, and packed with memorable quotes and scenes. Lewisohn does well sketching milieu, and this is the foundation of the book.

Say something about the Beatles? anything
They weren't fantastic musicians, Paul maybe excepted. Fantastic singers and songwriters, yeah. But it's funny to think about how many people yearning tiresomely for "musicianship" put the Beatles at the top of their list.

They wanted to make black music. They had other influences, but when Little Richard told them they had that "authentic Negro sound" I can't imagine how happy they must have felt.

They were direct, funny, often assholes. Lewisohn keeps emphasizing how they refused to do anything that felt fake, that they were always true to themselves. He maybe hits that point too hard but you do finish the book feeling that part of their success came from aggressive disregard for what other people wanted or expected. I'm not sure that I would have been friends with John, but I would love to have spent time in his company. Even just reading the book you get inspired by how original his behavior - all of their behavior - was. You start to feel it's possible to live life less by rote.

Finally, when the group starts producing great work (they definitely didn't always) there starts to be a steady stream of little eruptions in the book, the Beatles doing something new and amazing. I'm not sure how much of this is their musical originality. Maybe Lewisohn could have done more to show how novelty comes from recombination - but he already does quite a bit of that. Maybe they had something.

Content Forever
New test: if your essay has less value than an essay produced by a lazy algorithm maybe don't publish it.

Your darkly gleaming Monday links

"He believed then that human life was infinitely perfectible, eliminating these conditions?"

"There remained the generic conditions imposed by natural, as distinct from human law, as integral parts of the human whole: the necessity of destruction to procure alimentary sustenance: the painful character of the ultimate functions of separate existence, the agonies of birth and death: the monotonous menstruation of simian and (particularly) human females extending from the age of puberty to the menopause: inevitable accidents at sea, in mines and factories: certain very painful maladies and their resultant surgical operations, innate lunacy and congenital criminality, decimating epidemics: catastrophic cataclysms which make terror the basis of human mentality: seismic upheavals the epicentres of which are located in densely populated regions: the fact of vital growth, through convulsions of metamorphosis from infancy through maturity to decay."

The illusion of consistency
we tend to underestimate the amount we will change in the future

Brings up Chesterton
The Iliad may have been written by one man. It may have been written by a hundred men. But let us remember that there was more unity in those times in a hundred men than there is unity now in one man. Then a city was like one man. Now one man is like a city in civil war.

Best Kindle Edition of Ulysses by James Joyce
The number of cheap Kindle editions of Ulysses continues to grow. None of them are perfect: so far the editions generally accepted to be most free of errors (like the Gabler edition) aren't available, and the typesetting and layout are often amateurish. On the other hand, you can get a copy of a marvelous and strange book for the price of a candy bar and carry it anywhere.

  • The Shmoop study version seems to be the only one that breaks the book up into 18 episodes. It adds Cliff's Notes-style commentary, for good or ill. Typesetting is pretty basic.
  • The free Kindle edition is free, has the most reviews by far, but is apparently missing text (The Ballad of Joking Jesus and any other verse printed centered on the page.) Might be badly scanned. No idea what printed edition this is based on.
  • Ulysses Unabridged (Illustrated) has the text the other version lacks. It's $2.99. Has only has one review, which makes me a little uneasy. No idea what printed edition this is based on. (Update: I ended up buying this one. It doesn't have chapter breaks. Despite what the one review says, it is actually illustrated. "Proteus" has a modern-day photo of Sandymount strand.)
  • Project Gutenberg has a Kindle version up that lacks chapter breaks, although it keeps the three-part structure. Based on the 1922 edition.
  • epubBooks also has a Kindle edition. Good luck finding out anything about it. It's probably fine. Why do I have to do this? Why isn't the answer obvious?

Recommendation: get the Project Gutenberg edition. Free, better than the "free Kindle edition", as good as the paid editions.

If you thought that was nitpicking, Google "gabler kidd".

Dating Without Kundera
One of the terrors of dating is Milan Kundera, and specifically, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the sexually-transmitted book that this Czech-born author has inflicted on a generation of American youth.

I fully recognize the important role of the dating book, that is, the carefully selected work you lend a prospective lover sometime in the golden honeymoon period between your second cup of coffee together and the first time you spend a night in the same bed without touching ...
Dating Without Kundera via Enthusiasms.

Beyond Zork
I'll show you game mechanics ...
The main thing systems like Inform added over really old-style [interactive fiction] was more explicit modeling. An old-school way of doing things would be to write lots of chunks of text, parsers, code that causes things to happen, etc.; to the extent a world really exists, it's only because all the stuff you've thrown in is consistent with each other, the same way a world exists in a novel. Systems like Inform, instead, add an explicit declarative model of a world; there are objects with properties and locations, possible actions with preconditions and effects, containers and reachability, etc. A lot of the action and text is then attached to that model, and interactions and output are partly generated from it.
One thing still hardcoded in that model is style. The fact that a car is in the room with you and visible to you is explicitly modeled (not just buried in a canned snippet of text), but the style of how that's presented to you isn't explicitly modeled. Is it a matter-of-fact "There is a car here", some kind of dramatic gothic description, a vague offhand description, etc., etc.? The way to control that in standard IF is by attaching canned text snippets to different events. If you want style to change based on gameplay events, you write multiple canned text snippets and then write code to swap them in and out. And of course just informing the user of an object is one of the simpler kinds of output, so it gets more complex if you want to change style for, say, ongoing action, or want to present things in other than strictly this-is-happening-at-present narrative order, etc. You end up with tons of hacks like: an event happened now in the world model but we want to tell it to the player later as a flashback, so suppress the normal output and set this flag, then attach a callback to some other event that will replay the tell-about-this code later when we want it.
The main new thing Curveship adds to that is an explicit model of narration. It's motivated by a view in narratology (a sort of formalist variety of literary theory) that narratives are composed of an abstract "what really happened" component plus a narrational "how I am telling the reader about what happened" component. Since IF systems only have the first explicitly, Curveship adds the second too.
via

I remember that Ultima ending! It blew my young mind.

Greed is good
Quotes from the Qu'ran are often taken out of context to prove various things, so I'm skeptical of this, but it's so lovely I can't resist:
Sura (Chapter) 5 of the Koran says that God sent mankind the Torah, the Gospel and the Koran. “For every one of you, We have appointed a path and a way ... So compete with one another in good works.”
from the New York Times letters section

Strange lines and distances
We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demon- strate all sounds and their generation. We have harmony which you have not, of quarter-sounds and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have; with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep, likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their orig- inal are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which, set to the ear, do further the hearing greatly; we have also divers strange and artificial echoes, re- flecting the voice many times, and, as it were, tossing it; and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice, differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have all means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.
- Francis Bacon, The New Atlantis

"And was it true, as she said, that love would appear strange to me no matter what form it took, even if there were no eagles and snakes?"

- Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

Bellow, depressed, in Paris, starting Augie March, watches the street being washed. "At least as much freedom of movement as that water," he vows to himself.

Small-time uproar
I'm re-reading The Adventures of Augie March, and I just got to one of my favorite passages.
Nor did she see what I strayed into town for in the morning, or why I took pleasure in sitting in the still green bake of the Civil War courthouse square after my thick breakfast of griddle cakes and eggs and coffee. But I did, and warmed my belly and shins while the little locust trolley clinked and crept to the harbor and over the trestles of the bog-spanning bridge where the green beasts and bulrush-rocking birds kept up their hot, small-time uproar. I brought along a book, but there was too much brown stain on the pages from the sun. The benches were white iron, roomy enough for three or four old gaffers to snooze on in the swamp-tasting sweet warmth that made the redwing blackbirds fierce and quick, and the flowers frill, but other living things slow and lazy-blooded. I soaked in the heavy nourishing air and this befriending atmosphere like a rich life-cake, the kind that encourages love and brings a mild pain of emotions. A state that lets you rest in your own specific gravity, and where you are not subject matter but sit in your own nature, tasting original tastes as good as the first man, and are outside of the busy human tamper, left free even of your own habits. Which only lie on you illusory in the sunshine, in the usual relation of your feet or fingers or the knot of your shoestrings and are without power. No more than the comb or shadow of your hair has power on your brain.

Orwell on Dickens
"When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer ... what one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry - in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls."

It's a New York story, and it's beautiful.

"A Brechtian maxim: do not build on the good old days, but the bad new ones."
-Walter Benjamin, August 25th 1934.

Me, Halloween '06

An excerpt from Against the Day - you know, the new Pynchon novel?
Ha! Is good!

Thomas Pynchon has a new book coming out. Thank god. It's called Against the Day.

I know cataloging your books online doesn't sound fun, but this is pretty addicting.

Here's my profile.

books to read
  • amazon wishlist
  • hm, should i read the Dark Is Rising series again, or will it disappoint me?
  • the art of looking sideways
  • book on the underground railroad
  • Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles
  • the unconsoled, ishiguro
  • a dream of wessex, priest

Donald Bathelme's Syllabus
Books to read. I haven't read much of the stuff on this list, but the stuff I have read was good, and none of it was boring, so there.

Reading the Encyclopedia Dementia
"That is why Joyce's characters remain artificial constructs, their thoughts and motives -- they cannot properly be said to have feelings ..."

What an asshole thing to say. This essay makes much more sense if you realize that it's mostly about a reader's frustrated desire to conquer a text.

Update: ok ... sorry, I needed some time to breathe. It's a disturbing essay, and it makes a good point about a certain tug the reader experiences towards aborbing and being absorbed by more and more of the book. I'll have to think about it.

"I Got A Scheme!"
Letters from Saul Bellow to Philip Roth, describing how he wrote The Adventures of Augie March and the other '50s books. (If I made a top ten novels list, and I never will, Augie March would be on it.)

bah ... now only an abstract. Liars, you used to have the full text.

to read
Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye
The Art of the Novel by Ian Watt
Art and Illusion by E. H. Gombrich.

"Fuck you," whispers Slothrop. It's the only spell he knows, and a pretty good all-purpose one at that.

Quitting the Paint Factory: On the Virtues of Idleness
My God, how did I miss this amazing quote from Ovid: "Love yields to business. If you seek a way out of love, be busy; you'll be safe, then."

pictures from robert pirsig's 1968 motorcycle trip
The trip chronicled in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Camus and Sartre
The most in-depth comparison of their thought I've found yet. Well, mostly it just answers my question "What's wrong with The Myth of Sisyphus?" I always caught a faint whiff of condescension from scholars about it, but I couldn't figure out why.

My DJ
"I have to take the bus to the doctor's office because some drunk rear-ended me last week on my way home from an after-bar. It's morning rush hour, so of course my DJ and I have to stand. He doesn't have a stable surface to set his turntables on, so his records keep skipping all over the place."

Thor's Journey to Utgard
"Thor and Loki decided to travel to Utgard, land of the giants, the enemies of the gods."

First read this story a long time ago.

Jonathan Safran Foer
an interview
"...I'm very often considered part of his generation and writers like Franzen and Moody and people like that. But actually I am from a different generation. I am from a generation that was raised with the Internet, which is quite different. It makes a huge difference. And I was raised with a different kind of television and music. Music for example that depends very much on borrowing from different traditions, sampling pieces of other music and overlaying different rhythms and melodies and I think that is reflected in my writing."

"Part of my desire to switch voices is a kind of impatience. I don't think it is a bad impatience or immature impatience. It has something to do with the way we live now."

penelope

Anthony Lane on God's Secretaries

how pepys composed his diary entries
He wrote drafts for a diary meant for purely private consumption. Invert it: I wonder if this weblog's public nature causes me to censor myself.

eliot on ulysses
I can't figure out if this is called "The Mythical Method" or "Ulysses, Order and Myth".

I didn't dive into the Homeric parallel that much when I read Ulysses. Perhaps I'll read the Odyssey before I read Ulysses again. (Or, maybe Eliot is full of shit.)

sidebar: Eliot wrote this at a time when aesthetic arguments were also arguments about morality.

If the novelist is less important culturally today, is it because the novel is exhausted as an artistic form, or because the economic substructure of society has changed in a way that - somehow - makes novels less compelling?
(DeLillo thinks authors are independent of these forces - "If we're not doing the big social novel fifteen years from now, it'll probably mean our sensibilities have changed in ways that make such work less compelling to us--we won't stop because the market dried up. The writer leads, he doesn't follow." Readers are a different matter: "if serious reading dwindles to near nothingness, it will probably mean that the thing we're talking about when we use the word 'identity' has reached an end." [cite])
(Wow, Mary's right, I am a Marxist. I blame Jared Diamond.)

The Decline of Redemptive Truth and the Rise of a Literary Culture, by Richard Rorty
"...the question 'Do you believe in truth or are you one of those frivolous postmodernists?' is often the first one that journalists ask intellectuals whom they are assigned to interview. That question now plays the role previously played by the question 'Do you believe in God, or are you one of those dangerous atheists?'."

Dennett disagrees.
Haven't read Simon Blackburn's take yet.

reading list
my family and other animals
toop, ocean of sound
yoga for people who can't be bothered to do it (?)
burke
wodehouse, uneasy money
Alexander of Macedon, a historical biography by Peter Greene
waugh, decline and fall (?)
schumpeter, 'capitalism, socialism and democracy'
seabiscuit
auerbach, 'mimesis'
walter benjamin, 'illuminations'

Amazon.com wishlist

Lists of Books One Should Read Before Dying always seem kind of ridiculous, especially when they are assembled by panels of experts. This one isn't so bad, though, because it's deliberately personal and non-authoritative. Also, this was supposed to be funny - "ha-ha, don't worry, no one's ever actually finished it" - but unless I'm halluncinating he did read it, and claims it gave him a "code to the human heart".

Michael Chabon's.

"Do you know why I believe in the novel? It's a democratic shout. Anybody can write a great novel, one great novel, almost any amateur off the street. I believe this, George. Some nameless drudge, some desperado with barely a nurtured dream can sit down and find his voice and luck out and do it. Something so angelic it makes your jaw hang open. The spray of talent, the spray of ideas. One thing unlike another, one voice unlike the next. Ambiguities, contradictions, whispers, hints. And this is what you want to destroy."

A Lost Buddhist Literary Tradition Is Found
"The manuscripts are the [Dead Sea Scrolls] of Buddhism...but he adds, 'From the beginning, I've structured this project's strategies to be the exact opposite to the Dead Sea Scrolls. That entails actually doing research and publishing it, rather than dickering around for 40 years, or whatever they were doing.'"

A.A. Milne's weblog
The one who did Winnie the Pooh.

Herodotus - The Spartans at Thermopylae
"One of the Trachinians told him, 'Such was the number of the barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude.' Dieneces, not at all frightened at these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered 'Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade.'"

the complete review
I've been looking for a literary version of the All Music Guide for a while now (I know it's a silly idea: "capsule reviews of the century's greatest ideas!") This isn't it, but it's useful, gently opinionated, and has links to reviews on other sites. And a weblog.

"Everyone knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression. If you hold down one thing you hold down the adjoining." --Saul Bellow

Roger Zelazny.
As Harlan Ellison said: "His stories are sunk to the knees in maturity and wisdom, in bravura writing that breaks rules most writers only suspect exist. His concepts are fresh, his attacks bold, his resolutions generally trenchant. Thus leading us inexorably to the conclusion that Roger Zelazny is the reincarnation of Geoffrey Chaucer."

All true!

hmm: 1

Henry Raddick's Reviews
You know, the problem with writing a link summary after spending twenty minutes perusing the link is that I'm frequently too overwhelmed with enthusiasm to write with a clear head. For example, in this case I'm tempted to write something like "SING, HENRY, SING YOUR HEART OUT" which just wouldn't be right.

I'm re-reading Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March right now. It's great, but so rich that it can't be consumed in bites of more than a few pages a day. So I'm looking for something lighter and quicker next.

Hmmm...the New York Times says Philip Pullman's trilogy His Dark Materials is 'Harry Potter for grown-ups'. Most adults seemed to think that Harry Potter was for grown-ups, but whatever; I've been stuck on earth for too long.

Oops, Amazon just made my life more complicated by reminding me about The Dark Is Rising. And I was already planning on re-reading A Wrinkle In Time. Maybe I should just borrow someone's kids and read with them.

Hello, and welcome to the eleventh stop on the "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard" virtual book tour, the book tour that has ignored every hint you've dropped -- the yawns, the glances at your watch, the insistence that you've got to get up early tomorrow -- and just refuses to leave. My name's Bono and I'm here to talk about third-world debt forgiveness-- No, no. Wait. My name Greg Knauss, and I'm here to shamelessly pitch my book. Sorry for the confusion.

"Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard" is now officially approved by my wife. She lay down on the sofa the other night and read it for the first time, because I had apparently neglected to mention to her that I'd been documenting the most intimate details of our lives on a Web site. When asked for a quote, she said, "I can't believe people pay six bucks for this."

There's an "only" missing from that, the way I figure it.

Today's reading is from James Stegall's "I Don't Care If I Ever Get Paid to Write," because I'm just sick to death of that damnedable "Rainy Day" thing:

I've apprehended homeless men who've shoved telephones down their pants and twelve-year-old girls with backpacks full of make-up. I've caught single mothers pushing out strollers with packages of diapers hidden beneath their babies. I caught a woman who emptied an end cap of three hundred Power Ranger figurines into a cart and attempted to push it out the door. One tall man pushed a television out the front doors with his daughter sitting on his shoulders When he saw me he, tried to run and his little girl hit her head on the doorjamb. She started to scream like a siren. That's how I got him.

I apprehended one fourteen-year-old boy who shoplifted a collectable baseball (barely over the $10 minimum). When I notified his mother she said, "Keep him." I had to call the police.

And now, questions from people with far, far too much time on their hands:

A man in a purple sweater asks: If you were to say, race your children -- and I'm not saying you have or implying that you've thought about it at great length -- but if you were to race your three kids from one end of the biggest room of your house to the other, what do you think the approximate finishing times would be for each child and who would win?

Here at Total Bastard Laboratories, we'll never settle for simple conjecture. It's hard, scientifically justifiable experimentation you're looking for, sir, and it's hard, scientifically justifiable experimentation you're going to get.

At approximately 6:45pm PST, at the Total Bastard Test Area and Living Room, Subjects T, M and P* were lined up along the eastern border of the proving grounds, after the coffee table was moved out of the way. Both Subjects T and M showed pre-test jitters, as they repeatedly attempted to wander away and look out the window. Subject P displayed almost preternatural clam, largely because he had fallen asleep in his bouncy seat. Once Subjects T and M were returned to their starting positions -- after the test administrator threatened to count to three -- and the heats were begun.


Trial One ended in a draw, as both Subjects T and M returned to the window while subject P continued to sleep, possibly passing gas in the process. This last is conjecture, but Subjects T and M both denied responsibility and the test administrator refuses to even consider the possibility that it was him.

Trial Two results were abandoned as flawed, because the test administrator had to push both Subjects T and M across the Test Area, muttering helpful "C'mon! Go! C'mon!"s as they went.

Trial Three presented Subject T as the clear winner, though he refused to stop at the foyer and continued down the hall, through the family room, the kitchen, the dining room and back around to the living room again -- repeatedly, four laps by the official count -- all the while shouting "C'mon! Go! C'mon!" Subject M trailed, after a tentative start, wailing "Eeeeee!" The tests were brought to a conclusion when the test administrator's wife interrupted the fifth circuit by saying, "Calm down! Calm down! It's dinner time! In your seats, now!" And then, to the administrator, "I wish you wouldn't do that to them before we eat." Subject P was left on the proving grounds to finish his nap. He crossed the finish line roughly an hour later, after he pooped and had to be taken upstairs to be changed.

Final times -- Subject T: three seconds; Subject M: four seconds; Subject P: one hour (assisted).

For more scientifically rigorous child-rearing and/or -racing, please join the tour tomorrow, when it stops at Harrumph.


* I just realized that my son's initials spell "tmp," or the common computer abbreviation for "temporary." I refuse to consider what subconscious processes might have led to that. Besides, Joanne picked Pete's name.

Neat post to a Joyce list I'm on, from Ed Germain.
About 1983, I asked Marie Jolas about James Joyce's relationship to women. As well as I can recall verbatim, this is what she said:

"He was always polite to women, always. He was always a gentleman, always courteous, gracious to women... And he would ask questions of women that no one else would, no other man would."

What kind of questions, I asked her.

"What is it like to give birth? What is it like to menstruate? Many questions like that."

And women answered? I asked.

"Yes. We all told him. He was so interested and courteous. He listened."

Marie Jolas and her husband Eugene knew Joyce quite well. Eugene published "Work in Progress" in his magazine, transition.

Web crank/polymath Jorn Barger's incredible James Joyce supersite.

"THE WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER" is the longest,' Tweedledum replied, giving his brother an affectionate hug.

Tweedledee began instantly:

`The sun was shining--'

Here Alice ventured to interrupt him. `If it's VERY long,' she said, as politely as she could, `would you please tell me first which road--'

Tweedledee smiled gently, and began again:

`The sun was shining on the sea...'

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