Notes to various Texts


Carpenter's Gothic (William Gaddis 1985) "Stupidity's the deliberate cultivation of ignorance. . ." and so we have the rage of Gaddis's third (and shortest, hence most accessible) novel. In this world, set entirely in a rented house upon the Hudson and composed almost completely of dialogue, the characters dream of making a living by "getting next to" politicians and religious demagogues in a world not merely fraught with but consisting of conspiracy and greed. Darkly vituperative, Gaddis's character assassinations do not even spare McCandless, the player coming closest to emulating his own position in the world: "There's much more stupidity than there is malice in the world." Completely bleak, and not to be attempted in a fragile state of mind--seeming so darkly painted as to single-handedly force a turn toward light and charity.

Cities of the Plain (Cormac McCarthy 1998) click here.

Middlemarch (George Eliot 1871-72) Robbe-Grillet:" . . .the creators of characters, in the traditional sense, no longer manage to offer us more than puppets in which they themselves have ceased to believe. The novel of characters belongs entirely to the past, it describes a period: that which marked the apogee of the individual. Perhaps this is not an advance. . ." (1957) Well, at any rate, there is hardly any better apogee for the novel in the classic English mode than MIDDLEMARCH, that finely-wrought portayal of a small mercantile town in the early 19th century. Eliot's feminine facility for the quick yet complex portrayal of motive and heredity, the intricate dance of self-knowledge with self-delusion, offers deep satisfaction for any reader half inclined to take the long trip. Witness the portrayal of Lydgate, "Only those who know the supremacy of intellectual life--the life which has a seed of ennobling thought and purpose within it--can understand the grief of one who falls from that serene activity into the absorbing soul-wasting struggle with worldly annoyances"( 701) crossed with his major counterpart Dorothea, who "longed for work which would be directly beneficent like the sunshine and the rain, and now it appeared that she was to live more and more in a virtual tomb, where there was the apparatus of a ghastly labor producing what would never see the light." (455)

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck 1937) Buried beneath the unfortunate forced-JRHigh-school reading list designation is a gem of smooth plotting and hokey prose. Worthy of Murdock's crystalline short-novel designation, it tells the painful story of a retarded migrant worker and the friend that "looks after" him beyond society's expectation of obligation. At the core its central mystery--the choice between selflessness and opportunism--makes a worthwhile kernel of contemplation that novels are uniquely suited to conjure.

The Stranger (Albert Camus 1942) "And so I learned that familiar paths traced in the dusk of summer evenings may lead as well to prisons as to innocent, untroubled sleep." On the late, nth re-reading, struck by how un-Satrean M. is, how human and unfathomable. And by how much more poetic the traditional Gilbert Stuart translation, more akin to the recently-issued aborted-by-early-demise roman fleuve FIRST MAN. One has to be reminded that a major point is not that M.does not feel anything, but that the post-modern, post-colonial individual has trouble attaching undue importance to what he feels. And so, a significant fore-runner in ascetism to the works of Robbe-Grillet and Walker Percy's THE MOVIEGOER.

This Wild Darkness (Harold Brodkey 1996?) This small book lingers inside the emotional life days after being read in a sort of half-remembered undertow, claiming responses quite remote from concerns of the moment. Written in the last months of his life, Brodkey peers through the final exit of terminal illness with his usual acute and spookily prescient orchestration of sentences, the way he once imagined/remembered the moments of his birth. A quite appropiate coda to the magnificent, unfinished (effectively) RUNAWAY SOUL.

Wise Blood (Flannery O'Connor 1952) It's always shocking to re-encounter the enduring strangeness of this fifties novel--the comparison has been made of course, but the only likeness for its sense of profound dissociation within a familiar landscape is Kafka. Picture K. in the American South, among the denizens of Goat Town and Deepstep. "He had the feeling that everything he saw was a broken-off piece of some giant blank thing that he had forgotten had happened to him." Even stranger is that its author, a southern woman in only her mid-twenties, and from a staunch minority Roman Catholic perspective, looked so penetratingly into the dark but somehow pure motivation of backwoods Protestant evangelists (extremely violent men, it must not be overlooked.) As James said, a distant world, but one to which we still feel the tie, where rabid disbelief is not the polar opposite of rabid belief but its close neighbor, and both are as distant as can be from lukewarm belief (and likewarm disbelief.)


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