josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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8 Aug '06 07:47:58 AM

'I believe that the characteristic feature of primitive man is that he does not act from opinions (contrary to Frazer).

I read, among many similar examples, of a Rain-King in Africa to whom the people pray for rain when the rainy period comes. But surely that means that they do not really believe that he can make it rain, otherwise they would do it in the dry periods of the year in which the land is "a parched and arid desert". For if one assumes that the people formerly instituted this office of Rain-King out of stupidity, it is nevertheless certainly clear that they had previously experienced that the rains begin in March, and then they would have had the Rain-King function for the other part of the year. Or again: toward morning, when the sun is about to rise, rites of daybreak are celebrated by the people, but not during the night, when they simply burn lamps.'

7 Aug '06 06:37:04 AM

'In the middle of the previous paragraph. Please pay attention.'

- a footnote of Hugh Kenner

4 Aug '06 07:22:11 AM

'dead letters sent from a mythical time'

4 Aug '06 03:37:58 AM

'While the intricate warp and weft of the many story-lines defies a coherent critical description, we can still recognize that they are basically all variations on the same narrative syntagm, the quest motif. Admittedly this concept of the "Journey," that "oldest and most universal" story, must be taken in its widest sense so as to include mental processes such as volitional acts and to permit a reading of literal quests as their factual correlatives. Herbert Stencil in V. and Oedipa Maas in The Crying of Lot 49 are also on dogged quests for some ultimate knowledge or truth and it can be said that the quest story forms, in fact, "the single indispensible ingredient in Pynchon's books." In Gravity's Rainbow the theme of the quest pervades love, spy, cowboy, sexual deviation, detective, picaresque or businessman stories and occurs in sacral (e.g. Kabbalist, Masonic, Gnostic, etc.), mythical or magical (e.g. quest for the Grail, Tarot and astrological divination, etc.), and scientific or technological (e.g. psychology, mathematics, aerodynamics, rocket engineering, etc.) varieties. To make sure that the latter modalities of the Faustian drive to understand "was die Welt / Im Innersten zusammenhält" are read as defiled versions of the sacral or mythical "Journey," Pynchon takes great care in placing appropriate indicators throughout the text, as when one of his narrators compares Pointsman, the Pavlovian psychologist, to a medieval knight (43) or when he devises a petrochemical plant resembling a "Castle" wiith chemists inside gathering around a chalice of "methyl methacrylate" (486-88).

In its less "destructive" forms the quest motif appears carnivalized. Not only do characters sometimes not know whether they are on a quest or an escape but spiritual and material goals often multiply in such a way that characters find it difficult to cope with them. Some individuals pursue clusters of objectives composed of such diverse elements as personal identity, a lover, a relative, drugs, perceptual order, individual power, etc. and modify these clusters inadvertently by abandoning goals or adopting new ones in the course of the story. Slothrop finds himself at one point in the narrative to be after such targets as Imipolex G, the S-Gerät, Tantivy's avenge, his own ID - an alusion to his quest for identity (561) - and his discharge (526). If in this case the quest motif appears to be parodied, in the case of the reader, who is often addressed, it becomes ludicrous. Not only is he often at a loss in choosing clues to his own quest for meaning, but he constantly labours under the suspicion that he is being taken for a ride.

However, in Pynchon's versions of the quest story, goals often change while their motivation remains constant. They all promise some form of redemption from a predicament judged insufferable: The desire to 'transcend' the human condition is of primary concern. Another trait of Pynchon's quests is that they generally end in failure either because the questing hero never makes it or, if he does, he finds annihilation. The only times when questers achieve success, mostly against incredible odds, is when their goal is not their own redemption but the protection or salvation of others. Such is the case when Slothrop warns the Schwarzkommando (562), when von Göll alias "der Springer" is rescued (514), when Geli prevents Enzian and Tchitcherine from killing each other (735) and when Ludwig finds his lemming again (729). The only example of a successful quest after a sacred goal is the old aqyn's voyage to the Kirghiz Light (358), although we are never sure in the end whether it remains a myth. But his is a special case since he has to come back to deliver his message of hope against hope.'

4 Aug '06 03:22:33 AM

verse forms in Gravity's Rainbow: 'sonnet (532), epic (357), nursery rhyme (98, 177, 314), haiku (696), hymn (760), aubade (8-9), blank verse (226). The limerick, the ballad, the macaronic and verse forms adapted to musical rhythms such as the tarantella (204), the beguine (229), the cadenza (685) and the foxtrott (182) must be added.'

4 Aug '06 03:19:18 AM

'a list of tones and styles which are to be found in Gravity's Rainbow and which runs a gamut of possibilities including the "visionary, poetic, serious, declarative (factual, matter-of-fact), commenting (or judging), questioning, ironic (or satirical), prophetic (or ominous), commanding, jovial (or funny), casual (or colloquial), mocking, playful, gross, and self-conscious"'

2 Aug '06 10:33:03 AM

Ten small pleasures:

- 'all in circles like duck duck goose'
- WC over the 'Ante Up' beat
- 'you a silly chick / thought you was really live'
- Charlie Haden, thrumming on Science Fiction
- the guitar solo on 'Counting Down the Hours'
- 'see we / date em like we hate em'
- the 'Teach Me How To Fight' beat (nb: handclaps!)
- RZA vocal percussion, digital beeps
- 'my ideals / have got me on / the run / towards my connection / with everyone'
- finally seeing Monk dance in Straight, No Chaser

2 Aug '06 09:49:43 AM

My first response to this omnibus Christgau review was to impatiently lose interest upon noticing its a) length and b) omnibusiness. Despite appreciation for the crackpot formalist music-criticism theme. And then I saw the LISTS!

(This didn't restore my patience or interest right away but it stored some up for the future.)

2 Aug '06 07:36:05 AM

'Both the Tractatus and the Investigations are obscure books but in quite different ways. The Tractatus is obscure because we are simply presented with conclusions or answers to questions we have not been told ('1 The world is all that is the case. 1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things' (T:1).) and the effort to overcome this obscurity consists in the reader reconstructing the reasoning that gives these assertions meaning and point. In his preface, Wittgenstein says it is not a textbook, and this is usually taken to mean that its difficulty prevents it from being an introduction. This is certainly correct, but it is also true when construed as a remark about genre. Mathematics textbooks, for example, consist either of worked questions and answers, or sets of unanswered questions, or some combinations of these. No textbook ever consisted of sets of answers alone.'