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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20 Dec '04 09:18:18 AM

Hermann Broch's trilogy The Sleepwalkers changes the form of its prose from part to part, to some end that I'm not yet sure of since I'm still reading the first part, The Romantic (though, note the remark at the end of this review about the German titles, which I'm not even sure it gets totally right as far as punctuation is concerned). That part is divided into four sections by Roman numerals: the first three roughly the same length, and the fourth a single short paragraph. Each of the first three sections is more or less made up of a sequence of smaller passages separated by blank space on the page. Each of these smaller passages, which could have been labeled as chapters (I think each new one brings with it a lapse in time, as well as probably a change in setting and possibly the focal character), is no more than a handful of long paragraphs run together (each paragraph starting with an indentation, at least in the English), and usually closer to three or so. The dialogue is infrequent and does not cause the introduction of new paragraphs upon the alternation of speakers; and since the English has the usual quotation marks for it instead of, say, a dash, or maybe instead of chevron-style quotation marks (I don't know what are used in the original - anyway, if it uses the low-high German quotation marks, as opposed to English's high-high ones, two quotations side by side would at least have the advantage of alternating as to the height of the quotation mark) - everything is run together in a way that tends to make it hard for me to see the dialogue as occurring in its 'normal' context. I suppose that may be part of the point, because the small sections of The Romantic have a hermetic quality to them that seems to derive in part from the way their content is suited to their form (or maybe: makes the best of).

As far as I know - and I only know because I was paging through looking for the section breaks, and I am now as dismayed as I ever get, which is not very, about having a part of a book ruined for me, and that's only because it's an effect that turns on the surprise of a change in formal technique rather than the usual unfolding of plot that most people want to preserve their advance ignorance of - as far as I know, the regularities I mentioned above are only broken once, when near the end of The Romantic a conversation occurs where the speaker changes bring paragraph breaks. I can only assume that this is not by chance, so I hope to be able to make even more of it once I start The Anarchist so that I can compare the two. Like the first part, The Anarchist is in four numbered sections, with the fourth a single final paragraph. But it mixes the unbroken dialogue with broken dialogue throughout - which is to say, without necessarily waiting until later on to use the change to great dramatic effect. It may still be that Broch gets something out of the differing (greater, I would suppose) emphasis the distinction offers, but I don't know yet.

The third part, The Realist, is made up of about eighty chapters numbered by Roman numerals but actually labeled as chapters, as opposed to the shorter unnumbered sections of the earlier two parts of the trilogy. They are more or less on that order of length, though. What Broch does with that basic arrangement changes a great deal, though. Whereas the second part seems to design its small sections in a manner somewhat like the first part - divided according to their being separate episodes, though apparently in a more uniform way with regard to plot (I'll find out) - in the third part they start to serve more like prose containers. Many of them function like the earlier ones. But there are also sections of play-style dialogue, a song that accompanies a story about a Salvation Army girl, an essay called 'Disintegration of Values', at least one newspaper article (with typographical representation of its being lost or damaged or otherwise only fragmentarily available), at least a couple of letters, and probably a lot more than I can see by paging through it. Dialogue is mixed, as before. The formally distinctive chapters are introduced and re-introduced as such, and the matter in the Salvation Army girl story and the essay is numbered in sub-parts, and, for that matter, distributed non-contiguously through the novel in separate chapters.

17 Dec '04 08:39:45 PM

Jess near the end of 2004.

17 Dec '04 08:29:36 AM

Even far into its mythical decline, still provocative posts in March 2003.

16 Dec '04 10:18:20 AM

Here is a selection of punctuation marks for you to choose from to complete the previous entry:

!;^#.,?

16 Dec '04 10:14:32 AM

Drew writes to note that the original source of 'die motherfuckers die motherfuckers die' (that I asked about last March) is Kool G Rap's 'Two to the Head', which Scarface guests on (along with Ice Cube). It originally appeared on G Rap and DJ Polo's 1992 record Live and Let Die

15 Dec '04 09:45:46 AM

Fuck, how am I ever going to listen to this song on the bus again?

15 Dec '04 09:37:00 AM

At first I didn't know what the first song on Ted Leo's new album was about at all, except that at one point he says 'bourgeois' (as snidely pointed out below), and that it more or less, to put it concisely, said yes when life says no. As I listened more and followed a few more of the words I got more comfortable in that way of hearing it, filling it out with some sort of sense of its being politically topical. Zeitgeist stuff. One line threw me and I explained its awkwardness to myself by supposing that it was referring to actual people, thus the near-repetition: 'and me and Mia, Ann and Ana'. But today I bought a real copy of the record, and upon reading the lyrics, I'm utterly shaken. I would have spelled it 'Anna' without looking at the liner notes; maybe if I had been thinking 'Ana' I might have had eating disorders in mind. Or maybe if I remembered that 'Mia' is to 'bulimia' as 'Ana' is to 'anorexia' I might have attached some significance to the 'Mia' of the song's title and started noticing all of the food-related lyrics instead of letting them float by as political figuratives. Now, though, I'm at a standstill, I hope only temporary. If it seemed just like an anti-pro-eating disorder song, that would be one thing, but I think it astutely weaves the political and the pathological together - check 'But don't forget what it really means to hunger strike / when you don't really need to / Some are dying for a cause, but that don't make it yours' - precisely because the pro-anorexia, pro-bulimia underground derives what makes it most horrifying (to me, at least - I've surely seen plenty of potentially disturbing things on the net in the past twelve years or so, but none of them have felt as disturbing as the ana/mia stuff that I tripped over belatedly just because I happened to sign up for a livejournal last year) from its conflation of the personal, in the personal-is-political identity politics sense, with the personal, in the individual sense. I'm not sure what that makes 'Me and Mia'. At the very least, as exemplary an anti-ana song as I could imagine. Given that it's addressed to 'you', and includes Leo (forget that not identifying the artist with the narrator shit here, I think) in the 'we' that is 'you' and your friends (those friends), I don't know if I feel right probing the song for more.

14 Dec '04 09:41:04 AM

Note the error, too.

This sense of being lost is an intellectual one, but it does have its real consequences.

14 Dec '04 09:35:38 AM

I'm getting to the point again where I start to feel trapped and lost. Both at the same time, which I'm not sure makes sense. To say I feel lost would be right but not enough. I keep thinking, as I inevitably do, that if I could only absorb this book or write that thing or thoroughly have this or that idea, I would then know my way, as if those things would end up having been the maps, once I find myself no longer lost. Note the subtletly: I recognize that these things themselves will not have been what does it, but I demand that they be the things that basically serve that purpose anyway. But none of them fits, none of them suits, and it's not even because I try them and they don't work but because no single one of them pulls me in long enough; which is to say: I cannot make myself give myself over to them enough for the real work to begin, and so I demand that they pull me in, that Hegel or Gadamer or Fiedler or Adorno or Melville or Pound or Zukofsky be so interesting and engaging, that they speak to me so much, that it doesn't feel like work but like breathing in my own air. The map is not a strong enough metaphor for this, because I can always imagine that I'll eventually get there somehow, map or no; so I am not just lost but trapped, because the thing I imagine will help me will not just get me there but get me out, and now.