Re: Still Not Reading

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Yay ogged?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:42 AM
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This is a pretty big can of worms to open, no? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't your point here, what's the point of art that challenges?

I speak as a person who is anxiously awaiting his pre-ordered copy of HP&tDH.


Posted by: Joe Drymala | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:43 AM
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There are all kinds of ways to "get something" from a book. Close reading and meditation on thematic and formal structure is not the only way(s).

Sometimes we hang out with a book ... we read it, see what happens, think "that was good" or "wow, what a bummer" or whatever, and move on.

I think there's nothing wrong with that, any more than there's anything wrong with having friends whom one hangs out with from time to time without their being one's alter egos, soulmates, etc.

I do think that hanging out with good books is more likely to have a good effect on one morally & aesthetically than hanging out with shitty books, same as with people.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:46 AM
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People like Drymala just want to make us either feel bad about ourselves or stupid (and therefore bad about ourselves). I ask you, would someone who wasn't committed to such ends have such a strange and easily misspelled last name?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:46 AM
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Would it be so strange if we were all hanging out in Kiev right now? Maybe, maybe not.


Posted by: Joe Drymala | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:50 AM
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what's the point of art that challenges?

"Challenging" too has many meanings. A book can be challenging formally (messed-up chronology! weird narration!) or stylistically, and I think these are what's often meant.

But a book can also be "challenging" in the sense that it challenges us to look at things from a different kind of person's point of view, or to find plot value in what seems at first to be an uninteresting situation.

Madame Bovary was a challenging book when it came out, and still is if the reading-group scene in Little Children (da movie) can be taken seriously (as I think it can), even though it's an easy enough book to read.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:51 AM
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right.

i'm trying to read Pynchon's latest, right now, and it's everything i can do to not throw the thing in the trash - even 900 pages into it! it's an 1000+ page book, densely printed, and he relentlessly introduces new characters and new plot lines, through the whole thing; you're never sure what's real and what's fiction (i.e. is it really happening in the fictional universe, or is it imagined by the characters, or is it fictional in that universe but somehow bleeding into the "real" fictional universe); you never know if an individual word holds some giant allegorical meaning that's the key to understanding WTF Pynchon is talking about; few of the characters are interesting and there are so many of them, and so many plot lines, you never know if you're supposed to focus on them or not...

what am i supposed to get out of this thing ? as far as i can tell, Pynchon recently took trips to Venice, the Balkans and Mexico, and he probably a trip on the Trans-Siberian railroad, collecting trivia the whole time. and now he's made a giant multi-layered collage of trivia and math. yippee.

was this the best use of the past 8 months of my pre-sleep half-hours ? i doubt it.

/bitter


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:51 AM
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I've always been amused by the fact that a minor but recurring theme in a number of nineteenth century novels is that reading literature is bad for you.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:51 AM
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"What's the point of art that challenges?"

I dunno, but who gets to define what art challenges? I mean, HP challenges me -- especially when I'm reading it in the frame of a group of kids growing and developing and finding out who they are while watching my own kid grow and develop and find our who she is. Moby Dick, in contrast, just bored me. The idea that an intellectual is one who takes in "challenging" art drives me nuts -- how about, an intellectual is one who can be challenged by any art?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:51 AM
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isn't your point here, what's the point of art that challenges?

No, not at all. More like: don't get all bitchy that people aren't reading good stuff when the conditions for getting any beneift from good stuff are absent.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:52 AM
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In all seriousness, can we kill the idea that "challenging" is, by itself, a positive attribute?


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:52 AM
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Cleek, my pet theory is that the man has no idea how he managed to write Gravity's Rainbow, and has become a parody of himself. I liked that Playboy article by an ostensible friend of his who claimed Pynchon was high during the writing of GR (an amazing and touching, tho certainly not perfect, book).

But then, I've never been able to read anything else of his besides Lot 49.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:53 AM
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the conditions for getting any beneift from good stuff are absent

Aren't the conditions for getting benefit from good stuff cultivated by reading good stuff?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:57 AM
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the conditions for getting any beneift from good stuff are absent

Aren't the conditions for getting benefit from good stuff cultivated by reading good stuff?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:57 AM
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can we kill the idea that "challenging" is, by itself, a positive attribute

I was thinking of arguing that above, but there's a sense of the word that I think is inseparable from great art.

Art has to be "challenging," not in the sense of "hard to read," but more in the Rilke "You must change your life" sense.

Harold Bloom was riffing off in an interview once, as he always does, and he said something good that I unfortunately only half-remember. Basically, that we don't interpret the great works of literature -- they interpret us. That's the kind of challenge that I think has aesthetic value.

Put another way, see Sontag's famous line: "In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art." Some people may think of "challenging" on the hermeneutic level, which is *not* necessary to a work of art; but all art has to be challenging on the erotic level, the level at which reading a book or seeing a movie or whatever is an encounter that changes us.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:58 AM
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Ogged makes strong points here. I guess I'd say that stuff rubs off on you without your realizing it. That's the function of the pretty sentences. Certain things infect your mind. Good plays, movies, etc. are all like this.

But I dunno. I've read a lot of stuff I thought was really good, and I've got friends who have read far less, who are unquestionably better people.

From when I first started picking up books, they were, for me, means in-and-of themselves, first principles, and I wanted to figure out what they did and how they did it. Maybe there's no point.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:58 AM
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don't get all bitchy that people aren't reading good stuff when the conditions for getting any beneift from good stuff are absent.

Aren't you confusing different meanings of good? Certainly, challenging, difficult literature is over many people's heads all the time, and lots of people don't have the energy for it even if they have the capacity for it. The snarky comments about HP are, at least in part, coming from people who aren't objecting to the books as unchallenging, but rather because they believe they suck (as in the critic Yglesias was bitching at, whose point was that HP bored his 10 year old.)

To haul out a banned analogy, you don't need to be a foodie of great discrimination to enjoy a ripe tomato sandwich in the middle of the summer, and telling someone that their January tomato sandwich is disgusting isn't a claim of greater sophistication, but a claim that there are important quality differences even between simple pleasures.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:58 AM
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Aren't the conditions for getting benefit from good stuff cultivated by reading good stuff?

I don't know, gnomic interrogator, are they?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:59 AM
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Jeez, I never said anything about intellectuals.

Here's a question, though, related to the "challenging" business: How much to we gravitate toward art, or entertainment, or whatever, that simply reinforces our own worldview? I'm guessing this accounts for 90% of most people's personal taste, intellectual or no. The last book I read that really rocked me was Atonement, but in retrospect, it mostly told me what I believed to be true already.


Posted by: Joe Drymala | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:59 AM
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I didn't do anything like properly meditate on any of those themes, either while I was reading or after.

Processing art doesn't necessarily mean translating it into a different sort of account, though, does it? You did something while you read, and that has to be valuable; otherwise the critics are the only ones getting anything out of art?


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:59 AM
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In the realm of non-representative art, I like art that is not so challenging. I like artists whose work is pretty distinguishable from that of others, because it means that they are working within a narrow sort of realm of possible artworks, so there isn't so much to wonder about and consider.

If I look at a Franz Kline, I am thinking about what purpose each of the lines serves. That's enough for me. I don't have to also be wondering about what it means that the line is blue instead of red, or what it means that this thing is round instead of pointy. That makes my brain freeze up.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 9:59 AM
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we don't interpret the great works of literature -- they interpret us

That's not Bloom, that's Bloom borrowing from Trilling and Auden, I think.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:00 AM
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A saturation effect, maybe? Good literature can make one see something with new eyes. Water is most precious in the desert. Each of us, no matter how sated, still has a latent thirst for something, though it may be easier for a newcomer to some field to get quick satisfaction.
Separately, maybe idiosyncratically, regular contact with real text helps me to keep perspective on a world where 41% of Americans believe whatever. Agreeing with hanging out with good books is more likely to have a good effect on one, I guess.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:03 AM
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I don't know, gnomic interrogator, are they?

Sure, okay: the conditions for benefiting from good stuff accrue as one reads more good stuff. The more one reads, the more one is able to read, the more attuned one becomes to the echoes of literature in literature. Your eyes and ears grow keener and your jugment finer.

I will not gnomically interrogate, I will adamantly assert, we would be a better country if we spent more time reading more widely. We would gain access to a variety of human experience. We would learn patience and care with nuance. We would become humble as we realized how much has gone before us and how fleeting is our moment.

And I think those would be good things. I do not think Harry Potter, per se, is the enemy of them, though.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:05 AM
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That's not Bloom, that's Bloom borrowing from Trilling and Auden, I think.

See? The 7th stage of the anxiety of influence!


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:07 AM
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Moby Dick, in contrast, just bored me.

:(


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:08 AM
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And dropping my drumbeat of "Harry Potter Sucks", I'd think that the sort of active engagement you're talking about is an additional pleasure to be had from great literature, but not the only or a necessary part of enjoying great literature. I consume fiction like a junkie -- I like the good stuff better, but I need something with a story to read or I start getting itchy. And so sometimes what I've got is Vanity Fair when I'm not in the mood for treating it with the proper respect, and so I'm reading for 'what happens to Becky next', rather than thinking about the many levels on which the characters interact with each other while remaining fundamentally isolated and unaware of the interiority within each other.

But not having the energy at that moment to make my understanding conscious doesn't mean I'm not seeing it at all; at some later time, when I need it, the understanding is there and it's supported by the original thoughtless reading. This isn't an area in which it's better not to read at all unless you're going to do it properly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:10 AM
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Read fewer books. And reread them. When I go over to MR and see that Tyler Cowen just finished a recently released 800 page Indian novel while eating breakfast, and he's also prepared to compare it with other recent novels from India, not to mention the latest in Latin American film, . . .


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:10 AM
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So now it's not enough to read great books, we have to "properly meditate on their themes"? What does that even mean? This is an even more extreme example than the Potter-bashing of people trying to suck all the fun out of reading.

If I go to a museum & like a painting so much that I drag my husband back to look at it four times, am I getting enough out of it? Or do I have to write a paper on it too?

Not that there's not value in literary and art criticism, but the idea that it's a necessary condition for getting anything out of art is weird. I don't note what notes a really good bottle of wine has, but it sure tastes better than wine in a box.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:12 AM
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Ogged, I read for a living, and when I read for pleasure I actually actively dislike the kind of 'getting something out of it' that you're talking about. So while my partner does book clubs, etc., I just read and then move on.

But it changes you. I think about Disgrace not infrequently, specifically about the shift to communications departments, and the push for him to confess and account for himself, but also about the same things you flagged in your original post. It changed the way I move through the world, even though I didn't analyze motifs, and I couldn't tell you exactly how I've changed. And yet, I know for myself these things are important.

This is what I think of when I see value in reading widely (and you bet I'm up to date and awaiting Harry Potter, too). Does my not having specific skills to benefit in specific ways mean I'm not squeezing the right things out of this li-tra-ture? Maybe.


Posted by: Peter | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:12 AM
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we would be a better country if we spent more time reading more widely

Sure, but you're talking about a cultural change, which is really my point: a lot of these exhortations sound like "hey, kid, read something better" but are really substantively "we need to change the intellectual culture of the country."


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:12 AM
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are really substantively "we need to change the intellectual culture of the country."

Yes-ish. What I'm saying is, we would be better: I don't hope to make us better, actually. I do think our discussion would be better if there were more, "boy our culture lacks a lot of good stuff that a greater appreciation of literature would give it" and less "I'm too cool for Harry Potter." But maybe that's what you were saying in the first place.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:18 AM
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we would be a better country if we spent more time reading more widely

I think I disagree even with that.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:19 AM
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No, not at all. More like: don't get all bitchy that people aren't reading good stuff when the conditions for getting any beneift from good stuff are absent.

High Culcha isn't valuable instrumentally for the "beneifts" it might bring along in its train, o-man, but because it is a component of a more choiceworthy life. The first non-quoted sentence of 20 also gets it right, though.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:20 AM
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A really interesting thing to say about Harry Potter might be that these are books written, at least originally, from within an exceedingly British, even English, tradition. But when Americans are reading them, we are not reading those books: we are reading books about wizards and maybe Hollywood-Englishness. And maybe, further, that as Rowling acquired a HUGE AMERICAN MARKET, the HP books became less British.

Jonathan Strange by contrast is unalterably and essentially English; there is nothing there for the American reader unable to read a book about that to read.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:20 AM
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"Academics in Denial" should be the new hovertext.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:22 AM
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But maybe that's what you were saying in the first place.

There is no unary thing ogged is saying.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:22 AM
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I think I disagree even with that.

Go on.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:23 AM
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I don't note what notes a really good bottle of wine has, but it sure tastes better than wine in a box.

But when someone says, "You really should drink better wine, you know," it's transparently a case of bourgeois class-mongering. Whereas telling someone to read Coetzee or go to the Serra show carries some kind of moral weight. You're a worse person if you don't do it.


Posted by: DaveB | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:25 AM
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In a weird way, I'm with Ogged on this one...mostly because it strikes me as so strange the way discourses about "good" reading always turn on the idea that there is only a short list of "good" ways to read--either we wish to convert people to our short list or we wish to disparage others for the joyless finickyness of their short lists. And that's weird, and a sign that something else is going on.

Also, let's not forget that "good" literature in its present form is a fairly recent concept. Birth of the novel, consolidation of "English" literature as a colonialist gesture, etc--you could easily argue, in fact, that "literature" is a waste of time and we should be reading philosophy, or poetry, or Montaigne or something.

The idea that a complicated-yet-democratic society needs citizens who can understand and remember complex arguements is rather separable from the idea that you're a better person if you can read Thomas Pynchon (who is rather hilariously the limit case of "good" literature).


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:27 AM
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35: I disagree re Strange/Norell...it's perfectly possible to read it as kitsch Britishness; that's why it's a vast seller here in the US. A fun but to-my-mind over-rated book. On the other hand, the illustrations have really grown on me.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:30 AM
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I don't think Pynchon is the limit case of good literature. He's the limit case of nerd literature -- polyreferential supertechnical clever comic book literature. Not to say I don't like it. But you want interiority, characterization, serious examination of the human condition? Forget it.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:31 AM
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In my own experience if nothing else reading decent, let alone great writing eventually ruins you for the dreck. I hate the idea that I should have to `get something' out of every book I read, and I can be awfully forgiving of even gaping flaws if they are balanced about something. I will happily read light weight, even cheezy stuff if it has something going for it. I was a very indiscriminate reader early on, but now there is a lot of stuff that just isn't worth it. I think of stuff like Dan Browns `Digital Fortress', which I forced myself through to see if he'd pull anything off. He didn't. This book literally has no redeeming features, and in a world that cared about good writing should probably have been enough to stop his career in its tracks.

More on topic: If a book makes me ponder some great abstract theme, great. If it doesn't I'm not going to feel like I've wasted the time (unless it was crap, like above, but I'm finally starting to be better at stopping reading).


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:32 AM
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I think Against the Day is substantially more fun than cleek and Frowner do, but that may be because Pynchon is hitting my nerd sweet spots.

Doesn't the idea of "meditating on a theme" really privilege one form of literature -- even high literature -- over others? What's the theme to meditate on in Borges or Poe or Pussy, King of the Pirates? I say this as someone who was, in fact, meditating on a novel's theme (that of Hilary Mantel's A Change of Climate, which I'll plug in this thread as well) the other day. What experimental art tends to make one good at is appreciating other experimental art, and the questions is more whether you think that's a valuable end in itself.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:34 AM
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I don't note what notes a really good bottle of wine has, but it sure tastes better than wine in a box.

On the other hand, DeLong notes that Two-Buck Chuck Chardonnay just won some big tasting competition.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:34 AM
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DeLong should also have noted that the Two-Buck Chuck that won is from a limited run, and isn't the Two-Buck Chuck you buy.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:35 AM
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42: No, I just meant that in this kind of discussion, whenever anyone throws up his/her hands in disgust and says "I tried, but I just can't handle this Fancy Literature Stuff", they're almost always going to reference Pynchon. I didn't mean that Pynchon is the Ultimate Writer Ever...!

Honestly, nobody ever says that they just can't get through The Man Without Qualities (which I can't)...probably because Pynchon is a sort of brand and there's already a social acceptability for not-being-able-to-read him, but the type of person who would read The Man Without Qualities is the type of person who would never, ever admit that they found anything too difficult or too boring, because then their fellow lit crit types would just slip in the knives.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:35 AM
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38: The most concise way I can think of putting it violates Godwin and probably other taboos, and I genuinely don't want to argue the merits of the various underlying facts and assumptions (and won't). But, it seems to me, that no small part of the "problem" of the Nazis is that they arose in a very High Culcha society. If all the ills associated with them had happened in Russia (again, obv. args about facts, etc., which I don't want to engage and won't), I think that for the most part the West would say, "Eh, fuck it. What more could you expect from the Russians?" But you know, they happened in the society that they happened.

To be clear, I'm not saying that reading good stuff makes you a worse person.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:37 AM
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46: Two-Buck Chuck Reserve?


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:37 AM
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The Two-Buck Chuck that won is from a limited run, and isn't the Two-Buck Chuck you buy.

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:38 AM
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I'm not saying that reading good stuff makes you a worse person

... but it does make you a Nazi?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:38 AM
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...I'm actually very slowly reading Mason and Dixon, or whatever it's called, because someone on Crooked Timber or maybe the Valve linked to a really fantastic passage from it. I haven't read enough Pynchon, though, to have an opinion one way or the other about him...it's just that the way he functions (so to speak) in discussions of literature is interesting.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:38 AM
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The Nazis were pretty deeply anti-intellectual. They burned a lot of books, and what's that line about Goering reaching for his gun? I don't think their support came from the litterati.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:40 AM
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I should have said, almost certainly isn't:

Bronco Wine Co. of Ceres makes 5 million cases of Charles Shaw wine a year. Company officials won't say how much of that is chardonnay, but given the popularity of the varietal, I wouldn't be surprised if it accounted for at least 1million cases of the total.
That much wine isn't likely to come from the same vineyard and maybe not even the same region. The grapes aren't likely to be crushed at the same time, fermented in the same tank or bottled in the same run.
When wineries enter a wine in the State Fair competition they are to list how much of the wine they made. According to State Fair officials, the figure for the Charles Shaw chardonnay is 50,000 gallons. That factors out to just 21,000 cases, a fraction of the likely total output.
Could that 21,000-case batch have been made with juice crushed from grapes grown in Russian River Valley, while the rest of the Charles Shaw chardonnay was made from fruit grown in the less-distinguished Central Valley?
Fred Franzia, who runs Bronco, and Ed Moody, his director of winemaking, haven't returned my phone calls.
At any rate, consumers can't tell whether a bottle of a large-production, award-winning wine they pick up at a store is from the same batch honored at a competition.

Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:42 AM
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51: Give me a break. It doesn't inoculate you against the Nazis.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:42 AM
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Nobody's claiming it does, Tim.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:43 AM
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Reading good books innoculates you against the Nazis.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:46 AM
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I don't think I buy Ogged's premise for a moment. I (almost) never meditate on what I read, I (almost) never discuss it with someone else, I (almost) never read criticism of what I read. But 99% of the non-history that I read is at least literary-ish (where do you put I Claudius, by Robert Graves?). And you know what?

It's good. And, whereas I don't want to develop an appreciation for good wine, because I can't afford it, good books cost about the same as bad ones. Do they "cost" more in terms of mental effort? Sure, but they reward that effort by being good. Well-developed characters. Interesting plot developments. Thoughtful takes on social conditions. Brilliant psychological insight. You don't get any of those from shitty books, except sometimes the second. And if you're a smart person, you almost certainly enjoy those things. There's not a test, and there's nothing that you have to read. There's no shame in hating Pynchon (I fucking despise DeLillo), or in finishing up Bleak House without giving it a second thought. But reading good books is its own reward.

Ogged, don't you always tell us we should be watching better TV? Why? Why should I watch (pay $$ for!) The Wire instead of old Three's Company reruns? Jack Tripper is funny!*


*No, he's not.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:48 AM
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what's that line about Goering reaching for his gun?

It's from a Nazi-inspired play, ironically enough; the attribution to Goering is a common mistake.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:49 AM
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JRoth, if you were in the habit of meditation, you might have caught the sentence where I wrote "it's more pleasing to read something that's sophisticated and well-written."


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:51 AM
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ogged, I think Ben is right. You're not actually saying any *thing*, you're just trolling. Or, to spin it differently, sparking conversation.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:53 AM
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"Also, let's not forget that "good" literature in its present form is a fairly recent concept"

Nah, the Medieval Age had its own bestsellers and high literatures

True story from early 80s, someone tells leggy coed I am FW reader, and leggy coed asks me:"Is it worth it?" Nonplussed, I escape into cranky sarcasm, and say:"Nah, I have wasted the last five years of my life."

Freat art is not merely challenging, it is intentionally alienating. What does an ego the size of Mann or Joyce or Pynchon demand from their readers? That the readers put as much time, effort, and passion into the work as the author. To "get" FW, you would need to spend 17 tears fulltime reading the work as if your immortality depended on its apprehension.

Yeh, I'm a loser, but my self-respect, my identity, my reason for living at one time required communication with Wittgenstein. I not only considered myself at advantage over those with support systems and social creds (I don't think the academics I read "get" Joyce, excepting Hugh Kenner), I engineered my life so I needed Art.

Academics are into comprehension. That ain't aesthetics. Aquinas, and maybe Kant, commanded apprehension.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:54 AM
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There are many people, including myself and (I gather) a few from the other reading thread, who essentially stopped reading fiction after getting out of school because of the burden of the skills we spent so much effort cultivating. Literature can be a chore if you can't read without the sense that you're required to perform this other task in order to get something out of it. Not to suggest that those skills aren't valuable, or even potentially a joy in themselves, but I've never consciously applied them to the Dostoevsky I read before college, and those books -- images, characters, a general sense of style and weight, the experience of reading them -- come back to me all the time. Oh, and Moby Dick is hugely entertaining.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:55 AM
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Academics are into comprehension. That ain't aesthetics.

IOW, what Sontag said.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:55 AM
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I understand Goebbels wrote a pretty good, semi-autiobiographical novel, where one of the characters--presumably a spokesman for the author--talks about his enthusiasm for Dostoevsky.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:57 AM
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35: You just weiner-pwned my essay, damnit.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:57 AM
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Reading good books innoculates you against the Nazis.

I see that it's still true that no one's claimed reading good books inoculates you against the Nazis.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:58 AM
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Is spending 20+ full-time years with a partner or kid "worth it?" Most people think so. Why?

And that is the difference between High Art and Rowling. I will never see as much of Rowling and her world, no matter how much time I spend on the text, as I will reading Tolstor or Dostoevsky. She hasn't the chops to put herself on the page.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:59 AM
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No no, 66 to 21.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:59 AM
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Beethoven was also esteemed among the Nazis. Beethoven prevailed.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:59 AM
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The answer to these questions has been out for twelve years now, people.

Seriously, that's actually a really good (and influential) book.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:59 AM
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I understand Goebbels wrote a pretty good, semi-autiobiographical novel

They have it at Green Apple Books!


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:59 AM
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I'm glad there are people in the world who are willing to put their fancy book lernin' to use catching typos.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 10:59 AM
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Admittedly I'm a Pynchon partisan, but I liked Against the Day. I only read it the once, and I have a high tolerance for reading TP's prose without knowing what the fuck is going on, but I thought the parts that were good were so fucking good that they redeemed the parts that were not. And, 42, I'll concede interiority, and even, outside of M & D, characterization, but TP does not by any measure lack "serious examination of the human condition."


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:00 AM
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74: two out of three's fine by me.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:02 AM
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Also, Green Apple Books for teh win.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:03 AM
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With Pynchon, I liked Lot 49, V and Gravity's Rainbow, and really enjoyed Vineland. Mason & Dixon I found unreadable, though.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:04 AM
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35: You just weiner-pwned my essay, damnit.

You could have just claimed to be "slolernr," you know.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:04 AM
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68: "She hasn't the chops to put herself on the page."

Why do you say this? I'm of the mind that much of the pleasure in reading is derived from things like self-recognition and empathy -- what books help us to see in ourselves and how they help us to see others. I see a good bit of Rowling (or, more accurately, who I might imagine Rowling to be) on the page. But perhaps that is enabled largely through the self-recognition of the maternal, and even single mother elements of the story.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:05 AM
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Mason & Dixon I found unreadable, though.

Interesting, I've always heard that it was by far the most readable (except for "Lot 49"). But I always heard that from Americans.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:05 AM
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77: It's like Trainspotting, once you pick up the dialect you'll do fine.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:06 AM
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re: 80

I found the sentence construction and the faux-18th-century prose annoying.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:07 AM
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re: 81

Heh, very funny.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:08 AM
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But where else will you find a "Jenkin's Ear" joke?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:08 AM
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Or even "Jenkins's Ear"?


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:09 AM
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Or even "Jenkins' Ear".


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:10 AM
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Stephen King, or one of his characters, said a human achieves true intimacy with another less than ten times in a lifetime. The rest of the time is spent in roles and rituals.

There is something about geniuses. They are not morally better, or wiser. Even a Gandhi or Jesus. They are just able to show stuff outside themselves by their art in ways others cannot.


I see it as a Zen thing. Genius is opaque, opaque,opaque, never translucent, opaque, and suddenly...transparent.

And then it is worth it.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:10 AM
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62: I don't seem to be able to make any points clearly today, anywhere. (I was reading about Lacan! And it's discombobulated me!)

....What I was trying to get at by referencing the birth of the novel and the consolidation of "English" wasn't that bestsellers or Classy Books are a new thing but that the kinds of books that we think of as Classy are different--there's a sort of cultural fall-back position that Classy Books are works of "difficult" high modernism, about which you must have Great Insights (except that you've almost always-already failed; the way we talk about Great Works of High Modernism is usually "and I didn't "get everything I should have from it"...people so often talk about High Modernist works as challenges-that-we-fail). Or sometimes "great" books are Classy 19th Century Novels, about which we are to have Great Social Insights....what I was trying to say is that people often talk as if "good" reading is what we used to call back in high school a cultural universal.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:12 AM
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Nobody's claiming it does, Tim.

What's the claim, then? It's not that we would be better participants in a democracy, because, as Frowner notes, that's too big a jump. It's not that we'd make better political or moral choices, per you. Is it that, per my reading of w-lfs-n, we'd have a finer interior life? Then I retreat to my "meat-puppet" belief, and deny that "finer interior life" is clearly meaningful.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:12 AM
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I agree with 68--a big part of what's amazing about amazing literature is that whole "here is inner Truth being exposed" feeling. But even though I completely think that everyone should love reading (and doing) that kind of thing all the time! I also have to admit that I really don't blame people for lacking either the energy or the interest. Not everyone is that exercised about learning and thinking about people in that way. And as the last thread/post pointed out, a lot of people read *non-fiction* instead of (literary) fiction, because a lot of people are interested in learning and thinking about things other than people. You can't really argue that that's somehow "bad," even if of course you think that people are fascinating and everyone should think so.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:13 AM
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88.---It's the clerisy, dude.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:13 AM
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78: It's fine, I'll just go back and add the proper citations.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:15 AM
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It's not that we would be better participants in a democracy, because, as Frowner notes, that's too big a jump

This really isn't about literature as literature at all, but I find myself believing that the sort of bullshit that led up to the Iraq war couldn't have been pulled on a more literate, in the sense of comfortable with a complex narrative, populace. Obvious evidence that we were being bullshitted got ignored because people didn't connect any two facts not referred to in the same sentence.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:16 AM
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Also, I *do* think that the way we fetishize reading (e.g., giving prizes and rewards to kids who read) is stupid. There are certainly plenty of voracious readers (e.g. my mom) who read constantly as an avoidance method; sure, there's a lot of rich stuff going on in their minds, and for that reason reading is probably a more engaging and successful avoidance method than tv or video games, but I do kind of think that if you don't pull your head out of your book at some point and actually live in the world it's not any more admirable than constant tv, video games, or masturbation.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:17 AM
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What's the claim, then?

I made a few specific claims:

We would gain access to a variety of human experience. We would learn patience and care with nuance. We would become humble as we realized how much has gone before us and how fleeting is our moment.
And I think those would be good things. I do not think Harry Potter, per se, is the enemy of them, though.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:19 AM
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Sorry, O, but for my money

people who don't read and only watch action movies seem plenty pleasured

trumps

it's more pleasing to read something that's sophisticated and well-written

Of course people evangelize Good Books for the same reason people always want to tell other people to do things. That's outside the argument, just like Matthew's "if you make fun of HP, I won't read your stupid DeLillo." Yes, there's some underlying belief that reading something written by someone smarter/better/more insightful than you will impart some of that betterness, but I don't even think that's essential.

I guess the one thing I'd say along the "it's better for you" line is that active pleasures tend to be better than passive ones. The better the book, the less passive the reading. TV is more passive than reading, but the best TV is better than plenty of books. Even when doing something passive like watching a sunset, the "best" ones tend to be engaging through remarkable color/cloud formation/light. Use your brain or lose it.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:20 AM
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To my knowledge no one's mentioned yet that a lot of contemporary literary fiction (e.g. "hysterical realism") is maybe not so interested in people.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:20 AM
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You humanities types crack me up. I read good books because they are good, and, being in the sciences, can cheerfully leave it at that.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:20 AM
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89: we usually think well of past civilizations in part because of their aesthetic contributions, not just their moral/political ones, no? I agree that they're not necessarily correlated.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:20 AM
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97: Nonsense. All that postmodern shtick is interested in the ways people think, which is part of being interested in people.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:21 AM
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(actually, I take that back a little. I think the U.S. would be better off if voters were better-read & better educated. But that's not because reading Dostoyevsky would make them better people; it's because they'd be more likely to be well-informed about things that were actually happening in the world.)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:23 AM
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79:"Why do you say this?"

Shit. It is a religion thing, a Joyce thing, a Zen thing. On my good days, my humanism and egalitarianism is ridiculous. Knowing them fairly well, Joyce and Mann aren't so special as people, and they knew that and wrote it.

Damn, there are just too many paradoxes in showing the universe is in every grain of sand. I need to beat you with a stick.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:23 AM
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people evangelize Good Books for the same reason people always want to tell other people to do things.

Exactly. That part of it is good and laudable. It's the "my pleasure is innately superior to yours" part that's annoying.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:23 AM
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but I do kind of think that if you don't pull your head out of your book at some point and actually live in the world it's not any more admirable than constant tv, video games, masturbation or unfogged.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:25 AM
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97: That's just why this kind of conversation seems to me to go nowhere: what I mean by Classy Novel isn't (god knows) what w-lfs-n would mean by Classy Novel (should he deign to use the phrase). And probably isn't what Ogged would mean, either, for example.

I don't mean that We All Have Our Own Special Snowflake Individuality, but that class, education and social background determine what you're apt to label "great" literature. There's a sort of cozy middlebrowitude to the national love for Jane Austen, for example, sort of the Old School Middlebrow. Then there's the other kind of middlebrow where one likes, oh, I dunno, The Corrections or David Foster Wallace. And then once you get into really snob-driven, lit crit stuff there's even more variety. Are we talking--at all--about the same thing when we want people to read "good" books?


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:25 AM
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100: But it's more theoretical than narrative. At any rate, it's less widely accessible.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:27 AM
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(I incline, BTW, towards Cozy Middlebrowitude With Guilt--hence Harry Potter, Strange & Norell, and Emma, but also dutiful forays into Teh Modernism.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:28 AM
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102: Oh, feel free to beat me with a stick, but you'll have to get in line. I don't disagree with the point I think you are making that "great" literature opens your eyes to nuance, shows you the universe in a grain of sand, blah, blah, blah. I just wonder what it is that makes Joyce better for this, in your eyes, than Rowling. (And having already outed myself as a hater of Moby Dick, I'll go ahead and confess that Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man did nothing for me, either.)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:29 AM
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the sort of bullshit that led up to the Iraq war couldn't have been pulled on a more literate, in the sense of comfortable with a complex narrative, populace.

It would have been a different sort of bullshit in that case, and the American people still would have bought it.

In fact, the Bush Administration had different sorts of bullshit, targeted at different audiences: the "Oh noes! Saddam and 9/11!" bullshit which was fed to the rubes, and the "Oh noes! Saddam and WMDs!" bullshit that Yglesias and Drum bought into.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:30 AM
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105: I get embarrassed in these conversations, because I'm the original middlebrow -- I read a whole lot, but I'm actively unfond of writing that seems to me to pursue difficulty for its own sake, which means a whole lot of modernist and later literary fiction, and my lit-crit theory credentials are limited to undergrad literature courses. So all of you are mostly talking wildly over my simple unfrozen caveman lawyer head.

I still think there's a sense in which people who read moderately substantial books of any type with attention and enjoyment are doing something fundamentally similar to each other, regardless of whether it's a homey fifth rereading of Emma, or a focused analysis of White Noise. Not exactly the same thing, but those two people still have basic skills and knowledge in common that someone who doesn't read substantial (yeah, I haven't defined this) literature doesn't share.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:33 AM
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106: You're still making a false dichotomy. It *is* narrative; it's just structured differently. I think what you're trying to get at is that it doesn't follow the established generic expectations of *realist* narrative, but go back and read some of the first novels and you'll see that before those generic expectations gelled, narrative structures were all over the damn place.

It's less accessible because we've mostly been trained to read realist narratives. But ime the bright kids who read comic books and love roleplayer games eat that pomo narrative up with a spoon. It's the "good student" obedient types who resist it.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:35 AM
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109: I don't think Drum and Yglesias fell for the WMD's, did they? They were both "What the hell, lets reshape the Middle East"ers. And I think broader reading would have saved either of them from that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:35 AM
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I enjoy and sympathize with Pynchon and thus tend to feel that many of his critics, esp. those claiming that his reputation for difficulty causes professed admirers to feign interest for hip-cult capital or something similar, simply lack understanding. The most intelligent exposition of what is roughly this line of reasoning I've read is William Logan's piece in the VQR. Logan extends himself in a way that, say James Wood, seems unwilling to do and still finds Pynchon wanting.


Posted by: Jonathan | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:36 AM
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but I find myself believing that the sort of bullshit that led up to the Iraq war couldn't have been pulled on a more literate, in the sense of comfortable with a complex narrative

Literature is not, in fact, the only way to gain an understanding of complexity.

For that matter, it's not the only way to get insight into the human condition.

For that matter, it's not the only (or even necessarily a good) way to gain insight into the larger world.

I feel, in fact, like there's maybe a little of the ol' tunnel vision in this thread, but what do I know: I'm an undergrad, and not in the humanities.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:37 AM
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I don't think the notion of the middlebrow is necessarily useful at this point in American letters. Even though this makes me a human being, man, woman, dog, cat or half-crushed worm.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:38 AM
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114: Not the only way, but a very powerful way. I'm generalizing about people I know, but people who read as a pastime do, generally, seem to handle complexity differently and more successfully than people who don't.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:40 AM
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"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man did nothing for me, either"

oh, I am sad.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:42 AM
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114: Sifu, just admit that you're an idiot and leave it to those of us who read to think the higher thoughts, okay?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:42 AM
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116: that does, indeed, seem like a vast generalization. I also wonder about which way the causality flows. Perhaps those people with a preexisting understanding of human complexity are often drawn to good literature, because it speaks to them.

All I really mean, before I get too far out into an unsupportable position, is that there seems to be rather a lot of lit department parochialism in this thread. A primatologist in the field could learn a hell of a lot about the human condition, too, without reading word one.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:44 AM
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95: We would gain access to a variety of human experience.

I can see that, and can see it as a good, though I wonder to what extent to which we are primarily teaching ourselves which experiences are worth noticing.

We would learn patience and care with nuance.

OK, and also a good, but might not the time to do so be one of the necessary conditions that ogged referenced?

99: We would become humble as we realized how much has gone before us and how fleeting is our moment.

"Could," maybe. I think identifying starred books (and therefore star authors) is as likely to lead to a tendency to overemphasize the importance of such things and, to the extent we like such things, "people like me."

we usually think well of past civilizations in part because of their aesthetic contributions, not just their moral/political ones, no? I

Query how much we're recognizing their aesthetic contributions and how much we're trained to do so. I love my mother's cooking--favorite food in the world--but she's not actually a very good cook.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:44 AM
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I think the way this whole post is framed is totally wrong. The premise that the modern literary novel is some kind of supremely "difficult" object seems just wrong to me; you don't need specialized academic training, an esoteric vocabulary or a superhuman attention span to read a Zadie Smith novel. So asking "why should I invest all this time in this supremely difficult thing when I could just watch a movie" is just the wrong question.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:46 AM
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118: I am unquestionably an idiot.

On the other hand, I eventually finished Gravity's fucking Rainbow and, since reading Disgrace, have not used my academic status to make time with vulnerable undergrads even once!

Hm that isn't even true, is it? Oh well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:46 AM
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Lit department parochialism in a thread about books? Shocking.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:48 AM
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112: I thought it was the WMDs, but I may be mistaken.

Anyway, Drum is a pretty avid fiction reader, isn't he?


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:48 AM
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The premise that the modern literary novel is some kind of supremely "difficult" object seems just wrong to me; you don't need specialized academic training, an esoteric vocabulary or a superhuman attention span to read a Zadie Smith novel.

Not to read it, but to benefit from it in the way book critics think people should benefit from books. This seems to require reading slowly, contemplating, opening one's mind, and so forth. It's easy to read a book without realizing what's significant about it. I thought the post made this clear.

Then the waters were muddied with mentions of Pynchon who is in fact very challenging to read and in whose worth there is nothing to use to better oneself.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:49 AM
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115: But my point is that if I said to w-lfs-n, for example, that I thought that Cory Doctrow (whose work I have not read, actually...and who I routinely confuse with what's-his-name who wrote The Road, which I haven't read either) was the very pinacle of literary achievement, and that I felt that Great Literature Like This was Very Important...well, I think I know what the response would be. And so a conversation between hypothetical Frowner and hypothetical w-lfs-n on the importance of Fancy Books is going to be built on sand, even if we're both talking about the universe in a grain of sand, or something.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:49 AM
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"Query how much we're recognizing their aesthetic contributions and how much we're trained to do so. I love my mother's cooking--favorite food in the world--but she's not actually a very good cook."

I don't see how I could possibly disprove this since anything I could say could be taken as further evidence of 'training', but I don't find it convincing at all.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:49 AM
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Don't like your mother's cooking? Little ungrateful whelp.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:50 AM
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That's not Bloom, that's Bloom borrowing from Trilling and Auden, I think.

Trilling certainly, though that's not to say he was the first to have the idea. And in fact he cites Auden, in his essay "On the Teaching of Modern Literature":

Almost all of [the books in the modern literature course] have been involved with me for a long time--I invert the natural order not out of lack of modesty but taking cue of W.H. Auden's remark that a real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot's poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate. No literature has evern been so shockingly personal as that of our time--it ask every question that is forbidden in polite society. It asks if we are content with our marriages, with our family lives, with our professional lives, with our friends. It is all very well for me to describe my course in the College catalogue as "paying particular attention to the role of the writer as a critic of his culture"--this is sheer evasion: the questions asked by our literature are not about our culture but about ourselves.

Good stuff. And with that, I'm off.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:51 AM
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123: it's not shocking, it's just funny.

It reminds me a little of one of the Bruno segments on the Ali G show: "would you say that fashion has helped more people than doctors?" "oh, yes."

Which, again, books are neat. I read 'em all the time. I have learned many things from books. But there's an undercurrent of "if only people read more great books there would be an end to rape and war!" that, while surely unintended, I find hilarious.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:52 AM
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"I just wonder what it is that makes Joyce better for this, in your eyes, than Rowling."

Oh, I wonder too. Joyce as a person may or may not be better than Rowling. I think not.

(I just read the first HP. I should read more. She just felt too calculated and controlled, too intent on writing a blockbuster.)

"...but I'm actively unfond of writing that seems to me to pursue difficulty for its own sake"

There isn't much of that. Most of the time the difficulty is a method, a means of communication, as described in some previous threads re Heidegger and idiosyncratic vocabularies.

Umm, not to be insulting, but "Girl before a Mirror" is about more than a girl before a mirror.

I think, I think, that Joyce believed there is no substance but only style, no content but only form. FW is not about saying it, the process of reading it is supposed to make you believe and live it.

Or maybe something else. But the book is about the reading of it.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:52 AM
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111: Engaging with a pomo novel of the kind I'm talking about requires familiarity (and sympathy) with the specific philosophy/sociology/whatever the novelist is invoking. That's a tall order.

Also, Don Quixote, for example, is all over the place, but it draws on frameworks of meaning, such as Christian and Aristotelian doctrine, whose explanatory power Cervantes could take for granted. There is no similarly stable consensus about the metanarratives, or whatever, that guide contemporary novels.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:55 AM
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A primatologist in the field could learn a hell of a lot about the human condition, too

Okay, here's where I become parochial. Yes, there are a lot of things to be learned about the human condition, and some are accessible to primatologists (or anthropologists or social scientists or historians or whoever). But that doesn't mean that the things that are accessible to lit scholars (or lit/fiction readers more generally) are all things you can get elsewhere; that idea is just the inverse of the snooty claim that literature is universal.

I think that there's something special about narrative (and more specifically, fiction, and more broadly, metaphor) because it's a mode of thinking/communication--different from exposition, or math, or visual art, or music. I think it's therefore both pleasurable (and that tv shows and even some kinds of video games appeal to that same metaphoric mode--as well as, surely, to other things) *and* worth trying to study/understand. I don't think there's anything wrong with people who prefer to spend their leisure time doing other things, but I also don't think it's right to go in the complete opposite direction and say that reading is just a hobby.

(It *can* be treated as such--hence my 94--but that's no different than pointing out that people who do nothing but solve sudoku puzzles all the time aren't really doing math.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:57 AM
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130: I actually find it kind of disturbing that the idea of good books contributing something positive to a society seems so readily like a punchline. I don't see why it should be so, unless someone is actually saying "books will stop rape and war." (Yeah, sometimes people sound a little treacly and sentimental when talking about books. Oh well. There are worse sins.)

I'm also curious why science cats get so readily defensive in the company of humanities majors who talk as though they a) might actually know something about their disciplines, and b) actually believe their disciplines have knowledge to contribute. Apparently this is tantamount to claiming that science is irrelevant and all good things flow through Art, but I've never understood how that's supposed to work.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:57 AM
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130: Sure, it can get off the rails that way. Personally, I find the devaluing of science in this culture to be more problematic than the devaluing of literature. Are both based on a fundamental lack of understanding? I certainly believe improvement in either area (and preferably both) would collectively do us a lot of good, but have no illusions about it fundamentally changing anything.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:58 AM
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try #3 bob. #1 was too much "look, magic! And whimsy! And magic!" for my taste.

128: actually I don't like her cooking so much. Baking yes.

Okay, here's one thing about being "trained" to value the Renaissance or Classical Greece or what have you: there's a tremendous amount of variation in how much I like works of art & architecture reputed to be equally great. And over-familiarity can actually be a problem.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 11:58 AM
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Not to read it, but to benefit from it in the way book critics think people should benefit from books. This seems to require reading slowly, contemplating, opening one's mind, and so forth. It's easy to read a book without realizing what's significant about it.

Consciously, or unconsciously? It's quite possible to talk about what's Significant about a story without really "getting" it, and quite possible to "get" a story without being able to articulate that understanding.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:00 PM
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78: It's fine, I'll just go back and add the proper citations.

Woo-hoo! slol's getting cited!


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:01 PM
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133, 134: okay, I will stop baiting you. Of course literature is valuable, and worthy of deep study. It is part of the intellectual life of humanity, and of course you can learn things from X work of fiction that you can't learn anywhere else. But these highfalutin statements about how more people reading great books would elevate our society I find sort of silly in a retrograde, platonic kind of way. If you want to improve society, start by teaching everyone statistics.

135 pretty well says what I should have said.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:04 PM
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132: I'll bite. What kind of pomo novel are you talking about, exactly? I'm not aware of needing a background in literary theory to read, say, Wallace or Rushdie (indeed, I read and enjoyed Midnight's Children years before I studied any kind of lit theory).


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:05 PM
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140: absolutely. Midnights Children was one of my favourite novels as a kid, even though I missed a lot of what was going on. Rereading is good. On the other hand (nod to earlier posts) nobody is going to claim that a jump straight from Harry Potter to Gravities Rainbow is going to be comfortable.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:07 PM
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131: She just felt too calculated and controlled, too intent on writing a blockbuster.

Everything I've seen suggests that was hindsight -- the publishers may've smelled a certain potential in the air, but I think it took Rowling utterly by surprise.

I loved the account where her U.S. publisher's taking her to a bookstore event, and there's a crowd of people outside, & she at first assumes there's some kind of sale going on.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:09 PM
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132: You've answered your own argument. Cervantes could take that for granted in his time only among a very small set of his contemporaries--those who could read and were familiar with romances. Nowadays, engaging with a novel of *any* sort requires familiarity with a ton of things, narrative conventions among them--it's just that realist narrative conventions are *so common* that we don't think of them as preexisting knowledge. Try reading a "straightforward" novel to a little kid, though, and you'll find out how artificial realist narrative is--PK constantly interrupts with questions requiring background explanations, summaries of the plot up to this point, explaining the story behind the plot, and so on.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:15 PM
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"#1 was too much "look, magic! And whimsy! And magic!" for my taste."

Well, there is a story there. The last chapters of the Magic Mountain made me laugh out loud at myself for trying to follow the symbols and leitmotifs. "Ok, so disease and innocence is holding mysticism between his knees while flirting with death and decadence..."

So I read FW without thinking while reading. I would read the secondary stuff about Sean's lesson to Shem and the incestuous trivium and quadrivium, but when I picked up the book I tried to turn it off and forget everything I knew. Direct apperception?

I was into Suzuki and Seven Story Mountains and Kempis and Avila and all wrapped in a Cloud of Unknowing. Probably just the acid.

Bob, the mystic marxist.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:16 PM
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Since this is kind of the stepson of the Potter thread, let me express my dismay that this morning's Los Angeles Times, in reporting the internet Hallows leak, printed an image of the last page of the novel. The last sentence, which may or may not feature the word "NASCAR", was clearly visible.

Not that I was in a hurry to read the book -- I save HP books for plane flights when I fall out of love with my reading matter, and enjoy them aplenty in that context. But still.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:21 PM
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140: I don't necessarily mean postmodern novels. I was just carelessly repeating a term that another commenter had used. But I think so-called hysterical realism like Wallace is a pretty good example of how elaborate theoretical stuff can get in the way of satisfying (bear with me) characterization. And I don't mean so much that it's impossible to read, or that you need literary theory, as that the particular abstractions used don't have the ready acceptance that earlier novelists could count on. More importantly, they seem to dispense with the sort of autonomous moral person that interested, say, Tolstoy.

Zadie Smith's second novel, which I've only read in part, is reflexive and self-conscious in a way that I couldn't respond to any of the characters. There's a skepticism and obsession with technique (London Fields is another offender) that just seems to dissolve the characters somehow.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:23 PM
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139: I was amazed at how many copies of Kautsky got sold to factory workers in Berlin and Europe in the 1st quarter of the century.

Kautsky is 2nd or 3rd rank Marxism, but he is still Marxism. I am not recommending Joyce to the masses for social change, but I think they can handle much more than Ehrenhreich and Moore.

But maybe not Adorno and Derrida. Holbo has a thread over at the Valve about leftish communicative strategies.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:25 PM
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Actually, White Noise is a better example than Wallace. Hitler Studies, and all that.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:26 PM
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94 - masturbation inoculates you against the Nazis. It also innoculates you against the Nazis.


Posted by: Peter | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:27 PM
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144: Yeah, I think we're talking about all sorts of different ways of reading here. Truth be told, it's probably been a decade or more since the last time I read anything with thoughts of symbolism and leitmotif. And when I performed that kind of reading back in high school/college, it truly was a performance. Not that I knew or cared what the grecian urn was supposed to represent, but that I could invent a plausible (and for me, entertaining) reading.

Mostly when I read it's more of a personal experience -- getting to know and care about or simply understand the characters, whether they symbolize something Universal or not.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:27 PM
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140: 132: I'll bite. What kind of pomo novel are you talking about, exactly?

I saw this and started searching the thread in an attempt to find the other comments about porno novels. Alas, I found nothing.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:31 PM
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...but I liked Against the Day. I only read it the once, and I have a high tolerance for reading TP's prose without knowing what the fuck is going on...

i read G.R. once, a few years ago and missed most of it, but was intrigued by what i did get. i read it again last year, and liked it. right now, i don't see that happening with ATD. there are parts that are really good, especially towards the beginning - i like the Chums and Lew and Dally. but it really stalls about 700 pages in and then starts opening up new subplots with new characters and i'm all like "oh fer fuck's sake, how much support does this ending need? can't you work with what you've already laid-out?" maybe i should withhold judgment until i read it again - maybe it will make better sense once i see how it all plays out.

i took a week off about then and read The God Delusion. it was a wonderful change of pace - simple language, big fat text, wide margins, easy to digest. ahh.

i've never made it through anything by Joyce other than Portrait Of The Artist - and that was a class discussion book in high-school.

maybe this post-modern lit stuff isn't for me.


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:32 PM
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147: I think all you're saying is that you, personally, don't like certain kinds of novels. I haven't read "Infinite Jest" (yet! But I will soon! Really!) but I find Wallace incredibly accessible, and it's not because I know Derrida inside and out (I don't).


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:34 PM
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Funnily, when I think of pomo novels I don't think of inaccessibility, broadly defined. David Foster Wallace is pretty easy to read, for example (although I still feel queasy when I think of Infinite Jest, which I have in fact read twice, although that was in Beijing and I had limited access to books in English). I just don't think that "inaccessible" can mean "I don't feel the characters...

My own personal list of Inaccessible Novels would mostly be the sort of Joyce-y modernist canon, joined by all Nabokov ever, because when I try to read Nabokov there is an anxiety-producing scrim of lit crit which descends between me and the text, and all I can think is "lyricism"..."about language"..."not about actual content"..."try not to be provincial, Frowner".


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:39 PM
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I shamelessly checked out the Reader's Guide when I set about reading Gravity's Rainbow, and it was great fun to do it that way. A lot of the book's pleasure is in its endless divagation, and by stopping every few pages to bounce over to the guide it heightened that quality (not that it's easy to ignore in the most forge-ahead reading). I recommend picking up guides to the Great Thorny Books, especially if you no longer have the benefit of a seminar.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:40 PM
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Changing direction here; and I've read only half of the other thread. It may belong there, sorry.

Insofar as this arose in terms of so-called Potter-bashing, there's another reason to resist jumping on the Potter bandwagon: it's part and parcel of the pop cultural manufacture of desire and manufacture of consent, all in the service of profit.

I myself resist that because (a) I don't like being told what to do or like; there's value in insisting on what I might call the power of No; (b) much of what we're directed to like perforce speaks to the lowest common denominator, and is insulting to my intelligence; and (c) in so resisting, I fancy, probably arrogantly, that I'm better able to maintain a critical stance toward the dominant culture, a stance I consider essential to a vibrant sociopolitical environment.

Yeah. Spitting the marbles outta my mouth now,

This has nothing to do with the literary merit or entertainment value of the Harry Potter books. I resist them in the same way that I decline to watch Project Runway, which some say is actually quite fun.

No, none of this means I have a poker up my ass, and it doesn't entail being a Potter-hater per se. Just needed to say it.

I should read the rest of these threads now, huh?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:40 PM
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154: see, one of the nice things about being an pig ignorant about literature is that I can read canonical sorts of things like Nabokov just for fun, and don't get any of those little voices.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:42 PM
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157: yup! I read that canonical parenthesis in Lolita ("(picnic; lightning)") and my only reaction is to giggle unselfconsciously.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:45 PM
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Nabokov's good for me, but I have to admit that I have yet to read anything by Pynchon, even though I'm sure I would find him interesting if I could just make myself get past the first few pages.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:47 PM
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159: fwiw, I really liked GR and V once I got into them.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:49 PM
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157, 158: Yep. One of the most fun literary experiences of my life was picking up 'Pale Fire' off a second hand book table as a teenager without any real sense of who Nabokov was, and actually having to figure out that it was a joke.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:49 PM
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I loved GR once I got into it, which was maybe 150 pages in. I would still argue for Vineland as the E-Z Reader intro to Pynchon, and it's also one of my favorite books.

Crying of Lot 49 is a pretty quick read, too, and great.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:52 PM
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156: I...I don't even know where to begin. But that's an awfully broad brush you've got there.

I guess I would agree with you that reading the books just because everyone else is doing so might be a problem. But seriously, I have so few cultural commonalities with almost everyone I know in The World of Flesh that an opportunity to talk about Harry Potter comes as a great relief....and actually, I think there's a lot of room for politically-useful discussions of the books, all the way from the extremely literal over to talking about narrative expectations, blame, assumptions about subjectivity, etc. And I think that a surprising number of people are able to have those conversations at a level that is useful to them.

Not very many things are "insulting to my intelligence". That is, I can think interesting, useful things about a lot of stuff (or at least useful to me.) I like the Harry Potter books, for example, because they are such a perfect illustration of the limits of pro-globalization liberalism. They're fun to talk about! I also like to talk about them in the context of UK kids' literature, something I know a bit about due to my peculiar upbringing.

I guess I'm about as much of a culture snob as I can be, but I haven't been able to sustain the belief that stupid/minor/simple works of culture can generate only stupid/minor/simple discussion and hence should be avoided in favor of the Deep and Important. And I do regret that, actually.

Also, I think a sustained reading of the trivial tends to bring one to the complex. Like, I haven't read any Marx or any Lacan (whee!) and yet because of sustained blog-reading I've realized that I need to read both, and indeed today I'm starting.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:53 PM
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151: That just won't do at all. Porno.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:54 PM
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The one I *want* to start with is M&D, for obvious reasons. But okay, maybe I'll give GR a try. Soon.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:56 PM
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I loved the account where her U.S. publisher's taking her to a bookstore event, and there's a crowd of people outside, & she at first assumes there's some kind of sale going on.

Douglas Adams had the same anecdote. I wonder....


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:57 PM
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I love Nabokov. In college, I had an entire semester on him. What a great course!

Transparent Things is an underappreciated book.

As far as Pynchon: I loved Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity's Rainbow, but I havent been able to get into Mason-Dixon. I bought it and opened it. But I keep putting it down.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:59 PM
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164: Much better.

OT: Unfogged comments stolen and used (presumably) to fool Bayesian filters (scroll down).


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 12:59 PM
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Thanks 168. this one is even better.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:00 PM
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I'm finding myself drawn to checking out the Gravity's Rainbow book y'all keep talking about because the title just sounds pretty. This is wrong, isn't it?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:03 PM
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Not to read it, but to benefit from it in the way book critics think people should benefit from books. This seems to require reading slowly, contemplating, opening one's mind, and so forth. It's easy to read a book without realizing what's significant about it. I thought the post made this clear.

I come back to my position that, even if this is what some book critics mean, that doesn't mean that they're right. What's the line about "the best that has been thought and said"? Maybe I was being too cautious in my position before. Not only do I think that, for an intelligent person, Crime and Punishment is a more enjoyable read than Mitchum's latest, but that, whether the person consciously ponders the book or not, that person will be enriched. By encountering new characters who are different. By having to grapple with complex issues, simply by the nature of the book. Not because it's difficult (I didn't find C&P especially so), but because it's not simplistic.

There's a million coming-of-age books. I think Michael Chabon's are better and more literate than most, but just as readable and enjoyable. And I think that, at the end, most readers will be, if only infinitessimally, better for having chosen Wonderboys over, I dunno, My Special Summer.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:07 PM
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You know, as a middlebrow difficult-modernism-isn't-my-kind-of-thing reader, I still enjoyed it. I probably didn't read it correctly, but it wasn't a dragging misery to read or anything.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:08 PM
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170: No.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:08 PM
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163:

Not very many things are "insulting to my intelligence".

I knew that phrase was going to be a problem. I nearly deleted it.

You missed, or I failed to make clear enough, that I was not engaging in specifically Potter bashing; launching a defense of your liking of the Potter books isn't necessary. I read nearly the entirety of Stephen King back in the day. No problem.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:09 PM
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I think that, for an intelligent person, Crime and Punishment is a more enjoyable read than Mitchum's latest

There, fixed that for you.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:11 PM
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Oh, and I wanted to back B's (I think) contention that narrative is uniquely important.

Narrative is fundamental to human cognition. Before children learn narrative form, they are unable to form memories except as impressionistic vignettes. I would probably argue for a Chomskian notion of this, wherein specific narrative forms are cultural and learnt, but that we are hard-wired for narrative.

Obviously, narrative doesn't have to come from books - TV and movies and comics are all fine sources of narrative. But contra Tweety's efforts to downplay the value of literature, I think that it has a specific human value not shared by non-narrative disciplines (indeed, it could be that part of modern science's problem with the public is that it's not always narrative-conducive in a way that Newton's apple or Archimedes' Eureka! were).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:12 PM
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Thanks, B. Hate those typos!


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:13 PM
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You know, if you want some inaccessible porno-pomo novels, you could do worse than reading Hogg, by Samuel Delany. Which is a Very Strange book.

There's actually a very funny story about it, how Delany wrote it up and sent it off after he'd already had some award-winning science fiction published. His publisher said it was very interesting but turned it down and returned the manuscript. Some years later, Delany was talking to a casual hook-up, who said to him "There's this crazy book you've got to read" and pulled out a xerox of the long-ago manuscript, which had been copied and was circulating as an underground classic. It has, however, been published now for real. And even though it's about the filthiest book I've ever read, I read it by checking it out from the university library.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:14 PM
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174: I was more trying to illustrate that there are fun/useful things to think about mainstream stuff than talk about my personal experience. Banned for analogy!


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:16 PM
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Before children learn narrative form, they are unable to form memories except as impressionistic vignettes.

I don't know that this is established yet--it's my impression, too, that narrative has a lot to do with memory, but I don't know if it's that closely linked. I think it also has a lot to do with social organization, at least for people. Presumably bees and cattle use other things.

I do remember (!) being fascinated by the way that PK really *needed* to tell and retell and hear and rehear stories about the things that frightened or upset him. My instinct would be to avoid those things, but he wanted to talk about them over and over. It seemed to me that somehow making a story out of them was a way to manage the emotions.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:17 PM
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170:No

GR is a weird collection of grotesqueries, but hell, simply grooving on the title as explicated in the book is an introduction to post-modernism.

IIRC, the sound described declines in pitch as it moves away in distance. Is that right?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:18 PM
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The one in 168 is better because the spambot picked up "hair-trigger twat," which is just a great, great phrase.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:22 PM
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My one contribution to the canon.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:24 PM
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183: hey, that's more than dan brown will manage.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:26 PM
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I dunno, Dan Brown abused the "Renowned art historian Werner Poopsmear staggered across the floor" introductory sentence so much that the formula will always be associated with him in my mind.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:30 PM
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170:It isn't really gravity, and it really isn't a rainbow. Slocum and synchronicity is one of my strongest memories from the book, which I read when it came out. I won't go far with that, but there are reasons I am an irrationalist. It is quite rational.

And well, for fans

*****SPOILER ALERT***

Slocum (do I have the name right) disappearing into the occupation reminded me of Hans going off to fight in WWI, and the start of the last chapter of FW.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:30 PM
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180: Oh, I'm sure I overstated the status of teh science, but I'm pretty sure this is a reasonably-accepted theory/understanding. One thing that people often do is to combine 2 or 3 toddler impressions into one story, so that they have a narrative to remember. So 3 different day trips with Great Grandpa - who died when you were 3, so you can't have been older - become one day trip with 3 highlights. I see this sort of thing coalescing in my 3 1/3 year old - she can recall the dress she was wearing at an event 6 months ago, but the narrative is very shaky.

Re: retelling scary events, my daughter has designated her one bear (named Spacial Bear, as it happens) as her avatar: "Mama, tell me 'bout when Special Bear fell and scraped her knee at the playground." The funniest thing is that she is also in the stories, sometimes as the mother figure, sometimes not. She'll interject details if my wife forgets them. It's really amazing.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:31 PM
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I loved Gravity's Rainbow when I was 20, reread it 2 summers ago, and realized that it's a book written by a young man. Vineland has a better voice for the middle-aged, I think. Has anyone here read Against The Day? Also, Gaddis. Lawyers especially might like A Frolic of his Own, for my money one of the best 20th century novels in English. His other big books, JR and The Recognitions are equally brilliant, both in style and substance. I would say Gaddis instead of Pynchon if you're over 30.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:31 PM
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180:

It seemed to me that somehow making a story out of them was a way to manage the emotions.

Speaking of Delany: this is among the themes in one of the Neveryona books. Not exactly a way to manage the emotions -- though that's undoubtedly the case -- but that mastering the ability to tell stories, not just orally but in writing, and by extension being able to read them, provides a dimension of self-creation, if you will.

Inarticulately put, but I've never particularly tried to articulate before what Delany's doing with that.

And of course, enter so much standard literary theory in this vein.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:33 PM
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187: Interesting, the conflation of different experiences into one story. I know the outcome of that, I'll have to keep an eye out for watching it happen.

PK *does* have a thing where *other people's stories* about bad/scary things, he'll reject outright and definitely not want repeated. So for instance, he made me stop "Night at the Museum" halfway through the other day (on his second viewing) because he remembered that one of the cavemen was going to die. He's been the same way about any kind of sad kids' story forever.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:35 PM
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Professing skepticism about the "good and laudable" in art doesn't do much to tell us what we standards we should use instead. Unless the point is that standards in general are oppressive. Speaking of which, this talk about narrative is coming round to the same assumption people brought to yesterday's argument about Harry Potter: that fiction is or ought to be about developing some cognitive skill, like memory, as opposed to inculcating a set of norms and ideas that we can judge good or bad.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:36 PM
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186: It is gravity, just other things too. And it's a kind of rainbow as well.

I just realized a couple weeks ago that it could be titled, V. 2: Gravity's Rainbow.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:46 PM
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That's spectactular, fm. Someone must have come up with it before sometime, but it's great.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 1:48 PM
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I'm more than a little behind here, but I'll chime in to say that I just finished teaching a class on The Big Novel, in which 20 undergrads read Gravity's Rainbow, Underworld, Infinite Jest, and Cryptonomicon in 14 weeks. And, I dare to say, got a lot out of each of them, though different students got different things out of each of them. And no doubt, if they were as old as me, looking back at the four novels any one of them could break into a chorus of "one of these things is not like the others," but which one they'd be referring to would be different in each case.


Posted by: KF | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:03 PM
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"Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man did nothing for me, either"

oh, I am sad.

text and I are going to have a pint together before someone forces us to admit Byron was no good.


Posted by: Joe Drymala | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:04 PM
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Has anyone here read Against The Day?

hmmm. i think some people upthread were talking about it.


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:06 PM
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This thread reminds me how much I miss reading.

It's been a while since I've had energy to read anything more than blogs and magazines with any regularity.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:13 PM
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DiKotimy:

Quick paste from Wikkip:

"The novel is regarded by some as the greatest postmodern work of 20th century literature, while others have declared it unreadable.

The three-member Pulitzer Prize jury on fiction supported Gravity's Rainbow for the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. However, the other eleven members of the fourteen-member Pulitzer board overturned this decision, calling the book "unreadable," "turgid," "overwritten," and "obscene," with one member confessing to having gotten only a third of the way through it."

I agree with both. But I loved it.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:13 PM
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people upthread Oops, thanks.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:16 PM
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You guys should really come see my new band, JR and The Recognitions. We're PoMo-licious.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:28 PM
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190: A friend of mine's boy hates "Triplets of Belleville" because the triplets kill and eat a bunch of frogs. To him, that's all that movie is.

My daughter has very limited film experience, but she reactions widely to scary situations - for instance, she loves Totoro, but hates and is terrified of the scene where a goat tries to take Mei's corn. It's a few seconds, but it colors her whole experience. Yet she still watches, and sometimes doesn't even cry at that point. Other times, we have to turn it off (she's also a bit freaked out when Mei and Satsuki are reunited, but she's too young to understand being lost, so she doesn't really get it). She also thinks of Charlotte's Web as the movie where the pig has to move away from the little girl. I guess (spoiler alert) Charlotte's death is too abstracted for her - she asks about it, but doesn't cry.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:36 PM
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I think I'm going to use "Hair-Trigger Twat" as the title of my autobiography.

In related news, do you think you'd be able to learn linear algebra from just leafing through a book on linear algebra without working through the proofs and doing the problem sets? It's only in literature that anyone expects they're going to get the full understanding by cruising.

There's nothing wrong with cruising through proper texts - it's basically the only way I read maths and economics books these days - but it's good to occasionally put the hard work in to satisfy yourself that you can actually read a novel if you want to.

Someone who only reads Harry Potter books or science fiction or whatever seems to me to uncomfortably akin to the person who reads Freakonomics as a substitute for a proper book, or reads pop science books but never touches proper science - not actually bad or anything, but with a really really limited view of things.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:41 PM
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I just finished teaching a class on The Big Novel, in which 20 undergrads read Gravity's Rainbow, Underworld, Infinite Jest, and Cryptonomicon in 14 weeks

Pity that Gaddis didn't make the cut, tho I certainly understand the limitation.

Dunno how Infinite Jest gets treated as somehow inaccessible; it was my flu book when I was in NYC -- both times that I came down with flu, I sat in bed for 3 days reading IJ and laughing and getting better. (It helped a bit that I was in a love/hate relationship with someone with the same name as the unfortunate dog.)


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:49 PM
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"Has anyone here read Against The Day?"

Is that an early Bellows book? Yeah, and Herzog, Henderson, Sammler. I read Herzog before I reached puberty, which is ridiculous.

I think J.R. is a little more interesting formally than substantially, the military/industrial/financial complex as infantilism is a little cliched, but it is fascinating how easily hundreds of pages of pure dialogue go down.

192:I thought the V.2's (hmmm) landed supersonic, and I didn't think gravity could do that. I am no physicist.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:49 PM
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198 - You can sensibly make a case the Science Fiction Writers of America failure to give Gravity's Rainbow a Nebula is the moment when everything started to go wrong.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:51 PM
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I thought the V.2's (hmmm) landed supersonic, and I didn't think gravity could do that


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 2:53 PM
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I WILL conform to the house style!

Someone who only reads Harry Potter books or science fiction or whatever seems to me to uncomfortably akin to the person who reads Freakonomics as a substitute for a proper book, or reads pop science books but never touches proper science - not actually bad or anything, but with a really really limited view of things.

...well, a really really limited view of literature, at least. But then we're back to the whole "and why is literature so crucial, vicar?" thing.

I guess I'd rather cut to the chase and judge a society based on its level of inequality, access to health care, availability independent news, etc than argue that reading worthy novels creates people who will in turn demand all those things. Yeah, reading is fun and thought-provoking if done properly. But so are lots of other things. And since we're already proposing utopias (where people read a lot of the proper books and are hence good citizens) we can also, certainly, imagine a utopia where people have no time for novels but are none the less good citizens living in a delightful society.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:12 PM
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202:In related news, do you think you'd be able to learn linear algebra from just leafing through a book on linear algebra without working through the proofs and doing the problem sets?

I have thought that before, yes. It was only sort of true.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:15 PM
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182, thanks for creating my new username.

201, I refused to watch The Little Mermaid as a young lad because I couldn't stand the scene where Ursula is doing all her evil gloating. Too scary, thus making the movie too scary.


Posted by: Spacial Bear | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:17 PM
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208: It's not even sort of true.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:18 PM
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Bleah. I am endlessly depressed by the names of classes I did well in fifteen years ago and now can't remember anything at all about. Linear algebra is the one with the matrices, right?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:22 PM
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210: hey, I passed. I did do the study guide problems, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:24 PM
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not actually bad or anything, but with a really really limited view of things

And for them, the world is magic -- nay, dazzling.


Posted by: slolernr | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:25 PM
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passing has at least some correlation with understanding, sure. But essentially everyone learns maths by doing it (and you noted,you did this too), not reading about it; if they learn it at all. You can get by a bit with reading maths you basically already know, and domain expertise, etc.

If a course is easy enough (not suggesting yours was) you can perhaps get by on just reading it with near-zero understanding and good pattern matching skills, but that doesn't mean much.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:28 PM
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I know a great number of programmers whose livelihood are more or less centered around translating linear algebra tasks into code form and whose formal exposure to the subject could pretty well be summed up as "skimming through a book". Then again, I'm pretty sure most of them would cop to "not actually knowing" LA, including most of the ones with degrees in CS.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:33 PM
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215: Right. The actual linear algebra content of most programming tasks is pretty limited, as is the maths content of many CS degrees. I'm pretty sure that's not what d^2s original comment was addressing, though.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:36 PM
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216: This is in a couple of subfield(s) of programming where linear algebra is much more directly relevant; that is, video game engine programming (me, one of my significant others, and everyone I work with), with some sidelines in movie special effects modelling (some of my co-workers), and actual modelling modelling (me, some co-workers).


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:44 PM
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Way to kill a literature thread, math queers.


Posted by: Anderson | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:44 PM
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You can get by a bit with reading maths you basically already know, and domain expertise, etc.

214: to be completely, brutally honest, I had already run into a lot of the material in other courses, it was pretty easy, and I was really into computer graphics as a kid, so the concepts were all fairly familiar. It was also a stupid way to approach the class.

My first comment was funnier though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:44 PM
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207:

I guess I'd rather cut to the chase and judge a society based on its level of inequality, access to health care, availability independent news, etc than argue that reading worthy novels creates people who will in turn demand all those things.

As often, Frowner, you overgeneralize.

It's not clear to me that anyone has argued with any real dedication for the notion that people who read what you call worthy novels will demand a better socieity. Maybe LB came close, but (not to speak for her, by any means) I suspect she'd qualify that, if she hasn't already.

Frowner? Why wouldn't you just grant that reading more widely, and yes, in the canon -- not Pynchon, Nabokov, or Delillo necessarily --creates more thoughtful citizens?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:46 PM
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math queers

I now desperately need a jacket with this embossed on the back and "Rocky" on the lapel, all Pink Ladies style.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:52 PM
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217: Ok, now we're pretty much talking a large number of simple operations in low dimensional euclidian vector spaces, maybe some quaternions. A slight bit more complicated if you get into things like spherical harmonics. And of course basic optics and classical mechanics This really doesn't cover much of the scope of linear algebra, because there are very specific taskst that are needed.

I don't really see what it has to do with my contention that people learn this stuff by actually doing it, not by reading it over. In my experience a lot of programmers/CS students have trouble with 3D stuff at first not because it's difficult, but because they don't understand the underlying math. Then they play around with it on paper and in code for a bit, and then it's ok.

Things are getting a bit more complex in graphics & modeling, I know (it's not really my area but I've done a little research there). The ones who are pushing it though, have actually learned a bit of the math by working with it.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:53 PM
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A friend of mine's boy hates "Triplets of Belleville" because the triplets kill and eat a bunch of frogs. To him, that's all that movie is.

Dear god, they eat frogs? Definitely not showing that movie to PK.

I refused to watch The Little Mermaid as a young lad because I couldn't stand the scene where Ursula is doing all her evil gloating.

Okay, one: sizeist.

And two: How old are you?!?!?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:53 PM
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221: sweet!


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:54 PM
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Why wouldn't you just grant that reading more widely, and yes, in the canon -- not Pynchon, Nabokov, or Delillo necessarily --creates more thoughtful citizens?

Because there's zero evidence that this is true? And a great deal of evidence to the contrary? And because such a claim is insufferably elitist?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:55 PM
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221: sweet!

I am sorry, this kind of thing is no longer allowed. Soubz is banned.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:56 PM
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220.---As often, Frowner, you overgeneralize.

If there is anything that my short tenure as editor at Hatingoncharlesbird.blogspot.com (don't ask) taught me, it's that statements of this sort tend to escalate conflicts.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:56 PM
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223: I'm not prejudiced against fat octopuses, I'm prejudiced against loud, evil arrogant octopuses.

This was at age 6.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:57 PM
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What is this "elitism" of which people are accused?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:57 PM
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229: You wouldn't understand.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:58 PM
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Nice.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 3:59 PM
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229: I done figured it were them o-pinions what come from all that Heiddegerian book larnin'. Might just be what them gay married fellers done caught in Caleefornyuh though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:00 PM
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Argh! Teh funny, it pwns!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:01 PM
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222: I don't really see what it has to do with my contention that people learn this stuff by actually doing it, not by reading it over. In my experience a lot of programmers/CS students have trouble with 3D stuff at first not because it's difficult, but because they don't understand the underlying math. Then they play around with it on paper and in code for a bit, and then it's ok

No, see, this is my exact experience as well, thus my comment to DS. I, along with some of my modelling-modelling experienced co-workers, occasionally get drafted to try to explain the mathier math to our colleagues whose backgrounds are more in CS or who're strait up autodidact coding geniuses, and because I especially completely suck at this, usually we just throw our hands up in the air and have them poke at the code for a while until they get it.

OTOH, I don't know if that means they "know" linear algebra or not, even the ones who eventually developed something of an understanding of the subject apart from "wat is quaternion lol?"


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:08 PM
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234: I've run into situation like that before. On my oh-hell-with-academia days, I've often thought I should start working (or contracting) in bits of industry like this, just because I know both sides quite well.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:14 PM
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206:I guess in order to learn ballistics by doing I will become cannon fodder in a circus or bribe Armor to take some free shots at Ramadi.

The adjective rather than adverb was a stylistic choice, as was the overinterpretation.

Quoting people back at themselves without further comment is very annoyingly.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:15 PM
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235: 27% of my social circle, 2/3rds of my significant others, and [redacted] all agree: the game industry is fucking awesome. Also: booze.

Apparently the movie special effects crowd is better paid and even drunker, but not quite as fun to work in.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:20 PM
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225:

Because there's zero evidence that this is true? And a great deal of evidence to the contrary? And because such a claim is insufferably elitist?

Arrgh.

Look, I'll think about this claim that there's a great deal of evidence against the suggestion that reading (some) great literature makes for a more engaged citizenship.

Sure, I can construct a narrative about that. "Evidence," though?

Hey! Let's all just read the Bible and shit, and, um, the Farmer's Almanac. That sufficed for many generations, and the world was less fucked up.

For the record: at least half of my comments to this blog are intended as devil's advocacy. JM notes that I said something inflammatory: I apologize.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:22 PM
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Oh wait shit shit someone redact the [redacted] bit, I don't he's outed himself as working in the industry?


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:22 PM
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yeah, that's what i've heard too. might be fun for a while, and I suspect they can find room for a math/physics/coder type. I've heard the money is a hell of a lot better in financial coding, but that wouldn't be much fun.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:25 PM
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The game industry, in my experience, is fairly fun, but game programmers tend, in my experience, to be arrogant tools with minimal social skills. Perhaps I just don't know the right ones.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:26 PM
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autodidact coding geniuses My experience with these is that they do not generalize math, they understand particular problems well. Beginning with the definition of a Jacobian is not helpful for these people. Start with the cross product in 3-D, say, and explain that it can be generalized this way.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:27 PM
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at least half of my comments to this blog are intended as devil's advocacy

Because otherwise we all agree all the time? Just, you know, say what you think.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:27 PM
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241 "game" is redundant.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:27 PM
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244 continued. by which i mean, there is a % of people coding across most of the industry who fill this stereotype, and so get focussed on a bit.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:29 PM
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244: they're the worst, though.

Surprisingly, the movie Grandma's Boy had the most realistic depiction of a video game company I've ever seen.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:30 PM
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I have only hearsay about the financial coding stuff, but if you're in anything remotely earth sciencesy, I'd stay far away from the energy industry. A friend of mine basically went academia -> US geological survey -> Big Oil for a number of years, and it was exactly as soul-crushing as you'd imagine, although he eventually got citizenship and his first house out of it.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:30 PM
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242 is a good point. A lot of people like this are plenty clever but not really interested in abstractions. They won't learn what they can't use, but will get a good working knowledge of things they can see how to apply fairly immediately.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:30 PM
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Parsimon, I do not overgeneralize. I infer. (Accurately or not as the case may be.) All this havering around trying to justify great literature (now under the guise of "the canon"--hey, 1991 called asking for its major cultural debate back!)...trying to justify great literature because it does something moral for people.

And what's the point of "doing something moral for people"? On this blog, I tend to assume that it's to make society better rather than to get everyone to heaven. So I assume that when people are made better by literature they will strive without cease to make society better. I think that's not an overgeneralization; I think it's a genuinely present subtext.

It's not that I think that one can't become more thoughtful by reading; it's that I don't think that reading is the only way to become more thoughtful, and I particularly do not think that canonical literature is more beneficial than anything else. Reading canonical literature thoughtfully is a great way to get good grades in much coursework, a fun way to pass the time, a possible entrance into the paradise that is graduate school, an interesting source of conversation--but does it make people "better"? I doubt it.

Of course, perhaps I've just been improved so much by my reading that I am am too full of charity to recognize everyone else's flaws.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:32 PM
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247: yeah, that can be pretty bad from what I've heard, too. I know a couple of people who've walked out of academia into $250k/year ish salaries in financial stuff, but you need to have the right background and be ok with that sort of work. It didn't sound like much fun, but the pay is a big jump from where they were in academia.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:32 PM
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240: Why would it be less fun? The work hours demanded or having to work with bankers? I personally much prefer the math involved in finance to that (I assume is) involved in 3D modelling.

Where do the programmers use quaternions? I can't imagine a 4-dimensional vector space being all that useful for any graphical purposes.


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:33 PM
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251: time: the fourth dimension!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:35 PM
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247: for what it's worth though, no, I'm not even remotely earth-science-y. I'm a mathematician with a decent undergrad background in physics to and real programming experience. At some level this stuff transfers more across fields the more math you have --- I could in theory work on propogation problems, etc (i.e. energy sector) because I know something about harmonic/functional analysis, not because I know anything about geophysics. Same applies to lots of fields.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:36 PM
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223: The frog-eating scene in Triplets is actually pretty cute, I thought, in a mildly comedic gross-out sort of way. Plus, the rest of the film is super-awesome and features one of the greatest movie pooches of all time.

234: thus my comment to DS

Hmmm, I think you've someone else in mind there? Or have I just totally lost track of this thread?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:36 PM
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I'll overgeneralize. Computer work in any mature industry is terrible, because programmers are not seen as having anything interesting to say to management. When things are changing rapidly, programmers have useful insight, and are worth talking to, even if they are slightly autistic. The trick is to balance this with job security, or at least being able to keep your kid in the same school district.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:38 PM
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251: Transforms, mostly. Occasionally more obscure sorts of pathing code, when you're dealing with turning radiuses (ii?). Although, yeah, it's not something you run into all that often, which is why it tends to trip people up.

And I'm going to go out on a limb and say not once has anyone ever gotten high with tacit approval from management in the bathroom of an office full of financial coders.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:41 PM
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251: It turns out to be really useful for tracking rotations. Some interfaces in 3D are nice to represent this way, and avoid the problem I think they call gimbal lock. You can also interpolate nicely along curves with them.

As for fun/less fun thing. My take is that the work environment in a studio (CGI/game) is pretty crazy/fun, whereas the actual work in some finance sector stuff (some of it looks pretty boring to me) could be more interesting. Then again, some of the modelling stuff is getting more interesting too. I'd have to know more about both too say anything more sensible. I suspect where you are in your career and what you want out of it would make a big difference. For what it's worth, I meant the former (environment) sense in the previous comment.

While I don't have any actual plans to go into either, I sometimes wonder about these things.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:42 PM
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These game testers are a sad case.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:43 PM
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256.2 I am pretty sure that's incorrect. Although I'm sure it happens more in the game industry.

There are definitely lots of drugs around the game industry, but seriously, doing huge piles of coke with a bunch of dudes in an undecorated apartment isn't really my style.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:47 PM
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249:

All this havering around trying to justify great literature (now under the guise of "the canon"

I need to back off this.

I will say that my reference to the canon was not terribly heartfelt. I was thinking of things like Plato. I have little interest in justifying whatever counts as great literature these days.

And what's the point of "doing something moral for people"? On this blog, I tend to assume that it's to make society better rather than to get everyone to heaven. So I assume that when people are made better by literature they will strive without cease to make society better.

We're not really in disagreement, although I'd avoid the term "moral." I'd go for something more like soul-building. And my sense of what counts as literature is broad.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:53 PM
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[I know a great number of programmers whose livelihood are more or less centered around translating linear algebra tasks into code form ]

but a) this is for the most part involving the generation of efficient algorithms for handling conceptually rather simple operations which become difficult because they have to be performed on large matrices in sensible amounts of time, isn't it? Ie, there's not much actual linear algebra content, as opposed to the sort of thing that is fairly and squarely part of computer science.

and more importantly b) what you're talking about is an example of people learning to do linear algebra problems through tackling a lot of specific problems and working through them, which kind of supports my point that it's not possible to learn by cruising through the texts, rather than undermining it.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:55 PM
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I would consider your point long since proved, d^2.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 4:58 PM
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259: For what it's worth, this was pot being smoked, and I'm 90% sure it was in the basement, not the bathroom. Same basement were there is still afterhours rocking the fuck out by the bands of various employees, I believe.

261: Yeah, as Sifu says, conceded. Although there's probably some point to be made all in there about credentialism, not that I think that's what you were advocating at all.

To the redactor: thank you very much, my apologies for the fuckup.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:05 PM
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263: I mock, but really I'd love to get back into the industry, albeit in a different role than I was in before.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:09 PM
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264: I've heard a lot of lower level coders and art people are pretty much grist for the mill. no personal experience, but I've chatted with a few people in the industry about it.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:10 PM
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265: well, the testers get treated like dirt, the QA people get treated like slightly nicer dirt, the marketing people are evil aliens, the web people work (for some reason) in marketing, and coders recline atop a pedestal and are fed peeled grapes as they work 150 hour weeks. Still, it beats most other tech jobs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:13 PM
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And what about the sysadmins? WHO WILL THINK OF THE SYSADMINS?


Posted by: Magpie | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:14 PM
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264: Well, despite the constant talk about a downturn, if you have actual significant coding experience, be it in the industry or not, you can pretty much get a job instantly. Everywhere is completely starved for "senior level" programmers/engineers.

Or, what 265 said, just in different terms. Although with art people, especially animators, it seems to be an accepted part of the overall career path, as a holdover from the actual movie studio system. Project ends, and you look for another job, that may or may not be at the same studio, but will almost certainly include a number of your current set of co-workers.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:14 PM
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Oh. Put the art people someplace in the "dirt" category.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:14 PM
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They think of you. Naked.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:15 PM
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Meh. No wonder they won't hire me.


Posted by: Magpie | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:18 PM
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You forgot level designers. They're definitely dirt, and lower than the artists/animators (who have marketable, fungible-across-other-industries skills that could to some degree be called "technical".)


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:19 PM
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268: Yeah, I slung code (e.g. several hundred thousand line systems) around for a while before grad school, amongst other things, so I always figured I could go somewhere in industry as a coder/analyst/whatever without too much trouble. Not sure what sort of crazy hours I'd be happy with these days, though.


Posted by: soubzriquet | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:20 PM
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272: right, I would put them right above QA, and right below art.

Really, I'd like to break back in as a game designer. Since I know how likely that is, and what "game designer" actually means in the industry these days, I imagine it will remain a pleasant fantasy.

I could probably talk my way into a project management job, but who wants that hassle?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:21 PM
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I know of studios where designers are treated pretty well and are actually close to the top of the heap (or there is no heap per se), but one was founded by a coterie of designers, one is so indie they've only ever published one game and will probably sell out soon, and the third isn't in the US, and their weirdness can be blamed on their being crazy Euro socialist cheese-eaters.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:32 PM
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Err, that wasn't very helpful, was it? Blah.

A possibly useful point if you're seriously thinking about it: most studios I know of, including mine, actually treat their contractor types of any sort better than regular employees. Or at least, they're largely excluded from the hierarchy bullshit and treated politely by all, regardless of what heinously exploitive contract conditions they're working under.


Posted by: Lunar Rockette | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 5:38 PM
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I'll think about this claim that there's a great deal of evidence against the suggestion that reading (some) great literature makes for a more engaged citizenship.

Sure, I can construct a narrative about that. "Evidence," though?

I submit Weimar Germany as one example.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 7:09 PM
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Goddamn italics. If you want house style, fix the code.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 07-18-07 7:11 PM
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