Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Featured Passage, Sven Birkerts on Contemplation

If you read Tuesday's post on aborted books, you might remember I mentioned Sven Birkerts's ideas on contemplation.  Here is a very smart, and very true, paragraph from his article "Reading in a Digital Age," which appeared in the American Scholar.  Enjoy, especially his concluding sentence!

  "Reading the Atlantic cover story by NicholasCarr on the effect of Google (and online behavior in general), I find myself especially fixated on the idea that contemplative thought is endangered. This starts me wondering about the difference between contemplative and analytic thought. The former is intransitive and experiential in its nature, is for itself; the latter is transitive, is goal directed. According to the logic of transitive thought, information is a means, its increments mainly building blocks toward some synthesis or explanation. In that thought-world it’s clearly desirable to have a powerful machine that can gather and sort material in order to isolate the needed facts. But in the other, the contemplative thought-world—where reflection is itself the end, a means of testing and refining the relation to the world, a way of pursuing connection toward more affectively satisfying kinds of illumination, or insight—information is nothing without its contexts. I come to think that contemplation and analysis are not merely two kinds of thinking: they are opposed kinds of thinking. Then I realize that the Internet and the novel are opposites as well."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Aborted Books

This past week, I stopped reading two books.  Since identity is often determined as much by dislikes as by likes, it seems worthwhile to consider these aborted books.

You’ll remember that a couple weeks back I read Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge.  I thought I would complete the set and read Mr. Bridge, published 10 years later.  Like Mrs. Bridge, Mr. Bridge is composed of short chapters with witty titles, and, like Mrs. Bridge, Mr. Bridge is plotless as far as I could tell.  I read 170 pages of an edition with 367 pages total, 46% of the book.  This was enough to tell me that in its overall aim, Mr. Bridge seems very much like Mrs. Bridge, except for the difference that Mr. Bridge’s life is a little more public and exterior than Mrs. Bridge’s—after all, he’s the one who makes money and makes decisions.  Perhaps this explains the increased amount of dialogue in Mr. Bridge, which is not as strong a suit for Connell as his ability to narrate slightly odd yet wholly lifelike scenarios, the technique that dominates Mrs. Bridge.  Still, because he is more in the public arena and yet like his wife in many ways, Mr. Bridge comes across as bigoted when he takes those limitations into the public sphere rather than burying them in the private sphere, as Mrs. Bridge does.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Featured Passage, Light in August

In this scene, Joe Christmas, an 18 year-old, has returned to a restaurant to see again a waitress he saw once before.  Enjoy!

He believed that he could not leave now; that if he tried to go out, the blonde woman would stop him.  He believed that the men at the back knew this and were laughing at him.  So he sat quite still on the stool, looking down, the dime clutched in his palm.  He did not see the waitress until the two overlarge hands appeared upon the counter opposite him and into sight.  He could see the figured pattern of her dress and the bib of an apron and the two bigknuckled hands lying on the edge of the counter as completely immobile as if they were something she had fetched in from the kitchen.  "Coffee and pie," he said.

Her voice sounded downcast, quite empty.  "Lemon cocoanut chocolate."

In proportion to the height from which her voice came, the hands could not be her hands at all.  "Yes," Joe said.

The hands did not move.  The voice did not move. "Lemon cocoanut chocolate.  Which kind."  To the others they must have looked quite strange.  Facing one another across the dark, stained, greasecrusted and frictionsmooth counter, they must have looked a little like they were praying: the youth countryfaced, in clean and spartan clothing, with an awkwardness which invested him with a quality unworldly and innocent; and the woman opposite him, downcast, still, waiting, who because of her smallness partook likewise of that quality of his, of something beyond flesh. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Faulkner the Acrobat: Reflections on Light in August

One of the most useful graduate courses I took was called “Structure of the Novel.”  So often, studying writing has to do not with learning something new but with heightening a conscious awareness of something you have previously registered only naturally and vaguely.  “Structure of the Novel” was one such awareness-heightening course, and it comes to mind today because I have just finished reading a book with nearly unparalleled structural acrobatics: Faulkner’s Light in August.