>> Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kimby did a week of memes last week, and I resisted most of them but I could not say "no" to her Friday entry:

1. Take five books off your bookshelf.
2. Book #1 -- first sentence
3. Book #2 -- last sentence on page fifty
4. Book #3 -- second sentence on page one hundred
5. Book #4 -- next to the last sentence on page one hundred fifty
6. Book #5 -- final sentence of the book
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph....

Well, alrighty then. That's actually pretty cool. So let me go pull five books at semi-random--no, better yet! Let me pull four books at semi-random and the novel I'm reading right now. Hang on a sec....

Castle, ever since he had joined the firm as a young recruit more than thirty years ago, had taken his lunch in a public house behind St. James Street, not far form the office. It's there, one day, she said, and you can look at it, and touch it, and know whether or not it's good. The widow was left in affluence; but reverses of various kinds had befallen her; a bank broke, an investment failed, she went into a small business and became insolvent, then she entered into service, sinking lower and lower from housekeeper down to maid-of-all-work, never long retaining a place, though nothing peculiar against her character was ever alleged. He gestured at the gallery. The cults of the famous and the dead.

Hrm. It sort of works for the first two sentences, and then goes off the rails. And the funny irony of that the interminable sentence that sends it careening off into the ditch is, aptly, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, the man who posthumously gave his name to the infamous Bulwer-Lytton awards, a contest to come up with the worst bit of prose you can. (The UCF's very own Matt is a previous dishonorable mention, by the way--let's give Matt a... um... Matt, do we give you a hand or a big raspberry for coming up with a brilliant and noteworthy snip of appalling prose? How about both? Everybody, a round of applause and a loud farting noise for Matt!)

The sources for our Burroughs-esque travesty of a paragraph were (drum roll, please):

  1. My current novel reading: Graham Greene's The Human Factor;
  2. William Gibson's Idoru. Notice how Gibson's sentence (unlike Bulwer-Lytton's) is complex but short--yeah, modern writing, people, gotta love it;
  3. H.P.Lovecraft's Book of Horror, edited by Stephen Jones and Dave Carson, which just happened to fall open on page fifty to "The House And The Brain" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a story which I cannot remember at all, not to save my life. Book Of Horror has a misleading title, in a way: it begins with HPL's essay, "Supernatural Horror In Literature," a survey of what HPL thought worked and didn't work in weird fiction up to that point, and then the remainder of the volume consists of twenty-one of the short stories (or sometimes just the writers) HPL mentioned favorably and unfavorably in his essay. One looking at the title might think it's an HPL anthology, but it's not--it's something a bit more interesting than that. Except, maybe, for the Edward Bulwer-Lytton story.
  4. Demonology by Rick Moody. This is a mostly-decent anthology of short stories by the same guy who wrote the novels Garden State and The Ice Storm, neither of which I've read or seen (the movie adaptations, I mean; I heard they're pretty good). The story the particular line in the paragraph here is from turns out to be "The Carnival Tradition," more of a novella really, and not the strongest piece in the book.
  5. And, finally, one of my favorite novels--not exactly on purpose and not exactly randomly, either: Don DeLillo's classic, White Noise. I really do recommend this one, unless you have a hard time dealing with surrealistic postmodern angst (and I'm aware that phrase will put some of you off; oh well). Noise is one of DeLillo's two major masterpieces alongside his fictional biography of Lee Harvey Oswald, Libra.
  6. DeLillo is one of the most powerful writers I know of, and Noise--a comical look at death and middle-class angst--is some of his best stuff.

And that, friends and neighbors, is my participation in what turned out to be last week's meme week. Thank you, Kimby, for the idea I stole; I hope all your tests were aced and your weekend was a happy one.


John the Scientist Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 7:48:00 AM EST  

Well, "postmodern" in that context does not put me off, because the term "postmodern" has been, appropriately enough, filled with enough different connotations and meanings to make it essentially meaningless. I know I'm guilty of lumping the postmodernists in with the post-structuralists, although in my defense they themselves generally deliberately obfuscate their somewhat arbitrary boundary.

In this case "postmodernist" seems more closely aligned to the meaning "post-industrial", and I can live with angst about that as a basis for a book. :p

Eric Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10:14:00 AM EST  

A little bit of both meanings and one more, John. White Noise is explicitly "post-industrial"; but it's also "postmodern" in the academic/philosophical sense that meaning and the meaning of meaning are recurring themes in DeLillo (e.g. one of the themes in Libra is the way secrecy degrades reality by redefining it; throughout White Noise there's a question over whether the news media are reporting reality or defining it, and the characters' academic pursuits--the main character is a college professor--and the way they live their personal lives are about finding Truth or inventing it). However, John, you might still enjoy this stricter postmodernism in Noise because it's actually handled with a sort of satirical tone/intent--DeLillo and the reader implicitly are meant to understand that the characters' postmodernist attempts to order their lives are really a bit silly: they're spending more time thinking about reality than living it.

The third meaning of "postmodernist" in Noise is the historical sense--the term is frequently used to describe the post WWII era (with the end of the 19th century through the World Wars being described as "modern"). This is more than just setting--DeLillo's themes and the concerns of his characters really couldn't have existed before the 1950s.

It's a book I love, but if you're interested in trying some DeLillo, I think Libra is a little more accessible (perhaps because of its subject), with Noise being a good follow-up if you find you like DeLillo's style.

John the Scientist Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10:52:00 AM EST  

Postmodernists appropriated that "thinking about the meaning of meaning" as their own. As a historicist, I resent that :p

mattw Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10:52:00 AM EST  

With a two-year-old at home that has just recently discovered the humor in bodily functions, I've got plenty of farting noises in my life, but thanks for the applause (and the rasberries too, because I really wouldn't know what would be appropriate for that contest). The deadline is only a couple months away for this year's competition. Maybe I'll try again. The pittance will be mine.

It's funny how some of the others' paragraphs who picked up this meme worked out and your's didn't (not from any fault of yours of course). It reminds me of a game of exqusite corpse and how sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Now, can we go back to talking about bacon please? A simple 'as you wish' would suffice. :)

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