Very, very good music. Early punk rock out of New York. Television, “See No Evil,” from Marquee Moon, 1979. The lyrics are poetic, reminiscent of symbolist poetry like Baudelaire and Verlaine. In fact, the lead singer took his stage name, Tom Verlaine, from the famous French poet. Truly fine music from a beautiful era that was defined by its very special and timeless music. Damn this takes me back.
“Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones, off the Aftermath album, their fourth album, 1966. The lyrics are about grief, death, and sex. Hey, I like that combo. The Stones always were pretty dark and evil to the Beatles sunny day stuff. But that’s ok. The world’s pretty dark and evil anyway, might as well sing about it, no? This is actually raga rock, or rock music with an Indian influence. This song does sound Indian, doesn’t it? Wow, I never knew that, and here I am, listening to this song for 45 years and I finally figure this out. This was one of the first songs to use a sitar, the Indian instrument.
Jagger said he based the song on James Joyce’s Ulysses, from which the line, “I have to turn my head until my darkness grows” with its theme of desperation and desolation. Well, at least he reads the classics.
I see a red door
And I want it painted black
No colors anymore
I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by
Dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head
Until my darkness goes
I see a line of cars
And they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love
Both never to come back
I’ve seen people turn their heads
And quickly look away
Like a newborn baby
It just happens everyday
I look inside myself
And see my heart is black
I see my red door
I must have it painted black
Maybe then, I’ll fade away
And not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up
When your whole world is black
No more will my green sea
Go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing
Happening to you
If I look hard enough
Into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me
Before the morning comes
I see a red door
And I want it painted black
No colors anymore
I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by
Dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head
Until my darkness goes
I wanna see it painted
Black as night
Black as coal
I wanna see the sun
Blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it painted, painted, painted
Painted black, yeah
“La Grange” by ZZ Top, off their great third album, Tres Hombres. Their first two albums, ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud, didn’t sell real well, but this one really hit the spot. They were these sort of hippie redneck freaks from Texas playing this weird country/blues/jam boogie Southern rock.
The lyrics to the song are about a famous brothel in La Grange, Texas called The Chicken Ranch. This brothel was also the theme of the play Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. After all these years, I had no idea the song was about that!
This music jams like Hell! They just don’t make music like this anymore.
Rumor spreadin’ a-’round in that Texas town
’bout that shack outside La Grange
and you know what I’m talkin’ about.
Just let me know if you wanna go
to that home out on the range.
They gotta lotta nice girls ah.
A haw, haw, haw, haw, a haw.
A haw, haw, haw.
Well, I hear it’s fine if you got the time
and the ten to get yourself in.
A hmm, hmm.
And I hear it’s tight most ev’ry night,
but now I might be mistaken.
hmm, hmm, hmm.
Ah have mercy.
James Schipper: Many people believe that the Moors, that is Northern Africans, are black. Of course, the Moors are the Berbers and Arabs, who are definitely not black. Before the Arab conquest of all of Northern Africa, there were various people white peoples there and they were all Christianized.
The Romans possessed all of Northern Africa. They didn’t refer to that part of their Empire as black. Were the inhabitants of Carthage black? Was Cleopatra black?
If we look at the inhabitants of the 5 Northern African countries today, we will find that they vary between white and brown. Anwar Sadat could be described as brown, and el-Sisi could easily be Italian or Portuguese. This is surprising since the Arabs imported so many slaves from black Africa.
I believe moor just meant “dark.” And the Berbers were quite probably darker than the average Spaniard. They average 13% Black blood. They basically just look like Arabs.
Egypt has quite a bit of Black blood. 30% overall. 20% in the north and 40% in the South in Lower Egypt.
Libya also has a lot of Black blood, especially in the south. The south of Algeria is very Black, as is the south of Morocco. Most of those countries get a lot Blacker as you get into their southern regions.
The Sheltering Sky is an excellent movie by Bernardo Bertolucci, adopted from a novel by the great Paul Bowles.
In the movie, a European couple go to Tangier. The husband gets sick of some disease, maybe cholera, and dies. The wife becomes lost and takes up with a camel caravan heading south. They head down into lower Morocco, Algeria, and Niger. In the movie, that area is very Black. It’s also deeply Islamic. The photography and the movie in general is spectacular. Highly recommended.
Anyone here read Paul Bowles?
I read a book of his short stories. They’re too much! He was basically gay and his wife Jane Bowles was basically lesbian. Nonetheless they stayed married for a long time. Jane Bowles only wrote one novel and a book of short stories, but they are both said to be excellent. He spent his time picking up teenage Moroccan boys to have sex with.
William S. Burroughs lived in Tangier too for quite some time. In fact, that was where he wrote the famous Naked Lunch. Anybody read it? It’s bad, man!
Burroughs also spent his time smoking hashish and picking up teenage Moroccan boys to have sex with. This behavior is somewhat tolerated in Morocco because women are not accessible to most men, hence there is a lot of situational homosexuality. Nevertheless, the neighbors didn’t take kindly to Burroughs having sex with all those teenage boys, and they used to yell and throw things at him when he was out in the street.
There’s a lot of situational homosexuality in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Syria. Homosexuality is very much proscribed in the region, especially in the Shia parts of the Middle East. Nevertheless, in many Sunni countries, if you keep it on the “down low,” people look the other way.
Bowles spent a lot of time smoking hashish, or kif, as it is called. I had some kif for a while and I was selling it, of course. What else does a drug dealer do with any dope he gets? It was a light green powder, unlike most hashish which comes in blocks that have the consistency of extremely hard chocolate. You carve off pieces of the stuff with a knife and put it in a “hash pipe.” I had a special hash pipe like the kind they use in Morocco.
The stuff’s practically legal in Morocco. If you go to the Atlas Mountains in the north where the Berbers grow the stuff, you will find it everywhere. Photos of Berbers in that part of Morocco show that they are very White.
The Bowles’ both lived in Morocco, mostly in Tangier. This was during a time when Tangier was an “international city” under some sort of “international administration.” As such, there was not much police presence, and it was a haven for drug users and addicts, smugglers, and other low level criminals, street people, beatniks, fugitives, etc. It was a pretty shady place!
The Beats, including Ian Summerville, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Burroughs, used to go to Tangier in the 1950’s to visit Paul Bowles. Most of those men were either gay or bisexual. Burroughs and Ginsberg were gay, Kerouac was definitely bisexual, and Ian Summerville looks suspect to me. The Beats were gay as Hell! Far gayer than the hippies, most of whom looked down on homosexuality.
The original list was derived from a very interesting topic in reading group on the Goodreads site called Brain Pain. It looked so fascinating that I wrote all the authors and books down because really these are same of the greatest books out there. If you read anything on this list, you’re reading a great book. A lot of them are absolutely classics. It’s not a list of easy reading books though, as the books were specifically chosen for their difficulty. Looking down at the 16 books I’ve read on the list, most of them weren’t that hard, and some were downright easy reads.
Have you ready of the books below? Have you heard of any of them? Heard of any of the authors? Which books would you like to read below, assuming you had the time. Are there any errors in my list below. Gimme some feedback, you slackers.
139 Great Difficult Books to Crack Your Brain
- Renata Adler, Speedboat, novel.
- Renata Adler, Pitch Dark, novel.
- Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture,” book chapter.
- Aeschylus, The Oresteia, play.
- Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “Rashomon,” short story.
- Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “In a Grove,” short story.
- Isabel Allende*, Eva Luna, novel.
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass, play.
- Aristotle, Poetics, non-fiction.
- Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric, non-fiction.
- Aristophanes, Lysistrata, play.
- Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye, novel.
- Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, non-fiction.
- Jane Austen, Emma, novel.
- Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement, non-fiction.
- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, non-fiction.
- Djuna Barnes, Nightwood, novel.
- John Barth*, Giles Goat-Boy, novel.
- Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal Read
- Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen
- Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, non-fiction.
- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, non-fiction.
- Jorge Luis Borges*, “The Cult of the Phoenix,” short story.
- Jorge Luis Borges, “The South,” short story.
- Richard Brautigan*, In Watermelon Sugar, novel.
- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, novel.
- Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, non-fiction.
- Mighail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita, novel.
- Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe, novel.
- James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce, novel.
- Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, novel.
- Albert Camus*, The Plague, novel.
- Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, short stories.
- Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel, novel.
- Robert Coover*, The Public Burning, novel.
- Julio Cortazar*, Hopscotch, novel, Read.
- Mark Z. Danielewski, House Of Leaves, novel.
- Marie Darrieussecq, Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation, novel.
- Marie Darrieussecq, My Phantom Husband, novel.
- Don DeLillo, The Body Artist, novel.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground, novel.
- Rikki Ducornet, The Stain, novel.
- T.S. Eliot*, The Waste Land Read
- Euripides, The Trojan Women (The Women of Troy), play.
- Euripides, Medea, play.
- William Faulkner*, Absalom, Absalom!, novel.
- William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury, novel.
- Juan Filloy, Op Oloop, novel.
- Charles Fourier, The Social Destiny of Man, or Theory of the Four Movements, non-fiction.
- Paula Fox, Desperate Characters, novel.
- Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, non-fiction.
- William Gaddis, J R, novel.
- William Gaddis, The Recognitions, novel.
- Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, 100 Years of Solitude, novel, Read
- William Gass*, Middle C, novel.
- William Gass, Omensetter’s Luck, novel.
- William Gass, The Tunnel , novel.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust I & II, play.
- Gunter Grass*, The Flounder, novel.
- H. D., Helen in Egypt
- John Hawkes, The Lime Twig, novel.
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, A Romance, novel. Read.
- E. T. A. Hoffman, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr, novel.
- Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World, novel.
- James Joyce*, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, novel, Read.
- James Joyce, Ulysses, novel.
- Franz Kafka, Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk, short story.
- Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis, novella, Read.
- Anna Kavan, Asylum Piece, novel.
- Anna Kavan, Ice, novel.
- Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness, novel.
- Comte de Lautréamont, The Songs of Maldoror, novel.
- Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook, novel. Read
- Clarice Lispector, Água Viva, novel.
- Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild Heart, novel.
- Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano, novel.
- David Mamet, Faustus, play.
- Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend, novel.
- Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, play.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto , non-fiction, Read.
- Colman McCarthy, Blood Meridian, novel.
- Joseph McElroy, A Smuggler’s Bible, novel.
- James Michener*, The Novel, novel.
- Toni Morrison*, The Bluest Eye, novel.
- Nicholas Mosley, Impossible Object, novel.
- Harumi Murakami, 1Q84, novel.
- Harumi Murakami, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, novel.
- Vladimir Nabakov*, Ada, or Ardor, novel.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Invitation to a Beheading, novel.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Lectures on Literature, non-fiction.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Lolita, novel Read
- Vladimir Nabakov, Pale Fire, novel.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Pnin, novel.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Speak, Memory, novel.
- Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds, novel.
- George Perec, Life, a User’s Manual, novel.
- Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquietude, novel.
- Robert Pirsig, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, non-fiction, Read
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, novel.
- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time, novel.
- Thomas Pynchon*, Against The Day, novel.
- Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, novel, Read
- Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, novel.
- François Rabelais, Gargantua & Pantagruel, novel.
- Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage, Vol. 1: Pointed Roofs, novel.
- Alain Robbe-Grillet*, The Erasers, novel.
- Philip Roth*, The Breast, novel.
- Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo, novel, Read
- Salman Rushdie*, Midnight’s Children, novel.
- Ernesto Sabato, The Tunnel, novel.
- William Shakespeare*, Hamlet, play, Read
- William Shakespeare, Macbeth, play, Read
- Susan Sontag, Death Kit, novel.
- Susan Sontag, On Photography
- Susan Sontag, The Benefactor, novel.
- Sophocles, Antigone, play.
- Sophocles, Oedipus the King, play.
- Sophocles, Electra, play.
- Gilbert Sorrentino, Mulligan Stew, novel.
- Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy, novel.
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, novel. Read
- Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque, novel.
- William Vollman*, Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith, novel.
- William Vollman, Europe Central, novel.
- William Vollman, Fathers and Crows, novel.
- William Vollman, The Ice-Shirt, novel.
- William Vollman, The Dying Grass, novel.
- William Vollman, The Rainbow People, non-fiction.
- William Vollman, The Rifles, novel.
- William Vollman, The Royal Family, non-fiction.
- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, novel.
- David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System, novel.
- Edmund White, The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris, novel.
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, novel.
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando, novel.
- Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, novel.
- Virginia Woolf, The Waves, novel.
- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, novel.
- Marguerite Young, Miss Macintosh, My Darling, novel.
I’ve read 16 out of 139. That works out to 12%. Not bad at all.
Other Works by the Authors Above That I’ve Read Which Were Not on the List
The entries with an asterisk mean that I’ve read other works by them. This list includes 21 of the authors above, and adds 38 more works to the list, this time of works by one of the authors above that I have read that are not listed in the main list.
- Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits
- John Barth, The Sot-Weed Factor and “Life-Story”
- Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones and Labyrinths
- Richard Brautigan, A Confederate General in Big Sur and Trout Fishing in America
- Albert Camus, The Stranger
- Robert Coover, “A Pedestrian Accident”
- Julio Cortazar, “Blow Up”
- T.S. Eliot, All poetry
- William Faulkner, Light in August
- William Gass, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country”
- Gunter Grass, The Dog Years
- James Joyce, Dubliners
- James Michener, The Bridges at Toko-Ri
- Toni Morrison, Beloved, Jazz, and The Sound of Solomon
- Vladimir Nabakov, Bend Sinister and “…If in Aleppo Once”
- Thomas Pynchon, “A Journey into the Mind of Watts”, Slow Learner, The Crying of Lot 49, V, and Vineland
- Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pour un Nouveau Roman (For a New Novel), Dans le Labyrinthe (In the Labyrinth), La Jalousie (Jealousy), Projet pour une Révolution à New York (Project for a Revolution in New York); Souvenirs du Triangle d’Or (Souvenirs of the Golden Triangle), Topologie d’une Cité Fantôme (Topology of a Phantom City), and Le Voyeur (The Voyeur)
- Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy’s Complaint
- Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Voices
- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
- William Vollman, Poor People
Books I Want to Read by the Authors in the First List
Both lists combined gives us 160 authors and 176 books. I’ve now read 54 out of the combined 176 books, which gives us 34%, a much better figure! Except it’s cheating. But oh well.
Here are the books listed above that I would possibly like to read at some point. I left out books that I just don’t want to read right now, and no, I don’t care about Greek playwrights or Aristotle or all the Fausts, sorry.
Notes say how I feel about possibly reading it, whether I am familiar with the author or not and if so how much, a bit about the book or author, it’s status as a classic or not, the country of the author and the period or year when the book was written, whether I’ve read anything else by the author, and finally, length was noted and tallied for very long books, more as a warning than anything else. If there’s no page length after the entry, the book has less than 500 pages and can at least be read by the average human in a reasonable length, unlike the doorstops, which violate that principle.
- Theodor W. Adorno, “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”: Sounds heavy duty. German expat in the US, 1947. Never read him.
- Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “Rashomon”: Yes, classic, Japan, 1915. I know little about this writer. Never read him.
- Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “In a Grove”: Maybe, Japan, 1922.
- Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature: Maybe, supposedly a classic of type, but sounds heavy duty. 625 pages. I don’t know much about him, just hear his name in passing. German expat in Turkey, 1946. Never read him.
- Jane Austen, Emma: Yes, a classic from 1847 UK. Never read her.
- Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams: Maybe, sounds intense. I know very little about this author, France, 1943. Sigh. Never read him.
- Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: Same as above, France, 1958.
- Djuna Barnes, Nightwood: Absolutely! A classic from an American expat in the UK, 1936. Never read her.
- John Barth, Giles Goat-Boy: Quite possibly! I love Barth. But 700 pages! US, 1966.
- Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen: Oh yes. France, 1869.
- Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays: Maybe so, I love Baudelaire. France, 1863.
- Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project: Maybe sounds deep. German expat in Spain, 1940. 1,100 pages! I’m not real familiar with this man or his work. Never read him.
- Jorge Luis Borges, “The Cult of the Phoenix”: Probably, Argentina, 1952. I love Borges.
- Jorge Luis Borges, “The South”: Same, Argentina, 1953.
- Richard Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar: Maybe, US, 1968. I love Brautigan.
- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre: Yes, another classic from 1816 UK. Never read her.
- Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project: I dunno, sounds so intense. 550 pages. US, 1991. Never read her.
- Mighail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita: Absolutely, all-time classic, USSR, 1936. Never read him.
- Dino Buzzati, The Tartar Steppe: For sure, a little known (in the US) classic from Italy 1940. I know almost nothing about this author, but you sure hear a lot about this book. Never read him.
- James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce: Probably, it’s a classic noir from the US 1941. Never read him.
- Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller: Oh yes, a classic for sure, Italy, 1981. Never read him.
- Albert Camus, The Plague: Definitely, famous classic from France 1946.
- Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories: Maybe. I don’t know much about this writer. US, 1979. Never read her.
- Adolfo Bioy Casares, The Invention of Morel: Definitely, classic from Argentina 1940, friend of Borges. Never read him.
- Robert Coover, The Public Burning: Absolutely, another classic from the US, 1977. 550 pages. Read a short story.
- Mark Z. Danielewski, House Of Leaves: Certainly, a recent US classic from 2000. Bizarre, baffling, and innovative. 700 pages! Never read him.
- Marie Darrieussecq, Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation: France, 1996. Never read her.
- Comte de Lautréamont, The Songs of Maldoror: Definitely, classic from 1869 France. Don’t know much about him, though. Never read him.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground: A classic of course from Russia 1864. When I finish Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. The only Dostoevsky I’ve read was 15 pages of The Brothers Karamazov. But those were some fine 15 pages!
- William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!: Sure, a classic, US, South 1931.
- William Faulkner, The Sound and The Fury: I should as it’s one of the greatest books ever, but it’s so intimidating, US South, 1929. Read the first page.
- Juan Filloy, Op Oloop: I really ought to, it’s a classic, out of Argentina 2009. Don’t know much about him other than being associated with the Oulipo School. Never read him.
- William Gaddis, J R: One of the greatest books ever, US, 1955. I need to but it’s so difficult! And 750 pages! Never read him.
- William Gaddis, The Recognitions: Another of the greatest books ever and just as hard as J R, US, 1975. 950 pages! See above.
- William Gass, Middle C: I really need to start reading him, but I hear he’s difficult. The short story I read by him (see above) was out of this world! US, 2013.
- William Gass, Omensetter’s Luck: Same. US, 1966.
- William Gass, The Tunnel: Same, except this one is one of his best. 650 pages! Supposed to be a classic, US, 1995.
- Gunter Grass, The Flounder: I should, his most famous work. 700 pages! Germany, 1977.
- H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), Helen in Egypt: A classic, US expat in Switzerland, 1961. I should but I’ve heard she’s hard as Hell to understand. Never read her.
- John Hawkes, The Lime Twig: Another classic, UK, 1961. Never read him, would be a good place to start.
- James Joyce, Ulysses: One of the top 10 greatest books of the last 200 years, Irish expat in Paris, 1921. Been meaning to forever, got 10-15 pages into it over a period of 40 years. Maybe it’s that 1,000 pages part? Need to get off my ass.
- Yasunari Kawabata, Beauty and Sadness: Possibly, Japan, 1975. I know nothing at all about this writer. Never read him.
- Clarice Lispector, Água Viva: I’ve never read her but I should, Brazil, 1973. I know almost nothing about her. Never read her and might be a good place to start.
- Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild: Heart: See above, Brazil, 1943.
- Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano: Yes, classic story of alcoholism. US expat in Mexico, 1947! Never read him.
- Colman McCarthy, Blood Meridian: For sure! Terrifying but classic. US, 1985. Never read him.
- Joseph McElroy, A Smuggler’s Bible: He’s great but I’ve never read him and this might be a nice place to start. US, 1966.
- Nicholas Mosley, Impossible Object: He’s supposed to be great but I’ve never read him, and this might be a nice beginning. I don’t know him real well. UK, 1968.
- Harumi Murakami, 1Q84: Yes, it’s a classic, Japan, 2010! But 950 pages! Never read him.
- Harumi Murakami, Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Definitely, another of his great books. 600 pages. Japan, 1995.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Ada, or Ardor: Of course, I love Nabokov, especially this, one of his finest. It’s hard to understand though! 625 pages! A major classic, Russian expat in US, 1969.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Invitation to a Beheading: Yes. Russian expat in France, 1936.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Lectures on Literature: Sure. Russian expat in US, 1980.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Pale Fire: For sure, once again, one of his most famous, but it’s supposed to be hard to figure out. A serious classic, Russian expat in US, 1959.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Pnin: Yes. Russian expat in US, 1955.
- Vladimir Nabakov, Speak, Memory: Yes. Various places, Russian expat in 1966.
- Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds: Oh, yes, a little known classic, Ireland, 1939! He’s difficult, but he sounds fun, like Joyce. Never read him.
- George Perec, Life, a User’s Manual: A little known but great book, France, 1978. I know almost nothing about him except the association with the Oulipo Movement out of France. 650 pages! Never read him.
- Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet: One of the greatest books ever, 1935, Lisbon. Read bits and pieces, it’s intense! 550 pages. Never read him.
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar: Really should, classic about mental illness, US, 1963. I’ve read some of her poetry, and it is out of this world!
- Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time: One of the top 10 books of the last 200 years, France, 1927. Why haven’t I read this yet? It’s only 3,200 pages. Slacker! Never read him.
- Thomas Pynchon, Against The Day: Absolutely, one of his best, US, 2006. But it’s 1,100 pages! I’ve read bits and pieces.
- Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon: Of course, another of his finest, US, 1997. 875 pages! I’ve read a few bits of it.
- François Rabelais, Gargantua & Pantagruel: Definitely, it’s an old classic from 1556 France, sounds like a blast, but 1,100 pages! Never read him.
- Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Erasers: I should, as I am almost a Robbe-Grillet completist, France, 1950.
- Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children: A modern classic, Indian expat in the UK, 1981. It’s about his best so I really need to.
- Ernesto Sabato, The Tunnel: Little-known classic. Hear great things about it. Argentina, 1948. Never read him.
- Susan Sontag, Death Kit: Novel, sounds intense, US, 1967. Never read her.
- Susan Sontag, On Photography: Said to be a classic work, US, 1977. Maybe more interesting then the above.
- Susan Sontag, The Benefactor: This one is a novel, so it might be more accessible, US, 1963.
- Gilbert Sorrentino, Mulligan Stew: This is an absolute must, an obscure recent classic, US, 1979. Never read him.
- Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy: A classic from UK 1759 but one of the greatest books of all time. Mandatory reading. 750 pages! Never read him.
- William Vollman, Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith: I probably should read any or all of these. He’s a bit difficult but not real hard, US, 2001. Part of the Seven Dreams series. Very good book, 750 pages!
- William Vollman, Europe Central: See above, US, 2005. Part of the Seven Dreams series. Won the National Book Award. But 850 pages!
- William Vollman, Fathers and Crows: See above, US, 1992. Part of the Seven Dreams series. Said to be excellent. 1,000 pages, though!
- William Vollman, Ice-Shirt: See above, US, 1990. Part of the Seven Dreams series. Good book.
- William Vollman, The Dying Grass: See above, US, 2015. Part of the Seven Dreams series. Excellent book, 1,400 pages, though!
- William Vollman, The Rainbow Stories: See above, US, 1989. Book about prostitutes. Good book.
- William Vollman, The Rifles: See above, US, 1994. Part of the Seven Dreams series. Very good book.
- William Vollman, The Royal Family: See above, US, 2000. Another book about prostitutes. Good book, but 800 pages!
- David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest: I so need to do this, this is one of the top books of the modern era in the last 30 years, US, 2006. He’s hard but I can handle him. And then there’s the part about the book being 1,100 pages. Never read him.
- David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System: Another modern classic, US, 1987. This one might be easier going.
- Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway: One of the greatest books of the last 200 years by one of the top ten greatest authors of the period and the only one that is a woman. But George Eliot might get on a list like that for Middlemarch. The all time classic, UK, 1925. Never read her.
- Virginia Woolf, Orlando: Classic, UK, 1928. Another mind-blower.
- Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out: Another classic, UK, 1915. More great literature.
- Virginia Woolf, The Waves: Yet another classic, UK, 1931. Incredible writing.
- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse: Another super-classic, UK, 1927.
- Marguerite Young, Miss Macintosh, My Darling: Modern classic, US, 1965, rather obscure, I have heard this is out of this world, except for the 1,200 pages! Never read her.
This is a list of another three of the books in the first list, but I have no particular interest in reading any of these at the moment. Since I made a point above about marking long books, these were three of those books that were particularly long.
Books From the List Above I Don’t Particularly Want to Read and Why, Along with Background Information about Them
- Renata Adler, Pitch Dark: I know nothing whatsoever about this author or any of her books.
- Renata Adler, Speedboat
- Aeschylus, The Oresteia: No Greek plays. Why? I dunno!
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass See above.
- Aristotle, Poetics: No Greek philosophers, at least at the moment.
- Aristotle, The Art of Rhetoric: See above.
- Aristophanes, Lysistrata :No Greek plays, though this one is a bit tempting.
- Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye: I like her prose and per poetry in small doses. She’s an incredible writer. Unfortunately, she’s also an typical feminist lunatic and typical feminist silliness and nonsense, a long with a dollop of the usual man-hating and evil male characters, mar her novels. Canada, 2000’s
- Marie Darrieussecq, My Phantom Husband: Well, I researched this author and I plan to break down and read Pig Tales, which sounds like quite a handful right there. First things first.
- Don DeLillo, The Body Artist: This is one his very early novels, I believe the 2nd. His early novels are generally considered to be inferior work to his later awesome novels like The Underground. Wow! US, 1980’s
- Rikki Ducornet, The Stain: She’s up my alley but I don’t know much about her or her books. Give me some time.
- Euripides, The Trojan Women (The Women of Troy): No Greek plays, except this one sounds tempting with the babes in the title. I’ll read any play if it’s about chicks!
- Euripides, Medea: Greek play. Not sure about this one.
- Fourier, Charles: The Social Destiny of Man: Or, Theory of the Four Movements. Frenchman, political scientist and philosopher, maybe an early socialist. France, 1840’s. I know next to nothing about the author and nothing about the book. 700 pages!
- Paula Fox, Desperate Characters: I know nothing whatsoever about this woman or her work.
- Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny: I’ve read a fair amount of his stuff and have some of his books lying around. He’s a much better writer than people think and he’s also a sort of universal genius or Renaissance Man. I’ve never heard of this essay though.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust I & II: The universal genius, but I’m tired of Faust stories. Germany, early 1800’s, 500 pages. I have an affinity for Elective Affinities though. Also the bildingsroman, Sorrows of Young Werther, and while we are at it, how about The Theory of Colors?
- E. T. A. Hoffman, The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr: On the back burner with Richardson, DeFoe, Fielding. I do like Sterne and Swift though – see above, so it’s not an anti-novelists of the 1700’s thing. But Sterne and Swift are wickedly, almost diabolicaly funny. The other three can be too, but another issue is their books are extremely long. Richardson’s Clarissa is one of the longest books ever written.
- Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World: A modern writer. I have heard a bit about her, but know little about her or her work. Never heard of the book.
- Franz Kafka, Josephine the Singer, or The Mouse Folk: Let’s say I finish The Trial first, ok?
- Anna Kavan, Asylum Piece: I know nothing of this woman or her work. Never heard of the book.
- Anna Kavan, Ice: See above, never heard of this book either.
- David Mamet, Faustus: I’ve had enough of Faustus overload for the time being. You might say I have devil fatigue. I plan to spend a lot of time with the fucker later on though, so why add to me mystery by hanging out with him when I’m above ground?
- Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, or The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn, Told by a Friend: Germany, 1920’s. Once again, tired of Faust stories. Death in Venice does beckon over yonder hill though. Has for 40 years now. 550 pages.
- James Michener*, The Novel: Apparently a novel about writing a novel. Metafiction. Gets tiresome after a while, Barth is bad enough this way.
- Toni Morrison*, The Bluest Eye: I’m just sick and tired of her! I’ve already read three of her books. Yes they’re good but no, she’s not James Joyce or even Virginia Woolf. Hell, she’s not even Nora Zeale Thurston! Want a Black woman on the greatest list? Throw Houston on there! She’s as good as Eliot or Woolf. Their Eyes Were Watching God is truly out of this damned world! One of the greatest books ever written and it was written by a Black woman! The endless accolades about Morrison? Guess why? She’s Black! And she’s a woman! She’s an oppressed class times two, poor lass! I’m seeing a lot of 10 greatest books ever with her next to Tolstoy, Melville, Joyce, Eliot, Dostoevsky, and even Virginia Woolf, whose To the Lighthouse barely makes it to 10th place. Now we throw Morrison in with these illustrious gods? I don’t think so. Just get out. I guess affirmative action has come for the great book lists too. Sigh.
- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar: A book about a nutty woman thrown into a mental hospital because she’s crazy and suicidal. Written by a crazy and suicidal woman who eventually killed herself. I guess the book was a premonition. Hard pass. But her poetry though! Read her poetry! Some of the best ever written!
- Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage, Vol. 1: Pointed Roofs: I don’t know much about her or her famous series of books, The Pilgrimage.
- Sophocles, Antigone: Greek play. Nuff said.
- Sophocles, Oedipus the King: This one is a bit tempting though. I’m a total sick fuck and all the Mommy fucking and Daddy murdering has got me real interested, I must say!
- Sophocles, Electra: Greek play again. Yawn. This one’s about a babe though, so my other head says yes, read it.
- Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque: Know nothing about the writer and never heard of the book.
- Edmund White, The Flaneur: A Stroll through the Paradoxes of Paris: Book is set in Paris. Author is an American gay man. And he’s gay with a capital G. Gay as a rainbow. Times 1,000. A coterie of young gay men are all fucking each other and falling in love with each other. They’re all Adonises (obviously). All young gay men in gay fiction are named Adonis. Anyway, that’s the plot. Gross. Now get ready because I’m about to become a total asshole here. This is a fag book! Well, it is. His books are about gay men, often young ones, who are falling in love with other hot young gay men, with lots of jolly buttfucking to pass the time. He is said to be an awesome writer though. And I did plow through William S. Burroughs’ books, and they’re practically out and out gay pornography, dudes fucking dudes all the way through his books. Thinking back, I don’t know I do this. Hey gay writers! Pro tip! Quit writing about male homosexuality and maybe some of us straight guys will read your stuff. In the meantime, you’ve all locked yourself into a ghetto, or better yet, a prison. But there’s plenty of hot sex when you’re behind gay bars in the prison system, so don’t fret!
This is one of the finest descriptions I have ever read of the psychopath. I’ve been studying them for decades now, and I still don’t understand them. They simply don’t make sense. I can’t see how they can do what they do without feeling guilt or caring what others think. With this article though, I am at least starting to get a picture of the inner dynamics of the psychopath.
The work below is a classic, of course, and it is the first major work in psychiatry that attempted to describe psychopathy. It is still just as relevant today as it was 80 years ago. This is a chapter from Cleckley’s book.
It’s intense reading. It’s not so much hard to understand as it is dense. There are some many concepts packed into even one paragraph that it gets slow-going. This is especially true for me as, with an article below, I have to form a “picture” in my mind to truly understand a lot of the prose. When I write I also think in pictures. I get a picture, try to figure out what’s in it and what it’s about, and then set about describing the picture in words the best I can. Most art forms are similar. We writers make paintings and movies in our head, the raw material of our prose.
The section below is 31 pages including my mad scribbling. If there’s anything you can’t understand or follow in this piece, feel free to bring it up in the comments and I will try to explain it as I pretty much understood everything written below. It took me a while, but I did get it.
That said, this piece is a serious “brain fry.” I call brain fries any prose that pushes your mind to its absolute limits, like going to the gym and pushing your body to its limits. You have to go slow because there are so many concepts being pushed so quickly, but if you concentrate hard enough, you can figure out most brain fry prose. A lot of people who like simplistic writing or don’t want to work their brains at Autobahn speed probably think texts like this are a nightmare or a pain in the ass. They’re not having a good time when they’re reading it. It’s one frustration after another.
And just because I understood everything below doesn’t mean everyone else can. Keep in mind I have a genius IQ of 147. So a person with a 147 IQ can muddle through everything below and figure it all out. 99.9% of the population is below 147, and I don’t have the faintest notion how well they can get through stuff like this or how much they can understand of it at different IQ levels. If you understand everything below and know your IQ, you might want to comment to tell us that you got it all, give us your number, and tell us what sort of a ride it was machete slashing through this word tangle.
The Inner Landscape of the Psychopath
From: The Mask of Sanity, by Hervey Cleckley, 1941, 5th edition
The surface of the psychopath, however, that is, all of him that can be reached by verbal exploration and direct examination, shows up as equal to or better than normal and gives no hint at all of a disorder within.
Nothing about him suggests oddness, inadequacy, or moral frailty. His mask is that of robust mental health. Yet he has a disorder that often manifests itself in conduct far more seriously abnormal than that of the schizophrenic.
Inwardly, too, there appears to be a significant difference.
Deep in the masked schizophrenic we often sense a cold, weird indifference to many of life’s most urgent issues and sometimes also bizarre, inexplicable, and unpredictable but intense emotional reactions to what seems almost irrelevant.
Behind the exquisitely deceptive mask of the psychopath the emotional alteration we feel appears to be primarily one of degree, a consistent leveling of response to petty ranges and an incapacity to react with sufficient seriousness to achieve much more than pseudoexperience or quasi-experience. Nowhere within do we find a real cause or a sincere commitment, reasonable or unreasonable. There is nowhere the loyalty to produce real and lasting allegiance even to a negative or fanatic cause.
Just as meaning and the adequate sense of things as a whole are lost with semantic aphasia in the circumscribed field of speech although the technical mimicry of language remains intact, so in most psychopaths the purposiveness and the significance of all life-striving and of all subjective experience are affected without obvious damage to the outer appearance or superficial reactions of the personality. Nor is there any loss of technical or measurable intelligence.
With such a biologic change the human being becomes more reflex, more machinelike. It has been said that a monkey endowed with sufficient longevity would, if he continuously pounded the keys of a typewriter, finally strike by pure chance the very succession of keys to reproduce all the plays of Shakespeare.
These papers so composed in the complete absence of purpose and human awareness would look just as good to any scholar as the actual works of the Bard. Yet we cannot deny that there is a difference. Meaning and life at a prodigiously high level of human values went into one and merely the rule of permutations and combinations would go into the other.
The patient semantically defective by lack of meaningful purpose and realization at deep levels does not, of course, strike sane and normal attitudes merely by chance. His rational power enables him to mimic directly the complex play of human living. Yet what looks like sane realization and normal experience remains, in a sense and to some degree, like the plays of our simian typist.
In Henry Head’s interpretation of semantic aphasia we find, however, concepts of neural function and of its integration and impairment that help to convey a hypothesis of grave personality disorder thoroughly screened by the intact peripheral operation of all ordinary abilities.
In relatively abstract or circumscribed situations, such as the psychiatric examination or the trial in court, these abilities do not show impairment but more or less automatically demonstrate an outer sanity unquestionable in all its aspects and at all levels accessible to the observer. That this technical sanity is little more than a mimicry of true sanity cannot be proved at such levels.
Only when the subject sets out to conduct his life can we get evidence of how little his good theoretical understanding means to him, of how inadequate and insubstantial are the apparently normal basic emotional reactions and motivations convincingly portrayed and enunciated but existing in little more than two dimensions.
What we take as evidence of his sanity will not significantly or consistently influence his behavior. Nor does it represent real intention within, the degree of his emotional response, or the quality of his personal experience much more reliably than some grammatically well-formed, clear, and perhaps verbally sensible statement produced vocally by the autonomous neural apparatus of a patient with semantic aphasia can be said to represent such a patient’s thought or carry a meaningful communication of it.
Let us assume tentatively that the psychopath is, in this sense, semantically disordered. We have said that his outer functional aspect masks or disguises something quite different within, concealing behind a perfect mimicry of normal emotion, fine intelligence, and social responsibility a grossly disabled and irresponsible personality. Must we conclude that this disguise is a mere pretense voluntarily assumed and that the psychopath’s essential dysfunction should be classed as mere hypocrisy instead of psychiatric defect or deformity?
Let us remember that his typical behavior defeats what appear to be his own aims.
Is it not he himself who is most deeply deceived by his apparent normality?
Although he deliberately cheats others and is quite conscious of his lies, he appears unable to distinguish adequately between his own pseudointentions, pseudoremorse, pseudolove, and the genuine responses of a normal person.
His monumental lack of insight indicates how little he appreciates the nature of his disorder.
When others fail to accept immediately his “word of honor as a gentleman,” his amazement, I believe, is often genuine. The term genuine is used here not to qualify the psychopath’s intentions but to qualify his amazement. His subjective experience is so bleached of deep emotion that he is invincibly ignorant of what life means to others.
His awareness of hypocrisy’s opposite is so insubstantially theoretical that it becomes questionable if what we chiefly mean by hypocrisy should be attributed to him.
Having no major values himself, can he be said to realize adequately the nature and quality of the outrages his conduct inflicts upon others?
A young child who has no impressive memory of severe pain may have been told by his mother it is wrong to cut off the dog’s tail. Knowing it is wrong he may proceed with the operation. We need not totally absolve him of responsibility if we say he realized less what he did than an adult who, in full appreciation of physical agony, so uses a knife.
Can a person experience the deeper levels of sorrow without considerable knowledge of happiness? Can he achieve evil intention in the full sense without real awareness of evil’s opposite? I have no final answer to these questions.
Attempts to interpret the psychopath’s disorder do not, of course, furnish evidence that he has a disorder or that it is serious. For reliable evidence of this we must examine his behavior. Only here, not in psychopathologic formulations, can we apply our judgment to what is objective and demonstrable.
Functionally and structurally all is intact on the outside. Good function (healthy reactivity) will be demonstrated in all theoretical trials. Sound judgment as well as good reasoning are likely to appear at verbal levels. Ethical as well as practical considerations will be recognized in the abstract. A brilliant mimicry of sound, social reactions will occur in every test except the test of life itself.
In the psychopath we confront a personality neither broken nor outwardly distorted but of a substance that lacks ingredients without which normal function in major life issues is impossible.
Simon, Holzberg, and Unger, impressed by the paradox of the psychopath’s poor performance despite intact reasoning, devised an objective test specifically to appraise judgment as it would function in real situations, as contrasted with theoretical judgment in abstract situations.
These workers are aware that the more complex synthesis of influences constituting what is often called judgment or understanding (as compared to a more theoretical “reasoning”) may be simulated in test situations in which emotional participation is minimal, that rational factors alone by an accurate aping or stereotyping can produce in vitro, so to speak, what they cannot produce in vivo.
Items for a multiple choice test were selected with an aim of providing maximal possibilities for emotional factors to influence decision and particularly for relatively trivial immediate gratification impulses to clash with major, long-range objectives. The same items were also utilized in the form of a completion test. The results of this test on a group of psychopaths tend to support the hypothetical interpretation attempted in this book.
If such a disorder does indeed exist in the so-called psychopath, it is not remarkable that its recognition as a major and disabling impairment has been long delayed.
Pathological changes visible on the surface of the body (laceration, compound fractures) were already being handled regularly by medical men when the exorcism of indwelling demons retained popular favor in many illnesses now treated by the internist. So, too, it has been with personality disorders. Those characterized by gross outward manifestations have been accepted as psychiatric problems long before others in which a superficial appearance of sanity is preserved.
Despite the psychopath’s lack of academic symptoms characteristic of those disorders traditionally classed as psychosis, he often seems, in some important respects, but not in all, to belong more with that group than with any other. Certainly his problems cannot be dealt with, medically or by any other means, unless similar legal instrumentalities for controlling his situation are set up and regularly applied.
I believe that if such a patient shows himself grossly incompetent in his behavior, he should be so appraised. It is necessary to change some of our legal criteria to make attempts at treatment or urgently needed supervision possible for him, the most serious objections are primarily theoretical. Perhaps our traditional definitions of psychiatric disability can stand alteration better than these grossly defective patients and those about them can stand the present farcical and sometimes tragic methods of handling their problems.
This is not to say that all people showing features of this type should be regarded as totally disabled. It is here maintained that this defect, like other psychiatric disorders, appears in every degree of severity and may constitute anything from a personality trait through handicaps of varying magnitude, including maximum disability and maximum threat to the peace and safety of the community.
In attempting to account for the abnormal behavior observed in the psychopath, we have found useful the hypothesis that he has a serious and subtle abnormality or defect at deep levels disturbing the integration and normal appreciation of experience and resulting in a pathology that might, in analogy with Henry Head’s classifications of the aphasias, be described as semantic.
Presuming that such a patient does fail to experience life adequately in its major issues, can we then better account for his clinical manifestations? The difficulties of proving, or even of demonstrating direct objective evidence, for hypotheses about psychopathology (or about ordinary subjective functioning) are too obvious to need elaborate discussion here.
If the psychopath’s life is devoid of higher order stimuli, of primary or serious goals and values, and of intense and meaningful satisfactions, it may be possible for the observer to better understand the patient who, for the trivial excitement of stealing a dollar (or a candy bar), the small gain of forging a $20.00 check, or halfhearted intercourse with an unappealing partner, sacrifices his job, the respect of his friends, or perhaps his marriage.
Behind much of the psychopath’s behavior we see evidence of relatively mild stimuli common to all mankind. In his panhandling, his pranks, his truancy, his idle boasts, his begging, and his taking another drink, he is acting on motives in themselves not unnatural. In their massive accumulation during his career, these acts are impressive chiefly because of what he sacrifices to carry them out. If, for him, the things sacrificed are also of petty value, his conduct becomes more comprehensible.
Woolley, in an interesting interpretation of these patients, compared them with an otherwise intact automobile having very defective brakes. Such an analogy suggests accurately an important pathological defect which seems to exist.
In contrast with an automobile, however, the braking functions of the human organism are built into the personality by reaction to life experience, to reward and punishment, praise and blame, shame, loss, honor, love, and so on. True as Woolley’s hypothesis may be, it seems likely that more fundamental than inadequate powers to refrain is the inadequate emotional reactivity upon which the learning to refrain must be based.
Even with good brakes on his car, the driver must have not only knowledge of but also feeling for what will happen otherwise if he is to use them correctly and adequately.
Some of the psychopath’s behavior may be fairly well accounted for if we grant a limitation of emotional capacity. Additional factors merit consideration.
The psychopath seems to go out of his way to make trouble for himself and for others.
In carelessly marrying a whore, in more or less inviting detection of a theft (or at least in ignoring the probability of detection), in attempting gross intimacies with a debutante in the poorly sheltered alcove just off a crowded ballroom, in losing his hospital parole or failing to be with his wife in labor just because he did not want to leave the crap game at midnight (or at 3 A.M.), in such actions there seems to be not only a disregard for consequences but an active impulse to show off, to be not discreet but conspicuous in making mischief.
Apparently he likes to flaunt his outlandish or antisocial acts with bravado.
When negative consequences are negligible or slight (both materially and emotionally), who does not like to cut up a little, to make a bit of inconsequential fun, or perhaps playfully take off on the more sober aspects of living? Dignity might otherwise become pompousness; learning, pedantry; goodness, self-righteousness.
The essential difference seems to lie in how much the consequences matter. It is also important to remember that inclination and taste are profoundly shaped by capacity to feel the situation adequately. A normal man’s potential inclination to give the pretty hatcheck girl $100.00 would probably not reach awareness in view of his knowledge that this would result in his three children’s not having shoes or in his having to humiliate himself by wheedling from a friend a loan he will never repay.
If, as we maintain, the big rewards of love, of the hard job well done, of faith kept despite sacrifices, do not enter significantly in the equation, it is not difficult to see that the psychopath is likely to be bored. Being bored, he will seek to cut up more than the ordinary person to relieve the tedium of his unrewarding existence.
If we think of a theater half-filled with ordinary pubertal boys who must sit through a performance of King Lear or of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, we need ask little of either imagination or memory to bring to mind the restless fidgeting, the noisy intercommunication of trivialities, the inappropriate guffaws or catcalls, and perhaps the spitballs or the mischievous application of a pin to the fellow in the next seat.
Apparently blocked from fulfillment at deep levels, the psychopath is not unnaturally pushed toward some sort of divertissement. Even weak impulses, petty and fleeting gratifications, are sufficient to produce in him injudicious, distasteful, and even outlandish misbehavior.
Major positive attractions are not present to compete successfully with whims, and the major negative deterrents (hot, persistent shame, profound regret) do not loom ahead to influence him. If the 12-year-old boys could enjoy King Lear or the Ninth Symphony as much as some people do, they would not be so reckless or unruly.
In a world where tedium demands that the situation be enlivened by pranks that bring censure, nagging, nights in the local jail, and irritating duns about unpaid bills, it can well be imagined that the psychopath finds cause for vexation and impulses toward reprisal. Few, if any, of the scruples that in the ordinary man might oppose and control such impulses seem to influence him. Unable to realize what it meant to his wife when he was discovered in the cellar flagrante delicto with the cook, he is likely to be put out considerably by her reactions to this.
His having used the rent money for a midnight long-distance call to an old acquaintance in California (with whom he bantered for an hour) also brings upon him censure or tearful expostulation. Considering himself harassed beyond measure, he may rise from the dining room table in a petty tantrum, curse his wife violently, slap her, even spit on her, and further annoyed by the sudden weeping of their 6-year-old daughter, throw his salad in the little girl’s face before he strides indignantly from the room.
His father, from the patient’s point of view, lacks humor and does not understand things. The old man could easily take a different attitude about having had to make good those last three little old checks written by the son. Nor was there any sense in raising so much hell because he took that dilapidated old Chevrolet for his trip to Memphis.
What if he did forget to tell the old man he was going to take it? It wouldn’t hurt him to go to the office on the bus for a few days. How was he (the patient) to know the fellows were going to clean him out at stud or that the little bitch of a waitress at the Frolic Spot would get so nasty about money? What else could he do except sell the antiquated buggy? If the old man weren’t so parsimonious he’d want to get a new car anyway!
And why did he (the father) have to act so magnanimous and hurt about settling things last Saturday night down at the barracks? You’d think from his attitude that it was the old man himself who’d had to put up with being cooped in there all those hours with louse-infested riff-raff! Well, he’d thanked his father and told him how sorry he was.
What else could a fellow do? As for that damned old Chevrolet, he was sick of hearing about it. His grudge passing with a turn of thought, he smiles with half-affectionate, playfully cordial feelings toward the old man as he concludes, “I ought to tell him to take his precious old vehicle and stick it up his _____!”
Lacking vital elements in the appreciation of what the family and various bystanders are experiencing, the psychopath finds it hard to understand why they continually criticize, reproach, quarrel with, and interfere with him. His employer, whom he has praised a few hours before, becomes a pettifogging tyrant who needs some telling off.
The policeman to whom he gave tickets for the barbecue last week (because he is such a swell guy) turns out to be a stupid oaf and a meddler who can’t mind his own business but has to go and arrest somebody just because of a little argument with Casey in the Midnight Grill about what happened to a few stinking dollar bills that were lying on the bar.
It is not necessary to assume great cruelty or conscious hatred in him commensurate with the degree of suffering he deals out to others. Not knowing how it hurts or even where it hurts, he often seems to believe that he has made a relatively mild but appropriate reprimand and that he has done it with humor.
What he believes he needs to protest against turns out to be no small group, no particular institution or set of ideologies, but human life itself. In it he seems to find nothing deeply meaningful or persistently stimulating, but only some transient and relatively petty pleasant caprices, a terribly repetitious series of minor frustrations, and ennui.
Like many teenagers, saints, history-making statesmen, and other notable leaders or geniuses, he shows unrest; he wants to do something about the situation. Unlike these others, as Lindner has so well and convincingly stressed, he is a “rebel without a cause.”
Reacting with something that seems not too much like divine discontent or noble indignation, he finds no cause in the ordinary sense to which, he can devote himself with wholeheartedness or with persistent interest. In certain aspects his essential life seems to be a peevish bickering with the inconsequential.
In other aspects he suggests a man hanging from a ledge who knows if he lets go he will fall, is likely to break a leg, may lose his job and his savings (through the disability and hospital expenses), and perhaps may injure his baby in the carriage just below. He suggests a man in this position who, furthermore, is not very tired and who knows help will arrive in a few minutes, but who, nevertheless, with a charming smile and a wisecrack, releases his hold to light a cigarette, to snatch at a butterfly, or just to thumb his nose at a fellow passing in the street below.
A world not by any means identical but with some vivid features of both these underlying situations can be found in Huysmans’ Against the Grain and in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. In the satirical novels of Evelyn Waugh, also, an atmosphere difficult to describe sometimes develops – an atmosphere that may give the reader awareness of attitudes and evaluations genuinely illustrative of deeply distorted or inadequate reactions to life.
The leading characters depicted therein show a peculiar cynicism which is more conscious and directed and purposive than the behavior of the psychopath. But none of the characters presented show even an approximate awareness of what is most valid and meaningful and natural in human beings. A negative response to life itself, an aversion at levels more basic than ordinary morals or the infraconscious foundations of taste and incentive, is conveyed subtly and impressively.
It is difficult to illustrate by incident, by the expressed attitude of the characters depicted, or by any clearly implied evaluation of the authors the specific quality of what is evoked in these novels as the essence of an unhappy, mutilated, and trivial universe in which all the characters exist. The sense of pathology pervades to levels so deep that rational scrutiny cannot reach and meet the fundamental implications; nor can inquiry satisfactorily demonstrate its precise source.
If the actual world and man’s biologic scope were only that conveyed in these interesting works, it would perhaps be less difficult to account for obsessive illness and for the psychopath’s career as reasonable reactions to a situation where no course is possible except one profoundly pathological in one way or another.
Thoughtful contemplation of what is depicted in these works of fiction suggests a world as fundamentally altered as what Straus presents as the world of the obsessive patient. In the effective and terse implication of general emotional incapacity in these characters, the authors succeed in evoking awareness of a sort of quasi-life restricted within a range of staggering superficiality.
This, rather than those aspects of the works that apparently brought them popularity, may deserve high literary appraisal as concise and valuable communications of something that is by no means easy to convey in direct language. Such a superficiality and lack of major incentive or feeling strongly suggest the apparent emotional limitations of the psychopath.
What Straus and Havelock Ellis have brought out is not discernible in the reactions of the psychopath. It is, as a matter of fact, somewhat veiled in the reactions of most obsessive patients. Observation of the psychopath makes it increasingly plain, however, that he is not reacting normally to the surroundings that are ordinarily assumed to exist. I cannot clearly define the specific milieu which such a patient encounters and to which his reactions are related.
There is much to suggest that it is a less distinctly or consistently apprehended world than what Straus describes as the inner world of the obsessive patient. It is my belief that it may be a world not less abnormal and perhaps more complexly confusing. We should remember, however, that we have no direct evidence to prove that a deficiency or distortion of this sort exists in the unconscious core of the psychopath.
We can only say that his behavior strongly and consistently suggests it. This discussion has been based, of course. on a hypothesis that the psychopath has a basic inadequacy of feeling and realization that prevents him from normally experiencing the major emotions and from reacting adequately to the chief goals of human life.
Beyond the symptomatic acts of the psychopath, we must bear in mind his reaction to his situation, his general experiencing of life. Typical of psychoneurosis are anxiety, recognition that one is in trouble, and efforts to alter the bad situation. These are natural (“normal”) whole personality reactions to localized symptoms.
In contrast, the severe psychopath, like those so long called psychotic, does not show normal responses to the situation. It is offered as an opinion that a less obvious but nonetheless real pathology is general, and that in this respect he is more closely allied with the psychotic than with the psychoneurotic patient. The pathology might be regarded not as gross fragmentation of the personality but as a more subtle alteration. Let us say that instead of macroscopic disintegration our (hypothetical) change might be conceived of as one that seriously curtails function without obliterating form.
Let us think of the personality in the psychopath as differing from the normal in some such way. The form is perfect and the outlines are undistorted. But being subtly and profoundly altered, it can successfully perform only superficial activities or pseudofunctions. It cannot maintain important or meaningful interpersonal relations. It cannot fulfill its purpose of adjusting adequately to social reality. Its performance can only mimic these genuine functions.
The persistent pattern of maladaptation at personality levels and the ostensible purposelessness of many self-damaging acts definitely suggests not only a lack of strong purpose but also a negative purpose or at least a negative drift. This sort of patient, despite all his opportunities, his intelligence, and his plain lessons of experience, seems to go out of his way to woo misfortune. The suggestion has already been made that his typical activities seem less comprehensible in terms, of life-striving or of a pursuit of joy than as an unrecognized blundering toward the negations of nonexistence.
Some of this, it has been suggested, may be interpreted as the tantrum, like reactions of an inadequate personality balked, as behavior similar to that of the spoiled child who bumps his own head against the wall or holds his breath when he is crossed. It might be thought of as not unlike a man’s cutting off his nose to spite not only his face, but also the scheme of life in general, which has turned out to be a game that he cannot play.
Such reactions are, of course, found in nearly all types of personality disorder or inadequacy. It will perhaps be readily granted that they are all regressive. Behavior against the constructive patterns through which the personality finds expression and seeks fulfillment of its destiny is regressive activity although it may not consist in a return, step by step, or in a partial return to the status of childhood and eventually of infancy. Such reactions appear to be, in a sense, against the grain of life or against the general biologic purpose.
Regressive reactions or processes may all be regarded as disintegrative, as reverse steps in the general process of biologic growth through which a living entity becomes more complex, more highly adapted and specialized, better coordinated, and more capable of dealing successfully or happily with objective or subjective experience. This scale of increasing complexity exists at points even below the level of living matter.
A group of electrons functioning together make up the atom which can indeed be split down again to its components. The atoms joining form molecules which, in turn, coming together in definite orderly arrangement, may become structurally coordinating parts of elaborate crystalline materials; or, in even more specialized and complex fashion, they may form a cell of organic matter. Cells of organic matter may unite and integrate to form the living organism we know as a jellyfish. Always the process is reversible; the organic matter can decompose back into inorganic matter.
Without laboriously following out all the steps of this scale, we might mention the increasing scope of activity, the increasing specialization, and the increasing precariousness of existence at various levels up through vertebrates and mammals to man. All along this scale it is evident that failure to function successfully at a certain level necessitates regression or decomposition to a lower or less complicated one.
If the cell membrane of one epithelial unit in a mammalian body becomes imporous and fails to obtain nutriment brought by blood and lymph, it loses its existence as an epithelial cell. If the unwary rabbit fails to perceive the danger of the snare, he soon becomes in rapid succession a dead rabbit, merely a collection of dead organs and supportive structures, protein, fat, and finally, inorganic matter. The fundamental quest for life has been interrupted, and, having been interrupted, the process goes into reverse.
So, too, the criminal discovered and imprisoned ceases to be a free man who comes and goes as he pleases. A curtailment in the scope of his functioning is suffered-a regression in one sense to simpler, more routine, and less varied and vivid activities.
The man who fails in another and more complex way to go on with life, to fulfill his personality growth and function, becomes what we call a schizophrenic. The objective curtailment of his activities by the rules of the psychiatric hospital are almost negligible in comparison with the vast simplification, the loss of self-expression, and the personal disintegration which characterize his regression from the subjective point of view. The old practice of referring to the extremely regressed schizophrenic as leading a vegetative existence implies the significance that is being stressed.
Regression, then, in a broad sense may be taken to mean movement from richer and more full life to levels of scantier or less highly developed life. In other words, it is relative death. It is the cessation of existence or maintenance of function at a given level.
The concept of an active death instinct postulated by Freud has been utilized by some to account for socially self-destructive reactions. I have never been able to discover in the writings of Freud or any of his followers real evidence to confirm this assumption.
In contrast, the familiar tendency to disintegrate, against which life evolves, may be regarded as fundamental and comparable to gravity. The climbing man or animal must use force and purpose to ascend or to maintain himself at a given height. To fall or slide downhill he need only cease his efforts and let go. Without assuming an intrinsic death instinct, it is possible to account for active withdrawal from positions at which adaptation is unsuccessful and stress too extreme.
Whether regression occurs primarily through something like gravity or through impulses more self-contained, the backward movement (or ebbing) is likely to prompt many sorts of secondary reactions, including behavior not adapted for ordinary human purposes but instead, for functioning in the other direction. The modes of such reactivity may vary, may fall into complex patterns, and may seek elaborate expression.
In a movement (or gravitational drift) from levels where life is vigorous and full to those where it is less so, the tactics of withdrawal predominate.
People with all the outer mechanisms of adaptation intact might, one would think, regress more complexly than can those who react more simply. The simplest reaction in reverse might be found in a person who straightway blows out his brains.
As a skillful general who has realized that the objective is unobtainable withdraws by feints and utilizes all sorts of delaying actions, so a patient who has much of the outer mechanisms for living may retire, not in obvious rout but skillfully and elaborately, preserving his lines.
The psychopath as we conceive of him in such an interpretation seems to justify the high estimate of his technical abilities as we see them expressed in reverse movement.
Unlike the general with the retreating army in our analogy, he seems not still devoted to the original contest but to other issues and aims that arise in withdrawal. To force the analogy further we might say that the retiring army is now concerning itself with looting the countryside, seeking mischief and light entertainment. The troops have cast off their original loyalties and given up their former aims but have found no other serious ones to replace them. But the effective organization and all of the technical skills are retained and utilized destructively.
F. L. Wells has expressed things very pertinent to the present discussion. A brief quotation will bring out useful points:
The principle of substitutive reactions, sublimative or regressive in character, has long been known, but Kurt Lewin’s (1933) experimental construction of the latter is especially apt, if not unquestionable mental hygiene. A child, for example, continually impelled to open a gate it is impossible for him to open, may blow up in a tantrum, grovel on the ground, till the emotion subsides sufficiently for him to become substitutively occupied, as with fragments of gravel and other detritus he finds there, by which he forgets his distress about the gate. […]
The human personality has the adaptive property of finding satisfactions at simpler levels when higher ones are taken away, fortunately so if this keeps him out of a psychosis, otherwise if it stabilizes him in contentment at this lower level (“going native”) or if the satisfactions cannot be found short of a psychosis (MacCurdy, 1925, p. 367). All such cases have the common regressive factor of giving up the higher-level adjustment (opening the gate) with regressive relief at a lower level (playing with the gravel).
Another illustration given by Wells emphasizes features of the concept that are valuable to us:
Consider, for example, the group of drives that center about the concept of self-maintenance, the “living standards” of civilization. This means the pursuit of the diverse means to surround oneself with the maximum of material comfort in terms of residence, food, playthings, etc., for the purchase of which one can capitalize his abilities.
That the normal individual will do this to a liberal limit is taken in the local culture as a matter of course, probably more liberally than the facts justify. For this pursuit involves a competitive struggle beset also with inner conflicts (e.g., ethical), which by no means everyone is able to set aside.
Among regressions specific to this category are those undertakings of poverty common to religious orders, but this regression is quite specific, since these orders often involve their members in other “disciplines” from which the normal individual would flee as far (Parkman, 1867, Chap. 16).
It is quite certain, though hard to demonstrate objectively, that many an individual in normal life regresses from these economic conflicts only in less degree. He does not take the vow of poverty like the monastic, nor does he dedicate himself to the simplified life of the “South Sea Island” stereotype, but he prefers salary to commission, city apartment to suburban “bungalow,” clerical work to (outside) sales.
A thought expressed by William James in 1902 and quoted by Wells deserves renewed attention:
Yonder puny fellow however, whom everyone can beat suffers no chagrin about it, for he has long ago abandoned the attempt to “carry that line,” as the merchants say, of Self at all.
With no attempt there can be no failure; with no failure no humiliation.
So our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do. It is determined by the ratio of our actualities to our supposed potentialities; a fraction of which our pretentions are the denominator and the numerator our success: thus, Self-esteem = Success/Pretensions.
Such a fraction may be increased as well by diminishing the denominator as by increasing the numerator.
To give up pretensions is as blessed a relief as to get them gratified; and where disappointment is incessant and the struggle unending, this is what men will always do.
The history of evangelical theology, with its conviction of sin, its self-despair, and its abandonment of salvation by works, is the deepest of possible examples, but we meet others in every walk of life. .
How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young-or slender! Thank God, we say, those illusions are gone. Everything added to the self is a burden as well as a pride.
Something relevant to the points now under consideration may be found also in Sherrington’s comment on reactions (or inlaid precautions) against unbearable pain or stress in the human organism. He says:
Again in life’s final struggle the chemical delicacy of the brain-net can make distress lapse early because with the brain’s disintegration the mind fades early – a rough world’s mercy towards its dearest possession.
There are, it seems, many ways for this to occur without signs of any change which we yet have objective means to detect, chemically or microscopically. Such changes may occur under the stimulus of agents that do not have direct physical contact with the brain or with any part of the body.
Withdrawal, or limitation of one’s quest in living, appears in many forms.
The decision for taking such a step may be consciously voluntary, but it seems likely that many influences less clear and simple may also play a part. In the earliest years of human life a great deal of complicated shaping may occur, with adaptive changes to promote survival by an automatic refusal (inability) to risk one’s feelings (response) in the greatest subjective adventures. In adult life such decisions sometimes emerge in clear deliberation.
The activity of the psychopath may seem in some respects to accomplish a kind of protracted and elaborate social and spiritual suicide. Perhaps the complex, sustained, and spectacular undoing of the self may be cherished by him. He seldom allows physical suicide to interrupt it.
Be it noted that such a person retains high intelligence and nearly all the outer mechanisms for carrying on the complicated activities of positive life. It is to be expected then that his function in the opposite (regressive) emotional direction might be more subtle than those of a less highly developed biologic entity.
The average rooster proceeds at once to leap on the nearest hen and have done with his simple erotic impulse. The complex human lover may pay suit for years to his love object, approaching her through many volumes of poetry, through the building up of financial security in his business, through manifold activities and operations of his personality functions, and with aims and emotions incomparably more complicated and more profound than that of the rooster.
When complexly organized functions are devoted to aimless or inconsistent rebellion against the positive goals of life, perhaps they may enable the patient to woo failure and disintegration with similar elaborateness and subtlety. His conscious or outer functioning may at the same time maintain an imitation of life that is uniquely deceptive.
Perhaps the emptiness or superficiality of life without major goals or deep loyalties, or real love, would leave a person with high intelligence and other superior capacities so bored that he would eventually turn to hazardous, self-damaging, outlandish, antisocial, and even self-destructive exploits in order to find something fresh and stimulating in which to apply his relatively useless and unchallenged energies and talents.
The more experience I have with psychopaths over the years, the less likely it seems to me that any dynamic or psychogenic theory is likely to be established by real evidence as the cause of their grave maladaptation.
Increasingly I have come to believe that some subtle and profound defect in the human organism, probably inborn but not hereditary, plays the chief role in the psychopath’s puzzling and spectacular failure to experience life normally and to carry on a career acceptable to society. This, too, is still a speculative concept and is not supported by demonstrable evidence.
I published this earlier but I may as well republish it. Let me know what you think.
Masculine and Feminine Characters: An Inquiry into Essential Forms
By Robert Lindsay
In June 1903, the Austrian philosopher Otto Weininger published a great book called Sex and Character – A Fundamental Investigation. He was 23 years old, a mere boy. The book did not receive negative reviews, but it caused little interest either.
Weininger was attacked Paul Julius Mobius, who accused Weininger of plagiarism. Depressed, Weininger left for Italy. He returned to his parents’ house in late September and stayed there for five days.
On October 3, 1903, Weininger checked himself into the building where Beethoven had died, now a small inn. At 3 AM the next morning on October 4, Otto Weininger pointed a pistol at his chest and put a bullet in his heart.
Weininger’s dramatic death quickly made him a cause célèbre in Vienna, inspired several imitation suicides and roused quite a bit of interest in the book.
It was roundly praised, even by Sigmund Freud. Freud had met Weininger the year before. Freud stated that Weininger has a striking air of “genius” about him. Ludwig Wittgenstein also praised the book and stated that it was an influence on his early writings. It was also praised by August Strindberg and even James Joyce
Weininger’s book created quite a stir, and Weininger has been accused of being both a misogynist and a Jewish anti-Semite or self-hating Jew. Both characterizations are probably innacurate.
Nearly 100 years later, Weininger’s book still has its champions, while his reputation has suffered in the era of the Political Correctness and the Cultural Left in the West. Nevertheless, Weininger’s place on the canon of great philosophers seems secure.
Weininger felt that there were two essential characters in human beings, the masculine aspect and the feminine aspect. He felt that both aspects were present in all humans.
In the chart below, I lay out scores of human characterological variables and how the Masculine and Feminine Characters represent each one.
The first five variables are by Otto Weininger, but the last 56 are by me. Please note that I don’t necessarily agree with Weininger’s five variables in total, only that it is a good starting place. I have also used the terms Masculine Principle and Feminine Principle to refer to these terms.
Characters Masculine* Feminine* Principles Activity Active Passive Consciousness Conscious Unconscious Thinking Objective Subjective Genius Yes No Productivity Productive Nonproductive Awareness Conscious Mind Unconscious Mind Energy Generative Receptive Mind Thinking Feeling Emotion Stoic Moody Tactile Callous Sensitive Humor Slapstick Irony Weather Calm Unsettled Temperature Cold Warm Graph Linear Scatterplot Empathy Poor Rich Pain Inflict Receive Confrontation Forward Withdrawal Reaction Contemplative Reactive Style Deliberative Unthinking Intensity Concentration Distraction Denial style Projection Fantasy Egotism style Narcissism Histrionic Pathology Sociopath Borderline Defense Anger Denial Ego desire Expansion Dissolution Destructive Other Self Annihilation Totalizing Self only Depression Projection Introjection Survival Self Others Reliance Self Others Criminality Dangerous Petty thief Psychopathy Violent menace Prostitute Compassion Indifference Mercy Wakefulness Aware Unaware Alertness Wide Awake Sleepwalking Planning Methodical Conspiring Morality Strict Contingent Aggression Direct Subterfuge Violence External Internal Warfare Bully Victim Hierarchy Dominant Submissive Force Blunt Subtle Texture Harsh Smooth Resistance Extreme Yielding Linear Straight Jagged Presentation Forthright Devious Surface Clear Opaque Understand Simple Complicated Logic Linear Circular Analysis Logic Intuition Strategy Straightforward Wily Movement Stiff Flowing Grain Coarse Fine Essence Sky Earth Instrument Blunt Subtle Transport Highway Stream Route A to B Roundabout Tour Autobahn Scenic route Flight Soar Flutter Hobby Monomania Dilettante Truths Multiple Singular Theory Branching Obsessive Fact Durable Momentary Interpretation Nonpersonal Personal Manichean Grey area Black and White Systematics Categorizing Noncategorizing Science Empirical Intuitive Philosophy Tough Dream State Ubermensch More common Less common Body Hard Soft Tissue Sinewy Fatty Signal Weathervane Antenna Telepathy Poor Mindreader Broadcast Subwoofer Subliminal Travel Itinerary Lark Decision Plotted Whimsy Confusion Certainty Perplexed Party Kegger Cocktail Social Optional Mandatory Sex Compulsion Choice Intellectual Paradise Boredom Bird Hawk Hummingbird Birdsong Crow Warbler Love Auxiliary Requirement Danger Physical Psychological Grudge Discard Retain Jealousy Weak Strong Armistice Reconciliation Cold Peace Storm Thunderstorm Spring Shower Bipolar Mania Depressive
Black art is often spare and primitive yet still quite good, an African mask for example. Whites take art to the ultimate heights – compare the development of Perspective with an African mask – not the same thing, is it?
To Whites, Asians seem so flat and non-creative that even their art seems to Whites to be odd, spare, trite, and even boring. See classical Japanese and Chinese simple landscapes with birds, water, and low light for example. It’s literally Zen art. On the other hand, my artist friends have told me that it’s fantastic for what it is trying to do.
Black literature can be good, but it tends towards the heavily verbal sort that is so loud and musical that it almost demands to be read aloud for affect.
Whites strive for the heights.
Asians can reduce literature to its utter basics – see the haiku for example. Haikus are often beautiful, but Whites find the spareness and simplicity of these forms to be almost unsettling and odd. However, Asians also stretch art to its ultimate limits – see the great Chinese classics with ~2,300 pages. It’s as if they either try for the perfect bare minimum or the ultimate definition of infinity.
Asians strip art down to the utter basics, Zen-like. There’s a logic to that, but Whites think it’s excessively simplistic.
Whites once again go for the heights.
Great Works of Literature by Whites
Great books by Whites? How bout we look at the Top 50? Oh well, call it Top 54. I couldn’t help but toss a few more in there. Tolstoy (Anna Karenina and War and Peace), Dostoevsky (The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment), Joyce (Ulysses and A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man), Melville (Moby Dick), Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow), Nabokov (Lolita), Shakespeare (Hamlet) George Eliot (Middlemarch), Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby), Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), Anonymous (1001 Nights), Forster (A Passage to India), Cervantes (Don Quixote), the Brontes (Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre), Austen (Pride and Prejudice), T. S. Eliot (The Wasteland), Pound (The Cantos), Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Flaubert (Madame Bovary), Camus (The Stranger), Twain (Huckleberry Flynn), Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom), Dickens (Great Expectations and David Copperfield), Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises), Homer (The Iliad and The Odyssey), Stendhal (The Red and the Black), Proust (Remembrance of Things Past), Kafka (The Trial), Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), Milton (Paradise Lost), Voltaire (Candide), Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Sterne (Tristram Shandy), Dante (The Divine Comedy) Chekhov (stories), Heller (Catch-22), Orwell (1984), Borges (Ficciones), Rushdie (Midnight’s Children), Conrad (Heart of Darkness), Virgil (The Aenid), Whitman (The Leaves of Grass), Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), and Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse).
Great Works of Literature by Blacks
Yes, Blacks have written some great works. But not The Color Purple or Beloved, please, or at least let’s wait a while, and yes, I’ve read both. Neither is in the same category as what follows. They only make the great books list because people are trying to be PC and throw some Black authors in. That’s very nice of them, but it’s not solid Lit Crit, if such a thing even exists any more in these mushy, truth-free postmodern times.
Richard Wright (Native Son) and Ralph Ellison (Invisible Man) come to mind. Also, try Zora Neale Houston (Their Eyes Were Watching God), Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart), James Baldwin (Go Tell It on the Mountain and The Fire Next Time), or Jean Rys (Wide Sargasso Sea).
Despite Aphra Behn’s Oronoko – Possibly the first true modern-style novel written in the West! – Blacks got a rather late start at things. Nevertheless, there are some works there that reach for the same skies as the Whites’ works do. Houston’s book in particular nearly matches Eliot’s Middlemarch in the glory of its prose.
Look – I am not saying that Black authors have not done some great work – e.e. cumming’s poetry comes to mind too, but if you notice, this list is a lot shorter than the proceeding one, right? Do check out some of the recent (last 75 years) classics out of Black Africa though. There are some great books in there.
Great Works of Literature by Asians
Where are the comparable great Asian books? From Japan, we have Yukio Mishima (The Sea of Fertility), and of course Murasaki Shikibu (The Tale of the Genji – a very long Chinese-like epic with 1,306 pages). There has definitely been some fine literature coming out of Japan for the last 100 years. Japan also got a fairly late start, only beginning to write Western-style literature ~1900. This work has been greatly accelerating in recent years, but it’s not much read in the West. Haruki Murakami is very good though. When is he going to win the Nobel Prize anyway?
But other than the millennia-old Genji, Mishima is the only one who has seen his work rise to true greatness in the West so far.
China was much later to Western-style literature, only showing up in the last 50 years, if that. Though there are a few stars on the horizon. Previously their works were very different – typically very long epics – Cao Xueqin (The Dream of the Red Chamber – 2,339 pages), Shi Nai’an (Water Margin – 2,304 pages), Wu Cheng’en (Journey to the West – 2,346 pages), and Luo Guanzhong (Romance of the Three Kingdoms – 2,340 pages). Maybe add Lanling Xiaoxiao Sheng (The Plum in the Golden Vase – 3,334 pages) and Yu Xiangdou (Journey to the North – much shorter at 392 pages) while we are at it. Those are all incredible works.
Are they in the same category as the books by Whites? I’m not sure. It’s sort of like the painting. It’s not that Asian painting is bad – it’s incredibly great for what it’s trying to do in its minimalist way.
Are Japanese haikus as good at the great White literature above? I’m not sure. The Asians, with epics stretching for thousands of pages, their spare naturalistic art, and their compact yet gorgeous haikus – the first towards wild excess and the latter two, like a Bonsai garden, towards extreme minimalism – are instead trying to do something completely different from what the Whites have been doing, so any comparison is between apples and oranges. You can’t really compare them.
Asian art and literature is great and so is Western art and literature, but they are trying to do completely different things. I might say the same thing about an African mask. It’s a wonderful work of art, but is it the same thing as a work by Rembrandt, Bosch, Da Vinci, Van Gogh, or even a Picasso or Dali? Well, no. But maybe once again we can’t compare because the Africans were trying to do something completely different than the Whites with their White reach to the skies paintings.
Comparing lions and tigers. Which is better, a lion or a tiger? Besides neither one if I’m walking in the jungle, I’d say neither one in any case. A lion is great at being a lion. Nothing else comes close. Likewise with a tiger. He wins the gold at being a tiger. They’re both the best at being what they are and at what they are trying to do.
Alpha Unit: OK, Jim Crow laws were proposed as a solution to a problem: White Southerners were being ordered to treat newly freed slaves (and free Black people) as equals, when it was clear that newly freed Black people were in no position to live as their equals.
Their solution? Forget all this “equality” stuff; it’s costing us too much. Let’s bring back the old, tried-and-true way we used to do things: Blacks subordinate to Whites and kept in their place. We’ll make sure it’s “legal.”
Occam’s razor. Look for the simplest explanation. This makes the most sense to me. The whole idea that Claudius is putting forward that White folks are just too nice to do this sort of thing, well, nope. Humans have a need to dominate others. The strong dominate the weak and the weak dominate the weaker. See countless works of literature, drama, and cinema, or, Hell, just read Nietzsche if he makes sense to you.
Also there are different types of sadism.
The First Type of Sadism – the Raw Animal Lust for Cruelty and Love of Humiliating Others Seen Most Prominently in Boys
I’m thinking this type is genetic or biological. This is a pure sadism that can be seen in boys, non-human mammals, and in adults, most especially in Black adults, especially African Blacks (US Blacks have had a lot of it enculturated out of them, but you still see it a lot).
Sure, all the other races display this raw sadism too, especially in times of war, but you see it most prominently in Blacks to the point where some feel it is an essential aspect of the Black Character, Personality, or perhaps, I would argue, Black Principle (if Black is a Principle like Masculine and Feminine are Principles).
This is extremely prominent in Black children, especially boys, and they are much more sadistic than White boys (Yes, I know all boys are sadists). It gets slowly enculturated out of Black boys as they grow up as with most of us males, but you still see it a lot in the ghetto types in young adult men and even women sometimes, where the basic Black Personality is at its rawest and least enculturated.
This is a raw delight in torture, torment, inflicting pain, violence, and even death on a suffering and tormented Other. It includes the love of observing a victim’s suffering.
Of course, you also see this same sadism in young White men (college boys in particular can be terribly cruel), but it’s just not as prominent as in Blacks.
Also, White culture profoundly dislikes displays of childish sadism in White adults. As an man, you’re supposed to have grown out that boyhood crap or had it beaten out of you if you were particularly diabolical.
In some ways, this sadism can be fun. I recall a Black man I knew named Michael. He hung out with this other Black artist, William, who was very introverted and odd. He couldn’t get laid with God’s help. His name was Charles and he had a university degree in art.
The cool guy’s name was Michael and he was a White-acting Black artist with a university degree in art. I was over at a mutual friend’s house and our friend commented that William had a date.
William was a very shy guy with low-self esteem and a hurt and somewhat confused expression on his face. I believe also had a strange high-pitched voice. He was extremely weird but completely harmless, and once you figured out how harmless he was, you mostly just wanted to laugh at him because he was such a nerd that he was a laughingstock, a comical figure.
He also couldn’t get laid with God’s help, even though he was quite straight. I’d never known him to have a girlfriend or even a date. At age 29, he was not only undoubtedly a virgin, but he’d probably never even been kissed.
I was absolutely dumbfounded.
“What?!” I nearly shouted across the room. “No way does William have a date! No way! That’s not even possible! Tell me you’re joking!”
This was a pretty mean thing for me to say, but I can be a dick. The Black guy, Micheal, roared with laughter so hard he nearly rolled on the floor for ten minutes. As you can see, he was laughing his ass off at the cruelty of my comment.
So Blacks can be a lot of fun if you want to get down with some mean, no-holds-barred humor. A lot of humor is cruel – face it – but Whites’ distaste for sadism limits their potential for humor a lot. We see this especially in the dour, party-pooper, no-fun SJW crowd, where every other joke is an evil bigoted crime that someone needs to get fired over.
In many ways, Idi Amin was the ultimate primal Black man. He displayed most of the raw material of the Black personality to an exaggerated degree. Not all of it is bad. He was wildly extroverted, always smiling and happy, had a nearly inborn sense of humor to the point of being a natural humorist, loved to party and have fun, and had a tremendous love of promiscuous sex. Idi Amin was a good time! As long as you were on his good side, that is.
And then there was his bad side, also in spades.
Whites and most other races probably used to be like this too, but centuries of civilization may have bred it out of us culturally and genetically. We can surely see a lot of examples of horrific sadism in Whites and Asians only centuries ago. One argument is that for a thousand years of civilization, most White criminals were quickly killed, often by public hanging. The idea is that this bred a lot of the criminal genes out of us.
Blacks from Africa, never having good through this process of weeding out criminal genes by execution, didn’t experience such a cleansing. On the other hand, perhaps White and Asian cultures have also accelerated so much in civilizational terms that this behavior is enculturated out of us.
That this love of sadism and cruelty appears so normally and freely in boys of all races suggests that it’s still part of the raw human personality. Although the dramatic morally superiority of US Blacks as opposed to African Blacks suggests that 300 years of exposure to White Christian civilization has had a calming, civilizing, and perhaps eugenically intelligence-increasing effect on US Blacks, which argues for the effects a more advanced civilizing culture can have on a population of a less civilized race.
The Second Type of Sadism – The Dominant Lording It Over Their Brutalized Inferior Victims
I’ve thought about this a lot, and there is another sort of sadism, that of the dominant inflicting their sadistic lordly violence against those they see as inferior.
Look at the delighted faces of those German policemen tormenting Jews in the street. You can say it’s revenge, but isn’t it more than that?
Look very closely at the faces of those Whites at those lynchings – boys, girls, men, women. There’s that same look as you saw in those Nazis above: the wicked gleeful look of the dominant bully inflicting torture and/or death at a contemptuously hated inferior. This poor Black sod’s hanging from a tree with his neck broken in a sickening way, and these Whites who look like your nice White relatives at Thanksgiving are having the Goddamned party of their lives.
What was all that habit of calling Black men boys and Black women girls about?
Why were Black children forced to apologize to White children they bumped into by addressing the White children as Mr. or Mrs. as if the White kids were adults and the Black child was still a child?
Why were the schoolbooks given to Black schools the refuse of the White schools – ripped, torn up, wrecked, and coming with a sticker on them saying that they were too destroyed to be of use to White kids, so they were only worthwhile for Black kids?
What was up with the torching of the Black business district in Tulsa?
Why were Black men lynched and murdered for the crime of standing up to White men and fighting back against them, even if the Whites were trying to kill them? In this case, the message was that of the bully: We will attack you in any way we choose, and if you dare to fight back and hurt one of us, you will die.
Why did White children torment their Black “friends” by forcing them, like slaves, to carry the White kids’ books to and from school for them?
Why did White boys manipulate and laugh behind the backs at their Black male friends and encourage them to commit crimes, so if anyone was caught, the Black would take the blame?
Why were Blacks waited on last in stores, and, even after waiting an hour, passed over again if a White person walked in?
Why did Whites whose land had been sold to Blacks long ago return to their land 50 years later and demand that Blacks hand over the sold land to its original owners, or else?
Why did even White women tell Black men who talked back to them, “I could have you hung from a tree just like that.”? See Of Mice and Men – and this was California in the 30s!
This is all nothing but raw, naked cruelty, and furthermore, there’s a brutal logic behind it: the societal enforcement of White dominance and superiority over Black submission and inferiority. That’s all it is. No need to conjure up fancy theories. Back to Occam’s again.
They did all of this abject and unnecessary cruel stuff because otherwise Blacks would commit a lot of crime? Get out. If anything, such treatments are designed to push people to their limits. Look at how Gypsies are (deservedly) treated in Europe? Does it stop them from committing crimes?
No, all of these punishments were done to enforce the sort of gleeful domination you see on the faces of the schoolyard bullies in 8th grade as they torment their designated victims.
And no, adults are not too mature to regress to childish games of sadistic dominance. I’ve seen so many cases of adults the world over delighting in the sadistic dominance of a hated inferior Other to believe otherwise.
They’re not doing it to stop crime. They’re doing it to get off. To get a rush. To get that glorious sadistic delight in tormenting an innocent victim you remember from boyhood. Remember how fun that was? Remember how tall it made you feel?
Well, those adults are doing the exact same shit for the exact same reasons.
A book by Guy Murchie called The Music of the Spheres was published in 1961. It’s recommended in one of Kurt Vonnegut’s books. I forget which one now. And yes, I think Vonnegut
It’s little known nowadays and that’s too bad. It’s not that it’s an unambitious endeavor!
From the publisher’s blurb about it:
The first half of the book–Moons of Rock and Suns of Fire–deals with major astronomical phenomena viewed poetically from an imaginary earth satellite. In the second part the realms in which physics holds sway pass in review; the forms and nature of matter, the atom, waves and music, light and color, space and time.
I don’t know about you but I like the second part. Now focus on the last word in that blurb, “time.”
In that book, Murchie posits a fascinating notion. Instead of the past, present, and future all being separate and discreet things not a whole lot related to each other, Murchie says that in terms of physics, the past, the present, and the future are all simultaneously occurring right now as I write this. I know what you’re thinking. There goes Bob with another of his nutty ideas. But hold your horses a second, Hoss, and listen up for a bit.
I think there may actually be something to this and what follows is my version of Murchie’s theory:
The past has the seeds of our present and future within it already, so the present and future are contained in the past. We can say that the past contains the dual tails of the present and future in it. Of course when the past was happening, it had its own past and future embedded in it.
The present was brought here by the past and the future will contain the seeds of the present, so the present contains both the head of the past and the tail of the future in itself.
The future obviously doesn’t even exist. Think about that a bit as most folks don’t realize that. We Americans treat the future as if it’s a sure thing and often as if it will be better than the present. But we are thinking about something that doesn’t even exist yet. But even if it did exist, the future would be literally an outgrowth of the present, which, like it or not, is literally an outgrowth of the past, so the future would contain the heads of the present and future in it. The future of course contains the growth from the seeds of the past and the present, otherwise it wouldn’t even be there.
Your move, commenters.
I never considered myself much of a philosopher. But I am now in my 60’s and I sort of find that as all roads used to lead to Rome, all roads seem to lead to philosophy! For a while I was studying famous scholars across all of the humanities. And I began to notice something. As one moved deeper and deeper upwards into the various disciplines, two things happened:
1. Everything started turning into mathematics. I suppose math is really at the root of just about everything if you think about it. We can even reduce many day to day questions or even philosophical bits of wisdom down to binary statements of even equations. Wittgenstein seemed to be getting at this. People have remarked that mathematics is “the ultimate language.”
2. Everything started turning into philosophy. After writing and doing research in their specialty for a long time, scholars all across the humanities started turning late in their careers to philosophy and how their branch of humanities could be explained philosophically. Obviously this is true of literature. Look at literary criticism nowadays. Especially with critical theory, so much of lit crit deals with actual philosophy. Philosophy in a way seems to be the peak one reaches whenever one starts climbing of the stairs of any humanities branch. They all meet in philosophy at the top. If mathematics is the ultimate language, perhaps philosophy is the ultimate mode of thinking. Philosophy after all is the “science of thought” or the “study of human knowledge.” That’s a pretty impressive endeavor right there, just to even attempt to explain such deep things.
At my age, we are said to peak in wisdom. I suppose that’s true. Younger friends have been telling me that lately and some colleagues even call me sensei. Some don’t like it. A 20 year old Asian hottie recently dumped me cruelly:
What’s wrong with you. You’re so different from when I met you. You sound like some philosopher! Come back when you want to act like a man!
I’m not trying to do this.
But in the last few years, I am finding that my writing is tending more and more towards philosophical questions not because I intend to but instead because I seem to be reaching the limits of a lot of the subjects I write about, and when you reach for the sky of most any humanities subject, as I noted, everything starts turning into philosophy. Philosophy is where you end up when you start traveling down any humanities road. Philosophy is where it all starts coming together in some sort of “ultimate explanation.”
To tell the truth, I always thought philosophy was unreadable and stupid. But it’s nothing more than wisdom, and we all want to be wise. And it gives great explanatory power to the world for those of us who are always looking to put together the “big picture” of most anything around us. That’s precisely what philosophy is always trying to do: look for the “big picture” behind anything.
I like to read literary criticism sometimes because it’s some of the hardest stuff out there to understand, at least for me. Forget philosophy. Don’t even go there. Lit Crit is different. With Lit Crit it’s hard as hell to understand and it’s incredibly smart and dense, but you can pretty much understand most if not all of it, so it’s worth it. I call it giving my brain a workout, and to me it’s similar to going to the gym for your body.
I recently read a couple of Hemingway’s best short stories. Then I found and read two Lit Crit articles about them. Lit Crit is very useful this way. If you haven’t already read the work, I’m not quite sure how useful it is or how much you would get out it. But if you’ve read it, Crit is often great for explicating the work and explaining deeper meanings, themes, etc. hidden in the text.
One was in a journal called Journal of College Literature from 1980. It was remarkably down to earth for a Lit Crit journal, especially the issues around published around that time. So I started going through a few decades worth of the journal.
I noticed that the Lit Crit from ~40 years ago was much different and frankly much superior to the gobbledygook out nowadays. It then focused on individual books and was fairly straightforward, simply looking for explications of the events, characters, plots, and themes in the book.
As I moved forward a couple of decades, everything changed. Now it was all postmodernism. Lit Crit about individual works were less common. The crit became ridiculously politicized with SJW and PC Leftist slants towards everything. Now I am a Leftist myself (albeit a weird one) but for the life of me, I do not understand why we need to litter our Lit Crit with Leftist political theory.
In addition to Marxism, there was also inordinate focus on women (feminism, mostly a joke field called Women’s Studies), gays and lesbians (from the lens of a ridiculous and bizarre field called Queer Studies), Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other non-Whites (same thing- focus on non-fields like Black and Hispanic Studies), on and on.
Pretty much all they wrote about were these “oppressed minorities.” Cringey Queer Studies essays searched for and discovering non-existing homosexuality in perfectly straight stories (Did you know Moby Dick is a gay novel?) and secret homosexuality in completely straight authors (Did you know Shakespeare was gay?). It’s weird and stupid.
There was also a strange attempt to find some silly “woman angle” in novels where women were not particularly important to the story.
There was also a focus on older books written by women and minorities which are apparently good books merely because they were written by a minority or woman and not for any other reason.
Why Lit Crit has to be all about oppressed minorities is beyond me. Fine, some minorities are oppressed. We need a politics to address that. But why trash up Lit Crit with leftwing obsessions with minority groups? Last time I checked, straights, Whites, and men also existed. Can we maybe keep the politics out of our Crit and just talk about the books without turning everything into a political rally?
Another worse problem went along with this. The essays became dominated by postmodernism and were much harder to understand. There were references to philosophy scattered all through everything (particularly unintelligible Continentals like Sartre, Derrida, Lacan, Cixous, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Foucalt, Frankfurt School, DeLueze and Guattari).
That’s all fine and dandy but why can’t we keep unintelligible philosophers out of our Lit Crit? What do incomprehensible Frenchmen spouting nonsense have to do with the novels we read?
It is true that the essays became much more demanding, but there was also a lot of silly talk about things like the Body (?), the Male Gaze (!?), the Text, the Author, the Reader (Barthes), on and on with weird, silly postmodern concepts.
In addition, somehow they became strangely repetitive in that they obsessed over the same postmodernist tropes and views in essay after essay. After a while, it seemed like I was reading the same essay again and again and learning little about the actual books being discussed.
Finally, it became quite boring as a result of this repetition.
tl/dr: Lit Crit has completely deteriorated over the past 40 years. It’s now a swamp of barely comprehensible postmodernism and obsessions with women, gays and minorities. Leftist politics and incoherent Continental philosophers litter every essay, turning it from a brain workout into muddy slow trod up a mountain in the rain without boots or a poncho.
I just read Moby Dick a while back.
Well worth it! And I am currently working on the following. As you can see, I am not that far into most of them. The ones where I don’t list how many pages I’ve read means I’ve barely touched, them, just a few pages in at most. This is how I read. If you count books like that, I am reading 170 books right now but most of them are just a few pages in.
Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre, Novel.
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, Novel.
Conrad, Heart of Darkness (reread), Novella.
Conrad, Lord Jim, Novel, (35 pages).
Dickens, Great Expectations (reread), Novel.
Dickens, Hard Times, Novel.
Dickens, Oliver Twist, Novel.
Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, Novel.
Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Novel, (15 pages).
H. A. Grueber, Myths of Greece and Rome, Nonfiction, Mythology.
Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Non-fiction, Philosophy, (26 pages).**
Thomas MacAulay, Lays of Ancient Rome, Narrative Poem Collection***
Melville, Billy Budd, Novella.
Milton, Paradise Lost, Epic Poem (type of Narrative Poem), (156 pages into Book One).***
Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols Non-fiction, Philosophy**
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Nonfiction, Military.
Walter Scott, Lady of the Lake, Narrative Poem, (47 pages).*
Tolstoy, War and Peace, Novel, (15 pages).
Wells, War of the Worlds, Novel.
Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Novel.
* Difficult, archaic language.
** Hard to understand, conceptually/narratively difficult
***Both difficult, archaic language and hard to understand, conceptually/narratively difficult.
None of the rest are particularly hard to read in my opinion. You have to go slow with Conrad though because he’s so dense. You can read him fast, sure, but then you will be missing a lot of it. It’s like Moby Dick in that respect. I also found the Brontes quite dense for some reason. I had to read them slowly, but I’m not sure why. They’re not dense in the same way Conrad is; instead they are different.
Dickens, Dostoevsky, Melville, Tolstoy, Wells,
Wilde, and even Sun Tzu are not particularly hard to read, though Melville and Sun Tzu are both pretty dense.
The COVID-19 outbreak in China has begun to decline outside Hubei Province; meanwhile in some countries it is on the rise. This shows that the epidemic is a challenge faced by all humanity and needs to be addressed by all countries. China’s experience in combating the outbreak shows that timely, accurate, and authoritative information disclosure is crucial.
However, “negative energy” arguments in the public opinion sphere which undermine the solidarity and cooperation between human beings and even create panic out of nothing will harm the efforts to fight the epidemic and can be called a “tumor” in the public conversation about the epidemic.
Here we summarize eight typical “negative energy” arguments in international public opinion and reveal their absurdities, hoping to provide a mirror to show the other side of these arguments about the epidemic.
1. The Economic Fall of China Argument Ignores the Complete Picture
During the coronavirus epidemic, the streets in Chinese cities were empty for a time, and as a result, there is no doubt the economy will be affected to some extent. However, to claim that the fundamentals of the Chinese economy have changed and that growth will plummet from mid-high speed to zero or negative is an overstatement.
For example, the New York Times published an article on February 11 titled “Like Europe in Medieval Times”: Virus Slows China’s Economy suggesting that the epidemic has put the Chinese economy into low gear.
This coronavirus epidemic has been widespread, and many industries such as catering, tourism, and film and television have been severely impacted. However, it should be noted that the impact of the epidemic on China’s economy is mainly reflected in the restriction of the demand side resulting in a short-term structural imbalance between supply and demand.
In the long run, the means of production are still there, and production equipment and technology have not been affected by the outbreak. So the outbreak will not dent the internal dynamics of the Chinese economy. International Monetary Fund (IMF) spokesman Gerry Rice stated at a press conference on February 13 that “over the medium to long term, we remain confident that China’s economy is resilient.”
The IMF expects a V-shaped recovery for the Chinese economy in which a sharp decline in economic activities would be followed by a rapid recovery. With improvements in containing the epidemic, the supply side will gradually return to normal, while at the same time the potential demand suppressed during the epidemic will be released, and there will be a large rebound in future economic growth.
Structural transformation has given China a strong and resilient economy. First, consumption has become the primary driver of growth. In 2019, consumer spending contributed 57.8 percent to economic growth. Second, the proportion contributed by the service industry keeps rising, and the proportion of value added by tertiary industry to GDP in 2019 is 53.9 percent.
The third is a shift from an excess of savings to an absorption of savings which has led to a continuous increase in disposable household consumption. Fourth, via a huge wave of innovation, the current digitization and intelligent transformation of various industries has led to the rapid development of online business.
Although the epidemic outbreak has increased short-term downward pressure on the economy, the long-term positive trend of the Chinese economy has not changed.
2. The China-US Decoupling Prediction Is Farfetched
During the coronavirus epidemic, the resumption of work in many factories in China has been delayed, which has affected the global supply chain. But it may be delusional to talk about international companies fleeing China and to think that the US and Chinese economies will decouple as a result of the outbreak.
For example, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Channel on January 31 that the novel coronavirus epidemic helps “accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to US and probably some to Mexico as well,” adding that factors such as this will prompt US companies to reevaluate risks such as the supply chain of China-related businesses.
It should be noted that in the face of the epidemic, the Chinese government has demonstrated its firm belief in winning the battle. It is believed that the outbreak will not last long nor will it cause lasting damage to the economy. Business confidence in the future has not disappeared. The experience of the SARS epidemic in 2003 also shows that after the epidemic, people’s desire for consumption will erupt and the economy will see rapid growth.
Compared with the US, where the tertiary industry accounts for 85 percent of the total economy, China’s tertiary industry only accounts for just over 50 percent. There is still more room for development. Naturally, companies will not lose sight of this and abandon huge development space to go to a place where competition is fierce.
The US government’s push for the return of manufacturing is not new. It began during the Obama administration, but the real results have been poor. This is because China is the world’s largest manufacturing base with a complete upstream and downstream industry chain and a large and diversified consumer market.
Only by being close to the Chinese market can companies accommodate cutting-edge demand, have faster production speed, and ensure more reliable product quality.
Of course, China’s industry is in a period of transformation and upgrading, and some enterprises that can no longer adapt to China’s market will leave. This is the natural law of economic development, and it is by no means the exodus that Ross is talking about.
3. The Collapsing Image of China Meme Is Baseless
Under the coronavirus epidemic, some voices in international public opinion have tarnished the image of China.
For example, on February 6, under the headline “This is Not a Coronavirus, It Is an Official Virus,” a Deutsche Welle report stated China’s governance system is not modern, so it was vulnerable in the face of the epidemic.
On some overseas social media, some people have hyped the argument that China’s national image has collapsed in order to disparage China’s image as a responsible power. They even claimed that China would not be able to build a moderately prosperous society as planned.
It is clear that the above slander is groundless and based on a play of words. The “China threat theory” is a virus in the field of international public opinion.
After the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese government quickly set up a special team to deal with the problem, deployed team members extensively throughout the country, and assisted relevant countries in evacuating personnel. These things could only be achieved by an excellent governance system with modern capabilities.
Compared to some advanced economies, China has also done a much better job of reducing the risk of the disease spreading globally.
On February 16, in response to the shortcomings and deficiencies exposed in the response to the epidemic, the Chinese government again made a “two-handed” deployment, improving the biosafety law, the national emergency management system, and the distribution of production capacity of key materials.
China’s epidemic prevention measures have been praised by the international community. French President Macron expressed admiration for China’s effective measures and the country’s openness and transparency in fighting the epidemic.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China for taking many prevention and containment measures that go far beyond the relevant requirements for responding to emergencies. This has set a new benchmark for epidemic prevention in all countries. The speed, scale, and efficiency of China’s actions reflect the strengths of its system.
4. The Sick Man of Asia Metaphor Rekindles a Century of Discrimination
Amid the outbreak of the COVID-19, governments, enterprises, and people from dozens of countries have donated humanitarian aid to China to support the country’s fight against the epidemic. Meanwhile, some people have maliciously taken the opportunity to spread discrimination against China. For instance, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled “China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia” on February 3, hurting Chinese people’s feelings.
We should not only refute such absurdities with a comprehensive victory over the epidemic but also continue increasing China’s public health services and national capabilities, throwing the discriminatory views like the one above into the junk heap of history.
China was once weak due to its seclusion and was taken advantage of by Western powers which derogatorily called China the “sick man of Asia.” Such contemptuous words have been a scar on Chinese people’s psyche. With unremitting efforts of more than 100 years, China is much stronger than it was, and people’s general health status has reached a new high.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the country has been improving its public health status, eliminating malignant infectious diseases such as smallpox and cholera and developing a cure for schistosomiasis, which once threatened Chinese people for a long time.
A comprehensive medical system has been established in China, covering all rural areas. China has also sent medical teams to help African countries battle against epidemics such as Ebola. As China is completing the building of a moderately prosperous society, the country is rapidly increasing the budget for medical treatment and public health, assuring residents in cities and towns have basic medical insurance.
Currently, Chinese people’s average life expectancy, which continues to grow, has surpassed that of Americans. Through international medical and health cooperation including the building of a Health Silk Road, China’s experience in medical treatment and public health has been widely recognized and accepted.
5. Yellow Peril Hysteria Is Pure Racism
On February 1, the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel had a cover headline saying the novel coronavirus was made in China. At a crucial time when the world is jointly fighting the epidemic, the German magazine inhumanly spread Yellow Peril hysteria, at the core of which is the West’s fear of the East.
The Western world regards the Eastern world as a threat, fears it will lag behind the latter, and thus refuses to accept the fact that the East has become more developed and much stronger than it once was. The West wants to safeguard its dominance in the world.
Hence some nationalists in the West have taken advantage of the COVID-19 epidemic to spread this particular form of racist hysteria.
In the era of globalization, human civilization should no longer engage in zero-sum games between the East and West and between races but rather in building a community of shared future where people can co-exist and jointly develop. In the face of this public health emergency, no one can really escape and remain isolated. Only cooperation, solidarity, and mutual help can help people win the fight against the virus.
It is high time to put an end to the farce of Yellow Peril hysteria that encourages people to play a “hunger game.”
6. The Comparison with the Novel 1984 Obscures Reality
To fight against the COVID-19, China has adopted various high-tech measures such as Big Data and artificial intelligence to control population flow and reduce cross-infection risks. However, some Western media outlets seem to be frightened by China’s governance capability. Real Clear Politics published an article on Thursday saying, “China’s Government Is Like Something out of ‘1984.’” There are two reasons such viewpoints echo in the West.
First, people are more likely to believe stories they are familiar with. George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 is well known, but not many people know the real China. Therefore, Chinese people find it hard to persuade their Western friends that China is not something out of 1984. This is like giving a friend who has never seen a real panda a toy panda, and the next time you mention pandas, this friend will think of the toy rather than the real panda.
Second, the media always caters its subscribers with reports that draw attention, even though their viewpoints are abnormal. For those media outlets, a frightening China is obviously more effective than a normal China at attracting an audience.
Using 1984 as a metaphor, those Western media outlets can spread fear of China among Westerners and thus make more profit. This is why a very ordinary story with an eye-catching headline can be forged into something that is scary and strange about China. As many Western media outlets are driven by business interests, it is not hard to understand Western people’s stereotype of China.
What 1984 describes can happen anywhere people live. The novel was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual. George Orwell’s masterpiece is not banned in China. Instead, his books have been among the bestsellers in China since the country’s reform and opening-up. China is moving forward in a broad way using Chinese people’s accumulated experience rather than something out of a novel.
7. The Biochemical Weapon Conspiracy Is Pure Fantasy
Conspiracy theories are a constant reality in the international public opinion field. Once there is a disturbance, they will surface.
On January 31, US senator Tom Cotton tweeted “It’s more urgent than ever to stop travel between China and US,” and “MESSAGE TO ALL AMERICANS IN CHINA: GET OUT NOW.” He also claimed that the virus might have originated in a super laboratory in Wuhan.
The Ministry of Heath of Russian Federation on January 29 published a guideline for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the novel coronavirus. The handout stated that COVID-19 was recombination of a bat coronavirus and another coronavirus from unknown origin, triggering speculation that the virus had been developed by the US as a biological weapon.
Although such arguments have been common, even in mainstream Western public opinion, there are few experts who agree.
The Washington Post on January 29 published an article entitled “Experts Debunk Fringe Theory Linking China’s Coronavirus to Weapons Research,” with interviews from five experts from prestigious US universities and research institutes. All of them rejected the idea that the virus was man-made.
An expert on chemical weapons said he and other analysts around the world had discussed the possibility that weapons development at the Wuhan lab could have led to the coronavirus outbreak in a private email chain, but none of them had found convincing evidence to support the theory.
A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also pointed out that a good bioweapon in theory has high lethality but low, not communicability, but the opposite is true with the coronavirus. He also described the bioweapon theories as irresponsible misinformation.
The Lancet, the world’s leading general medical journal, released on February 19 a Statement in Support of the Scientists, Public Health Professionals, and Medical Professionals of China Combating COVID-19 signed by 27 top public health experts around the world.
The statement strongly condemned conspiracy theories saying that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin and stated that scientists from multiple countries overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife. The statement also called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to promote scientific evidence and unity over misinformation and conjecture.
8. Questioning WHO’s Impartiality Is Destructive
China’s valiant efforts and achievements in fighting the epidemic are obvious to all. Everyone with a realistic attitude will make a fair evaluation. However, some in the international community have been looking at China through colored spectacles and have even stooped to slander those entities and individuals who have praised China.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ affirmation of China’s performance has been described by certain media outlets as skewed in China’s favor.
Tedros was asked on February 12 whether the Chinese government had approached WHO and asked it to praise China’s efforts in confronting the virus and if there was there pressure put on WHO to make statements along these lines, considering how important the notion of saving face is in China. He responded, “China doesn’t need to ask to be praised…because we have seen these concrete things that should be appreciated.”
He noted that he has observed China’s tremendous efforts to stop the virus from spreading to the rest of the world, including notifying other countries of those confirmed cases with outbound travel history.
State leaders and public health experts of various countries have applauded China’s efforts and transparency. Tedros has also called on the international community to stop stigmatizing China and stand in solidarity with the country in fighting against the common enemy, COVID-19.
Similarly, former WHO Director General Margaret Chan Fung Fu-Chun was also criticized in 2015 for taking sides with South Korea in combating MERS.
WHO’s remarks and actions are based on information reported by the government at the epicenter, the latest data generated by the organization, and suggestions given by the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee. Clarifying and dispelling rumors and misinformation is also part of its job.
Moreover, the WHO has already taken action to prevent the coronavirus epidemic from triggering a dangerous social media ‘infodemic’ fueled by false information and to try to curb rumors, lies, and misinformation.
Along with China, the Singaporean government is also urging citizens to stop spreading rumors.
Authors: Wang Wen, Jia Jinjing, Bian Yongzu, Cao Mingdi, Liu Ying, Liu Yushu, Yang Fanxin, Guan Zhaoyu, Wang Peng, Liu Dian, Chen Zhiheng, Zhang Tingting, and Zhang Yang from Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. email@example.com
Well, I was on Twit (Twitter) only a short time before I started getting warning after warning after warning. These are all short-term bans of say three days. Then they went up to seven days.
I very quickly tried to start policing my posts to make them SJW-friendly. But every time I do that anywhere, I get banned anyway for some reason. I am starting to think that there is no appeasing these people unless you are one of them, in which case, I guess you know the drill, or you already speak the language.
The first time was a post in which I talked about how I had been doing a lot of reading, and I was shocked at how writers, especially poets, were gay or lesbian and how many were suicides. After a while, I started asking myself how many poets are not gay, lesbian, or eventual suicides? It’s like they all kill themselves. I guess after a lifetime of faggotry and rug-munching.
I doubt if the gay behavior causes the suicides, but it’s well known that gay people have a very high suicide rate.
They talk a lot of a the rate of suicide attempts by gay and lesbian teens being high, but their rate of actual suicides is actually normal. Yet we hear endlessly of the suicide epidemic among gay and lesbian teens. I suggested this on Daily Kos and got blistering responses from fellow straight liberals.
One was a psychologist. I thought I was going to get banned. It was really scary. The psychologist was extremely hostile, basically called me a Nazi, and said that all the statistics were wrong, and the gay teen suicide rate was actually elevated and furthermore, I was an evil bigot for suggesting otherwise.
I wrote about how disappointing this was to me. I mean I don’t mind if a poet here and there is gay or lesbian. Some gay writers are among my favorites, especially William Burroughs, and he’s practically the most fagged out of them all! But I had no idea that there were so many of them. I was reading a lot of biographies of writers I liked or had heard of, and over and over, it was gay gay gay gay gay gay, lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian bisexual bisexual bisexual bisexual bisexual.
I would go the biography page and see that say Vita Sackville-West or whoever was actually a lez. There would be her picture. She looked like a man! Total disappointment. Women who look like men are a complete turnoff to me. I twist up my face into a scowl every time I see one. There’s something terribly wrong with a woman looking and acting almost exactly like a man. It just seems so wrong and fucked up.
Amy Lowell? Lesbian. Virginia Woolf? Bisexual. Suicide. Her husband? Bisexual. The whole damned famous Bloomsbury Group? A bunch of gays and lesbians! Mary McCarthy? Lesbian! Oh no, say it ain’t so! I really liked her. It was so discouraging.
I went to read James Merrill’s biography. Jesus Christ, he was a fag! What a downer. I still like his poetry but it was so disappointing to be hit with this gay club over and over. I thought, “Are any of these poets and writers…like…normal? You know…like…heterosexual?”
Then I closed out my post by saying that if I have deal with a bunch of fags, dykes, suicidals and crazies to read the greatest writers that ever lived, that’s a deal I’ll take.
It was humor. That’s funny, right? And ultimately it’s not even really homophobic if you think about it and get past the shock words.
Well, I got a temporary ban from Twit.
Then there was a case in Venezuela of two opposition politicians who went to Colombia and partied with Colombian prostitutes. The whores spiked their drinks with scopalamine, knocking them unconscious. Then they robbed them. One man died and another nearly did. This happens all the time down there, just to warn you.
There was all this discussion of what happened. Everyone was saying that the guys were taking drugs with the whores and then they overdosed. I kept correcting them saying that the women were “murdering whores” who had poisoned the men, murdering one and almost murdering another, and then robbing them.
Well, Twit gave me a ban for describing prostitutes as whores. Not only that but for describing robbing, poisoning, murdering prostitutes as whores. I was exasperated. Since when is it illegal to call a whore a whore, I mean to call a prostitute a whore? I mean, that’s…like…literally what a prostitute is. A prostitute is literally a whore and vice versa. That’s not even controversial.
And I had no idea that calling prostitutes whores was the new “nigger.” But everything’s the new “nigger.” Every week I wake up and there’s another word that’s been designated as the new “nigger.” Another banned word. Another word I’ve been using my whole damn life with no problems, and now all of a sudden, it’s illegal. I swear if they keep banning my words like this, after a while, I will barely be able to talk at all!
I get unbanned. Then I get another ban for the exact same thing! Banned for calling murdering prostitutes “murderous whores.” Which is exactly what they were. Are we worried about offending the precious feelings of murderous prostitutes now? I’m sure they have very sensitive feelings. Let’s please make sure we don’t hurt them.
So I gathered my wits about me and tried to be a good boy. But then there was some post about transsexuals, and I said, “There’s no such thing as trans people. They don’t exist. Instead, they’re all just mentally ill.”
Permanent ban from Twit for pointing out the obvious – that 90% of trannies are mentally ill! That there’s hardly any such thing as trans people. That it’s just a made up word for people with a mental disorder.
So yeah, permaban. It’s pretty bad because I am on Twit a lot, and I would love to comment or like things, but I can’t.
By the way, lots of people are getting banned on Twit for saying innocuous things about transsexuals. There is a very obnoxious and vicious male tranny or transwoman who works in the department that polices and bans posts and posters. He’s reportedly the brains behind a lot of these bans on people telling the truth about trans people.
The thing is though that many artists of all types are crazy to one degree or another. Trust me, I have spent a fair portion of my life intensely hanging around large groups of artists, writers, and musicians, and most of them are nuts in one way or another.
Actually they’re all crazy in different ways, but they’re still all crazy.
Writers and tend to be quite self-destructive. A lot are depressives and boy do they drink. They’re introverted but not as introverted as the poets or especially the artists.
Artists are just very shy and neurotic. A lot are depressives. An artist party is 100 people in a house and no one is talking to anyone because they’re all too shy. It’s actually pretty funny. I went to a number of them.
Musicians are very self-destructive, but they’re not neurotic at all – more like wild and crazy extroverts. Some musicians are depressives, but that aspect of them tends to be more hidden behind the wild partying exterior. Still, musicians often seem to be battling deep pain. They love to drink and hey, don’t forget the dope! Musicians and drugs are like peanut butter and jelly.
Poets are way crazy, totally neurotic or worse, manic-depressive or more commonly just depressive, plus a lot of them really drink hard. I’d say the poets are the nuttiest of them all. Are you sort of a weird, offbeat, neurotic, introverted person who doesn’t fit in anywhere and is rejected by most Normies? Head on over to your local poetry reading. You’ll be right in style there. Most of them are just as nuts as you are. Don’t feel bad.
Furthermore, many artist types are lousy to terrible people.
Shakespeare was a monster as a human being. But that’s not what we remember him and the others for. It doesn’t matter that Shakespeare was a mean old miser.
All that matters is that he was probably the greatest writer of English prose in history, probably still unsurpassed to this very day. That’s all that matters. Artists stand on their art, the only thing that lasts. That they may have been crappy people is lamentable, but it that’s not why we remember them and ultimately it’s simply not important.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
– Oscar Wilde
Polar Bear: As far as Hollywood as a gay mecca, Eyes Wide Shut is the closest most will see of it, but there are always VIP orgy gatherings. Kat Williams, Richard Nixon, and others have walked into some gay shit. Spirit cooking parties, Bohemian Grove, etc. are on record. I don’t believe they’re all gay, but gay sex is part of the rituals.
The music industry is highly involved in this stuff too. Check out Celine Dion promoting transgender baby clothes.
Any A-list star with long lasting fame has done some rituals. Don’t do the ritual? Go make low budget movies. If you don’t play ball, you’re a one-hit wonder or an underground artist.
I am afraid that Polar Bear is onto something here. I was around that place for many years. Hell, I practically lived there on weekends. It’s a blast but it’s insanely fagged out and so degenerate it almost makes you want to puke. And I’m a libertine!
Hollywood is a mean, vicious town. It literally eats people alive, chews them up, and spits them out when it’s done with them. Las Vegas is another cruel town. It also eats people alive and bulimically vomits them out when it’s done. Neither town gives a damn about you – or anyone, really.
Both towns are all about money and the nice things that money can buy, like everything in the world, including humans for sex – sex which is pretty much pump and go to the club to grab a new one. There’s narcissism everywhere in Hollywood. Hollywood literally breathes, eats, sleeps, and even shits narcissism. Narcissism is the gas, Hollywood is the engine. No narcissism, no Hollywood.
Both towns are predatory, with the rich preying on the poor suckers filled with the naive hope of fame or riches in both places. Both cities seem soulless and post-Christian or possibly never even Christian in the first place, as in heathen.
Both Hollywood and Vegas are in a race for the bottom behavior-wise, and no one gives a damn in either place. No one gives a damn about what? Anything. No one gives a damn about anything.
A lot of people move to Hollywood and LA to party their brains out for a while and then die. LA is literally a suicide trip for a lot of people. If narcissism is the gas for the Hollywood engine, nihilism is the exhaust.
Check out Sunset Boulevard in cinema, Nathaniel West or John Rechy in literature, or the Eagles, X, and the Germs in music for more. LA’s right on the edge of the sea after all. One earthquake and it all falls into the surf. LA is literally the end of a continent, and after you spend some time there, it really feels like it. It’s a lot of fun if you can take it, but it’s basically a stone evil town with pretty much zero morals about anything.
Anthony Burgess’ list of the best novels in the English language from 1940-1983.
Burgess is British, so there is a bias here in favor of British novelists and against Irish, Canadian, Australian, and to a lesser extent, American novelists. I am not as up on British novelists as I am on American novelists, so this is probably part of the problem here in a lot of these books I am not familiar with.
The first yes/no statement is whether I have heard of the book.
The second yes/no statement is whether I have read the book.
This is how I did. See how you can do. You don’t have to tally them all up like I did here. Feel free to discuss any of the listed books or authors below if you are familiar with them or heave read them.
Party Going, Henry Green YES NO
After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, Aldous Huxley YES NO
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce YES NO (OWN, PART)
At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien YES NO
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene YES NO
For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Strangers and Brothers (to 1970), C. P. Snow NO NO
The Aerodrome, Rex Warner YES NO
The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary YES NO
The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham YES NO
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh YES NO
Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake YES NO
1947 The Victim, Saul Bellow YES NO
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry YES NO
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene YES NO
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer YES NO
No Highway, Nevil Shute YES NO
The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen YES NO
Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley YES NO
Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Body, William Sansom NO NO
Scenes from Provincial Life, William Cooper NO NO
The Disenchanted, Budd Schulberg YES NO (OWN)
1951 A Dance to the Music of Time (to 1975), Anthony Powell YES NO
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger YES YES (FORMER OWN)
A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight (to 1969), Henry Williamson NO NO
The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk YES NO
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison YES NO
The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor YES NO
Sword of Honor (to 1961), Evelyn Waugh NO NO
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy YES NO
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Room at the Top, John Braine NO NO
The Alexandria Quartet (to 1960), Lawrence Durrell YES NO
The London Novels (to 1960), Colin MacInnes NO NO
The Assistant, Bernard Malamud YES NO
The Bell,, Iris Murdoch YES NO
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Alan Sillitoe NO NO
The Once and Future King, T. H. White YES (OWN, PART)
The Mansion, William Faulkner YES NO
Goldfinger, Ian Fleming YES NO
Facial Justice, L. P. Hartley NO NO
The Balkan Trilogy (to 1965), Olivia Manning YES NO
The Mighty and Their Fall, Ivy Compton-Burnett NO NO
Catch-22 Joseph Heller, YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Fox in the Attic, Richard Hughes NO NO
Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White NO NO
The Old Men at the Zoo, Angus Wilson NO NO
Another Country, James Baldwin YES NO
An Error of Judgement, Pamela Hansford Johnson NO NO
Island, Aldous Huxley YES NO
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov YES NO
1963 The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark YES NO
The Spire, William Golding YES NO
Heartland, Wilson Harris NO NO
A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood YES NO
The Defense, Vladimir Nabokov YES NO
Late Call, Angus Wilson NO NO
The Lockwood Concern, John O’Hara NO NO
Cocksure, Mordecai Richler NO NO
The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark YES NO
A Man of the People, Chinua Achebe YES NO
The Anti-Death League, Kingsley Amis YES NO
Giles Goat-Boy, John Barth YES NO
The Late Bourgeois World, Nadine Gordimer NO NO
The Last Gentleman, Walker Percy NO NO
The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan YES NO
The Image Men, J. B. Priestley NO NO
Pavane, Keith Roberts NO NO
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles YES NO Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth YES YES (FORMER OWN)
1970 Bomber, Len Deighton YES NO
Sweet Dreams, Michael Frayn NO NO
Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon YES YES (OWN)
Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury NO NO
The Doctor’s Wife, Brian Moore NO NO
Falstaff, Robert Nye NO NO
How To Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong YES NO
Farewell Companions, James Plunkett NO NO
Staying On, Paul Scott NO NO
The Coup, John Updike YES NO
The Unlimited Dream Company, J. G. Ballard NO NO
Dubin’s Lives, Bernard Malamud YES NO
A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipaul YES NO
Sophie’s Choice, William Styron YES NO
Life in the West, Brian Aldiss NO NO
Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban YES NO
How Far Can You Go?, David Lodge NO NO
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole YES YES (FORMER OWN)
Lanark, Alasdair Gray YES NO
Darconville’s Cat, Alexander Theroux YES NO
The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux YES NO (MOVIE)
Creation, Gore Vidal NO NO
1982 The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies YES NO
1983 Ancient Evenings, Norman Mailer YES NO
I am familiar with 66 out of the 99 books or 2/3 of them. It doesn’t seem real great, but I bet if you asked 100 people, my score would be better than almost all of them.
So I’m not familiar with 1/3 of the best books from 1935-1985, which is a bit pathetic. But if you asked 100 people again, my score is probably better than almost all of them.
I have read 12 out of the 99 books or 12% of them. I’ve read 12% of the best books from 1935-1985. Pathetic. But still it’s probably better than 95% of the people you ask. So I haven’t read 88% of these books. However, I have read a 2% out of those 88% but only a few pages in each. In one case, I saw the movie but didn’t read the book.
But I also read 25 novels, partly read four others and 10 cases of short story collections and nonfiction written by the authors above that did not make the list. So I read 39 books that did not make the list by the authors above.
In quite a few cases, I am familiar with the author but not his books or at least not that particular book. There seem to be 89 authors listed above of those 99 books. The numbers don’t line up because some writers have more than one work up there. I have heard of 74 of the top 89 novelists of 1940-1983, or 83% of them. I am not familiar with 15 of the authors of 17%. Once again that’s probably better than 95% of the people you will talk to.
For some of these authors, I have read some of their works but not others.
Light in August
Brave New World
The Doors of Perception
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man
Ulysses (few pages)
The Sun Also Rises
Across the River and into the Trees
J. D. Salinger
Franny and Zooey
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters
The Loved One
You Only Live Twice (few pages)
Lord of the Flies
Things Fall Apart (few pages)
The Sot-Weed Factor
The Crying of Lot 49
The Green Berets
Fear of Flying
Hugging the Shore
To the End of Time (50 pages)
Cities of the Night
An American Dream
Although this text is copywritten, the Internet page on which it was posted has been taken down and is only accessible via the Wayback Machine, so I think I am in the clear as far as copyright it concerned.
If you are wondering, this is the sort of thing I read for fun. That’s right, for kicks. I read this stuff because I love Literature and even literary criticism but I also do so as a way to exercise my mind because modern literary criticism is one of the few types of nonfiction that I still find very difficult to read.
Most of the things that I post here about – psychology, sociology, foreign policy, domestic policy, political economics, gender studies, race realism, etc. – are often a result of reading I have done. However, the reading involved in any of the fields above is typically not very challenging to me. I can just wolf it right down. It’s often very interesting but it’s not like it’s hard to figure out.
Now when we get into Linguistics and literary criticism, it’s a whole new ballgame. I read Linguistics because it’s my field, but I also do so to exercise my brain because a lot of the Linguistics I read is pretty hard to understand. So it’s a brain workout.
And I read literary criticism not only because I love literature but because modern literary criticism is often very hard to read and understand.
In part this is due to the way it is written – nowadays, it’s all based on critical theory with all of the postmodernism and post-structuralism that implies. Names like Derrida, Lacan, Foucalt, etc. are tossed about – and these Frenchman are hard if not impossible for anyone to understand.
In fact, one criticism of them (see Noam Chomsky) is that what they writing simply makes no sense at all. I would throw in Slavoj Zizek here for good measure. I don’t think he makes sense at all.
So quite a bit of the time, literary criticism doesn’t make much sense because that’s the general idea – it’s not supposed to make sense. A lot of the time I think even the authors don’t even understand what their own articles are going on about.
One annoyance is repetitive themes running through all of this: the blurring of boundaries, borders, meaning, and the divide between the world of the self and the external world of perception and representation.
Another theme seems to be the difficulty or impossibility of finding any true meaning in much of anything or the idea that meaning is personal in any text, has no firm definition, and is instead derived via the particular personal interpretation of the reader himself.
This last theme is actually interesting in a way, even if these folks take it way too far. But that is the subject of another post.
As you can see, the themes above are all the usual obsessions of postmodernism. But I tire of reading about this theme. Sometimes it seems like all modern literary criticism is telling the same story and that is reiterating the themes above. It gets old after a while.
Isn’t there anything else we can derive from reading modern literature but the claustrophobic themes above? It seems to be a lack of imagination on the part of literary critics that they have boxed themselves in like this, not to mention that it makes a lot of modern literary criticism quite boring.
I’ve recently read quite a bit of literary criticism as a brain workout, if you will. Most of it did not seem appropriate for a repost here, as it was hard for me to understand and for sure it’s going to be hard for you all to understand. But this essay was pretty much intelligible to me, and it ought to be understandable to most of you all too.
Whether or not you are into literary criticism and these two authors is another matter. But you might want to dip into it just for a brain workout anyway, as it deals with a lot of concepts that are not easy at all to grasp.
The two authors here are Thomas Pynchon and John Barth.
Pynchon’s books are few – nine.
I have read all five of these, and they’re all great:
The Crying of Lot 49
I have not yet read these four:
Mason & Dixon
Against the Day
Which is most of the later stuff. I have read excerpts of the first two, in particular Mason & Dixon, but I haven’t read the whole books. I’ve read very little of Against the Day, Inherent Vice, and Bleeding Edge. Mason & Dixon and Against the Day are supposed to be awesome.
Barth has written many more books than Pynchon – 18. 12 of those are said to be very good. The rest are more up in the air.
I have read the following book:
The Sot-Weed Factor
It’s very long – 756 pages – but it’s great!
The Floating Opera
The End of the Road
Lost in the Funhouse
Sabbatical: A Romance
The Tidewater Tales
The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor
Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera
On with the Story
The Book of Ten Nights and a Night
Where Three Roads Meet
The Friday Book
The Floating Opera, The End of the Road, Giles Goat-Boy, Lost in the Funhouse, Chimera, Letters, Sabbatical, The Tidewater Tales, Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera, The Development, The Friday Book, and Final Fridays are all supposed to be very good.
Let me know if you want me to run more stuff like this or if you think this is a huge waste of time. If you are into literature, you might want to read stuff like this simply as a brain workout if you are into such exercizes.
Dirk Vanderbeke (Greifswald)
Vineland in the Novels of John Barth and Thomas Pynchon (1)
At the end of the first chapter of Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49, the heroine Oedipa Maas is reminded of a trip to Mexico with her former and now late lover Pierce Inverarity.
If you imagine a tapestry spreading out from a single point, you will get something approaching the shape of a wavy V, the letter which is of crucial importance in the novels of Thomas Pynchon.
If Mexico City is chosen as the starting point of this image, the shape of the wavy V may come to resemble the North American continent, and it may be useful to keep in mind that it was Central America where the first concepts of the New World were formed.
And if you finally travel along the branching lines of the V up to 40° of latitude, you will come to Vineland: i.e. the actually existing town of Vineland, New Jersey in the East and the fictional city and county of Vineland in the West.
When Pynchon’s novel Vineland was published in 1990, the initial V. served to some extent as a trademark of the obscure author, and after 17 years of silence since Gravity’s Rainbow, expectations were running high. But many of the reviewers were rather disappointed at first (cf. Keesey 1990; Hawthorne 1992, 77).
The title suggested some historical depth, a concern with the origin of America, and possibly an evocation of another American dream, the mythological ‘Vinland the Good’, which never had to face the reality of history and thus could remain in a prelapsarian state. Yet there is less historical interest in the actual book than in any of Pynchon’s previous novels.
The text hardly ever leaves the time-frame experienced by its readers, i.e. the few decades since the 60’s; only occasionally are there some brief reminiscences about the strikes and labor movements of the 30’s or the anticommunist witch hunt of the 50’s. And the only mythology mentioned in the text is the lore of the Yuroks, the Native Americans of the Vineland area.
Still, some attempts were made to link the fictional Vineland of the novel with the Vinland of the Vikings:
I will later come back to the mythical river of the dead, but for the moment I would like to suggest that this kind of analogy is rather forced – the ‘Blessed Islands’ do not really resemble the grim image of Tsorrek.
Another critic wrote:
The sudden shift from Leif Erikson’s idealized Vinland to the Spanish conquest in the quotation above blends two images of the New World which are not so easily reconciled. After all, even in the earliest Spanish accounts of America, the utopian dream was frequently balanced by its opposite, the dystopian nightmare, and the arcadian garden was also supposed to be inhabited by a multitude of monsters and man-eating savages.
I also doubt that Pynchon suggests that the American dream has become a nightmare – all his novels and especially his latest book Mason and Dixon indicate that history has lately been ‘a nightmare from which he is trying to awake’.
But the setting of the novel in the year 1984 certainly does suggest a dystopian view of contemporary America and thus the Vineland region, a dwelling place of marijuana farmers, old hippies, and large sections of the counter culture, may very well indicate the other America which is now under siege, the land of myth and eternal childhood.
But Pynchon’s novel is far too ambiguous to offer us a simplistic alternative of a better world, even if this world is eventually doomed to fail and succumb to the evil forces of Reaganite persecution.
His Vineland is a complex web of intertextual references and hidden allusions, and I want to suggest that one of the most important texts in this context is John Barth’s novel The End of the Road, which is partly set in Vineland, New Jersey – Barth’s title would, of course, be a very suitable subtitle for all of Pynchon’s novels.
Vineland, New Jersey, was, by the way, the site of a utopian community in the 19th century based on strictly teetotal regulations. The fact that Pynchon’s Vineland is rather the last refuge for dope heads and the grass-growing segment of American agriculture may tie in with concepts of complementarity in his earlier novels.(2) And maybe the oversized grapes of the mythical Vinland were simply translated into modern modes of intoxication.
The End of the Road, published in 1958, explores the human condition in terms of freedom, choice, and motivation. I suppose that it will not be necessary to outline the plot of the novel; for the purpose at hand, a brief summary of the basic situation will suffice.
At the chronological beginning of the novel, the hero, Jacob Horner, does not sit in the corner as in the well-known nursery rhyme but instead sits on a bench at Pennsylvania Railway Station in Baltimore, and he is completely paralyzed not because of some kind of bodily handicap or ailment but because he simply cannot find any reason to move.
Having asked at the ticket window for possible destinations he might reach with his money, he takes a seat to make up his mind.
The plurality of possibilities has led to an impasse because the alternatives offered carry no intrinsic value. If everything is ultimately the same, there is no basis and no reason for choice.
Jacob Horner remains in the grip of paralysis, like Buridan’s ass locked in its state of indecision, until the next day he is observed by an obscure, nameless Black doctor who specializes in cases of psychological paralysis and takes him to a remobilization farm. The farm is situated in Vineland, New Jersey.
This choice of location in a novel of mainly fictitious places may be taken as an indication that America and the American dream are at stake and that the therapies offered or rather prescribed bear some significance for the American condition.(3)
The most important and striking feature of all the quite unusual therapies mentioned is that they do not even try to touch upon the causes of psychological paralysis – all they deal with are the symptoms of a state of mind which is more or less taken for granted.
Among the therapies offered there are Agapotherapy or Devotional Therapy, Sexual Therapy, Conversational Therapy, Virtue and Vice Therapy, Philosophical Therapy, Theotherapy and Atheotherapy, all of which are basically methods by which one may choose between different modes of action without the necessity of an individual evaluation of the possibilities at hand.
The doctor states that “Choosing is existence” (ER 77), and in this claim we may detect a faint echo of the credo of democracy and a celebration of the ultimate achievement of freedom in the proverbial land of unlimited possibilities, but the principle of choice is re-qualified as an absurd ritual, vital but meaningless:
The French equivalent of Jacob Horner, the hero of René Clair’s La Princess de Chine, organizes his life on the basis of similar modes of selection in an extensive game on probability. In Barth’s novel, the ability to choose remains a sine qua non of existence even after the evaluation of alternatives has long lost its relevance.
Jacob Horner’s paralysis is the result of an ultimate lack of ego, he is simply a person without a personality. His emblem is a small statue of Laokoön, immobilized, the mute mouth opened in a silent scream. The doctor’s solution to Horner’s problem is Mythotherapy, the willful selection of a role-model as the prototype for one’s own life and every process of decision-making.
The philosophical principle ‘Know thyself’ is thus undermined by the realization that there is no self to be known, that there are only multitudes of masks to conceal the essential emptiness. The American ideal of the self-made man takes an almost Lacanian twist where the “self” is “made” by prefabricated roles, and the life story precedes the life it will narrate.
It is made quite clear that Mythotherapy is not simply the cure for Jacob’s state of mind but the general mode of human existence, and that paralysis is rather the result of not being able to participate in Mythotherapy any longer.
In consequence, all the characters of the novel are occasionally observed in the process of donning and doffing their masks. In fact, it seems as if Barth in his novel had anticipated Michel Foucault’s diagnosis of the selves as the difference of masks (cf. Foucault 1974, 131).
Thus the question for motivation leads to an infinite regress, as every action can be traced back to an earlier choice of the role to which the function of decision-making was assigned.
When Jacob Horner commits adultery with his only friend’s wife, the attempt to analyze this act, to attribute motive to a deed done, will lead to catastrophe.
As neither of the characters in question is able to account for any intentions which motivated the act or to define the infinitesimally small change in atmosphere which ultimately led to the considerable result, the only mode of investigation seems to consist in a forced and increasingly reluctant repetition, which leads to pregnancy, which leads to abortion, which leads to death.
The concept that each life is based on a story and that the story precedes life must take into account that each story ends with the final period and that human life follows the law of diminishing possibilities.
It might be possible to take the development of the plot as a kind of analogy to the butterfly effect of chaos theory, i.e. a minor shift in initial conditions leads to major effects, but then novelists knew about this long before scientists began to investigate the phenomenon.
The ill-fated abortion is performed by the nameless doctor in Vineland.
It is preceded by a kind of Faustian pact in order to gain the doctor’s agreement, but in accordance with the basic lack of human essence proclaimed throughout the novel, Jacob Horner does not have to trade his dubitable soul but his future life – he agrees to become the property of the doctor, to follow him as a living case study when the farm is moved to a new location – the remobilization farm turns out to be the most mobile element in the novel.
On the last page, Jacob Horner is taking a taxi to the railway station to meet the doctor. Beginning and end are reversed in the image of the railway station, i.e. the starting point of endlessly bifurcating paths but at the same time the final destination of all those paths. This image will return in the mythology of the other Vineland on the West Coast.
But in a sense the story of Jacob Horner begins and ends in Vineland at the remobilization farm, where initially unlimited though meaningless possibilities are offered, except they lead back to the same place and to the loss of any choice.
The American dream of liberty, of mobility, of the eternal frontier, has been replaced by arbitrariness, chance, mindless motion, and ultimately by paralysis and death, the last word of the novel being “terminal” – I do not think it will be necessary to elaborate on the double meaning.
In Pynchon’s Vineland some of the elements of The End of the Road are re-investigated. Again I do not think that it will be necessary to give an outline of the plot; as a matter of fact, this would be quite impossible, as the novels of Thomas Pynchon do not yield to any kind of summary.
Let it suffice that the novel is based on the quest of a young girl, Prairie Wheeler, for her mother, Frenesi, who in the 60’s had originally been a member of a radical film crew but crossed the lines and for some time became the lover and instrument of the evil principle of the novel, the DA Brock Vond. As in The End of the Road, the novel begins and ends in Vineland, but it is Vineland, California, and 30 years have passed.
Again, Vineland marks an end of the road, and in a sense one might say that Vineland is the last frontier of an expanding and colonizing America.
This almost mythical land has become the last refuge for the remains of the American counterculture of the 60’s, eternal hippies as well as labor movement activists, but it is under siege from the lumber industry on the one hand and from CAMP, i.e. the Campaign Against Marijuana Production, on the other hand.
In consideration of Pynchon’s rather obvious bias for the failed revolution of the 60’s and the identification of evil with the Reagan administration and especially every kind of law enforcement, this could lead to the simple understanding that Vineland resembles Vinland the Good, that good and evil are easily distinguished in the novel and in politics in general, and that mind-expanding drugs may offer a new vision of the American dream.
As a matter of fact, one of the leaders of the 60’s in the novel, later to be assassinated, is called Weed Atman, which might be translated into ‘marijuana smoke’. But things are not so easy in Pynchon’s novels.
If possible, psychological involvement with Mythotherapy has taken leaps since The End of the Road. But while the doctor’s prescriptions were chiefly based on the classical role models of Western tradition or even on narrative functions as described by structuralist patterns, we now encounter distinct voices and gestures taken directly from the ever-present television, the capitalized Tube.
In George Orwell’s 1984 the telescreen serves as the ubiquitous instrument of control because it can monitor each and every move. In Vineland’s America of 1984 this has proven to be quite unnecessary because each and every move is motivated by the images and characters observed on the screen.
The vision of the American dream has been replaced by television, and the question of good and evil has been blurred by the fact that every story needs its villain, no matter whether the villain is the outlaw or the cop.
When Prairie’s father is confronted by an old-time acquaintance from the police who is still after him, the conversation turns into a fast game of impersonations, with the law enforcement officer humming the tune from Meet the Flintstones and alternately imitating Clint Eastwood and Skipper from Gilligan’s Island.
As one result of this impact of the media, the generation gap tends to close. The world of Vineland is marked by a culture of reruns and thus also by a ritualized and quite literal déjà vu, as each childhood is largely structured by the tubal input which remains constantly retrievable ever after.
Children and adults are thus shaped by the same experience in which the past and the present are to some extent fused – the endless repetition creates a kind of timelessness.
As a matter of fact, a childhood which is extended into adult life was one of the significant features in the culture of the Yuroks, the native Americans of the Vineland region (cf. Becke & Vanderbeke 1992, 63-76), and it might be of interest here that one of the standard texts on Childhood in America contains a chapter on the Yuroks and was written by Erik Erikson (4) – the surname should ring a bell in the context of Vineland.
Pynchon’s Vineland features an equivalent to the clinic in The End of the Road, but it is no longer concerned with those who are unable to participate in Mythotherapy, it rather deals with patients who have developed some televisionary addiction, it is a “dryin’-out place for Tubefreeks” (Vl 33).
The name of this clinic is one of Pynchon’s typical acronyms: the abbreviation of the ‘National Endowment for Video Education and Rehabilitation’ spells NEVER, and like the Neverland of Peter Pan or Michael Jackson, it is a place for those who are unwilling or unable to grow up.
But it is not only the personal of Vineland that is obsessed with the new media, the text itself occasionally reads like a complicated version of Trivial Pursuit’s silver screen edition. The novel contains about 300 names, and disregarding the characters of the novel, by far the largest group of them consists of real or fictional characters associated with the new media.
As a result, the reading process occasionally turns into an extended excursion into pop culture, but there is a catch. Once you have achieved a complete understanding of all the allusions, you yourself will have turned into a potential patient of the rehabilitation center for addicts of tubal abuse.
And finally, reality itself seems to have been infused with the fantasies of the screen. All of Pynchon’s novels call for a heavy dose of willing suspension of disbelief, and quite regularly, the most unbelievable elements are actually taken from life. But here the fantastic element is almost completely an extension of television’s virtual reality into the world of Vineland.
The Thanatoids, a group of reproachful revenants who try to obtain recompense for wrongs done to them while alive, are, for example, quite obviously descendants of George A. Romero’s living dead, and when a Japanese Research and Development laboratory is flattened by a size 20,000 foot, we simply know that it was an act of God or Godzilla.
The world is constantly being told and retold on the screen until the narrative claims priority over the world itself. In terms of the image of the girls who weave the world in TCoL49, in Vineland the tapestry of the world has turned into video tape.
The ritualized cultural experience based on repetition, the dependence on pre-fashioned role models in any attempt to cope with an increasingly complex world, and especially the interaction of reality with the virtual reality of a prevailing narrative mode which is distinctly illiterate mark a cultural situation which bears some resemblance to mythical ways of worldmaking. America has to some extent returned to its origins.
This world is ruled by the members of a remote power elite – Brock Vond calls them the “Real Ones” (Vl 276) just as H. P. Lovecraft refers to the “Great Old Ones” or the “Ancient Ones.” Their will is carried out by the computer, an instrument of control which has turned into a symbol of arbitrariness, incomprehensible but unquestionable processes of decision-making, and a metaphor for a cruel and despotic God.
When Prairie’s mother Frenesi and her husband are quite suddenly dropped from the government’s pay list and their bank accounts are canceled, she starts to hum to a sort of standard gospel tune:
The computer has assumed the role of former mythical deities, granting or withholding the flow of modern forms of sustenance, i.e. money, in the same way in which the local gods granted or withheld the return of the salmon.
The novel opens with a ritualized annual performance by Prairie’s father: once a year he has to jump through the closed window of a public building to prove his mental instability and also his obedience to the powers that be, and he is rewarded for this act with a monthly mental disability check.
The story of Vineland follows Joseph Campbell’s well-known pattern of the quest for the mythical hero’s – or in this case heroine’s – origin. The time frame is cyclical rather than linear, and both the beginning and the end are marked by annual happenings, the beginning by Zoyd Wheeler’s autodefenestration and the end by a yearly family reunion which seems to embrace all segments of the American counterculture.
This counterculture has lost the revolutionary momentum of the 60’s. In fact, the anticipation of a better society has given way to a nostalgic remembrance of times past; the utopian dream has taken a regressive twist. America scorns its intellectuals, and the development of the political Left seems to prove the point.
According to Pynchon’s assessment of the last decades, large sections of the former Left have turned to a new irrationalism and the eclecticism of the so-called New Age philosophy. The movement of the 60’s, which never excelled in excessive coherence, has further dissolved into a heterogeneous mass of solipsistic and interchangeable ideologies.
In Vineland these include the usual forms of radical vegetarianism and mysticism but also the clinic for karmic readjustment and the Sisterhood of Kunoichi Attentives. But in one way or another all segments seem to be connected with Vineland, and they all turn up at the annual reunion of a Pan-American family in the Vineland region. In the course of this reunion, American history is ritually retold as an endless succession of persecution and the abuse of power:
In Barth’s novel, Vineland offered a cure for paralysis, but the cure did not include a return to a meaningful evaluation of different possibilities – it was based on arbitrariness and chance.
In Pynchon’s Vineland all the decisions seem to have taken a bad turn, and American history reads like a long list of wrong roads taken. The final failure of utopian ideals was established once the screen dominated the scene. The diagnosis is announced by an adolescent violence freak:
America, the seemingly most advanced society, has relapsed into a quasi-mythical mode, and Original Sin is endlessly repeated in every instance of giving in or selling out to the agents of power – in fact, with every use of the remote control, the term carries a very precise double meaning in this context.
The area of Vineland may be a last refuge for the other America, but it has long succumbed to the American way of life in the age of mass media. It may be of interest here that the name of Prairie Wheeler fuses both aspects of America: the old and the new, the primordial and virgin American landscape and the intrusion of the railroad or, using Leo Marx’s image, the machine and the garden.
In addition, the seductive power of order is working on the last inhabitants of the happy enclave. In Orwell’s 1984 there was a catch:
In Vineland‘s 1984 the paradox reads: If there is hope it lies in the hippies, the anarchists, and especially the children. But until they organize they can never succeed, and once they begin to organize, they have changed sides.(5) But even more important: behind every act of revolt there lurks the wish for a return to the equilibrium of order (6):
All this seems to indicate the necessity of doom, the ultimate failure of each and every hope for individuality and the salvation of the American dream. But Pynchon ends his novel with an unexpected twist. The mythical landscape of the Native Americans itself succeeds and overcomes the forces of evil, if only temporarily.
On the last pages, the villain is led to the land of no return – to Tsorrek – the Yurok version of Styx, the river of the dead. The road to Tsorrek can open anywhere, i.e. all roads finally lead to the same destination, and so many have walked this road that it is trodden deep into the earth.
The familiar image of time as a garden of branching paths, i.e. of endless possibilities, is turned into its opposite, an image of the irreversible processes leading to death. The question of general history is replaced by the inevitable conclusion of life.
With the death of the villain, the book may end on an unfamiliarly happy note (at least in the context of Pynchon’s novels), but this is balanced by the rather grim image of the unhappy hereafter, which after all seems to be a place in Arcadia.
(2) In The Crying of Lot 49, for instance, we find the names Tristero and Hilarius, one being the incarnation of the entropic forces in nature and society, the other a psychoanalyst who started his career in a German concentration camp and is thus ultimately associated with the forces of order.
But the names allude to Giordano Bruno’s motto for his play Candelaio “In tristitia hilaris: in hilaritate tristis” and thus to the concept of the coincidentia oppositorum – and, as a matter of fact, Tristero and Hilarius do each – like yin and yang – contain elements of the opposing principle, and they both lead to the same reaction, i.e. paranoia. (back)
(3) In the discussion at the conference it was suggested that the doctor’s existentialist background may put Europe rather than America under attack in Barth’s novel. This is certainly a valid point, America is heavily influenced by European philosophy in The End of the Road.
But the text does not offer any alternative. Joe Morgan, complementary counterpart to the doctor and all-American scoutmaster, definitely takes part in the game of impersonations. The rules established by the doctor in Vineland govern each and every character of the novel, they define the American condition. (back)
(4) I am grateful for Hartmut Lutz’s remark in the discussion of this paper that Erikson’s account of the Yuroks bears little resemblance to reality. Pynchon’s allusions to the Yuroks are chiefly references to Yurok mythology, still the importance of a prolonged adolescence in Vineland seems to indicate that Erikson’s book and its claim of ‘infantile attitudes’ preserved within Yurok culture may have served as a source for the novel. (back)
(5) This problem recurs frequently in Pynchon’s texts, it is of crucial importance in his short story “The Secret Integration” and it leads to the ultimate failure of the ‘Counterforce’ in Gravity’s Rainbow.(back)
(6) Anne Hegerfeldt has reminded me of the fact that in nature there is, of course, no equilibrium of order but only equilibrium of disorder. I would like to maintain though, that in Pynchon’s novels there is a tendency towards order and that the entropic process is reversed in his depiction of human history and society. (back)
Barth, J., The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, New York 1988.
Becke, R. & Vanderbeke, D., “Chants of Dispossession and Exile: The Yuroks in Vineland“, in: Pynchon Notes 30-31, spring – fall 1992, pp. 63-76.
Booker, M.K., “Vineland and Dystopian Fiction”, in: Pynchon Notes, No 30-31, spring – fall 1992, pp. 5-38.
Foucault, M., The Archaeology of Knowledge, London 1974.
Hawthorne, M.D., “Imaginary Locales in Pynchon’s Vineland“, in: Pynchon Notes, No 30-31, spring – fall 1992, pp. 77-90.
Keesey, D., “Vineland in the Mainstream Press: A Reception Study”, in: Pynchon Notes, No 26-27, spring – fall 1990, pp. 107-113.
Orwell, G., 1984, Harmondsworth 1972.
Pynchon, Th., The Crying of Lot 49, New York 1967.
—–, Vineland, Boston 1990.
The Jim Carroll Band, Catholic Boy, 1980
Teddy sniffing glue he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mineThose are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedJimmy and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby OD’d on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedMary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in The Tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others
And I salute you brotherThose are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedHerbie pushed Tony from the Boys’ Club roof
Tony thought that his rage was just some goof
But Herbie sure gave Tony some bitchin’ proof
“Hey,” Herbie said, “Tony, can you fly?”
But Tony couldn’t fly – Tony died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedBrian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin’ on some bikers
He said, “Hey, I know it’s dangerous
But it sure beats Riker’s”
But the next day he got offed
By the very same bikers
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedTeddy sniffing glue he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedJimmy and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in Upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby OD’d on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they diedMary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others
This song is for you my brother
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died
A very interesting figure from the very early punk rock days in New York. Although he was heterosexual, he worked as a rent boy on the streets of New York to get money for his heroin habit. Lots of young straight junkies do this in New York. Johnny Ramone did it. You would be amazed at how many straight men will have sex with men for money, especially if they are drug addicts. It would boggle your mind.
He hung out with Patti Smith, Richard Hell, the Ramones, Johnny Thunders, William Burroughs, and all the rest of the New York punk maniac crowd back then. I remember William Burroughs came to give a reading in LA in 1980, and though I wasn’t there, the place was full of the craziest LA punkers – all the local maniacs were there.
Burroughs was a punk icon as he was a Beat icon and even a bit of a hippie icon. In the hippie era, there long-haired young man backpacking through Europe with a copy of Nova Express became something of an archetype. Face it: Burroughs is a hipster – the ultimate hipster.
All the people in this song died young. They were all shooting stars – after all, every shooting star burns out after a brief flash of glory. A lot of these types have an air of doom about them from early on. They seem headed in only one un-veering final direction with no way to stop them. Get out of the way before they take you with them.
It’s a great song though from back in the day. This is one more example of how great early punk rock was!
Amazing how many people this young man knew who died. Sort of reminds me of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side too with the list of wild characters and crazy behavior – the crowd that loves to bet it all, to throw it all down and tiptoe on the tight wire of life for no particular reason, or just for the Hell of it.
Jim Carroll RIP.
As I showed you with that song by that German gothic band earlier, it often doesn’t even matter if you can understand the words to a song.
A great song can be sung in a foreign language and it matters not. Because the glory and beauty of music goes far beyond the pure meaning of whatever lyrics are being sung. Often the words are beautiful even if you can’t understand a word!
How does that work? I suppose you don’t have to understand any particular work of art for it to be great. I had no idea at all what was happening most of the time in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, but it didn’t even matter! I read along anyway, and the fact that I had no idea of a plot took away nothing from my feeling that that was one of the greatest novels ever written in English. It was a great story! Who cares what the confounded plot was?
Perhaps the best way to see this is to posit that art and its beauty (for art is nothing without its beauty) and its affect on one’s mind and soul goes far beyond a simple understanding (which we can call “intelligibility”) of the work. It’s affecting you on a whole different level than ordinary intelligibility, perhaps on a higher level of perception where meaning and intelligibility doesn’t even matter. All that matters instead is what I might call “pure perception” and the experience of such. All that matters is the emotional reaction to the work of art.
By the way there is a whole subfield of philosophy dedicated to the study of art and its beauty called Aesthetics. It’s pretty interesting stuff. Even the Greeks had a lot of interesting things to say about Aesthetics. James Joyce deals with this subject in Portrait of an Artists as a Young Man, (highly recommended – the easiest Joyce novel to read) quoting St. Augustine, the great Christian mystic as part of his argument.
Augustine (City of God) was far more than a theologian. He was an incredible philosopher, and both philosophy and theology advanced dramatically after his thinking was published. Pretty good for a guy living in the 1200’s. I need to check out Augustine some time. I heard it’s great stuff, especially City of God.
I normally don’t like this type of Black rap poetry, but this poem is just out of this world. It’s by a Black activist, poet, musician, and playwright named Sekou Sundiata (an adopted African name). This is from an album called The Blue Oneness of Dreams from 1997. This album won a Grammy award that year.
This is some incredible stuff. Some Blacks can write superb poetry, some of the finest poetry of all.
I get hammered when I say this, but this is an example of what I call “the Black genius.” Now that’s not to say that there are Blacks geniuses who can partake of the other genius styles, but I don’t think they’re as common as this type. It is in this style of genius that the Black man and the Black brain for that matter, truly shines bright as day. I suppose other races can display this genius style, but you sure don’t see it very often.
I can’t help thinking that Black minds or Black brains are different or at least tend to be different on average, and pure Black geniuses often look different from pure White geniuses, who tend more towards the airy philosophical world of ideas. This rapid-fire rapping type poetry, commentary, or even rap music can be found as a conversational style by Cornel West, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Micheal Eric Dyson.
Listen to these Black geniuses (West is the best, but Dyson is also very good, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Hutchinson) and you will see that they all talk something like the Sundiata is in this video. It’s a very fast verbal brain at work, almost spewing out words so fast you can barely keep track of them.
Blacks do score higher than any other race in verbal memory and Africa never had writing. All they had was this oral tradition. Who knows, maybe they even selected for it? Is it beyond the realm of possibility. I really love this Black genius type with the rapid fire super-genius brain rattling off the perfect words in the perfect rhythm often with the perfect musical pitch to the spoken word.
Some White men can do this too, especially comedians. I am thinking in particular of Lenny Bruce, a Jewish comedian with an almost “Black” stage style and even Andy Kaufman at his best.
I keep hearing this poem on my radio station and I keep wondering who this is. Tonight I memorized a few lines and put them in Google and wa-la! Ladies and gentlemen, we have an answer!
I’m thinking right now that if there’s a heaven, there’s musical poems like this being played up there.
This poem is just too perfect!
Here’s to the best words
In the right place
At the perfect time to the human mind
Blown-up and refined.
To long conversations and the
Philosophical ramifications of a beautiful day.
To the twelve-steppers
At the thirteenth step
May they never forget
The first step.
To the increase, to the decrease
To the do to the do
To the did to the did
To the do to the did
To the done done
To the lonely.
To the brokenhearted.
To the new, blue haiku.
Here’s to all or nothing at all.
Here’s to the sick, and the shut-in.
Here’s to the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
To the crazy
To the smooth
And the cool
And even to the fools.
Here’s to your ex-best-friend.
To the rule-benders and the repeat offenders.
To the lovers and the troublers
To the healers and the feelers
And the fixers and the tricksters
To a star falling from a dream.
To a dream, when you know what it means.
To the bottom
To the root
To the base, uh, boom!
To the drum
To the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
Here’s to somebody within the sound of your voice this morning.
Here’s to somebody who can’t be within the sound of your voice tonight.
To a low-cholesterol pig sandwich smothered in swine without the pork.
To a light buzz in your head
And a soundtrack in your mind
Going on and on and on and on and on like a good time.
Here’s to promises that break by themselves
Here’s to the breaks with great promise.
To people who don’t wait in the car when you tell them to wait in the car.
Here’s to what you forgot and who you forgot.
Here’s to the unforgettable.
To the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
Here’s to the hip-hoppers
The don’t stoppers
Heads nodding in the digital glow
Of their beloved studios.
To the incredible indelible impressions made by the gaze as you gaze in the faces of strangers.
To yourself you ask: Could this be God? Straight up!
Or is it a mask?
Here’s to the tribe of the hyper-cyber
Trippin’ at the virtual-most outpost at the edge on the tip
Believin’ that what they hear is the mothership
To the was you been to the is you in
To what’s deep and deep to what’s down and down
To the lost, and the blind, and the almost found.
A very famous writer from the last century. This photo may have been taken around 1900 when he was at university. This was before he got famous. Although he did complete a rough copy of his first novel four years later in 1904, it was not published until it was fully fleshed out 12 years later in 1916. He died around 1940.
His output was spare – only a single book of short stories, two books of poems, one of which is barely known, and three novels, although two of those were very long. The poems and short stories were published first. Then the first novel was published to a stunned public. The second huge novel followed not long after and caused shocks around the world. The final novel, quite long but not as long as the second, was published nearly 20 years later to a largely baffled public.
His work got increasingly complex. His easiest fiction to read is his short short stories, but even they are often quite complex and hard to understand. The first novel is the easiest of the three to read, but many nevertheless find it daunting. The second novel is a monumental leap beyond the first and the third novel continues to baffle readers to this day.
The last novel, published around his death in 1940, was a huge project that he worded on for nearly two decades of his life. Nevertheless despite his small output he is regarded as one of the major authors of the 20th Century.
Who is this man? Where was he born? Name his books of poetry, his book of short stories and the three novels.
I posted this on Facebook and I was banned not once, but twice, for this post! After the first time I figured they would just delete it because that is what they usually do when they give you a few days ban. Well, they left it up. Then they banned me for it again. I mean come on. How many times do you have to ban me for one post. Ever heard of double jeopardy?
Mix well, stir, cook on high until boiling then reduce to low heat and cover for 25 minutes. Then take it off the heat and let it sit for five minutes. Now you’re gay as Hell and soon enough you will yourself for no reason, but so what! You’re on your way to becoming a good writer!
I have recently been reading lots of great writers of the past, oh, 100-150 years or so. A lot of that stuff is free. I will grab an old classic and read like one page, and then go grab another one and read like one page, on and on. Anyway it’s still pretty awesome!
And then I read up on all these great writers and books. And reading a lot of poetry/lit prose too from poetry blogs, all classic stuff, but that’s more a paragraph at a time than a page.
And like half these lit blogs are written by homosexuals or trannies or whatevers. And that’s starting to annoy me. Why? Not because they’re gay but because they won’t shut up about it. Cuz I want to read about poets, not about your dykery or wanting to turn into a guy!
Why I do this? Because I’m bored.
Well anyway, researching all these great writers and poets, I keep coming across homosexual homosexual bisexual bisexual or whatever. Like almost no one is straight. Like being straight is almost illegal ILLEGAL or something. And the women writers were way gayer than the men.
So I am thinking, “Exactly how many great poets were not some species of gay?!”
And like half of the poets were suicides. And I’m also thinking, “How many poets did not commit suicide?” Cuz it seems like they all take themselves out at some point.
So I am thinking, “Ok there’s a connection. Great writers/poets are basically freaks, an insane number of them are some gay species, and it’s almost a requirement to off yourself.”
And then I’m thinking, “Oh well, if I have to put up with faggotry and dykery and mass suicides to get my great prose, ok, that’s a deal that I will take.”
Cuz at the end of the day all that matters is that these great writers wrote great stuff. Everything else is meaningless.
A guess I can tell you that this man is a famous American author. The photo is from 1934, when he was doing a lot of his writing.
If you all wonder what I do in my spare time, well, I like to feed my brain and work out my brain, mostly by reading things that I find very hard to understand. The harder it is to understand, the more I like it.
Here is an article I read recently. It’s Literary Criticism. Some of this stuff is extremely hard to understand. In fact, it is some of the most hard to understand stuff out there. Some people say that that is because it’s all nonsense, but I think a lot of it is just really thick and hard to figure out. It’s operating on a higher plane that most of us are.
I’m honestly not sure if this article is nonsensical and full of crap or if it actually means something. I think it probably means something, but I’m just not smart enough to figure it out. I’m not sure if Literary Criticism is full of nonsense yet. For some reason I doubt that it is.
Anyway, if you want to see the sort of thing I spend my days reading, here you go. And by the way, you are welcome to try to understand it yourself.
Extreme Polarities of Game in Nabokov’s “Lolita”
by Dana Sala
An aesthetician in the sense of Kierkegaard, Humbert wants to savor life without being limited by moral rules. Any writer might find himself reflected by the myth of Don Juan, identifiable with the eternal seducer of the reader. Lolita is a real presence, not a Humbertian alter-ego. Humbert the Seducer yearns to be seduced.
His existential game can furnish things for analysis to Humbert the Casuist provided that he has a counterpart – the game of Lolita, less spiritualized, less intellectual, but closer to the generic notion of game.
Fluctuating between life and death, the game of Don Juan longs to explore the other type of game, the active one. The game that resents reality (the imaginative game) is challenged by the game that
bravely assumes it (active). A perennial Manichaeism between these disjunctive components renders the necessary tension to any game – ultimately a result of two extreme polarities playing against each other.
Key words: casuistry; innocence; seducer or seduced; active and imaginative game; Nabokov; Lolita; Kierkegaard; seduction of literature; nymphets; kitsch; the ineffable; Narcissus; art and gratuitousness.
Fatally enslaved to innocence, Humbert Humbert cannot escape casuistry, as it offers both a compensatory means of transcending an undesired reality and a way of exploring it. Lolita is frantically desired and perverted during Nabokov’s discourse not by granting her money in exchange for her dearness but because of Humbert’s turning into a casuist.
Innocence cannot be re-found by analyzing a self already schizoid. Humbert can vaguely sense again the innocence in the company of a nymphet, of every nymphet (that’s why his ceaseless hunting of nymphets, even if he must have been satisfied with Lolita, is an impulse of living, not a sign of perversion). Humbert’s real perversion lays in his casuistry.
Another perversion is to be so refined in the art of seducing the reader. None of Don Juan’s acts of seducing could be accomplished without gratuity. An aesthetician in Kierkegaard’s sense, Humbert wants to savor life without being limited by moral rules. Innocence grants both Johann the Seducer (in Kierkegaard’s writings) and Humbert Humbert a life lived within the aesthetic stage of existence.
Paradoxically, Lolita is a consumer without any remorse of what Humbert (and this time Nabokov either) hated most: the stereotyped society, sterile imitation, commercial kitsch. In this respect, Lo is not individualized but conventional, as conventional as a nymphet could be. The difference between Lo as a nymphet and a stereotyped woman (any from Miss Opposite to Charlotte Haze) is that Lolita does not live according to these clichés.
Her life may be governed by them, she is gravitating around them, turning them into commodities, but her nymphic glimpse makes her incorporate all these consuming goods. Thus they are made her own.
Humbert’s narcissism lays in the fact that he is more eager to know the inner world rather than the outer one. The paths of exploring the world go through the inner self. Loving Lolita becomes an act of a 20th Century Narcissus. We are very far from the commonsensical situation when a powerful male personality transforms the beloved one into a reflex of his own self.
Humbert could be a perfect illustration of the Narcissus myth not because he loves himself in Lolita but because he wants to set in permanent forms the beloved image.
Any writer might find himself more or less anamorphotically reflected by Don Juan’s myth, identifiable with the eternal seducer rather than the ceaseless lover. The exertion of demiurgic valences of an author, generically speaking, could be equated with a Don Juanesque temptation to construct a suffocating intrigue around the victim since the authentic Don Juan will never disrelish demiurgic enticement.
In order to be perfectly overlapped, both writer and seducer must be possessed by the demon of the intellectual game. In Nabokov’s Lolita and Kierkegaard’s The Diary of the Seducer Don Juan is not only an archetype but also the main character, seductive as narrating self, seduced as character.
For Nabokov, fiction is a game and a contest with the reader:
I want my learned readers to participate in the scene I am about to replay. (Nabokov, Lolita: 13).
Like every other bit of existence in this book, game has in turn its right to Siamese twinning. Therefore, an essential distinction in Nabokov’s fiction would be that between the two facets of the twofold game.
One is the imaginative game; the other is the active one. A perennial Manicheanism between these disjunctive components renders the necessary tension to any game – ultimately a result of two extreme polarities playing against each other. Nabokov, the writer who suffered a second exile, a linguistic one
paved the way for the truly postmodernist novels that were to follow
M. Couturier, 1993: 257
The imaginative game is high-minded, aware of its own uncertainties, and non-finite because of its endless combinations of virtual realities. This is the game of fiction, the authorial game, the Humbertian one, the contest of minds with the reader. Humbert is playing this game with the other Humbert, and Nabokov is playing it against Humbert and Quilty, by whom Humbert might be written.
The imaginative game means perpetual replacement and recreation of realities. The so-called active game is the one engulfed by reality. This game resents the non-finite reality of mind, preferring the genuineness of the conceivable world. Humbert Humbert’s game is centripetal; Lolita is centrifugal.
The active game is attempting to find a way of real manifestation. For the fictional game, the outer world is too suffocating, whilst for the active game, the inner world is too broad. Lolita’s playing with Humbert, Lolita’s disclaiming virginity to Charlie Holmes, the nymphic games integrating an immobile Humbert – these all belong to the active nature of the game.
By means of imaginative game, “reality” (one of the few words which mean nothing without quotes) is transcended to the aesthetic level of being. Humbert shares with Nabokov the appetite for autoscopic game. A sample of the authorial imaginative game is the intrusion of a preface teller illustrating the conventional moral view point, telling us what we must not understand from the novel.
Dr. John Ray Jr. would not be able to recognize himself mocked – as a exponent of a certain category of people – since the capacity of reflection, of playing dangerously with your double, cannot be understood by all readers.
As a case history, “Lolita” will become, no doubt, a classic in psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expiatory aspects; and still more important to us than scientific significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book should have on the serious reader; for in this poignant personal study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the egotistic mother, the panting maniac- these are not only vivid characters in a unique story: they warn us of dangerous trends; they point out potent evils.
“Lolita” should make all of us – parents, social workers, educators – apply ourselves with a still greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing up a better generation in a safer world.
Nabokov, Lolita: 5
Both Nabokov and Humbert Humbert’s fictional games have no expressed target.
It would be inappropriate to see it as a mere justification of a murder or of a pervert.
Fluctuating between life and death, Don Juan’s game longed to explore the other type of game, the active one. The game that resents reality (imaginative) is challenged by the game that bravely assumes it (active).
Humbert the child was probably playing active games with Annabel Leigh (disclosed later as Annabel Lee with a frankness borrowed from or mimicking nymphic behavior). That must have happened before he was assaulted by two barbarian intruders who actually raped his androgynous clumsiness.
This moment coincides with the implicit revelation of the postponed fulfillment and with the intermission of an irreversible personality split:
My world was split. I was aware of not one, but two sexes, neither of which was mine; both would be termed female by the anatomist. [ … ] Taboos strangulated me. Psychoanalysts wooed me with pseudoliberations or pseudolibidoes. The fact that to me the only objects of amorous tremor were sisters of Annabel’s, her handmaids and girl-pages, appeared to me at times as a forerunner of insanity.
Nabokov, Lolita: 18
While Humbert underwent the inexorable metamorphosis into a mature schizoid, Lolita,
although twofold nature herself, presents the extremes of vulgarity and innocence fused
together. Her personality is not painfully split. Humbert the Casuist admits that Humbert the
Seducer will be lured by the genuineness of a nymphet that refuses to be shaped.
A Humbert, the first or the second, we will never know, is the mirror reflection of the other one. That is why the first Humbert can charge the second Humbert with abominable features, while his true desire is to be seduced by innocence.
Lolita arrived in her Sunday frock, stemming, panting and then she was in my arms, her innocent mouth melting under the ferocious pressure of dark male jaws, my palpitant darling! The next instant I heard her – alive, unraped – clatter downstairs.
Nabokov, Lolita: 66
Lo as a nymphet means a permanent resuscitation of Humbert’s erect attention, as this erotically un-evolved widower will always run away from fulfillment. For Kierkegaard, the happy marriage or happy love is inconceivable. In the same spirit, “Lolita” illustrates the doctrine of Eros Kosmogon, saying that Eros, as a daimon, as a mediator of two principles, exists as long as these two principles fail to unify (see J. Evola).
Therefore the moment of coupling coincides with the annihilation of Eros itself, viewed as longing of the being to be coupled with the non-being.
Nabokov and Kierkegaard’s casuistry reveal the dramatic condition of the overlucid Don Juan endowed with an ontological contempt of the stereotype of femininity.
Don Juan accepts only an equal partner who rejects becoming a mere reflex of his own self. Thus the myth of Pygmalion is reversed. The aesthetic pleasure is not given by the act of engulfing the feminine presence into the male self. On the contrary, Don Juan is attracted only by the ineffable type of women, respecting the noumenal part of femininity.
In this way, Lolita is a real presence, not an Humbertian alter-ego. Humbert the Seducer yearns to be seduced, as his existential game can furnish things for analysis to Humbert the Casuist only when he bumps into a corresponding replay – Lolita’s game, less spiritualized, less intellectual, but closer to the generic notion of game.
As Huizinga stated, game is beyond good and evil. Vladimir Nabokov’s seducer and Kierkegaard’s Don Juan can be looked on as aestheticians, belonging to the first level of being in Kierkegaard’s term.
For Kierkegaard the essence of a man is defined as aesthetic, and this represents the first stage of being. Consequently, the aestheticism is not necessarily the artist but someone who has discovered in pleasure the purpose of his life, denying the presence of good and evil. The
aestheticism’s act of living is achieved through the aesthetics of his self.
Every aestheticism lives so that he could voluptuously respond to all desires commanding him. Moreover, his quest tends to reveal more and more yearnings to be fulfilled. How the outer world reacts to this has no relevance for the aestheticism.
Humbert’s perversion can be seen in his attitude to the reader rather than in his pedophilic propensities. It is the demoniac glimpse which differentiates a nymphet from any other adolescent and helps Humbert Humbert localize her. Humbert’s intention is in fact to suspend the instant and isolate it.
Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and 14 there occur maidens who, to a certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as “nymphets”.
Between those age-limits, are all girl-children nymphets? Of course not. Otherwise, we who are in the know, we, lone voyagers, we nympholepts, would have long gone insane.
Nabokov, Lolita: 17.
Humbert Humbert’s aversion to stereotype makes him an unreliable narrator. Craig Raine remarked that
“Nabokov’s galère of unreliable narrators (Hermann in Despair, Kinbote in Pale Fire) represent unreliability in its extreme form. They are reliably unreliable. They get nothing right.”
Craig Raine, Afterword: 322
A twofold nature himself, a paragon of exactitude and a miracle of meticulousness fused with “hallucinative lucidity,” Humbert Humbert abhors the Hollywood stereotype of a woman. Lolita is a consumer of the same type of clichés, but this does not diminish her seductive potencies. She would prefer a Hamburger to a Humburger.
Hummy has striven all way to find an equal partner, double-natured. Vulgarity can coexist with shamelessness and purity. By the end of the novel, Humbert wholly regrets not having taken the angelic line of conduct at the “Enchanted Hunters.” He sees himself now as a maniac who has deprived Lolita of her childhood. Lolita, neither saint nor slut, but a complex mixture.
And neither is she the fragile child of a feminine novel.
What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet – of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity, stemming from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pictures, from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in the old country and in the very young harlots disguised as children in provincial brothels.
And what is most singular is that she, this Lolita, my Lolita, has individualized the writer’s ancient lust, so that above and over everything there is – Loli ta (Nabokov, Lolita: 44).
Annabel was meant to be the vanished angel. Lolita as her reincarnation outdid the prototype, as she had an extra demoniac glimpse and a twofold nature. On the other hand, Humbert Humbert attempts to analyze the ineffable nature of the nymphets, as he will always long for his androgynous state with Annabel:
My little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her equal, a faunlet in my own right, on the same enchanted island of time.
Nabokov, Lolita: 17
Unable to seduce Lolita, who acts physiologically, defying any metaphysical concepts, Humbert seeks compensation in seducing his readers. Humbert the pervert, comparable with Johannes from Kierkegaard’s The Seducer’s Diary, attempts to detect the resort of innocence and fails, perverting it.
Their supreme refinement is the fact they try to do so in writing. Losing virginity coincides with the revelation of the end, of the finite. This is valid for Humbert who becomes from that moment Humbert Humbert. Reaching enlightenment, Humbert Humbert cannot ignore or deny knowing.
It is impossible for him to pretend that the sense of his quest has not changed irreversibly. For Lolita, the Charlie Holmes experience is just a childish game. Her authenticity has not been endangered, and the world has not changed its coordinates.
Lolita’s innocence belongs to the category of “ignorant innocence”. Humbert Humbert, now that he knows the world is limited and love subdued to Death, is fascinated by this type of innocence, totally devoid of shame. All his strategies of seducing Lolita reveal in fact a surprising timidity. Humbert Humbert does not exactly plan how to make Lolita love him but how to derive small satisfactions without her approval.
Recomposing his identity is a playful way of guaranteeing the subjective truth. This attitude is preserved in approaching the nymphet. The greatest Humbertian joy now is to let the nymphic nature fully manifest itself and recompose all these images in silence so that the White Widowed Male could “blissfully digest” the “rare drop of honey”.
In a way, Humbert has the intuition that the besieged Lolita is able to surprise the hunter and turn it into a “Hunted Enchanter”. Her natural way of becoming her stepfather’s mistress is the climax of her nymphic manifestations:
The hollow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolita- full of the feel of her preadolescently incurved back, that ivory smooth, sliding sensation of her skin through the thin frock that I had worked up and down while I held her. [ … ]I felt proud of myself.
I had stolen the honey of a spasm without impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely no harm done. The conjurer had poured milk, molasses, foaming champagne into a young lady’s new white purse; and Lo, the purse was intact. Thus I delicately constructed my ignoble, ardent, sinful dream; and still Lolita was safe – and I was safe.
What I had madly possessed was not she, but my own creation, another, fanciful Lo1ita –perhaps more real than Lo1ita; overlapping, encasing her; floating between me and her, and having no will, no consciousness- indeed no life- of her own.
The child knew nothing. I had done nothing to her. And nothing prevented me from repeating a performance that affected her as little as if she were a photographic image rippling upon a screen.
Nabokov, Lolita: 62
Had Lolita remained Humbert’s only in his imagination, she would have perfectly replaced Annabel, and she would have belonged to Humbert’s own reality. But Lolita has a life of her own, a self-sufficient existence that makes no room for moral dilemmas. She needs to be more than a prototype for Humbert’s recreation of another Lolita.
Humbert considers pathetic his hypostasis as a nymphic purity protector. This would be
the only possible way to fix Lolita in eternity, to set her unchanged. But Humbert can do so
only on the realm of arts. Art reconciles and stirs Lolita and Humbert’s games and destinies.
Don Juan is innocently seduced by innocence. The twofold nature of Humbert the Don Juan and Lolita are heaven and hell, life and death:
This is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow sticking to it, and blood and beautiful bright-green flies. At this or that twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, gliding into deeper and darker waters than I care to probe.
Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book.[… ] I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lo1i ta. (Nabokov, Lolita: 309).
The beginning is given new valences. Trying to seduce the illusion of Lolita, Humbert has engulfed the real one so deep inside that he can take her out only for the sake of his autoscopic view: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”
Works Cited :
Baudrillard, J. (1979) De la séduction, Paris, Galilée.
Couturier, M. (1993) Nabokov in Postmodernist Land, Critique, 34(4): 257.
Evola, J. (1993) Metafisica del sesso, Edizioni Mediterranee.
Jenkins, J. L. (2005) Searching High and Lo. Unholy Quests for Lolita, Twentieth Century
Kierkegaard, S. (1997) The Seducer’s Diary, with a foreword by John Updike, Princeton University Press.
Nabokov, V. (1995) Lolita, Afterword by Craig Raine, Penguin Books. Copyright The Journal of Humanistic Studies, 2009
What do you make of the stereotype that Chinese are greedy amoral worker drones with no aesthetic taste and little emotion?
Lot of truth to those things. Let’s take these one by one here. We previously discussed amorality and stoicism or lack of emotion, so let us look at greediness and lack of aesthetic taste. I will also look at Jews as many Chinese stereotypes are Jewish stereotypes as well.
The Chinese are white collar criminals, and they are amoral in that sense. Very similar to the Jews. It may be the case that any group with IQ’s markedly higher than the majority will not only grab most of the money under capitalism but will also be profoundly ruthless and amoral in how they go about it, often to the point of basically being a race of white collar criminals, which is what I would call Chinese and Jews.
Both Chinese and Jews are viewed as being fanatically money-oriented, materialistic, and aggressively driven to succeed at all costs. As the Jews have their Jewish mothers and uncles with pinky rings, so the Chinese have the newly created Tiger Moms
Lack of Aesthetic Taste
You can make the lack of aesthetic taste argument about all those other Chinese-influenced societies. The Chinese or Japanese artist is deliberately spare and seems at first glance to be drawing excessively, shall we say, modest paintings. It is as if the Asian artist feels ashamed of artistic talent and is deliberately dumbing down in his art so as to not appear better than others.
Nevertheless, artists have told me that Chinese and Japanese art is excellent in its own spare, somewhat minimalist, and certainly modest sense.
Both Chinese and Japanese have taken to modern literature, the Japanese in particular in terms of fiction. But both races have early traces of fiction in the form of epic tales that are basically novels extending back centuries, even to 1000. Think of The Tale of the Genji or Water Margin for Japanese and Chinese respectively.
Japanese invented a very interesting, spare, minimal, “shy”, and modest or self-effacing form of poetry called the haiku, which in its own way reaches to the peaks of literature.
The Japanese also took up Western or rock music. Many excellent rock bands of all sorts have come out of Japan. The Chinese, like the Italians, have been entertaining themselves via operas forever.
And those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, of course.
The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.
– William Faulkner
And…There’s something to be admired about the way the Chinese always take the long view of history and reality itself for that matter.
Interviewer: What do you as Chinese premier, think of the French Revolution [that took place 200 years ago]?
Chou en Lai, Premier of the People’ Republic of China: It’s too soon to tell.
– Interview with Chinese premier Chou en Lai, 1970’s