Test: Anthony Burgess List of the 99 Greatest Modern Novels 1940-1983

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.

1940
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

1941
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

1944
The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary YES NO
The Razor’s Edge, W. Somerset Maugham YES NO

1945
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh YES NO

1946
Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake YES NO

1947 The Victim, Saul Bellow YES NO
Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry YES NO

1948
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene YES NO
The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer YES NO
No Highway, Nevil Shute YES NO

1949
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

1950
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

1952
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

1953
The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy YES NO

1954
Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis YES YES (FORMER OWN)

1957
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

1958
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)

1959
The Mansion, William Faulkner YES NO
Goldfinger, Ian Fleming YES NO

1960
Facial Justice, L. P. Hartley NO NO
The Balkan Trilogy (to 1965), Olivia Manning YES NO

1961
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

1962
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

1964
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

1965
The Lockwood Concern, John O’Hara NO NO
Cocksure, Mordecai Richler NO NO
The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark YES NO

1966
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

1967
The Vendor of Sweets, R. K. Narayan YES NO

1968
The Image Men, J. B. Priestley NO NO
Pavane, Keith Roberts NO NO

1969
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles YES NO Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth YES YES (FORMER OWN)

1970 Bomber, Len Deighton YES NO

1973
Sweet Dreams, Michael Frayn NO NO
Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon YES YES (OWN)

1975
Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow YES YES (FORMER OWN)
The History Man, Malcolm Bradbury NO NO

1976
The Doctor’s Wife, Brian Moore NO NO
Falstaff, Robert Nye NO NO

1977
How To Save Your Own Life, Erica Jong YES NO
Farewell Companions, James Plunkett NO NO
Staying On, Paul Scott NO NO

1978
The Coup, John Updike YES NO

1979
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

1980
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)

1981
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.

William Faulkner
Light in August

Aldous Huxley
Brave New World
The Doors of Perception

James Joyce
short stuff
Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man
Ulysses (few pages)

Ernest Hemingway
short stuff
The Sun Also Rises
Across the River and into the Trees

George Orwell
short stuff

J. D. Salinger
Nine Stories
Franny and Zooey
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

Flannery O’Connor
short stuff

Evelyn Waugh
The Loved One

Kingsley Amis
Jake’s Thing

Ian Fleming
You Only Live Twice (few pages)

Joseph Heller
Something Happened

James Baldwin
short stuff

William Golding
Lord of the Flies

Vladimir Nabokov
short stuff
Lolita
Bend Sinister

Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart (few pages)

John Barth
short stuff
The Sot-Weed Factor

Thomas Pynchon
short stuff
V.
The Crying of Lot 49
Slow Learner
Vineland

Brian Moore
The Green Berets

Erica Jong
Fear of Flying

John Updike
short stuff
Hugging the Shore
To the End of Time (50 pages)

Norman Mailer
short stuff
Cities of the Night
An American Dream

Dirk Vanderbeke (Greifswald), “Vineland in the Novels of John Barth and Thomas Pynchon” 

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:

V.
The Crying of Lot 49
Gravity’s Rainbow
Vineland
Slow Learner

I have not yet read these four:

Mason & Dixon
Against the Day
Inherent Vice
Bleeding Edge

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
Giles Goat-Boy
Lost in the Funhouse
Chimera
Letters
Sabbatical: A Romance
The Tidewater Tales
The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor
Once Upon a Time: A Floating Opera
On with the Story
Coming Soon!!!
The Book of Ten Nights and a Night
Where Three Roads Meet
The Development
The Friday Book
Further Fridays
Final Fridays

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.

In Mexico City they somehow wandered into an exhibition of paintings by the beautiful Spanish exile Remidios Varo: in the central painting of a triptych, titled “Bordando el Manto Terreste”, were a number of frail girls with heart-shaped faces, huge eyes, spun-gold hair, prisoners in the top room of a circular tower, embroidering a kind of tapestry which spilled out the slit windows and into a void, seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships, and forests of the Earth were contained in this tapestry, and the tapestry was the world. (Pynchon 1967, 10)

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.

Vanderb (2).gif (2326 Byte)

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:

As a distant, romanticized land, Vinland connoted refuge, a haven after the harrowing crossing of the Atlantic. Pynchon’s Vineland is also a refuge where fantasy, or at least the ignoring of reality, can shape a girl’s education, keeping her from knowing the secrets of her mother, but it is a refuge surrounded and finally invaded by reality.

Vinland became identified with Thule, the White Island or Blessed Islands of Western mythology; likewise, Vineland is associated with Tsorrek because it stands at the mouth of the river that, according to Yurok geography, flows from the land of the living to the land of the dead. (Hawthorne, 77)

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:

Vineland sets its dreary depiction of contemporary reality against former utopian dreams of what America might one day become. Although the title refers to the novel’s setting in the fictional (but realistic) town of Vineland, California, it also evokes the name given America by the Vikings, a name that conveys a sense of abundance and promise.

The New World as a whole originally functioned in the European psyche as a locus of hopeful idealism. […] But the cruelty with which … [the] conquistadors subdued the native population of Mexico anticipates Pynchon’s suggestion in Vineland that the American dream has become a nightmare. (Booker 1992, 7)

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.

And it was there that I simply ran out of motives, as a car runs out of gas. There was no reason to go to Cincinnati, Ohio. There was no reason to go to Crestline, Ohio. Or Dayton, Ohio; or Lima, Ohio. There was no reason, either, to go back to the apartment hotel, or for that matter to go anywhere. There was no reason to do anything.

My eyes, as Winckelmann said inaccurately of the eyes of the Greek statues, were sightless, gazing on eternity, fixed on ultimacy, and when that is the case there is no reason to do anything – even to change the focus of one’s eyes. (Barth 1988; hereafter quoted as ER).

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:

[D]on’t let yourself get stuck between alternatives, or you’re lost… If the alternatives are side by side, choose the one on the left; if they are consecutive in time, choose the earlier.

If neither of these applies choose the alternative whose name begins with the earlier letter of the alphabet. These are the principles of Sinistrality, Antecedence, and Alphabetical Priority – there are others, and they are arbitrary, but useful. (ER 80f.)

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.

Mythotherapy is based on two assumptions: that human existence precedes human essence, if either of the two terms really signifies anything; and that a man is free not only to choose his own essence but to change it at will. Those are both good existentialist premises, and whether they’re true or false is of no concern to us – they’re useful in your case. (ER 82, italics in the original)

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.

Someday this would be all part of a Eureka – Crescent City – Vineland megalopolis, but for now the primary sea coast, forest, riverbanks, and bay were still not much different from what early visitors in Spanish and Russian ships had seen.

Along with noting the size and fierceness of the salmon, the fogbound treachery of the coast, the fishing villages of the Yurok and Tolowa people, log keepers not known for their psychic gifts had remembered to write down, more than once, the sense they had of some invisible boundary, met when approaching from the sea … (Pynchon 1990, 317; hereafter quoted as Vl)

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:

We are digits in God’s computer (…) and the only thing we’re good for, to be dead or to be living, is the only thing He sees. What we cry, what we contend for, in our world of toil and blood, it all lies beneath the notice of the hacker we call God. (Vl 91)

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:

…grandfolks could be heard arguing the perennial question of whether the United States still lingered in a prefascist twilight, or whether that darkness had fallen long stupefied years ago, and the light they thought they saw was coming only from millions of Tubes all showing the same bright-colored shadows. One by one, as other voices joined in, the names began – some shouted, some accompanied by spit, the old reliable names good for hours of contention, stomach distress, and insomnia – Hitler, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Nixon, Hoover, Mafia, CIA, Reagan, Kissinger, that collection of names and their tragic interweaving that stood not constellated above in any nightwide remoteness of light, but below, diminished to the last unfaceable American secret, to be pressed, each time deeper, again and again beneath the meanest of random soles, one black fermenting leaf on the forest floor that nobody wanted to turn over, because of all that lived virulent, waiting, just beneath. (Vl 371)

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:

Whole problem ‘th you folks’s generation … is you believed in your Revolution, put your lives right out there for it – but you sure didn’t understand much about the Tube. Minute the Tube got hold of you folks that was it, that whole alternative America, el deado meato, just like th’ Indians, sold it all to your real enemies, and even in 1970 dollars – it was way too cheap… (Vl 373)

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:

If there is hope, wrote Winston it lies in the proles. (…) (Orwell 1972, 59)

But:

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. (ibid., 60)

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):

Brock Vond’s genius was to have seen in the activities of the Sixties Left not a threat to order but unacknowledged desires for it. While the tube was proclaiming youth revolution against parents of all kinds, and most viewers were accepting the story, Brock saw the deep … need only to stay children forever, safe inside some extended national Family. (Vl 269)

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.

 

Notes

(1) The ‘Pynchon-part’ of this paper is to some extent a revised version of aspects already touched upon in a paper I read at the Alte Schmiede, Wien in 1994, published as “Thomas Pynchon’s V, oder: Wie man einen Buchstaben erzählt”, in: Strukturen erzählen, Hrsg. Herbert J. Wimmer, Wien 1996. (back)

(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)

Works Cited

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.

Acknowledgements
“Vineland in the Novels of John Barth and Thomas Pynchon” was first read at the Conference: The Viking Connection: Canada – Continentalist Perspectives (Greifswald 1996), and then published in Informal Empire? Cultural Relations Between Canada, the United States and Europe (Schriftenreihe des Zentrums für Kanada-Studien an der Universität Trier, Bd. 8); ed. Peter Easingwood, Konrad Groß and Hartmut Lutz, Kiel, l&f Verlag, 1998, S. 415-427. It is reprinted here by kind permission of the editors.

The Jim Carroll Band, “People Who Died”

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 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 died
Jimmy 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 died
Mary 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 brother
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 died
Herbie 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
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died
Brian 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
Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died
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 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 died
Jimmy 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 died
Mary 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
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
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.

A Theory of Aesthetics: Great Art Affects One on a Level Beyond Simple Understanding

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.

Who Is This Man?

Who is this famous writer? Most photos of him are from later in life 20-40 years after this photo was taken when he looked quite different from this.

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.

“Extreme Polarities of Game in Nabokov’s “Lolita”” by Dana Sala

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

Abstract:

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
Literature, 51(2).

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

Alt Left: Anatomy of Two Chinese Stereotypes: Greediness and Lack of Aesthetic Taste

Thinking Mouse:

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.

 

Greediness

 

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.

Pio Baroja

Where’s this guy been all my life? The name sounds familiar, but I didn’t really know anything about him. Another Generation of ’98 writer who barely made it through the Spanish Civil War.
Federico Garcia Lorca, the doomed gay poet, one of the finest poets of the 20th Century, of course was assassinated in this war, but he was from the next generation of Spanish writers, the Generation of ’27. They were much more avant garde than the ’98’ers.
The Generation of ’98 were a whole new crop of Spanish writers who popped up at the turn of the century in Spain. Spain was still a monarchy back then and these were times of fervent. The monarchy was trying to balance between the desire of the people to modernize the humanize their country and the desires of the Church conservatives to keep things as static as they were.
At the same time, in 1898, Spain was reeling from its defeat in several wars around the globe. Thousands of Spaniards were dead, and Spain lost all of its colonies. This was a time of great upheaval in Spain. The ’98’ers attacked traditional culture and the monarchy which they say as conformist and undemocratic. In this sense, they were like the liberal protest movements that arose in Germany after World War 1 who attacked German culture and ways of thinking in the light of their painful defeat in the war.
These liberal movements were met with a conservative backlash or mostly demobbed soldiers who formed gangs called the Brownshirts who fought socialists and communists in the streets of Germany. These conservatives felt that the liberals had “stabbed the country in the back” and been traitorous during the war, leading to the nation’s defeat. One of these demobbed soldiers was an angry, wounded soldier named Adolf Hitler and it was from this Right vs Left firestorm in the streets that the Nazi God of Destruction arose a decade later. The Phoenix rising from the ashes, the regeneration of the illustrious nation of blood and soul, which is fascism in a nutshell. Fascism can best be seen as palingetic revolution of the Right. The word palingetic brings to mind the Phoenix rises to glory from the ashes of defeat.
Baroja was a liberal like most of that generation. He grew up in the Basque Country. He wrote a number of trilogies, including The Sea, The Cities, The Struggle for Life, The Basque Country and a few others. The Struggle for Life is a gritty, harsh trilogy about life in the slums of Madrid. John Dos Passos was very fond of this series. Probably his most famous book is The Tree of Knowledge. Baroja was a pessimist and a nihilist who soured on life at a young age.
I do not mind reading downbeat authors though, even if I am an optimist. Really the optimistic and pessimistic views of life are both true and equally valid.
Baroja was influenced by Nietzsche, but below almost looks like Heidegger. I like the elaborate, ornate, very descriptive prose of the 19th Century. I love the long, fancy sentences where the tail of the sentence almost seems to be the head. I don’t mind getting to the end of a Henry James sentence, commas and all, and then wondering what the start of the sentence was about. It’s fun to decipher fancy writing. People don’t write like this much anymore as it is considered to be too elaborate and difficult for its own sake. I believe some of the finest writing in English was done in the 19th Century though. I can’t get enough of those $64,000 sentences. They’re so good you could almost take them to the bank.
Most of Baroja has not yet been translated into English, though he has been famous in Spain for a century.  Hemingway was heavily influenced by Baroja, although this fact is little known.
Isn’t that some fine writing?

The individual is the only real thing in nature and in life. Neither the species, the genus, nor the race, actually exists; they are abstractions, terminologies, scientific devices, useful as syntheses but not entirely exact. By means of these devices we can discuss and compare; they constitute a measure for our minds to use, but have no external reality. Only the individual exists through himself and for himself. I am, I live, is the sole thing a man can affirm.
The categories and divisions arranged for classification are like the series of squares an artist places over a drawing to copy it by. The lines of the squares may cut the lines of the sketch; but they will cut them, not in reality but only in the artist’s eye. In humanity, as in all of nature, the individual is the one thing. Only individuality exists in the realm of life and in the realm of spirit.
Pio Baroja, Caesar or Nothing, 1903

Reading List (Anyone Else Read Like This)?

I am a voracious reader, and lately at least, I am often reading between 20-40 books all at once. I pick up one, read 20 pages or so, and put it down. Then I pick up another one, read another 20 pages or so, and put it down too. It’s not really a problem for most nonfiction books and it works fine for books of essays and short stories. The poetry I read is often long narrative poetry where you have a single poem that goes on for an entire book of 200-300 pages. This method works well for these poetry books.
It is a bit of a problem with novels. I will admit it. You do tend to lose your place a bit and sometimes I just have to go back and start all the way over again. I think I am going to need to restart War and Peace and the Brothers Karamazov because I forgot what I read.
I do not know if this way of reading is stupid and sensible. It’s just the way I do it. It’s actually rather fun to read this way.
The list:
Total

  1. 33 books

Novels

  1. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  2. Feodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
  3. Robert Stone, A Flag for Sunrise
  4. Joyce Carol Oates, Because It Is Bitter and Because It Is My Heart
  5. Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
  6. Tom Robbins, Still Live with Woodpecker
  7. John Rechy, Bodies and Souls
  8. John Updike, Until the End of Time
  9. Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
  10. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
  11.  Chuck Pahalunik, Invisible Monsters
  12.  Franz Kafka, The Trial
  13. John Irving, Son of the Circus
  14. James Joyce, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man

Short Stories

  1.  Joyce Carol Oates, Night-Side
  2.  Alice Munro, Too Much Happiness
  3.  Ernest Hemingway, The Complete Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  4. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
  5. Daniel Francis Howard, The Western Tradition: An Anthology of Short Stories

Poetry

  1. John Milton, Paradise Lost
  2. Steven St. Vincent Benet, Western Star

Essays

  1. Loren Eisley, Night Country (science)
  2. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (nature)
  3. Edward Abbey, Down the River (nature)
  4. Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon
  5. Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tuscon
  6. Doug Peacock, Grizzly Years (nature)
  7. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink (cognitive science)

Unclassified Nonfiction

  1. Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or (philosophy)
  2. Showan Khurshid, Knowledge Processing, Creativity and Politics (political science)
  3. Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (philosophy)
  4. John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl (gender studies)
  5. John C. Greene, The Death of Adam: Evolution and Its Impact on Western Thought (science)

Love and Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy of course is the great Victorian novelist, short story writer and lately appreciated poet. Many of his works deal with men and women and their love affairs. If you have never checked him out, I urge you to do so. He is well worth it. He was admired by writers like D. H. Lawrence (who wrote a book about it), the great John Cowper Powys, W.Somerset Maugham, and the great misanthropic poet Philip Larkin. He was a follower of the Naturalist School made famous by Emile Zola.
The Naturalists were a follow-on to the Realists such as Gustave Flaubert (proto-realist) and Anthony Trollope (classic realist). It was supposed to be an improvement upon realism, but I am not sure how. Both of these were reactions against the overly florid, unrealistic and overwrought stories of the time. Zola in particular sought to be almost scientific in his descriptions of the people in his books. Both sought to simply portray characters, humans and scenes as they actually are and let readers draw their own didactic or moralistic conclusions if they so wished.
As far as Hardy himself in love, he was famously married a couple of times. He was described as an unhappy husband. When his second wife died in 1912 after they were estranged for over 20 years, nevertheless, Hardy become a distraught widower and produced some of his finest poetry in Satires of Circumstance published two years later. These are considered to be some of the saddest, most powerful and finest poems about death ever written in English.
And so we have Thomas Hardy:

  • Unhappy husband, and then
  • Distraught widower

He was miserable while he was married to her, but he was even more miserable when she was dead. There is a lesson in here somewhere, maybe:

  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, or simply
  • People are never happy

I prefer the latter.

Was Joseph Conrad a Neoliberal? Are We? A Contemporary Reading of Victory

I participated in a session with this fellow on Academia.edu. I believe the author is a professor at a university somewhere in the UK. I really liked this paper a lot. It’s a bit hard to understand, but if you concentrate, you should be able to understand. If I can understand it, at least some of you guys can too. It is an excellent overview of what exactly neoliberalism is and the effects it has on all of us all the way down to the anthropological, sociological and psychological.

Was Joseph Conrad a Neoliberal? Are We? A Contemporary Reading of Victory

by Simon During

Over the past decade or so “neoliberalism” has become a word to conjure with. It is easy to have reservations about its popularity since it seems to name both a general object — roughly, capitalist governmentality as we know it today — and a particular set of ideas that now have a well-researched intellectual history.

It also implies a judgment: few use the term except pejoratively. I myself do not share these worries however, since I think that using the word performs sterling analytic work on its own account even as it probably accentuates its concept’s rather blob-like qualities. Nonetheless in this talk I want somewhat to accede to those who resist neoliberalism’s analytic appeal by thinking about it quite narrowly — that is to say, in literary and intellectual historical terms.
I begin from the position, first, that neoliberalism is an offshoot of liberalism thought more generally; and second, that we in the academic humanities are ourselves inhabited by an occluded or displaced neoliberalism to which we need critically to adjust.1 Thus, writing as a
literary critic in particular, I want to follow one of my own discipline’s original protocols, namely to be sensitive to the ways in which the literary “tradition” changes as the present changes, in this case, as it is reshaped under that neoliberalism which abuts and inhabits us.2
To this end I want to present a reading of Joseph Conrad’s Victory (1916). To do this is not just to help preserve the received literary canon, and as such is, I like to think, a tiny act of resistance to neoliberalism on the grounds that neoliberalism is diminishing our capacity to affirm a canon at all. By maintaining a canon in the act of locating neoliberalism where it is not usually found, I’m trying to operate both inside and outside capitalism’s latest form.

***

1 Daniel Stedman-Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2014, p. 17.
2 This argument is made of course in T.S. Eliot’s seminal essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1921).
Let me begin with a brief and sweeping overview of liberalism’s longue durée.3 For our purposes we can fix on liberalism by noting that it has two central struts, one theoretical, the other historical. As generations of theorists have noted, the first strut is methodological individualism: liberal analysis begins with, and is addressed to, the autonomous individual rather than communities or histories.4
Methodological individualism of this kind is, for instance, what allowed Leo Strauss and J.P Macpherson to call even Thomas Hobbes a founder of liberalism.5 Liberalism’s second strut is the emphasis on freedom as the right to express and enact private beliefs with a minimum of state intervention. This view of freedom emerged in the seventeenth century among those who recommended that the sovereign state “tolerate” religious differences.
It marked a conceptual break in freedom’s history since freedom was now conceived of as an individual possession and right rather than as a condition proper to “civil associations” and bound to obligations.6 We need to remember, however, that methodological individualism does not imply liberal freedom, or vice versa. Indeed neoliberalism exposes the weakness of that association.
Early in the nineteenth century, liberalism became a progressivist political movement linked to enlightened values. But after about 1850, non-progressive or conservative liberalisms also appeared. Thus, as Jeffrey Church has argued, Arthur Schopenhauer, the post-Kantian
philosopher who arguably broke most spectacularly with enlightened humanist progressivism,
3 Among the library of works on liberalism’s history I have found two to be particularly useful for my purposes here: Domenico Losurdo’s Liberalism: a Counter-History, trans. Gregory Elliot. London: Verso 2014, and Amanda Anderson’s forthcoming Bleak Liberalism, Chicago, University of Chicago Press 2016.
4 Milan Zafirovski, Liberal Modernity and Its Adversaries: Freedom, Liberalism and Anti-Liberalism in the 21st Century, Amsterdam: Brill 2007, p. 116.
5 Van Mobley, “Two Liberalisms: the Contrasting Visions of Hobbes and Locke,” Humanitas, IX 1997: 6-34.
6 Quentin Skinner, Liberty before Liberalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1998, p. 23.
can be associated with liberalism.7
Likewise Schopenhauer’s sometime disciple, Friedrich Nietzsche, no progressivist, was, as Hugo Drochon has recently argued, also an antistatist who prophesied that in the future “private companies” will take over state business so as to protect private persons from one another.8 Liberalism’s conservative turn was, however, largely a result of socialism’s emergence as a political force after 1848, which enabled some left liberal fractions to dilute their individualism by accepting that “a thoroughly consistent individualism can work in harmony with socialism,” as Leonard Hobhouse put it.9
Conrad himself belonged to this moment. As a young man, for instance, he was appalled by the results of the 1885 election, the first in which both the British working class and the socialists participated.10 That election was contested not just by the Marxist Socialist Democratic Federation, but by radical Liberals who had allied themselves to the emergent socialist movement (not least Joseph Chamberlain who, as mayor of Birmingham, was developing so-called “municipal socialism” and who haunts Conrad’s work).11
The election went well for the Liberals who prevented the Tories from securing a clear Parliamentary majority. After learning this, Conrad, himself the son of a famous Polish liberal revolutionary, wrote to a friend, “the International Socialist Association are triumphant, and every
disreputable ragamuffin in Europe, feels that the day of universal brotherhood, despoliation and disorder is coming apace…Socialism must inevitably end in Caesarism.”12 That prophecy will resonate politically for the next century, splitting liberalism in two. As I say: on the one side, a
7 Jeffrey Church, Nietzsche’s Culture of Humanity: Beyond Aristocracy and Democracy in the Early Period, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015, p. 226.
8 Hugo Drochon, Nietzsche’s Great Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press 2016, p. 9.
9 L. T. Hobhouse, Liberalism, London: Williams and Norgate, 1911, p. 99.
10 It was at this point that one of neoliberalism’s almost forgotten ur-texts was written,Herbert Spencer’s Man against the State (1884).
11 For instance, he plays an important role in Conrad and Ford Madox Ford’s The Inheritors.
12 Joseph Conrad, The Collected Letters of Joseph Conrad, vol 1., ed. Frederick Karl and Laurence Davis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983, p. 16.
 
progressivist, collectivist liberalism. On the other, an individualist liberalism of which neoliberalism is a continuation.
By around 1900, liberalism’s fusion with socialism was often (although not quite accurately) associated with Bismark’s Germany, which gave anti-socialist liberalism a geographical inflection. Against this, individualistic liberalism was associated with Britain. But this received British liberalism looked back less to Locke’s religiously tolerant Britain than to Richard Cobden’s Britain of maritime/imperial dominance and free trade.
Which is to say that liberalism’s fusion with socialism pushed socialism’s liberal enemies increasingly to think of freedom economically rather than politically — as in Ludwig von Mises influential 1922 book on socialism, which can be understood as a neoliberal urtext.13 By that point, too, individuals were already being positioned to become what Foucault calls “consumers of freedom.” 14
They were now less understood less as possessing a fundamental claim to freedom than as creating and participating in those institutions which enabled freedom in practice. Crucially after the first world war, in the work of von Mises and the so-called “Austrian school”, freedom was increasingly assigned to individual relations with an efficient market as equilibrium theory viewed markets. This turn to the market as freedom’s basis marked another significant historical departure: it is the condition of contemporary neoliberalism’s emergence.
Neoliberalism organized itself internationally as a movement only after world war two, and did so against both Keynesian economics and the welfare state. 15 It was still mainly ideologically motivated by a refusal to discriminate between welfarism and totalitarianism — a line of thought already apparent in Conrad’s equation of socialism with Caesarism of course. As
13 See Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: an Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane. New Haven: Yale University Press 1951.
14 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 63. One key sign of this spread of this new freedom is Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous appeal to the “free trade in ideas” in his 1919 dissent in Abrams v. the US, a judgment which joins together the market, intellectual expression and the juridical.
15 See Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pèlerin, Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2009.
 
Friedrich Hayek urged: once states begin to intervene on free markets totalitarianism looms because the people’s psychological character changes: they become dependent.16 For thirty years (in part as confined by this argument), neoliberalism remained a minority movement, but
in the 1970s it began its quick ascent to ideological and economic dominance.
Cutting across a complex and unsettled debate, let me suggest that neoliberalism became powerful then because it provided implementable policy settings for Keynesianism’s (perceived) impasse in view the stagnation and instability of post-war, first-world welfarist, full-employment economies after 1) the Vietnam War, 2) the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement; 3) OPEC’s cartelization, and 4) the postcolonial or “globalizing” opening up of world markets on the back of new transportation and computing technologies.17
In the global north neoliberalism was first implemented governmentally by parties on the left, led by James Callaghan in the UK, Jimmy Carter in the US, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in Australia, and leading the way, David Lange and Roger Douglas in New Zealand.18 At this time, at the level of policy, it was urged more by economists than by ideologues insofar as these can be separated (and Hayek and Mises were both of course).
As we know, neoliberals then introduced policies to implement competition, deregulation, monetarism, privatization, tax reduction, a relative high level of unemployment, the winding back of the state’s participation in the economy and so on. This agenda quickly became captured by private
 
16 Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, p. 48.
17 This history is open to lively differences of opinion. The major books in the literature are: Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979, London: Picador 2010; Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, London: Verso 2014; Stedman-Jones, Masters of the Universe; Joseph Vogl, The Spectre of Capital, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2014; David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007. My own understanding of this moment is informed by Stedman-Jones’s account in particular.
18 It is worth noting in this context that the left had itself long been a hatchery of neoliberal economic ideas just because liberalism’s absorption of socialism was matched by socialism’s absorption of liberalism. See Johanna Brockman, Markets in the name of Socialism: the Left-wing Origins of Neoliberalism, Stanford: Stanford University Press 2011 on the intellectual-historical side of this connection.
6
interests, and from the eighties on, it was woven into new, highly surveilled and privatized, computing and media ecologies, indeed into what some optimists today call “cognitive capitalism”.19
In this situation, more or less unintended consequences proliferated, most obviously a rapid increase in economic inequality and the enforced insertion of internal markets and corporate structures in non-commercial institutions from hospitals to universities. Indeed, in winding back the welfare state, renouncing Keynesian and redistributionist economic policies, it lost its classical liberal flavor and was firmly absorbed into conservatism — a transformation which had been prepared for by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.20
But two more concrete conceptual shifts also helped animate this particular fusion of conservatism and liberalism. First, postwar neoliberalism was aimed more at the enterprise than at the individual.21
Largely on the basis of van Mises’s Human Action (1940) as popularized by Gary Becker, the free, independent individual was refigured as “human capital” and thereby exposed instead to management and “leadership.” At the same time, via Peter Drucker’s concept of “knowledge worker,” which emphasized the importance of conceptual and communication skills to
economic production, postsecular management theories for which corporations were hierarchical but organic communities also gained entry into many neoliberal mindsets.22 At that
 
19 Yann Moulier Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism, trans. Ed Emery. Cambridge: Polity Press 2012.
20 Nietzsche and Schopenhauer’s influence is no doubt part of why neoliberalism emerged in Austria. Indeed the Austrian context in which contemporary neoliberalism emerged is worth understanding in more detail. In their early work, Hayek and Mises in particular were responding to “red Vienna” not just in relation to Otto Bauer’s Austromarxism but also in relation to its version of guild socialism associated with Hungarians like Karl Polanyi, with whom both Hayek and Mises entered into debate. See Lee Congdon, “The Sovereignty of Society: Karl Polanyi in Vienna,” in The Life and Work of Karl Polanyi, ed. Kari Polanyi-Levitt. Montreal: Black Rose Books 1990, 78-85.
21 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 225.
22 Drucker was another Austrian refugee who turned to capitalism against totalitarianism in the late thirties and his profoundly influential work on corporate management shadows neoliberal theory up until the 1970s.
 
7
point, neoliberalism also became a quest to reshape as many institutions as possible as corporations.
At this point too Foucault’s consumers of freedom were becoming consumers full stop. To state this more carefully: at the level of ideology, to be free was now first and foremost deemed to be capable of enacting one’s preferences in consumer and labour markets. It would seem that preferences of this kind increasingly determined social status too, and, more invasively, they now increasingly shaped personalities just because practices of self were bound less and less to filiations and affiliations than to acts of choice.
This helped the market to subsume older gradated social and cultural structures of identity-formation, class difference and cultural capital. At this juncture, we encounter another significant unexpected consequence
within liberalism’s longue durée: i.e. the sixties cultural revolution’s reinforcement of neoliberalism.
This is a complex and controversial topic so let me just say here that, from the late seventies, neoliberal subjects who were individualized via their entrepreneurial disposition and economic and labour choices, encounters the subject of post-68 identity politics who had been emancipated from received social hierarchies and prejudices, and was now attached to a particular ethnicity, gender or sexuality as chosen or embraced by themselves as individuals. These two subject formations animated each other to the degree that both had, in their different ways, sloughed off older communal forms, hierarchies and values.
Governing this ménage of hedonism, productivity, insecurity and corporatization, neoliberalism today seems to have become insurmountable, and is, as I say, blob-like, merging out into institutions and practices generally, including those of our discipline. And it has done
this as a turn within liberal modernity’s longer political, intellectual and social genealogies and structures rather than as a break from them.
Nonetheless, three core, somewhat technical, propositions distinguish neoliberalism from liberalism more generally:

  1. First the claim, which belongs to the sociology of knowledge, that no individual or group can know the true value of anything at all.23 For neoliberals, that value — true or not — can only be assessed, where it can be assessed at all, under particular conditions: namely when it is available in a competitive and free market open to all individuals in a society based on private property. This is an argument against all elite and expert claims to superior knowledge and judgment: without prices, all assessments of value are mere opinion. In that way, market justice (i.e. the effects of competing in the market) can trump social justice. And in that way, for instance, neoliberalism finds an echo not just in negations of cultural authority and canonicity but in the idea that literary and aesthetic judgments are matters of private choice and opinion. In short, neoliberalism inhabits cultural democracy and vice versa. By the same stroke, it posits an absence — a mere structure of exchange—at society’s normative center.
  2. There is a direct relationship between the competitive market and freedom. Any attempt to limit free markets reduces freedom because it imposes upon all individuals a partial opinion about what is valuable. This particular understanding of freedom rests on the notion of the market as a spontaneous order — its being resistant to control and planning, its being embedded in a society which “no individual can completely survey” as Hayek put it.24 Not that this notion is itself original to neoliberalism: Foucault’s historiography of liberalism shows that, in the mid eighteenth century, this property of markets was thought of as “natural” and therefore needed to be protected
    from sovereign authority’s interference.25 But as Foucault and others have argued, neoliberalism emerges after World War 2 when the spontaneous market conditions of freedom are no longer viewed as natural (even if they remain immanently lawbound) but as governmentally produced.26
  3. Neoliberalism has specific ethical dimensions too. While it generally insists that individuals should be free to “follow their own values and preferences” (as Hayek put it) at least within the limits set by those rules and institutions which secure market stability, in fact individuals’ independence as well as their relation to market risk, provides the necessary condition for specific virtues and capacities. Most notably, in Hayek’s formulation, a neoliberal regime secures individuals’ self-sufficiency, honor and dignity and does so by the willingness of some to accept “material sacrifice,” or to “live dangerously” as Foucault put it, in a phrase he declared to be liberalism’s “motto”.27 This mix of risk-seeking existentialism and civic republicanism not only rebukes and prevents the kind of de-individualization supposedly associated with socialisms of the left and right, it is where neoliberalism and an older “Nietzschean” liberalism meet—with Michael Oakeshott’s work bearing special weight in this context.28 But as soon as neoliberalism itself becomes hegemonic in part by fusing with the spirit of 1968, this original ascetic, masculinist neoliberal ethic of freedom and risk comes to be supplemented and displaced by one based more on creativity, consumerist hedonism and entrepreneurialism aimed at augmenting choice.29

***

23 See Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis, p. 55.
24 Friedrich von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom: Texts and Documents. The Definitive Edition, ed. Bruce Caldwell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007, p. 212.
25 Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 19.
26 This is argued in Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval’s The New Way of the World: on Neoliberal Society, London: Verso 2014. For the immanent lawboundedness in Hayek, see Miguel Vatter, The Republic of the Living: Biopolitics and the Critique of Civil Society, New York: Fordham University Press 2014: pps. 195-220. Vatter’s chapter “Free Markets and Republican
Constitutions in Hayek and Foucault” is excellent on how law is treated in neoliberal thought.
27 Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, p. 130. Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 66.
28 See Andrew Norris’s forthcoming essay in Political Theory, “Michael Oakeshott’s Postulates of Individuality” for this. We might recall, too, that Foucault argues for similarities between the Frankfurt school and the early neoliberals on the grounds of their resistance to standardization, spectacle and so on. See The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 105.
 
I have indicated that Conrad belongs to the moment when socialist parties first contested democratic elections and which thus split liberalism, allowing one, then beleaguered, liberal fraction to begin to attach to conservatism. In this way then, he belongs to neoliberalism’s deep past (which is not to say, of course, that he should be understand as a proto-neoliberal himself). Let us now think about his novel Victory in this light.
The novel is set in late nineteenth-century Indonesia mainly among European settlers and entrepreneurs. Indonesia was then a Dutch colony itself undergoing a formal economic deregulation program, which would increase not just Dutch imperial profits but, among indigenous peoples, also trigger what was arguably human history’s most explosive population growth to date.30
Victory belongs to this world where imperialism encountered vibrant commercial activity driven by entrepreneurial interests, competition and risk. Thus, for instance, its central character, the nomadic, cosmopolitan, aristocratic Swedish intellectual, Axel Heyst, establishes a business— a coal mine — along with a ship-owning partner, while other characters manage hotels, orchestras and trading vessels. Victory is a novel about enterprises as well as about individuals.
But Conrad’s Indonesia is other to Europe as a realm of freedom. Importantly, however, its freedom is not quite liberal or neoliberal: it is also the freedom of a particular space. More precisely, it is the freedom of the sea: here, in effect Indonesia is oceanic. This formulation draws on Carl Schmitt’s post-war work on international law, which was implicitly
 
29 The history of that displacement is explored in Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s The New Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Gregory Elliott. London: Verso 2005.
30 Bram Peper, “Population Growth in Java in the 19th Century”, Population Studies, 24/1 (1970): 71-84.
 
11
positioned against liberal and neoliberal theory. In his monograph The Nomos of the Earth (1950), Schmitt drew attention to the sea as a space of freedom just because national sovereignties and laws did not hold there.
But Schmitt’s implicit point was that liberal freedom needs to be thought about not just in terms of tolerance, recognition, rights or markets, but
geographically and historically inside the long history of violent sovereign appropriation of the globe’s land masses so that elemental freedom was enacted on the oceans where law and sovereignty had no reach. From this perspective, piracy, for instance, plays an important role in freedom’s history. And from this perspective the claim to reconcile radical freedom to the lawbound state is false: such freedom exists only where laws do not.
The sea, thought Schmitt’s way, is key to Conrad’s work. But, for him, the sea is also the home of economic liberalism, free-trade and the merchant marines by whom he had, of course, once been employed, and whose values he admired.31 Victory is a maritime tale set on waters which harbor such free trade at the same time as they form a Schmittean realm of freedom — and violence and risk — which effectively remains beyond the reach of sovereign law.
Let me step back at this point to sketch the novel’s plot. Victory’s central character Heyst is the son of an intellectual who late in life was converted from progressivism to a mode of weak Schopenhauerianism or what was then call pessimism.32 Heyst lives his father’s pessimism out: he is a disabused conservative liberal: “he claimed for mankind that right to
absolute moral and intellectual liberty of which he no longer believed them worthy.”33
Believing this, Heyst leaves Europe to “drift”— circulating through Burma, New Guinea, Timor and the Indonesian archipelagoes, simply gathering facts and observing. But, on an
 
31 For Conrad and trade in this region, see Andrew Francis, Culture and Commerce in Conrad’s Asian Fiction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2015. For Conrad’s affiliations to free trade proper see my unpublished paper, “Democracy, Empire and the Politics of the Future in
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness”. This is available on this url.
32 Joseph Conrad, Victory, London: Methuen 1916, p. 197.
33 Conrad, Victory, pps. 92-93
 
12
impulse, while drifting through Timor he rescues a shipowner, Morrison, whose ship has been impounded by unscrupulous Portuguese authorities, and through that act of spontaneous generosity, becomes obligated to Morrison.
The two men end up establishing a coalmine in the remote Indonesian island of Samburan, backed by local Chinese as well as by European capital. The company soon collapses. Morison dies. And, living out his Schopenhauerian renunciation of the world, Heyst, the detached man, decides to stay on at the island alone except for one Chinese servant.
He does, however, sometimes visit the nearest Indonesian town, Surabaya, and it is while staying there in a hotel owned by Schomberg, a malicious, gossipy German, that he makes another spontaneous rescue. This time he saves a young woman, Lena, a member of a traveling “ladies orchestra,” who is being bullied by her bosses and in danger of abduction by Schomberg himself.
Heyst and Lena secretly escape back to his island, causing Schomberg to harbor a venomous resentment against Heyst. At this point Schomberg’s hotel is visited by a trio of sinister criminals: Jones, Ricardo and their servant Pedro. Taking advantage of Schomberg’s rage, they establish an illegal casino in his hotel. To rid himself of this risky enterprise, Schomberg advises them to go after Heyst in his island, falsely telling them that Heyst has hidden a fortune there. Jones and his gang take Schomberg’s advice but disaster awaits them.
The novel ends with Jones, Ricardo, Heyst, Lena all dead on Heyst’s island.
The novel, which hovers between commercial adventure romance and experimental modernism, is bound to neoliberalism’s trajectory in two main ways. First, it adheres to neoliberalism’s sociology of knowledge: here too there is no knowing center, no hierarchy of expertise, no possibility of detached holistic survey and calculation through which truth might command action. Heyst’s drifting, inconsequential fact-gathering, itself appears to illustrate that absence. As do the gossip and rumors which circulate in the place of informed knowledge, and which lead to disaster. Individuals and enterprises are, as it were, on their
13
own, beyond any centralized and delimited social body that might secure stability and grounded understandings. They are bound, rather, to self-interest and spontaneity.
This matters formally not simply because, in an approximately Jamesian mode, the narrative involves a series of points of view in which various characters’ perceptions, moods and interests intersect, but because the narration itself is told in a first person voice without being enunciated by a diegetical character.
That first person, then, functions as the shadow representative of a decentered community, largely focused on money, that is barely able to confer identity at all, a community, too, without known geographical or ideological limits just because the narrator, its implicit representative, has no location or substance. This narratorial indeterminacy can be understood as an index of liberalism at this globalizing historical juncture: a liberalism divesting itself of its own progressive histories, emancipatory hopes and institutions. A bare liberalism about to become neoliberalism, as we can proleptically say.
More importantly, the novel speaks to contemporary neoliberalism because it is about freedom. As we have begun to see, Heyst is committed to a freedom which is both the freedom of the sea, and a metaphysical condition which has detached itself, as far as is possible, from connections, obligations, determinations. This structures the remarkable formal
relationship around which the novel turns — i.e. Heyst’s being positioned as Jones’s double.
The generous Schopenhauerian is not just the demonic criminal’s opposite: he is also his twin. Both men are wandering, residual “gentlemen” detached from the European order, and thrown into, or committed to, a radical freedom which, on the one side, is a function of free trade, on the other, a condition of life lived beyond the legal and political institutions that order European societies, but also, importantly, are philosophical and ethical — a renunciation of the established ideological order for independence, courage and nomadism.
To put this rather differently: Heyst and Jones’s efforts to live in freedom — to comport themselves as free individuals — combines economic freedom — a freedom of exchange, competition and
 
14
entrepreneurial possibilities— with a state of nature as a line of flight (or emancipation) from received continental laws, values and social structures. Freedom, that is, which combines that which Carl Schmitt and the early neoliberals imagined, each in their own way.
The novel’s main point is that there is, in fact, nothing in this freedom to sustain true ethical substance. It is as if Schmittean freedom has smashed both liberal freedom and pessimistic asceticism, along with their ethical groundings. Or to come at the novel’s basic point from another direction: it is as if the absence at the heart of a free society has transmigrated into these characters’ selves. It is at that level that individual freedom cannot be separated from violence and risk and good from evil.
Without an instituted social structure, Heyst cannot stay true to himself: his commitment to freedom and renunciation is compromised because of his spontaneous acts of generosity and sympathy which lead to his and Lena’s death. On the other side, Jones, a homosexual shunned by respectable society, is afflicted by those key nineteenth-century affects, resentment and boredom as well as a quasi-Nietzschean contempt for “tameness”, which drive him towards living outside of society, at contigency’s mercy, and towards reckless, malevolent violence.
Heyst and Jones die together almost by accident, in deaths that reveal them not just as entangled with one another at existence’s threshold, but as both attuned to death, even in life. It now look as if while they lived they wanted to die. In that way, the novel makes it clear that the risk, disorder and emptiness which inhabit their striving for a radically liberal practice of life corrode distinctions not just between violence and renunciation, not just between good and evil, but also between life and death.
We can put it like this: the freedom that these characters claim and the risks that it entails and which bind them together are inclined more towards death than towards life, just on account of freedom’s own conditions of possibility, namely radical autonomy, absence of sovereign power, and maximum choice.

***

15
As I say, this is a reading of the novel which, at least in principle, helps to canonize Victory just because it claims that its form, plot and characters address versions of our current neoliberal social condition, and does so in metaphysically ambitious terms. Victory is a critique of freedom, I think.
Conrad is insisting that even in a liberal society devoted to free trade,
enterprises and markets, the law — and the sovereign state — comes first. It is, if one likes, beginning the work of detaching liberalism from freedom. To say this, however, is to ignore the most pressing question that this reading raises: to what degree should we today actually accede to Conrad’s ambivalent, pessimistic and conservative imagination of radical freedom?
How to judge that freedom’s renunciation of established hierarchies, collectivities and values whether for adventure, risk and spontaneity or for violence and death? It is a condition of the discipline’s neoliberal state that the only answer we can give to that question is that we can, each of us, answer that question any way that we choose.

Robert Stark, Rabbit, & Alex von Goldstein talk about Radical Centrism, Cultural Elitism, & Gore Vidal

Here.
Great new show. It looks like Rabbit of the AltLeft website will be one of Stark’s regular guest-hosts now, so it looks like Stark’s show is becoming at least in part an Alt Left (and Radical Center, see below) site in addition to being the Alt Right site that it has long been known as. I don’t think Stark himself is all that Alt Right. He seemed too sane and liberal, I have known the guy a long time, and and he was never a very racist guy a far as I could tell. Stark is still Alt Right I think, but he leans more towards the Radical Center wing and maybe even towards the Alt Left sometimes.
Rabbit sort of has his own wing of the Alt Left as opposed to my wing. Rabbit is more into pro-White stuff and race and he doesn’t really care about the Cultural Left. It’s not that he’s a Cultural Left guy himself, but I think it is more than he just doesn’t care about feminism, gay politics, and whatnot. But Rabbit would surely reject modern anti-racism as should any sane person frankly.
Rabbit associates with open White nationalists on radio shows and honestly could even be seen as one himself, although he’s probably the nicest WN I’ve ever met. He seems to be somewhat lined up with Greg Johnson’s West Coast White Nationalism. If you don’t know what it is, go research it as I do not have time to get into it here.
Johnson is definitely a hardcore White nationalist. He’s also openly gay. And now there’s Milo. And Jack Donovan’s been here a while. What’s with all these gays being attracted to the Alt Right? Color me somewhat disturbed. There’s been a nasty reaction to the gay bar that’s opened up on the Alt Right. I listened to a very scary Nazi type woman do a podcast on Bathhouse White Nationalism, ranting on and on about faggots and queers and this and that. She was smart as Hell and funny as barrel of ticks, but she left me with a disturbed taste on my lips. I almost wanted some Scope.
My wing is more explicitly about economics and maybe even more Left in that sense. Contrary to popular lie, I really don’t care about race stuff or pro-White stuff.
Someone needs to explain to me why race of all things is the most important issue facing our society today. I don’t get it. Race is the thing I’m trying to spend most days trying not to think about, you know? It’s like “What the Hell you want to think about that for? At best it’s a sideshow and an ugly and often stupid one at that. Why shell out for the expensive ticket? And then there’s the other people in the audience all around you. I go to the fair to have fun, not to be terrified. I get enough of that in the quotidian grind as it is.
I am much more opposed to the Cultural Left. I am quite critical of feminism, gay politics, Baskin Robbins 31 different flavors of gender and the prosaic degeneracy of all the rest of the Cultural Left Freakshow, though I don’t think much of modern antiracism either. But I dislike modern antiracism more because it’s insipid, not because it’s the enemy. Violent opposition to modern antiracism seems cruel. It’s like beating up the retarded. There’s so dumb I almost very sorry for them.
About the show, I think Bay Area Guy and maybe also Dota came up with the idea of the Radical Center. Ann Sterzinger has also talked about the Radical Center a lot.
Topics include:
Rabbit’s Alt Left and how it’s similar to Radical Centrism.
How Radical Centrism relates to the Alt Right, which is a big tent movement for people who oppose political correctness and mass immigration but includes people with more Left and Center views.
How Radical Centrism can adopt the issues abandoned by the Left in favor of globalism and open borders (ex. civil liberties, the environment, workers rights, and anti-war).
How the left opposed the Brexit which stripped the world’s 400 richest people of $127 billion.
The Horseshoe Theory, and how the Radical Center is the part of the horseshoe drifting in nothingness.
Implementing Radical Centrism politically and which demographic groups it could appeal to.
Where Radical Centrism overlaps with the Left, Right, and Libertarianism.
What is the role of government vs. individual liberty.
Capitalism and how it can produce innovation but is disruptive when unfettered without zoning laws, environmental protection, protectionism, and financial regulation.
White liberal utopias such as Portland, Oregon and Boulder, Colorado, how they relate to the Alt Left, and how they contrast with “conservative” run regions such as Texas.
Pan-Secessionism and how it can offer every ideology and group self-determination.
Gore Vidal as a Radical Center/Alt Left Icon.
Gore Vidal’s controversial statements on issues including immigration, race, WWII, Roman Polanski, Ruby Ridge, and how he corresponded with Timothy McVeigh.
Gore Vidal’s cultural elitism.
Gore Vidal’s novels.
Homosexuality in Ancient Greece and Rome.
The importance of cultural elitism.
How our society has a hierarchy based on wealth and celebrity status  rather than cultural elitism.

Robert Stark Interviews Ann Sterzinger about "In the Sky"

Here.
Ann Sterzinger is a novelist stranded on the Alt Right for God knows what reason. Sort of a a case of, “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like that?
I think a lot of folks, especially hipster and artistic types, are drifting around the Alt Right because they think it’s like the new hip bar in town where everyone goes to be seen. The Alt Right is hip, groovy and edgy and it’s great for the Permanently lost and those with late onset adolescent rebellion. You look at a lot of these hipster early adopter trendies over there and you think, “You’re a decent person. What the Hell are doing hanging around with all these damn Nazis?”
Maybe they don’t know what they’re doing. Maybe they do. Maybe they’re on glue. Maybe they’re camped at the Lost and Found. Maybe it’s all Performance Art. Maybe who the Hell knows.
Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands, shake your head and walk away.
Ann is also part of some weird thing called the Anti-Natalism Movement.
Anyway, this chick is an excellent writer, already having a few novels under her corset. She is also very, very smart. She used to have this shy nerdy girl look which was a bit attractive except it gets lost in a crowd too easily. One of those sorta cute faces that’s always fading into the wall, you know? Now she’s fixed herself up a lot for the dating market I guess, and she looks a lot better.
She seems me one of those super-brainy, (perhaps painfully) shy, introverted young brunettes who is actually kind of hot but usually worries she is ugly and has an inferiority complex about the ditsy blonds. fearfully envies the blonds. In that case, she should have been born Jewish. She’s about 40 years old, except she wishes she was never born. Like most goodlooking youngish intellectual women, I believe she needs to go out with me. You’re welcome, honey.
In the Sky (Dans le Ciel) was written by Octave Mirbeau in France in the 1890’s. Ann Sterzinger translated the first English edition published by Hopeless Books. It’s available on Amazon.
Topics include:
How Ann discovered the book from Pierre Michel, a French literary scholar specializing in the writer Octave Mirbeau.
How Mirbeau is best known for his book Diary of a Chambermaid but In the Sky was little known outside of France.
How Mirbeau was an anarchist and a Dreyfusard.
How Mirbeau was a major influence on Louis-Ferdinand Céline who shared his misanthropic outlook.
How Céline was marginalized for his support of the Vichy Regime, however he influenced many writers such as Jack Kerouac, John Dolan, Charles Bukowski, and Michel Houellebecq.
How the book reflects Mirbeau’s outlook towards life and society.
The main character X who is a depressed, misanthropic artist based on Vincent Van Gogh who Mirbeau knew.
The Narrator who discovers X’s manifesto after his death.
How X struggles to create his artistic vision.
X’s mentor, who loses his mind.
The post-Catholic concept of expressing spirituality through art.
How X struggles with sexual and romantic frustration, and when he finally meets a girl, he dumps her because she did not live up to his romantic ideals.
How the meaning of the title In the Sky involves both where X lives on top of a mountain where you can only see sky and a metaphor for being detached from society.
Mirbeau’s view on the family and how neurosis is passed down from parents to children.
How the book combines tragedy and comedy.
Matt Forney’s review Elliot Rodger Goes to Paris.
The genre “Loser Lit.”
Ann’s article Dead David Bowie, French Nationalists, Antinatalism, and the Meaning of Life.
David Bowie’s art & legacy.
Her article The Magical Bottomless Labor Pool which connects political themes to her book NVSQVAM.
Why I’m Scared of Widows & Orphans.
Applied Dysgenics.
In Defense of Beta Females.
Ann’s upcoming science fiction dystopia novel Lyfe, which needs a publisher that specializes in science fiction.

25 Different Collectors

The Collector is a famous classic novel written in 1963 by the great British author John Fowles. It was immediately greeted with much acclaim, and the success of the book enabled Fowles to quit his day job and work full-time as an author.
I found versions of this book that had been translated into 25 different languages. I have grouped the titles according to language family, so many adjacent books are written in languages from the same family. See how many you can get!

  1. Коллекционер
  2. Колекціонер
  3. Колекционер
  4. Колекционерът
  5. Kolekcjoner
  6. Kolekcionar
  7. Zbiratelj
  8. Sběratel
  9. El coleccionista
  10. Colecţionarul, Colectionarul
  11. O Colecionador
  12. Il collezionista
  13. L’obsédé
  14. De verzamelaar
  15. Samleren, Offer for en samler
  16. Der Sammler
  17. Kolekcionierius
  18. Kolekcionārs
  19. Ο συλλέκτης
  20. Neitoperho
  21. Liblikapüüdja
  22. A Lepkegyűjtő
  23. Koleksiyoncu
  24. جامع الفراشات
  25. კოლექციონერი

What Attracts Women

I will go through these one by one here:

  1. Hypergamy
  2. Women’s dishonesty about what they’re attracted to being biologically hardwired because of them wanting one man to beta provide and another man to fuck her.
  3. Looks = Personality. Your personality and behavior are largely dictated by uncontrollable factors (how people reacted to you during upbringing, hormonal profile during puberty, your background, etc.).
  4. Social life and hence status being extremely affected by the way one looks.
  5. Men being more productive and contributing more to society and to general development throughout history, and how marriage and monogamy in the old days was a way to control and make sure that every man got his needs met and hence contributed to society. Basically one can easily conclude that female to male choice-based mating selection is very bad for society overall.

Let’s start with 1 first.

Hypergamy

Yep, females are hypergamous by nature. The Blue Pillers, feminists, male feminists, etc. are absolutely furious about this notion. They say it’s all a great big lie. Are they really that clueless?

Female hypergamy is real. It is also a big problem if unleashed. In order to keep it at least manageable (because you can never get rid of it altogether), institutions such as marriage with enforced monogamy are devised so you can have a halfway civilized society and restrain female hypergamy significantly.

Women’s dishonesty about what they’re attracted to being biologically hardwired because of them wanting one man to beta provide and another man to fuck her.

Yep. Women lie about what they want. They lie about what turns them on. They lie about a thousand things. Why they lie so much, I have no idea, but I suspect that women don’t even know what they want or what turns them on either.

I do not agree with women wanting one man to be a Beta provider and another to provide stud service. Ideally, I think most women would like to marry Chad, tame him so he’s monogamous, and hopefully have Monogamous Chad Dream Man be a great provider for her so she doesn’t need to settle with a Beta as a provider.

You will notice that women’s romance novels are typically about this totally unrealistic dream man who is this hunky male model stud who is a man’s man, masculine as can be but at the same time sensitive, loving, and kind, who has women after him all the time but settles down with the heroine after she tames him.

My mother notes that the male heroes of romance novels are men that more or less do not even exist in real life. So women’s dream men are so fantastical that they probably don’t even exist. They’re pining for nonexistent entities!

The problem that Alphas are often lousy providers. Many Alphas are not employed. A lot of others work in the criminal economy, often selling drugs, etc. A surprising number work at low paying jobs and continue to live in cheap apartments and drive old cars into middle age. A stunning number of Alphas are in jails and prisons. Many Alphas spend most of their life essentially living off women in exchange for providing what boils down to gigolo service.

Even if a woman could pin Chad into a long term relationship or marriage, Chad makes a lousy boyfriend and an even lousier husband. He tends to be an incorrigible cheater, among other things. He is at least a little bit narcissistic/sociopathic, he is typically vain, conceited, and egotistical and is often rather short on empathy. In other words, Chad is an asshole.

So women don’t need a Beta provider. They need a provider, period. Chad would be the #1 pick of course, but he’s not available, so she settles for Mr. Beta with the good job as a provider. But now she still needs Chad for sex. What’s a lady to do?

Looks = Personality, your personality and behavior are largely dictated by uncontrollable factors (how people reacted to you during upbringing, hormonal profile during puberty, your background etc).

This is very sad, but there is probably a lot to it. I do not think we are doomed by what happened to us in junior and senior high school, but those experiences are so important that it is hard to overlook them. While no one has a set in stone lousy personality, we all have a certain personality type, and it is set by the end of adolescence.

There is a healthy and unhealthy side of each personality type. Even the Sociopath has a healthy mirror image called Aggressive Personality. The Borderline has Sensitive Personality. The Dependent has Loyal Personality. The Narcissist has Confident Personality. And so on.

A man with good looks often has so many great experiences during these formative years that he ends up with a nice personality pretty much locked in place by the time adolescence is over. The man who had a rocky road all through middle and late school years has a huge hurdle to overcome in transcending these traumas and becoming healthy.

Social life and hence status being extremely affected by the way one looks.

This is sad as Hell too, but there is probably a lot to it. People need to consider that when they see people with great/poor social skills and high/low status that quite a bit of how high someone scores on those variables may be due to uncontrollable factors like looks.

Men being much more productive and contributing much more to society and to general development throughout history, and how marriage and monogamy in the old days was a way to control and make sure that every man got his needs met and hence contributed to society. Basically one can easily conclude that female to male choice based mating selection is very bad for society overall.

Women are not going to like this one. But I would agree that men create civilization. There have been periods in history when most of the men left, often to wars, and the society was left with mostly women to run the show. Things fell apart pretty quickly.

Women simply can’t create or run civilizations. They need men to do that for them. Women can help the men run things, but they can’t do it alone. This is quite all right. Women can’t do everything. The sexes tend to need each other.

But since civilizations needed men to create them in the first place and then to run them, marriage and monogamy was a way to control society such that most if not all men got their basic needs met. Once their basic needs were met, these men would be able to do a good job contributing to society. Bottom line is a totally free market in marriage where women’s choices set the tone is probably going to cause all sorts of societal problems, like maybe mass shootings for one.

Greatest Comic Series Ever?

This city is afraid of me…I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout “Save us!”… and I’ll look down and whisper “No.”
They had a choice, all of them. They could have followed in the footsteps of good men like my father or President Truman. Decent men who believed in a day’s work for a day’s pay. Instead they followed the droppings of lechers and communists and didn’t realize that the trail led over a precipice until it was too late. Don’t tell me they didn’t have a choice. Now the whole world stands on the brink, staring down into bloody Hell, all those liberals and intellectuals and smooth-talkers… and all of a sudden nobody can think of anything to say.
Walter Joseph Kovacs/Rorschach

While we are at it with the superlatives, how about greatest graphic novel ever too?

Turgenev!

Turgenev is usually listed as one of the great Russian writers of the 19th Century along with Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov and Nikolai Gogol. He was the favorite Russian novelist of Henry James and Joseph Conrad, who both said he was better than Dostoevsky. Vladimir Nabokov rated him below Tolstoy, Chekhov and Gogol but ahead of Dostoevsky.
Although Turgenev quarreled with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky during his lifetime, both eventually came to praise him.
After he died, Tolstoy said:

His stories of peasant life will forever remain a valuable contribution to Russian literature. I have always valued them highly. And in this respect none of us can stand comparison with him. Take, for example, Living Relic, Loner, and so on. All these are unique stories. And as for his nature descriptions, these are true pearls, beyond the reach of any other writer!

Turgenev never married but had many lovers and affairs. He had a lifelong affair with a Spanish-born opera singer who was raised in Paris. He spent most of his time in Western Europe, especially Germany and France. He preferred cosmopolitan Western Europe over his native land. He died at age 64.
He was particularly noted for his great ear for dialogue, as you can see in the excerpt below. Just to give you a taste of what he is like, here is a passage from the play, A Month in the Country:

You know, Ratikin, I noticed this a long time ago …You are wonderfully sensitive to the so-called beauties of nature, and talk about them exquisitely … very intelligently … so exquisitely, so intelligently, that I feel sure nature should be indescribably grateful to you for your beautifully chosen, happy phrases about her; you court nature, like a perfumed marquis on his little red-heeled shoes, pursuing a pretty peasant girl … the only trouble is, I sometimes think that nature will never be able to understand or appreciate your subtle language – just as the peasant girl wouldn’t understand the courtly compliments of the marquis; nature is simpler, yes, cruder than you suppose – because, thank God, she is healthy …Birches don’t melt, they don’t have fainting fits like ladies with weak nerves.

Nnnice!

The Great White Death!

Moby Dick is Herman Melville’s greatest work and is one of the greatest books ever written in English or really in any other language. Endless ink has been spilled about Ishmael, the sailor on board the whaling ship The Pequod and Ahab, the mad possessed captain of the ship, out to get his revenge against the greatest sperm whale of all, the great white whale, Moby Dick. Revenge against what? Earlier, Moby Dick had waged a war against Ahab’s ship when the whalers tried to kill the whale. In the course of the tumult and the whale’s attacks on the ship, Ahab lost his leg and now walks with an ivory peg-leg.

Moby Dick himself, or as I refer to him, The Great White Death!
Moby Dick himself, or as I refer to him, The Great White Death!

Really the best part of Moby Dick is the prose. I will print a few samples of it here so you can see how great it is.
Let us look at Ishmael talking.
Here the sea and the land clearly stand in for some deeper issues:

Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?
But in landlessness alone reside the highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God – so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than to be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety.
Consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

Two whale heads of killed whales are fastened to the ship as trophies:

Oh, ye foolish! throw these thunderheads overboard, and then you will float light and right…This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza in his latter years.

He ponders the meaning of “whiteness,” of the obsessive themes of the book.

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows – a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?

Ishmael on what’s eating Ahab:

Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.
…he strove to pierce the profundity.

The surface of the ocean and its deeper waters are obviously stand-in’s for weightier things:

Beneath this wondrous world upon the surface… another and still stranger world…

Ishmael dislikes philosophy:

So soon as I hear that such or such a man gives himself out for a philosopher, I conclude that, like the dyspeptic old woman, he must have ‘broken his digester.’

Yet he spends quite a bit of time philosophizing himself:

What things real are there, but imponderable thoughts?

And has not much use for religion either.

Hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling….
Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian…
…Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy.
…a man’s religion is one thing, and this practical world another.

Yet he also wonders about the same obsessions that haunt the religious:

Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true substance.

But he is brimming with great aphorisms:

…if you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good meal out of it, at least.

Starbuck, a sailor, is a budding capitalist who sees whales as nothing but another commodity:

I came here to hunt whales, not my commander’s vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? It will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market…

Pip, a castaway is rescued by sailor Stubb, only to jump off his ship. Stubb, another budding capitalist, albeit a vicious one, leaves Pip to flounder in the sea:

Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loves his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.

And Ahab has a few thoughts of his own:

All visible objects, man, are but pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing put forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?
To me, the white whale is the wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.

Ahab addressing a sperm whale, in a passage in which diving seems imply something deeper than plunging down into the sea:

Of all divers, thou has dived the deepest…

Niice!
Great stuff or what?

One Island, Three Books

Ok here we go with the old stranded on a deserted island chestnut.
Now suppose you were stranded on a deserted island (not “desert island” as so many improperly say), and you could only bring three books with you, all fiction, all novels. Which do you choose?
I choose:

  1. Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)
  2. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)
  3. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

Now have at it, mavens.

D. H. Lawrence

A lot of people nowadays dislike D. H. Lawrence’s classic books such as Sons and Lovers, Lady Chatterly’s Lover, The Rainbow and Women in Love. I have read all four of them. Indeed the imagery can get rather heavy-handed and downright idiotic at times. His basic point, that humans should get out of their civilized shells enough to get in touch with their primal and of course sexual nature, is good enough for me, but he can be pretty ham-handed with the way he goes about hammering this point into your head.
Also his paragraphs can go on and on. And as far as erotic literature goes, it’s isn’t even very dirty by today’s pornographic standards, but I think it’s enough to at least turn’s women Romance-novel aware minds on.
I took a class once on D. H. Lawrence. It was all women except for me and one other guy.
Well, it was paradise.
The women in the class were turned on enough by Lawrence’s prose. I remember one very beautiful young woman, maybe 27 years old, often sat next to me. We were talking about one of the books and she was basically saying how she was getting so turned on reading them that she couldn’t wait for her husband to get home (he was off on some trip).
But I would like to point out, just for a moment, one thing often overlooked about Lawrence: what a great stylist he could be. Here is a passage from one of his classic travel books, Sea and Sardinia:

Cold, fresh wind, a black-blue, translucent, rolling sea on which the wake rose in snapping foam, and Sicily was on the left: Monte Pellegrino, a huge, inordinate mass of pinkish rock, hardly crisped with the faintest vegetation, looming up to heaven from the sea.
Strangely large in mass and bulk Monte Pellegrino looks and bare, like a Sahara in heaven: and old-looking. These coasts of Sicily are very imposing, terrific, fortifying the interior. And again one gets the feeling that age has worn them bare; as if old, old civilizations had worn away and exhausted the soil, leaving a terrifying blankness of rock, as at Syracuse in plateau, and here in great mass.

Oh! Man that is nice!

Humans Are Perverse

Only part of us is sane; only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us.
The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations. Our bright nature fights in us with this yeasty darkness, and neither part is commonly quite victorious, for we are divided against ourselves and will not let either part be destroyed.
Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941)

So we all have a bit of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in us, and to be human is to have a dark side. The universe is bipolar, and both visions are correct, even at the same time as we learn in Zen. The world is either a good place where the possibility of decency and success combined exists, as in soaring goodness of Shakespeare’s best characters, or it is consists of a blackened existence, as in a Ben Jonson play where near every character is a scoundrel with a depraved heart  and the the few good men are ineffectual and impotent and as in Dostoevsky, evil always triumphs and good falls down in the gutters to defeat.
Bottom line: the human heart is both divided and perverse.
P.S. That Rebecca West book is not only one of the finest novels of the 20th Century, but it is also one of the greatest works in English-language literature. And it’s only 1,181 pages long!

The Last Slice of Pizza, by Joseph Hirsch (A Dystopian Science Fiction Novel)

Brief Synopsis:  Michael Fermi is what many people would uncharitably describe as a “loser.” He is in his mid-twenties, living at home with his mother and delivering pizzas for a living. His life is about to change, however, as he has been selected by an alien race which intends to install its parasitic spearhead in his body in order to use him for their own purposes. This unseen race, known as the Grand Arbiters, will use this method of bilocation to observe humanity through the eyes of the lowly pizza man, in order to determine whether or not Man should be eliminated, and his precious Earth destroyed alongside of him.

The Last Slice of Pizza

By Joseph Hirsch

What the Reader Doesn’t Want to Know

The President of the United States of America walks into the War Room, flanked by two four star generals and the Secretary of State. While there is an impressive, massive table dominating the room, this is not the War Room we have grown accustomed to from countless movies and TV shows. There is a stainless steel carafe of water on the table, centered on a tray with three drinking glass that have been left untouched. The White House Press Secretary and the Vice President of the United States are the only people in the room who are seated. Everyone else stands, either uneasily against the wall or off to the side of the President.
The Press Secretary says, “Mr. President, at three-forty five am this transmission was intercepted at Cape Canaveral along with a decryption cipher, which arrived via radio signal at ten second intervals over the course of the following forty-five minutes. At that time, all communications ceased.”
The president has his ring finger pressed against the side of his skull, the fingertip flush against his hair which became shot with gray roughly a year into his second term. His golden wedding band is dull from being rapped repeatedly against the surface of his desk in the Oval Office.
The message is then played: “Homo sapiens, you are being contacted because we wish to inform you that several tons of radioactive explosives have been placed in the molten core of your Earth. This bomb cannot be defused, and requires no secondary trigger mechanism. It has been activated by the positively charged ions, rotation, and convective motion of your Earth, which are responsible for producing your magnetic field. The bomb will detonate in twelve hours.”
A terrified murmur makes its way from one to the other of those assembled in the room. The most powerful man on Earth has been reduced inwardly to a whimpering child, though he is still man and leader enough to conceal his terror from those who look to him for guidance, and who still want to believe that he can get them through this.
“In order to dissuade you from your doubts, reticence, or your suspicion that this may be a hoax, we have decided to incinerate a star whose coordinates we have provided to your scientists at NASA. This incineration will take place roughly eleven hours before we destroy your Earth.”
The president has clasped his hands together, as if praying, though he is more likely deep in thought, as those close to him know the Ruler of the Free World to be a closet deist, a yuppie agnostic who attended church more to plug himself into the political pipeline when rallying for his senate run, than out of any sort of religious ardor.
“Each of you who have been made aware of this message is to meet at coordinates which have been provided in a document accompanying the cipher of this transmission. You three-thousand humans will be spared and taken aboard our ship. Your immediate families will also be spared. If, however, you inform anyone not included on the manifest of either what is to happen to the Earth o he manifest of either what is to happen to the Earth or of the coordinates where the airlift is to take place, you will be incinerated along with all of your unfortunate Homo sapiens friends. End…”
Static ripples, and the Vice President turns the volume down. The President looks over at the Press Secretary, who removes his bifocals and wipes the fogged glasses with the triangular end of his paisley tie. “Mr. President, a star was in fact incinerated a little bit more than two hours ago.”
“Which star?” The president is grim, but still not panicking.
The Press Secretary swivels in his seat, undoes the half-Windsor knot of his tie. “It was a star we hadn’t even located or named until its coordinates were provided in the encrypted signal.”
The president is deep in thought, pondering the greatest crisis his nation, his planet, has ever faced. The irrepressible conflict between the North and South which claimed more American lives than any other war, the Cuban Missile Crisis whereby mutual destruction may have just been narrowly averted, the banking meltdown in which economies from Reykjavik, Iceland to Manhattan Island almost collapsed due to bad credit default swaps-all of it pales in comparison to the calamity he now has to face.
Every one of the other people in the room is grateful that the decision rests with him. Never has the crown laid heavier upon the head, or the political chalice for which men competed seemed more poisonous a drink. The President of the United States of America thinks about his constituents, about his enemies, about the hardy souls who came out to shake his hand when he did his tours of the heartland damaged by tornadoes and floods. He thinks about his responsibility to them, and he is tempted to ask one of his generals if they might not be able to triangulate the source of that signal and perhaps fire upon the target. He knows that the languishing Star Wars program is a pipe dream, and that some Hail Mary fantasy of sending a nuclear payload aboard a satellite toward the hostile aliens would make a good yarn in a popcorn flick, but this is not a movie.
The President stops thinking about his voters, his friends and enemies in Washington, the sycophantic press corps. He shifts in his seat, and the Presidential seal stitched into the leather headrest frames his head for a moment like a halo. He thinks about his wife, his children, his shaggy spotted Cocker Spaniel, and the choice becomes obvious. He glances at everyone in the room, and finally lets his eyes settle on his shiny loafers, because he is too ashamed to meet any gaze right now.
“Have Air Force One readied, and give the pilot the coordinates listed in the cipher accompanying the signal from space.”
An audible sigh goes up from those assembled in the War Room. There is the sound of papers shuffling, and then they all disperse. No one makes cellphone calls or sends emails, since those can easily be intercepted thanks to programs the president himself has signed off on via executive fiat. His decision has alienated him from his liberal base, and garners him no credit from his enemies who see him as too dovish, but he has done what he thought was right for the American people. It was easy, he muses as he walks through the halls of the White House, past the presidential portraitures, to be a protestor when one didn’t receive the kinds of briefings he got daily. But to stand on that carpet and hear about the terror cells, the loose uranium, the new surface-to-air shoulder fired rockets, day in and day out, and to keep those secrets to oneself, that made the decisions that much harder. It was his second term anyway. Better to alienate the base in order to protect them.
All of it had been for nothing, though.
He runs out to his helicopter and salutes the marine as he boards, a boards, a final wash of guilt making its way over him before it is drowned out in the roar of propellers as he takes off into the sky.
The termites dance away. Another one of the little maggots makes communion with the others, sharing his secret with them, bearing tidings from aboard a vessel where the unseen until now Arbiters are assembled to speak. They wear the same metal shells as Mama, but Wichman, Mars, Kammisch and I can sense alien life pulsing beneath the scaled metal armor. One of them speaks, its voice oscillating through some kind of modulator:
“Mercury we need only for the mining of calcium and magnesium.”
This motion is seconded, and each of the steel-sheathed Arbiters vibrate as a harmonious accord flows across their ranks. A canister filled with the pseudocoelomate rotifer Nanobots recently jettisoned from Earth appears in their midst. One of the Arbiters cracks the glass case like a giant opening a walnut with his massive hands.
A scattering of thermal termites, like floating tinsel, shows the Arbiters a scene of destruction which excites them, makes their slimy, pestiferous bodies writhe inside of the steel shells that make them seem so much stronger and more o much stronger and more formidable than they actually are. The Earth explodes, and something like a gestalt orgasm makes all of the extraterrestrial trolls applaud.
The Earth is now a radiant sun, and through the observation window a fleet of ships drifts into view to form a colorless bulwark that blots out the stars. Their force fields deploy, tessellated striations of jagged lightning, a kinematic orchestration which pushes the Earth until it sits where the sun once was, shoving the sun into an adjacent galaxy. The ships groan and turn to face the other direction. Their ballistic waves of purple light press Mars until it moves where the Earth once was. The moon stays in place.
From within this vision which has been brought to us thanks to our shattering of the little bank teller’s tube, I can hear Wichman laughing. “Clever, evil bastards.”
“That was not Earth we just visited,” Mars says.
“Captain Obvious,” Wichman shoots back. Kammisch is silent, as am I. We watch the Arbiters, sated on that main course of destruction, now treated to a desert which consists of a sadistic show well beyond man’s conception.
The President has done as the Arbiters have commanded him. He has managed to beat Benjamin Franklin’s sage advice about men and secrets, and he has assembled an intergalactic Noah’s Ark, this collection of senators and their families, generals and aides-de-camp, speechwriters and their spouses. They wait patiently for their starship to come. It arrives, a facsimile of the drop ship where we now sit watching this scene unfold, only of course much larger. They board quietly, frightened, like obedient cattle, forming the shape of a new docile animal which is composed of all of their shuffling bodies, a pachyderm bound for God-knows-where.
Once aboard, their vessel launches into space, and as quickly as a rifle tracking skeet, the Arbiters watch them through the display window of their own ship and one of the aliens presses a button which sends a ray out to intercept and obliterate the vessel filled with the only Earthlings besides us four men watching in terror, as a satanic orange and red mushroom cloud consumes itself and then dissolves into shards, fanning out into the vacuum of space.
The Arbiters roil and slither inside their steel suits, pleased and hissing, tearing themselves into shapes which resemble uncoiling strands of especially pliant taffy or fiberglass insulation. They are not so much hideous as imbued with a primordial ugliness which should not know sentience. Each of us sees bits of them slithering around in their suits, thanks to the diligence of the thermal termites worming their way into cracks and joints, and though I haven’t spoken to the other men, I can feel their anger rising as just I can feel my own.
Things that look like these Arbiters, formless ooze, should not rule over us, should not control who lives or dies or the manner in which we perish. Those politicians who fed off the blood of the people deserved to be booted from office, sure, and one could maybe make a Guy Fawkes argument that they even deserved death for the betrayal of their constituents, but killing their families, their wives, and children is beyond the ken of even Old Testament Yahweh in all but his most vindictive mood.
I am, after all, something of an authority on God, as much as any man can be short of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that He empirically exists. God did not, in that Gutenberg Bible I keep by my nightstand, tell the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah that they would live, only to kill them anyway. If Lot’s wife had not turned around and disobeyed him, if she had kept her eyes forward, then God would not have turned her into a pillar of salt merely to amuse himself.
I dig my fingernails into the lifelines of my palms until they begin to bleed, cursing the slime bags for their formlessness, which leaves them no necks to even wring. I want to throttle them, too, to strangle one, but I have to keep my anger in check, because the silkworms are still spinning their web, showing me that I am in fact wrong in my assumption that we four aboard this drop ship are the only human beings left alive. The Arbiters in fact decided to keep a certain number of human beings alive for their own purposes, which were cruel, but not without a cold logic that I find hard to refute.
Several hundred sport utility vehicles, like the ones I saw around the neighborhood where I had once lived with my mother by the lake, are arranged in a long line on the rusted tundra of the Martian basalt. “Stau,” Kammisch says.
“Ja,” I reply.
But how? How or why is there a traffic jam on the surface of Mars? One of the Nanobots, not hindered by atmospheric concerns, weaves its way across the rocks toward the line of SUVs. Each of the drivers, men and women shanghaied from Earth, marooned now on Mars, grip the steering wheel of their car. Each vehicle’s porous doors and sunroofs are sheathed in a cocooning membrane of elastomeric seals reinforced with a space age polymer, like the doors on our mother ship. Nothing can get in and nothing can get out, but these men and women who have been abducted from carpools or crosstown errands do not need more oxygen than they already have, because the thermal termites will provide that, just as they would continually rewire the digestive systems of the drivers so that hunger would never become a problem, either.
Gas would certainly not be an issue, as I already know from experience. The termites are rerouting all of the atoms and molecules into a feedback loop, whereby any gas that is burned will in turn create more gas in a cycle of perpetual motion better than any sort of zero point energy theorized by Barry Mars in his most outlandish mood. The people drive in circles for days that turn into months, which become years that in turn morph into generations. They beg for death, but the termites keep their hands sealed to the wheels. The red clay of Mars looks so much like the brimstone of Hell, but nothing from Dante or Sisyphus could rival the punishment these commuters are forced to endure, as the worms in the engine blocks pump more and more fossil fuel into the Martian atmosphere.
Co2 gases form a greenhouse shell over Mars, and the Arbiters observe and laugh, this multi-century project a diversion that lasts them in their infinite cruelty the equivalent of only a few hours. Their hideous voices, rasping and scarred, carry across the desolate Martian expanse. Over one-hundred Mbar of surface pressure is realized, the temperature rising degree by degree, until the Nanobots are forced to vacate and the drivers are finally released from their torment, melting to the liquefying hulls of their Denali and Expedition and Yukon utility vehicles.
From an astral perch the Nanobots watch, nesting like lapdogs on the contours of the metal suits that the Arbiters wear. After the cars melt, the rocks begin to undergo thermal decomposition, and hissing C02 and H20 make noises eerily similar to the laughter of the monstrous aliens, gases coming in wavering steamy fingers from the ground where it cracks with molten volcanic life.
Our hatred for the evil Gods melts in that moment. No matter how wicked we consider them to be, they are giving us something that had been the provenance of no man, no matter how holy and faithful to God he was, or devoted to science he might have been. We are seeing the beginnings of a new world, the new world in fact.
A tundra region opens above the regolith, and life as small as the Nanobots appears, little pioneer biota that appeal to the part of each man that he keeps hidden, the part that wants to pet butterflies but fears how that might appear to other men.
“Oh, shit,” I think I hear Wichman say, and he starts to cry. It is contagious. We hear each other’s voices, but see only the memories of the termites, each passing on a bit of knowledge to the next in case it prematurely senesces or is consumed in flames.
The little butterflies with their purple and blue patterns are resistant to the ultraviolet rays which lash the cragged surface of this new Earth, and they excrete acids that further dissolve the rocks and flatten the mountains into low naked hills, and banded marble cliffs which form a rim around the first ocean. We can taste the nitrogen and oxygen as they are introduced, across the chasm of centuries and despite the limited sensory perception of the little wormy hosts sending back data one broken image at a time.
The one ocean of New Earth breaks into two oceans, forming an aqua-frothed Pangaea wreathed in salt in the northern boreal area and a second sea in the southern hemispheric Hellas Planitia zone. Minor tweaking is performed by the bulwarked convoy of drifting sky fortresses, which casts a giant shadow over the Earth which has become the new sun, and Mars, which has become a home for the Arbiters. Giant louvered parasol sunshades emerge from the abysses inside of the great ships, and they adjust the orbital eccentricity of every planet until the Council of Arbiters achieves that revolting harmonious accord again. They writhe in their elemental suits, and rap their chainmail knuckles against the top of their table.
The millions of aliens who have moved into the Milky Way are happy with this new living arrangement. We four remaining humans above this drop ship are less so.

Two New Thomas Pynchon Videos

This is one from his new novel Bleeding Edge which is going to come out in only 6 days on September 17, 2013! Very, very weird, and I kind of like it.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urNQ8S4EBGA]
Above is a video advertising all of Pynchon’s books on one ebook. The video lists the first lines in all of his books. Some go by so fast that you can barely even read them.
I have read:

  1. V.
  2. The Crying of Lot 49
  3. Gravity’s Rainbow
  4. Slow Learner
  5. Vineland

I have not yet read:

  1. Mason and Dixon
  2. Against the Day
  3. Inherent Vice

Chapter the Last

What a way to end a book!

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

Oh yeah!
It was 150 years ago, or it was yesterday. When time may as well stand still, who needs clocks? Atomic clocks be damned, the best of the pen will stop them all.

Yes or No?

At the end, what is the answer on the tip of your tongue, yes or no?

“And Yes I said Yes I said yes.”

At the end of a great book, a day, a night or the closing hours of the bar, what could possibly be your answer?
At the end of this, that or whatever, it’s always Last Call, and the answer must always be yes. There’s no other way to go out but by shouting the affirmative to all and any who will listen. The human spirit demands this.
PS I didn’t write that, but I wish I did.

Any Of You Going on the Road This Summer?

Isn’t it great to be on the road?

…the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?
the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

Just wondering.
PS I didn’t write that above. Wish I did though.

Sendero Fades and FARC Rises in Peru

Repost from the old site.
Web Archive is your friend.
What wonderful dead Internet things it has managed to preserve for us, little snapshots long expired, such as Argentine Jewish journalist Uki Goni’s interview with Nicholas Shakespeare, author of the novel The Dancer Upstairs, based on the Shining Path* insurgency.
The novel was later made into a movie. Goni asks Shakespeare about the years he spent in Peru searching for Abimael Guzman (Presidente Gonzalo, leader of the Shining Path).
He never found him of course, but he did find a man who he said was the real brains behind the Sendero Luminoso movement, anthropologist Efrain Morote Best, former rector at the University of San Cristobal of Huamanga in Ayacucho, Peru from 1962-1968. This is where philosophy professor Guzman started his movement.
Many of the administrators, professors and students at the university were the nucleus of the movement, and Shining Path probably started 20 years before they burned ballot boxes in Chuschi, Ayacucho, on May 17, 1980, almost exactly 200 years after the last Inca rebel, Tupac Amaru, on May 17, 1781, was drawn and quartered by Spaniards, the four pieces then buried at far corners of Peru.
The Chuschi ballots burning was an inauspicious affair. At 2 AM, five masked youths and one adult entered the office of the registrar, tied him up, burned the ballots and registry and retreated into the night. The attack had been led by a schoolteacher. The incident was scarcely even noted in the press. But the single spark to light the prairie fire had been lit.
The correlation with the execution of Tupac Amaru was not accidental, yet this little-noted fact has hardly been noticed by anyone who studied the insurgency. But it has profound implications for understanding the movement.
Best’s son was the head on the military wing of Sendero and was the 2nd in command of the group. His brother and sister were also members. All were arrested and are serving sentences in prison. Best himself died in 1992. Shakespeare describes meeting Best in his hideout in northern Lima, surrounded by books and classical records, and coming face to face with the first truly evil man he had ever met.
Drinking coffee in Best’s home and talking for three hours, Shakespeare was shaking the whole time. Best had “no emotions”, while Gonzalo had “no personality” – an ascetic, humorless brainy type who bragged that he drank a bottle of mineral water on his honeymoon – this was his idea of a wild time.
Shakespeare’s interview paints Sendero as calculating and completely evil, a new Khmer Rouge. I do not necessarily agree with that, but I never supported them either. I believe that Sendero rejected Pol Pot’s back to nature Year Zero agrarianism, and surely they had nothing against intellectuals.
Indeed, it was a product of Mestizo intellectuals from the neglected provinces, victims of omnipresent racism and discrimination at the hands of the White ruling class.
Most of the cadres were young Mestizos, male and female, high school to college age, from the big cities on the coast and the provinces. Later there were many supporters amongst settlers in the jungle, amongst the ever-oppressed Indians in the Highlands, some jungle Indians and the urban poor and working class in Lima.
Shakespeare acts as if Sendero cared not one bit about the Indians. This is not true. The funeral of Edith Lagos, a fighter killed in 1982, drew over 30,000 (in a city of 70,000 people) – mostly Indians – to her funeral in Ayacucho, the capital of the province where it all began. The huge crowd had defied a ban on her funeral.
Furthermore, Lagos (rare photos of the strikingly beautiful Lagos here and here) had recently graduated from a Catholic high school run by nuns in Ayacucho. She had been a model student at the high school.
Earlier, her parents had sent her to Lima to study to be an attorney. She often skipped school to watch movies from India, because, she said, she liked to cry. When she was not doing that, she was meeting with trade union workers in the city and talking revolution.
She was rapidly recruited into the Shining Path and her rousing speeches electrified Indians throughout the Southern Sierra. At age 17, she was already a guerrilla commander. Lagos was captured several times by government forces. There is a photo of her in government custody in 1981, face swollen by beatings, 18 year old eyes already hard with determination. By now, Sendero held the northern third of Ayacucho.
On May 2, 1982, in one of Sendero’s most impressive actions, 500 Senderistas raided and took over the university city of Huamanga, a city of 80,000 people. They blew up the local jail and liberated 304 Senderistas, including Lagos. They held the city for a short time, confiscated every weapon in sight, and left.
After that, Sendero went on the offensive in Ayacucho. Bridges, electrical towers, police stations, barracks, banks and businesses were attacked. Three months later, President Belaunde declared a state of emergency in nine districts in the southern Andes and put them under military control. At the end of 1983, 8,000 peasants lay dead. Maybe 5% were Senderistas. The war was on.
Once, with other fighters, she blew a hole in the Ayacucho jail and liberated all of the Senderista prisoners. In the months before her death, a legend was born, the heroic Robin Hood guerrilla, a female Che Guevara. In the market of Huancayo, Edith Lagos wooden statues were already being sold, a young woman standing before a budding tree.
Legend* has it she was wounded in a shootout with authorities soon afterwards, apparently taken prisoner while alive, raped, tortured and finally bayoneted to death by government forces. She was all of 19 years old. This was pretty typical behavior by government forces.
In contrast, Sendero often tended to wounded government soldiers’ wounds, took them prisoner, and asked them to defect from the security forces or join Sendero.
Her father was asked to come to Andahualyas to identify the body. He came, picked up the body and took it back to Ayacucho. All along the way, the procession was repeatedly stopped as throngs of peasants poured into the road to mourn their dead heroine.
Her funeral and mass were held in the main Catholic (Lagos was a Catholic, as were most of rank and file Senderistas and even some of the leadership – Abimael Guzman himself is said to be Catholic) cathedral in Ayacucho, where her coffin was draped with a hammer and sickle flag inside church, an odd sight.
There is a rare videotape of the funeral. The chapel is packed with peasants, storeowners, government workers, all dressed in Indian garb. As her coffin is borne out of the church, a rousing, clapping chant rises from the crowd as it presses forward and drapes a hammer and sickle flag over her coffin: “Commandante Edith presente! The people will never forget your spilled blood!”
The crowd circled the square three times, each time swelling the crowd as more and more people poured out of their homes to join the march. Marching into the cemetery was a solid wall of humanity. The Shining Path banner rode on the outstretched arms of the crowd.
There are those who swear that Abimael Guzman himself was in the crowd. He may as well have been. The commanding officer of the police had ordered all of his men to stay inside during the procession.
Lagos is still regarded as a heroine by the local Indians at the time and for a long time afterwards. Her grave become a local shrine. Three times, government death squads blew up her grave to kill her vision. Three times, her father painstakingly rebuilt it, even though after the first blast there was not that much to put in there.
Each time he rebuilds it, he rewrites the poem that Lagos had composed before her death as her epitaph. Every year on the anniversary of her death, her mother brings a bouquet of yellow broom flowers to put on the grave, Sendero’s symbol of resistance. Even now, Edith Lagos banners, poems and sculptures festoon the city of Huamanga. The myth of Commandante Edith lives.
Lagos’ funeral, along with reports that many Catholics, including nuns and priests, supported the Shining Path, also gives the lie to the anti-Sendero line that “Sendero deliberately targeted the Church”, while at the same time accentuating the dramatic role that women played in the Shining Path.
In 1993, an organizational chart of the top leadership of Sendero showed 12 men and 11 women.
The widow of one of Peru’s most famous novelists, Jose Maria Arguedas, Sybila Arredondo, was arrested as a member of Sendero, sending shock waves through Peruvian society. Arguedas, a mestizo born in the Andes, captured the true spirit of the Peruvian Indian better than perhaps any other Peruvian author. He died a suicide in 1969.
1/3 of Sendero’s members and leadership were female. One of Peru’s top ballerinas was an associate of the top Sendero leadership and was one of those arrested with Guzman in 1992.
Clearly, the notion that Sendero oppressed women in general, widely made after the group killed Maria Elena Moyano, “Mother Courage”, in 1991, is without merit. Further, Moyano was killed, albeit brutally, for organizing counterinsurgency patrols and turning in supporters and members of Sendero to the police. As such, she was no longer a civilian.
The very name of the group was the Peruvian Communist Party en el Sendero Luminoso de (in the shining path of) Jose Carlos Mariategui. Mariategui, who wrote his most famous work in 1928, was one of the Peru’s most famous Marxist thinkers.
He was particularly important for highlighting the Woman question and Indian question. He was also a Catholic and was particularly harsh about the way that the Marxists in Peru at the time criticized the spiritual beliefs of the peasants. For an extensive review of the role of Catholic believers in many Communist parties and movements in the 20th century, see this fascinating web page.
One cannot really understand Sendero without knowing about Mariategui. So from the start, Sendero raised feminism and the liberation of the Indians as two of their banners.
Simon Strong’s Shining Path (1992) is the finest book ever written on the movement. He spent a lot of time in Peru and concluded that at the time, the movement had a huge amount of support, even among the military, the Catholic church, teachers, students, workers, peasants, the urban poor and exiles.
They also had massive support among the Ashaninka Indians in the Amazon, and also with some other tribes. The notions that Sendero held 1000’s of Indians “prisoner“, or that they massacred scores of unarmed jungle Indians, are total nonsense. At the time Strong wrote his book, the movement was at the peak of their popularity. Later that year, Guzman was captured, and it has been all downhill ever since.
But the general assessment of anti-Sendero authors, that Sendero either had no understanding of, or was hostile to, Peruvian values and traditions is just not true.
I also disagree with the standard assessment that Sendero is widely despised in Peru. Many people do have ambivalent feelings about them, true.
When the media writes about the flap about Cameron Diaz infuriating Peruvians with her Maoist “Serve the People” purse (the rightwing blogosphere has had an idiotic field day with this, but I seriously doubt that Diaz supports or supported Sendero, so the whole affair is just the usual rightwing character assassination), the Peruvians they refer to are elite, the only ones the media ever talks to.
No one else in Peru matters or has a voice.
At the moment, Sendero is fairly unpopular, even among those who formerly supported them. These same people also despise the government, the system, and the White elite who exploit them. But Sendero was so vicious and crazy, killing so many people, including the masses and other Leftists, that they left a bad taste in the mouths of many.
These people have not given up on revolution by any means. After all, the Peruvian system is worthless, insane and evil, and it should be destroyed. It is only reasonable that such an insane and evil system should produce an insane and evil insurgency – Sendero.
Now, Guzman and his fellow leaders sue for peace in prison, while a few holdouts under Comrade Artemio wage armed struggle, mostly in Ayacucho, the Huallaga Valley, the Satipo River area and Huanuco. A few years back, they were recruiting in the squalid slums of Lima once again.
These days, a more intelligent group of guerrillas is in Peru – the FARC* of Colombia. A massive, wealthy movement with deep roots in the Colombian poor, especially the rural poor, FARC has been spreading out lately down into the Ucayali River area in the jungle. They are primarily in the area of Yurimangas and north.
They have been spotted as far south as the Apurimac River near Ayacucho (where Sendero is still active) and even in Lima. They are very well-supplied, upbeat, loaded with cell phones and radios, very well-disciplined and are making deep inroads in Peru.
They give medical care, food, cooking utensils and field tools to the people and don’t bother a soul. They are quite popular with the masses they are interacting with, who see them as better than Sendero.
Many former supporters and members of Sendero have lined up with the FARC in Peru. Earlier this year, a column of Senderistas went back to Colombia, probably for training. FARC has been urging Sendero to join with FARC and modify their line.
Another column of the remaining leadership of the MRTA* (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) from around Tarapoto and Moyobamba in San Martin Province (their longtime headquarters – photo here) also left for Colombia around the same time – FARC is trying to join together remnants of both Sendero and MRTA with FARC in Peru – a very interesting and possibly fruitful plan.
For a great webpage on Tarapoto, complete with awesome pics, by an American woman who spent some time there, see here.
The notion that the MRTA was finished after the hostage raid in 1998 is not true – as the century turned, they continued to build the movement in every province of Peru. One of the problems with the MRTA is that they never had much money. Even around Taratopo, where they had a lot of support, they were a sorry sight, often sickly, pale, thin, and broke, wearing ragged clothes.
Compared to that impotent picture, and Sendero’s madness and brutality, many of Peru’s peasants think that the FARC are just dandy. Even in Colombia, the FARC has been much more sane and less brutal towards the masses than Sendero was.
As such, you can now go into areas of Colombia where everyone for miles around is in the FARC in one way or another, every villager in every town, every ragged farmer in every field with a gun hidden in his clothes, every woman in apron cooking in her kitchen. And it has been this way for decades in Colombia in these areas. This is the reality of FARC’s roots in rural Colombia.
The interview with Shakespeare, who is hostile to revolution, nevertheless makes clear that Peru is one nasty place. It is the most racist country he has ever been to, Shakespeare opines. Sure it is.
If someone from a lower class (or caste, really) asks a white elite for the time of day in Lima, the rich man will not even speak to the lower-class person. In fact, he won’t speak to him virtually no matter what he wants. The Indians have been killed, enslaved, raped, abused, ignored and basically slaughtered with hunger, disease and out and out murder since Pizarro stepped ashore in 1521.
Shakespeare went to Ayacucho, where a white man had been murdered by Indians a week before. Everywhere he goes, the Indians whisper pistaco – the name for a mysterious white giant that murders Indians for their fat which he uses to run Western industry. Pistaco does not exist, but the Indians think he does.
Shakespeare said that Sendero started a myth that Tupac Amaru’s body, quartered and buried over 200 years before, was slowly growing underground and would regenerate as he rose with Sendero’s victory. The materialist Sendero would never make up such a story. The story could only come from the Indians themselves, and I am sure they believed it.
And in many ways, Peru today is the same as at any time in the decades and centuries after Pizarro waded ashore 500 years ago. Until that changes, Peru will always be in a revolutionary situation.
Peru created Sendero; it could not have grown in any sane or decent society. If Best was evil, so was the land that made him. The crimes of the Sendero Frankenstein rest in large part with its creator, the horror called Peruvian society itself.
Sendero carried out 96 actions last year, about 2 a week; clearly, it is still alive, though nowadays they are fighting to get their leaders and cadres released and negotiate and end to the war – reasonable demands that no Peruvian state will cotton to. A few years back, they were recruiting again in Lima’s horrid shantytowns (photo here).
Meanwhile, FARC expands with great success across Peru.
They combine this success with a group in Venezuela, FARV – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Venezuela – (which has 2,000-3,000 members but has not engaged in many actions yet) and another group in Ecuador called FARE – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Ecuador – mostly in the border area with Putamayo and just building a movement now.
FARB – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Brazil – exists in the Dog’s Head region of Brazil where Peru, Brazil and Colombia all come together, building a movement once again.
FARC also uses the border areas in Panama as an R and R area. The local Cuna Indians of the Darien are quite cooperative, but the Panamanian state has murdered some of them for allowing FARC to stay with them, though FARC has never done a thing in Panama.
Recently, FARC has been spotted all the way over in far northern Guyana, where they are trying to tax the gold mining operations. This sighting implies that FARC also has a presence all across far northern Brazil.
US media reports place FARC operatives recently in Bolivia, where they were giving political advice to groups associated with the new president Enrique Morales before his election.
Despite recent offensives by the Colombian state, FARC is alive and well and expanding across much of Latin America. This as the radical version of Sendero peters out.
Revolution is a bloody thing. If states don’t want 12 year old kids carrying AK-47’s professing revolution while roaming their slums*, they need only create a semblance of a decent society.
There is no end of history, and you can only push a man so far before he rises up to strike you back.
*A Salvadoran man I met in a San Mateo, California restaurant in 2001 told me he saw a 12 yr old boy in the San Salvador slums carrying an automatic weapon and chanting revolutionary slogans in 1969. He went home and told his family, and his parents resolved to sent him out of the country, saying that revolution was surely on its way. Their omniscience was keen. 11 years later, it exploded in full force via the FMLN*.
*This blog strongly supported the FMLN in El Salvador to the point of contributing money to their weapons fund. We also strongly support the FARC in Colombia, all of its regional split-offs and the MRTA in Peru. We do not support the project of Sendero Luminoso as they kill people who are completely innocent. All support for groups is with certain reservations.

Words of the Day

Repost from the old site.
Etiolated and Pecksniffian.
Both used in the comments section by avant-garde artist whodareswings.
Etiolated refers to what happens to a plant when it is deprived of sunlight. The stems grow tall and wiry, and chlorophyll seems to leave the plant, giving it a ghostly, green-white look. Whoredareswings attempted to use it describe people, and said it meant “effete”, but I could not find any good definitions.
Pecksniffian is a wonderful word. It refers to a character, or three characters, in the 1844 Charles Dickens novel Martin Chuzzlewit. I’ve never read the book, but the Wikipedia synopsis was pretty delightful. That man could write a story!

The online dictionary defines it as:
Unctuously hypocritical, sanctimonious.
And offers the following example:
His book suffers from excessively long harangues against Pecksniffian prigs and temperance types who, he claims, are still trying to ruin our fun.” (Mark D. Fefer, Seattle Weekly, January 22, 2003).
It describes the main character as:
Seth Pecksniff, a character with a holier-than-thou attitude in Charles Dickens’s 1844 novel Martin Chuzzlewit, was no angel, though he certainly tried to pass himself off as one. Pecksniff liked to preach morality and brag about his own virtue, but in reality he was a deceptive rascal who would use any means to advance his own selfish interests.
It didn’t take long for Pecksniff’s reputation for canting sanctimoniousness to leave its mark on English; “Pecksniffian” has been used as a synonym of “hypocritical” since 1849.

Gerald Kersh, Kickass British Noir Crime Novelist

I never knew there was such a thing as British crime noir fiction! Amazing. Gerald Kersh was said to be one Hell of a writer, but he’s almost completely forgotten.

From an early work, Night and the City, written in 1938 when he was only 27 years old. Centers around seedy London districts, mostly around Piccadilly Square. Characters are criminals, pimps, thieves, blackmailers, con artists, bar owners, gamblers, bookies, etc.

Check out this kickass noir crime novel prose:

“He had highly developed intuitions, proceeding from long and cumulative experience of the customs of the City. I have mentioned how he could appraise a footstep. He could, by a similar method of spontaneous reasoning, read a face, interpret an expression, calculate how much money you were in the habit of spending, or even decide by the look of you which restaurant or café you would probably frequent.

He saw London as a kind of Inferno – a series of concentric areas with Picadilly Circus as the ultimate center.”

“Bagrag’s Cellar is a dragnet through which the undercurrent of night life continually filters. It is choked with low organisms, pallid and distorted, unknown to the light of day, and not to be tolerated in healthy society . . . .

Half-exhausted people throw up spasms of febrile energy: they rise in groups without purpose, move round, then sink back again, like stirred-up filth on the bottom of a pond. . .To take a deep breath in Bagrag’s Cellar, now, is like inhaling the combined vapors of a distillery, a dosshouse, and a burning tobacco factory.”

“This woman had something about her that was indescribably terrifying.

Imagine the death mask of Julius Caesar, plastered with rouge, and stuck with a pair of eyes as small, as flat, and as bright as newly cut cross sections of .38-caliber bullets; marked with eyebrows that ran together in a straight black bar: and surmounted by a million diabolical black hairs that sprang in a nightmarish cascade up out of her skull, like a dark fountain of accumulated wickedness squeezed out by the pressure of her corsets.”

“Now, my precious; people love to see other people behaving like idiots, but not seeing themselves doing the same thing. No mirrors except in the lavatories, and there we’re going to have pink mirrors, see?. . .They mustn’t see ’emselves in their true colors, my love. When they go out to be sick, let ’em look as if they’re having a good time.”

“Vi yawned, and from between her pale, painted lips there proceeded a breath such as might come from a pathological specimen in a jar, when the alcohol is evaporating. . . Her head against the pillow was a study in all the indefinable pale colors of debauch.

The pillow case was gray, but Vi’s face was grayer, tinged with the chlorotic greeny-yellow of anemia. Rubbed smears of yesterday’s rouge gave emphasis to this pallor. Under the laid-on red, her lips were pale pink, and her teeth appeared yellow in the daylight.

The penciled lines of her eyebrows had been rubbed off on to the blanket; the metallic green paint with which she colored her eyelids had become mixed with the blue mascara of her lashes, in an unearthly and poisonous bruise color picked out with flecks of silver. This was trickling down into the hollows of her eyes. One of her false eyelashes had come loose, and swung precariously against her cheek as she blinked. She seemed to be liquefying, falling to pieces.”

“Every film he had ever seen, and every book he had ever read, rushed together in his brain to form one blazing and magnificent composite, in which he, Fabian, fantastically enlarged, fantastically dressed, leaned backwards in a wild photomontage of champagne bubbles, limousines, diamonds, galloping horses, baize tables, and beautiful women; all whirling and weaving in a deluge of white and yellow chips, and large bank notes; an eternal reduplication of breasts and legs of very conceivable shape, size, and color.”

“What was it? Was it that, for the first time in his life, he had become aware of the appalling burden of accumulating lies with which he loaded his soul from hour to hour–the closing coils of deceit which he spun about himself day after day?

There passed through his mind a vision of life free from vanity, fiction, and subterfuge. . .a bygone period in his life when black was black and white was white; when one sinned, and confessed, and breathed again. ‘Why do I always have to start these tales? They aren’t necessary!’ he said to himself.”

Trollope?

The critical view of Trollope is that he has not aged well, and was never much of a novelist to start with, lacking much talent other than logorrhea. His books were huge sellers in the Victorian Era, and some other writers even praised him. But he has not weathered well with time with critics.

Nevertheless, he is still very widely read for a guy who wrote 150 years ago. He’s nearly as widely read as Dickens. And his modern day fans love him to bits.

So what’s the verdict? Does he suck or is he cool?