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Why read? (a ramble)

Discussion in 'The Philosopher' started by Väg, Nov 29, 2008.

  1. Väg

    Väg Guest

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    (I'm Murphy by the way, but I've lost my account.)

    How do you do?

    Seems like this place went bad sometime last winter. I've been out traveling(trying out my French, worsening my English =/) so I couldn't commit to discussions, but now that I finally have the time I think it would be a shame not to try to get back some of the old atmosphere(not that I ever was a big forumite). I'll pick up the ball with what follows:

    Today I was looking through Gravity's Rainbow, that son of a bitch of a book it took me weeks to get through when I first read it years ago, back in high school(which happens to be not too long ago, actually). Now, after having read it another time I have the shattered story in place, and the possibility of an interpretation is opened up for me. At the same time almost every page turn into worthless waste that I'll never go back to; their use as a ground for understanding is exhausted and the interest is thus lost. It also becomes embarrassingly clear how awkward much of it is; the critics of the book are in a way spot on - it reads like a bad parody caught in self-indulgence, without a clue of how it will age. But still, I brought it down from my shelf knowing this. Why?

    Because there are things left worth savoring, namely the moments, the passages, the phrases. They are left untouched by the dullness reached by a book figured out. I'll give you two examples, first:

    'To Cuxhaven, the summer in deceleration, floating on to Cuxhaven. The meadows hum. Rain clatters in crescent swoops through the reeds. Sheep, and rarely a few dark northern deer, will come down to browse for seaweed at the shore which is never quite sea nor quite sand, but held in misty ambivalence by the sun....'

    Nothing turgid, too elegiac or screamingly ostentatious (as Pynchon sometimes is), just some beautiful, pensive, restrained writing, with the masterstroke left towards the end, where the careful alliteration set off by seaweed concludes in the brilliant trio sea, sand, sun. If you read it out loud you will notice how each word (sea, sand, sun)takes you further back in the mouth: de, da, dun - the last one reaching for closure. The wondrous parallelism is strengthened by the more fixed expressions: 'never quite', 'nor quite', which are released by the 'but', allowing for a longer phrase which renders the rhythm more interesting. There's a lot more to be said about this passage, but I'll stop there in order not to bore.

    Second example, a more famous sentence:

    'What are the stars but points in the body of God where we insert the healing needles of our terror and longing?'

    This one actually grows out of a horrible passage (though, if you bother to look, the preceding
    sentence is of value) and can be read by itself as an aphorism worthy of Nietzsche. The trope is ravishingly good and original, nicely finished off by the parallel double (I'm inventing here) ter-ror, long-ing; wisely ending with the nasal-sound. If switched, the final emphasis on terror would have rendered it quite silly sounding - to let the light fall on longing fits the world of Pynchon perfectly.


    I find that when I read, I do it mainly for two things: erudition and wonder (and awe). Erudition is but a means to an end, and most of the time it's not that fun acquiring it. Wonder is of the sort that I've tried, a bit cursory, to show above. It's a glimpse of the magic of the world and the word that I never can stop admiring. That's not to say that I don't enjoy symbolism, as long as it's not used in argument about, say, the essence of a book. Moreover, there exists certain works of art where it gets harder to pick out passages without losing this persisting magic, where each and every part is brought to fullness in the continuity of the artwork, but I find that they are much harder to talk about on a forum since paraphrasing threatens to kill what they are.

    This rant is obviously all too categorical (I wonder if it even makes sense), written as a reminder of why I read, something that easily gets lost in the maze of endless interpretive exercises of literature studies. Now I pass on the ball to you: how and why do you read? Or if you'd just like to share some lovely passages, that is very much welcome too.
     
  2. Einherjar86

    Einherjar86 Active Member

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    I read for escapism, although I shouldn't because I'm a literature major. I really can't say how. I'm very cinematic when I read; I try and imagine what it would appear like on a big screen, or how it would be filmed. I also love imagery. It's one of my favorite things about reading. The best writers create imagery that can move you to tears. One passage that I find very moving:

    "They rode out on the north road as would parties bound for El Paso but before they were even quite out of sight of the city they had turned their tragic mounts to the west and they rode infatuate and half fond toward the red demise of that day, toward the evening lands and the distant pandemonium of the sun."

    ~Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
     
  3. speed

    speed Member

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    Wonderful post!

    Where are you from again Murphy/Vag?

    In regards to Pynchon:
    First, I really enjoy your criticisms of Pynchon. Second, the passages you selected are basically almost poetry; or written as one would poetry. Perhaps thats why you enjoy them? Still, a handful of wonderful poetic passages full of meaning, cannot overcome hundreds of pages of turgid, postmodern prose!!!


    As for reading itself:

    I suppose we first must define what kind of reading (unless were talking about Pynchon or his young recently hung apprentice Foster-Wallace, who seem to want to write everything). By everything, I mean is it poetry, technical writing, pedagogical writing, philosophical, literary prose, journalism, pop-genre, scientific, and so forth?

    I assume we all read, or write, as a way of communicating knowledge efficiently (easier than orally, and more detailed and in depth than visually).

    For me, I read for pleasure, knowledge, wisdom, passion, and art. Almost never for anything else (unless its work, required, or boredom related). To me, well-written pleasurable and passionate works of wisdom are the holy grail (they become art, and knowledge as well). I guess I figured this out a few years ago, as I am a raging bibliophile and would polish off a few books a week. For a long time, I thought well-written works of literature, poetry, plays, etc, were good enough--fulfilling enough. I suppose art for arts sake. Then I suppose I noticed an empty feeling inside, especially after surveying my own works (which were essentially done for the sake of writing them alone), and realized that all of my favorite writers, were these writers of wisdom that made art, but had a higher ideal and purpose. And it seems they are always the great works that are today ignored: Homer, Aristophanes, Aeshcylus, Sophocles, Virgil, Horace, Seneca, Lucretius, Plato, Ovid, Juvenal, Augustine, Montaigne, Bocaccio, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dante, Milton, Rabelais, Swift, Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Moliere, Goethe, Balzac, Pushkin, Blake, Flaubert, Joyce, Proust, Beckett, and a few more (overload I suppose). Its not as if one can live like them, or always apply their wisdom to everyday life; but one can see something about life they missed, or become enthralled (or, as I arguesd against, even learn something and apply it).

    As for the rest of writing, I find I rarely ever learn (and almost never enjoy) from didactic writing, unless I really want to. It is boring. The same goes for journalism. I learn a little something sensational, hehe. I find literary prose these days asphixiating. And so on and so forth. Honestly, I am pondering if prose as we know it, is dead. I think it is. I think poety, or work in some form of metered verse, will return as it always has. It is a much deeper and richer way of communication and writing.
     
  4. Einherjar86

    Einherjar86 Active Member

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    I'm so glad you're back speed, I've enjoyed reading your posts and I wish I was here when you used to post more.

    As far as poetry goes, I would love it if this turned into at least some form of discussion on the matter. I'm a literature major and love poetry, but I'm a huge fan of metered verse, which I've found to have become severely lacking in modern poetry. Don't get me wrong, I love Ashbery and Moxley and the like; but I miss the old metered verse of writers like Blake, Coleridge, Henley, and even modern poets like Eliot. As far as prose goes, I can certainly say that I've learned from contemporary writers like Cormac McCarthy that punctuation and sentence structure don't even matter anymore. Sometimes I think that McCarthy basically writes poetry in the form of a novel; but that doesn't make it any less credible and amazing.
     
  5. Väg

    Väg Guest

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    I’m from the grimly cold capital of Sweden – Stockholm, where it is raining! ;S

    You are quite right, but as far as I’m concerned, the difference between prose and poetry isn’t that important, the best writing will always be poetic. And no, in this case, that can not overcome the waste in between =/ Yet I am indulgent towards Gravity’s Rainbow, because even with the best of books I find myself unable to enjoy all of the ride, or most of the ride, or even half of the ride. If I were to start knocking off the Gravity’s Rainbows on my shelf I’d be left with almost nothing…

    Pure poetry might seem to be my cup of tea, but strangely enough I have a really hard time enjoying that too.


    Hm, knowledge… If you can call knowledge that which opens up a world, a seeing, a beauty or a mood, through which one becomes knowing of a new existence, which is separate from the easily formulated, argumented, instrumentalistic knowledge; then I agree: that’s one of the wonders of literature; a matter I feel I didn’t really touch upon in my first post (but it’s almost always connected to the hard to paraphrase books). When most successful, it will bring a metaphysical quality to the Word, found nowhere else.

    Great list you got going there by the way. For me, many of the writers listed are merely ways to erudition that I don’t enjoy, some I find to be truly great though. But it’s safe to say that all have the quality to bring forth some magic when read by the right reader.


    In a way, even though I'm a sucker for style, I feel that all this obsession with tricks, techniques, games and parody (which is favorable to the bad writers who easily can imitate the masters) has to go away for literature to find a way back to more healthy grounds (I do not reread Svult (Hunger) or La conscienza di Zeno (The conscience of Zeno) because they are told unreliable narrators! there's something else). However, as Frye rightly have noted in Anatomy of Criticism, the ironic age seems to be moving back towards the mythical. He who lives will see..

    Have you read Sebald? I don’t know how he reads in English; in Swedish some of the syntax get kind of awkward, but on the whole he’s very good, having kept away from everything American (this is a nod to Nile too, as I find that Sebald does an excellent job of disclosing the archiving impulse of the 20th century, bringing forth its horrors and beauties). Sadly he died in a car-crash far too soon, perhaps leaving his masterpiece unwritten. Bernhard is also excellent, especially Extinction.
     
  6. Väg

    Väg Guest

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    Nice passage. McCarthy is certainly capable of good, “leady” writing, although I find him to be clueless of how to use the ‘and’. Not that I’m against the Biblical feel, it’s just that he doesn’t pull it off convincingly (and this is a criticism of the book as a whole, not this passage).
     
  7. speed

    speed Member

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    Thanks.

    And yes, I totally agree with you. Metered verse to me, is poetry. Its the form all the ancients, great poets, and even Shakespeare used for their writing. Personally, I think having such structure, in turn forces the writer to think about the meaning, rhyme, intention, word order, choice, etc of each and every word. And it also creates a sort of rhythm or musicality to the work, which makes it, well it makes it more profound.

    The sentence you quoted from McCarthy was quite poetic, and reminded me slightly of Milton. However, I must say, I agree with Murphy's criticisms of McCarthy, and think his writing a bit overdone, and his prose often times a bit, I dont know, its a bit heavy-handed and awkward; and his plots are a bit, I dont know, a bit bleak and presumptious. Thats just my personal opinion. Clearly, he is a better writer than myself, and is certaintly the American writer of the last half-century.
     
  8. speed

    speed Member

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    I share your concerns. However, I remind you that the father of the novel, Cervantes (and to a lesser extent, the forefather of novel inspiring him, Rabelais), pulled out all the tricks in Don Quixote. The characters see themselves in their own novel; he toys with them, and the reader constantly. And lets not forget, most of the great works have such tricks, even poetry (Im thinking of the top of my head of Milton, Shakespeare and Horace). These works essentially confide in the reader the ridiculousness or human-ness of literature.

    So, I think there has to be a greater meaning, or some brilliance besides just trickery. I think this is the issue here, postmodernism has made the trick the point or essence of the novel, and perhaps only a few writers could really pull this off before it got stale (Nabokov, Robbe-Grillet,etc).
     
  9. Einherjar86

    Einherjar86 Active Member

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    I've always maintained that metered verse is more appreciable and respectable than free verse. I believe that metered verse and rhyme provide the poet with a framework within which to design his craft. I agree with you that it forces the writer to consider his work more carefully. I, personally, also feel that writing free verse is like navigating uncharted waters with no compass or knowledge of the stars. Anything discovered is only done so by pure luck, and the navigator has no real understanding of where he's going. Maintaining meter provides the writer with a sense of direction and purpose.
     
  10. speed

    speed Member

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    Very well put.

    The middle ground of course, is blank verse: all the benefits of meter, with the freedom of being free from rhyme (although one can retain a musicality as Milton and Shakespeare did) to navigate uncharted waters or tempests. This is of course the writing of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Milton, and actually of Homer, Horace, Virgil, etc (they wrote in dactyl hexameter, that like blank verse, was not rhymed).
     
  11. Einherjar86

    Einherjar86 Active Member

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    Very true. I especially enjoy when modern or contemporary poets compose pieces in blank verse (simply because so many of them choose to write in free verse). Writers such as Eliot and James Merrill both used blank verse (along with other very complicated and structured verse forms), but it's interesting to note that they each desired to achieve the voice and elevation of writers like Dante (both Eliot and Merrill experimented with terza rima) and the Classical poets like you mentioned.

    Many contemporary writers choose to break away from any verse form at all because (they claim) they want to break the conventions of old poetics. However, I feel that the art of poetry (and writing in general) has simply become too lax. People can write poetry in any manner they so choose and claim to simply be eschewing ancient poetic values. I may be somewhat old-fashioned, but I believe that art has to adhere to certain ideals and at least possess a certain amount of traditional knowledge in order to be deemed good art.
     
  12. 10293847

    10293847 Member

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    Blood Meridian is a must read for any serious reader.
     
  13. razoredge

    razoredge Member

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    I've never took to reading much and rarely have had the time since school and didnt take it even then, music was my thing. I read a few historic and informational books over the years, thats about it. I prefer to read the world and life through my own observation and music has filled my artistic thirst. However I have always had a strong interest in poetry and song lyrics, so your conversations on forms of poetry interests me. I will have to look up the actual meaning of blank verse, free verse and others mentioned. I did alot of writing two years ago, though intense pain and loss seems to be the only thing that inspires my writing. Anyhow at that time I wrote what I considered to be a few good pieces and the rest mediocre. So I had an interest in seeing what was around the local scene, I found a few good local poets, but there was this other stuff, perhaps what you are calling free verse and I just didnt get the art of it. Some of them seemed like short stories, random babblings with an emphisis on using out of the ordinary words stacked up in a fasion that seemed to me to beg for the impression of profoundness, yet I found them hidious. So I'm in total agreement about metered verse, something with a rhythm and flow, where the words fall into a sensible meaning as a piece builds and carries you down the trail.
     

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