Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Literary Confessions, Part One

Dark secrets no more, these ... (literary category)

I've never read (and feel ashamed about it)
* Anna Karenina OR War and Peace
* Madame Bovary
* More than 10 pages of Saul Bellow
* lots more to come

I can't stand (and feel ashamed for it)
* Ulysses
* A Catcher in the Rye
* Lolita
* John Steinbeck
* Infinite Jest (though I keep trying)

I really like (and feel ashamed for it)
* Larry McMurtry, that popular yarn-spinner
* quoting Shakespeare, even at work
* almost all of Milan Kundera, that sexist pig

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Naïveté of Gilles Deleuze

The hip literary and philosophical kids, such as those at HTMLGIANT, love the 20th century French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze was a good writer, judging solely from the translations I've read, and had some decent ideas, but he was extraordinarily naïve. His naïveté resembles that of philosophers of various nationalities, especially these days.

For example, Deleuze says in his book Dialogues II that asking questions is pointless. He means particularly in the context of an interview or public dialogue, but this is just nonsense. He makes a subtle distinction, or twenty, about framing problems and the importance of doing that carefully. I understand what he's saying. But really, somebody who refuses the format of an interview is just a twit.

When my favorite writers (Kundera, Woolf, Rushdie) offer a new idea, they try to draw the reader in, use simplicity and directness, and sometimes present their notions in familiar formats. From Kundera's interviews, to the Socratic method, to the tabloid five-question format, humanity likes Q&A. Deleuze posits a world beyond that. Really? How about a world beyond bullshit like that?

Let's set our sights on getting some good questions answered well (can literature change humanity?) and then we'll address the format of Q&A. In Deleuze's world everyone sits around asking themselves what it means to ask themselves these questions, etc. Utopianism like that is impractical at best, and dangerous at worst.

Where's the danger? It's in good people doing nothing but writing or reading stuff like Deleuze. Important work needs to happen, ignorance-slaying work requires cycles of thought to accomplish, and Deleuze is telling us that Q&As don't suit him? Whatever.

I want to move the conversation forward too, but I don't think we need to redefine the meaning of the word conversation.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Poets <> Mathematicians

In writing a novel about a mathematician and his computer scientist son, I've begun thinking about literature in terms of equations.

For instance, I thought about the famous phrase by John Keats: "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." I decided that his equation is imbalanced. Truth is rare. Beauty's cheap. Any jerk can flatter people. What do you think?

Separately, as part of my novel, I rendered the first scene of King Lear as instructions in an Apple BASIC program, the first programming language I learned and still one of my favorites.


The above lines mix BASIC's structure with function call syntax from the C programming language, but they get the point across. I didn't include every line I wrote to summarize Lear I,i in the novel. But I liked the typo KINGDOOM, and thought that line (80) condensed the play decently in one command.