Orion Reads
a diary of books etc.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

djuna barnes - the Thread makes no Conquest of the Needle

I picked up Ryder off the bookshelf pretty much at random, having not particularly heard of Djuna Barnes one way or the other before, and to those who say i don't like any book unless it's by you-know-whom, i say: oh yeah well i like Djuna Barnes!

Ryder is amazing. Written in 1928, it presages the current vogue for faux-victorian novels by pretending to have been written in say the 1870s. Ryder was censored when it was first published (in America), both passages of text and illustrations being elided. It was reprinted in 1979, and Djuna decided *not* to repair the censorship. In the 1990 version, all the illustrations have been restored, but the missing text is still missing; in its place are start asterisks.

Anyhow, it's primarily about sexuality, and especially it's viciously anti-patriarchical. Which i normally consider fine topics but not ones i'm particularly interested in reading about personally, thank you all the same. But Djuna's prose - my god. It's amazing.

Allright, check this out. Warning: it's crass and lewd. Like all of Ryder.

Wendell speaking to his mother:

... "the angels play the tympanum, the devils twang, with pleasure, the human gut, the humble Scotsman wheezes at his bags, and the Austrian thumps his mandoline; and I amuse me with half-a-dozen instruments, but it is only diversion and a practise, for my real glory is the merry music I've struck up with my spherical, timbersome pipe of a single stop, the core of the codpiece. How many notes fly through a woman at its orchestration! Grave notes, and half notes, and demi-semiquavers, all clinging to the beam of her interior, and ripening after nine months, to fly forth duly harmonized, like a good war-song of the early pagans, or those rollicking dances that set peasants bobbing and flinging many a shapely leg up in a hornpipe, or," he added, with a melancholy pause, "stillborn like a rush of grace notes, too hurried for the voice to catch, and then silence and a Christian burial."

- stillborn like a rush of grace notes. holy cow.

or, Barnes on society's treatment of the rape victim.

... Who told you, Hussy, to go ramping at the Bit, and laying about you for Trouble ? What thing taken from your Father's Table turned you Belly up? What Word in your Mother's Mouth set your Ears outward? Bawd! Slattern! Slut! Who gave you rope to turn on ? Slain you are of Slumber, and your Family mown down before that Sword of Sorrow. Thy Brother weeps amid his Diapers, and thy Father behind his Beard!
Great things by Little are thus brought to Dust. Fair Rome sees Men come buttoning up her Appian Way, and an Ass brays over Babylon. Strong Nations rise and come to Flower under the Hee of one Emperor, and are brought low by the Haw of the next.
Oh Fie upon you! What have you done, but make some Pimpish Fellow a Braggart and a Nuisance in all the Streets that run a Blind Alley! And shall the child, Girl or Boy, stand in after Years a little at the Pump, and say aught that shall contradict the Wry Proportion of its Begetting? 'Tis such who Poison Wells, and make the Hackle rise on every Pubic Inch [sic?], and do split the very Bells by which we tell the Time!
Have not all Philosophies of Avoidance been Penned for you? Do not Mathematics, take them where you will, prove there is always a Deviation that brings down a Marvellously Different Total, an you had wished? Has not Science proved that no Bodkin takes the Riband but at will, and the Thread makes no Conquest of the Needle, and the Needle has not a leaning to the Thread?
Have not Logicians, from Seneca to Plato, settled it, that no Proposition may come to a Head an there be Wit for evading? Shall not a Council of Women, such as we, make clear to you in a Sitting that had you a Vocabulary of Movement the Case had been a Riddle still and not a Certainty?

.. and it goes on for pages and pages, this passage. (Capitalization Djuna's)

or, last one, Amelia in unwelcome childbirth:

When the young lamb puts its head sideways forever, and the herd is short by four feet, when the fish goes no more in the way of fins, when the feathered bird gives back to the sky his part in it, and comes fast climbing down to earth, grieve they ?
I fall to weeping for the two bare heels that took me for a nest to ripen in. Be not yourself a moment till I get that moment's peace in which to think of you! You do not trust me? It is well. No mother would be mother ever an she could, in mid-fight, throw herself a moment out of scent, so I, like any soldier in any war, cry loud, `Long live that which can in no wise be stemmed!' And love you that you forged the coin of hate in my own mint, and stamped it with my name. Out, monster, this is love!"
(Dr. Matthew O'Connor holds the baby up, slaps it resoundingly on its most unaccustomed bottom, turns it over, glancing) "A Boy!"

So there you go. The prose is amazing. You definitely have to not be overly concerned with knowing precisely what's going on in the plot, however. It wanders all over the place without too much regard for getting anything done or making a remotely tight seal. - At one point, after a longish chapter written in verse, comes Chapter 11, which is titled "However, for the Reader's Benefit".

I tore thru Ryder and quickly turned to Nightwood which was conveniently on the same bookshhelf in the hall. Nightwood however, and Ladies Almanack which is appended to it, i can't bring myself to read. The spark just isn't there. The sentences are still long and contorted, but the effect is one of a messy ball of yarn rather than a celtic knot or something. I can't believe i just made that analogy. Anyhow, one's interesting and engaging, one's not.

Ryder may be one of the very few books which i'll read more than once.
That short list would then be:
The Works of Salinger
Infinite Jest
The Silmarillion and other Tolkien
The Brothers K*, The Idiot*

* I haven't actually read these more than once yet, but expect to.

mathematical puzzles

At the Game Developers Conference i ran across a small booth run by the small press publishers A K Peters. I'd come to the booth for a particular computer book, but i stayed for the esoteric math stuff! Books on origami (both representational and non-), straight-up math books, math-history books, math puzzle books, wow. In addition to a bunch of other regular computer books. They were all quite good. So: A K Peters, right on.
so i picked up Peter Winkler's Mathematical Puzzles - A Connoisseur's Collection. And wow, am i out of my league. These are all puzzles in the Martin Gardner tradition, but i only managed to get i think about half of one right in the whole book. (Except the section on geography)

Here's a relatively straight-forward one:

Three coins are put into a bag: a coin with both sides "heads", a coin with both sides "tails" and a regular "heads/tails" coin.
You reach into the bag and bring out a coin at random and flip it.
If it comes up heads, what's the probability that if you turn it over, the other side is also heads ?

here's a harder one:

Associated with each face of a solid convex polyhedron (such as a cube, a pyramid, ehatever) is a bug which crawls along the perimiter of the face, at varying speed, but only in the clockwise direction. Prove that no schedule will permit all the bugs to circumnavigate their faces and return to their initial positions without a collision.

- i mean, jeeze.

anyhow, that's all.

Oh i should also add that i thought the puzzles and solutions could have been presented more clearly. I often found myself not knowing what was being asked, or in the few cases where i went ahead and did some work to determine an answer, i discovered that i'd misunderstood the question.

Monday, March 20, 2006

The New Pearl Harbor

So i went out and got David Griffin's The New Pearl Harbor - Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11. It's a summary of various other works which, as the title suggests, indeed raises disturbing questions about etc.

I've resisted looking into the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 for a couple years now. The reasons are i think fairly simple and obvious: a distaste for the hysterical voice. So Griffin's book seemed approachable, non-hysterical, and by repute, well-put together.

I'll cut to the chase. Basically i've become convinced that there are indeed several questions which are more than niggling points such as analysing the president's face as he sat with the schoolchildren. (eg Farenheit 911)

Here are what i consider the main points which The New Pearl Harbor raises.

Why weren't the planes shot down.

The FAA and the various branches of the military have extremely well established proceedures which are followed when a commercial jet liner goes off course, as the 9/11 planes did. It's important to emphasize that these proceedures are followed when a plane goes off course, not if a plane should ever go off course. These proceedures are actually invoked relatively often; they are routine, not exceptional. These proceedures include the immediate scrambling (launching) of fighters from the nearest air force base, who intercept the off-course plane, signalling it etc, etc, and with standing orders to shoot the plane down if it doesn't cooperate. Jet fighters are typically scrambled within minutes of an airplane going off-course. On 9/11 however, nearly half an hour passed before fighters were scrambled. When the fighters were scrambled, they were not called from the nearest air-force base, (which had planes in readiness) but from a much more distant base, some several hundred miles farther away than neccessary. And even then, the fighters which were now allegedly chasing after airplanes who had been confirmed as hijacked and were currently heading towards New York and the Capital flew at approximately one quarter their maximum speed. The fighters did. Fly at one quarter their maximum speed. After planes which had been confirmed hijacked and were headed towards New York and the Capital.
In the case of the alleged plane which crashed into the Pentagon, these discrepencies between standard operating proceedure and proceedure on 9/11 are even more marked, due to the 30-or-so minute lead which the WTC crashes had on the Pentagon crash.

There's significant evidence the WTC towers collapsed due to controlled demolition

The evidence is eyewitness accounts of firefighters in the building reporting hearing explosions, an abundance of fine concrete dust classically indicative of explosives, the rapidity with which the buildings fell, and the infeasability of the crashes causing a structural collapse.

Furthermore, what everyone knows but noone really thinks about (at least i didn't) is that Three, not Two WTC towers collapsed, all in pretty much the same fashion, but airplanes only crashed into two. Even the official FEMA report on WTC-7 (this third tower) concludes "the best hypothesis [of the tower's collapse] has only a low probability of occurance".

Furthermore, the structural iron from the rubble was extracted and sold overseas for scrap with unprecedented speed, and in the case of forensic evidence, illegal speed.

That is, the iron which could provide conclusive physical evidence of the use of explosives in collapsing the towers was hustled out of the scene.

There's no shortage of evidence that what hit the Pentagon was not a Boeing 737, but something much more like a cruise missile without a warhead.

For example, photos of the Pentagon facade before it collapsed showing a tiny little hole thru which a great big 737 (and its wings!) are alleged to have passed.
For example eyewitness testimony that there was no airplane wreckage inside the pentagon - "some small pieces... but not large sections... [T]here's no fuselage sections and that sort of thing."

Lots of misdirection, changing stories, and clear lies on the part of the government

I won't go into these. They're there.

Lots of evidence of foreknowledge, repression of investigations of Al Queda, etc

Eyes on the prize - who benefits ?

This one answers itself.

So, that's about it.
My opinion: yes, there's definitely stuff which deserves full and well-funded official investigation.

you've done it again, charlie brown

Peanuts not only bear rereading and rereading for me, but it gets funnier every time. How is that ? Magic, is how.

So You've Done It Again, Charlie Brown is no exception. It features the awesome Linus/Snoopy vulture cycle.

Monday, March 13, 2006

mieville, ed wood, some crappy russian horror movie

movies first.

Sarah, Robert, and I went to see um Night Watch, a russian horror flick about ancient armies of good and evil coming to a final sort of apocalyptic battle. What can be said. Well, it was in russian. There was gut-churning Shaky-Cam (tm). Um. Can't really say much for the story. Actually all three of us decided to just leave about half-way thru. There's not much here, folks. Go see Final Destination 3 instead.

Michelle and I saw the apparently newly released colorized version of Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space last night, in the truly amazing Castro Theater. Um. What's to be said. It was Plan 9 From Outer Space. But in color. We slept thru about a quarter of it, but would have slept thru a lot less had it not been like 37 degreed in the amazing Castro Theater.

Moving along to books,
i confess that i didn't in fact rush out and get that 9/11 book;
instead i slunk along Mykle and Kai's bookshelves and read not one but two books by China Mieville. I get a strange feeling when i embark on a Mieville book because he was born in 1972, just like me. So at the same time as i'm reading, anticipating writing underwhelming reviews of say King Rat, i also have to bear in mind that he wrote it when both he and i were 25. Which, jeeze. Nice job, basically.


King Rat,
probably my favorite Mieville book to date, which probably shows some perversity on my part. i mean, in the introduction he makes call-outs to the folks who introduced him to jungle and break beat music, and you just get this sinking-gut feeling that not only is there going to be lots of slop about jungle music, but jungle music is going to be found to be transcendantly important. and lo, in the end, it is indeed the drum and it is the bass which save the day.

and yet this is my favorite Mieville novel to date.

i think the reason is that while his later works are more virtuoso performances or whatever, he exercises exactly zero self-restraint in them. it's a world without bounds. there are no bounds. from a physics point of view, you could say that Perdido Street and Iron Council do not conserve energy. As sytems. Which is certainly a less limiting way to structure things, but even tho there's fewer (no) restrictions on possibility, that doesn't make it more fertile or rich, and certainly makes it less fun to engage with. It's like playing games with a precocious five-year old. It's loads of fun, and their leaps of fancy are refreshing and amazing and stuff, but after a while you begin to yearn for some semblance of the contractual nature of more adult games. Perdido Street and Iron Council enter into very, very few contracts with the reader. The result, for me, is more or less the same as an author writing "And suddenly there's a tidal wave, and everything is swept out to sea." Or in Mieville's case: "And suddenly there's a Time Golem*, and everything is frozen for ever". - The density of unprecendented events within the book's universe is just too much. I can only get excited about one or two events which Change The Nature of The World As We Know It Forever per novel, and China puts in like three per chapter.

* You know, a Time Golem. Jewish golems are made of clay, but golems made of iron, wood, rope, or meat are not unheard of. And in Iron Council, you'll meet golems made of [insert list of increasingly immaterial and abstract things here], culminating with a time golem. Well, jeeze, why not a Will Golem ? Or a Victory Golem ? Or a Golem Golem ?

So except for King Rat. King Rat has exactly two events which Change The Nature of The World As We Know It Forever, and one of them happens a long long time ago in the body of the Pied Piper of Hammelin legend.
Which leaves one in the present story.
Which, believe it or not China, sometimes less really is more.

Okay, so King Rat is premised on the idea that the Pied Piper legend actually happened, and further that the Pied Piper was a sort of megalomaniacal eternal corporeal spirit who desires nothing less than to "Make the entire world dance to [his] tune". And further posits that there are matching eternal corporeal spirits who are kings of various kinds of beasts, the chief of which are Birds, Spiders, and the chief-most of which is Rats. There is no King Human. So it comes to a showdown in modern London between the Kings of Rat, Bird and Spider and the Pied Piper. It's actually pretty good, and not nearly as ruffle-cuffed as i've made out. There's some violence and gore. And, unfortunately, a literally fanatical loving of Drum-and-Bass music.

Iron Council takes place in the same universe as Perdido Street Station, about sixty years later. It's basically a tyranny-rebellion story, where the lords of the land have been conquesting a railroad out into the wilderness, with which to bring commerce/dominion, except that a revolt takes place at the head of the in-construction track, and in this universe is unprecendented because it actually succeeds, and the various misfits in the rebellion take over the train and drive it into the wild. - How do you drive a train into the wild ? You lay more track in front of it, of course. Where do you get the new rails ? You dig 'em up from behind you. - Which is sort of neat, this sort of ephemeral railroad track. We're talking about a couple thousand people. That's really the only interesting stuff. The rest is, as mentioned, a succession of increasingly abstract golems, battles, horrors, and, um, particle effects.

I feel i should also add that Mieville has much more three-dimensional female characters than most male authors, and his portrayals of sexuality are also a lot more mature than same.

I have three (3!) more books to report on, which i'll do in the next post.