Introduction to English Rhetoric (Book acquired, 12.25.2014)

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For Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me Introduction to English Rhetoric (1886) by the Rev. Charles Coppens, SJ. You can read the book here.

Woman Looking for a Passage — Pablo Gallo

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Odalisque with Striped Cushions — Francine van Hove

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What I Believe — Paul Cadmus

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Good intentions reading list for early 2015

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Nude Study (Reading) — Kenyon Cox

Meditation — Francesco Hayez

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William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion (Book acquired, 12.27.2014)

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William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion is new from University of Delaware Press and editors Christopher K. Coffman and Daniel Lukes. Their blurb:

The essays in this collection make a case for regarding William T. Vollmann as the most ambitious, productive, and important living author in the US. His oeuvre includes not only outstanding work in numerous literary genres, but also global reportage, ethical treatises, paintings, photographs, and many other productions. His reputation as a daring traveler and his fascination with life on the margins have earned him an extra-literary renown unequaled in our time. Perhaps most importantly, his work is exceptional in relation to the literary moment. Vollmann is a member of a group of authors who are responding to the skeptical ironies of postmodernism with a reinvigoration of fiction’s affective possibilities and moral sensibilities, but he stands out even among this cohort for his prioritization of moral engagement, historical awareness, and geopolitical scope. Included in this book in addition to twelve scholarly critical essays are reflections on Vollmann by many of his peers, confidantes, and collaborators, including Jonathan Franzen, James Franco, and Michael Glawogger. With a preface by Larry McCaffery and an afterword by Michael Hemmingson, this book offers readings of most of Vollmann’s works, includes the first critical engagements with several key titles, and introduces a range of voices from international Vollmann scholarship.

The book (it’s beautiful, by the way) intersperses the more “academic” essays that comprise its bulk with shorter riffs, memoirs, and vignettes about Vollmann, or reading Vollmann (I wish Franzen would’ve devoted a few more lines in his piece “A Friendship” to describing the time he got to shoot Vollmann’s Tec 9, but it’s still a fascinating little piece). I read a few of these (Franco refers to our author as “Volhman” and then ends his “essay” with this parenthetical aside: “(Shit, I went back online, and I see that there is no ‘h’ in his name. Sorry, Billy.”)

I haven’t gotten into any of the the critical essays yet, but a scan over the book’s index and bibliography indicates a serious work of scholarship, while a cursory scan of a few of the more intriguing titles (“‘Strange Hungers': William T. Vollmann’s Literary Performances of Abject Masculinity”; “The Ethics of the Archive and the William T. Vollmann Collection”; “Imperial Photography”) suggests a unified work with a tone decidedly divorced from stale academic language. More to come.

Tintin (Noël) — Hergé

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Selections from One-Star Amazon Reviews of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon

[Ed. note: The following citations come from one-star Amazon reviews of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon—which I loved. (See also: Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s RainbowGeorge Orwell’s 1984, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, James Joyce’s Ulysses and David Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress). I’ve preserved the reviewers’ own styles of punctuation and spelling].

What crap.

A talking dog?

I made a mistake.

Dialogue that is meaningless?

But what is the point of this story?

Pynchon is simply messing around

I can’t believe I read the whole thing.

I guess there’s no accounting for taste.

Rarely have I anticipated a book so hungrily.

Lost me at the talking dog, and never recovered.

I’ve also seen Pynchon praised for his erudition.

You think a talking dog or mechanical duck is funny?

Supposedly it’s a literary adventure through the 18th century

George Washington smoking pot and getting the munchies?

I consider my myself a reader who relishes literary challenges.

I am a reader who enjoys being bluntly told what the author thinks

The only book I’ve ever read that was a complete waste of time !

just an endless series of unconnected and unrelated ramblings…

Yes, it was a different world back then, and people talked funny (to our ear).

The publisher should have left the trees to grow rather than putting this in print.

I had to finish it – but resorted to scanning the text for references to my 7th great grandfather.

Pynchon is like strolling through a garbage dump full of meaningless, forgotten pop culture relics.

Wow, I give up on Mr. Pynchon who apparently has some intergalactic literary insights well above my head.

Regretfully, I’ll need to wait for the english language translation before properly assessing this novel’s merits.

Thomas Pynchon surely must have been smoking something more powerful than plain tobacco when he wrote this debacle…

I admit to approaching this book with a great deal of reverence, along with guilt for never having attempted either “V” or “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

Mr.Pynchon may be considered one of today’s great writers by the cosmopolitan literati, but this provencial reader found his work to be a 773 page morass of archaic vernacular with no particular point.

I would like to assert, however, as one who has read quite deeply in English prose of the last 400 years, that the much-praised “18th-century English” is nothing like, being full of anachronisms and lapses of decorum.

Pynchon doesn’t descibe. He makes lists of objects, as if the acculation of things or people surrounding the characters is enough to create some semblance of reality, or alternate reality, or hyperreality or whatever.

I am in the vast minority, obviously, who “didn’t get it.” Some times I wonder if reviewers, too “didn’t get it” but were afraid to say so, because this conglomeration of words is just that – a pointless, incomprehensible waste of trees.

My Tedium never Ceases, yet have I only Dredged thru half of this Tome. My eyes grow Tir’d and my Thoughts grow more hateful towards this Author. History is barely Reveal’d and the style has Vex’d me thru and thru. Hemp smoking Franklin? Confus’d and Stupid Astronomers? Half the book not spent in the country of interest? Yet I plod on, making a use of this Fantastique tale, to knaw away at the Minutes spent in the loo. Wouldst it be quite the thing, if only the Paper t’was softer, I can then make of it a Cleansing Agent for my Posterior once Finished with each page.

It was evidently written for a limited audience–people who can actually read eighteenth century style prose and who still find jokes about “not inhaling” to be amusing.

Pynchon’s style is clotted, mannered, meretricious and UNpoetic in the extreme. Indeed, I think much of the book, in word and matter, is a stale exercise in collecting academic trivia and faddish modern-day truisms about the period.

To be sure, there is some real history reported, but there is also much nonsense and fakery–the first pizza, golems–and interminable, leaden dialogues that could never have taken place.

Really Pynchon was just showing off his “imagination” with endless derails, whimsical characters that didn’t figure into the story at all, and stupid jokes bathed in obscure jargon.

If you like rambling verbiage that not only obstructs but obliterates the point, you’ll love this author, whose neurotic word dribblings are gnosticed by critics to be visionary insights.

For all the scribblings in this book’s 800 some pages, 90% of it just feels like hot air lacking any real message or content.

One could read this book from front to back, back to front, or from the middle both ways and not be able to tell the difference..

I love sentimental literature but I couldn’t for the life of me see much connection between Pynchon’s writings and the major works of the 18th century.

I challenge any fan to give even one insight about life or the universe that they gleaned from Mason and Dixon..

Just because the gags are about the hollow earth theory does not make them any more than just gags.

The reader is presented with one choppy chapter after another, often with little or no context.

The book is a mess and sorely needed a large pair of scissors to trim out the inane chatter.

Thers’s an old phrase about good writing: show, don’t tell. Phynchon don’t show nothun’.

For years Pynchon has intrigued me as being one of the “bosses” of modern literature.

There’s no sense of place, no compelling plotline. The characterization is merely O.K.

Pynchon is all over the map willy nilly throwing out anything that diverts his attention.

In what way was this an homage, parody, or imitation of 18th century literature?

If Thomas Pynchon has a plot or a story line, he surely has hidden it very well..

To this day I do not know what the book was about and what was going on.

The overall scheme of the novel is stupid and amateurish.

Too hard to read for this master’s degree English teacher.

Hundreds of unrelated and disconnected characters too..

Some as ridiculous as a talking dog, and a robot duck…

This book is a waste of time and paper.

What is all this supposed to mean?

Honestly, this book is just annoying.

The first pizza made in England?

Clearly, the fault is mine.

Wicks Cherrycoke?

Big @#$%ing deal.

Musical Duet Summary of Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon in Two Stanzas

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From Ch. 77 of Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon. I love the elision expressed in those dashes — “I say, was that–” — I say, was that a talking dog? I say, was that were-beaver? I say, was that a giant cannabis plant? I say, was that a Sino-Jesuit cabal? I say, was that the Lost Tribe of Israel? I say, was that the missing 11 days, and the Asiatick Pygmies who inhabit them? I say, was that a mechanical duck, looking for love? I say, was that an electric eel? I say, was that a recipe for catsup? I say, was that the first English pizza? I say, was that The Black Dog? I say, was that an iron bathtub? I say, was that a ridotto of inflamed debauchery? I say, was that a Masonic conspiracy? I say, was that the metaphysical wind? I say, was that a dead wife’s ghost? I say, was that a friendship? I say!

Young Woman Reading — Ossip Lubitch

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Christmas Trio — Norman Rockwell

Seated Woman Reading — François Bonvin

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A Mason & Dixon Christmastide (Thomas Pynchon)

They discharge the Hands and leave off for the Winter. At Christmastide, the Tavern down the Road from Harlands’ opens its doors, and soon ev’ryone has come inside. Candles beam ev’rywhere. The Surveyors, knowing this year they’ll soon again be heading off in different Directions into America, stand nodding at each other across a Punch-bowl as big as a Bathing-Tub. The Punch is a secret Receipt of the Landlord, including but not limited to peach brandy, locally distill’d Whiskey, and milk. A raft of long Icicles broken from the Eaves floats upon the pale contents of the great rustick Monteith. Everyone’s been exchanging gifts. Somewhere in the coming and going one of the Children is learning to play a metal whistle. Best gowns rustle along the board walls. Adults hold Babies aloft, exclaiming, “The little Sausage!” and pretending to eat them. There are popp’d Corn, green Tomato Mince Pies, pickl’d Oysters, Chestnut Soup, and Kidney Pudding. Mason gives Dixon a Hat, with a metallick Aqua Feather, which Dixon is wearing. Dixon gives Mason a Claret Jug of silver, crafted in Philadelphia. There are Conestoga Cigars for Mr. Harland and a Length of contraband Osnabrigs for Mrs. H. The Children get Sweets from a Philadelphia English-shop, both adults being drawn into prolong’d Negotiations with their Juniors, as to who shall have which of. Mrs. Harland comes over to embrace both Surveyors at once. “Thanks for simmering down this Year. I know it ain’t easy.”
“What a year, Lass,” sighs Dixon.
“Poh. Like eating a Bun,” declares Mason.”

The last paragraphs of Ch. 52 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon.

Lady Reading a Book by Lamplight — Rowland Davidson

(c) Rowland Davidson; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There are a Mason and Dixon in Hell (Thomas Pynchon)

DePugh recalls a Sermon he once heard at a church-ful of German Mysticks. “It might have been a lecture in Mathematics. Hell, beneath our feet, bounded,— Heaven, above our pates, unbounded. Hell a collapsing Sphere, Heaven an expanding one. The enclosure of Punishment, the release of Salvation. Sin leading us as naturally to Hell and Compression, as doth Grace to Heaven, and Rarefaction. Thus— ”

Murmurs of,” ‘Thus’?”

“— may each point of Heaven be mapp’d, or projected, upon each point of Hell, and vice versa. And what intercepts the Projection, about mid-way (reckon’d logarithmickally) between? why, this very Earth, and our lives here upon it. We only think we occupy a solid, Brick-and-Timber City,— in Reality, we live upon a Map. Perhaps even our Lives are but representations of Truer Lives, pursued above and below, as to Philadelphia correspond both a vast Heavenly City, and a crowded niche of Hell, each element of one faithfully mirror’d in the others.”

“There are a Mason and Dixon in Hell, you mean?” inquires Ethelmer, “attempting eternally to draw a perfect Arc of Considerably Lesser Circle?”

“Impossible,” ventures the Revd. “For is Hell, by this Scheme, not a Point, without Dimension?”

“Indeed. Yet, suppose Hell to be almost a Point,” argues the doughty DePugh, already Wrangler material, “— they would then be inscribing their Line eternal, upon the inner surface of the smallest possible Spheroid that can be imagin’d, and then some.”

“More of these . . . ,” Ethelmer pretending to struggle for a Modifier that will not offend the Company, “curious Infinitesimals, Cousin.— The Masters at my Purgatory are bewitch’d by the confounded things. Epsilons, usually. Miserable little,”— Squiggling in the air, “sort of things. Eh?”

“See them often,” sighs DePugh, “this Session more than ever.”

“What puzzles me, DeP., is that if the volume of Hell may be taken as small as you like, yet the Souls therein must be ever smaller, mustn’t they,— there being, by now, easily millions”“there?”

“Aye, assuming one of the terms of Damnation be to keep just enough of one’s size and weight to feel oppressively crowded,— taking as a model the old Black Hole of Calcutta, if you like,— the Soul’s Volume must be an Epsilon one degree smaller,— a Sub-epsilon.”

“ ‘The Epsilonicks of Damnation.’ Well, well. There’s my next Sermon,” remarks Uncle Wicks.

“I observe,” Tenebræ transform’d by the pale taper-light to some beautiful Needlewoman in an old Painting, “of both of you, that your fascination with Hell is match’d only by your disregard of Heaven. Why should the Surveyors not be found there Above,”— gesturing with her Needle, a Curve-Ensemble of Embroidery Floss, of a nearly invisible gray, trailing after, in the currents rais’d by Talking, Pacing, Fanning, Approaching, Withdrawing, and whatever else there be to indoor Life,— “drifting about, chaining the endless airy Leagues, themselves approaching a condition of pure Geometry?”

“Tho’ for symmetry’s sake,” interposes DePugh, “we ought to say, ‘almost endless.’ ”

“Why,” whispers Brae, “whoever said anything had to be symmetrickal?” The Lads, puzzl’d, exchange a quick Look.”

From Ch. 49 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon.

The passage steps outside of the story that Reverend Cherrycoke is telling—a representation of Mason and Dixon—and into the “real” time of the narrative. Map and territory, spirit and substance. This particular passage echoes a complaint in Ch. 42 that “too much out here [i.e., the “New World”] fails to “mark the Boundaries between Reality and Representation.” Pynchon’s novel, I think, strives to measure (and break) the boundaries between reality and representation.

Woman Reading — Peter Vilhelm Ilsted

The Collected Works of Jane Bowles (Book Acquired, 12.19.2014)

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I picked up My Sister’s Hand in Mine: The Collected Works of Jane Bowles mostly because I couldn’t find a stand-alone version of the novel Two Serious Ladies. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have, y’know, all of her stuff (or really most of her stuff), but I’m not really a fan of omnibus editions. My interest in Two Serious Ladies was piqued by Ben Marcus, whom I interviewed by phone earlier this month (still transcribing that one; hope to run it in January). He spoke highly of the book and includes it on his writing syllabus.