August 15, 2012

Three recent books

The Broom of the System by David Foster Wallace. Had this on my bookshelf for a while, and I'm not sure why I put off reading it. Like The Pale King, there were chapters I wanted to send to others because they were just that well written. And the names. My god, the names: Lenore Stonecipher Beadsman, Candy Mandible, Mindy Metalman, and of course Norman Bombardini (who plans on eating enough to eventually encompass all space in the universe (and who makes a grotesquely noble effort towards that goal)). Every few chapters could be studied as a Bach-like invention in writing styles and challenges, few being, for all the virtuosity, too challenging. Its inventiveness will have you smiling throughout.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernon Vinge. A year or so ago I'd read and loved his more recent novel Rainbows End, set in a remarkably believable near future. This was set in a future far distant, tens of thousands of years from now. The key conceit--of the many that are truly unique--is that species intelligence and natural laws can change across different zones in the galaxy. Higher level zones allow FTL travel; the highest contain intelligences comparable to gods. The book starts with a short prologue narrating the events--with the right mix of tech and tech-babble--of a high-level intelligence's take-over of an archaeological dig. The outcome, we're told in the first few pages, will destroy several species and last for centuries to come. Needless, there is a grandiosity to the drama.

vN by Madeline Ashbey. In this now (50%) but have no idea why I downloaded it to my Kindle! I must've heard a recommendation somewhere. Probably io9 again, although their last few months of recommendations have been poor. It's a cheap romp around a future where vNs (i.e. John von Neumann), built by an Xtian millenarian cult to look after those "left behind", struggle integrating with society. An unlikely premise but entertaining all the same.

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posted by sstrader at 7:41 PM in Current Interests , Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

April 14, 2011

The Pale King; David Foster Wallace

Opening sentence:

Past the flannel plains and blacktop graphs and skylines of canted rust, and past the tobacco-brown river overhung with weeping trees and coins of sunlight through them on the water downriver, to the place beyond the windbreak, where untilled fields simmer shrilly in the A.M. heat: shattercane, lamb's-quarter, cutgrass, sawbrier, nutgrass, jimsonweed, wild mint, dandelion, foxtail, muscadine, spinecabbage, goldenrod, creeping charlie, butter-print, nightshade, ragweed, wild oat, vetch, butcher grass, invaginate volunteer beans, all heads gently nodding in the morning breeze like a mother's soft hand on your cheek.

Opening sentence of Infinite Jest:

I am seated in an office, surrounded by heads and bodies.

I would love to purchase chapter 19 and send it to many friends. It manifests every political/social/philosophical discussion we've ever had. I just finished the kernel of the book--chapter 22, pages 154 through 252. A daunting, directed bildungsroman. Overall a less flagrantly bleak worldview and more bleakly hopeful. I have yet to go back and map all of the characters I've met at various ages and when I've met them. This should have been done, casually and without too much effort, from the start. There are many.

I received the book, pre-ordered, the Friday before NYC whereas it officially comes out tomorrow on tax day.

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December 29, 2010

Wealth

I always think about David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest when I stream some audio or video or, more recently, download a public domain book. In one of those conversations in the book that feels like a musical canon or fugue--multiple speakers in conversation yet each part sounds oddly independent--Orin Incandenza rhapsodizes on how he misses discursive mass media in their current world of everything on demand. Beginning on page 599, speaking with a supposed survey-taker:

'I miss TV,' Orin said, looking back down. He no longer smiled coolly.

'The former television of commercial broadcast.'

'I do.'

'Reason in several words or less, please, for the box after REASON,' displaying the board.

'Oh, man.' Orin looked back up and away at what seemed to be nothing, feeling at his jaw around the retromandiibular's much tinier and more vulnerable throb. 'Some of this may sounmd stupid. I miss commercials that were louder than the programs. I miss the phrases "Order before midnight tonight" and "Save up to fifty percent and more." I miss being told things were filmed before a live studio audience. I miss late-night anthems and shots of flags and fighter jets and leathery-faced Indian chiefs crying at litter. I miss "Sermonette" and "Evensong" and test patterns and being told how many megahertz something's transmitter was broadcasting at.' He felt his face. 'I miss sneering at something I loved. How we used to love to gather in the checker-tiled kitchen in front of the old boxy cathode-ray Sony whose reception was sensitive to airplanes and sneer at the commercial vapidity of broadcast stuff.'

... 'I miss summer reruns. I miss reruns hastily inserted to fill the intervals of writers' strikes, Actors' Guild strikes. I miss Jeannie, Samantha, Sam and Diane, Gilligan, Hawkeye, Hazel, Jed, all the syndicated airwave-haunters. You know? I miss seeing the same things over and over again.'

Patton Oswalt touches on this in a Wired editorial titled "Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die" [ via Slashfilm ]. His main premise is that easily accessible culture has changed the fan from someone who scours book stores or record stores or rarity catalogs over years, to someone who downloads the equivalent in an afternoon. Appreciation without effort alters the relationship.

The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly. In the '80s, you couldn't get up to speed on an entire genre in a weekend. You had to wait, month to month, for the issues of Watchmen to come out. We couldn't BitTorrent the latest John Woo film or digitally download an entire decade's worth of grunge or hip hop.

I'm sympathetic with the impulse behind his thesis (before it goes very far afield around halfway through), but not necessarily with the pejorative conclusion. I was driving home yesterday with my Android on the dash showing me POV traffic via Google Maps and listening to streaming Radio Swiss Classic (a Joseph Haydn Symphony, I see, by looking up that timeslot on the internet). Fifteen years or so prior, I had a Newton that I'd only dreamed would have access to such "cyberspace" niceties, and my dreams were probably much paler than the wealth we ended up with. I worry some about the decadence of immediacy, but not yesterday. Yesterday, the immediacy and the realization that it doesn't even register to teenagers made me more interested in what the next wealth will be. We sorta saw this coming (remember that commercial from 10 or so years ago with the guy checking in to the dusty roadside motel and the attendant offering him any movie or recording he wanted for entertainment?) so we can probably see the next wealth coming.

posted by sstrader at 2:06 PM in Internet | permalink | comments (0)

October 2, 2010

Random thoughts an hour into watching the documentary The Corporation and watching it to the end

(based on notes taken during)

  • Are ads more powerful now or are children adapting better? The movie suggest the former, but the continuum of 20th century history does not.
  • David Foster Wallace (and others') expression of consumerist ennui relates to the idea that children are indoctrinated to be consumers against their natural disposition. That capitalist/consumerist impulse is detrimental to us as we grow older and manifests dissatisfaction as we wonder why we have this compulsion to purchase. I love buying books and music.
  • In the documentary, Noam Chomsky is sitting in for Theodore Adorno to prove that Adorno was correct in arguing that capitalism corrupted us via consumerism.
  • Corporate philanthropy is often/always connected to corporate tax benefits. How much more could we have done with the money if we didn't sink 90+% of the money into corporate tax write-offs?
  • I laughed at the concept of Disney-mediated neighborhoods until I considered that it's exactly what those afraid of "modern society" based on a false nostalgia would want.
  • Regarding the idea that corporations mediate all of our interactions: Facebook scares me even more.
  • In 1980, Warren Berger was the deciding vote in the judgment to allow life forms to be patented. He felt that it was not an important decision. Again, I'm reminded of The Windup Girl. The Berger decision will be the moment in time that is most remembered as when corporations were given primacy over life.
  • Canada does not allow bovine growth hormone. The film stated that it was because of traces of Prosilac in milk, but it was actually because it was detrimental to the health of the cows.
  • Bolivians fought back successfully against corporate control of the water system.
  • At many points in this documentary, individuals point out that democratic governments have no power over multi-national corporations. At the start of the Gulf oil spill, Hugo Chavez said the exact same thing. (can't find citation)
  • Many right-leaning groups long for anger at the government to get so strong that an armed, patriotic revolution happens. Other countries have had such armed revolutions directed against corporate control. World trade protesters sometimes become violent and are castigated for it. Isn't that the same?
  • It was refreshing to see dispassionate, thoughtful, and reflective comments from Chomsky, Zinn, Moore, and Klein. Michael Moore's revelation tyeing his auto-worker roots to global warming was interesting.
  • Ultimately hopeful.
  • The first industrial revolution is not working. It is flawed. It is unsustainable. - Ray Anderson
posted by sstrader at 10:01 AM in Cinema | permalink | comments (0)

June 23, 2009

Infinite Jest; David Foster Wallace

Decided on Friday to join Infinite Summer for the next three months and re-read Infinite Jest. I had read it once before beginning in October 2002. This was in the middle of the three-year vow to get back to reading and read at least one book a month. I'll assume for many subsequent months, those books were read in parallel. I hessitated to join the, now large, online reading group for all the reasons others had: intimidated, afraid of commitment, etc. At 55 pages in, I have no regrets and am somewhat obsessed with the book. Much easier the second time through.

Some links of note:

Misc.: Taking advice from someone's Twitpiced book to use two bookmarks: one for the story proper and one for the footnotes. Many west-coasters were having a difficult time finding a copy! There's some new edition out, but it's not so new that IS could be pegged as a (decidedly weird) publicity stunt. I have no idea where I got my copy in 2002; it's from a UK division of Little, Brown, and Co. called Abacus. Every blurb on the cover is from a different British publication.

[ updated 14 August 2009 ]

Found an obit over at IFC. Contains links to many of DFW's writings available online.

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September 16, 2008

May 11, 2006

Tim and Jim

Martin Freeman plays Tim in the British Office. John Krazinsky plays Jim in the American Office. Wikipedia has a list of all of the parallel universe characters.

Martin Freeman has a personal Web site where you can purchase his CD of Motown covers. Not really interested in Motown, but good for him. Three out of five from five customer reviews. I still haven't seen H2G2 or Love, Actually.

John Krazinsky is apparently not as tech-savvy but is certainly getting some literary cred. According to Lisa and TV Guide, he's working on a movie adaptation of David Foster Wallace's short story "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men" due out in 2007. I had read Wallace's other collection of short stories, Oblivion, back in September of 2004. Even his short stories have an unbelievable density to them, so "Brief Interviews" should be worth looking for.

posted by sstrader at 12:30 PM in Culture & Society | permalink | comments (0)

November 9, 2005

Clause trophy

A week or so ago, Sound & Fury returned to the music blogging scene (furiously) with an entry that contained amazingly long sentences on the verge of un-understandability (89 words). I loved it. I had written an entry on it. Then I deleted the entry because my praise and rambling was directionless, even though what drew me to it (although much draws me to the S&F blog, as it acts the counter-weight to the permissive newness and, as he likes to label it, postmodernism of modern aesthetics and those ideas that I both champion and challenge) was the artful and almost impenetrable overlong sentences. Who likes those run-on tight-rope walks of grammatical daring? I do. Almost as much as hyphens.

Anyway, one of my other favorite blogs-who-serve-to-take-me-to-school is of course Language Log. I had apparently missed their (singular "they") post on the sad demise of embedded clauses in our presidents' speeches only to catch up when Trent Reznor is referenced.

And I realize the appreciation, or at least my appreciation, may have come in part from that of David Foster Wallace's writing (ignoring whether I was drawn to it from appreciation or whether I'm drawn back from learned appreciation). Although who doesn't love a good discussion of semantic complexity?

posted by sstrader at 10:33 PM in Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

July 1, 2005

So tired

This commencement speech by David Foster Wallace made a timely appearance today on Blogdex.

I woke up slightlly hung-over this morning after a fancified dinner out with friends and had the worn-out, world-weariness that often accompanies a draining evening of manic mood. Sometimes I'm tired of feeling as if I'm constantly running. And tired of always trying to shoot a few meters in front of my current position. It's not as if I work too much or achieve too much or even that I'm constantly busy. It's just that every nowandthen the number of spinning plates manifests itself and I think about how many I've broken already and am waiting for the whatever. The inevitable. I suspect that it's a not uncommon feeling that hits everybody when they're at their weakest.

And I thought about what it is like for someone to have their beliefs crushed or at least abandoned. Any beliefs. And those beliefs could be Completely True or Completely False and Ugly, but there's a type of experience where the abandonment doesn't mark a growth but instead a chopping off and the person is never the same. In mourning. Not that I've had my "beliefs crushed," mind you, but it's an interesting psychology and sortof goes hand-in-hand with the spinning plates. As you struggle to achieve whatever it is you're trying to achieve, and trying to achieve it because it's part of your belief system or whatever, you could eventually at some point invalidate that belief system. (Coincidentally, I had to re-write a small section of code today after realizing that: it sucked. This was, however, a "growth" type of thing and not one of those "chopping off" types of things.)

Anyway, DFW speaks a little on these subjects and others.

posted by sstrader at 3:42 PM in Misc | permalink | comments (0)

February 16, 2005

January 27, 2005

Maximalism

Maximalism [Wikipedia]. A term I've heard frequently but have only now looked it up. Art with a rich density of style and content.

Works from this genre are generally bright, sensual, and visually rich. ... Maximalism is used to describe the very extended post-modern novels, such as those by David Foster Wallace and Thomas Pynchon, where digression, reference and elaboration of detail occupy a greater and greater fraction of the text.

I finally understand the label and then Salon says it's dead!

posted by sstrader at 12:40 AM in Art | permalink | comments (0)

September 17, 2004

September 14, 2004

Year of Glad

David Foster Wallace would be proud. Or scared.

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August 30, 2004

David Foster Wallace interview

Tonight at 7:00, WABE is broadcasting a David Foster Wallace interview recorded at City Arts & Lectures. The City Arts & Lectures shows are recorded at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco on Van Ness.

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posted by sstrader at 11:11 AM in Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)

August 15, 2004

Book order

More books!

How We Are HungryDave Eggers$15.40
David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest: A Reader's GuideStephen Burn$9.95
Oblivion: StoriesDavid Foster Wallace$17.65

The IJ reader's guide should be fun--it'll be nice to get a "hard" analysis that I was incapable of while reading. This site is a good resource for references and analysis too.

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posted by sstrader at 6:59 PM in Language & Literature | permalink | comments (0)