EuropeJournal of American Studies Special Issue on McCarthy Now Available Online

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  • 20 Dec 2017 at 7:49 pm #10003

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    James Dorson has asked me to let everyone know that the online special issue of the European Journal of American Studies, based largely on the Berlin Conference two years ago, has just become available. Here’s the link:
    http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/12252

    I’ve given it a quick once-over, up to my elbows in Christmas dinner prep as I am, and there’s some very good stuff in here. So, stop anguishing for a minute over whether your visiting in-laws are ever going to go home again and give it a look.


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    20 Dec 2017 at 8:50 pm #10004

    Glass
    Member

    Thanks for this!


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    20 Dec 2017 at 10:06 pm #10005

    Ken
    Member

    Yes, Thanks for this, and what a great Winter Solstice present! I went directly to the Bryan Giemza article, which Glass has referenced many times in this forum. I’m interested in what he wrote on chirality and Suttree. I posted a few things on this topic in the old McCarthy forum (I am still waiting for it to be incorporated as an archive section in the forum’s current incarnation). I’ve just skimmed it so far, and I will read it more carefully over time; there seems to be little overlap, so I’m happy.


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    20 Dec 2017 at 11:20 pm #10007

    Richard L.
    Member

    I just read Bryan Giemza’s article along with his wonderful notes.

    By all means, let’s dig up Ken’s archived notes and get a thread on this. I didn’t imagine the article would be so up to date with all the stuff from Crews’ BOOKS ARE MADE OF BOOKS and the Nautilus article. This is really interesting. Of course I see chirality now throughout McCarthy, from THE ORCHARD KEEPER on.

    I’ve just sent for Martin Gardner’s THE NEW AMBIDEXTRIOUS UNIVERSE and I’m glad to still have my Joseph Wood Krutch books Giemza cites.

    Thanks for providing this. I’m anxious to read the other articles as well, but this first. I thought I had read some of this before in A BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: FINDING NATURE’S DEEP DESIGN (2015) by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek, but while he talks the effects of chirality, he doesn’t mention it by name. The same left-handed/right-handed mechanism is discussed by Murray Gell-Mann in THE QUARK AND THE JAGUAR but he doesn’t call it chirality.

    But that’s what it is. The word chirality is from the Greek, meaning handed, as in either-handed as a spider. Well, a two-handed spider.

    There’s a long list of science fiction novels and stories that have used chirality at this link:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_chirality_in_popular_fiction:

    Although little was known about chemical chirality in the time of Lewis Carroll, his work Through the Looking-glass contains a prescient reference to the differing biological activities of enantiomeric drugs: “Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink,” Alice said to her cat. A supplemental story to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen made reference to this, mentioning in passing that after her return from the mirror world, her body was mirror-flipped, presumably down to the molecular level, as she was unable to digest food afterwards.

    In Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “Technical Error” (also titled “The Reversed Man”), a technician working on a giant superconducting generator is accidentally “inverted” into his mirror image, right down to the coins in his pocket. When he is found to be starving despite an apparently-healthy diet, the culprit is determined to be the amino acids in his food, which are natural amino acids and opposite in chirality to those his body now requires.

    Isaac Asimov’s short story “Left to Right” concerns an unknown “change in parity”, and mentions biological incompatibilities due to chirality as one possible consequence.

    In the Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel The Documents in the Case, a murder is committed that is designed to appear as accidental death from eating poisonous mushrooms containing muscarine. The case is proved to be murder because the muscarine found in the deceased’s stomach is racemic and therefore synthetic.

    In James Blish’s Star Trek novella Spock Must Die!, Spock’s mirror-duplicate is later discovered to have stolen chemical reagents from the medical bay to convert certain amino acids to opposite-chirality isomers that his metabolism requires.

    In Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Place short story “Mirror/rorriM On the Wall”, a mirror is constructed of thiotimoline which leads to a parallel but inverted universe. A character attempts to smuggle food between the two universes to sell as a diet product, since the amino acids are reversed and provide no caloric value.

    In Larry Niven’s Destiny’s Road, the title planet’s indigenous life is based upon right-handed proteins. When human colonists arrive from Earth via a generation ship, extreme measures are taken to permit the colony’s survival. A peninsula is sterilized with a lander’s fusion drive, creating the titular “road” out of fused bedrock. The area is then reseeded with Earth life to provide the colonists with food. Though the soil lacks potassium due to other factors, necessitating supplements that produce a hydraulic empire common to Niven’s fiction, the colony otherwise prospers. Native viruses and bacteria cannot infect colonists, resulting in longer lifespans. Sealife quickly recovers, and is consumed by the colonists as a “diet” food, as their digestive systems cannot metabolize it into fat.

    Marti Steussy’s Dreams of Dawn (1988) has a similar premise, where the locals evolved based on right-handed amino acids.

    In the Trauma Center series of games, doctors test for a “chiral reaction” in order to determine whether or not a patient is infected with “Gangliated Utrophin Immuno Latency Toxin,” a fictional, parasitic pathogen more commonly referred to as GUILT. A positive reaction means the patient is infected, while a negative reaction means the patient has either been cured or is not infected.

    In the video game Mass Effect, the turian and quarian alien species have biology based upon right-handed amino acids. Because of this, foods from other species which have life forms based upon left-handed amino acids have no nutritional value and may cause fatal allergic reactions. The process works both ways—species based on left-handed acids, such as humans, cannot consume food from the turian or quarian homeworlds. Left-handed amino acids are portrayed as being more common than right-handed versions. The chirality difference is colloquially referred to as “Levo” and “Dextro” by characters in the game.

    The denouement of Poul Anderson’s After Doomsday relies partly on chirality.

    The plot of Roger Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand centers around a device called the Rhennius Machine, which reverses objects that pass through it, down to the atomic level. It is mentioned that an earlier version of the machine destroyed itself by reversing matter to antimatter.

    The television series Breaking Bad features the “Heisenberg” method of methamphetamine manufacture, which produces a 99% chirally pure product.

    Daniel Suarez (author)’s novel Change Agent (2017) includes a character “the Mirror man” who is immune to neurotoxins due to his mirrored chirality.


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    • This reply was modified 1 month ago by  Richard L..
    21 Dec 2017 at 4:28 am #10009

    Glass
    Member

    Ken and Richard,

    Giemza did a terrific job laying out chirality and its many resonances and appearances in McCarthy. He is definitely one of the great McCarthy scholars working today. Cool to learn there is evidence in the Archives that McCarthy was interested in it.

    We have had some good discussions on it here along with some good ideas on spirals in CM. Rick Wallach talked on the Forum about gyres in Yeats, which is pretty fascinating. Fun stuff.

    I also read the article by Stacey Peebles and enjoyed it a lot as well. Between worlds.

    Fwiw, here is one Forum thread on chirality:
    http://www.cormacmccarthy.com/topic/chirality-in-mccarthy/


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    21 Dec 2017 at 10:25 am #10010

    Candy Minx
    Member

    Thanks this is a lot of fun! I love the article on globalized capital by David Deacon. I’m still obsessed with THE COUNSELOR and I love reading anything about it….and this is an outstanding essay. I adore Peebles and Luce articles. Peebles article is a wonderful capsule of film production history and Luce tracking down the art history of McCarthy was amazing. (I love those Hudson River School painters!) Dianne Luce makes the world a better place.

    BREAKING BAD messed around with chirality all the time. In case the audience might miss it season one had Walter White teaching some if it’s concepts and implications in his classroom. White seemed to be always near or looking into mirror. If I remember correctly Walter White was right handed and his twin…Heisenberg was left handed…but maybe I am dreaming that.

    Chirality lesson in BB from youtube…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I09jk57QRuM


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    21 Dec 2017 at 12:08 pm #10011

    Ken
    Member

    The old forum contained many good ideas from many people. An archive of it would be greatly appreciated for that reason. As for my posts about chirality (I didn’t label it as such) and Suttree (specifically, only about the prologue and first chapter), I can more or less summarize those ideas here.

    ***

    I quoted the same passage in Suttree that Giemza did:
    The ordinary of the second son. Mirror image. Gauche carbon. He lies in Woodlawn, whatever be left of the child with whom you shared your mother’s belly. He neither spoke nor saw nor does he now. Perhaps his skull held seawater. Born dead and witless both or a terratoma [misspelling, typo or intentional?] grisly in form. No, for we were like to the last hair. I followed him into the world, me. A breech birth. (14)
    There was a discussion in the forum at the time about “twinning”, and I quoted this to note the twins are specifically “mirror image” rather than identical. In the preceding paragraph, the dead twin has a “mauve halfmoon” on his “right temple”, and in the preceding sentence, Suttree touches “a like mark on his own left temple”. This suggests a trauma from an identical object between the fetuses, or possibly a growth from the dead twin’s head which possibly contributed to his death; more important, this suggests Suttree faced his twin, who was in effect a mirror for Suttree.

    Earlier in the article, Giemza mentioned “nuclear non-parity-conserving weak interaction” in a general discussion of chirality, but not in connection with this passage, and I don’t think he brought it up again. But it was this specific physical phenomenon that I cited with this Suttree passage, along with the sentence that follows: “Hind ends fore … life forms meant for other mediums than the earth…” Parity conservation is an intuitively appealing and generally accepted belief in physics: everything has a mirror image, and both can and do exist in this world. Non-parity theories were sidelined until non-parity was theorized and experimentally proved to be the case for certain weak interactions. So, certain mirror images could not exist in this world, as Suttree’s twin also could not.

    There are other mirror image instances in this chapter, such as Suttree’s reflection in the depot glass door: “Suttree and Antisuttree”. But I note the temporal mirror image of the chapter. The chapter opens with Suttree lying “athwart” his skiff (hence forming an X) with his face close to the water. As he rises, his face sinks into the water, foreshadowing the suicide which he would shortly find out about. This act might even have sparked his thoughts about the dead twin and his moodiness for the rest of the day. Suttree rises as the skiff is just under the bridge. The suicide’s shoes were found on the bridge, so we know that he jumped and where he jumped from. The chapter closes with Suttree walking on the bridge and “looked at the river below”. Later, “Below he could make out the shape of his own place where he must go.” This has a double meaning. Anyway, the suicide was on the bridge, then he landed in the water just below the bridge, then he drowned, and Suttree does what the suicide did, but in reverse order: his image drowns, he rises from the water just under the bridge, he walks to the bridge. A temporal mirror image!

    ***

    I then made a detour in my discussion. Suttree, and in particular chapter 1, has been compared to other works: e.g., Joyce’s Ulysses (one of these days Rick will publish his work!). Also Quentin’s chapter in Faulkner’s The Sound And the Fury: note the foot journey, time and time-pieces, suicide by drowning. But the work I brought up was Camus’ The Fall.

    Alert: Spoilers for The Fall for those who haven’t read it (and why haven’t you read it?): Jean-Baptiste Clamence was a rich and powerful and honored attorney in Paris, but he has now exiled himself to dwell among the low-life denizens of the red-light district in Amsterdam, at the center of the ringed city, which is likened to a watery lower depths of a Dante-esque hell. We know that Suttree, from chapter 1, comes from a higher social class on his father’s side but has exiled himself to live in a leaky houseboat among a lower social class of people.

    A bridge suicide triggers an existential crisis and is the reason for self-exile for Clamence. The bridge suicide contributed to Suttree’s emotional crisis for the day: thoughts of his dead twin, agitation with his uncle’s visit, the night stroll to the bridge.

    Clamence strikes up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, and spends the next few days traveling with him around the city. We don’t know anything about the stranger or hear anything spoken by him; we know only Clamence’s telling of things. As a reader, I picture Clamence talking in my direction. (In a film, I suppose Clamence would talk to the camera, at the audience.) At first, Clamence addresses the stranger as “cher monsieur”, then “cher compatriote”. After a couple of days, Clamence addresses him as “cher ami” (“dear friend”). We find out at the end that Clamence has been alone all this time, and the stranger he has been talking to and walking around the city with is himself, or the reader, who is Clamence’s mirror. “Dear friend… no soul shall walk save you.”

    ***

    In 1956, physicists T. D. Lee and C. N. Yang theorized the non-parity of weak interactions, and physicist C. S. Wu designed and conducted an experiment which proves this non-parity. In 1957, Lee and Yang won the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery, though Wu was not recognized (probably because Lee and Yang are men whereas Wu is a woman, but you wouldn’t get the Nobel people to admit to this, and this would be a discussion for another time).

    In 1956, Albert Camus published The Fall. In 1957, Camus won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

    So that’s my thesis, this “fictional” biography of McCarthy. 1956-57 mark the later years of Suttree, and in 1956 23-year-old McCarthy was finishing up his tour of duty at the Air Force and was returning to college. He had an interest in science earlier, but his focused has turned to writing. He would publish two short stories in the next couple of years. Suttree would be published 23 years later. And 23 years after that he would hang out with physicists and others at Santa Fe Institute. Suttree is the mirror between his younger and older selves.

    ***

    P.S.: Rereading parts of The Fall now yields echoes also to The Road. There is no god, and Clamence considers himself a “false prophet”.


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    21 Dec 2017 at 7:24 pm #10017

    Richard L.
    Member

    Thank you, Ken. I know you posted most of it long ago but now I finally get it. I think I’ll pick up THE FALL now, though I’m too busy with the family holiday stuff to sick around here. Happy times, all. Have a good 2018.


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    21 Dec 2017 at 8:23 pm #10018

    Glass
    Member

    Great ideas, Ken. Really enjoyed the writing and thoughts. The temporal mirror image/Suttree at the suicide bridge stuff is particularly mind blowing.


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    25 Dec 2017 at 2:15 pm #10036

    Richard L.
    Member

    Re:

    “I then made a detour in my discussion. Suttree, and in particular chapter 1, has been compared to other works: e.g., Joyce’s Ulysses (one of these days Rick will publish his work!). Also Quentin’s chapter in Faulkner’s The Sound And the Fury: note the foot journey, time and time-pieces, suicide by drowning. But the work I brought up was Camus’ The Fall.

    Alert: Spoilers for The Fall for those who haven’t read it (and why haven’t you read it?): Jean-Baptiste Clamence was a rich and powerful and honored attorney in Paris, but he has now exiled himself to dwell among the low-life denizens of the red-light district in Amsterdam, at the center of the ringed city, which is likened to a watery lower depths of a Dante-esque hell. We know that Suttree, from chapter 1, comes from a higher social class on his father’s side but has exiled himself to live in a leaky houseboat among a lower social class of people.

    A bridge suicide triggers an existential crisis and is the reason for self-exile for Clamence. The bridge suicide contributed to Suttree’s emotional crisis for the day: thoughts of his dead twin, agitation with his uncle’s visit, the night stroll to the bridge.

    Clamence strikes up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, and spends the next few days traveling with him around the city. We don’t know anything about the stranger or hear anything spoken by him; we know only Clamence’s telling of things. As a reader, I picture Clamence talking in my direction. (In a film, I suppose Clamence would talk to the camera, at the audience.) At first, Clamence addresses the stranger as “cher monsieur”, then “cher compatriote”. After a couple of days, Clamence addresses him as “cher ami” (“dear friend”). We find out at the end that Clamence has been alone all this time, and the stranger he has been talking to and walking around the city with is himself, or the reader, who is Clamence’s mirror. “Dear friend… no soul shall walk save you.”

    This is absolutely astounding stuff. I’d read most of Camus, but I had never read THE FALL. All along I was sure that McCarthy’s plot came from Herman Hesse’s SIDDHARTHA, which we discussed back in the old days, with William C. Spencer’s legendary paper on it, and our Buddy Buddha Suttree Sutra interpretation.

    I did a check on the crit-lit, a lot of which is in my head, and I found no mention of Camus’s THE FALL anywhere. Lots of people name books by Camus–especially strong on Camus influence is eminent scholar Dianne C. Luce–but nobody has mentioned THE FALL. Nobody til you, Ken.

    Dianne Luce (Reading the World, 2009) points out the synthesis of SUTTREE, Dante’s INFERNO, Dostoevsky’s St. Petersburg, Joyce’s ULYSSES, and McCarthy’s own historical Knoxville. We now have to add THE FALL to that.

    Other McCarthy scholars owe you a debt, Ken.

    ———

    Now, as to chirality in SUTTREE, many scholars have commented on the antiSuttree with various takes, all of them good. I didn’t recall the Joseph Wood Krutch stuff and had to look it up. You’d think that Krutch would be a natural match to McCarthy due to both of their Knoxville connections. Krutch’s autobiography, MORE LIVES THAN ONE, is not to be missed.

    Peter, Mr. Glass here, has a lot of good stuff to contribute, as usual.

    Robert L. Jarrent’s take from CORMAC MCCARTHY (1997) was:

    The twin or antiSuttree corresponds to the more primal or primitive self of the Lacanian moi, the inarticulate imaginary self that is composed first out of the incorporation of the fragmented images of the outside world. In the Lacanian mirror state, the infant consolidates the formerly fragmented sense of self into a single Gestalt symbolized by the whole human figure reflected in the mirror.

    Thereafter, the agency of the self is composed of a series of unconscious relations in which it desires the recognition of the Other; human relations are structured by the forms by which this self seeks the desired recognition of itself as a whole. Thus in his alcoholic and fevered visions, Suttree’s unconscious self takes the form of his dead twin, the “othersuttree.”


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