Say, what's that book you have there?

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  • 01 Feb 2018 at 11:37 pm #10135

    Richard L.

    Hey, Happy Groundhog’s Day to others who celebrate it. Again. It’s a time to recycle, for paying your Cormac McCarthy Society dues, perhaps for the rebirth of this thread.

    In the old days, my wife used to bake cookie-cutter cookies in the shape of the groundhog. We had the Bill Murray movie on non-stop, while we read or did other things. I played the soundtrack in the jeep when we tooled about the town.

    In a recent article in the New York Times, here, reviewer Adam Sternberg defines different sorts of “reads,” namely that of beach reads, cabin reads, and airplane reads, to which he adds the category of subway reads.

    Of course, there are way more categories than that. A lot of books I seek out are “eye-opening reads,” which are about new ideas, new perspectives of old ideas, or other kinds of epiphanies. Or course, some of the books I read are comfort reads, such as P. I. novels where the detective wraps up the case and the world returns to normal, or at least it returns to the old level of chaos plainly seen.

    Then too I am a seasonal reader, always trying to match the current season to my reading and mood.

    So what kind of books go now with GROUNDHOG’S DAY?

    W. G. Sebald’s RINGS OF SATURN. The first time I read it, I took it for a non-fiction memoir with some good criticism, but no great shakes. It turns out that I was wrong, that this is a work of literature, with symbolism and and some very great ideas. He gives us a picture of a man standing in a mass of dead fish without comment. Later, he gives us a picture of a man, a soldier, standing amid a mass of dead bodies. Again, without comment in the text. He wants the reader to be able to draw the lines for himself.

    Over in the BLOOD MERIDIAN TIDBIT THREAD, forum member efscerbo discusses McCarthy’s use of ubi sunt, which also reminded me of when Yossarian, in CATCH-22, demands to know “Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear? I experienced ubi sunt a few months after my wife died, when the world seemed crazy and everything lost its meaning. How could the world go on without her?

    Anyway, Sebald plants the fictional tropes of symbol and metaphor into his non-fiction and when at last you see them there is the ah-ha experience that is worth waiting for. The cover gives this away, if you can see it, in the puzzle pieces that are really portions of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.

    If Cormac McCarthy were to write non-fiction, I suspect that he might plant such a cipher into his text. Nothing much, but something on the order of the blank page=the judge’s weight stone to pound to page number. Perhaps the real meaning of “The Kekulé Problem” has little to do with what we’ve discussed about it, but rather it is deeper than that, McCarthy’s cipher that can only be explained by interpreting volume 2 of THE PASSENGER.

    McCarthy seemed unduly impressed by the fact that the dream was not a circle or a zero but the snake with its tail in its mouth, the symbol of eternal renewal, groundhog-day-like. Of the end of things absorbing all opposites. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.

    The Ouroboros can also be seen as a mobius strip, or maybe a mobydickius strip.

    . . .

    Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art by Nico Israel. I bought this book to read about spirals and chiralism but it turned out all that I had hoped and much, much more. He gives us an interpretation of Sebald’s RINGS OF SATURN and ties it into the spiral and the grid. Walter Benjamin, Beckett, Yeat’s widening gyre, and much more are seen through this lens, which also gives evidence to the grid/epilogue in BLOOD MERIDIAN.

    Chirality is the handedness of things, and Nico Israel goes over Sebald’s interpretation of Rembrandt’s painting. The dead man’s arm examined is an example of wrong-handedness and chirality. The corpse in the painting was a real person, it was discovered, and there has been a documented history of him as well as a novel.

    The book also gives us a new interpretation of Alfred Hitchcock’s trilogy, Psycho (for the shower scene), Rear Window (the grid of apartment windows), and Vertigo (with the giant spiral constellation).


    THE ROAD TO ITHACA by Ben Pastor. This was first published in Britain last year and I am late getting to it. The title has several ties, but mostly I think to Cavafy’s poem of the same name. As McCarthy would also say, moving on the road to home is our home. The author here, Ben Pastor, dedicates it thus:

    “To all those who believe, with Wordsworth, that the Child is father of the Man.”

    I don’t know if Pastor read that on the first page of BLOOD MERIDIAN but, like McCarthy, he has certainly read and interpreted Wordsworth. The book itself is a wondrous historical World War II novel with mythic and classical references galore. One of the characters carries around James Joyce’s Ulysses with him. I had to think of McCarthy scholar Edwin (Chip) Arnold when I discovered that one of the significant characters in here is Erskine Caldwell, author of such Southern Gothic classics as Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre.

    Chip Arnold is one of the all time greatest experts on Caldwell and it would be nice he knew about this. Caldwell is in Moscow with his lover (later wife) when the novel opens. Amazon seems to have a non-fiction account of their romance on hand.


    THE ETERNAL RETURN: OEDIPUS, THE TEMPEST, FORBIDDEN PLANET by David Sheppard. Nice subjects here, but unfortunately Sheppard is not the writer that Nico Israel is in the above book. Gosh, I shouldn’t say such a thing until I have read it again. Sheppard is a fire/metal/wood/water/air man and uses plenty of subtle nuances that take time to absorb. I’ll read it again soon.


    02 Feb 2018 at 6:41 pm #10138


    Great post, Richard. Thank you.

    Fwiw, I an reading The First Major, The Inside Story of the Ryder Cup by John Feinstein. I am enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would because while I have always loved golf (watching it, playing, reading about it) I have never been a huge fan of the Ryder Cup or team golf, generally. I’ve probably read 10 of Feinstein’s 38 books.

    02 Feb 2018 at 11:15 pm #10139


    Yes, great way to kick-start the new thread. Sebald is someone I really must get round to reading. For the record, I’ve just finished Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, and found myself disagreeing violently with McCarthy’s snarky comments on James ( I think he was also none too complimentary about Proust). In other words, It’s a magnificent novel and so look forward to reading other works by him (The Golden Bowl, Wings of a Dove, etc). Just out of interest, I would be interested in opinions on why McCarthy was so dismissive.

    One third of the way through The Adventures of Augie March. Yep, you’ve guessed it, my bucket list comprises of American masterpieces that I’ve always pretended to have read but haven’t.

    03 Feb 2018 at 2:59 pm #10145


    Really great post. Thank you, Richard.

    04 Feb 2018 at 11:53 am #10150


    Just ordered the Spirals book by Israel that Richard writes about so favorably above. Looks fantastic.

    On Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, I would like to note that Greg Hyduke, the great Forum member from years past, wrote a brilliant essay on that with some fascinating McCarthy connections and he posted it here in an iteration of the message board that can no longer be accessed. I would love to read that Hyduke piece again.


    16 Feb 2018 at 12:39 pm #10184

    Candy Minx

    CHRONOLOGY OF THE ANCIENT WORLD by E.J. Bickerman 1968. Basically this is a book about time and calendars. For example I can look at the stars rising and setting in 300bc. I can look at charts listing year, the olympic year, compared with Egyptian years. You know cool stuff like that. It’s got fun bunches of lists like Emperors from Augustus to Constantine. Or Roman Consuls from 509 bc to ad 337. There are a lot trust me.

    SUSTAINABLE (R)EVOLUTION by Birbaum and Fox. A great easy to read book about permaculture. I have a number of friends here in Chicago that are creating permaculture and bartering and this book is a great kind of inspiring foundation. Here are author bios from amazon

    “Trained as a cultural anthropologist and skilled in four languages, Juliana Birnbaum has lived and worked in the U.S., Europe, Japan, Nepal, Costa Rica and Brazil. In 2005 she founded Voices in Solidarity, an initiative that partnered with Ashaninka indigenous tribal leaders from the Brazilian Amazon to support the development of the Yorenka Ãtame community-led environmental educational center featured in the book. She has written about ecovillages, native rights, and social justice issues in a variety of newspapers, indigenous journals, and anthologies including E-The Environmental Magazine, Bridges Journal, El Reportero, The Rising Nepal, World Rainforest Movement Bulletin, Quechua Network, and Cultural Survival Quarterly. She was the first graduate of the Cornerstone Doula School, one of the most rigorous natural birth programs in the U.S., focusing on a holistic model of care. She is engaged variously as writer, editor, teacher, midwife assistant and mother when not attempting new yoga poses or learning how to garden.

    Louis Fox is a storyteller, strategist, photographer, puppeteer, and filmmaker dedicated to looking at the world as it truly is, while also envisioning it as it could be. Since cofounding Free Range Studios in 1999, he’s created some of the most successful online cause-marketing campaigns of all time. His work for clients like Amnesty International, the Organic Trade Association, Patagonia, and Greenpeace has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN, FOX News, NPR, Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, The Colbert Report, and Fast Company magazine, which named him one of the fifty most influential social innovators of 2007. As a filmmaker, he has directed and cowritten over a hundred short live action and animated films. His projects The Meatrix, Grocery Store Wars, and the on-going Story of Stuff series, have been viewed by more than 60 million people and have garnered top honors at dozens of international film and media festivals.

    SHAKESPEARE AND THE COMMON UNDERSTANDING, by Norman Rabkin. I read a lot of old stuff. And this one is relatively new, 1967. It compares the unity of time in classical literature to the development of changing or evolving characters in Shakespeare….as how we look at characters now. In some ways the book argues that the “evolving” character is created to represent the salvation narrative of a Christian. Before they were alive, then they believe in Jesus and then they transform into more compassionate (we assume) persons. Where in classical literature the unity of time is portrayed by characters who are presented as they are, often heroic, and end in the story the same. This is a book McCarthy mentioned in NYTs (? was it?) interview. For me this has always been an approach I am compelled by because there is no salvation narrative in Buddhism, of which I grew up Buddhist. There is no engagement with “improvement” in Buddhism, there isn’t even any engagement with the idea of god in Buddhism. So to read the comparison and argument about narratives in ancient story and Shakespeare induces and evokes very interesting ideas….and they create a weird sense of what is the human and what is the human condition. It’s a little dense, one must be interested in comparative worldview to get into this one I suspect. I found it a page turner.

    FROM THE CIVIL WAR TO THE APOCALYPSE by Timothy Parrish. I’ve read this a while ago but I dug it out again as I had read a new book that is mentioned that I hadn’t read at first. It’s a tough heavy book but valuable. It’s fascinating because he is writing against the idea of identity…rather that history narratives create our identity. This plays well with the previous book about unity of time, but also challenges Parrish’s argument. For me, I learned a lot about the mind of USA and how people think so differently here about history and time and manifest destiny. I have often tried to explain that Canada doesn’t have manifest destiny. I had never heard of it before coming to the McCarthy forum. Just last week when the topic was brought up (after a Dead session) I said to Rick, Canada doesn’t have manifest destiny…I mean outside of getting a beer at a hockey game. But to be fair to both os us…Rick…I did find this from an online Canadian Encyclopedia:

    “The term Manifest Destiny was first used in 1845 by New York City journalist John Louis O’Sullivan in the context of the annexation of the Republic of Texas to the American Union as the 28th state. Manifest Destiny came to represent a larger ideology characterized by the mission of American expansionism across the North American continent. This took place amid calls by politicians and citizens in the United States to claim geographical control over land remaining under British possession, namely the Province of Canada (formally Upper Canada and Lower Canada), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

    Historical Context
    In the aftermath of the American Revolution (1775–83), people living in the United States were distrustful of the continued British presence in North America. After the War of 1812 (1812–14), people debated the fate of the remaining colonies in British North America. Since they were not collectively unified as a nation, these were vulnerable to American aggression and interference. It was assumed by advocates of Manifest Destiny that British colonies could be easily assimilated into an American system of governance and economics.

    Fearing invaders from the south, Canadian expansionism was considered by some as a pre-emptive action to reduce the chances that territories to the west and north of the Canadas would be annexed by the United States. While the British adopted an official policy of neutrality during the American Civil War (1861–65), newspapers published in the northern Union states suggested that territory lost in the American South could be balanced by northward expansion into Canada. North Americans reacted in diverse ways to the concept of Manifest Destiny. Some welcomed promises of American “emancipation” of British North America, while those faithful to the British maintained a tradition of Loyalist support of the Crown similar to that during the American Revolution.
    The economic threat of American invasion diminished somewhat after Confederation in 1867, and under the leadership of the federal Conservative Party and Sir John A. Macdonald, who implemented the National Policy in 1879 to favour Canadian manufacturers from the threat of American competition. The National Policy would contribute to Canadian efforts to push west and north, amid the growth of the Canadian Pacific Railway and immigration policies that favoured the settlement of the West by government-approved settlers under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872.

    Manifest Destiny contributed to a growing sense of national identity, which culminated in the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, and political efforts to unify British colonies in North America. As the British Empire began to move toward a policy of free trade, the expense of defending and administering colonial governments in North America became more and more untenable for the ageing empire. The emergence of responsible government in the Canadas, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the defeat of the Confederate Army in the United States in 1865 complemented British desires to take a lesser role in the governance of the Canadian provinces as they moved in the direction of Confederation in 1867. Alongside these developments, Manifest Destiny occupied an important place in the symbolic imagery of conquest and colonialism in 19th century North America. Consequently, it factored into efforts to push west and north, settling the Prairie Provinces and the Arctic, indicating the persistence of an expansionist urge on behalf of the Canadian state.

    Manifest Destiny speaks to the shared pasts of Canada and the United States as governments that formed after the British colonization of North America. It has come to represent a persistent theme in efforts to map the similarities and differences between Canadians and Americans. In both national examples, the push westward took the most drastic toll on Indigenous peoples of areas affected by these mutual expansionist tendencies, who experienced forced dislocation and long ranging negative effects of the imposition of foreign models of governance over their political sovereignty.”

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