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Home for the heteronomous

When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Old Woman

(I certainly hope you recognize the allusion:  I can’t actually find Michelle Shocked’s original version of it on YouTube, just a whole bunch of mediocre covers of it.)

This novel’s like Don Quixote:  when you’re young you read it one way and you focus on Humberto Peñaloza and Iris Mateluna and Boy, but when you’re old and decrepit and you haven’t left your sad, sad rented house in Ohio since Friday afternoon except to go out on the porch to pay the pizza delivery guy (twice in six days!), well, you read it a different way and you focus on Mudito and Peta Ponce and Inés.  Which isn’t to say that the novel hasn’t been heading in this direction all along.  And anyone who says otherwise –and sooner or later, you yourself will say otherwise– is a liar.

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August 9, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 1 Comment

Noble Monsters

I’ve only got twenty minutes before this coffeehouse closes, so let me be super quick: Yup, this sure is a masterpiece.  I had remembered the extensive set piece in La Rinconada after Boy’s birth, in which the estate turned into a place without a sense of the normal and abnormal, so that Boy’s deformities would not engender any sense of inferiority:  I had forgotten

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August 2, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 2 Comments

Yumyum! Gothic Late Modernism

I am having so much fun re-reading The Obscene Bird of Night that I can’t believe it’s been 28 years since I read it the first time.  To be sure, the formal fireworks can sometimes seem like a ruse to distract us from second-guessing what’s at stake in the story, but at other times these same formal and verbal tricks seem to give us exactly the insights we need to understand what is at stake in this story of Mudito/ Humberto Peñaloza, the extended family and servants of the Azcoitía family, and the decrepit and haunted House where most of them live.

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July 25, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 6 Comments

Pushing back the schedule/ I so know Donoso

  1.  At the request of Mr. Kamensky, we’re pushing back our reading schedule a bit more than a half-week.  (I have a commitment on Sunday August 19th so I can’t push it back a full week.)  The new reading/comment target dates are:

Thursday July 26:  Chs. 1-7 ( –> p.93)

Thursday August 2:  Chs. 8-16 ( –> 217)

Thursday August 9:  Chs. 17-23 ( –> 329)

Thursday August 16:  finish

My apologies to Mr. Malbin, who will certainly be running ahead of us for the first deadline.

2.  Do you need to know anything about José Donoso (1924-1996) or about mid-twentieth-century Chile (or Latin America) in order to appreciate The Obscene Bird of Night?  Probably not, but here’s some stuff anyway:

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July 18, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 1 Comment

José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night (1970): Reading Schedule

We’re spending four weeks on this book but it is written in three parts.  Such bad planning on Donoso’s part!  Especially because in my experience you want to start a book slowly.  So my recommended reading schedule is:
Sunday July 22:  Chs. 1-7 ( –> p.93)
Sunday July 29:  Chs. 8-16 ( –> 217)
Sunday August 5:  Chs. 17-23 ( –> 329)
Sunday August 12:  finish
As I said, this runs roughshod over the book’s natural units (1-9, 10-18, 19-30), but c’est la vie.
As I also said, part of the pleasure of these summer reading sessions for me is that I can get in touch with books I’ve read or should have read that are “unteachable” on the undergraduate level –I can’t ever see my way to assigning a 430pp delirious-surreal baroque satire of the Chilean ruling classes in 1970 to any of my Spanish classes, and it’s too big to fit into any of my Surrealism-in-translation courses too. (It’s also not exactly what I would call Surrealist:  Baroque, carnivalesque, grotesque, but it doesn’t have the Surrealist metaphysics or faux-Freudianisms or the philosophizing that’s so characteristic of the Surrealist novel with Breton or Aragon or even, say, Angela Carter or China Mièville when they’re in that mood.)  But I know stuff about Donoso, especially Donoso in the ’50s-’70s, so I may mouth off a bit more professionally than I did about Kushner.  And part of my BloodGradGuilt is that this was one of two books I read as a grad student in translation, so I at least will be working off my debt to La Sociedad by reading it concomitantly in Spanish and English.  The Spanish original is now only available in Kindle –I thought I owned my own copy but couldn’t find it on my ever-messy shelves on Sunday– but that might be an advantage:  I’m about to make a decision on which edition of Rabelais I’ll be assigning to the students on the size of the font in the Penguin edition.

July 17, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 1 Comment

Flamethrowers III: Watching It Burn

I don’t think of myself as a contrarian critic, but as soon as I read Andreas and Joshua’s agreeing with my generally negative take on the middle of Kushner’s novel, I started liking the book better, including the structural flaws that anyone could point to, and I only got tetchy at the very end, or in some sense after the very end.  Arguably this is because in the last four chapters Reno is portrayed as being on (what I deem to be) the Right Side of History, and of art history; or rather, as the time-line of the novel gets a bit gnarled, Reno finally gets to be on the same side of history that Kushner herself seems to be on.

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July 15, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 3 Comments

Flamethrowers II: Just like the ’60s, Only with Less Hope

This post is late, almost two-and-a-half days late.  If you inferred from that that I have been sick, a copy of Kushner on the bed table while I lay trying to get more than four hours of sleep with a heavy perpetual cough, you would have been right, for the first few days.  But I got better, and yet I still couldn’t make reading the book a priority.  So my apologies, as the person who chose this book, because I am more and more realizing that this book is not “for me.” (I think some of you felt that way last time around with The Flame Alphabet.) Some of my comments and topics for discussion will probably seem dutiful, though not I hope perfunctory, and I hope to keep from being a party poop if you’re enjoying it more than I am. Continue reading

July 10, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 10 Comments

Kushner, The Flamethrowers I: Topics of Interest?

Now that I’ve finished reading chs. 1-7 of Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, I can hope to start asking questions about it, up to and including the most global questions –why do we still read fiction in 2018?, why do we read fiction at all?, why does anybody read anything?– down through the more specific questions of why this book?, what kind of book is it?, how does it address us?, what are its goals?.  When you pick a book to read not entirely at random but only by reputation, as we did three years ago with Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet and Tom McCarthy’s C, we risk that the answers to these questions might disappoint. Continue reading

July 1, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 6 Comments

Summer 2018 Reading: Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers; José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night

(For what remains of) This summer, I invite you all to read along with me two books, and comment on them with me here on WordPress/Heteronymy.  The first book is a great roller-coaster of a novel I meant to read back when it came out in 2013, Rachel Kushner’s THE FLAMETHROWERS, which is about New York in the 1970s, a topic of fascination to people who were too young to remember it in real life (and to people like me, who whooshed off to college and barely saw it in real life).  The other book is a bizarre quasi-Surrealist take on a crumbling family and society in Chile in the 1960s, José Donoso’s THE OBSCENE BIRD OF NIGHT (1970), a novel overshadowed by more user-friendly and sentimental Great Big Novels of the Latin American Boom by García Márquez, Fuentes, and Cortázar, but just as great and big.  I’ve never read the Kushner novel; I have only read the Donoso novel in translation, thirty years ago, and am looking forward to giving it the real reading that it deserves.

As we did three years ago when we read David Marcus and Tom McCarthy, we’ll give ourselves page targets and try to get it all done before my semester starts in Oberlin.  Given page lengths, I think that means three weeks for Kushner (383pp.) and four weeks for Donoso (440pp.).  While Todo México was glued to the TV screen this morning I was at the Strand and have purchased my copy of The Flamethrowers.  It looks as though we should aim thusly:
Week One (blog comments on Sun July 1):  Chaps 1-7 (–> p.110)
Week Two (blog comments on Sun July 8):  Chaps 8-14 (–>p.263)
Week Three (blog comments on Sun July 15): finish.
I hope this will intrigue, and of course delight and instruct.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | boredom | , | Comments Off on Summer 2018 Reading: Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers; José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night

A Portrait of the Artist as a Dung Beetle, in Oedipal Amber

Before I add another post to this weblog I want to thank Andreas for his great big post, and Josh for his many comments, and for everyone who has been reading along with us, especially since the book turned out to be a deeply solitary and lonely story, soaked in so many shades of black, as well as so many echoes and allusions to the great literary tradition, clustered I suppose around Joyce, that also so often preached a cold, clear eye in the face of death and meaninglessness. Continue reading

July 29, 2015 Posted by | C | 1 Comment