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
I’m almost exactly a week behind schedule: we’d said we’d finish the book by tomorrow, but I finished last week’s material yesterday. Oh, well. It’s become clear what the four parts of the novel represent, and also clear that McCarthy sets out specific limits to his commitment to a realistic depiction of the life of a young man during the Great War. Due to those limits, I’m finding it easier to respect and admire this novel rather than be really moved by it. Continue reading
1. The War Artist that C. chats with, who complains that it is impossible to paint what you see in an airplane, grouses that “‘It all comes from that show.’/ ‘What show?’ Serge asks./ ‘The bloody show!’ Carlisle hisses. ‘Fry and his buddies.'”
Carlisle is referring to Roger Fry, sometimes painter and art critic (and professor at the Slade School, which Carlisle attended), and the show he’s referring to is described by Wikipedia, below”
In November 1910, Fry organised the exhibition Manet and the Post-Impressionists (a term which he coined) at the Grafton Galleries, London. This exhibition was the first to prominently feature Gauguin, Manet, Matisse, and Van Gogh in England and brought their art to the public. Virginia Woolf later said, “On or about December 1910 human character changed,” referring to the effect this exhibit had on the world.
(Fry was a personal friend of the Bloomsburyites and Woolf wrote his biography in 1940.)
2. Germany’s Romanticism was richer in philosophers than England’s, and of course it had the stunning polymath Goethe; but German Romantics weren’t all as sunny as Goethe and Hegel. Although I’ve never read his work seriously, the more tortured German Romantic poet is Hölderlin, who spent the last thirty years of his life in a hermit’s tower after his lover died before they could marry, and after a period in a mental institution: the entire Wikipedia piece about him is quite interesting, with perhaps the highlight being the sentence, “On 11 September  Hölderlin was delivered into the clinic at Tübingen run by Dr Ferdinand Autenrieth, inventor of a mask for the prevention of screaming in the mentally ill.” Here’s, first, a translation of, Patmos quoted in ch. 8, from a 2007 issue of Harper’s, as well as a quick commentary on it from the translator, especially its relation to Heidegger. Did any of you take Liz Goodstein’s Greeks and Germans class? The other poem is The Titans, translated here.
I’m caught up on the reading! My computer’s battery is working just fine! I’m back from Mexico City! But I’m still not quite ready to comment specifically on chs. 5-7, so let me just set out here what I meant by the parenthetical, in that suggested post title above. In a novel, what’s the signal, and what’s the noise? And what does it do to us if we try to read everything as signal? Continue reading
Since Josh brought it up in comments and Pat gestured at it in his “my computer is in too weak a state to write a post but is dandy for purposes of writing a New-Yorker-length comment” post, let’s have a post specifically about C‘s use of codes in the first week’s reading. (I’m sure none of us are so gauche as to require them, but I’ll suggest SPOILER ALERTS for any discussion ranging into the rest of the book.)
I don’t have anything quite so developed as an argument, but I’ll throw out some of the elements I’m tracking. First, a list of codes and cants:
- Sign language, which Carrefax deprecates in favor of speech (“Are you sure they’re not signing?… You have to make them speak. All the time!” (7)
- Ciphers in the Times’s personal notices
- The hand-motions that Widsun and Sophie exchange during the pageant
- Sophie’s wall
The first of these provides a backdrop for the story, but it’s not particularly germane. The second belongs primarily to Carrefax and Serge. The last four are implicated in Sophie’s fate.
Each of these codes is susceptible to corruption, accident, mis- or malignant use; none appears as simply a neutral field for the free play of meaning. There’s the spycraft that Widsun appears to be recruiting/seducing Sophie into, and the explosion yielded by Sophie and Serge’s experiment. You could also add Serge’s vibrant dyslexia to the pile, a corruption of the written word as its learned: “He keeps switching letters round… He see letters streaming through the air, whole blocks of them, borne on currents occupying a zone beneath the threshold of the comprehensible…” (38). (Mrs. K-sky reports experiencing a similar effect.) Does it seem that language and code as a field for power games and dreadful mistakes will be a running theme?
Some stray thoughts:
“—in the beginning, ladies and gentlemen, was the Word” (14). Carrefax goes onto pronounce that “speech is divine.” I’m not sure what role exactly Carrefax’s exalted logocentrism will play in the development of the above, but McCarty sure unfurls it boldly, and it seems as if he’s inviting us to get the reference and extrapolate from there. Maybe some of you professionals can better pick up what he’s putting down, here.
Josh, you mentioned Proust’s extended visual metaphors in McCarty’s approach to language — anything further to expand on that here? What about the rest of yinz? Pat, did I cover a tenth of what you were going to put in your Unwritten Blog Post?
So I thought that my computer was broken, and it turns out that only the charger was broken, which since it was only being held together by duck tape I already knew! Apple Stores in Mexico City sell chargers! In capitalism, everybody (with a credit card) wins!
Ahem. I wanted to explain why I am only just now, 13 minutes before midnight, getting around to posting something about the first chunk of C., especially odd since (as you’ve discovered) so far it’s not the kind of book you need a Hard Book Reading Club to get through.
But as I was jotting my thoughts in a little Mexican notebook I realized that I had too many thoughts to write out in one post, and so these are the titles of the posts I would have written if i were writing three posts for our first chunk of reading. But if you want to post on these topics instead of me, you get first crack, either in the comments to this or in your own posts. Those three topics are:
Rewriting Edwardian England (a certain person who took a course on Forster, Woolf, and Proust in 1994 might find that topic particular interesting)
Signal and Noise (Paranoia and Reading)
Pageantry (I’m guessing this is not a theme that will be carried through the whole book, but I was interested in it)
Or of course you could post on whatever you like so far. Gentlemen, start your engines–
Hello fellow heteronomists and readers of hard books. Officially we finished Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet last Friday, but we have given ourselves an extra week for those who needed to catch up to do so, and I at least will still be reading your posts, and comments on my post, with great enthusiasm, like the friends and family of a marathon runner who stick around the finish line even if the professional runners have crossed some time ago.
We said we thought it would take us four weeks to read our next book Tom McCarthy’s C. I gather that, as with Marcus, an earlier book of McCarthy’s was praised as sheer experimentalism, and then this one was praised as being an attempt to marshal certain avant-garde tendencies to help tell a more traditional story. As i write you this, that is absolutely all I know about McCarthy, except that he writes out of Great Britain, hence the proper pronunciation in the title of this post.
We said four weeks and the book is in four parts, but inconveniently for us, since it’s best to do a little less than exactly 1/4 of a book for the first week as we acclimatize ourselves. Hence and ergo this is what we should be aiming to read and by which date:
Friday July 3: pp 1-78 (chs. 1-4)
Friday July 10: pp. 79-171 (chs. 5-7)
Friday July 17: pp.172-297 (chs. 8-10, i.e., through Part Three)
Friday July 24: finish
C you next Friday– (ha ha c what I just did there?)
So today is June 1st, and so today our four intrepid readers (and anyone else interested –welcome aboard, Guido!) officially dive into the swift currents and oddly toxic water of Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Why Ben Marcus? Well, two possible answers come to mind. Continue reading
A few years ago, The Weblog hosted a summer book club to read 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. Pat has volunteered to host the proceedings once again, and a small group of us, including Big Josh* who was here last time decided to read Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet followed by Tom McCarthy’s C. Please join in! We aim to kick things off on June 1st or thereabouts.
*Big Josh and I are really about the same size, but that’s how we told each other apart when we were cob-loggers.