I dreamt I checked The Weblog and saw that Adam had turned it into a cooking blog. The most recent post was about making a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook. The recipe was extremely simple, and appeared to consist of pan-frying four tiny chicken cutlets. The end.
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–
If there’s an -ist that applies to me it’s pensivist. Maybe I should go cold turkey on thinking. I confess that the strategy of doing it moderately doesn’t feel like the winning strategy. And what is a strategy if it is not winning. Isn’t it all about winning? It is. It is. It is. Therefore I am. Whether I like it or not. Nobody asked me. Except myself. Precisely nobody, that is.
I’m reading Finnegans Wake. I confess to ambivalence about it. It’s great but makes me feel little. What is the point?, is that the point? It is a snake; it is; it is; it is. But I was bitten long before. Now I’m just rattled. Ha. The beauty of it is: it is self-contained. I read it without trying to understand.
But let me think about the eternal recurrence of the eternal recurrence. I hate it but confess to loving those who seem to love it, or, at least, who love those who love those who seem to love it. The thing is that those who seem to love it are those who break the cycle and, methinks, Finnegans Wake breaks the cycle.
I’ve been a slouch on the first book, but I promise to step it up for Tom McCarty’s C, coming to summer book club at The Weblog soon.
The swiftly dawning realization in the first few pages of The Flame Alphabet that the narrator is about to abandon his child is powerful to the point of verging on kitsch. I had two simultaneous reactions to it.
The first was a straightforward emotional reaction. Reading as a relatively new father, it struck me as unbearably, chokingly sad, triggering the same feeling I get from catastrophizing about my daughter.
The second was in a more familiar mode for me. Reading as a critical reader (or as a jerk, take your pick) it struck me as slightly de trop. Dead babies, man, to steal from Martin Amis. I have a similar feeling about the movie Gravity, although family tragedy makes more native sense in a family horror story than in a space adventure. But there’s still a level on which it works and works hard. (I stopped discounting my sympathetic reaction to Gravity after talking to a friend who had lost a child and admired the movie.)
At the same time, the book is also an extended riff on how annoying teenagers are (with a Jewish girl teen at the center). Take my daughter… please!
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?)
I think what surprised me the most about the positive and negative reviews I read of The Flame Alphabet was that all seemed to agree with the first-person narrator Sam that everything he was doing, he did out of love for his wife and daughter. Was it perverse of me to think that this was not the case, and that Marcus was perfectly aware that this was not the case?
I’ve finished the book, and I found it upsetting, so while I’m waiting for you all to post and for my own thoughts to settle, I went on-line to five Respectable Publications to see what people had to say, and got six interestingly discordant reviews. Continue reading
I just finished Flame Alphabet, and will post something serious about it later, but hoo boy was it an acrid thing to be reading on Fathers’ Day. “Fatherhood is perhaps another name for something done badly” (256).