Footnotes (2)

March 24, 2009 at 9:11 pm (Art, Authors, Books, How, Science Fiction and Fantasy) (, , , )

Related only so much as David Foster Wallace –> endnotes, endnotes –> footnotes, and footnotes –> Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (though also House of Leaves, and now I think I need to buy all these books and begin a section of my bookshelves devoted entirely to narrative with footnotes and endnotes):

Susanna Clarke Seminar on Crooked Timber

“For me it’s not so much that authors don’t always know best. It’s more, “Sorry guys, I’m not actually the author.” The author couldn’t come. The author has left the building. She left when the book was finished. I’m just the person who remains now she is gone. I may be able to help you because I seem to have a pile of her memories over here—also lots of her notes and stuff. But, while some of the memories are crystal sharp, others are fuzzy and quite a lot are missing. Ditto the notes and stuff. As for what she intended by writing this or that, in many cases she wouldn’t have been able to answer anyway. She never gave it any thought.”

Susanna Clarke

“Or, to put it another way, the novel is a sort of collision between two kinds of story. On the one hand, we have Austen’s brilliant, sometimes bitter, but fundamentally constrained stories of an England in which women especially are bound by their class and station to play certain roles…On the other hand, we have the stories of E.P. Thompson, Douglas Hay and other social historians, who write about the people who didn’t really feature in Jane Austen’s novels (the social historians got some stick too from feminist historians for not writing more about women, but at least made a start).”


“Anyway, the point is: there are ever so many ways to manage a sort of stable irony of understatement in which nothing about the teller’s tone seems to telegraph sufficient awareness of astonishing content. In the case of Clarke, there is a sort of additional, subtle calibration, in that the renaissance of English practical magic is astonishing to these Christian gentlemen; yet – being magic Christians from the start, merely lapsed ones – they are not astonished in the way we are. Twain might have appreciated it: one way to tell a humorous story is to tell it like a comic story, but make sure to collect applause and glance eagerly from face to face at ever so slightly the wrong moment.

It is tricky to say why this sort of stable irony is so satisfying. I certainly find it to be so. It isn’t because it is ‘realistic’, I think. Because it often isn’t.”

John Holbo

“It’s a story of the King of the Cats. The point of the tale isn’t what it seems to be. The very title of the book is misleading: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell aren’t nearly as important as they think they are. There’s a hidden story there, which is whispered through the gaps between the actions of the main protagonists.”


“At times the footnotes come to dominate the page with a crabbed blackness all down the lower 7/8, leaving the main text to meander above in a thin stream only a few lines wide; the reader must then decide whether she will actually finish any of the sentences in the main text, or will turn aside to learn, say, the fascinating story of the Master of Nottingham’s daughter, and how her wickedness was eventually repaid (pp. 240-243), and risk forgetting what the main text is on about.”

Belle Waring

“Instead of Giving Importance to People, [Science Fiction and Fantasy] can Humble People. It can be about turning our view, however briefly, away from ourselves; it can be about glimpsing that human beings are not always, forever, and irrevocably, the centre of the universe. If you are C.S. Lewis, writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you turn our view away from ourselves to God. (The children become kings and queens —which looks a bit like giving power to the weak, but as they are self-confident, middle-class English children, they never seem that weak or small.) If you are Alan Garner, writing Thursbitch, you turn our view away from ourselves to an actual, historical valley in northern England which stands for all the places in northern England resonating with their own, not-human placeness. I’m with Alan Garner: the landscape of England (particularly Northern England) is the bit of magic we can actually see and touch for ourselves.”

Susanna Clarke

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Endnotes (1)

March 24, 2009 at 8:52 pm (Art, Authors, Books, How) (, , , )

“It doesn’t show artists suffering just like everyone else because their suffering appears to be work-related and therefore has a different, more sanctified, aura.”

Maja Djikic

“But the ∞-drove-Cantor-mad stuff was dreck, the very worst kind of appeal to a flabby, unconsidered pop version of what you just now called the “‘mad genius’ syndrome.” The origin, motives, and contexts of Cantor’s actual achievement got little serious treatment in this unnamed book, basically I think because airline-initials and/or autistic-room-description felt the math would be too dull for a mainstream audience. What math there is in that book is sexed up by making it seem like ∞ was some transcendent forbidden terrain that Cantor lost his mind trying to negotiate. Whereas the fact is that it’s all but certain that Cantor was bipolar, that his professional insecurities and travails aggravated the illness but didn’t cause it, that most of his worst episodes and hospitalizations occurred when he was older and his best work was long behind him.”

David Foster Wallace interviewed by Dave Eggers

“I’m a little uncomfortable with such a smooth narrative arc for a life that was quite obviously sundered frequently; the implication which can be gleaned from the article that Wallace’s fight against depression was conducted in parallel to his wrestling with this novel is deeply unsettling, as is the further implication, noted by Garth Risk Hallberg that “one wouldn’t want to succumb to the temptation to say that this last novel pushed Wallace over the edge.”

The lurid romanticism of such a notion dissipates a bit when Wallace’s life is plotted according to his personal geography, rather than according to his creative output.”

Andrew Seal

“At the same time, he was something of a failure. He was not a da Vinci. His book on infinity was an explication of the concept, not a mathematical treatise. More importantly, he came to fruition with Infinite Jest, but the book is a terrible mess. It remains in desperate need of an editor; perhaps, had he found a collaborator able to focus his talent, Wallace could have produced something as enduring as Thomas Wolfe’s baggy monsters. His short stories were a study in diminishing returns. The Girl With Curious Hair was pretty good, while Brief Interviews with Hideous Men was terrible except for the title story. It is up to us, looking at his work, to try to understand what was eating him—not only driving him to despair, but first damming up his talent and undermining what work he did produce.”

Joseph Kugelmass

“So Wallace’s project required him to invent a language and a stance of his own. “I want to author things that both restructure worlds and make living people feel stuff,” he wrote to his editor Michael Pietsch while he was working on his second novel, “Infinite Jest,” which Little, Brown published in 1996. He knew that such proclamations made him seem a holy fool. In the interview with McCaffery, he said, “It seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies . . . in be[ing] willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this. And the effort to actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet.” He also said, “All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers.”

D. T. Max

“If work is going shitty, I try to make sure that at least a couple hours in the morning are carved out for this disciplined thing called Work. If it’s going well, I often work in the p.m. too, although of course if it’s going well it doesn’t feel disciplined or like uppercase Work because it’s what I want to be doing anyway. What often happens is that when work goes well all my routines and disciplines go out the window simply because I don’t need them, and then when it starts not going well I flounder around trying to reconstruct disciplines I can enforce and habits I can stick to.”

Wallace interviewed by Eggers

To read: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

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Luddite Update

March 15, 2009 at 10:17 pm (Books, Graphic Novels/Comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy) (, , , , , )

Finished reading in the past week:

Mostly speculative fiction this past week, a welcome change from the relentless realism of Crime and Punishment, which occasionally made leaps into a fascinating character-study, but mostly just frustrated me. Also, I had the same problem with dialogue in Crime and Punishment as I did with Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Shore: all the characters sounded like the same, slightly stilted speaker. I’m thinking it may be the translation, rather than the original authors in either case, but I don’t know.

The View from the Seventh Layer, Kevin Brockmeier
Very well written speculative fiction/fables. Brockmeier’s prose has a smoothness which feels like being read aloud to; it may be in the cadence, I’m not sure. Occasionally the plots are too mild to provide much kick (or to stay in the memory), but the title story is fantastic. It’s paragraphs are made up of occasionally disconnected sentences, switching between the current action and previous descriptions, giving the story a cyclical feel. The four fables in the book were meaningful and touching, startling in their imagination, and with lovely titles, my favorite being, “A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets.”  “The Year of Silence,” found in this collection, can be heard through WNYC’s Selected Shorts.

“She was carrying the husks of the insects outside on a dustpan when a blast of wind sent them whirling off toward the palmetto barrens. People who read Tom Wolfe feel that they have never abandoned their ground, that it is the world around them that has snapped free of its foundations. The sheet of embossed tin that the hurricane had ripped from her house had sailed almost half a block after the wind lifted it out of the palm tree, landing finally in the pool behind the kindergarten. Olivia paged through her copy of Insects of the Greater United States when she got home and discovered that the bugs were neither grasshoppers nor mosquitoes, but mayflies.”
“The View from the Seventh Layer,” Kevin Brockmeier

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Well written, though not in the same mesmerizing fashion as Brockmeier’s writing. I imagine this is partly because NLMG is written in first person, so it would be distracting for it to be written in a style like Brockmeier’s. The story is well-told, though I found the important, long conversation at the end to be a little too much of an info-dump/reveal than fit the rest of the book.

Strangers in Paradise, Book 1
, Terry Moore
This was entertaining for one book, but didn’t draw me into continuing with the others. There’s a blurb on the front from Neil Gaiman that says, “What most people don’t know about love, sex, and relations with other human beings would fill a book. Strangers in Paradise is that book.” That may be, but I found the characters to be a little too caricatured (yes, even for a comic) to hold my interest. I may try again with Book 2 some other time.

Currently reading:

Magic for Beginners, Kelly Link
One thing to mention now: Link has no problem with leaving things unexplained, a characteristic she has in common with Brockmeier, and distinguishing her from Ishiguro. These are fantasy/speculative fiction type stories, where the reader is thrown into situations that aren’t quite “normal,” where even the humans act on information that’s just outside the reader’s grasp. The obvious downside to the lack of explanation is the frustration it can cause for readers who go in expecting it all to be laid out for them, but the huge upside is the way the stories and images continue to sit in the mind (in my mind, anyway) long after the book has been set aside. It’s fantasy as the truly strange.

Hoping to read in the future:
Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler (Watch Nancy Pearl’s interview with her)
A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle (Interview on io9)

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Impossible Adaptation

March 14, 2009 at 10:45 pm (Adaptation, Books, Graphic Novels/Comics, Originality, Pop culture) (, , )

“The question of essences remains at the heart of the adaptive act: how to make a second version of a first thing, of a book or film or poem or vegetable, or of yourself, that is successfully its own, new thing and yet carries with it the essence, the spirit, the soul of the first thing, the thing that you yourself, or your book or poem or film or your pre-pickle mango or lime, originally were.”

Salman Rushdie

“To read the comic is to see the illusion of something actually happening before your eyes; to go back and appreciate the fruit of three twelve-hour days is to—what? Look? Perceive? Read differently? —Whatever it is, it’s definitely a key component of comics, a thing we can do there and take advantage of nowhere else. ‘The most obvious sense,’ says Wolk, ‘in which Watchmen is tethered to comics is the fact that it’s specifically about comics’ form and content and readers’ preconceptions of what happens in a comic book story. Beneath that surface, though, it relies on being a comic book for its crucial sense of time and chronology.'”

Kip Manley

“[N]ow I want to focus on Snyder.   I’m less concerned with his film than its conceit: that through slavish imitation Moore and Gibbon’s novel can transition from page to screen. The central concern in Watchmen is with the experience of reading comic books.  The scene of reading is of obvious import: the youth reading Tales of the Black Freighter reminds the reader that the thing in their hands was shaped by an escapist tradition.”

Scott Eric Kaufmann

“And so my problems with the film can be reduced to two major differences it has with the book: the characterization of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, and the ending, because between the two of those, it meant that not only did the film have no plot, it didn’t understand the question it was meant to investigate.”


“Why is this significant?  Because it demonstrates that Snyder never grappled with his source material in formal or structural terms.  The narrative techniques that contributed to his own sense of the book’s significance went unrecognized; in their place is the kind of fanboy literalism that compels people to write open letters to Peter Jackson accusing him of assaulting Tolkien.”

Kaufman, again. (Tolkien link included in original.)
(see “How to teach comics responsibly in a composition class” for an example of the techniques used in Watchmen.)

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if the same problem crops up over and over—Moore writes plots that don’t make sense unless you don’t shy away from the radical political implications, and who has the guts to do that inside the major studio system?”

Amanda Marcotte

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