Waggish

David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: math (page 3 of 6)

J.M. Coetzee: Diary of a Bad Year

This is the third book in a series that began with Elizabeth Costello and continued with Slow Man. These books are fundamentally about being a writer who has won the Nobel Prize. Perhaps Coetzee keeps writing them because some people haven’t yet figured out that his fictional characters’ opinions are not his own; perhaps, as a writer already drowning in consciousness of tradition and context, he feels that these are the only sorts of books he can now write. I tell people when they read these books: remember that Coetzee has won the Nobel Prize, and think about what that means to him and what it means to people’s opinions of him. In having this title thrust on him, he is no longer any old author, but a certain sort of elder statesman. And being the sort of writer he is, he cannot let that stand unquestioned. And since academics are still using the animal rights sections in Elizabeth Costello as though they were freestanding philosophical essays, Coetzee takes further steps in Diary of a Bad Year to make it clear that the “philosophy” in the book is hardly meant to be taken seriously as philosophy. Out goes Elizabeth Costello; in comes J.C., a Nobel Prize winning South African novelist now living in Australia, just like Coetzee, except dumber.

The structure of the novel, in brief: several voices, those of a writer, J.C.; his amanuensis and crush, a cosmopolitan Filipina named Anya; Anya’s financier/scammer husband Alan; and most of all, the writings of J.C. as typed up by Anya. The writings are divided into two sections, one called “Strong Opinions,” written for some sort of German literary publication, and later on, “Soft Opinions,” written for Anya. Since these sections co-exist on each page, the book resists reading in an easy rhythm, as any attempt to read the three sections in parallel, especially early on, results in continual jarring shifts as the highfaluting tone of the “Strong Opinions” is undercut by J.C.’s earnest and vaguely creepy obsession with Anya and Anya’s own sardonic detachment. In some ways it comes as a respite, as the “Strong Opinions”–on the War on Terror, on torture, on intelligent design, and on other urgent political issues of the day–quickly become unbearably pompous, banal, and irritating. They are filled with cliched homilies familiar to anyone who has read the New York Review of Books in the last seven years and dilettantish excursions into areas that J.C. knows nothing about. I winced when reading his “opinion” on Guantanamo Bay that begins:

Someone should put together a ballet under the title Guantanamo, Guantanamo! A corps of prisoners, their ankles shackled together, thick felt mittens on their hands, muffs over their ears, black hoods over their heads, do the dances of the persecuted and desperate…In a corner, a man on stilts in a Donald Rumsfeld mask alternately writes at his lectern and dances ecstatic little jigs.

Had I read these opinions in a Philip Roth or John Updike book, I would take them at face value and discount the author accordingly. But Coetzee is too smart, and any comparison of the “Strong Opinions” to his real opinions in his thoughtful, careful essays makes the difference blindingly apparent. (It does take something approaching guts for a Nobel Laureate to write something so profoundly trite and irritating and attribute it to his own ostensible fictional proxy.) As with many literary intellectuals, J.C.’s excursions into math and science are particularly stupid. By the time J.C. writes, “I continue to find evolution by random mutation and natural selection not just unconvincing but preposterous as an account of how complex organisms come into being” and invokes Heisenberg without knowing what uncertainty even is, it’s obvious that Coetzee has no wish even to defend thes opinions; he is making them transparently foolish so that readers examine the rhetoric rather than the opinions. Underneath the sanctimonious white male liberal pablum, including defenses of pornography, Adorno-esque cultural snobbery in indictments of rock music, latent sexism (captured especially well, complete with tired attack on Catherine MacKinnon), and sympathy with enemies of whom he knows nothing, there bleeds the personality that is revealed in J.C.’s internal voice lower on the page. With most would-be political commentators in the literati, it is not quite so obvious, but in J.C., Coetzee gives us tools for easily making the connection.

For it is Anya who carries the voice objecting to the “Strong Opinions.” Alan picks up this critique later in a less sympathetic fashion, but it is Anya who connects J.C.’s emotional life with what he writes on the page. I felt great relief to hear her articulate my thoughts (and no doubt those of many other readers) when she politely tells J.C.:

OK. This may sound brutal, but it isn’t meant that way. There is a tone–I don’t know the best word to describe it–a tone that really turns people off. A know-it-all tone. Everything is cut and dried: I am the one with all the answers, here is how it is, don’t argue, it won’t get you anywhere. I know that isn’t how you are in real life, but that is how you come across, and it is not what you want. I wish you would cut it out. If you positively have to write about the world and how you see it, I wish you could find a better way.

So we lead to the real problem, which is J.C.’s impotence in the face of the current world horrors and the disastrous results of the obligation he feels to be relevant. As the book continues on and reveals J.C.’s ignorance of the world in several ways, Coetzee spares him little criticism, but does ultimately make a case for his real art in the form of the lovely, impressionistic “Soft Opinions,” short lyrical reflections in the last half of the book that mercifully replace the “Strong Opinions.” These vignettes are written with Anya in mind and with no attempt to be politically incisive. J.C. describes his dreams, his doubts, his age, his friends, and his passions, as antiquated and pedantic as they may be. Most of all, he makes no attempt to suppress the “I” out of the fear that he must pretend to be something he is not in order to address the world with urgency. There is some resignation in this shift, but also great relief; J.C.’s mask has fallen and he returns to himself. It puts him in correct proportion to the thoughtful but non-bookish Anya and her powerful but cowardly husband Alan, and the shift in tone allows him to have a visible, evident effect on Anya, one (it is implied) far greater than that of telling a bunch of would-be intellectual liberals what they already know and having them feel good about it because it’s coming from a Nobel Prize winner.

The affirmation ends in a paean to Dostoevsky. It is one of the most straightforward passages in any of Coetzee’s books, so heartfelt and elegant that it shames the “Strong Opinions” even further. Having achieved some rapprochement with Anya, J.C. stands in relation to Dostoevsky and his books and not to the world, leaving those connections to those more qualified to make them. And with this it becomes clear that those who will best appreciate these unpolitical, abstract thoughts are the ones who will read Diary of a Bad Year, and understand it, in the first place. William H. Gass came to a similar conclusion:

The contemporary American writer is in no way a part of the social and political scene. He is therefore not muzzled, for no one fears his bite; nor is he called upon to compose. Whatever work he does must proceed from a reckless inner need. The world does not beckon, nor does it greatly reward. This is not a boast or complaint. It is a fact. Serious writing must nowadays be done for the sake of the art. The condition I describe is not extraordinary. Certain scientists, philosophers, historians, and many mathematicians do the same, advancing their causes as they can. One must be satisfied with that.

William H. Gass

The theme of the writer’s relation to the world has dominated Coetzee’s post-Disgrace work, and many critics seem downright annoyed that he hasn’t produced another easily digestible and Important book like Disgrace. It would be too easy for Coetzee to do so. The narrowing of his territory may be starting to produce diminishing returns–this book is not nearly as eerie and vertiginous as Elizabeth Costello, though it is more consequential than Slow Man–but the earnestness with which Coetzee crawls over it and avoids easy answers is exemplary.

Richard Hughes: A High Wind in Jamaica

Once fully convinced of this astonishing fact, that she was now Emily Bas-Thornton (why she inserted the “now she did not know, for she certainly imagined no transmigrational nonsense of having been any one else before), she began seriously to reckon its implications.

First, what agency had so ordered it that out of all the people in the world who she might have been, she was this particular one, this Emily: born in such-and-such a year out of all the years in Time, and encased in this particular rather pleasing little casket of flesh? Had she chosen herself, or had God done it?

The sheer oddness of this book really defies summary. The choice of Henry Darger for the cover picture is, as Dan Schank commented, entirely appropriate for this wispy tale of young children on a benevolent pirate ship, and the ensuing lost innocence, etc. But the book pulls in other directions simultaneously; hints of developing sexuality have to contend with the metaphysics of the passage above and one very bizarre murder. And what is one to make of this offhand paragraph?

Mathias shrugged. After all, a criminal lawyer is not concerned with facts. He is concerned with probabilities. It is the novelist who is concerned with facts, whose job it is to say what a particular man did do on a particular occasion: the lawyer does not, cannot be expected to go further than to show what the ordinary man would be most likely to do under presumed circumstances.

The novel throws off odd sparks like this one regularly, and despite the closeness the narration eventually takes to Emily’s inner voice, the narrator asserts himself (and it’s definitely a he) as a separate and adult voice throughout. I can’t come to a general sense of how the child and adult voices mix, but it does appear that the adult narrator is moving towards the same tactile emotional sensitivity that Emily encounters as she moves into adolescence. (She is 10.) So when this paragraph rises up in an otherwise pedestrian scene–

There is a period in the relations of children with any new grown-up in charge of them, the period between first acquaintance and the first reproof, which can only be compared to the primordial innocence of Eden. Once a reproof has been administered, this can never be recovered again.

–the novel seems to have thoroughly inhabited the child’s state of mind, which stretches outward to contort the novel into unreal and fable-like shapes. It may bear a slight resemblance to Nabokov’s darker fairy tales like Despair and Bend Sinister, but mostly its world is its own.

David Lynch’s Inland Empire: hypotheses and spoilers

Mr. Waggish has allowed me to write this guest post about the David Lynch movie we saw tonight. (My film criticism credentials: Explained plot of Hukkle to Mr. Waggish, 2003.)

The problem with trying to come up with a single interpretation for this movie is that this defies Lynch’s explicit intent. I’ve found a couple of other explanations that seem at least as convincing as this one, linked to at the bottom of this post. But before I advance my hypothesis about Inland Empire‘s plot, let’s clarify some terminology.

Worlds:

  • Hollywood: Nikki Grace’s mansion; Jeremy Irons’s film studio.
  • Suburbs: Susan Blue’s retro house, next door to The Phantom’s house; Billy Side’s mansion; the burlesque club; the upstairs room; Hollywood & Vine.
  • Poland: snowy street scene, horse-drawn carriages and vintage cars.

Major characters:

  • Lost Girl: sits in room 251(?) of a Polish hotel, crying and watching talking rabbits on TV. Catchphrase: “I don’t know where I am.” Head is sometimes blurred out. May be the mother of Piotrek Krol’s son.
  • The Phantom: runs a Polish circus. Walks up and down Polish streets orchestrating screwdriver murders via hypnosis.
  • Nikki Grace: an actress, played by Laura Dern. Talks in a Martha Stewart-y voice and dresses in very severe, tidy clothing.
  • Susan “Sue” Blue: a pregnant housewife; Nikki Grace’s part in the Blue Tomorrows movie. Talks with a strong Southern accent; clothing ranges from colorful and feminine (at the beginning of the movie) to a pair of black capri pants (in the middle of the movie) to a worn-out burgundy maternity blouse and black suit (at the end of the movie). May or may not have had a son who died.
  • Piotrek Krol: is both Nikki Grace’s husband and Susan Blue’s. Wildly jealous. Shoots blanks (but maybe didn’t always). Appears to have a history with Lost Girl.
  • Devon Berk: an actor, played by Justin Theroux. Dresses in bad-boy leather.
  • Billy Side: Sue Blue’s rich lover in the Blue Tomorrows movie. Generally wears a dapper white suit or a black one.
  • Doris Side: Billy Side’s wife, played by Julia Ormond. Wears either a white t-shirt and cutoffs, or a fancy black suit. Is known to carry a screwdriver around in her ribcage.

Anyway, here’s my best effort at making sense of the movie, in chronological order, do with it what you will:

Once upon a time, in Poland, there was an evil Phantom who ran a motley circus. The animal handler in the circus, Piotrek Krol, had a beautiful wife (Lost Girl) and a son. But the Phantom coveted Krol’s wife, so he hypnotized her or slipped her a roofie, had sex with her, and installed her in a hotel room where she could do nothing but watch TV for all eternity.

Luckily, it was a magical, timeless hotel room, so her TV was state-of-the-art. One of the things she could see on TV were three Talking Rabbits, who appeared as American sitcom characters but were also the manifestations of three Polish magicians (there will be a scene where the latter’s outlines blur into the former). Unlike most of the people she watched on TV, the Polish magicians could actually see her too, as well as perform limited travel between worlds.

Krol went around looking for his wife, but when he was driven up to the circus shacks, he was told by a coworker that the Phantom had vanished. Then the three Polish magicians summoned him to their chambers. They showed him his wife (Lost Girl) but he could only hear her, not see her. They told him that the man he worked for (i.e. the Phantom) was responsible, and they gave him a gun that had the power to kill the Phantom.

Krol left the circus and arrived in America, where he married Sue Blue but never really seemed to love her. He left the Phantom-killing gun in the drawer of their bedroom. At one point, they had a barbecue and Krol’s circus friends all showed up punctually at 3pm, in an ominous fashion. Neglected by Krol, Sue became the mistress of a rich man named Billy Side.

When Sue tells Krol that she’s pregnant, Krol realizes that she must be having an affair and beats her savagely. Sue goes to Billy’s house to try to get his help, but she’s confused and disheveled from the beating. Billy refuses to recognize Sue in front of his wife Doris and his son, and sends her away. She goes up to the house next door, where she sees the Phantom. He frightens her, and she picks up the weapon that’s closest at hand, a screwdriver.

Eventually, Sue ends up on the streets. The Phantom takes Sue’s shape and mingles with the prostitutes, jeering at them and at Sue. Sue catches a glimpse of her doppelganger across the street, which is scary, but she also sees Doris, disguised as a prostitute and trailing her. She’s scared that Doris wants to kill her, so she ducks into a burlesque club. After sitting there a while, she’s escorted by the woman in red lace (some kind of magician?) towards an upstairs room where one of the Talking Rabbits (who fades into invisibility, maybe because she can’t see him) and a guy with crooked glasses are sitting. In the room, she feels compelled to deliver a series of monologues that describe her own history of violence and explain a lot of the backstory having to do with Polish legends (like the fact that the Phantom has a one-legged sister). But when the guy with crooked glasses gets up to answer the phone, she sneaks back out onto the street and into the company of the prostitutes. Being a violent sort of person, she’s about to demonstrate to them how to give herself a back-alley abortion with a screwdriver, when Doris comes up, grabs the screwdriver, and stabs her.

As she bleeds to death while her prostitute colleages flee screaming, Sue stumbles for a few feet and then pitches against a wall where some homeless people are sitting. In her dying moment, as she watches the homeless woman’s lighter flame, Sue has a Mulholland Drive-style vision that spins the street sign she saw (“Hollywood”) into a fantasy where she is a glamorous movie star named Nikki Grace.

In this fantasy, she’s living in a mansion resembling Billy’s well-appointed apartment. She has servants and a caring butler, and her husband Krol is just a shadowy figure in the background. However, the first hole in her fantasy appears when she gets an unexpected visit from Grace Zabriskie, who tells her that she has a part in an upcoming movie, but that the movie has a murder in it. Zabriskie also tells a Polish story about a boy (Krol?) who left a house (Poland?) creating his own reflection, and that’s how evil (the Phantom?) first came into the world. In this story, there’s also a girl (Sue? or Lost Girl?) who got lost in an alley behind a marketplace (Nikki’s stage set? Sue’s burlesque theater? Lost Girl’s hotel?) but found the road to the Palace (heaven? Lost Girl’s hotel?).

The movie is called “On High In Blue Tomorrows,” and it’s the story of Sue Blue’s life until a few seconds past the point of her death.

During the first script reading, Nikki finds herself disproportionately moved by the story. They hear a strange noise in the background, and Devon goes to investigate. The strange noise turns out to be Nikki herself, knocking around in her own fantasy. Jeremy Irons tells them that the movie is based on a Polish story called 47 and that it’s a remake of a movie that was never completed because the stars died in mysterious circumstances. (We never see the putative original movie; I think it is simply Sue Blue’s real life.)

Despite (or maybe because of) fantasy-Krol’s threats, Nikki and Devon find themselves oddly drawn together, and they end up having sex in a motel room that strongly resembles Sue and Billy’s bedroom. Fantasy-Krol watches and then vanishes for the rest of the fantasy. (The fact that he vanishes at this point is what makes me believe that Hollywood is a fantasy and the Suburbs/Poland are the reality.) When Nikki and Devon have sex, this catapults Nikki back into “the movie” (Sue Blue’s life story), which she experiences as having happened the day before when she was filming a scene of the movie and then got lost during the filming.

When lost in the remake of her own life, Sue has flash-forwards into her own future. She’s visited by a mysterious debt collector. She sees her fellow prostitutes hanging out in the comfortable living room, and one of them tells her how to obtain more visions into the future by burning a hole in a slip, with a cigar, while wearing the debt collector’s watch. Through the slip, she can see the day of her own death, and watch herself delivering monologues to the man wearing crooked glasses.

Finally Sue sees herself die on the street, and she reverts to her Nikki persona, but can no longer fully accept the fantasy. She finds Krol’s gun and wanders to room 47, where she shoots the Phantom, who dies with Sue’s face on. This unlocks the door to Lost Girl’s hotel room; Nikki comes in and kisses Lost Girl, allowing LG to reunite with her long-lost Krol as well as with Billy Side’s son, who may have been Krol’s and Lost Girl’s son under a spell.

Nikki takes her place in front of LG’s TV, but soon finds herself in Purgatory, which looks an awful lot like Billy’s mansion after all, where she dances with the Phantom’s sister (one-legged blonde), Niko (the monkey-owning, holey-vaginaed, blond-wigged dying Japanese junkie/prostitute), and a host of other Lynch extras.

Other compelling interpretations:

  • Beyond Hollywood – Hollywood is real, Phantom is pimp of a white slavery ring; Doris Side and screwdriver girl are two different characters played by the same actress.
  • Thoughts on Stuff – the 47 story is a repeated curse orchestrated by the Phantom, till Nikki Grace breaks the cycle.
  • Cinemathematics – the Lost Girl is a prostitute and this is all a fantasy based on a TV show that she watches in her hotel.

— Mrs. Waggish

Inquest on Left-Brained Literature

Excuse me while I get all Franco Moretti on you readers here. I work among engineers, and many of them are voracious readers who, nonetheless, have little connection to any prevailing literary trends. Rather, there appears to be a parallel track of literature that is popular specifically among engineers, which I’ll call “left-brained literature” for lack of a better term. The provisional definition of the term is simply those books that fall into the category of my having empirically observed them being read by a multitude of engineers with a literary bent. My conclusions are tentative, but I think that it’s valuable just to construct this sort of list.

I’m excluding all genre science-fiction from the category, because I don’t find it particularly revelatory. I’m interested in that subset of “mainstream,” “non-genre” fiction (these relative terms having been established by social consensus), and within that set, which novels of some notoriety and good PR happen to attract members of the engineering professions.

(Another scholar who also works amongst engineers produced near-duplication of this list when queried. Some affinities were further verified by use of the “similar items” feature on Amazon. Give me a research grant and I’ll confirm further and conduct a less ad hoc census.)

After each name I’ve given a list of a couple general elements of the author’s work, which I think might be useful in considering their inclusion.

Richard Powers. Uses “science” (and scientists) with a minimum of “science-fiction.” Yet of course this does not explain his comparative left-brained success. By far the most popular of his works amongst engineers: The Gold Bug Variations and Galatea 2.2. Emotionally pathos-laden works. Clear stylistic and thematic affinities with Douglas Hofstadter (see below). A key figure in that he appears to be more popular with engineers than with almost anyone else.

Umberto Eco. Only popular for his fiction, and mostly for his first two novels. Use of generic material (mystery and suspense) towards metafictional and postmodern ends. Rather dispassionate.

Milorad Pavic. Portrays history, myth, and religion as game. Most popular for Dictionary of the Khazars, but this is also his most famous work, a self-described “lexicon novel.” Emotionally sterile, but historically panoramic. Experimental means but clear empiricist ethos.

Georges Perec. Life: A User’s Manual is the ur-text for many spatially architected novels to follow. Mathematical (and other Oulipo-esque approaches) methodologies deployed in fields of the humanities. Hesitant about traditional psychology, abandoning it after the early work A Man Asleep. Controlled emotion, especially notable in W: The Memory of Childhood.

Haruki Murakami. Genre-elements of science-fiction and mystery used in psychological phantasmagorias. Imaginative but construction is often less than rigorous. Linear plots with plenty of momentum. Heartfelt and sincere, if sometimes clumsy. Literal writing sytle.

Colson Whitehead. Quite popular just on the basis of his first novel, The Intuitionist. Not yet categorizable, but shows a tendency to sublimate emotion in allegorical assemblages. Pristine, detached style belies strong messages.

David Mitchell. Heavily influenced by Murakami and has lived in Japan. Also heavy use of phantasmagoria, complemented by very sophisticated narrative construction. Prefers simple, visceral, classical themes approached in flashy, novel way. Heavy use of pathos.

Don DeLillo. Highly acclaimed by literary establishment, but not as popular amongst engineers as some of those above. Heavy allegorization, usually irony-laden. Socio-political commentary, often delivered through the voices of characters who tend to sound the same. Virtuosic stylist, but the prose can drag.

Italo Calvino. Favored mostly by engineers for post-1965 experimental work reminiscent of Borges such as Cosmicomics, Invisible Cities, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, and If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller. Heavy mythological content; light math/science content. Some “new novel” influence via Robbe-Grillet. Wonderful, breezy stylist.

Douglas Hofstadter. Non-fiction writer, but importance of Godel, Escher, Bach, which partly uses fictional forms, is too great not to list. Brilliant computer scientist and popularizer, but suffers from a glib, punny style and a lack of verbal taste (see his translation of Eugene Onegin) that render his works unreadable to many. His ideas, drawn from logic, music, mathematics, and elsewhere, suffuse the works of many other American authors on this list.

Nicholson Baker. Obsessively detail-oriented. Near-autistic categorizing and cataloguing of quotidian material, especially in his early work. Baroque style, flattened emotions.

Neal Stephenson. Crossed-over from science-fiction into information-laden historical epics of chiefly science history. Most beloved for Snow Crash, but Cryptonomicon is also important. Appropriately-titled Baroque Cycle remains unread even by most engineer fans of his. Competent stylist, light on character and emotion.

William Gibson. Another cross-over. “Cyberpunk” tendencies disguise lack of rigorous science content. Aggressive use of technology, but fundamentally rhapsodic and character-driven. Innovative, influential stylist, but often narratively lax.

Bruce Sterling. A third cross-over who may not yet have crossed over. Parallel career to Gibson, but weak style, emotional shallowness, and lack of character development may have hindered mainstream acceptance. Compensates with greater science and technology content.

Jorge Luis Borges. Literary genius who wrote conceptual, highly-compressed short stories. Not as widely-read as some of the others on this list, but has influenced so many of them that he must be included. Lack of emotion, character, and plot; stories are often driven by a single, revelatory idea.

There were a few other candidates that I excluded from the list either for lack of confirmation data (Cortazar, Pynchon, Auster) or due to the work falling into the realm of “trash,” to use the term descriptively (Danielewski, Coupland). I’d be willing to reconsider. And as much as I racked my brains, I could not come up with a single woman writer that fit.

One obvious conclusion is that engineers tend to like novelists that deal in math and science material, but that does not explain many of the names on this list, notably those that use science in a “soft” form, such as Calvino and Gibson. Certain common traits do seem to recur, such as verbal literalism and a lack of irony, but even these are contradicted by some members of the list above.

I have no definite conclusions to draw at the moment, but I do believe that this is more than just an exercise. Within this overlap, I believe one can observe two different forms of reading, one more particular to engineers and one more general. While they may not be discrete, I think they separate cleanly enough to merit deep investigation.

[How do you all like the new list-making Waggish? It’s only a temporary phase, probably brought on by reading Finnegans Wake, which contains many, many lists itself, particularly the list of names of ALP’s letter (i.e., the book itself) and the list of titles for
HCE. These tendencies will be further explored in a forthcoming post
on listmakers and architects.]

Update: more suggestions and hypotheses from readers in the comments.

Dmitry Galkovsky: The Infinite Deadlock

There’s a huge frustration to hearing about a supposedly brilliant author (often, as with this case, in the Times Literary Supplement) and finding that his or her work has not been translated into a language you speak. Offhand, the absence of Stanislaw Lem’s Summa Technologiae has been irritating me for almost a decade, and yet I just now discovered that Frank Prengel, German scholar and Microsoft developer evangelist, has been translating it! So stop reading this and go read what Prenzel has translated so far of Summa Technologiae.

But Galkovsky is unfortunately more obscure. The only English reference I’ve found on him aside from the TLS’s offhand remark is this tantalizing snippet:

A member of the Antibooker panel of judges, Andrey Vasilevsky, says: “This is a book of extremely complicated structure, a book of annotations to a text that does not exist. Fresh annotations are made to these annotations, which forms an endless chain. Finally all gets so complicated, that the author supplements the book with a special index as to how to use it. However very few people can understand how to use that index.”

Anyone up for a translation?

I also note the similarity of this description to that of the imagined book Gigamesh in Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum:

Indeed yes: this novel is a bottomless pit; in whatever place you touch it, roads open up, no end of roads (the pattern of the commas in Chapter VI is an analogue of the map of Rome!), and roads not every which way, for they all, with their innumerable outbranchings, interweave harmoniously to form a single whole (which Hannahan proves employing topological algebra–see the Commentary, the Metamathematical Appendex, p. 811ff.). And thus everything achieves its realization…

There are rumors to the effect that Hannahan was assisted in his creation by a battery of computers furnished him by IBM.

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