Wednesday, August 9

A "Manifestering" Bore--With Two Literary Selections

Why do I put myself in awkward positions like this? Bryan fires off a couple of innocuous posts, and before I know it, I am staring at a blank text field, wondering what the point of it all is. But that’s sort of like reading a book, now, isn’t it? Sort of, anyway. Well, you know, someone makes an innocuous recommendation or two, and before I know it, I am staring at a text field, not-so-blank, of course, but still wondering what the point of it all is. So why do I put myself in awkward positions like this? Well, why do you, my new Book-Loop friends?

Since you are all veteran Book-Loopers, I shall presume that you will not mistake my bad writing for pompously rhetorical pseudo-profundity, but rather as a putting forth of a sincere, if misguided and na├»ve, question. If Ben and Bryan’s talents can be taken as representative of the Loop’s membership, then I should note that, unlike the rest of you, I am not a writer—a thousand times, no!—and so do not find amongst my natural capacities pithy blurb-writing. Alas, I am but a lowly, unrepentant reader. Thus, it is only fitting that I resort to borrowing, as a reader must, from all that he has read, to posit an answer to my own question.

So why do I put myself in awkward positions like this? For the sake of ‘Truth and Beauty!’ my friends! How about it? Three cheers and hip-hip-hooray? Of course, this is only one way I have seen it written, and for my dollar, ‘Truth and Pleasure!’ would be better. Okay, so nothing earth shattering here and you probably didn’t need my 500 words on the subject (at first I wrote, ’500 rods’—-funny that, since it must be like a punishment!), but at least this way I’ve been up front about my reasons for joining your club. Thanks for having me!

As for some books (since that’s what you are all here for), while anyone would profit from Robertson Davies’ advice as found on the Book-Loop homepage, I think that they would profit doubly in respect to Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. An intelligent blurb would say something about a deep, if latent, ambivalence running through the work, which neatly contrasts the “good” and “bad” of the chivalric code with what Twain insinuates is the moral vacuum of the industrial revolution. A responsible reviewer would add some biographical detail (which I remember finding in the prefatory material in the Penguin Classic I was reading a few months back) about Twain’s ruinous attempts to commercialize an automatic typesetting machine in the years during which he conceived of and wrote the book. I should also add that the book was very funny to me at the time. (Again, “Truth and Pleasure”—because one is less fun without the other.)

As for “non-fiction” (or is it a “wildcard”?), I mention Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, another book I read in high school without really understanding. (My best stab at a blurb: “Wonderfully provocative stuff from a master of the genre!”) While I am not especially interested in harping on Bloom’s biographical details (Bellow’s Ravelstein would be the definitive, if unauthorized, source, with the added attraction of being a novel by a “master” of the “genre”), the biographical detail on our Book-Loop colleague Bryan is that he once attended Bloom’s precious bastion of “human excellence,” the University of Chicago, so he can tell you just how crazy these academic types can be. Still, in this case, I would argue Bloom was crazy in an important way, and yet perhaps some of you would see it differently. A polemic on the value of canonical literary texts—among many other things, of course—is perhaps worth a discussion amongst us Book-Loopers at some point is all I would suggest.

PS: Bryan, does Infinite Jest make any further literary allusions beyond the title to the Bard's play?


Bryan said...

Probably, but I can't tell you any. The whole thing is kind of MacBeth meets King Lear meets A Midsummer Night's Dream meets Romeo and Juliet divided by Hamlet minus The Tempest squared.

Ben said...

See, when I read Ravelstein I had no idea who Allan Bloom was. I wonder what Mr. Bloom would have thought of that portrayal. It's not exactly one of the more glowing portraits of friend that I've seen. Was it a well-known fact that Bloom was a homosexuall prior to the publication of Ravelstein? Not that it matters, I'm just curious.

LTS said...

To your last question, Ben, I'm inclined to answer in the affirmative.

More interesting to me, though, is that you interpreted Bellow's portrayal of his friend as being less than "glowing." Is yours a comment on the portrait or on the human being, I wonder. Sure, in retrospect, Ravel-Bloom seems so eccentric as to be bordering on the trivial, but does Bellow make him out to be anything that he isn't? Not that it matters, I'm just curious.

Ben said...

I don't know nearly enough about Bloom the human being to have much of an opinion on the accuracy of Bellow's characterization. It's almost certain I am commenting on Bloom the human being because it's very likely the case that Bellow captured the essence of Bloom with great precision. Still, I wonder if Bloom would have appreciated the eulogy. It's clear Bellow cared for him deeply so maybe that's all that matters.

It should also be noted that I may lumping together aspects of several of Bellow's professorial old men (some more scrupulous than others) in my memory of Ravelstein.

What say you I re-read the book (it's been about four years) and we reconvene at a later date?

Bryan said...

You are correctly inclined, Louis. Not a secret within the U of C walls at least, before Ravelstein was published. It was released when I was in school, which needless to say was a big deal.

Bryan said...

Also yes, Bellow and Bloom were buds.

LTS said...

Ben, please don't misunderstand me. What was interesting to me was that I had the very same reaction you did, and I was reading the book just this past year. And your point was well taken, indeed--I'm guessing we both went to the "if you don't have anything nice to say" school as children. A curious wrinkle is that Bellow insinuates more than once in the novel that he is merely keeping his promise to Bloom as faithful "biographer." For a footnote, I'd direct anyone to a passage of Nietzsche (a thinker much obsessed over by Professor Bloom):

"These 'good men'--they are one and all moralized to the very depths and ruined and botched to all eternity as far as honesty is concerned: who among them could endorse a single *truth* 'about man'? Or put more palpably: who among them could stand a *true* biography?" (Gen. of Morals, III, 19)

Oh, that Nietzsche, he's a cute one. Anyway, I hope you won't feel the need to re-read on account of such a no-account. I'm sure there are better books demanding of your time these days.

I expect we will have plenty more on Bellow and Roth in future posts, as it is.