Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"From Hell's heart I stab at thee......"

I told Alan Cheuse, and now I'm telling you. Thomas Pynchon's lit'ry destiny is to become the Herman Melville of the 20th century. Melville was never a best seller, though he attracted attention with his "wicked book", Moby Dick. His publisher did not sell all 3,000 copies of the first printing. All of his work was out of print by 1876; Melville died in 1891.

Biographies of this obscure author began to appear in the 1920's. The "Melville Revival" was on. Even Lewis Mumford, an American historian of technology, penned a decent bio. Moby Dick contains a great deal of technical detail on whales, the hunting of them, and all aspects of whaler life, so I can see Mumford's attraction. I enjoy them as well.

This level of detail makesMoby Dick an 'encyclopedic' novel, just like Gravity's Rainbow, The Recognitions, Cryptonomicon (A 3-page essay on the proper way to eat Cap'n Crunch cereal,gotta love it!), and Soul Mountain. This style of novel is tricky to pull off, as too many tangents will lose the novel's forward motion. The success(or not)of the novel depends on the reader; if they throw it against the wall at p.26, it may be deemed a failure. Encyclopedic novels generally are not experimental; they just have a great deal of interesting (or not) information in them.

I have recently seen T Pynchon's latest novel, Against the Day, on the bargain/remainder pile at the local big box bookstore. It is the start of Pynchon's fade. Don't worry: his rep will enjoy a resurgence in the 2020's. You heard it here first.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"The Americans are your Italians": DAK officer to Desert Rat captor

Some odds and ends from the last few weeks:
A professional conference just before Halloween where I received my annual scare. The geeks are in charge of the original "long tail" organization, and their big machines and tiny brains have created a new clothes that will not stand up.Libraries ain't what they used to be: "It's all online now, Scott". O yeah, mis-spelled and incorrect.

Halloween, an absurd derivative day (ain't they all).

The first of November, to Italy, on a belated wedding anniversary trip. Flew the 747 chicken-bus, DC to Frankfurt, got to wait 4 hours before the flight to Venice. I exchanged courtesies with the Authorities, then I explored, as is my wont. Never did find the museum in the basement I had read about.

Then the whirlwind. Venice, Pisa, Florence (Machiavelli's home town, my fav-o-rite, even after 35 years), Sorrento, a sidetrip to Pompeii, then to Rome just in time for Veteran's day. I saw an Ariete tank and a Pegasus 8-wheeled vehicle with a 105mm gun, parked for display near Circus Maximus. "Just enough firepower to get into trouble" as recon officers quip.Leaving Rome, a quick Airbus with legroom (o frabjous day!); another 4 hours in Frankfurt but I had paperwork to complete before leaving Euro space. VAT. Try to get that done at 0730, even in Germany. I did, eventually.

Random images: The fourth version of Monte Cassino, I can see why it was such a thumb in the eye to the allies. Sorrento lemons, the size of a basketball.The Pope, a bowshot away, delivering his Sunday greeting to the Missus and I and 10-15k of our closest friends. The Italian Navy band, forming up and marching from mid-terrace on the Spanish Steps, dressed in uniforms reminiscent of Adm. Dewey's navy. A huge Buddha on a railroad overpass, advertising an exhibit. The older gentleman stopping me on the street to congratulate "Ameriga" on the election of Obama. A quick transit strike on Monday, hey it's a hobby.Many more moments, tedious to you but memories for me. And the food, o the food....