Category Archives: Summer 2012 Big Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Naked Singularity Big Read: The Experience of Reading ANS

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Kevin Ryan Nava discussing A Naked Singularity as an experience of its being written.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

In a recent pre-review of D.T. Max’s upcoming David Foster Wallace biography, Every Love Story Is A Ghost Story, Lev Grossman asks the question so many young writers—writers who, like Sergio De La Pava, were raised on “E Unibus Pluram” and Consider the Lobster, writerswho, like I, were raised to worship the very novels for which these Big Reads were designed, Life: A User’s Manual and the Your Face Tomorrow trilogy being but a feware currently asking of themselves: is there still room in fiction for Infinite Jests, for Underworlds, for extreme, expansive novels hell-bent on simultaneously attempting to capture the fractal-like complexities of 21st-century life as well as structurally conceding that the whole effort is in vain? De La Pava—who may have evolved as a writer during a postmodernist boom (he spent the years between 1998 and 2006 writing ANS, when weird novels like House of Leaves, Middlesex, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time were still on the tips of the literati’s tongues) but who, at 41 this year, was not defined by 9/11 but rather witnessed it as the horrific apex to a lifetime marked by Vietnam and Chernobyl—seems to be the best modern example of a potential whip-smart yet breezy medium. ANS certainly belongs in the echelon of heady tomes that can still challenge the limits of what fiction can do, but at its core exists the beautifully simple thread of a heist; its plotting, its execution, and its aftermath rival most Hollywood crime dramas in elegance—not to mention surely eclipsing them in sheer idea-power. The three most magnificent tirades (the first being DeLeon’s eleven-page expulsion of information; the second being the entirety of Chapter 10; and the third being the beautiful allegorical fairy-tale Casi reads to Mary) are not only crisply fluid, but also laden with philosophical and moral implications. The novel consistently stands in stark contrast to books like Douglas Coupland’s jPod or Wallace’s Jest that seem unconcerned with traditional ideas of plot.

Or compare it to another book being read in hordes this summer: I plunged into A Naked Singularity early so as to be able to take part in both Conversational Reading’s Big Read and the group read of J R hosted by the Los Angeles Review of Books. My experience with J R, however, was short-lived as I found myself severely frustrated shortly after beginning. Lee Konstantinou, who is leading the read, remarked that contrary to the Dalkey Press edition’s foreword, the novel was indeed a challenge, although pointing out that it wasn’t any more difficult than, say, Infinite Jest. I had to disagree: I found it far more of a challenge than Jest, or Gravity’s Rainbow, or tedium-based American Psycho, or even certain parts of 2666. Gaddis is clearly a master at dialogue, which makes for a fresh read (I can’t think of another novel taking place almost entirely within dialogue), but without rest-stops, chapters, defined waypoints to latch onto—without epigraphs to guide us—it’s an incredibly intimidating one as well. Not that that doesn’t seem to be part of its genius: an early passage remarks on the inability of fabricated structure to properly impose order on the universe’s inherent chaos, a theme I come upon frequently in my own work, as well as one that arises several times in ANS, and one which J R seems to exemplify. (This, of course, is only one of many thematic parallels. And there are most certainly times when De La Pava reaches similar levels of dialogic mastery.) But whereas Gaddis’s attempt at such an experimental tour-de-force can be off-putting, De La Pava handles a much-needed compromise—between deadly serious, highly original fiction, and compelling yet rewarding page-turners—so deftly that I’d argue it’s A Naked Singularity that should take its place—or at the very least its side—at the throne of tomes.

However, like Detective Arroyano’s sudden appearance—one which sent shudders down my spine and showed me just how much I wanted Casi to “get away with it”—the primary plotline is but a red herring. Across the novel lays the translucent veil of metafiction: A Naked Singularity is, for much of its 678 pages, the story of De La Pava’s attempt to write it. “Nothing else matters to me the way this thing I’m writing does,” says Casi as the Kingg case comes to a head. “Let’s just save this kid that’s all. Save the kid.” De La Pava’s urgency in his attempts to destroy our previously-held moral sensibilities comes through with the same ferocious gusto the novel’s prosecutors have for incarceration: De La Pava reads us our Miranda rights in the opening pages as he slaps the handcuffs upon his reader (for, really, few novels manage to arrest me so immediately and with such intensity) before leading us across step after legal step toward our eventual end: Death Row. In De La Pava’s world, the reader is King(g). It is our salvation with which he is ultimately concerned.

And yes, A Naked Singularity is very focused on our definition of justice; De La Pava forced me time and again to confront exactly how far I was willing to go toward opposite ends of the spectrums, from total condemnation of Dane’s evil genius (to borrow a term from one of Casi’s heroes, Descartes) who draws Casi into the heist with arguments afoul with the stench of grandiosity—and worse, grandiosity that bases itself upon Ouroborian logic—to the overwhelming desire to forgive Jalen Kingg, whose misdeeds were thrust in my face with his Guard’s “Anti-Sympathy Packet.” I, despite myself and despite the Packet, wept briefly upon reading the final letter in the series of correspondences between Casi and Kingg (which recalled the similarly tear-jerking set of letters in Mark L. Danielewski’s aforementioned pomo-masterpiece, House of Leaves).

But just as the plot of the novel is essentially moved forward by Dane’s desperate wish to craft an act so perfect it both exists wholly outside of himself as well as causes him to exist outside of everything else—Casi often feels like a prisoner of his surroundings, as did I by the time Part One came to a close when I too felt in “a hurry to feel a sense of accomplishment, of forward momentum, … that a discrete, meaningful segment is behind me”—so does the creation of the novel feel compelled forth by De La Pava’s wish to violently infiltrate his reader’s psyche, and do so better than the strongmen who have come before him. (It was telling, but not quite surprising, that De La Pava named Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment as favorites.) In attempting destroy any illusion we might have previously held about the “justice” our justice system provides us and to force us to demand of ourselves and our society what “justice” really means in the age of Television, De La Pava ends up pointing the reader toward questions in an entire other dimension: what is the place of genius, and what do we do when we realize that, however talented we may be, we are nowhere close to that unattainable level of perfection?

As a writer, I focused primarily on this attempt to create perfection during my read, with specific regards to art, to argument, and to conviction (in all senses of the word). The intricate heist-plotting akin to the nuance required to elicit the right emotion from one’s reader, the fervency with which Casi eventually comes at the Kingg problem, Dane’s obsession, the meticulously-placed typos: it felt possible to see De La Pava at work on the story, coming to terms at every corner with whether or not he was—or was even capable of—accomplishing what he had set out to do. The whole concept is universal even for those who won’t be the next “Kepler, Newton, Galileo,” or who aren’t Ludwig van, Johannes Sebastian, or Fyodor. If we draw meaning from that at which we are talented, then how do we cope with not being the Wilfred Benitez of our field? Would it even be worth it, when these masters meet nothing but an unglamorous end? And despite all of this, are we, as able beings, responsible for trying anyway? Chapter 29’s epigraph stood out as the most crucial, especially as the reality of the novel quickly unspooled: “Quid rides? Mutato nomine de te fibula narrator?” Who are we—the readers—to judge; and yet, if we don’t judge, who will?

Part of the reason I am so enamored with the novel despite its flaws is because of its desire to be such an object of Greatness. We are all aware of the finitude of our lifetimes, and the corresponding limitation on how many novels we can consume over that period. In a utopian literary landscape, there would be but one encyclopedic story which would be both compellingly addictive and completely comprehensive: it would be the only story we would ever need to read to glean everything we could from a piece of literature. But culture is so fractured, so divided into infinite subcultures, each with its own preconceptions toward and potential reactions to art: no one novel could possibly do it all. (I, for example, found a special tie with Casi’s cast of Colombian family members, whose interactions reminded me of childhood gatherings spent with my own South American relatives; but I couldn’t expect others to comprehend the nuances, or connect with them as deeply as I did.) So, in lieu of this perfect piece of Entertainment (to borrow from Wallace once more), it seems the challenge to young writers entering a field being overhauled—by Kindle singles, by tales Tweeted, by multimedia iPad-based books—is not to downsize, but to swell: to prove that their novel is the one that can cover as many bases as possible for its specific readership.

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Kevin Ryan Nava discussing A Naked Singularity an as an experience of its being written.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

A Naked Singularity, like its Big Read siblings, is one of these novels. The only heist more impressive and calculated than the one that transpires in the events of ANS is the one De La Pava commits: he has tried to steal us,in our entireties, and done so right in front of our eyes. By consistently provoking and engaging us with regards to everything under the sun, from sex to religion, to self-help and love, to ego and fame and guilt, to age and family and duty and race and class and addiction and physics, De La Pava argues that, yes, there is still room in this century for this sort of fiction, and that, yes, it can do what it sets out to achieve. John Jeremiah Sullivan said famously of David Foster Wallace (whose influence, as has been noted, bleeds brightly through the novel): “Someone had come along with an intellect potentially strong enough to mirror the spectacle [of being alive at the end of the twentieth century] and a moral seriousness deep enough to want to in the first place. About none of his contemporaries—even those who in terms of ability could compete with him—can one say that they risked as great a failure as Wallace did.” Now on my second read of the novel, I am still undecided as to whether De La Pava succeeded, whether he pulled off his heist, at his hijacking of our consciousnesses. Although I’m holding out until I read his sophomore effort, Personae, and whatever might come next (imagine what De La Pava could do with Internet), it seems like the answer echoes that of our protagonist’s accidental name:


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Naked Singularity Big Read: Taking a Chance on ANS

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Craig Chisholm discussing his general impressions of A Naked Singularity.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

To begin an, at this point, untested novel of considerable girth with a biblical passage about the inadequacy of mankind, demanded that I adjust, or at least consider, the barometer of my expectations. There is a reason print-on-demand publishers are rightfully referred to as vanity presses. But in the history of publishing there are texts, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Poe’s Tamerlane and Other Poems, Proust’s Swann’s Way, that have been initially paid for out of the author’s own pocket and have become classics, or at least documents of a time in history. What becomes of American poetry if Whitman doesn’t scrimp and save to afford the first edition of Leaves of Grass? Would William Carlos Williams bother to pen his Paterson cycle?

Yet these examples are few and far between. Contemporary publishing houses produce such trash that one might as well read some non-establishment trash. So you take a chance. And place yourself in the most ideal of physical environments to assure that the text has the best chance of delivering its’ story. I started at a beach and finished in a hammock. The day that elapsed in between was spent in a courtroom, Alabama, a small town in Puerto Rico, Brooklyn Heights, a mile or so north of my hammock, and in the world and mind of one of American fiction’s most of-late humorous and condemning protagonists.

A blend of postmodern DFW’s Infinite Jest, Slothrop’s antics, classic heist novels, and social criticism delivered with poignancy and ferocity by the jaded, idealist defense attorney, Casi. I am also reminded of Musil’s character Ulrich in the “story of ideas,” A Man Without Qualities. The disparate tropes found in A Naked Singularity allow for different levels of reading, which make for an engaging, thoughtful text. And also a very quick read that, thankfully for the new distribution by U of C press, gave me opportunity to reread.

A book with as much physics and philosophy as contained in ANS could be a slog, if it wasn’t also hilarious: an obscenely obese nemesis named The Whale whose “eyes didn’t line up” and with “teeth that were more like fangs,” a character that decides watching The Honeymooners on repeat will somehow make the Kramdens and Nortons three dimensional; the fact that someone is watching The Honeymooners at all, as if there isn’t a more contemporary example, a list of all the great men in history-from Homer Simpson to Engelbert Humperdink, and a fellow attorney of means with an obsession with perfection that leads him to concoct a perfect crime. The humor in difficult novels (and this isn’t difficult; this is a joy), is often overlooked. I’m thinking specifically of Ulysses.

A novel with the depth of ANS should be analyzed, deconstructed, found fault with, explored. Casi’s commentary on the American justice system, the way archaic drug laws work to disenfranchise millions of potential voters, the morality of the death penalty, how Television and consumerism work to turn American culture into its own type of inescapable black hole all have merit. As does the fact that the Benitez boxing metaphor—while great fun to read—certainly contributed to the years ANS spent as a print-on-demand title. Even the publishing history of ANS is a microscopic naked singularity, a speck amidst darkness. Casi’s story is just that. And as he says at the end of Chapter 25, asking why he was made to read something so disturbing, we get an answer to the question, why write and why read.

“Because it’s a story.”

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Naked Singularity Big Read: De La Pava and Entropy

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Brandon Walter discussing how De La Pava works the idea of entropy, pioneered by postmodernists like Thomas Pynchon and William Gaddis.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

A number of authors familiar to readers of this website, William Gaddis, David Foster Wallace, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, J.G. Ballard, Roberto Bolano, Don DeLillo, and most recently, Sergio De La Pava, have all used the ideas of entropy and chaos as central themes to their work. In 1956, Isaac Asimov engaged the idea in a short story dramatizing the human colonization of the universe in a narrative that spanned thousands of future generations and detailed the eventual total-loss of energy (or “heat-death”) dictated by the second law of thermodynamics. Four years later, a then unknown author by the name of Thomas Pynchon published a short story titled “Entropy,” engaging with the concept on a decidedly more human scale: the degeneration of a party, the death of a small bird, and the heat-loss of an apartment.

So what makes entropy so appealing as a theme for a certain type of writer? Here’s a quick answer, by no means comprehensive: “he found in entropy or the measure of disorganization for a closed system an adequate metaphor to apply to certain phenomena in his own world.” The “he” in that quote is Castillo referring to himself in the third person in Pynchon’s short story “Entropy,” but it may as well be Pynchon himself, or any other writer or artist who has applied the concepts of entropy to explore our environment (both natural and man-made environments), our place in it, as well as our ability to comprehend it.

Gaddis used entropy in JR as a reflection of the tenacity of the stock market: chaotic, disordered, and unpredictable. Similarly, De La Pava uses entropy in A Naked Singularity in at least a few different ways: as a satire of the U.S. court system, as a model of the unpredictability in complex events (the drug/money heist); he even refers to it a few times in the traditional sense: that of heat (energy) transfer from a warm body to a colder one.

First I’d like to talk about the court system and how De La Pava displays its behavior. Even from Casi’s point of view, events are largely unpredictable, truth is much more of an unknowable entity than we’d like to admit, and disorder eventually makes its overwhelming presence felt. At one point, Casi notices “teens and their families [are] behaving like heated molecules inside his ridiculously tiny courtroom.” The court system arguably undergoes a significant transformation throughout the novel; at the beginning it appears at least semi-ordered: antagonistic to Casi, to be sure, but at least it seems somewhat predictable and Casi can make the appropriate utterances to get semi-predictable results. He knows for the most part what to expect from certain judges and can make appropriate defenses for his clients. During the last courtroom scene however, where Casi himself is on trial, it seems almost entirely devoid of order. Casi has a “teenager represent [him] at an insane hearing with a giant gavel. And before with the attacking chimps and giant hot dogs! And don’t forget the not so minor detail of what is occurring outside at this very moment.” (Which, “what’s occurring outside” is nothing less than the betrayal of the physical properties of water: rain at six degrees Fahrenheit, another sign that order has abandoned them, our physical laws mean less than they once did).

Outside the courtroom, the heist is a perfect example of how chaos and entropy reign in an open environment, as opposed to the controlled environment of Dane’s nearly perfect representation of a client. Dane considers the heist to be an act restorative to order. He believes that “the money is already [his]” and therefore, he’s simply putting the money back in its rightful place: he’s expending energy to resist entropy and the diffusion of order. But to resist entropy you can’t just blindly expend energy, it must be done judiciously and against innumerable variables: Dane took three tries to lasso the roof on #406, Casi nervously loses his ski mask and one of the gold rope-hooks, the money is not where they expect it to be, DeLeon is in attendance and can recognize both Casi and Dane (jeopardizing the whole operation), and Ballena turns out to be a Serious Problem: almost inhuman, massive, frightening, and threatening to undo all the “work” that Casi and Dane have done.

This brings us to one of my favorite characters: Ballena, a terrifying figure able to literally rip the heads off humans. Angus describes Ballena like this: “I wouldn’t say big. I think the word doesn’t exist yet for what it is.” Hyperbole, to be sure, but maybe De La Pava is making a point here. What can we take away from Angus’s physics lesson regarding properties of large entities? “First of all it’s hard to explain but I was afraid to look at it directly. Second of all it was as if it was in shadows the whole time, only shadows itself was creating if that makes any sense. Anyway it zipped through here, turned the beds over, then just like that is was gone.” Leading from this description, it’s not too far of a stretch to see Ballena as some form of representation of a singularity: light cannot escape from it, it creates disorder/distortion, and it is incredibly massive.

The novel’s ending seems to resist easy interpretation. Some sort of cosmic event (presumably a naked singularity), arrives at this particular point in space-time when Ballena confronts Casi on the street. To try to understand this, I again look back to the physics lessons proffered by Angus: “My theory is that certain things that used to have no mass now suddenly do and they’re multiplying. Either that or the mysterious invisible force that had previously served to combat gravity and drive universal expansion has now abandoned us or otherwise failed.” What used to have no mass and now suddenly does is up to interpretation. Emotions? Fear? Why does the invisible force that had previously served to combat gravity abandon us when Ballena confronts Casi? “Why the collapse? Too much matter, dude, causing too great a pull.”

A Naked Singularity is filled with things that have no mass, but exhibit a similarly strong pull on me: Casi is a genuine and relatable character, the disorder and madness encountered in the book is the same that you and I are forced to confront daily, and we’re forced to acknowledge that everything we hold familiar could collapse at any moment. I haven’t enjoyed a book as much as this since I read JR last year. I’ll be reading this one again in the future, and until then, I’m going to keep in mind Conley’s optimism about the future: “the universe is going to keep on expanding forever and expansion is just another word for progress.”

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Naked Singularity Big Read Wrapup: The River and the Waterfall

Now that the Naked Singularity Big Read is concluded, we’re running short responses to the book by Big Read participants. Here’s Richard Hutzler writing about his experiences with the combination of a very plot-driven book that also felt extremely dense at times.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Some books read like a river carrying you slowly downstream—so slowly you can’t even be sure at times you’re moving. It’s deep and it’s wide, and all sorts of interesting things are going on around and below and above you . . . then suddenly, you reach the mouth of the river, the book is over, and the accumulated weight of all you’ve read immerses you in an ocean of reaction. Other books read like a waterfall . . . you jump in and find yourself immediately in the rapids, and next thing you know you’ve been thrown off a cliff into the great unknown. I experienced A Naked Singularity as a swift rapids and a great, smart, hilarious, terrifying, but ultimately baffling waterfall.

Oftentimes the quickest reads are so-called genre novels: crime thrillers, detective procedurals, horror novels. The slow river novels are usually the “great baggy monsters.” But every once in a while one of those monsters reads like a thriller—perhaps even aspires to the genre of thriller. It seems to take flight the moment you pass a certain threshold, suck you in, and then spit you out the other end. While it may begin slowly, somewhere between page 10 and 50 you achieve liftoff. The pages fly by so quickly you hardly have time to get your bearings. The novel you’re reading becomes an addition, like a drug—or a lover.

A Naked Singularity pretty much hooked me from page 11, when Darril Thornton appears, followed in rapid progression by Ah Chut, the great Ben Glenn, Glenda Deeble, Robert Coomer, Terrens Lake, and Rory Ludd. Sergio de la Pava has a wonderfully loopy, but very true, way with dialogue, the way Don DeLillo, David Mamet, and Richard Price do. It feels so natural to the ear, on the tongue, but the more closely you look at it, the more you come to realize the artistry behind it. And like Roberto Bolano and Javier Marias, de la Pava demonstrates a truly tremendous facility with the monologue (I realize they are very different writers, ultimately, but the monologues in all three seem to work—almost out of proportion to anything else). The book is filled with set piece monologues from Casi (and of the course the entire book is in his first-person voice), but also from a number of the secondary characters, most particularly Dane, that were smart, entertaining as hell, and sounded like they could be spoken to you by a real human being in a bar (or an Italian restaurant).

As the book sped forward, even the narration took on the qualities of these set-piece monologues. The rolling, thundering, looping digressions on the careers of Wilfred Benitez and other great boxers of the 70’s and 80’s—loosely analogous to the chapters on cetology in Melville’s Moby-Dick—never felt like digressions at all. Because of the captivating, utterly hypnotic, natural-sounding cadences of Casi’s narrative voice, these stories not only did not slow the momentum of the thriller-plot in the book (the heist narrative), nor the intertwined legal narratives (Raul Soldera, Galen Kingg, Casi’s own bizarre and surreal “trials”), nor the funhouse mirror side-stories of Alyona, Angus and Louis, but, rather, the boxing stories seemed to further propel the story(ies) onward.

The forward propulsion of the book hurtled me through it so quickly, however, that once the heist was completed, I found myself begin to lose a little steam. The bizarre confrontations with “Detective Assado” (and the way he seems to just disappear from the narrative after Casi figures him out), the increasingly surreal—indeed ridiculous—kangaroo courts that Casi faces with Cymbeline (with “Quackmire” as his representation—this is becoming a bit too neo-Pynchon now with the names) and then his own colleagues (“C.O.C.K”—shades of DFW, also), and the entire blackout narrative (and “absolute zero”) . . . all of these began to baffle me a bit, and then, frankly, to irritate me. I found myself becoming impatient. Perhaps it was because I was missing too much, having read so quickly (and joyously!) through the book up to that point. On the other hand, the wild digressions and discussions and debates earlier in the novel, as weird/silly/surreal as they sometimes were (Magilla Gorilla vs. Grape Ape; the great disquisition on coffee; many of Dane’s arguments about things; 1-800-BAD-BABY; Mayor Toad and the Video Vigilantes; physics and genetics; the all-advertising channel; etc. etc. etc.!), never bothered me—I swallowed them whole, and enjoyed them going down. And on yet another hand (or maybe the same other hand), I found myself starting to question all sorts of things once we reached those ridiculous kangaroo courts. And so when I arrived at the final page, as much as I enjoyed the parallels between Ballena the Whale and the obvious referent, as much I was fascinated by the naked singularity idea and the portentousness we’re left with, I felt let down.

Going back over the book in the ensuing days, here are some things I’ve noticed. I won’t say I didn’t notice them the first time through, because I did, but I seem to remember myself simply excusing them as weird Casi-isms that Toomberg just decided to let pass. But how old is Casi at any given point in the book? We’re told that Casi is 24 and Dane is 29 early on. We experience (I think) Casi’s 24th birthday party. The entire Benitez thread begins as a result of Casi’s musings upon others throughout history who had achieved tremendous things by that age, and as a result of his own feelings of inadequacy or failure (despite his perfect record as a legal defender to that point). Here’s what I mean:

Page 350—Toomberg and Casi are discussing Hurtado and Jalen Kingg . . . Casi says “You really think I would abandon you the way that Ledo bastard abandoned us? After everything we’ve been through together? Don’t ever forget that promise I made to you decades ago in the sweaty jungles of Vietnam as you lay dying from VC lead in your gut. Remember it?” Toomberg: “No, but as I recall you placed it there in a friendly fire mishap.” Casi: “I don’t think that’s accurate but truthfully that whole period was a drug-induced haze for me so you may be right. Anyway the reason I was calling you yesterday was my cousin.”

Okay—I type this and it seems it should be obvious that this is just “talk.” But is it? Toomberg doesn’t do one of his double-take, what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about things as he does elsewhere in the book. And then there’s also this, later:

Page 454—Toomberg and Casi are discussing the Jalen Kingg case again and the fact that his previous attorneys never looked into Kingg’s obviously fraught physical and mental history, as well as the fact that Kingg doesn’t protest his own innocence. Casi says “I’ve been doing this for a quarter of a century and I can count on one hand the number of clients who didn’t proclaim their innocence if the case was even semi-serious.” Again, Toomberg doesn’t laugh, look at him funny, or comment at all on the comment, but just continues the actual narrative thread of the conversation.

Only two examples out of 678 pages, I know, but still. Are we really meant to just dash past them and consider them Casi “talk-talk”? And when one throws in Casi’s disquisition to Toomberg on time functioning not as a continuum, as being non-linear, and also the reference in another section of the book to David Lewis’ Plurality of Worlds, and all of the discussions of physics and apparent actualizations of theories that have yet to be “proven” (from the seeming actualization of Ralph Kramden (was it really just an actor?) to the bizarre cold, the blackouts (one minor, one MAJOR), to the ascension of absolute zero, to rain in sub-freezing weather, to the coming of the naked singularity itself at the end of the book), one has to wonder.

And so then I began to wonder where the narrative “turned.” Or was it whacked from the beginning? I can’t say that I’ve found one single place which seems to present any solid evidence. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is the bizarre sequence where Casi seems to get locked into the courtroom after the terrible confrontations with Cymbeline during the Hurtado trial (and by the way, what an amazing section that is—those court transcriptions held me enthralled, practically breathless, despite my increasing sense of the loss of my suspension of disbelief at her utterly bizarre decisions), and then seems to find some strange, sub-basement exit from the courthouse (which is of course used at the end of the book when he’s trying to run from The Whale).

I began this post thinking it would focus mainly on my experience of the novel as a page-turner that turned into a kind of mush for me. I haven’t focused so much on the page-turner aspect, because as the book has been sloshing around inside of me for the past week, and as I’ve found myself thumbing its pages over and over again, re-reading some sections with tremendous pleasure, but also hunting for clues to the questions the ending provoked, I find myself doubting just about everything now. The book is much deeper, much wider, much more expansive and explosive than I thought in the hours after reading the last page with such irritation. It seems almost infinite in my memory now. At the same time, I’m still supremely irked by my lack of ability to explain to myself what I’m supposed to take from it all. What does it mean? I hate that kind of reductiveness (Moby-Dick is probably my favorite novel of all time, and each time I read it again it only echoes more profoundly for me, and in numerous, countless directions) when approaching any work of art, yet at the same time, I’m not sure what things inside of me are being sounded by this one.

Perhaps I’ll just have to re-read the entire book, but more slowly, and hunt deeper, though I’d love to hear what others think.

Finally, though, I guess what I’m saying is this: I really, truly loved this book for a good portion of its length. Then I didn’t love it at all when I reached the final page. Now I’m intrigued by it. But I’m not sure if I’m intrigued enough to devote the time to re-reading it closely and carefully, to thumbing back and forth between pages trying to connect dots. When I read Moby-Dick, or 2666, or Absalom, Absalom!, or V., I don’t have to hunt and hunt and hunt in order to have their infinite multiplicities of meaning and music resonate in my head, my heart, my soul—those books thrum through me as if I were a tuning fork. This one? I feel it plucking at something, but the sound coming out is not exactly harmonious.

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Naked Singularity Big Read: Conclusions

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This is the last post in the Naked Singularity Big Read, as per our schedule. Whether or not you liked the book, I hope everyone who participated had a good time.

Starting next week, we’ll be having a bunch of guest posts from participants in the read. And I may also chime in with some more thoughts on the book.

Now on to some concluding thoughts on our final chunk of prose.

In response to all the guilt and fear and sadness that Casi now associates with his and Dane’s plan and the very serious ways in which it seems to be biting him back, Casi pours himself into the brief for the Kingg case. He writes what is described as a very long book, which may in fact be the book that we are reading (although it could as well not be too). He gives it to Toom to read, and Toom, while being very impressed by the document (he calls it “astonishing”), says that it is not art:

I think what ultimately denied it that lofty status was the work’s selfish prescriptivism if that makes any sense, its innervating desire for a specific result. True art, by contrast, seems marked by a generous susceptibility to extrapolation. Your work, understandably, is not sufficiently oriented in that direction to constitute art and has more in common with something like advertising. Advertising of course, despite the activities it often subsumes, is not art and neither, regrettably, is your document. [617]

I’d first like to ask whether or not you think the Kingg brief is the book A Naked Singularity. I’ll also point out that many things that we now consider art, for instance great works from the medieval period in Europe, began as a kind of advertising, by Toom’s definition. And, of course, many kinds of art from the 20th century purposely conflated advertising in a way that would upset the dichotomy Toom is attempting to establish here. These remarks should also be read in light of De La Pava’s ongoing statements about television throughout the book.

After the Kingg plot ends, we reach Casi’s trial for various alleged misdeeds around his job. This, I think, will be one of the more controversial parts of A Naked Singularity. It obviously is being told in a highly ironic way, and its relationship to what actually is happening during these trials is tenuous at best. I’d like to ask what exactly you think all this means, how you think Casi is processing all this information, and, most of all, if this section of the book worked for you.

Then we get a last little bit about the boxer Wilfred Benitez. I think that the concluding paragraphs in the story De La Pava tells about Benitez give us some idea of why he has chosen to tell it to us. In part he says,

Today Wilfred lives in Saint Just, Puerto Rico, the barrio where his boxing career began in that makeshift backyard ring. The father who in those days put his arm around his seven-year-old son and showed him what to do is now dead. The wife he had when he was one of the strongest men int he world has abandoned him. He has few friends and fewer fans and his name is rarely mentioned anymore outside his house. [665]

De La Pava goes on to tell us that, “he is not, however, alone. Clara Benitez is with him, feeding and cleaning her son.” [665]

There is a lot here to think about. Conclusions to stories are rarely as romantic as the stories themselves, and sometimes it happens that people end up alone and unloved, but for the abiding affections of their mother. This ending to the Benitez story, which De La Pava needn’t have told us, seems to be here to point out that Casi may very well end up like this, despite his genius and the substantial chunk of money he may have access to.

Of course, Casi’s story needn’t end like this. The last lines of A Naked Singularity are very ambiguous. Something profound is about to happen. We do not know exactly where Casi will end up in life. The purpose of the book has been, in part, to show us that moment of transformation, of possibility, which may very well resemble a naked singularity for how it re-orders our world. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. I look forward to your own interpretations of the novel, your verdicts on its quality, your questions, and where you see yourselves going next as readers.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Naked Singularity Big Read: Absolute Zero

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To start off, I’m going to ask for volunteers to write up short posts about their experiences with A Naked Singularity. First three volunteers get a signed copy of the original Xlibris edition. If you would like to participate, email me at scott_esposito AT

Now then, in this final week of reading we’re covering the third and final part of the book. Dane and Casi have just finished their caper, and part three starts off with the information that the temperature is absolute zero. According to physics, that’s an impossibility: absolute zero would be the point at which all motion stops. The universe would simply come to a halt. So take that to mean what you will.

It’s interesting to note that De La Pava places it into a legalistic framework, noting that “the Third Law of Thermodynamics pretty much forbade that temperature from ever being reached.” [528] This is responded to with, “I don’t get involved with the legalities of the situation,” [528] as though laws of physics were laws in a legal sense. It’s worth considering just how they are and they aren’t.

Later on we see that Casi’s friend Angus has given up psychology in favor of physics because “it was too nebulous, there was no certitude.” [533] Whereas physics offers “answers to the deepest questions . . . now that I’ve aligned myself with the true king I can take my place at the right hand of the throne armed with a perfect understanding of the ultimate reality.” [534] Again, it’s worth considering just what a view of reality physics gives us and how that compares to other human realities, like good and evil, justice and morality. It’s also worth pondering what it would mean if we could actually answer those questions. Insofar as art is a search for meaning, definitive answers to those questions would probably mean the end of art as we know it. One might imagine that De La Pava’s invocation of absolute zero is meant to imply that Casi has arrived at personal answers to those questions, or, more likely, at the beginning of the chapter felt that he had arrived at answers, probably in a state of elation or remorse following his and Dane’s caper.

Also note the quote, “Yesterday wherever you looked was a star so bright you couldn’t believe it was real. Tonight we get nothing.” [538] This recalls asterism’s invocation of Olbers’ paradox, which basically states “If the universe is static and populated by an infinite number of stars, any sight line from Earth must end at the (very bright) surface of a star, so the night sky should be completely bright. This contradicts the observed darkness of the night.” The basic answer to this is that the expansion of the universe puts most stars beyond our range of perception, so the night sky is mostly black. This somewhat dovetails with Angus’ concluding observation that “we have been abandoned by the very universe that contains us.” [538]

Trying to stay warm amidst the blackout, Angus and Casi have a very strange conversation, of which this is the jumping off point. I particularly liked the paragraph spanning pages 539-40. I think the import of all this is that information and meaning are really starting to break down for Casi. He has done something profound, and he doesn’t know what it means. De La Pava artfully articulates that with this strange conversation.

Also, with the start of chapter 25, note how the epigraphs themselves are breaking down: they’re not coming from characters within the story, instead of from recognized thinkers from our own world. What did you all make of the story in verse that takes up all of chapter 25? I must admit to having no useful thoughts on it at the moment, though it is strange, and De La Pava obviously took the time to put it in there for some reason.

And then, with chapter 26, where Casi now needs representation for charges made against him for various things he has done over the course of the book as a public defender (yet, paradoxically, he does not need representation for the actual crime he has committed), he has come full circle: Casi is now squarely on the opposite of the law from which he started at the beginning of the book. I think here we’re also starting to see Casi sublimate his guilt for the crime he has just committed, particularly in his statement that for the spurious charges brought on him at work, “I want to admit wrongdoing, admit I do little else, yet have it lead to nothing punitive.” [555] What do you all think of Casi at this point? Do you still find him sympathetic? Do you still like him? Why?

And also, let’s start to think of some summing up: what exactly is the point of this book? What has been the art of the story? Recall that we started out with some fairly visceral descriptions of Casi’s work as a public defender, and now we on to absolute zero and a caper out of a crime movie. How exactly did we get here? Did you find the trip believable? Worthwhile?

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Naked Singularity Big Read: Possibilities and Potentials

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

In my mind, the chunk of this week’s read that deals with Casi’s experiences in the Alabama penitentiary [469 – 485] demonstrates conclusively at least one or both of the following: Casi’s detachment from reality; the polemical mode of De La Pava’s writing.

We’ve already discussed the former quite a bit; as to the latter, in A Naked Singularity I’ve found De La Pava to be a writer who presents extreme cases, juxtaposing them with one another. Unlike a David Foster Wallace, who would actually detail his metaphorical creations to an impressive degree of complexity, De La Pava only gives us the outlines of his philosophy. So, for instance, the comparison between the prison guard Casi meets in Alabama and Kingg is rather stark: on the one hand you have a man who jokes about the electric chair and talks about how he doesn’t mind pulling the lever; on the other hand you have a mentally retarded man-boy who is going to be executed without fully realizing what is happening to him.

This juxtaposition could certainly be accused of heavy-handedness. What I think saves De La Pava is that this is quite clearly the mode he has been working in throughout A Naked Singularity. This has always been an exaggerated, vaguely cartoonish book, and it has only become more so as the plot has worn forward.

I also think this works because De La Pava is not presenting this juxtaposition on its own; to the contrary, this is but one of many, many philosophical contrasts De La Pava has presented in the book, and they all join together in complex ways to request that a reader consider the big questions that are animating this book: What is morality and how does it relate to law? What exactly is our view of reality, and how is this view conditioned by our perceptions and our ability to augment our perceptions with technological devices like TV? What is perfection, and what is its relationship to our world (if any)?

One interesting way the Kingg section of this week’s reading links up with the rest of A Naked Singularity is in the case of the murdering 7-year-olds, which we haven’t spoken about much so far. This is a current in the text that De La Pava established very early on: a baby goes missing, the media has a frenzy with it, and it eventually comes out (via vigilantes with video cameras) that the murderers were a pair of children. As you can see, this subplot combines a number of tropes from the book.

I’d like to ask, do you see any valid comparisons here to Kingg’s case? And what do you make of the increasingly surreal way the murdering children plot has been deployed throughout A Naked Singularity?

At the close of this chapter De La Pava perhaps makes a knowing wink to David Foster Wallace’s views on the insufficiency of irony, as laid out in his essay “E Unibus Pluram“:

But someone at the airline must have screwed up because when the movie came on I saw with dread that it was the same flick from the earlier flight, the Story of Jackie and Trevor. Except that now, fully awake and armed with audio, I saw that the movie was entitled Terms of Bereavement and it was actually a comedy. But not a good comedy where witty people trip and wear funny outfits either, rather one that relied principally on the smug knowingness of its audience. A comedy in name only, neither divine nor vulgar. A comedy in error, full of irony and self-reference and signifying an empty nil. [485, italics mine]

We might consider this alongside the rest of A Naked Singularity. It is certainly a very ironic book, but it’s a very different kind of irony that the brand De La Pava is decrying here.

Further on, talking about Benitez, I found this interesting:

He was what any human should ultimately aspire to. He was beautiful and ugly simultaneously. [492]

Later on, Casi’s digression about Hume and causation [499] reminded me of TV. If we only learn causation, as Hume suggests, by watching the world around us, then what happens to causation when we can watch things happen in a completely constructed (and therefore false) reality, i.e. TV?

This section concludes with Dane and Casi embarking on their scheme. Dane makes a statement on page 511 about the different sets of reality that might flow forward from the moment when he and Casi decide whether or not they are going to go in and attempt to complete their plan.

Remember that because right now it is certainly at least possible that you and I will go get that money, that means at least two of our counterparts will in fact get it. Don’t we need to be those two? Of course we do, it absolutely must be us. I don’t care what it entails. You have total power and control here. [511]

Finally, in this section’s closing pages we are introduced to Ballena, aka The Whale, one of De La Pava’s creepiest, more freakish creations. He is guarding the money that Dane and Casi want to seize, and he seems barely human and maybe barely possible to kill. Dane and Casi’s scheme will let him loose in the world. It will be interesting to see what happens. That’s for next week.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Naked Singularity Big Read: Beyond the Zero

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To start this week’s section, we are once again with Casi and Dane hashing out their plan. I’m curious to know how everyone feels about these conversations between that De La Pava keeps giving to us. There’s been an awful lot of Casi and Dane hashing out their plan over the past hundred pages or so, but by and large it’s worked very well for me. Even as the conversations have overlaid on similar points and themes, I feel like De La Pava has kept the plot moving forward briskly and has constantly injected new energy into what they’re discussing, so that the repetition has not been noticeable.

In the middle of Dane and Casi’s first conversation in this week’s section, Casi thinks the following, which I found of much thematic interest:

My relationship to the plan was dysfunctional. Dane evinced so little doubt about its eventual efficacy, about its perfection and our ability and need to properly carry it out, that the whole thing became something more than real yet somehow still distant. If reality is sometimes so intense and bizarre that it feels like bad, unpersuasive fiction, then this was a fiction so powerful it outrealized reality. The whole thing scared me in a way that made me involuntarily cognizant of my every cardiopulmonary move; the ways a body keeps itself alive. [438-9; my italics]

In this section we also see a lot of alternating conversations between Dane and Casi and Toom and Casi, each discussing their respective plans. Here De La Pava is driving home the contrasts between the goals and methods of each, one seeking perfection within the law, the other seeking perfection outside of it. I was also intrigued by Toom’s repeated use of the phrase “gaping hole” on pp 444-45 and its similarity to what a naked singularity is.

Casi’s plane flight to Alabama, which begins chapter 20, [456-63] is quite strange and further evidence of his loosening grip on reality. My interpretation of the flight is that Casi is watching an in-flight movie, but instead of being a normal movie it’s unspooling in his head as he watches it. The two paragraphs beginning at the bottom of page 458 and ending in the middle of 459 discuss the relationship of cinematic reality to what we generally consider our reality and further underscore the feeling of plotlessness and lack of control that is increasingly taking over Casi’s subjectivity.

And then, after the flight, Casi arrives at his hotel, called The Orchard, which is such an overwhelmingly aestheticized environment that one questions its exact relationship to reality. The name “The Orchard” is clearly a reference to The Garden of Eden, what with the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. group that is having a conference there. In a bit of metafictional brio Casi seems to recognize this and offer some questioning incredulity to the handiwork of his own creator:

“You’re kidding right? Serpent in the gardens? Is this some kind of put-on? Where’s the hidden camera? Next you’ll tell me I’m not allowed in the Apple wing.” [465]

In addition to this, the name of The Orchard’s manager is “Big Mac,” the unbelievability of which Casi lingers over for a paragraph or so, and in general the hotel seems far too good to be true. Rather than see all this as clumsiness on De la Pava’s part, I view this over the top symbolism as purposeful, the author’s way of indicating Casi’s increasing break from reality and retreat into a constructed world of his (?) own creation. This seems to be emblematic of the book’s increasing retreat into smaller and smaller cycles of the same plotlines, as though everything is being pushed into more and more rarefied territory, the book relentlessly moving toward its own margins. This, I think, has to do with something Thomas Pynchon called “Beyond the Zero” in Gravity’s Rainbow. In addition and oddly enough, despite all the heavy-handed imagery, The Orchard also does serve to give an Edenistic feel, and I think it works as a symbol, even in spite of De La Pava going out of his way to make it obvious to us for other reasons.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Naked Singularity Big Read: Boxing and the Disintegration of Reality

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Throughout the last 50 or so pages of this week’s section we see the re-introduction of the Puerto Rican boxer Wilfred Benitez, who was very quickly introduced to A Naked Singularity during week 2’s reading.

Benitez’s boxing career will come to loom larger and larger throughout the remainder of this book, becoming a third narrative strand in juxtaposition to the two main ones: Casi’s scheme with Dane and his defense of the death row convict Jalen Kingg with his colleague Toombin. Just as the Dane and Toombin narratives are becoming ever more surreal and deconstructed, the Benitez narrative becomes the one that feels the most solid and reliable. It is also the only “true” one, in the sense of being the factual retelling of the career of a man who actually existed. It’s also interesting that an activity like boxing comes to represent the concrete in this book: a very physical, dangerous, and even deadly sport. Few things could better represent the immediacy of reality than a fist colliding with one’s face.

The Benitez narrative fails to intersect with the other two in any meaningful way, other than the weak connection that Casi is a boxing fan and is recalling Benitez’s career for some reason. However, there are definite thematic resonances, though De La Pava keeps their precise nature ambiguous. I’m curious how you all see the Benitez narrative as integrating into the rest of the book. Is it successful? Is it meaningful? Is it a distraction? Well-told?

This is also where Casi’s narrative begins to seriously break down: for instance, the strange, short chapter covering pages 406-408, where it’s not entirely clear that Casi is talking to Conley till a few paragraphs in. And then Casi’s still-stranger attempt at a confession, which ends in a surreal pitch for a fictitious HBO show called Clerical Confessions, loosely playing off of Cab Confessions. (Again resonances with “Before the Law.”)

It was right about here that I begun to seriously question whether or not any of these things are actually happening. I think there’s a very valid reading of this book that involves Casi mostly departing with reality right around where he and Dane begin to cook up their heist. In this reading, I think you can consider what happens in the book as having a metaphorical relationship with Casi’s actually reality, but not a direct one. At the very least, many of the incidents that occur throughout the remainder of A Naked Singularity seem to involve versions of the truth to a greater degree than actual truth.

This week’s section concludes with Casi having three interesting conversations in his now-frigid apartment: one a romantic encounter with Traci, one a conversation with Toom over the Kingg case, and one a conversation with Dane over their scheme. This reminded me very much of Don DeLillo’s second novel Great Jones Street, which involves a Bob Dylan-esque rock star holed up in a nondescript New York apartment while all manner of people transit in and out to talk to him in various capacities. The conversations have the same mix of absurdity and reality, plus a sense of dislocation inspired by the fact of hiding out in an apartment, as well as a similar comic touch and use of dialog to push multiple plotlines forward concurrently.

What did you make of Casi’s bizarre confession [409-420], particularly the parts where he wonders aloud if having forgotten transgressions makes one less culpable for them? What does this say about the scheme he will eventually be embarking on with Dane, and whether or not it will be a part of him 10 or 20 years down the line?

What did you make of Conley’s claim that the years 24 to 47 represent middle age, as well as his thoughts on the middle being generally forgotten? What relevance do you see between this and the prior question?

And I’m looking for a good reading of the quote I posted in my prior post on A Naked Singularity. I’ll reproduce it here:

Outside, in the cold, was all the reality you could bear. I still had to go to Cymbeline to hear Soldera’s fate. Dane said he was going home to think so we parted ways somewhat abruptly. I looked up at the sky without real cause. It was true that the temperatures had unmistakably belonged to winter for quite some time but now the sky was finally reflecting true winter as well. And not early festive winter or dwindling late-stage winter either. This was exact midpoint winter, in appearance and fact, topped by a perfectly white firmament. Perfectly and uniformly White in a way that made me think Star Trek et alii had it all wrong when they portrayed the vast outer reaches of space as occasionally interrupted black. It wasn’t black out there, it was white, and this was being revealed to me all at once without intervening gradations. You could climb high as you might and look all around but all you would see is missing color. Absence in every direction. Isotropic and sad White, nothing else and nothing more. And how could I have failed to notice until just then such an achromatic expanse? Such a vapid emptiness that precluded all matter and meaning. But those days it was true that a great many critical things were hidden from my view by their very prevalence.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Naked Singularity Big Read: Lists and Justifications

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.

Picking up where we left off earlier this week, in the middle of this week’s section Casi and Dane are hashing out the details of their heist plan. Casi, who already said “yes” to the plan at the end of last week’s section, is having doubts, and Dane is working hard to reassure him and bring him in to the plan.

On page 356 we see an interesting justification Dane gives, a justification that brings in the threads of morality and the American justice system that we’ve been considering bit by bit here. In fact, it’s such a wide-ranging, rambling justification that, if you look at it right, you’ll see that it incorporates all sorts of strands of logic and philosophical lines of thought. It starts with Dane making the very reasonable assertion that:

The money we’re going to take is generated by the War on Drugs—that hypocritical, mass-produced mindfuck currently lining everybody’s pockets but ours.

No doubt true (if some leeway for exaggeration is given), and you can make what you want of the “everybody else is doing it, so should we” argument. Then Dane moves on to something along the lines of a justification-by-destiny:

We didn’t choose this setup, it fell in our laps.

And then a completely ahistorical justification that simply puts Dane and Casi beyond questions of right and wrong:

Nonetheless, while planning this heist we’re going to be able to forget everything else through the thrill that comes from exhausting our abilities. When we do it, our bodies will be electrified by our naked displays of will.

And then an “end justifies the means” argument, culminating in that most American of values, freedom:

And when we’ve succeeded, you will not only know that you are one badass fuck, but you will finally and truly be free. The money will liberate you and give you power.

We should especially keep those last words in mind as we read on.

You can make what you want of Dane’s various justifications, but I think their sheer variety, and the way Dane thrusts them all together so haphazardly, bespeaks little philosophical depth to the man himself. He allegiance, as he likes to point out, is to money. That is something that I would argue dissolves deep thought more than enables it.

Right after this conversation, we have one of my favorite stretches of this section: unsure of what to do next, Casi begins making lists. He makes them to a comically absurd extent: “When I was done you couldn’t see the carpet for the pages.” [357] Interestingly, he also notes that, “My dwindling volition was in those pages.” [357] The listing frenzy leads to this exchange between Casi and his friend Conley, who occasionally drops by with bizarre ideas enabled by the latest in scientific research. Casi starts out, describing his lists:

“Because everything is susceptible to discrete, unproblematic listing. Anything can be ranked. Subjectivity has nothing to do with it. If something is ranked higher it simply is higher. Better. Understand?”

“I do and I agree. In the future, we’ll rank all humans according to the quality of their particular genome. A numerical value will be assessed and tattooed between the individual’s right and left ass cheek. A job interview, for example, would simply consist of looking into someone’s ass.” [357]

They go on to discuss how, ultimately, Conley envisions perfect equality for humanity by having everyone “look and be substantially the same.”

After a magnificent meal between Dane and Casi in which they discuss the heist in greater detail and Dane’s care in planning for it, chapter 14 ends with this paragraph. Once we’re back again to the weather and the ambiance interpreting Casi’s inner state of mind:

Outside, in the cold, was all the reality you could bear. I still had to go to Cymbeline to hear Soldera’s fate. Dane said he was going home to think so we parted ways somewhat abruptly. I looked up at the sky without real cause. It was true that the temperatures had unmistakably belonged to winter for quite some time but now the sky was finally reflecting true winter as well. And not early festive winter or dwindling late-stage winter either. This was exact midpoint winter, in appearance and fact, topped by a perfectly white firmament. Perfectly and uniformly White in a way that made me think Star Trek et alii had it all wrong when they portrayed the vast outer reaches of space as occasionally interrupted black. It wasn’t black out there, it was white, and this was being revealed to me all at once without intervening gradations. You could climb high as you might and look all around but all you would see is missing color. Absence in every direction. Isotropic and sad White, nothing else and nothing more. And how could I have failed to notice until just then such an achromatic expanse? Such a vapid emptiness that precluded all matter and meaning. But those days it was true that a great many critical things were hidden from my view by their very prevalence.

For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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