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Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


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    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
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Life Big Read: Question Thread

So I want to try something new here. Each week I’ll post a question thread, and then we all can post any questions at all we have about this week’s section in the comments. This can be anything, from, What does the story about X mean? to How do you translate trompe-l’œil, and what exactly is it? to Where did we last see Madame de Beaumont?

I’ll do my best to answer all the questions, but I’d like everyone else to provide answers as well!

I’ll get things started: Does anyone know if the Kubus, the tribe that Appenzzell attempted to live with, actually existed, or if existed any kind of similar tribe?

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9 comments to Life Big Read: Question Thread

  • A fun idea. I have not read the story so all I can contribute are the obvious links which indicate that the answer is yes.

    http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Kubus

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kubu_people

  • Stephen

    Hey Scott.

    So the Kubas are, or were, actual hunters and gatherers. It’s quite interesting that Perec would write of such people, who have few tribal possessions and no significant belief in private property ownership. It is very much the bedrock in terms of our human relationship with things. While the significance of Malinowski’s anthropology is less clear, (If I recall correctly he studied the relationship between the material, social and ideological levels of society, emphasizing in particular how the material or economic base informed the social and ideological levels) Marcel Mauss expanded his own ethnological observations into a book, The Gift. This book, which I haven’t read but have read about, as perhaps you and others have, is concerned with the concept of reciprocity, and the significance of the reciprocal relationships established between giver and receiver in the exchange of a ‘thing’. Or, as with Apenzzell, the failure to establish such a relationship with gift exchange. Obviously, this contrasts significantly with capitalist exchange and the value or meaning such exchange has on ‘things’, changing gifts into commodities-and reshaping human relationship in the process.

    I’d also like to mention the significance I found in the image of the rubber tappers and the tropical-wood trees being floated downstream, which Apenzzell meets as he makes his way upstream. It’s such a telling image of the global dynamic which capitalism established, as it grew out of its mercantile roots, whereby the ‘third world’ was created so the ‘first world’ could acquire resources and produce lots of ‘thing’s.

  • Gilly

    I found the Appenzzell episode moving, funny and tragic all at once. It takes place in the 1930s, doesn’t it, before the wholesale exploitation of resources in south east Asia .You can imagine Appenzzell thought he would find a tribe no one else had studied. With all his good intentions he was still going to exploit them. I admired the determination of the Kuba people to evade the anthropologist, to refuse his gifts and his help. It reminded me of the way Australian indigenous people refused to pass on Dreamtime stories, preferring to die with them untold. Sad and humbling. It’s interesting that the Kuba are losing vocabulary, at the same time as everyone in the building back in Paris seems to be piling words on words, objects on objects. Then Perec made me laugh out loud with his throwaway reference to the carpenter who asks his apprentice to pass the thing (le machin) ignoring the precise words for the tools of his trade.

    I liked the irony of Mme Moreau unable to find a handyman in her village Saint-Mouezy as all the cottages are now weekenders for do-it-youselfers all equipped from her catalogue.

    The elaborate James Sherwood sting; I was just thinking what a great film this would make and when I googled Ursula Sobieski I found this discussion group had already had that idea!
    http://www.readliterature.com/BC_laviemodedemploi.htm
    Some interesting decoding going on here.

    I feel Perec must have foreseen Google as I am doing a kind of Perec thing here, trying to dive beneath the surface to go further with his stories, characters and objects.

    Here’s a question I want to ask. Are the many paintings real pictures? Are some of them real? Or did Perec make them all up?

  • I liked the way Perec laid an O. Henry ending on the Sherwood tale. In a by the way comment, we are led to believe that the one million was paid in counterfeit dough.

  • The surface reading indicates the tribe but, there’s this reference which I actually found first: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kubuś
    I went back and re-read the section and the comments about “they who defend themselves” and “Sons of the Interior” made be re-examine the section. Perhaps it’s nothing but it certainly does make it a bit more puzzling to me as a reader. This is especially the case since Perec emphasizes that Appenzzell is Jewish.

  • Messed up the link, sorry.
    http:en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kubuś

  • admin

    Gilly: Excellent question. I have no idea, but I wouldn’t put it past Perec to have tossed in a few “real” paintings.

  • [...] I’d like to pull this from last week’s question thread: So the Kubas are, or were, actual hunters and gatherers. [...]

  • Philip

    I’m really enjoying this but I realize I am a long way behind schedule!

    Is there a reason for the absence of Beaumont 2? It jumps from Beaumont 1 to Beaumont 3.

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