The End of Oulipo?

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Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Naked Singularity Big Read: Absolute Zero

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

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 yahoo.com.

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.

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  1. Naked Singularity Big Read: Perfection For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. In chapter 3x2x1 (aka Chapter 6) De La Pava introduces one of the...
  2. Naked Singularity Big Read: Revolutions For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. So to start this week’s section, let’s actually go back to the last...
  3. Naked Singularity Big Read: About that Title For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. Hello everybody and welcome to our summer Big Read: A Naked Singularity by...
  4. Naked Singularity Big Read: Do Geniuses Make Mistakes? For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. Earlier this week we were talking about ideas of perfection, which are introduced...
  5. Naked Singularity Big Read Prizes We’re starting the Big Read of A Naked Singularity in just under 2 weeks. Schedule here. And here are some images of the four signed...

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2 comments to Naked Singularity Big Read: Absolute Zero

  • That alleged children’s book didn’t exactly prove fruitful for me either. It almost seemed to be there just because all the great experimental novels include at least one baffling, bridge-too-far section that indicates the limits of their accomplishment. I do feel like anagramming the author and translator name from the beginning of the chapter, though.

    Casi remains sympathetic and likeable throughout, I think, not that that matters much for me in terms of the success of a book. What makes a character unsympathetic is usually abhorrent behavior, which Casi doesn’t approach, whatever his flaws, or generalized whininess or inaction. Casi might sometimes be a victim of a Hamlet-like paralysis of choice, but his mind is always working.

  • Gilly

    The children’s story reads like a cross between Jabberwocky and a Norse saga put through an internet translator a couple of times. Yet it’s the angelic Mary who wants it read to her because it’s a story. Presumably it’s the same bizzarrely illustrated book from p670. What to make of this? That violence is embedded in fairy tales and myths which we pass on to children without grasping their terror and power? That even the cosy home where Casi has found refuge up till now is a place where siblings murder their parents and each other? I found the story quite disturbing to read, like a really bad dream.

    I loved that conversation with Angus about who was the greatest man who ever lived, and the list that follows. It is one of the great comic passages of the book, and Angus really is a wonderfully hilarious character.

    Also in the section are the letters to and from Jalen Kingg and the bureaucratic announcement of his death, the last segment on Benitez, an adult baby cared for by his mother, Angus’ explanation of the naked singularity and Casi’s own trial (but as Scott points out, not for his real crime). I was glad to see the characters from the opening scenes reappear and the way Raul Soldera finally gets something approaching true justice was satisfying. Dane announces he is going back down – aha I thought, back to Hell, but it turns out it is just back to Florida.

    One of the Amazon reviewers I think said s/he really disliked Casi, but I like him to the end. Even in the heist he tries to do the right thing, ie not kill anyone and save the pregnant girl. The line Scott quotes – “I want to admit wrongdoing, admit I do little else, yet have it lead to nothing punitive.” makes him sound like Everyman. His voice certainly kept me hooked through the book, kept me turning the pages, even on more than one reading.

    Thanks for choosing this one, Scott. It’s been a great experience. I’ve found your comments and all the others quite enlightening.

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