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The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

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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The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

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.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

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

Last Samurai

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.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

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Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

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


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    A man enters a house and asks to buy some beans, but we aren’t given his question, only the response: humble surprise from the narrator and an invitation inside. This modesty, though it remains at the core of the narrator throughout, is quickly overwhelmed when his questions, his welcoming explanations, flow into an effort to tell his whole life story, from […]
  • The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson, edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin March 9, 2014
    The Gorgeous Nothings, the dedicated work of visual artist Jen Bervin and author Marta Werner, presents in large format the first full-color publication of all fifty-two of Emily Dickinson’s envelope writings. As such, it opens up an aspect of her craft that suggests she was, in the so-called late ecstatic period of her career, experimenting with creating te […]
  • The Mehlis Report by Rabee Jaber March 9, 2014
    The Mehlis Report follows the architect Saman Yarid on his daily perambulations around Lebanon's capital, where his memories of the city's past and his observations of the high-rises that have emerged from the ruins of the nation's civil war dominate the faint plot. But the book transcends Beirut: Jaber writes about what is left behind when pe […]
  • The Fiddler of Driskill Hill by David Middleton March 9, 2014
    Middleton’s sensibility as poet and man is thoroughly Christian, Southern (or rather, Louisianan), and traditional, but he’s no unreconstructed romantic Rebel reliving the Civil War. His manner is meditative and elegiac, not rancorous or redneck. In a rare useful blurb on the back of the book, the North Carolina poet and novelist Fred Chappell describes Midd […]
  • The Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell March 9, 2014
    After The Kindly Ones, the nine hundred-page long Goncourt Prize-winning “autobiography” of a Nazi, fans of the Franco-American writer Jonathan Littell may heave an inward sigh of relief at the sight of The Fata Morgana Books. A slim collection of “studies” (as some of these stories were called in their original French incarnations), The Fata Morgana Books n […]
  • Novelty: A History of the New by Michael North March 9, 2014
    There is no better way to ensure the early demise of a form or a style than to proclaim its newness; fewer epithets are as old as “new.” A well-known work by Italian artist Maurizio Nannucci reads, “All art has been contemporary”—we may wish to amend it, for present purposes, and have it read, “All art has been new.” Yet surely this is something of a truism. […]
  • A Life Among Invented Characters: A Tribute to Mavis Gallant March 9, 2014
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  • The Guy Davenport Reader March 9, 2014
    Poet-critic. Think of that word, made of two—what a beaux construction. The first is wild, hair mussed, looking at a bird in a tree—yet the follower is practical, urbane, and seemingly obeisant to word counts. Together they bleach out the fusspot academic and appeal to logos—Davenport once said that he was “not writing for scholars or critics, but for people […]
  • [SIC] by Davis Schneiderman March 9, 2014
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Naked Singularity Big Read: Beyond the Zero

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

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.

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  1. 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...
  2. 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...
  3. Naked Singularity Big Read: Boxing and the Disintegration of Reality For the rest of the Naked Singularity Big Read posts, click here. Throughout the last 50 or so pages of this week’s section we see...
  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: 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...

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4 comments to Naked Singularity Big Read: Beyond the Zero

  • SirJack

    Hats off for continuing to see such passages in the most charitable way possible. You’re certainly a kinder reader than me.

  • Richard

    I keep swinging back and forth betwen SirJack and the others…this books has pissed me off like none other recently; at the same time, I find myself heedlessly reading headlong through the fray…I’m trying to analyze this: is it the voice? It must be, because there’s not much else that holds up under sober, daylight analysis, and yet I read this book endlessly each night, and turned those freakin’ pages one after the other without much resistance…but the ending…ugh. Sorry. I’ll wait until the final week…

    By the way, I tip my hat to you (I think) SirJack…god, I miss Javier Marias right now…the experience of reading Your Face Tomorrow, for the first time, page after page…man, there will be NOTHING like that, I fear (and hope I’m wrong), and fear…

  • The in-flight movie — I took this at face value: he’s watching the movie with no audio, so he makes up his own dialogue. (Everybody does that, right?)

    I’m not entirely clear on how the Orchard works as a symbol. There’s the contrast it sets up with Jalen’s prison settting. Maybe as pre-crime ideal state suspended from reality?

    Are we talking about the crime yet?

  • Gilly

    I also took the inflight movie pretty much at face value. Terms of Endearment? When I got to the Orchard Hotel and Big Mac, it made me cringe a bit and I was afraid the author was coming adrift, but then it started to sound a bit like a Murakami novel and immediately afterwards (not at all in a Murakami way) comes one of the most challenging and poignant scenes with the prison guard and Jalen Kingg. The contrast with the luxury of the Orchard Hotel is extreme, yet both are cut off from communication with the “real” world. I was really struck by the guard’s complaint that everyone wants the death penalty, but no one wants to be the one to carry it out, his combination of a weird and weary compassion and a pragmatic account of his difficulties. The anti-sympathy file was sad and chilling. Casi is trying to be a good person but his realm of work is so morally ambivalent and compromised (as indicated way back by the taxi driver’s question). Later Conley points out that Jalen’s fate is of miniscule importance (sadly irrelevant) in the light of huge universal questions of Dark Energy and Dark Matter.

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