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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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.

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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

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


  • Nostalgia June 15, 2014
    Few habits are as prone to affliction, or as vulnerable to an ordeal, as the bent of a peddler’s consciousness. Placeless, the peddler completes an untold number of transactions; there are ideas to conduct (through language, which can transact a mind) and feelings to certify (through tasks, repeated interminably). […]
  • Why Literary Periods Mattered by Ted Underwood June 15, 2014
    There are some writers who are, and likely always will be, inextricably linked to the “period” with which their work is associated, and in many cases helped to define. Surely Wordsworth and Keats will always be “Romantic” poets, while Faulkner and Woolf will remain modernists, as the term “modern” has been fully appropriated to describe the historical era be […]
  • Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz June 15, 2014
    August 1939. You sail to Buenos Aires on the Chombry as a cultural ambassador of Poland. Why say no to a little holiday on the government’s tab? Soon after arriving you sense that something isn’t right. You emerge from a welcome reception and your ears are “filled with newspaper cries: ‘Polonia, Polonia,’ most irksome indeed.” Before you’ve even had a chance […]
  • Accepting the Disaster by Joshua Mehigan June 15, 2014
    The first collections of most young poets, even the better ones, carry with them a hint of bravado. Flush with recognition, vindicated by the encouraging attentions of at least one editor and three blurbists, the poet strikes a triumphant pose and high-fives the Muse: “We did it, baby.” When Joshua Mehigan published his impressive first collection, The Optim […]
  • The Histories of Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland June 15, 2014
    Two of the greatest of Tom Holland's predecessors in translating Herodotus are Victorian scholar George Rawlinson and Aubrey de Selincourt; the former translated Herodotus in 1860, making an enormous hit (despite the fact that its detractors often referred to it as “dull and prolix"), while the latter's 1954 Herodotus was another enormous hit, […]
  • Bullfight by Yasushi Inoue June 15, 2014
    The premise of Yasushi Inoue's debut novella Bullfight, celebrated in Japan as a classic of postwar literature, is unassuming enough: an evening newspaper sponsors a tournament of the regional sport of bull-sumo. As practical and financial issues arise, the paper's young editor-in-chief, Tsugami, soon realizes he has taken on more than he can handl […]
  • Sworn Virgin by Elvira Dones June 15, 2014
    Sworn Virgin was made to be translated. Elvira Dones wrote this book not in her native language of Albanian but in Italian—a necessarily fraught and complicated decision. In an Italian-language interview with Pierre Lepori, Dones speaks about her choice of language: “Sworn Virgin was born in Italian . . . I’ve lived using Italian for nineteen years, it has s […]
  • On the Letters of David Markson June 15, 2014
    Knowing these narrators and how their lives paralleled David’s own, it’s difficult to deny his being a recluse. I certainly held that image of him, and nursed it, secretly cherishing it because it meant I was one of the few people with whom he corresponded, and with whom he would occasionally meet. Arranging our first meetings in person was something of a ni […]
  • Storm Still by Peter Handke June 15, 2014
    Storm Still (Immer Noch Sturm) does not necessarily represent new terrain for Handke. Originally published by Suhrkamp Verlag in 2010 and now available for English-language readers thanks to Martin Chalmers’ fluent translation, the play chronicles the dissolution of the Svinec family, a family of Carinthian Slovenes—a quasi-fictionalized version of Handke’s […]
  • Red or Dead by David Peace June 15, 2014
    David Peace's novel Red or Dead is about British football, but it partakes in the traits of Homer's epic. This is a novel about the place of myth and heroes in modern society, about how the cyclical rhythms of athletic seasons reflect the cyclical patterns of life. It is a book about honor and fate, and one which bridges the profound, dreamlike ter […]

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...
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  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...
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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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