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The End of Oulipo?

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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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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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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.

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3 comments to Naked Singularity Big Read: Lists and Justifications

  • Marcus

    I loved the listing section as well. Especially as it ties into Casi’s earlier concerns about the greatness of certain individuals. While he’s wondering whether or not to engage in this criminal activity with Dane (the dividends of which, as Dane puts it, will “liberate you and give you power”) it’s almost as if he’s consulting with the greats for advice in this almost kabbalistic ceremony. He must be wondering whether or not the freedom this money would no doubt grant him would allow him to enter this pantheon of op tens.

  • “Dane thrusts them all together so haphazardly, bespeaks little philosophical depth to the man himself”

    I wonder, in fact, if there is even any corporeality to him at all. No one else seems to see him, do they?

  • Aashish

    “Outside, in the cold, was all the reality you could bear. . . hidden from my view by their very prevalence”

    I tell you what, this paragraph got De La Pava another reader!

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