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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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YFTS: I am Myself My Own Fever and Pain, and Dogs Have 18 Toes

Before we get started on this week’s discussion, a few housekeeping items.

  • First off, remember that on Monday we’ll be joined by Margaret Jull Costa, translator of Your Face Tomorrow. She’s graciously agreed to answer questions in the comments, so think up some good questions over the weekend and be ready with them on Monday.
  • This week we read pp. 234 – 316, and next week we’re going to be finishing Vol 1. Congrats to everyone who has made it this far! I hope everyone is enjoying the book. I am. Remember, you can see the full schedule right here.
  • Big thanks to Andrew Seal for filling in last week with an excellent post while I was traveling. If anyone else wants to take a shot at doing a post, be in touch with me.

So, some thoughts on this week’s reading:

  • First off, how do people feel about the pace? I generally don’t read a book this slowly, but I’m kind of liking the ability to truly savor YFT, and the necessary re-reading created by such a slow path through the book. How do other people feel? is this enhancing the experience for you?
  • On page 236 Wheeler muses, “Who knows, maybe that’s partly why we die: because everything we’ve experienced is reduced to nothing, and then even our memories languish and fade. First it’s our personal experiences, then its our memories.” This, to me, is a huge argument in favor of books, and even in favor of photos and videos. Essentially, other than oral traditions these are the only ways to pass down human memory through the generation, and so they seem hugely important, and to strike a huge argument for communication, contra Deza in the book’s opening pages.
  • If anyone out there is a native speaker of Spanish, I wonder what you make of Deza claiming that he “mentally uses” usted when addressing Wheeler in English. [239] Is this something bilingual Spanish-speakers do when conversing in a language that doesn’t distinguish between intimate and formal forms of you? I bring it up since Deza’s remarks imply that language has a substantial capacity to influence how we think, something that’s crucial to this story, as well as a particular theme of George Orwell, whom we’ve seen in these pages already, and who seems to hover over YFT in certain ways. I also think that this business is interesting in conjunction with another thing Deza says: “in other languages one always remembers erms that are no longer in use or are unknown to native speakers.” [241]
  • What did people make of Wheeler’s long speech [240-5] about the necios, that is, the people who purposely know nothing, as well as his whole business about contemporary Western humanity’s fury over not being able to manipulate the past and it’s disbelief that anything could have been better in a prior era? (And his whole thing about the futility of reparations.) I admit being a little conflicted about it. Some of this strikes me as very true, but other parts strike me as interesting–and perhaps even accurate to Wheeler’s character–but ultimately not things I can agree are accurate.
  • I’m going to point out Deza’s remark: “I am myself my own fever and pain. . . . I must be.” [257] This seems like a rather crucial remark to keep in mind.
  • In the second half of this section, we get a very lengthy set of scenes that disclose the nature of Deza’s work, which I view as very much the same as a fiction writer. I base this mostly in Deza’s remark that “there comes a point when it doesn’t much matter whether you get things right, especially since in my work this was rarely verifiable.” [259] Essentially, Deza and his coworkers are inventing reality and using it as the basis for very serious decisions in the world. This strikes me as incredible hubris, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t eventually catch up with them. Though I also think there is a certain implication that most of us try to create these realities as well, albeit on a smaller scale; nonetheless, this would imply that we’re exhibiting a certain amount of hubris in thinking we can define reality in our own small ways.
  • Lets talk for a second about dog toes. Was I the only one who was sure that Marias had his math wrong when he claimed that dogs have 18 toes, but that the three-legged dog would have lost 4 toes? Wouldn’t that by 16 toes total (4 toes x 4 legs = 16). Well, I looked it up, an dogs have 5 toes on their hing paws, and 4 on their fore paws.
  • Did anyone else notice how toward the end of this section, as Deza maps back to his encounter with Wheeler after the party, Wheeler’s voice starts to get swallowed up by Deza’s consciousness? That is, Deza starts to report Wheeler’s speech again toward the end of this section, but he does it without quotation marks or much other sign that this is what he’s doing. This is incredibly Bernhardian.
  • What did I miss? What other quotes should I be looking at here?

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. YFTS: The Hardest Part About Fictions Is Not Creating But Maintaining Them A couple of things I wanted to point out from the first 20 or so pages of the segment of Fever and Spear that we're...
  2. YFTS: when you look at your life as a whole the chronological aspect gradually diminishes in importance All right, so I’m assuming that everyone who reads this post is up to page 180, also known as the end of section 1, “Fever,”...
  3. YFTS: Some Thoughts on the First 90 Pages of Your Face Tomorrow and the Perils of Talking Now that we've gotten our feet wet with the first 90 pages or so of Your Face Tomorrow, some initial thoughts. For those who aren't...
  4. YFTS: Spy Games and Redundancy Hi, everyone, this is Andrew Seal. Scott has asked me to pinch-hit for this week of Your Face This Spring, and it’s a great week...
  5. YFTS: Margaret Jull Costa Now Joining Us Legendary translator Margaret Jull Costa, who of course translated Your Face Tomorrow, as well as books by Jose Saramago, Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz, Bernardo...

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5 comments to YFTS: I am Myself My Own Fever and Pain, and Dogs Have 18 Toes

  • Neil

    At first I was really enjoying the pace of the novel. The opening 20 pages were very rewarding when read slowly and repeatedly. I started reading quicker, however, after I heard the interview where he explains that he writes in his unusual style to promote fast reading. After which, I started reading it in almost a trance state and therefore finished the book two weeks ago. This is fine for me, since I have a bunch of things on my list that I can read until the group starts volume 2 in the next few weeks.

  • Neil

    At first I was really enjoying our slow pace. The opening 20 pages were very rewarding when read slowly and repeatedly. I started reading quicker, however, after I heard the interview where he explains that he writes in his unusual style to promote fast reading. After which, I started reading it in almost a trance state and therefore finished the book two weeks ago. This is fine for me, since I have a bunch of things on my list that I can read until the group starts volume 2 in the next few weeks.

  • RJH (formerly Richard)

    Scott: A few reactions…first, I am thoroughly enjoying reading at a much slower pace than I normally would. I feel somehow that the book is infiltrating even more deeply into my consciousness…As ridiculous as I am aware this will sound, I even find myself, at odd moments throughout my days at work, behaving “as Deza would” or I catch myself suddenly “thinking like Deza”–or at least thinking to myself “you’re thinking like Deza”–which is both oddly comforting and more and more unsettling the further I get into this reread of Vol. 1 (I have not cracked Vols. 2 or 3 at all previously, so am very much looking forward to moving into them)…

    But to my main point: you write about “Deza’s remark that ‘there comes a point when it doesn’t much matter whether you get things right, especially since in my work this was rarely verifiable.’ [259] Essentially, Deza and his coworkers are inventing reality and using it as the basis for very serious decisions in the world. This strikes me as incredible hubris, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t eventually catch up with them.’ I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read this and the surrounding paragraphs, and on into the descriptions of Deza’s and his cohorts’ working days as part of this “group,” I found myself immediately thinking of the Bush aide who apparently said to a reporter the following: “guys like [you] are ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he [the Bush aide] defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”

    First of all, of course, as of yet, Deza and Tupra and the others are not yet “acting,” but rather doing the “observing” and “analyzing” (of course, there are already many deeply murky hints that Tupra is indeed out there “acting” in some way, or at least other branches of this “group” are doing so, or at the very least there are hints that their observations and reports are having effects out in the world…cf. the mention of the attempted coup against Chavez viz Deza’s “test” observation and report on the quasi- or fake military figure)…on the other hand, Deza’s description of how he (and by extension, one assumes, they all) essentially improvises off of the briefest, barest, most hidden of observations (I love the phrases he uses, “the superiority of looking while unseen, of seeing everything without risking one’s own eyes” [261]–especially the latter clause)…as you point out, making things up as a fiction writer does, to some degree…I don’t know, it’s of course easy to relate everything one reads to one’s own “reality,” but those lines, that whole section, really jumped out at me, and instantly brought up my horrified, shocked, nearly incredulous memory of that statement by the Bush aide, which I parsed and reparsed in my head for days, weeks, months after having read it the first time…And if I remember correctly what I read in reviews about Vol 2 Dance and Dream, there is an extended section where we, horrifyingly, see Tupra “acting” out in the world on someone…after having ‘created his own reality,’ perhaps?…

    I’m getting little chills (and I do mean chills) sitting here typing this stuff, and as the murky pasts and presents of all the characters (Wheeler and, through his shadow, Tupra (or Tupra’s shadow), most especially) begin to come increasingly into the light (or, at least, into the lit corners of Deza’s consciousness, while he simultaneously, as he tells us, begins turning off his own conscience/consciousness in order to just “react” and “report” without qualifications, even without nuance), and we begin to see the repetition of words like “fear” and “terror” and even “murder” (not to mention the nearly ubiquitous “fever” and “pain”) I find myself thinking more and more about the present “reality” or “realities” in which we find ourselves via American “interventionism,” our reactions to “terror,” and, arguably, our own more insidious perpetrations of it…which, forgive the continued digressions (see, I’m beginning to think in a pathetic approximation of Deza-speak, or Deza-thought), but which also reminds me of Wheeler’s statement that “it’s the turn of Arabists and Islamic scholars, they have no idea yet just what’s hit them, they won’t get a moment’s peace” (232)…oh, my…

    (Apologies…it’s late, I’m tired, and I don’t know if this makes any sense…)

  • RJH (formerly Richard)

    Just to clarify: In one of my final paragraphs above, I probably should not have put the word “terror” in parentheses in my little digression about American interventionism and our reactions to terror–though maybe I should have…but my point is that I live in New York and was here on 9/11…just in case anyone took offense…none was intended (not about that day, anyway)…This book is, however, making me think even more deeply than I usually do about the complexities of “reality,” competing “realities,” and the stories we and our governments tells ourselves about why/how/what happened…so, not to deny that real “terror” exists as a threat out there in the world, but there is certainl a distinct danger, in my eyes, of making decisions and taking action in the world based on the kinds of improvisatory “observations” and “predictions” that Deza is describing being part of…What did Nietzsche write? “When one is out hunting monsters, one must be careful not to become a monster oneself”…something along those lines…And I’m well aware that there is much, much more going on in this novel than echoes of the current political climate, though I think those echoes are most definitely there…

  • Stephen

    Perhaps Wheeler’s speach reflects his commitment to historical discontinuity; his insistance that we live in a new era(236). As a character, given Wheeler’s age, experiences, education and elitism, his perspective on contemporary society is not too surprising. Taken more broadly, I think it functions as a criticism of our distinct postmodern era of global capital and of political correctness. I mean postmodernism, or late capitalism as Fred would describe it and not as the French guy that emphasized metanarratives, as an emphasis upon surfaces, depthlessness and historical amnesia. And it is in light of this discontinuity with the past, and because of his critisism of the ‘new era’, that Wheeler’s distain for reparations makes sense. Given that they are undertaken by people who were not there and hence have no idea what they are talking about–percieving or mispercieving the past as they do, ideologically, convieniently. That’s the only impression that I can really get. I can appreciate the reading and rereading but, as I think Marias mentions, his books are to be read quickly. And I think his sentences encourage a quick pace, and indeed I am a bit anxious to move ahead to see what’s going on. That’s my only impression so far.

    Necius, I love the term. It reminds me of the phrase ignorance is bliss, but in the context of Marias’ novel I guess I wonder who it applies to, the ruling elite or the average everyman. Applied to these groups the term takes on a very differnt resonance. I tend to believe that Wheeler’s speech is directed towards the ruling elite, and truely, the term is perfect. The leaders of society, committed to ever increasing accumulation of capital and the expansion of the neoliberal capitalist system–infinite growth within a finite world– must be willfully ignorant in order to go to work in the morning.

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