01 March 2009

Sunday Reading Notes and a Challenge to MTBE Readers

It was a hot, muggy summer day as MasterGote and I motored up through Staten Island. A small pile of canine massed himself upon my lap, absent-mindedly licking the salt from my arm now and then to punctuate MG’s queries about my dissertation. Responding to my whining about trying to find a satisfying means of organizing my findings, MG asked:

“Have you read Martin Jay’s The Dialectical Imagination?”

“Not recently.”
The panting pet paused his preening to shake his head in dismay.

But still I was hesitant. I hadn’t looked at the book since I was an academic tenderfoot who sincerely believed that an afternoon of paging through Craig Owens and Hal Foster and Klaus Theweleit was time well spent. These days, I confess, I am wary of returning to that particular fray of navelward gawking.

But eight months after that sweaty ride, I find myself half under the covers in cold, dreary Brooklyn reading up on the Frankfurt School again, still searching for a compelling model of writing about my dissertation's little community of thinkers. (Also at my side is Henry Yu’s Thinking Orientals, which, for the record, is far more enjoyable when one isn’t reading it for those nasty prelim exams.)

Only a few pages into Jay's history, the effort already seems worthwhile, if only for this somewhat obvious gem from Max Horkheimer’s foreword:
The hope that earthly horror does not possess the last word is, to be sure, a non-scientific wish.
It's almost simplistic, but there's something about it coming from Horkheimer's pen that lends a deeper resonance to the words.


Since I know you all are suckers for quotes and that one line from Max won't sustain your addictions, I give you these first and last lines, from an author with a most curious sense of beginnings and endings.
Rahula Sankrityayana, History of Central Asia (1964)
[Gifted from my aunt in Kolkata, sent to me by way of Buster Sr.]

First: “One part tin mixed with ten parts copper yields bronze.”

Last: “These laws have been collected by Labruva from the writings of Persian historians and from the works of Carpini and Rubrik, but this is by no means a complete list.”
Challenge: What did you read this weekend, dear readers? Go on and post first and last sentences. Can anyone top Sankrityayana's flouting of conventional narrative openings and closings?


kg said...

This is kind of cheating, but... I was organizing the hundreds of files I scanned before leaving the U.S. today and glancing through them to assign file names in the "Author, Title" format, as opposed to the slightly less practical "DHV 198.670" type; one of the files was Walter Benjamin's "Thirteen Theses Against Snobs." But the pages I have begin with the end and end with the beginning of other texts. Those lines are:
Opening: Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading.
Closing: He who cannot take sides should keep silent.
(Source for both found here: http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/rraley/research/Benjamin.html)
These speak for themselves, right? They may not meet your challenge per se, but I think WB is dropping across time and space subtle hints about your dissertation :).

lizzie b said...

Seeing India with Lowell Thomas (1936) accompanied by Rex Barton
First Sentence: Flash!
Last Sentence: The people of Mars couldn't have invented it if all of them had been Edisons.

Ripley Under Ground (1970) Patricia Highsmith
First Sentence: Tom was in the garden when the telephone rang.
Sorry - no possible way I can bring myself to look ahead at the last sentence!

Anonymous said...

First: "Popular fiction is supposed to be essentially story-driven; the proof that it works is the sound of the pages turning."

Last: "He ended up all over the island."

(Adam Gopnik's New Yorker piece about Damon Runyon. No, I didn't open an actual book all weekend; give an alte fartzer a break, can't you?)

@Lizzie B: Highsmith is terrific. I recommend Cry of the Owl (talk about a last sentence!) and, of course, Hitchcock's movie of Strangers on a Train--she said Robert Walker's Bruno Anthony was the best Tom Ripley (though he's not exactly the same character) on film. The first movie from a Ripley was "Plein Soleil," with Alain Delon as Tom; he's a feast for the eyes but not necessarily right for the part.

In the early 50's Highsmith published The Price of Salt, a lesbian romance with a happy ending, very daring for the time; understandably it appeared under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. It's a good romance but lacks the ice-cold creepiness of her later stuff, which is what I treasure.

MasterGote said...

Okay, I will play this game, but don't consider this a challenge to anything:

Margarita Tupitsyna, i Kriticheskoe opticheskoe (1997) Russian translation, so I'm translating back roughly

First: In the era of Stalin, whose 'will to power' penetrated every sphere of Soviet life, there was not the slightest chance to escape politicized reality.

Last: Meanwhile, they stoically conserve the familiar discomfort, as well as estrangement and disinterest in relation to the mechanisms of the signifier.

Barf. But that's quite a memory you've got there, Buster. All I remember about that day is how damn hot it was in that car.

MasterGote said...

Wait a second...Feral Dogs?! I'll give you what for! Just you wait.

Sean Guillory said...

I started rereading the Watchmen in anticipation for the movie.

First: "Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach."

Last: "I leave it entirely in your hands."

Buster said...

KG, I appreciate Benjamin's ability to succinctly encapsulate, but I seriously have no idea what those quotes have to do with my dissertation. Am I known for hesitating when it comes to taking sides?

Lizzie, That opening sentence from Ripley has me dreaming of leaving academia and working through huge piles of novels with such wonderfully direct, simple and evocative language.

Rootless, How long until you start your own blog for all these scraps of knowledge? That's the real question.

And finally, dear Gote, those 1990s Russian books murder me.

NOW, you lazy lurkers, I know you can read, and I bet you can type! So feed us with first and last sentences.

Buster said...

Sean! I'm pretty excited about Watchmen as well. Actually, Lizzie B, I happen to know, is reading it for the first time right now to gear up for our outing next weekend to see it. I just hope that they don't balls it up like they did with V for Vendetta.

Sean Guillory said...

The dorks at my local comics shop tell me that the only criticism they've heard is that it's too close to the novel. One said that people will be expecting a super hero movie but what they'll get is a violent drama. I take that as a good sign. Plus I loved 300 . . .

Susana in SF said...

First sentence: "The first sentence is crucial."
Last sentence: "He took his family to Palestine."

Source: A Sultan in Palermo by Tariq Ali.

[The first sentence that is so crucial is that of the geography of Sicily the main character is preparing; should he start with the customary "Bismallah ar-rahman u rahim" (In the name of Allah the benevolent and merciful).]

Not a great novel--I skimmed the middle half, but the best (and only) book I've read on Islam in Sicily. Anyone know of others I can read? I am looking for more.

Susana in SF

Buster said...

Sean, I felt meh about 300 in both novel and film form. The problem is that Moore is a lot harder to adapt than Miller--which is Moore's worry about Watchmen as a film, right? At any rate, I'm sure I'll enjoy the process of viewing and comparing; at the least, I relish the excuse to re-read the original.

Susana, I know that there are a couple of readers of this blog who might have some suggestions, if they come out of the woodwork. I got nothing.

nadia said...

I also did not care for 300.

Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender and the Middle Class in Lebanon, 1870-1920(required reading.)

First: There were 72 of us, we went to Beirut where we remained for 8 days, living outdoors...finally, one night the Beirut agents came and said "let's go."
Last: Emigration was critical to this mixed future.

The premise of the book is interesting and probably one I'd get more out of if I wasn't forcing myself to rush through right now. Plus a pamphlet by ATTW

I don't know jack about fiction on Italian Muslims, just that in French literature there's quite a lot but I don't know how much of it I would recommend. In nonfictionland Hichem Djait's "Europe and Islam" is considered on par with Orientalism as a giant on the subject, it also happens to be his only book available in English, which doesn't really answer this request, but if you're interested I'm just saying.

Buster said...

So I'll call the provisional results, pending late additions.

The winners:

Still quirkiest opening: “One part tin mixed with ten parts copper yields bronze.” (Buster)

Best actual opening: "Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach." (Sean)

Honorable mention: "Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading." (kg)

Best closer: "The people of Mars couldn't have invented it if all of them had been Edisons." (lizzie b)

I plan on lifting that last one t finish my dissertation. Just need to work on the beginning, which is currently the rather bland phrase, "Like many Punjabi farmers, Bachan Singh's father..."