Thursday, May 19

Memette 2

The first part of this post answers question 1.
Questions 2-6.

2. Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character? Absolutely not. No more than I have ever had a crush on a painted figure, statue, or billboard. To me, the very idea of a "crush" seems wholly inapplicable to written fiction and, what's more, somewhat restricted in use to a period of emotional development that for many coincides with grade school or junior high school. At that period of my life, I worked as a hotwalk on training grounds for thoroughbreds. My favorite books were Gulliver's Travels and Watership Down, and I read the poetry of Dylan Thomas -- hardly material for the emergence of a "crush." But who, among authors worth reading today, writes fiction to make readers develop a "crush" on a given character? The question might have been relevant in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries when serial novels may have had that effect among members of the leisure classes, but it seems irrelevant today.

3. The last book you bought is? Et puis, the French translation of Natsumé Soseki's (1867-1916) Sore Kara, which doesn't appear to have been translated into English yet. One reason I bought this novel, which is the second of a trilogy, is that the translator, Hélène Morita, finds remarkably witty and up-to-date formulas in French for Soseki's Japanese. I knew this by having read her translation of Botchan and I'd been waiting for her to translate another of Soseki's novels. Recently, I discovered that she has also translated, from English, interviews with Noam Chomsky.

4. What are you currently reading? See response to question 3. As for the category of what I might read next, I would cite Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (overview) and Joel Bakan's Just Words (reviewed intelligently).

5. List five books you would take to a deserted island. The question obviously weighs the answer towards large books, and therefore not necessarily toward books I have already read in their entirety. It also bends my thoughts towards "classics" and thus excludes from consideration remarkable works whose value cannot be appreciated as a capacity to bear rereadings.

Aside from the survival books that a clueless suburbanite like myself would have to take in order to survive long enough to read five other books at leisure, first on the reading list I would place Shakespeare's complete works, and preferably an edition that provides all the folio variants, including the three completely different versions of King Lear. The reason for this choice is that, like few other cultural productions of their type, Shakespeare's works, far from being the mere pet subject-matter of a few white male professors, are inseperable from both the evolution and undoubtedly the future of the English language. The call to read them is thus emitted from the English language and its history more than it is from a cabal of power-invested figures of patriarchy. Furthermore, since linguistic inventiveness experiences a rapture throughout Shakespeare's writings, one could, by reading Shakespeare, retain one's taste for words even in isolated conditions. Shakespeare does far more than provide simple scraps of neologisms to whet one's appetite for words. Not only does he invent a number of words that are now common (e.g., "assassination"), but he also wraps crushing phrases in lucid argumentation.

Second, I would, for similar reasons, take along Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu. Like Shakespeare, Proust is an author whose writings can provide illustrative quotations for the bulk of a given French dictionary's entries. More important, imitating his penchant for infusing incisive details with lifetime significance would serve a mind well when faced with what could otherwise appear a monotonous, if not purposeless, existence. What better way to pass the days on a deserted island than by remembering the populated past? Of the exercise of memory via the art of prose, Proust is the unquestioned master. After Proust's famous madeleine, who knows what reveries the taste of coconut milk might unravel?

Third on the list would be the largest volume of Immanuel Kant's work that I could find. The complete works I have in French separate the three critiques from the later essays, and so I would probably have to opt for the second volume containing the three critiques if I could find no other. If the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce could subsit, as he once claimed he had done, on reading the first critique alone for years and develop such a sharp mind as his, then surely the three critiques would provide sustenance on a remote island for mine.

Fourth would be Jacques Derrida's Voyous, translated this last year into English as Rogues. It's one of the greatest works by one of the last century's greatest minds, and although it concerns ideas of "sovereignty" and state power, its relevance for even a solitary island dweller could be argued. Indeed, it could be mined for illuminating parallels with a work of fiction such as Lord of the Flies.

Fifth: Lord of the Flies (if others were to inhabit the island with me) and Robinson Crusoe (if I were to remain alone).

6. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why? For two different reasons, I'm not going to pass this stick to anyone in an explicit manner. First, because, given my critical remarks above, I would first have to drop or radically reformulate the questions for the exercise to appear worthwhile and, second, because I think that, to respect the spirit of the idea of a "meme," as this was first proposed by Richard Dawkin in the 1970s to connote the "unit of cultural evolution" (on the model of the Greek word "mimema," meaning "that which is imitated," and with allusion to the opposed notion of "gene"), I will simply allow readers to pick up on my comments or not, to reproduce the questions on their own blogs if they wish, or to reformulate them anew. If the meme, or memette, as I have called my own replies, propogate and are adapted elsewhere, then so be it.