Book Review :: Fiction and the Weave of Life :: John Gibson

John Gibson, Fiction and the Weave of Life, Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 9780199299522.

Reviewed by Frank B. Farrell, Purchase College, State University of New York

Analytic philosophy of literature and deconstructionist thought make strange bedfellows, but they join in making matters difficult for the literary humanist. The analytic philosopher, using investigations regarding truth, reference, meaning, knowledge, justification, and the like will press toward a conclusion that literary fiction cannot be about the world and cannot give us knowledge of it. From quite different considerations, in emphasizing textuality and in supposedly undermining notions of representation and truth, the postmodern thinker concludes that literary fictions do not gain their significance through the ways they link up with a non-textual world beyond them. In contrast, the literary humanist wishes to argue that literature involves a cognitive engagement with the world, in ways that matter to our living out our lives as humans. John Gibson wants to give a strong defense of that claim, while at the same time granting considerable strength to the views of the humanist’s opponents.

Gibson is a philosopher of admirable clarity whose discussions contrast favorably with so much work in literary and cultural studies that seems to have little sense of what an argument is. At each point in his presentation, the reader knows just what move is being made in the debate. Gibson requires of his account that it satisfy two conditions at once. First, it should demonstrate that fiction has worldly import and illuminates reality, in a robust sense. Second, it should allow that the fictive stance we take toward literature is different in kind from the kind of stances we take toward linguistic sequences that purport to be assertions about how matters stand in the world. That is, the admirable effect produced by literature must be internal to what makes it function as the special kind of thing it is. One approach might be to challenge the analytic philosopher on what is meant by knowledge; perhaps there are models of what it is to grasp what the world is like that will apply better to fiction than the models now typically imported from philosophy. Gibson, while allowing that possibility, importantly decides to pursue a different strategy. He will grant the skeptic his claim that if fiction is somehow to be about the world, it will not be so in a manner that can be explained through the idea of knowledge. But then how can one prevent the text from becoming an isolationist realm, without tie lines to reality?

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Glimmer of a myriad lost sensations

It was a fine day, I felt well rested, not at all weak. I was happy, or rather in high spirits. The air was calm and warm, but I took my shawl anyway, so that I might ask someone to carry it and thereby strike up a new acquaintance. I have mentioned that the park adjoins our terrace, so I got there in no time. I walked into its shade with a sense of rapture. The air was luminous. The cassias, which flower long before they come into leaf, gave off a sweet scent — or perhaps it emanated from everywhere, that light, unfamiliar smell which seemed to enter into me by all my senses and filled me with a feeling of exaltation. I was breathing more easily, walking with a lighter step. I did have to sit down on the first bench, but I was more intoxicated, more dazzled than tired. I looked around. The shadows were light and fleeting; they didn’t fall on the ground, they barely skimmed it. O light! I listened. What could I hear? Nothing, everything; every sound amused me. I remember a shrub whose bark, from a distance, seemed to have such a strange texture that I had to get up to go over and feel it. My touch was a caress, it filled me with rapture. I remember . . . was this finally the morning when I was to be reborn?

I had forgotten I was alone; I sat there, waiting for nothing, oblivious of the time. Until that day, it seemed to me, I had felt so little and thought so much, and I was astonished to find that my sensations were becoming as strong as my thoughts. I say ‘it seemed to me’, for from the depths of my early childhood the glimmer of a myriad lost sensations was re-emerging. With my new-found awareness of my own senses I was able to recognize them, albeit tentatively. Yes, as my senses awoke, they rediscovered a whole history, reconstructed a whole past life. They were alive! Alive! They had never ceased to live but throughout my years of study had led a secret, latent existence.

I met no one that day, and I was glad of it. I took out of my pocket a small edition of Homer which I hadn’t opened since I had left Marseille, reread three lines of the Odyssey, learned them by heart, then, finding enough to nourish me in their rhythm, savoured them at my leisure. I shut the book and sat there trembling, more alive than I thought possible, my spirit drowsy with happiness . . .

– André Gide, The Immoralist

Alas, I had started to love life

I came back, bent over, found the clot, picked it up with a piece of straw and placed it in my handkerchief. I looked at it. It was a nasty dark colour, almost black, sticky and horrible . . . I thought of Bachir’s beautiful, glistening blood . . . And suddenly I felt a wish, a desire, more pressing and imperious than anything I had ever felt before, to live! I want to live. I want to live. I clenched my teeth, my fists, concentrated my whole being into this wild, desperate drive towards existence.

– André Gide, The Immoralist

Body Over Mind

I am going to talk at some length about my body. I am going to talk about it so much that you will think at first that I am neglecting the mind entirely. The omission is quite intentional; it is how it was. I don’t have the strength the lead a dual life, I said to myself. I’ll think about the life of the mind later, when I’m feeling better.

— André Gide, The Immoralist

“All the delights of the earth” :: A Lover’s Discourse

“All the delights of the earth”

comblement / fulfillment

The subject insistently posits the desire and the possibility of a complete satisfaction of the desire implicated in the amorous relation and of a perfect and virtually eternal success of this relation: paradisiac image of the Sovereign Good, to given and to be received.

  1. “Now, take all the delights of the earth, melt them into one single delight, and cast it entire into a single man — all this will be as nothing to the delight of which I speak” <Ruysbroeck>. Thus fulfillment is a precipitation: something is condensed, streams over me, strikes me like a lightning bolt. What is it which fills me in this fashion? A totality? No. Something that, starting from totality, actually exceeds it: a totality without remainder, a summa without exception, a site with nothing adjacent (“my soul is not only filled, but runs over” <Ruysbroeck>). I fulfill (I am fulfilled), I accumulate, but I do not abide by the level of lack; I produce an excess, and it is in this excess that the fulfillment occurs (the excessive is the realm, the system of the Image-repertoire: once I am no longer within the excessive, I feel frustrated; for me, enough means not enough): at last I know that state in which “delight exceeds the possibilities envisioned by desire.” A miracle: leaving all “satisfaction” behind, neither satiated nor drunk (saoul, in French), I pass beyond the limits of satiety <ETYMOLOGY: Satis (enough), in both “satisfaction” and “saoul” (satullus).>, and instead of finding disgust, nausea or even drunkenness, I discover . . . Coincedence. Excess has led me to proportion; I adhere to the image, our proportions are the same: exactitude, accuracy, music: I am through with not enough. Henceforth I live in the definitive assumption of the Image-repertoire, its triumph.
    Fulfillments: they are not spoken — so that, eroneously, the amorous relation seems reduced to a long complaint. This is because, if it is inconsistent to express suffering badly, on the other hand, with regard to happiness, it would seem culpable to spoil its expression: the ego discourses only when it is hurt; when I am fulfilled or remember having been so, language seems pusillanimous: I am transported, beyond language, i.e., beyond the mediocre, beyond the general: “There occurs an encounter which is intolerable, on account of the joy within it, and sometimes man is thereby reduced to nothing; this is what I call the transport. The transport is the joy of which one cannot speak” <Ruysbroeck>.
  2. In reality, it is unimportant that I have no likelihood of being really fulfilled (I am quite willing for this to be the case). Only the will to fulfillment shines, indestructible, before me. By this will, I well up: I form within myself the utopia of a subject free from repression: I am this subject already. This subject is libertarian: to believe in the Sovereign Good is as insane as to believe in the Sovereign Evil <Novalis>: Heinrich von Ofterdingen is of the same philosophical stuff as Sade’s Juliette.(Fulfillment means an abolition of inheritances:  “. . . Joy has no need of heirs or of children — Joy wants itself, wants eternity, the repetition of the same things, wants everything to remain eternally the same” <Nietzsche>. The fulfilled lover has no need to write, to transmit, to reproduce.)

[From A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard]

I had to fight against everything: my salvation depended on myself

I didn’t believe I had tuberculosis. I preferred to attribute my first haemorrhage to a different cause. To tell the truth, I didn’t attribute it to anything at all, I avoided having to think about it, did not, in fact, think about it much, and considered myself, if not cured, then at least well on the road to recovery . . . I read the letter, I devoured the books and the pamphlets. Suddenly it became frighteningly obvious to me that I had not been looking after myself as I should. Until then I had been drifting along, trusting in the vaguest hopes. Suddenly I saw my life under attack, vilely assaulted at its very heart. An active enemy was living and breeding inside me. I could hear it, observe it, feel it. I wouldn’t beat it without a fight . . . and I added out loud, as if to convince myself more fully: it’s a matter of willpower.

I placed myself on a war footing.

Dusk was falling. I planned my strategy. For the time being, my studies would concentrate solely on my cure, my only duty was to my health. I would identify as good only those things that were salutary to me, forget, reject anything that did not contribute to my cure. By supper-time I had made resolutions concerning breathing, exercise and diet. [. . . .]

I couldn’t sleep that night, so stimulated was I by the thought of my new-found virtues. I think I had a touch of fever. I had a bottle of mineral water by the bed. I drank a glass, then another; on the third occasion, I drank straight from the bottle, emptying it on one go. I went over my new resolve in my head, as if learning a lesson: I honed my hostility, directed it at all and sundry. I had to fight against everything: my salvation depended on myself.

Finally, I saw the sky lighten; the day dawned.

It had been my vigil before the battle.

The next day was Sunday. I must confess that, prior to that, I had taken no interest in Marceline’s religious beliefs. Whether out of indifference or embarrassment, I had thought that it was none of my business; besides, I didn’t attach any importance to the matter. That day Marceline went to mass. I learned when she came back that she had prayed for me. I looked her in the eye, then, as gently as I could, said:

‘There’s no need to pray for me, Marceline.’

‘Why not?’ she asked, a little troubled.

‘I don’t like special favors.’

‘You would reject God’s help?’

‘I would have to be grateful to him. It creates obligations, and I don’t want any.’

Though we made light of it, neither of us was in any doubt about the seriousness of what we said.

‘You won’t get better on your own, my poor darling,’ she sighed.

‘Then so be it . . .’ Then, noticing her sad expression, I added, less abruptly, ‘You will help me.’

— André Gide, The Immoralist

Knowing how to free oneself is nothing; the difficult thing is knowing how to live with that freedom

My dear friends, I knew I could rely on your loyalty. You came running to my call as I would have done to yours. Yet we have not seen each other for three years. I hope that our friendship, which has survived this absence so well, will also survive the tale I am about to tell you. For if my call seemed an urgent one, if I made you travel so far to find me, it was purely so that I might see you, and that you might listen to me. That is all I require: the chance to speak to you. For I have reached a point in my life where I can’t go on. It is not a question of weariness — I no longer understand anything. I need . . . I need to talk, as I say. Knowing how to free oneself is nothing; the difficult thing is knowing how to live with that freedom. Bear with me as I speak about myself; I am going to tell you the story of my life. I will talk plainly, with neither modesty nor pride, more plainly than if I were talking to myself. Listen to what I have to say.

— André Gide, The Immoralist

I see the sun, I see the shade

There the hourless days slipped by. How many times during my solitude have I recalled those slow days! . . . Marceline next to me, reading, writing; me doing nothing, watching her. Oh, Marceline! . . . I watch: I see the sun, I see the shade, I see the edge of the shadow move. I have so little to think about that I observe it. I am still very weak, my breathing is laboured, everything tires me out, even reading. But what would I read? Simply existing is enough for me.

— André Gide, The Immoralist

Nothing is more fatal to happiness than the memory of happiness

You understand, don’t you, or do I need to say it again, that I was a novice in matters of love? Perhaps it was the novelty that gave our wedding night such grace . . . For, in my memory, it is as if that first night were the only one, so much does the expectation and surprise of love add to the delicious pleasure of the experience — great love needs only a single night to express itself, and my memory insists on recalling that one night alone. It was a single moment which entwined both our souls in its laughter . . . But I believe that love reaches a certain pitch once and once only, which the soul ever after seeks in vain to surpass; that in striving to ressurect that happiness, it actually wears it out; that nothing is more fatal to happiness than the memory of happiness. Alas, I remember that night . . .

— André Gide, The Immoralist

Flurried Humans Relieve Olympian Boredom

It seems probable that if we were never bewildered there would never be a story to tell about us; we should partake of the superior nature of the all-knowing immortals whose annals are dreadfully dull so long as flurried humans are not, for the positive relief of bored Olympians, mixed up with them.

— Henry James, from the preface to The Princess Casamassima


The infirmity of art was the candour of affection, the grossness of pedigree the refinement of sympathy; the ugliest objects, in fact, as a general thing, were the bravest, the tenderest mementos, and, as such, figured in glass cases apart, worthy doubtless of the home, but not worthy of the temple — dedicated to the grimacing, not to the clear-faced, gods.

— Henry James, The Golden Bowl


Then of a sudden, through this tightened circle, as at the issue of a narrow strait into the sea beyond, everything broke up, broke down, gave way, melted and mingled. Their lips sought their lips, their pressure their response and their response their pressure; with a violence that had sighed itself the next moment to the longest and deepest stillness, they passionately sealed their pledge.

— Henry James, The Golden Bowl

Original analyses, discoveries, and interpretations

“Why would you have to discover something? Your genius ought to be to fulfill yourself in the life you live, not in original analyses, discoveries, and interpretations. Your model ought to be Socrates or Goethe; but imagine a Goethe without a written opus!”

–Mircea Eliade, Youth Without Youth


What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
–Vladimir Nabokov, “On Translating ‘Eugene Onegin'”

Another school of thought declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrecoverable process. Another, that the history of the universe — and in it our lives and the most tenuous details of our lives — is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon. Another, that the universe is comparable to those cryptographs in which not all the symbols are valid . . .
–Jorge Luis Borges, “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”

In regard to Nature, it is agreed that philosophy ought to know her as she is, that if the philosophers’ stone (der Stein der Weisen) is hidden anywhere, it must at any rate be within nature herself, that she contains her own reason within her. . . . the ethical world (die sittliche Welt), on the other hand, the State. . .

Innocence, therefore, is merely nonaction, like the mere being of a stone (das Sein eines Steines), not even that of a child.

. . . Gullibility whipped up with blasphemy, this worldly black magic spreads, indeed, to literature, an object of study and criticism.

A certain deference, better, toward the extinct laboratory of the philosophers’ elixer, would consist of taking up again, without the furnace, the manipulations, poisons, cooled down into something other than precious stones, so as to continue simply through intelligence. Since there are only, in all, two pathways open to mental research, into which our need bifurcates — namely, esthetics on the one hand and political economy on the other — it is principally of the latter that alchemy was the glorious, hasty, and troubling precursor. Everything that once stood out, pure, for lack of meaning, prior to the current apparition of the crowd, should be restored to the social realm. The null stone, dreaming of gold, once called philosophal: but it foreshadows, in financial terms, the future credit, preceding capital or reducing it to the humility of small change! With what disorder are such things pursued around us, and how little understood! It is almost embarrassing to profer this truths, which imply neat, prodigious dream transfers, thus, cursively and at a loss.

“It isn’t playing the game to turn on the uncanny. All one’s energy goes to facing it, to tracking it. One wants, confound it, don’t you see?” he confessed with a queer face, “one wants to enjoy anything so rare. Call it then life,” he puzzled it out, “call it poor dear old life simply that springs the surprise. Nothing alters the fact that the surprise is paralyzing, or at any rate engrossing — all, practically, hang it, that one sees, that one can see.”
–Henry James, The Ambassadors

Style for the writer, no less than colour for the painter, is a question not of technique but of vision: it is the revelation, which by direct and conscious methods would be impossible, of the qualitative difference, the uniqueness of the fashion in which the world appears to each one of us. . . . And it is perhaps as much by the quality of his language as by the species of . . . theory which he advances that one may judge of the level to which a writer has attained in the moral and intellectual part of his work. Quality of language, however is something that theorists think they can do without, and those who admire them are easily persuaded that it is no proof of intellectual merit.
–Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

You may know a truth, but if it’s at all complicated you have to be an artist not to utter it as a lie.
–Iris Murdoch, An Accidental Man

He shook his head sadly.
“i glanced over it,” said he. “Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid.”
“But the romance was there,” I remonstrated. “I could not tamper with the facts.”
“Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.”
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four

I said to him: “I am one who, when Love breathes
in me, takes note. And in whatever way
he dictates within, that way I signify.”
–Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XXIV

He chose to include the things
That in each other are included, the whole,
The complicate, the amassing harmony.
–Wallace Stevens, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

It is no chance matter we are discussing, but how one should live.
–Plato, Republic

Here, as in all other cases, we must set down the appearances and, first working through the puzzles, in this way go on to show, if possible, the truth of all the deeply held beliefs about these experiences; and, if this is not possible, the truth of the greatest number and the most authoritative.
–Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

The exposition of the letter is nothing other than the development of the form.
–Dante, Letter to Can Grande

Our craving for generality has another main source: our preoccupation with the method of science. I mean the method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest number of primitive natural laws; and, in mathematics, of unifying the treatment of different topics by using a generalization. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes, and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, and leads the philosopher into complete darkness.
–Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book

. . . I spoke of the novel as an especially useful agent of the moral imagination, as the literary form which most directly reveals to us the complexity, the difficulty, and the interest of life in society, and best instructs us in our human variety and contradiction.
–Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination

And for what, except for you, do I feel love?
Do I press the extremest book of the wisest man
Close to me, hidden in me day and night?
–Wallace Stevens, “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”

What one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgements. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right. Unlike calculating-rules.
What is most difficult here is to put this indefiniteness, correctly and unfalsified, into words.
–Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, II.xi

Of these States the poet is the equable man . . .
He bestows on every object or quality its fit proportion, neither more
nor less . . .
He judges not as the judge judges, but as the sun falling round a
helpless thing . . .
He sees eternity in men and women, he does not see men and
women as dreams or dots.
–Walt Whitman, from By Blue Ontario’s Shore

At the centre, the bed of crystalline Love was dedicated to her name most fittingly. The man who had cut the crystal for her couch and her observance had divined her nature unerringly: Love should be crystal — transparent and translucent. . . . Its roundness inside betokens Love’s Simplicity: Simplicity is most fitting for love, which must have no corners, that is, no cunning or Treachery.
–Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan

No dogs, bicycles, or tricycles allowed in this garden at any time by order. The gardeners are required to conduct from the garden anyone infringing these rules.
–Sign in the garden of Cadogan Square, London, 1980

We’ll let Teisias and Gorgias continue sleeping. For they noticed that plausible stories win more public honor than the truth. And so they make trivial things seem important and important things trivial through the power of their discourse, and they dress up new views in old language and old views in new language, and they have discovered how to speak about any subject both concisely and at interminable length.
–Plato, Phaedrus 267a6

And if a cataleptic impression does not exist, neither will there be any assent to it, and thus there will not be any certainty either. And if there is no certainty, neither will there be a system of certainties, that is to say a science. From which it follows that there will be no science of life either.
–Sextus Empiricus, Adversus Mathematicos vii, 182

As we examine this view closely, it looks to us more like a prayer than like a truth.
–Sextus Empiricus, Adversus Mathematicos xi, 401


“Say quick,” quoth he, “I bid thee say–
What manner of man art thou?”

Forthwith this frame of mine was wrenched
With a woeful agony,
Which forced me to begin my tale;
And then it left me free.

Since then, at an uncertain hour,
That agony returns:
And till my ghastly tale is told,
The heart within me burns.
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

And as he spoke, I was thinking, the kind of stories that people turn life into, the kind of lives that people turn stories into.
–Philip Roth, The Counterlife

Someone said, “Our right hand is in the book. But the left has the privilege of opening and closing. Thus both hands preside over the morrow of the book.”
–Edmond Jabès, The Book of Dialogue

You read. You tie yourself to what comes untied — to what unties you within your ties. You are a knot of correspondence . . . a knot of innocence, craftiness, of things likely and unlikely, of infinite faithfulness.
–Edmond Jabès, The Book of Questions

A book is interrupted discourse catching up with its own breaks. But books have their fate; they belong to a world they do not include, but recognize by being printed, and by being prefaced and getting themselves preceded with forwards. They are interrupted, and call for other books and in the end are interpreted in a saying distinct from the said.
–Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity

Evasions of the existence of others may take the form of smothering a person, or a text, with seemingly scrupulous questions.
–Michael Fischer, “Stanley Cavell’s Wittgenstein”

Kafka wanted to know at which moments and how often, with eight people sitting within the horizon of a conversation, you have to speak up in order not to pass for taciturn.
–Maurice Blanchot, “Interruptions”

[A dream:] This is my sister here, with some identifiable friends and many other people. They are all listening to me and it is this very story that I am telling: the whistle of three notes, the hard bed, the neighbor whom I would like to move, but whom I am afraid to wake because he is stronger than me. I also speak diffusely of our hunger and of the lice-control, and of the Kapo who hit me on the nose and then sent me to wash myself as I was bleeding. It is an intense pleasure, physical, inexpressible, to be at home, among friendly people and to have so many things to recount: but I cannot help noticing that my listeners do not follow me. In fact, they are completely indifferent; they speak confusedly of other things among themselves, as if I was not there. My sister looks at me, gets up, and goes away without a word. . . . My dream stands in front of me, still warm, and although awake I am still full of its anguish: and then I remember that it is not a haphazard dream, but that I dreamed it not once but many times since I arrived here, with hardly any variations of environment or details. I am now quite awake and I remember that I have recounted it to Alberto and that he confided to me, to my amazement, that it is also his dream and the dream of many others, perhaps of everyone. Why is the pain of every day translated so constantly into our dreams, in the ever-repeated scene of the unlistened-to story?
–Primo Levi, Survival in Auschwitz

Are not our lives too short for that full utterance which through all our stammerings is of course our only abiding intention? I have given up expecting those last words, whose ring, if they could only be pronounced, would shake both heaven and earth. There is never time to say our last word — the last word of our love, of our desire, faith, remorse, submission, revolt.
–Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim

We die in a last word.
–Edmond Jabès, The Book of Questions



The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; the summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned over the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.
–Wallace Stevens

God made man because he loves stories.
–Elie Wiesel

How shall we know all the friends whom we meet on
strange roadways.
–Ezra Pound, “Cathay”

Poetry is capable of saving us.
–I. A. Richards

To the aesthetic temperament nothing seems ugly. There are degrees of beauty — that is all.
–Max Beerbohm

It is a deadly error to expect poetry to provide the supersubstantial nourishment of men.
–Jacques Maritain

A book [of prose fiction] at the time [it is written] is a good or bad action.
–Jean-Paul Sartre

One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dali is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being. . . . The first thing we demand of a wall is that it shall stand up. If it stands up, it is a good wall, and the question of what purpose it serves is seperable from that. And yet even the best wall in the world deserves to be pulled down if it surrounds a concentration camp.
–George Orwell

“What takes place” in a narrative is from the referential (reality) point of view literally nothing; “what happens” is in language alone, the adventure of language, the unceasing celebration of its coming.
–Roland Barthes

Literary criticism should be completed by criticism from a definite ethical and theological standpoint. . . . The “greatness” of literature cannot be determined solely by literary standards; though we must remember that whether it is literature or not can be determined only by literary standards.
–T. S. Eliot

A work of art is . . . a bridge, however tenuous, between one mind and another.
–Andrew Harrison

[Art] is civilization’s single most significant device for learning what must be affirmed and what must be denied.
–John Gardner

Reading is the easiest thing in the world, it is freedom without work, a pure Yes blossoming in the immediate.
–Maurice Blanchot, The Gaze of Orpheus

. . . . . . . . . .

Initials of titles from which the above epigraphs are taken:

CWK . . . . . . . . . . Wayne C. Booth, The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction (1988)

D . . . . . . . . . . Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (translated by Barbara Johnson) (1981)

LN . . . . . . . . . . Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (1990)

NE . . . . . . . . . . Adam Zachary Newton, Narrative Ethics (1995)

PR . . . . . . . . . . Denis Donoghue, The Practice of Reading (1998)

Existential Kangaroo

Upon your conception of the single individual all your descriptions will be based, all your science established. For this reason, the human sciences, philosophy, ethics, psychology, politics, economics, can never be sciences at all. There can never be an exact science dealing with individual life. L’anatomia presuppone il cadavere; anatomy presupposes its corpse, says D’Annunzio. You can establish an exact science on a corpse, supposing you start with the corpse and don’t and don’t try to derive it from a living creature. But upon life itself, or any instance of life, you cannot establish a science.

–D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo

Listen to James Joyce read from FINNEGANS WAKE!

joyce1.mp3 (audio/mpeg Object).

Recording of Joyce reading from “Anna Livia Plurabelle” in Finnegans Wake. Soak up the weirdness.

You are listening to: Book I, Chapter 8, pages 213.11-215.11. [I’ll try to find the slightly longer version of this recording that goes up to 216.5, the end of both Chapter 8 and Book I — “Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel as heavy as yonder stone. Tell me of John or Shaun? Who were Shem and Shaun the living sons or daughters of? Night now! Tell me, tell me, tell me, elm! Night night! Telmetale of stern or stone. Beside the rivering waters of, hitherandthithering waters of. Night!” — The end of the chapter is my favorite part, especially how he reads it!]

[N.B. – “213.11” denotes page 213, line 11 in the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition (with an Introduction by John Bishop).]

“The text is that of the first edition of Finnegans Wake published by Faber and Faber, London, and The Viking Press, New York, 4 May 1939″ (FW xxix).

Surrender the need to be master of everything! I find Bishop’s Introduction incredibly reassuring:

“. . . any reader can enter Finnegans Wake and find something to absorb him – as long as he or she doesn’t expect to find it all in one place or, complementarily, understand everything else that appears around it. It is even possible to argue, with this same logic, that Finnegans Wake may be more accessible to the common reader than Ulysses – or, for that matter, War and Peace or Remembrance of Things Past – since one doesn’t need to comprehend it as a totality to profit from it or enjoy it. Students of literature in particular, accustomed as they are to understanding most words in every sentence of every prose work they read, are apt to experience frustration in reading a text constructed along these lines, where it can sometimes seem that one is doing extremely well if one makes sense of only a sentence or two on a single page. If however, one surrenders the need to be master of everything – or even most things – in this strange and magnificent book, it will pour forth lots of rewards.”
(FW ix)

[Read the actual Finnegans Wake/”Anna Livia Plurabelle” text BELOW:]
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