Reading: pp. 281-342
Time prevents me from expanding too much on my thoughts about this week’s reading. Hopefully, though, the ensuing conversation will give me occasion to do so later tonight and over the weekend.
First things first: The writing on pages 281-93 just blew me away. Even if you’re not a part of the discussion group, you should do yourself a favor and read those pages alone. In fact, if I have time today I’m going to scan and upload them. Just some ridiculously good moments there.
Over and under the ground he hurried toward the place where he lived. No fragment of time nor space anywhere was wasted, every instant and every cubic centimeter crowded crushing outward upon the next with the concentrated activity of a continent spending itself upon a rock island, made a world to itself where no present existed. Each minute and each cubic inch was hurled against that which would follow, measured in terms of it, dictating a future as inevitable as the past, coined upon eight million counterfeits who moved with the plumbing weight of lead coated with the frenzied hope of quicksilver, protecting at every pass the cherished falsity of their milled edges against the threat of hardness in their neighbors as they were rung together, fallen from the Hand they feared but could no longer name, upon the pitiless table stretching all about them, tumbling there in all the desperate variety of which counterfeit is capable, from the perfect alloy recast under weight to the thudding heaviness of lead, and the thinly coated brittle terror of glass. (pp. 282-83)
Good God, that’s breathtakingly good.
Coming back again and again in this chapter, it seems to me, is the ambivalent status of originality. We see this in the opening section, where Otto’s father goes through the banalities of his later-afternoon/early-evening routine. He is enveloped by the city in such a way as to become absolutely anonymous, even (as we see later in the chapter) to his own son). The city itself has a certain cadence that drowns out any expression of individuality. Even the act of suicide is expected to follow a prearranged script—hence the disappointment of the onlookers when they realize the man on the ledge isn’t going to follow through on the arrangement. Mr. Pivner’s reflections on “progress,” as reflected in the sciences, economics, and journalism, are especially appropriate here as well.
Originality, however, isn’t merely some ideal state. It isn’t an unequivocal Good to which one aspires. As we see in Esme and Stanley, and certainly in Wyatt (though I think he is a more difficult case, because at this stage he still wants to claim his originality, which is rather problematic), there is a certain price to be paid for originality. Arguably, the alienation felt by one who strives for originality is even more acute than that of Mr. Pivner, for whom originality is of the cliched self-help variety, wherein “success” entails your individuality looking identical to those surrounding you. Originality entails a certain ambivalent fracturing of time and self, does it not? For “you” are always striving “now” to somehow move past “the now” that constitutes “you”. It’s enough to reach for the needle (Esme) or bend one’s knee (Stanley), finding momentary solace in the repetition.
I will cut my reflections short here, in hopes that they are vague enough to elicit conversation. And, to be honest, because my boss is hovering close behind me, wondering why my Excel spreadsheet looks curiously like a blog post.
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I’m not sure how we should handle the next couple of weeks, as Friday falls on a alcohol soaked holiday on consecutive weeks. I’m not traveling this year, so I’ll have time to write something, I’m sure. But I’d be more inclined to do so if I knew anybody was actually going to read the post and participate in the discussion. Should I just do open threads for two weeks, or re-schedule the posting day? What say you? Also, how about we shoot for page 486 by the end of the year, which would put us right around the halfway point?