Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit, 4

 

I finished my second reading of Kleinzeit while sitting on a bed in the ER.  It was my second visit with Hospital in as many weeks.  I was waiting for Specialist to arrive because the Hobanesque symptoms I had been experiencing for the last month were baffling all the other doctors (as they would baffle Specialist and Assistant).  Sister was nowhere to be found, but three doctors took turns independently finger-fucking my asshole (to check my prostate, they said) so that’s got to count for something.  (Why is it that they all pat you on the hip after they finish?  Is that something they get taught in med school?  It’s as though they were letting me know that, hey, if I wasn’t a great lay, at least I was an obedient one and tried real hard to be good.)

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Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit, 3

Normally I don’t talk about novels in public. Compared to the work of others, like Robert’s like past post or Brad’s ruminations, my reflections rarely say much. Novels are, for me, an intensely reflective experience. They resonate with me rather than how I understand myself socially. Reading novels for me might even be a very narcissistic activity. Even when I suggest novels to friends I do so furtively, perhaps hoping to make a connection that I normally cannot make. All of this, cloyingly earnest as it likely sounds, seems apt with regard to Kleinzeit. While I agree with Brad that this is not really a psychological novel it is, in a sense, a secular Kierkegaardian novel. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit, 2

Kleinzeit touched the paper with the brush, drew in one smooth sweep a fat black circle, sweet and round.

That’s it, said Death. My present.

The first and, probably, recurring item that must be addressed by a reader of Kleinzeit is how to understand the Big Guys. The Big Guys are such characters as Sky, Death, Hospital, Underground/Underworld, God, Glockenspiel, Yellow Paper. Often they speak to Kleinzeit, to Sister, to Redbeard. Sometimes they do things on their own, as when Glockenspiel wonders when it will be played in the underground, before Kleinzeit has dreamed or encountered it. One way of understanding this — which Brad has broached in his post — is that Hoban is “unshackling” objects, in a sense, from their correlationist shackles: making them, simply put, characters rather than accessories and scenery. Certainly they are characters — for instance, I would say Hospital, Underground, and Death are as well-rounded as Redbeard — but I find it difficult to believe that we can understand this to be an object-oriented novel. On the contrary, I would make the case that it’s a supremely human-centered novel, one that enters the solipsistic world of those “characters” we breathe to life with our own words: when we curse the table that stubbed our toe, chat with ourselves, pray, resent the building where we lie sick, or communicate with the instrument we play best.

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Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit

I exist, said the mirror.
What about me? said Kleinzeit
Not my problem, said the mirror.
(p. 7)

I always love it when the first page of a novel paves the way for the all that follows. These are very nearly the first words of Kleinzeit, and already Russell Hoban has laid out where he is going and more or less how he is going to get there. As becomes clearer still in subsequent pages, we find that his is going to be a path of not-quite blank sheets of A-4 paper lead leads us to places that are, in a sense, familiarly foreign. We encounter diseases unlike any we’ve heard of before and that are identified by words whose otherwise recognizable referents do not at all match up with what is being described. Hypotenuse. Hendiadys. And even the (fat) human condition (aka, “chronic ullage”) (p. 34). Deadly stuff, these, it turns out, so it behooves us to be on guard of the symptoms: for Kleinzeit, the flash of pain to make Pythagoras proud, from A to B, coupled with  the “seething in a perfectly silent room” (p. 12).

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Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit

Today we officially begin, with relatively little fanfare, I confess, a new book discussion group. After the long, hard, nearly interminably slog through William Gaddis’ The Recognitions last year, we thought we’d go with something … not necessarily accessible, but, let’s say instead, simply, shorter. So it came to pass that we chose Russell Hoban’s 1974 novel Kleinzeit.

The novel, I will be the first to admit, is not for everyone. I expect it may well be divisive even here. I’ve already corresponded with one of the contributors to this group who did not especially like. (More from him later.) There was another person in the comments of a post in which we were hashing out our decision, Ben, I think it was, who scorned it (the book, not the decision) as well. Perhaps you won’t like it either.

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Book Discussion Group: Kleinzeit

With summer escaping so quickly, I thought I should better seize this unclaimed moment to see if anybody was still interested in reading & discussing Russell Hoban’s divisive, but delightfully brief, novel Kleinzeit. It is less than 200 pages, so surely we can power through it quite quickly, if we have a collective mind to do so. In two weeks, say?

If you’re interested, I was hoping that we might be able to give four or five posts to it. Ideally, each written by four or five different contributors. No summary, of course. We’re far more creative than that, I hope. Personal reactions, maybe; complaints, even; pale imitations; literary masterpieces; a compare & contrast essay — really, however you want to roll.

Before we get ahead of ourselves with such details, though, we should probably suss out whether any of you lot are interested. Otherwise, you’re stuck with me again. Let me know in the comments so we can get the ball rolling before a new school term kicks off.

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