[Paleopsych] Meme 036: Frank Is Abandoning Reality
checker at panix.com
Thu Oct 28 09:59:09 UTC 2004
Meme 036: Frank Is Abandoning Reality
sent 4.10.28, 4:59 am Central War Time, the minute of his 60th birthday in
Kansas City, Mo.
"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten
over a serious illness that I won't bother to talk about, except that it
had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that
everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my
life you could call my life on the road...."
I am abandoning reality for fiction and will stop reading non-fiction
books. I think I know pretty much, at least in outline form, what is
actually known about human nature from the biological and social sciences.
Novelists have a way of getting at the complexities of the human condition
that scientists have not. So not having read much fiction since I read all
twelve volumes of Dostoyevsky in the 1970s, I am returning to deepen my
understanding. What aspects of our humanity may we be giving up as we take
control of human nature through manipulating the genome, through
nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, man-machine
hookups? Will we become the emotionally flat robots depicted in science
fiction novels and movies? Could our selves and our lives, instead, become
deeper, even deeper than Beethoven in his last decade?
I also want to know how human nature varies. Is the world converging to
one system of thinking? Or has there been enough gene-culture coevolution
of human populations--it's still taboo to say races, owing to lingering
20th century egalitarianism--that there will be significant *internal*
barriers to Western hegemony? As I said in my last meme, there has been a
major reorientation of the dominant left-right polarity, from central
planning vs. free market in the earlier twentieth century and equality vs.
inequality in the later part to pluralism vs. universalism in this
I'm asking for lists of your favorite novels, stressing non-Western
literature, those that have depth of characterization and are worth
rereading. (But are novels all alike, the medium being the message?) I've
read all of the (University of Chicago) Great Books (except that I could
only get through a quarter of War and Peace) but have read only one
non-Western novel, Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima. I need to broaden my
learning. So please send your lists. (I do NOT read poetry.) Books that
appear on many lists are most likely to get read. I shall assume your
permission to forward your lists, unless you tell me otherwise.
(Having last had an English class in 1964--yes, I am that old--my memory
of what happened in those classes is completely vague. How is a 40 or 50
minute class, that is in neither a lecture nor a seminar format, get
filled up? Can anyone point me toward webpages of transcripts of typical
I have four categories in my project:
I. Western novels
II. Non-Western novels
III. Science fiction novels
IV . Religion, books of or about.
Here's the list of what I've accumulated so far:
I. WESTERN NOVELS
1. Kerouac, Jack, On the Road. America. This will be the first book. I
2. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. England. Never read anything by
3. Balzac, Honoré. The Bureaucrats. France. Since I've lived among the
bureaucrats far longer than Margaret Mead lived among the
Samoans, this novel is probably the one for me to get
introduced to Balzac.
4. Colman, Hila. Diary of a Frantic Kid Sister. America. Teen-age: I
should know something about this genre.
5. Goethe, Johann von. Elective Affinities. Germany. Sarah's very
6. Gover, Robert. One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding. America. One of
Charles Sletten's favorites.
7. Huysmans, Joris-Karl. Against Nature and La-Bas. Germany. Two of
Sarah's other favorites.
8. Jelinek, Elfriede. Wonderful, Wonderful Times. Austria. Just won the
Nobel Prize for Literature.
9. Jünger, Ernst. On the Marble Cliffs. Germany. Another of Sarah's
10. Kleist, Heinrich von. The Marquise of O- and Other Stories.
Germany. Given to me by George. Kleist never wrote a novel and
committed suicide at age 34.
11. O'Connor, Flannery. America. Three by Flannery O'Connor.
12. Schaefer, Jack. Shane. America. A casebook. I love casebooks, for the
give me background! Love Cliff Notes, too, since I have great difficulty
following lots of characters.
13. Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. England. A Casebook. I have read
the play but need to really study it.
14. Trevor, William. The Story of Lucy Gault. Ireland. One of Marcia's
15. Wilson, Sloan. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. America. A classic
work from the 1950s protesting the conformity of the era. Others include
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged; David Reisman, The Lonely Crowd; Robert
Lindner, Prescription for Rebellion; C. Wright Mills, The Power
Elite; William Whyte, The Organization Man. All non-fiction here,
except Atlas Shrugged, but I don't know fiction very well.
16. Wolfe, Thomas. You Can't Go Home Again. America.
17. Zola, Emile. Earth. France. Given to me by Denise, but I'll probably
read the much more famous Nana instead.
18. The Dedalus Book of Decadence (Moral Ruins). A sampler. France. We
have a division of labor in our house: I read the books on cynicism
and nihilism, while Sarah reads the books on decadence and
degeneration. But this is fiction, so I shall read it.
19. Goethe, Tieck, Fouqué, Brentano. Romantic Fairy Tales. German.
II. NON-WESTERN NOVELS
1. García Márques, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Colombia. This
will be my first non-Western novel. Almost everyone recommends it. I'll be
getting a case book and the Cliff Notes. I've downloaded everything
on it from http://www.oprah.com.
2. Allende, Isabel. Chile. Several lying around the apartment, I don't
know which to read first.
3. Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions. Argentina. He never wrote a
novel. Another non-Western author nearly everyone recommends.
4. Borges, Jorge Luis. Selected Non-Fiction. This is literature, really.
5. Jin, Ha. Waiting. China.
6. Pramoedya Ananta Toer. The Buru Quartet. Java. Given to me by
Denise. Will read one volume initially.
7. Mahfouz, Naguib. The Thief and the Dogs. Egypt. Winner of the Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1988.
8. Murasaki Shikibu [Lady Muraski]. The Tale of Genji. Japan. My copy is
just Part One. If I like it, I can get the whole thing.
9. Tanizaki, Junichiro. Some Prefer Nettles. Japan. Given to my by
10. Truong, Monique. The Book of Salt. Vietnam. She noted that Gertrude
Stein and Alice B. Toklas had a Vietnamese cook, so she wrote a
novel about Paris in the 1930s from the standpoint of the cook!
11. Watase, Yu. Alice 19th. A Japanese Manga (comic book format). You can
get a mangastrap, a jacket designed for holding your arms to read
mangas on long Japanese subway rides. A good idea, but as Japanese
goods are very expensive, they cost $160 to import!
III. SCIENCE FICTION
1. Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age. Given to me by Carolyn and
autographed by the Author at the National Book Festival earlier
this month. This will be my first science fiction novel.
2. Anderson, Poul. A Midsummer Tempest. Patterned after two Shakespeare
3. Asimov, Isaac, et al., editors. The 7 Deadly Sins of Science Fiction.
I've already read The 7 Cardinal Virtues.
4. Benford, Gregory (et al.), editors. Hitler Victorious.
5. Brown, Fredric. Compliments of a Fiend. The only Fred Brown book,
published in his lifetime, that I have not read.
6. Herbert, Frank. Dune. I can get the Spark Notes on this one.
7. Le Guin, Ursula. The Dispossessed. Actually, I don't physically own
a copy, but this seems to be the first one to read. How will it compare
to Dostoyevsky's novel of the same title?
8. Wells, H.G. The Time Machine. Casebook version.
9. Wells, H.G. The War of the Worlds. Casebook version.
1. Gregg, Steve. Revelation: Four Views, a Parallel Commentary. This book
gives the four principle interpretations of the last book in the
Bible in parallel columns for each verse. This will be my first book
in this category.
2. Cleary, Thomas, translator and presentor. The Essential Koran. I do
not want to read the entire Koran.
I have stacks of other books of or on religion, too many to list. I also
have lots of unread books on the art that probes the human condition more
than any other, namely Western music. I have multiple recordings of nearly
all the great masterpieces of classical instrumental music.
In order to speed myself in this task of abandoning reality, I'm stopping
my finding and forwarding articles on many subjects until I've read at
least one book in each category. I read slowly and have no idea how many
months this will take. (This may grow into a full sabbatical. I need, too,
to catch up on stacks of back issues of the Times Literary Supplement,
long my favorite serial. I shall continue to bounce articles to my various
lists at the request of others. And I'll continue to participate in
threads started by others.
In parallel with the books above, I'll be reading Mary Ann Caws and
Christopher Prendergast, The HarperCollins World Reader (2 v., 2796 pp.),
along with its Instructor's Manual (846 pp. The only copy in the OCLC
World Cat database is at the Mohawk Valley Community College!) and the
accompanying Issues in World Literature (a mere 108 pp.). I will also be
reading the President's Council on Bioethics (Leon Kass, chairman)
anthology, Being Human, which consists of selections from literature,
almost entirely Western. The purpose of the book is to display the
fullness of human nature, or at least Western human nature, to caution us
about getting rid of it. Whether Kass believes West is Best, I don't know.
I'm launching a website immediately after sending this. It is
http://www.panix.com/~checker (you must include the tilde). I shall upload
more on Beethoven's birthday. If you have sent me e-mail and really wanted
a reply but didn't get one, bug me. I've just gotten too far behind. I'm
not blanking out, for I hold my hypotheses lightly and do not want to
continue chasing after bad ones.
Get to work on lists of novels, particularly non-Western novels, for me to
[I am sending forth these memes, not because I agree wholeheartedly with
all of them, but to impregnate females of both sexes. Ponder them and
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