wtf, indeed

It was a day of many WTF? utterances for me. Shall we list again? Oh, yes.

What the fuck #1: I returned a book, unfinished, to the library – ahead of its due date! The book was Faerie Wars, and it just wasn’t that great. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it or something, but the story telling seemed a little lazy, and I decided I have books enough on my list without reading things I’m not interested in. So, I’ve picked up The Return of the King for fun reading, since I’ve got Everything is Illuminated for headache reading. Ay.

What the fuck #2: Do you know what Porphyritic Rhyolite looks like? I don’t, but apparently I should. Today was my Geology Lab exam, and it was an exercise in extreme frustration. If I had a dollar for every time during this lab that our lab leader (his name, I learned today, is Perkins) said, “Yeah, well, you can’t really figure that out with what you’ve got” I’d have many, many dollars. One girl was so angry at him during the test that when he apologized (which, by the way, is about my #1 pet peeve in the entire world – teachers/professors apologizing when what they really mean is, “You should be sorry you didn’t study more” or the like) for not being able to help her with a problem, she growled, “Oh, I’m so sure you are.” Loudly, too. I thought, Oh, how I know what you mean!

What the fuck #3: My English professor was totally *on* today, and I took fabulous notes about what he considers the two major points that any novelist must deal with/face in writing a meaningful novel these days. (As a sidebar but also as the most WTF thing about class, he did say, with a totally serious, straight face that to write a novel you really had to do drugs now, you had to be on drugs (which came out of a discussion of the idea that the end of The Corrections was written “on Corektall,” a miracle-drug from the book (triple parentheses, woo!).) To which one girl asked, “Do you have any books? Have you written any books?” and he said, “No, I don’t do drugs – I’m a drunk!” and laughed his trademark high-pitched maniacal giggle). So what does the modern novelist have to acknowledge/fight against/deal with to write a meaningful novel, according to Valk?
1). The fakeness of fiction
2). The absurdity/futility/vanity of telling a story of meaning in the evil/meaningless/deaf world.

The actual lecture, which put a good chunk of my usually-talkative class to sleep (literally), focused on many ideas that stuck with me. I found this particular bit quite interesting (quoting directly from my notes): People already know how fucked up the world is and no longer need novels to tell them. How can you tell a meaningful story about a world that rejects any meaning and order without turning it into a completely Conradian story (“The Horror, the horror”)?
Other notes: The “novel” idea of the unified, discrete, integrated self is ridiculous. Because the novel is consumed with telling the story of one discrete soul, one self, it perpetuates the fiction of a definable self.
Writing novels seems elitist; the activity seems complicit with the very world that a “good” novel would seek to explain/expose.
So, those are some of the issues that this professor, at least, believes that a great novel would address. He did open the class with two things that will endear him to me forever: Physical comedy (and his description of his dream of heaven, where George Brett comes out of retirement in the middle of a game to save the Royals, and then continues to return to the game every time they’re behind), and the fact that, during his last year of teaching, his methods of testing will change significantly. “All true/false tests,” he said. “No essays or anything. Questions like: The Corrections was a good book, true or false. Maybe some multiple choice, like, The Corrections was a) good book b) great book c) bad book.” Amen, brother.

What the fuck #4: CNN keeps showing clips of breast implants (the implants themselves, not the breasts) and playing Coldplay’s “In My Place” over the pictures, and it’s just really cracking me up.

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4 Responses to wtf, indeed

  1. therealjae says:

    People already know how fucked up the world is and no longer need novels to tell them. How can you tell a meaningful story about a world that rejects any meaning and order without turning it into a completely Conradian story (“The Horror, the horror”)?

    Hmm. Do we have to write novels that reject meaning and order if the world is fucked up?


  2. kepkanation says:

    His point was more that the great novels of our day tend to take that point and move beyond it, or invalidate it somehow – they acknowledge the problem (that there seems to be little order to the way things happen) but show that it isn’t actually a problem. There was a long discussion of the death of omniscience involved in this as well, that the omniscient storyteller is dead and that this is kind of an acknowledgement of not so much the non-existence of a God but that, if there is a God, he/she isn’t paying much attention to things on Earth. So in one way, the argument for order can be an argument for fate or for some kind of divine oversight, or simply for a definition of meaning in any person’s life.

  3. casapazzo says:

    hmmm. I’m not sure I agree with your professor – or maybe I would agree if I heard the whole lecture, but it’s bits and pieces that I disagree with.
    I’m not sure that it is absurd/futile/vain to continue to explore the meaninglessness of the world. I mean, IMO, a great novel is one that both moves you emotionally and shakes/changes/shifts your way of thinking at least a little. And the bulk of the world’s population goes in for organized religion – the bulk of which’s dogma declares the existence of some kind of Divine Plan or Greater Meaning. Which means that most people still believe in those things – so it can’t be time to write off the exploration of meaninglessnes as, well, meaningless.

    Agreed, Conradian-style “the Horror!” is outplayed – but it’s outplayed as a device, not because meaninglessness is a device. There have been enough war movies that people get that certain circumstances, that Big Events, are full of absurdity and doubt for people caught up in them.

    What is still meaningful I think (literarily speaking) is ordinary characters dealing with ordinary meaninglessness. Because the only meaning in our lives is the meaning we choose to give it – whether to believe in a greater reason/meaning as a coping mechanism, or accept meaninglessness; how one accepts meaninglessnes, whether in despair or liberation; and all the subsequent effects of those decisions – there is still a great wealth of societal, psychological, and/or personal discovery to play with.

    And I’m curious what he means about the fakeness of fiction.

  4. gotmce99 says:

    WTF!! The world has no meaning???


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