Monday, May 23, 2011

The Beginning of Something New, The End of Something Old

The beginning has to begin somewhere.

I'm serious, in a way.

I've enjoyed writing straight-up book reviews for the last year and a half or so, but, ever the intellectually whimsical, I'm feeling a bit spent on this type of (although fun) repetitive analysis. I want things that coalesce. I'd like to fuse this idea with that one, and build workable narratives to then consider that with regard to the phenomena of our present day and circumstances. Make my kind of sense of it all. More philosophical rumination.

This could be, as I see it, that outlet. And of course literary fiction will factor into the blog's new course very heavily. Maybe, also, I'll practice at storytelling of my own here. More to the point, this is to be a playground for ideas I'm teasing out. Some of these ideas will no doubt be more fully baked than others. In whatever their condition though, merely by the fact of my posting them here, I'll be looking for your reaction, as I toss ideas against the more or less sticky wall to see what sticks (stickiness depending for the most part on the idea and its solvency).

But let me just end on the homed-in literary topic of . . .

The Instructions

It is possibly fitting that I heretofore ended on Part I of Adam Levin's "The Instructions," because A.) that novel represents to me, among other things, a great example of what fiction is capable of in its sprawling many pages and B.) an impulse toward my own kind of instructions, a desire to think and be more critical about, for lack of a better term, the phenomena I mention.

But I don't want to leave anyone hanging too much. I'm not sure that there's a lot left to say about "The Instructions" on my part, though, not without ruining its very climactic ending. I go back and forth with my final evaluation of whether it was a "good" or "bad" novel. Perhaps my biggest negative criticism, one that I may have mentioned in commenting to a commenter, and the sole point of agreement I might have with Joshua Cohen's generally underwhelming review, is that Levin seems to be afflicted by the same self-consciousness that has beguiled previous long form fiction writers such as David Foster Wallace, who obsess to the point of seemingly desiring total control of their conjured world and, this admittedly a very great leap to make on my part, suggesting a desire for control of a bit of the real world by extension.

I put this upon every very intricately wrought piece of situational analysis and so forth, what happened and wherefore?, belonging to "The Instructions" and "Infinite Jest" and other notable longform works I've happened through. It is the desire for complete understanding, or perceptive "complete understanding" by, in Levin's case, Gurion, the young protagonist. And where Cohen sees DFW avoiding this pitfall by the multitudinous narrators and characters put under microscope, Levin suffers more for the fact that every character has only one thing on his or her mind in "The Instructions": Gurion Maccabee (including for the most part Gurion himself). Though this seems to have been in Cohen's view the novel's fatal flaw, I won't go that far myself. I think it's astounding how well Levin pulls off the necessary and lengthy singular focus of his novel. Gurion is flawed, certainly, but as close to all-knowing as flawed characters get. Gurion, to be sure, speaks volumes about things, about phenomena, and yet Levin somehow manages to have his cake and eat it too by creating in Gurion a believably adolescent temperment at his core.

All in all, it's a stunning achievement. And yet, still I waffle back and forth on whether I would classify it as among my favorite novels. Sometimes time and hindsight are required for the true merits of a piece to reveal themselves, and I suppose that's where I'll leave this mini-review of "The Instructions" -- at pure speculation.

END of reviewing The Instructions

I'll also end the entirety of this piece by simply remarking that you can expect me to have something in line with the poorly defined ideas I describe in the preceding paragraphs sometime very soon. I keep returning to totalitarianism and Nabokov's "Bend Sinister" -- which I must include among my favorite novels, if the criterion of its returning to my mind in a significant positive light bears any weight at all.

Thank you.