Saturday, April 12, 2008

Library book sale, pt. 2: the anticlimax

After the excitement narrated in my previous post, in which much fun was had in the Religion section of the book sale, we turn to the remainder of the current haul. The next port of call was the Literature section, where I found this:

Susan Sontag – Against Interpretation and other essays (1966)

Most of these essays are on stuff that was hip at the time. e.g., Godard, Bresson, Camus, Lukács, Weil, Ionesco, Resnais, Artaud, and Norman O. Brown. The title essay was supposed to be controversial, but what she seems actually to be arguing against looks pretty lame, making her thesis relatively commonsensical:
Of course, I don't mean interpretation in the broadest sense, the sense in which Nietzsche (rightly) says, "There are no facts, only interpretations." By interpretation, I mean here a conscious act of the mind which illustrates a certain code, certain "rules" of interpretation.

Directed to art, interpretation means plucking a set of elements (the X, the Y, the Z, and so forth) from the whole work. The task of interpretation is virtually one of translation. The interpreter says, Look, don't you see that X is really—or, really means—A? That Y is really B? That Z is really C? [...] The modern style of interpretation [as in Marx and Freud] excavates, and as it excavates, destroys; it digs "behind" the text, to find a sub-text which is the true one.
Sounds nasty, all right. Note the offhand "(rightly)" in the first paragraph. Somehow I don't trust Ms. Sontag to be able to tell us what sense that is, in which N. is right, especially as she gets the quote wrong: it's not "there are no facts," (as of course there are facts), but "there are no 'facts'", where I take the scare quotes, in the spare and artificial context of The Will to Power, to indict, not the objectivity of the real world, but instead the hyperobjectivity of Platonism. FWIW; I wouldn't put too much emphasis on that overanalyzed little snippet either way.

Next we have:

Italo Calvino – The Uses of Literature: Essays (1986)

I like Calvino's fiction (Invisible Cities, If on a winter's night a traveler); maybe if I read this one I'll stop mixing him up with Umberto Eco. One of the essays is called "Philosophy and Literature." After starting off with just those two, he continues:
What I have described in terms of a twin-bed marriage must be seen as a ménage à trois: philosophy, literature, and science. Science is faced with problems not too dissimilar from those of literature. It makes patterns of the world that are immediately called in question, it swings between the inductive and the deductive methods, and it must always be on its guard lest it mistake its own linguistic conventions for objective laws. We will not have a culture equal to the challenge until we compare against one another the basic problematics of science, philosophy, and literature, in order to call them all into question.
A three-way, eh? (Those Europeans!)

Kathleen Coburn, ed. – Coleridge: A Collection of Critical Essays (1967)

I think I've already snagged the Sartre and Emerson volumes in this series (Twentieth Century Views), which must have come out later, as they're not listed on the back cover with the earlier ones, which are more traditionally literary, albeit wideranging (Jonson to Beckett). In the final essay in this one, Dorothy M. Emmet discusses Coleridge's interest in Kant et al:
My own view is that this philosophy [German Idealism] gave [Coleridge] a general intellectual apparatus with the help of which he tried to say what he had to say and to give a more systematic appearance to his empirical discoveries, but that he was not concerned to make himself into a post-Kantian idealist on the German model. True, in the collection of extracts from the notebooks called Anima Poetae, he says "In the preface of my metaphysical works, I should say: 'Once for all, read Kant, Fichte, etc., and then you will trace, or, if you are on the hunt, track me.'" But here he is answering charges of plagiarism, and seeking to make a kind of omnibus acknowledgment while saying at the same time that the thoughts had been his own before he had heard of these writers. in any cas the track of Coleridge is more complex than Kant and Fichte: among other paths it leads along the road to Xanadu.
Wild woodcut-ish drawing of the Ancient Mariner on the cover. Here's another take, by Hunt Emerson:

Moving right along, next I moved myself right along to the Sociology section, where I found:

Raymond Aron – Main Currents in Sociological Thought II: Durkheim, Pareto, Weber (1970)

Volume I, just for the record, features Montesquieu, Comte, Marx, Tocqueville, and "the Sociologists and the Revolution of 1848". From the preface of vol. II:
I must force myself to recognize the merits, however splendid, of Durkheim, whereas Max Weber never irritates me even when I feel most remote from him. As for Pareto, he no longer provokes me to any strong reaction one way or the other.
I think we can all relate to that. Right next to the Sociology section was the Science section (usually slim pickings there, mostly way out of date), where I picked up:

David Bodanis – The Secret Family: Twenty-four Hours Inside the Mysterious World of Our Minds and Bodies (1997)

Our author knowing a good thing when he sees it, this book is a sequel to The Secret House and The Secret Garden. These books all feature a wealth of bizarre tidbits of information, usually about what's going on at the microlevel of whatever he's talking about. This provides an excuse for lots of colorful thermograms and photomicrographs and whatnot. For example, the back cover shows sweat droplets, the hottest and coolest areas of a woman's body, the liquid glue on the back of a yellow post-it note, and "monolithic slabs of vitamin C." If any of our family had basal cell carcinoma, on the other hand, we'd probably see this one (courtesy of the Loyola University Medical Education Network:

I was ready to go at this point, but the next one happened to catch my eye on the way out.

Jonathan Franzen – The Corrections (2001)

This guy was in my class at college (I think; I never met him). I borrowed this book once, but never got to it. Could be a while, but at least now I have it.

And just for good measure, while checking out I grabbed one more:

Samantha Ettus, ed. – The Experts' Guide to 100 Things Everyone Should Know How to Do (2004)

I'm not convinced that all of these things are such that everyone needs to know how to do them (swing a golf club?), but some of them look useful, and there are some amusing celebrity cameos. Here's Tucker Carlson on how to tie a bow tie. After the complicated technical stuff, there's this:
5. Tighten by pulling on the opposite folded ends. Adjust by fiddling. This is the subjective, artistic phase of the process. You may opt for the loose, floppy glass-of-cognac-in-the-morning Churchill look; the precision-perfect Fruit of Islam, Farrakhan-bodyguard look; or somewhere in between. As in life, somewhere in between is probably best.

6. Admire handicraft in mirror.

7. Consider whether you really want to do this. Keep in mind that when you wear a bow tie, people will make assumptions about you, and probably should. The good news is, you'll never commit adultery when you wear a bow tie; you won't have the opportunity. The bad news is, strangers will snicker at you in airports. Is it worth it? Only you can be the judge.
Or your wife, I imagine.

That's all, folks! See you in October!

No comments: