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What's it about?

Le Groupe des Mignon Photos

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Edited: Mar 4, 2012, 2:12pm Top

Some of you may know that I have been reading Infinite Jest for roughly forever. Tonight I idly googled "howling fantods" and found this quote:

Realizing that, after all this time, as I approach the end of this 981 page novel with 97 pages of footnotes, as much as I have loved every run-on sentence and obscure pharmacological reference I still cannot coherently answer the frequently-asked and painfully-simple airplane-seatmate question "what's it about?" has giving me a serious case of the howling fantods.

Well, I know what to answer to that question: there's a very complicated intrigue that I don't really understand, but basically it's about addiction.

At which point my interlocutor suddenly loses all interest in what I'm reading.

Well, that's that.

Mar 4, 2012, 2:58pm Top

I disagree, if you have to just pick one word I would pick "entertainment". The whole political side of it, the concavity and the wheelchair guys and all that, is more about the society that has stopped being about anything than entertainment, don't you think? I certainly think addiction is related to the theme of entertainment as well but it seemed secondary to me.

Mar 4, 2012, 3:00pm Top

My one word would be "sadness." But what's wrong with a book about addiction? What's wrong with your interlocutor?

Edited: Mar 6, 2012, 3:27pm Top

the author always complained of being copied.

I think it's about all three: sadness, addiction and entertainment.

Hey, flo, ah, what the heck.....

Edited: Mar 5, 2012, 12:01am Top

I think it's about all three: sadness, addiction and entertainment.

Hey, flo, do you know there's a group read of IJ happnening here:


Mar 5, 2012, 4:05am Top

Interesting, I guess I really focused on the addiction thing. For me the entertainment part was more of a comic relief thing pointing out the absurdities of modern life, but you're right, it's much more central than that.

I have noticed that in the last years, I tend to focus more and more on the human experience in books, the description of people, how they interact and suffer. In IJ this is best done in the parts about addiction I think. Lately I have found that my favorite parts of the book are the AA parts, which is rather unexpected. It's probably because of Gately's character, I like him, I don't really connect with the others, maybe they are too young. Or too unrealistic like those two on the mountain. Those scenes almost made me abandon the book at the beginning.

Tom, thanks, but I'm not really a group read person, which is why I took so long to join this group. The Bible read is an exception, it's an exceptional book and required something different for me. But usually I see reading as a private experience, and although I like to discuss it from time to time, the idea of a group read makes me uneasy.

Mar 5, 2012, 4:49am Top

Sure, flo, I understand completely. I just thought reading the discussion thread might give you something to chew on.

Interesting reaction to the mountain top scenes. I puzzled a long time over that too. My reading was that they were some kind of Ivan-Alyosha discussion, removed from the text, commenting on it. I'm sure there are nuggets of clues and ideas about the main narrative in the dialogue between those two. But I confess to not reading them very carefully enough in my first read, something to focus on for the second, perhaps.

Mar 5, 2012, 4:49am Top

I think another word which answers the question in the OP is: language

Mar 5, 2012, 9:14am Top

But is the book about language? Not sure. Maybe. There are some footnotes about language, now that I think of it.

May 15, 2012, 6:07am Top

I am getting restless. I feel like I have been reading the same two books for years (Infinite Jest and Alter's translation of The Five Books of Moses). I badly want to start something new, even though I also have at least 4 books that I started and left unfinished.

I have been wanting to read Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, but I'm sure it's going to be another big tome that will keep me busy for months. Plus it's not available as an e-book, which annoys me.

Maybe I should order Maus from Amazon.

May 15, 2012, 11:31am Top

10: Did you see the great exhibit on Maus at the Centre Pompidou? It was terrific, and I bought my father the "MetaMaus" book that was for sale there. He is in love with it.

May 15, 2012, 12:07pm Top

11: I rushed through it, maybe I should go back, I think it's still on.

I saw the MetaMaus book on Amazon and was thinking of buying it because it comes with an electronic version of the comic. Is it a pdf file? Is it in French or English?

And I am ashamed to say that I bought and downloaded a book already, it's a fantasy book which is my comfort reading. I'm ashamed to stop my IJ and Bible readings for this, but I need the relief.

May 15, 2012, 2:29pm Top

12: Centre P. was selling both French and English versions of the MetaMaus book/CD - not sure about what's available on Amazon. I think a lot of it was actual graphic files, based on what I saw at the exhibit, but they were easy to navigate.

I do what I call "macaroni and cheese" readings all the time - usually I pull an old mystery off my own shelf but sometimes I buy a new one or get one from the library. The serious stuff will still be there when I am ready again!

May 16, 2012, 1:02pm Top

Good Luck Florence.

I was thinking IJ is about escape - through drugs, entertainment, combat or whatever else.

May 18, 2012, 3:03pm Top

Thank you Dan! Escape? Hmmm, hadn't thought of that. Pressure, certainly, which calls for escape I guess.

I was at Centre Pompidou today to see another pointless exhibition (second one this week), and had a look at the Metamaus book. I saw things that I don't really want to read about. Yes, I'm a coward. I guess I'll just borrow Maus from the library.

May 19, 2012, 5:38am Top

Oh dear! FlorenceArt; what was that pointless exhibition at the Centre Pompidou?

I am in Paris next week and have got tickets for the Degas Exhibition, the Matisse and the Helmut Newton photographs. I am also going to try to get to the Artimesia and the Duc de Berry books of hours at the Louvre.

Any good places to eat in town.

May 19, 2012, 7:35am Top

Le restaurant du Louvre

May 19, 2012, 9:10am Top

Anri Sala. But of course I'm sure there was a point, a very pointed point even, I felt it pointedly glaring at me all the time and I made a point of missing it. I prefer art to be pointless really, but some substance would be welcome. In short, the exhibition was empty except for a bunch of drums that we were not supposed to play and a video of a woman humming along to some symphony. Unless of course she did something else in the video, which I watched for about 1.2 seconds.

Monumenta is also pointless but nice to look at, and you get to see the awesome Grand Palais space and structure, that only is worth the 5 euros.

Aug 1, 2012, 3:56am Top

I can't believe it! I finally finished Infinite Jest on the train this morning! Of course, I should probably re-read the beginning since it's obvious now that there were some things there that I have long forgotten and would shed some light on the ending, but I probably won't do it. Once is enough. I don't think I have ever read a book for so long. 7 months!!! during which I didn't stop reading, though I must admit I wasn't reading for very long each day, as other things were intruding. Still, that's a very long time.

I have never been very good at following a plot, because I tend to forget what I read before as I progress through books. This is true even of short books with simple plots, so you can imagine how I feel now, it's a little like standing at the end of a jetty you just walked and not being able to see the other end because it's shrouded by fog.

But my main feeling is liberation. I can finally start reading something else!!! After 7 months!!! Something short preferably. I've got this collection of short stories by Richard Brautigan somewhere... and I'll probably buy I Shall Wear Midnight too.

Not, incidentally, that I didn't enjoy IJ. It was a rocky ride but I did like it, on the whole. It just lasted too damn long, that's all.

Aug 2, 2012, 12:39am Top

congrats on finishing it. I wonder if it will stay with you? I am still haunted by images and incidents from it...

Aug 2, 2012, 1:09am Top

Congratulations! What a long, strange trip it was, right?

Aug 2, 2012, 1:22am Top

We should do an Infinite Jest group read.

Aug 2, 2012, 1:45am Top

21: probably.

Aug 2, 2012, 3:02am Top

You infinite jester you !

Aug 2, 2012, 4:49am Top

Do I get a badge or something?

Aug 2, 2012, 4:55am Top

Hey, I think I just got the "infinite" part: not only does the book take forever to read, but by the time you get to the end you realize you need to re-read it from the beginning because the beginning follows the end, and so on and so forth.

Aug 2, 2012, 5:16am Top

it's a loop of endless entertainment (?) and if you don't break away from it at some point, it will kill you. put it down, flo, and Move. Away.

Aug 2, 2012, 6:11am Top

Finnagans wake was an infinite jest too

Oct 8, 2012, 5:57am Top

Still recovering from Infinite Jest and very busy with other things right now, so I don't want to start another hefty tome yet. Well, not counting the Bible read for which I am already far behind anyway. So I am reading short stories from The Revenge of the Lawn which I am enjoying a lot. Plus some light reading that I am rather ashamed to mention here.

Oct 9, 2012, 10:40am Top

Richard Brautigan? I liked his Trout fishing in America, every line seems to laugh. You'd never pin him down for a suicide based on it...

Mar 13, 2013, 8:52am Top

Finished The Revenge of the Lawn on the train this morning.

I seem to have difficulties reading fiction these days, my "reading now" list is now filled with Bible related books.

I started I Shall Wear Midnight a while ago but only read a few pages. There's also A la recherche du temps perdu, which may be good for such a situation as it's so rambling and long winded that it doesn't really matter very much if I only read a few pages once in a while. Or maybe I should take up another book of short stories, I'm sure I bought one last year but I have to find it.

Mar 13, 2013, 8:58am Top

my "reading now" list is now filled with Bible related books.

A weird problem that I seem to have too. Enjoy Proust. I have to read him in English, unfortunately. I read the first two books a few years ago, really feel in the love with the Combray section of the first book.

Mar 13, 2013, 11:08am Top

I started reading Proust on my first e-ink reader a few years ago. I enjoyed Swann's way and started reading the next book, but then I had to change my reading device and somehow got mixed up in the books, so I don't really remember which book I started reading next and where I was. I may have to start over, if only I can figure out what comes after Swann's Way.

Mar 13, 2013, 11:14am Top

Mar 13, 2013, 11:30am Top

Thanks! I think I may have started both A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs and Le côté de Guermantes. Since then I bought a complete edition in one e-book, so I should have no problem keeping track of the book order from now on.

I'll try to find where I stopped in A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs.

Mar 13, 2013, 11:41am Top

I only ever read Swann's Way back in college. Someday we really need to do a real true group read of Proust.

Edited: Mar 13, 2013, 5:48pm Top

I read In Search two years ago. It looses some of its polish toward the end but I'm certain it would have been finessed and reworked had Proust lived another year or two.

Apr 2, 2013, 11:08am Top

Finished I Shall Wear Midnight this week-end, and found out it had never made it to my Reading Now list on LT. I am not very good at keeping these things up to date. It's not the best Pratchett book I've read but it was fun.

Visited the local library and came back with a book on Babylon and the Bible, plus a weird comic book about strange happenings in an aquatic leisure center, or whatever these things are called.

Apr 2, 2013, 11:37am Top

Mais enfin Florence !

Apr 2, 2013, 2:25pm Top

Euh, oui ?

Thank you for that review of La route des Flandres, Mac. I was wondering if that book should be on my wish list. Now I know.

Apr 17, 2013, 7:19am Top

OK, so I read a Simenon to take a break then went back to Proust, with a bit of reluctance I have to admit because I don't find the story of the breaking up with Gilberte very exciting. And then I discovered that I was in fact re-reading a part of the book I had already read. I had picked up a place more or less at random in A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs and didn't recognize it so I kept reading. Looks like I didn't remember that part simply because I didn't like it.

On the other hand, I just LOVE the part about the trip to Balbec, which I am still re-reading. And now that I remember reading it, I think it makes up the last part of the book, which means I did finish it last time. But I like this part so much, I'll keep (re)reading for now.

Edited: Apr 17, 2013, 10:16am Top

Which Simenon? You know Mac has never read him, bad Belgian boy.

Apr 17, 2013, 11:33am Top

Edited: Apr 17, 2013, 12:51pm Top

Yeah you remember that. When they ask me Si...? I cut them with a "MAIS NON !"

Florence your post confuses me, I think you have been recreating a new "roman fleuve noir", à la " Les Gommes" which is in fact à Moeubius loop, but then turned inside out by a commodius vicus of recirculation.

Which Simenon have you been reading ?

Les demoiselles de Baalbec ?
La veuve Gilberte ?
La maison des sept jeunes filles en fleurs ?
La vérité sur bébé Marcel ?

Apr 17, 2013, 11:43am Top

Moi aussi je suis fou du Bergerac


Apr 18, 2013, 4:53am Top

45> Lol, it took me a few hours to get that, I actually went to see if those titles existed.

Apr 18, 2013, 7:59am Top

I need to give back Babylone et la Bible on Saturday, so I'm hurrying to finish it. It's not a very long book but it has some interesting things. Bottéro is an Assyriologist (I hope that's a word) and not a Bible expert though he started as a Bible scholar, but I found the last chapter I read interesting. His theory is that the founder of Israelite religion is Moses, that is, a single individual who managed to shape Israel according to his political and religious agenda.

The political agenda was to free the Israelites from Egyptian oppression. The religious agenda was to give them a God that he may have borrowed from Madian and who may have been called Yah originaly, or Yahoo (no, I'm not making this up), which he changed to Yahweh to make a pun on "being" (I am who I am, or is it I am the one who is?). Moses' religion was not a monotheism, but a henotheism, supported by the covenant Moses proposed to his people between them and Yahweh.

According to Bottéro, monotheism appeared later, when the Hebrews were confronted with the culture and religion of the Canaanites, which many found attractive. At the same time the Hebrew society evolved in contact with the Canaanites and became more hierarchical and fraught with inequalities, in contrast with the Mosaic ideal of a nomadic and relatively egalitarian society. Monotheism was developed through the influence of prophets who reacted to this evolution, and reinforced when in difficult times, the actions of the Assyrians and Babylonians were seen, not as a proof that their gods were better than Yahweh (at least not in the theory that prevailed), but that they were pawns sent by Yahweh to punish the Hebrew for being unfaithful.

Maybe it's because I have been immersed in long books full of very detailed and nuanced analyses and I'm having difficulties pulling a general image from them, but this short and simple story sounds rather appealing to me.

Apr 18, 2013, 9:15am Top

>45 Macumbeira: Mac you are so witty! Si mais non! been chortling all day over that one.

Apr 18, 2013, 4:16pm Top

Bottero is no fool

Apr 19, 2013, 7:55am Top

The part that surprised me is the idea of Judaism as a "founded" religion. That was a completely new one for me. It's not, of course, the Bible's story, since God maintains contact with humanity from its creation, but if it was suggested by any of the comments I've read, I'm afraid I missed it completely. I always knew, of course, that Christianity and Islam were founded by one man, but I never saw Judaism in the same category.

Apr 19, 2013, 12:48pm Top

You can't find religion in nature. It is always founded by one wicked one to boss around his brothers and sisters

Apr 20, 2013, 9:31am Top

That's not true. Most religions before Yahweh's evolved over long periods of time. I think religion was there from the beginning of humanity, although I suppose it depends how you define religion.

Edited: Apr 20, 2013, 11:57am Top

I returned Babylone et la Bible to the library this morning, and found Mary Douglas' Purity and Danger on the table where the librarians showcase selected books. I took it home, started to read and immediately felt the need to underline and annotate, so I bought the e-book version for my iPad. Now I'm reading the preface to the ebook edition and becoming a bit worried about her views on the bible.

She says in the preface that she made several mistakes in chapter 3 of the book where she applied her theories to Leviticus and its list of forbidden animals. Here's a short quote:

« The most serious mistake was to have accepted unquestioningly that the rational, just, compassionate God of the Bible would ever have been so inconsistent as to make abominable creatures. »

Douglas, Mary. « Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concept of Pollution and Taboo. » Routledge.

I don't know what book she's been reading, but if it featured a rational, just, compassionate and consistent God, it ain't the Bible.

I hope her anthropological opinions are a bit more rational and less clouded...

Apr 20, 2013, 12:51pm Top

54: might she have meant the New Testament only? I agree that those are not the first descriptors that come to mind! I believe the KJV translation of the Ten Commandments begins "the lord your God is ajealous god" and that is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of OT Yhwh.

Apr 20, 2013, 1:15pm Top

Anna, it's nice of you to try to clear her name, but Leviticus is part of the Old Testament I'm afraid. ;-)

Apr 22, 2013, 5:10am Top

Started reading Belphégor this week-end. A classic of pop literature, and it's set in le Louvre too. Yum.

Apr 22, 2013, 11:51am Top

I never read it, but I've been on the lookout for the TV series with Juliette Greco for darn AGES. It's available secondhand, but only in Euro format, damn those DVD vultures...

Apr 27, 2013, 10:06pm Top

Kudos for checking out Mary Douglas. I'm curious what you might find there.

Not sure I follow where Bottero's ideas come from. That wouldn't be my first guess - well, the Moses founder idea is a good as any i guess, but a monotheism in response to Canaanites seems - well, first premature, and second confusing. Premature because so few Israelites are monotheist in Kings, confusing because I was under the impression the was a very blurry distinction between Canaanites and Israelites.

Apr 28, 2013, 3:02am Top

59> Premature because so few Israelites are monotheist in Kings, confusing because I was under the impression the was a very blurry distinction between Canaanites and Israelites.

I don't think there is a contradiction, but I didn't explain his theory very well (or at least the way I understand it). Monotheism was the religion of a minority, but they were the ones who got to write large parts of the Bible and edit it, so they won out in the long term.

I find the prophets fascinating as a social phenomenon. There must have been hundreds of them, but only a few are mentioned in the Bible. Of those few, some are official prophets who work for, or at least with, the monarchy, and some are outsiders. Those are the ones who rant against the mounting economic and social inequalities brought about by sedentary life and the monarchic system. We haven't read them yet, but the Oxford History of the Biblical World mentions this. I think Bottero's view is that these prophets, who turned out to be the most influential in the long term, wanted Israel to return to an idealized nomadic and egalitarian society, and of course to the true God, and to abandon all those foreign gods and notions. The contact with Canaanites was tainting the Israelite people, culture and religion. Which it indeed was, as you say.

Apr 28, 2013, 5:25am Top

In any case, Monotheistic religions are the enemies of humanity.

Apr 30, 2013, 7:44pm Top

well said, MAc.

Apr 30, 2013, 7:49pm Top

57 and 58: I saw the very silly movie! It had Sophie Marceau I think. It was kind of fun actually but you guys would have probably thought it was awful. My sons and I have a kind of tradition of enjoying bad horror movies together.

Edited: Apr 30, 2013, 11:59pm Top

yes, I have this tradition too to look at bad horror: it comes daily and is called "News at 8"

Apr 30, 2013, 11:58pm Top

I trust you are old enough for this kind of porn


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