Essays

How to Write a Novel

By posted at 12:00 pm on July 28, 2016 24

Faulkner

1.
There is a long-standing debate about a critical aspect of the novel-writing process. Currently and colloquially in some annexes of the writing community it’s been playfully termed the “pantsing vs. plotting/outlining/planning” debate. Pantsers fly by the seats of their pants: they write and see where it takes them. Planners, well, plan before they write.

Precedent and vehement feeling may be marshaled in favor of both approaches.

covercoverVirginia Woolf took copious notes before she wrote her novels, as did Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vladimir Nabokov (his notes on index cards). William Faulkner scribbled his outline for A Fable on a wall which his wife tried to paint over. Joseph Heller created an extensive spreadsheet for the correspondences between various plots in Catch-22.

James Joyce, though, thought “a book should not be planned out beforehand, but as one writes it will form itself, subject, as I say, to the constant emotional promptings of one’s personality.” Mark Twain too, insisted that a book “write itself” and that “the minute that the book tried to shift to my head the labor of contriving its situations…I put it away…The reason was very simple — my tank had run dry; it was empty…the story could not go on without materials; it could not be wrought out of nothing.” Ernest Hemingway said much the same, and believed in simply pouring out what was within, stopping each day before he was completely empty, and resuming the next.

coverAnd of course there are many other points along the continuum. Italo Calvino started from an image and then expanded it. “If I didn’t know the ending of a story, I wouldn’t begin. I always write my last lines, my last paragraph, my last page first, and then I go back and work towards it,” says Katherine Anne Porter. And writers’ processes may be regarded differently by themselves than by others. George Eliot may have been prompted by the serial format of Middlemarch to unify her novel more than it otherwise would have been, but she nevertheless considered her work more as “experiments in life” than “moralized fables, the last word of a philosophy endeavoring to teach by example,” as Henry James remarked of her work.

coverThe divide exists with equal prominence in more mass market or “genre” schools. There the archetypal planner might be someone like J.K. Rowling, who extensively outlined the Harry Potter series, or John Grisham, who reportedly outlines each of his books prior to writing them. Stephen King, on the other hand, thinks it’s “dishonest” to pre-determine a plot, and William Gibson dislikes planned writing, which he considers to smack of “homework.” Polish novelist Stanislaw Lem likened his writing process to “dipping a thread in a liquid solution of sugar; after a while crystals of sugar begin to settle on the thread, and it grows thicker and thicker, it puts on flesh, so to speak,” and this is reminiscent of what fantasy author Neil Gaiman says of his novels: that they “accrete.” Lem’s description is reminiscent of what Stendhal says in his deliciously acute Love of the idealization involved in passionate love. When a twig is left in the salt mines, Stendhal writes, it eventually emerges utterly sheathed in delicate, interlacing crystals. In the same way, a person in love encloses their beloved in a seamless vestment of imagined perfections (never, however, with less ground in reality than the shape of the crystals have in the topography of the underlying twig). Perhaps writers like Lem need to idealize their work before writing it.

Authors like Raymond Chandler and George R.R. Martin claim that if they planned, they would lose all motivation to write. The latter makes a distinction between “architects” and “gardeners.” Architects plan rigorously and then construct; gardeners plant seeds and water them, and that creates the novel over time.

These divisions are not to deny the facts that writing itself constitutes a kind of planning, if only in retrospect, and that the lines between glimmering visions, developed thoughts, preparatory notes, preliminary sketches, and first drafts blur. Planners certainly do not and cannot plan everything, and even the incorrigibly spontaneous no doubt fall into certain involuntary spasms of planning.

2.
One distinction by which the controversy might be clarified is the mental state involved in the writing process. Many pantsers view the ideal state of writing as akin to a waking dream. Stephen King claims to pass into reverie when he writes, and Ray Bradbury said much the same, cautioning writers to be driven by emotion and not intellect if they wish to experience that state (“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”), which he associates with intense joy.

coverIn Plato’s Phaedrus, love, lunacy and poetry are all related, and so of course Delphic prophecy of old is practically the picture of divine inspiration. The idea of divine madness possessing poets and prophets (and I include novelists under these grand rubrics) is an old one. Kalidasa, the Indian poet, is said to have had the sigil of inspiration painted on his tongue by the goddess, after which the waters of creativity simply poured forth. Madness and divine inspiration here are opposed to calm, clear, intellectual rationality and planning.

There seems to be a separation, then, between the novel whose genesis arises from its creator’s excitement, which, channeled into a dream-like state, throws off what comes to mind in an almost automatic process, and the novel which has its development in a more intentional, cerebral decision, one in which feeling and thought are more nearly equal partners, and which conceives what it wants before it deliberately strives to fulfill that conception.

3. 
Planning in a sense takes place in both models. In the case of the planners, it’s a more explicit, thinking kind of planning, whereas in the case of the pantsers it’s an unthinking planning that takes place by way of that first draft.

And that distinction may well mean different parts of the brain or mind function to conceptualize the basic structure of the novel. In everyday social interaction, we understand what another person means by their actions and words by putting ourselves in their place and simulating what we would do in their place. This is not usually a conscious process. There is evidence that when readers read stories, they identify with the characters and do much the same thing.

It may be the case that pantsers engage in this kind of imaginative and empathic recreation when they tell stories, which is precisely why they cannot plan. They have to tell the story in order to know its contours and structure. They have to place themselves in the minds of the characters and then simulate what the characters do. This may be why Hilary Mantel calls writing her fiction an activity akin to acting.

These writers work by faith that their emotions channel into words a latent object which will later prove to possess a structure. The act by which one constructs characters, subjects them to some shock or hinders their desire by some obstacle, and then simply follows them in one’s imagination as they respond, is the empathic creative process.

This empathic process relates, too, to the possibility of characters which somehow take control and even surprise their creator.

That this could even happen is a matter of controversy. Jorge Luis Borges, admittedly not a novelist, is skeptical that such a thing is not merely authorial self-deception. He found preposterous the idea that characters could truly buck their author.

Yet Leo Tolstoy claimed surprise at what his characters did, in particular expressing shock at one of Anna Karenina’s most infamous acts.

Indeed, a reverie-writer like Stephen King considers it dishonest when a writer pre-determines a plot instead of simply giving the characters the situation and following what they do. J.R.R. Tolkien claimed that he had long ago learned not to determine by fiat what characters would do, and to let them determine their own actions instead, and Bradbury says that the plot is simply the footprints of the characters sprinting toward their desires.

And yet here too there are strong crossovers.

coverThe planner William Faulkner said, after all, that this is precisely what he did with As I Lay Dying: “I simply imagined a group of people and subjected them to the simple universal natural catastrophes, which are flood and fire, with a simple natural motive to give direction to their progress.” And it was a book for which he claimed to know practically every word prior to writing anything down. More broadly he claimed of each of his books that “there is always a point…where the characters themselves rise up and take charge and finish the job — say somewhere about page 275.”

And Henry James thought through a situation and then expanded in his mind the ramifications of that situation. It started for him with a little “seed” or “virus” which then he then expanded into its inevitable implications, structured into a novel, and then wrote. He took distinct pleasure in rendering visible the intricate organism into which the situational seed blossomed — an empathic approach, yet filtered through a powerful planning intellect.

4.
Planning is often connected to a desire to use fiction to explicate an idea. That makes sense, since such a desire requires intellectual foresight and control.

covercoverDostoevsky wrote his extensive notes no doubt because his works had to illustrate complex philosophical ideas like the “positive idea of beauty” in The Idiot, or the possibility of acting beyond morality in Crime and Punishment.

Marcel Proust famously wrote that he was overjoyed when one of his readers realized that his work was in fact a “dogmatic work and a construction,” that is — that it had been fashioned according to a plan to demonstrate certain principles. Proust was not, contrary to popular opinion, merely trying to recreate old memories. He was trying to demonstrate certain philosophical, psychological, and literary ideas, and these manifested in his work. He admired the idea of Gothic cathedrals and thought of his work architecturally, or with the unity of painting or a great symphony, and drew his characters and situations from memory accordingly. He claims, indeed, to have possessed no imagination at all, though this remark likely ought to be taken about as seriously as Montaigne’s claims to a poor memory and and dull storytelling ability.

And yet even here there are complications. Ray Bradbury mentions that when he writes, a second self arises and does all the writing; his muse does all the work. In strange analogy with that view is Proust’s strongly-held position that the real life of the writer cannot tell us anything important about the authorial self, which be known only in the artistic creation. Yet this in itself does not tell us much about the planning debate, because that second self, that other self, may be precisely the self of reflection rather than the automatic, unconscious self which manifests when the intellect suspends itself in a reverie. On the other hand, Proust himself firmly holds that for an artist, “instinct” is king, and that intellect, by its own lights, bows in acknowledgement of this fact. Unfortunately, he never defines just what instinct is or how it is to be accessed in the writing process, excusing himself with an idea that Faulkner independently and no less staunchly adumbrates: that finally, there are no rules to writing.

Perhaps, as Henry James put it, “the general considerations fail or mislead, and…even the fondest of artists need ask no wider range than the logic of the particular case.”





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24 Responses to “How to Write a Novel”

  1. Manny Frishberg
    at 7:38 pm on July 31, 2016

    Pantsing vs. planning, properly understood, is not a debate at all. Every writer I know (and I know several dozens) has their own methods. The right way is whatever works. I am mostly a pantser because, as suggested in the article, I need to tell myself the story to know its contours.
    When possible, I d plan in advance, but I frequently can only predict what will happen a few chapters ahead of where I am. Then again, does that make me a secret planner? A hybrid? Might it be, not mutually exclusive choices, a continuum along which each writer finds their own place along the line?

  2. Ramesh Raghuvanshi
    at 12:38 am on August 1, 2016

    Honest novelist search his unconscious mind and try to find out meaning for his life.All writing is write for self interest Those who write for fame and money is not honest writing. Novel must first and last satisfy to writer don’t care it satisfy to readers .

  3. Al de Baran
    at 9:17 am on August 1, 2016

    “]Proust] claims, indeed, to have possessed no imagination at all, though this remark likely ought to be taken about as seriously as Montaigne’s claims to a poor memory and and dull storytelling ability.”

    On the contrary, both writers showed the acute insight into their limitations and lack of ability that the author of this piece clearly lacks.

  4. Oren C
    at 2:43 pm on August 3, 2016

    What a woefully unoriginal and inaccurate article.

    Other commenters have pointed to the false dichotomy drawn here, betraying a total lack of nuance and understanding of the complex back-forth writing process.

    But moreover, the author does major injsutice to the authors cited by basically getting it wrong in most of his examples with simplistic reductionism and inaccurate portrayals by the author of each writer cited. I’m not sure the author did his research at all, and just cherrypicked quotes from each writer that seemed to fit into his broad-brushtroke depiction.

    One example that immediately struck me is the lazy and inaccurate depiction of James Joyce. Biographies of James Joyce and research into Ulysses would show that Joyce planned and researched into the minutae detail of his work.

    Got to this site and article through ALDaily… and won’t be visiting themillions again if this is the quality of the articles.

  5. eyeresist
    at 7:46 am on August 4, 2016

    Oren C, surely accusing this article of reductionism is reductionist in itself. The article reports on an artistic debate, and provides evidence for both sides. Maybe Joyce planned, but he also said ‘don’t plan’. Other contradictions like this are listed in the article.

    I’m surprised by the clarity of GRR Martin’s analysis of the question. He is more thoughtful and honest than King, who calls planning an immoral act. In fact, people favour the method that works for them. Whether it works for the good of the final work is for the reader to decide.

  6. Ed Cobleigh
    at 3:31 pm on August 4, 2016

    The author’s description of James Joyce rings true, How much planning does it take to produce a novel with no discernable plot, no dramatic arc, and no basic structure beyond a random walk through the English dictionary as well as Dublin. Another commentator opined that Joyce did extensive research. How so? He wrote Ulysses in Paris, without Wikipedia, and set it in Dublin. He seems to have had an extraordinary memory of the city. But, in the final analysis, the book is, in my opinion, unreadable gibberish.

  7. steven augustine
    at 6:46 pm on August 4, 2016

    ” How much planning does it take to produce a novel with no discernable plot, no dramatic arc, and no basic structure beyond a random walk through the English dictionary as well as Dublin.”

    I respectfully submit that what you would seem to find the best about reading “The Novel” is not what Joyce does (nor is it what he tries to do) in Ulysses. But the same could be said of any number of fine books the spiritual and intellectual godfather of which being L. Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

    “The Novel” is a capacious form; why should the thrilling possibilities of narrative be restricted to the good old shape of the campfire-tale? To reassure the bourgeoisie? If you enjoy reading thinly-veiled rehashes of Goldilocks/ Cinderella/ Little Red Riding Hood, that’s fine… but surely you can allow that there are other ways that appeal to other types of reader? And that not all of these readers/writers are idiots (or phoneys) simply because they don’t share your tastes?

    I find, these days, that there’s a red hot strain of totalitarian intolerance, found in discussions of Art and bred by the corrosive over-confidence of the Consumer, who knows so absolutely what she/he likes but confuses that kind of knowing with knowing what is good. You’re not a professional critic, of course, so it’s no sin that you haven’t made much of a case here.

    Re: “structure”: Ulysses is one of the most famously “structured” books in English; Joyce makes his über-anal acolyte Anthony Burgess (who structured his novels like sheet music) look slapdash in comparison. You need to actually *know* a book before you can get too specific in tearing it down.

  8. steven augustine
    at 6:49 pm on August 4, 2016

    PS Here’s one version of structure in Ulysses:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_schema_for_Ulysses

  9. Ed Cobleigh
    at 5:47 pm on August 5, 2016

    Perhaps I could have been clearer by stating, “I find Ulysses to be….” instead of, “in my opinion…” Correct, I am not a critic, but rather a writer who appreciates a tightly written narrative, not one that seemly tries to use every word in the English language. Many readers enjoy Joyce, good for them. I find it hard to “know” a book when my eyes glaze over ten pages in. Is it too much to ask for sentences that actually get somewhere instead of running on for pages? For some sort of point to a story? For clear prose, even if sophisticated. What is the elevator speech summarizing Ulysses? What is it about anyway? And, if Ulysses is a classic, perhaps the classic novel, why isn’t Finnegan’s Wake, which is more of the same, not? In my books, I try for an interesting, complex story line and language an educated reader can appreciate. For me, Joyce does none of this.

  10. Randy Kraft
    at 7:23 pm on August 5, 2016

    To each their own, of course, but I have written novels both with extensive outlines/plot lines and without, and the “pantsers” approach has yielded infinitely more creative and interesting material, for me as well as the reader. I’m of the camp that it all derives from character, and every morning I ask the question, what will these characters do and/or what will happen to them today? One can, and must, edit after the fact, but along the way, great surprises that make better stories. Cheers.

  11. steven augustine
    at 2:04 pm on August 6, 2016

    @Ed Cobleigh

    Please post a link to an excerpt from your material, Ed. I’m curious.

  12. Ed Cobleigh
    at 2:52 pm on August 6, 2016

    My website is http://www.edcobleigh.com. Or you could click on my name on the original post, both will take you my site with the usual stuff and links to my books on Amazon. You might get a few grins from my blog about finding Hemingway in Paris. Feedback is always welcome, perhaps not heeded, but welcome all the same.

  13. steven augustine
    at 5:40 pm on August 6, 2016

    Ed

    The atrocious right wing claptrap of your politics aside, I can see that you have a good ear for storytelling. You know how and when to deploy the unexpected, particularizing detail. But your Art is essentially oral… the Art of the campfire… transcribed to the page. There are at least a dozen right-wingers who seem to frequent the comment threads, here, who would probably enjoy your stuff immensely: to them I recommend your books.

    I remember reading texts like yours in my mother’s copies of The Reader’s Digest. There was quite a market for that stuff, then, and perhaps there is one still. But the “clarity” you trumpet is merely inelegant simplicity. This matches your politics… I can see why you despise (or feel threatened by) Ulysses. I can imagine you aiming a flame-thrower at a first edition of that book with glee. Modernism… Communism… what’s the diff?

    I find the intellectual/psychological divide here interesting, Ed. Also hilarious. In the little preface to one of your books, you mention how you (or “we”) tried, and failed, to “save” that part of the world from The Commies. The Commies won (against tremendous odds) and, years later, we see the dire results: Vietnam does business with the rest of the world, just like Ireland, or Norway, or Texas, or Red China (and with less corruption than Chicago).You had a proud hand in the killing of c. 2 million Vietnamese civilians in an effort to avert that “terrible” outcome….?

    No, Ulysses is not for you.

  14. Ed Cobleigh
    at 8:07 pm on August 6, 2016

    Steven,
    Thanks for your comments. You are correct, War for the Hell of It was written in a.coversational tone. When folks tell me the book sounds as if the reader and I are sharing drinks and tales at the Officer Club bar, I know I’ve nailed it. You are also right in that there is a market for such. The book has sold over 13,000 copies.in 8 countries, and counting.
    The Pilot is something else again, a novel with a layered story. Some readers follow the plot twists, some can’t. Take the (short) time required to read it. I offer a money back garauntee, if you don’t enjoy the book, I’ll refund your costs. Is it oral art, I certainly hope so. I read every line aloud before I go final.
    My politics are anything but right wing, I’m a dedicated independent. I vote for the best choice on offer at the time. This year it’ s Hilary. In the past, it has been, at times, Carter, Clinton, and Obama.

  15. steven augustine
    at 3:35 am on August 7, 2016

    Ed

    Actually, you provide a perfect little lesson in the difference between the naive Art of the campfire tale and the great ambiguities of the Higher Art embodied by a genuinely complex (and subversively funny) text like Ulysses. Ulysses functions, essentially, above the venal con of Society; Joyce’s witty and prolonged assault on the institutions that oppress us in the name of Morality (aka Money) and Order (aka Power) indicate, first of all, that he was not duped by the venal cons that keep us in line. And every great novel/ novelist works in a hierarchy that *begins above* “Society” in order to sing its Truths against Society’s age-old cons.

    But your Talents (like many Writers’), Ed, work from within the Illusions of the Society Joyce preemptively anticipates and rejects. What you do, then, is: rather than supplying Propaganda’s Antidote, you amplify and disseminate it. Your Fighter-Pilot/Death Machine books have confirmed the brainwashed beliefs and aspirational feelings of 13,000 and counting. You functioned as a cog in the American Killing Machine that rolled over Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and your books relive your experiences (directly or with padding) as that cog. If these books don’t rage with shame about the horror of being this cog, they are merely propaganda and you have done your part to keep at least 13,000 readers from recoiling in disgust at what American Killing Power has done (and does) in the name of More Power. Just as your colleagues around the world write not-badly-written bilge to support the Evil Inanities of their respective Societies. Even in Russia, I’m sure.

    Hilary is as right wing as they come (ditto her terrifying husband, who, among other things, destroyed Yugoslavia to boost his poll ratings; even Reagan didn’t go that far, opting for the invasion of Grenada, for his little poll bump, instead). Obama has drone-killed how many thousands of children as of this morning? That’s the beauty of propaganda: it can make you think Right is Left, Wrong is Right and War Crimes are Humanitarian Interventions. The Republicrats (or is that Demublicans?) are all Far Right. As a “dedicated independent” (sic) you’ve faithfully chosen, each time, one of the TWO (laugh) choices, between a rock and a hard place, that our masters offered. The game is rigged and Joyce knew it. You don’t appear to.

    How can you illuminate any reader’s consciousness if you’re so deeply duped yourself? Joyce would have listened to five minutes of any (H or B) Clinton speech and laughed until vomiting. Well at least he would have pitied that poor dupe Carter.

    But my larger point is: the possibilities of The Spooky Art are much greater than the often-reactionary pleasures of the Campfire Tale. The possibilities inherent in all Great Art are, in fact, Radical in the fundamental (and etymological) sense of the word. And, again: your aversion to Joyce’s great (and deeply radical) work is telling.

    If you think “plot twists” are a measure of literary complexity, try to find a copy of Weldon Thornton’s mammoth “Allusions in Ulysses: A line-by-line reference to Joyce’s complex symbolism”.

    You are playing less than patball to Joyce’s champion game (not to flatter you with this allusion or anything…. laugh).

    Reading list:

    http://www.michaelparenti.org/yugoslavia.html

    http://literarylondon.org/the-literary-london-journal/archive-of-the-literary-london-journal/issue-3-1/london-language-and-empire-in-oxen-of-the-sun-of-james-joyces-ulysses/

  16. Dave
    at 1:39 pm on August 7, 2016

    My only thought is never study books on how to write unless they are by a well known highly published writer, and as my major influence always said, “Whatever it takes to get the coon.”

  17. J
    at 5:49 pm on August 9, 2016

    Dear Steven Augustine,

    Just wanted to let you know that you are a patronizing moron since you’re so obviously incapable of seeing how you come across with your ludicrous verbosity, or of recognizing the obvious stupidity of your positions.

    There are many canonical writers who held conservative views. Your insane idea that aesthetic superiority is somehow tied to looking at the world like your obvious master and arch-moron Chomsky, is truly deranged as well as fundamentally stupid.

    I don’t know anything about Ed other than what’s written here but you seem to intimate he is a Vietnam vet. Far better men than you gave their lives to preserve our freedoms. And no, Vietnam is not Chicago. I have been there and it is still a Communist hellhole but I don’t expect a Chomskyite Pol Pot-loving denialist like you to even begin to understand.

    Good day.

  18. steven augustine
    at 6:26 pm on August 10, 2016

    “Far better men than you gave their lives to preserve our freedoms.”

    Nice! I haven’t heard a line like that (without a laugh-track) since Nixon was in office! Your “freedoms” to cheer on your Gubmint as it serial-blitzkriegs defenseless nations to acquire and/or protect corporate markets and assets? Or your “freedoms” to inhale deep-fried Snickers? Because, like, you were afraid the Vietcong (like the Iraqis) had long-distance canoes…? (gets out map of Earth)

    “Your insane idea that aesthetic superiority is somehow tied to looking at the world like your…”

    Nah, I implied that aesthetic *competence* is tied to elegant, inventive, cliché-free writing. The right wing claptrap was addressed as a separate issue, you big old cuddly flag-wavin’ thang! You aren’t sharp but you do sparkle!

    Um, but what I really want to know is how you feel about “Ulysses”…? I take you for more of a “Portrait of the Artist…” fan, though. Close…?

  19. J
    at 7:38 pm on August 11, 2016

    “The right wing claptrap was addressed as a separate issue, ”

    Um. No it wasn’t. Maybe you should read your own claptrap.

    “Joyce would have listened to five minutes of any (H or B) Clinton speech and laughed until vomiting.”

    You know that how?

    I repeat. There are many great canonical novelists who held conservative, even ultra-conservative views.

    You were trying to conflate aesthetic appreciation for Joyce with a left-wing worldview. It’s asinine. Just admit you’re wrong and that you feel superior to the vet.

    By freedoms I mean those that do not exist in Vietnam or Cuba or North Korea, such as the righto to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to a vote. The right–this ones for you, sparkly–to be openly gay.

    Since I have lived in both Vietnam and Cuba, I know what I’m talking about. You?

    The better men than you are the ones who fought the wars that brought the expansionist Soviet bloc and its allies down in the end, thus freeing half a billion people from brutal tyranny (see above). Same goes for those who fought Hitler and Hirohito.

    Too bad they failed in Vietnam. And it wasn’t canoes. Once the VC took over it was boat people, it was death camps. But you don’t want to see that side of the equation.

    Ulysses, actually, by far. Dubliners a distant second.

  20. steven augustine
    at 5:55 am on August 12, 2016

    J-Babe:

    The distinction I was making was between a minor writer who swallows boilerplate nationalist propaganda and regurgitates it as commercial prose, and the other species of writer capable of seeing through the fog and creating prose useful in leading the reader out of society’s labyrinth of seductions, double-think and outright lies. I wasn’t, therefore, arguing that a less-conservative writer will write better, or more fancy prose: I was arguing that a clued-in writer (eg Joyce) will help to create clued-in readers. Sorry I didn’t make that clearer for you, chum. Hope it’s clear now. I can type more slowly if you prefer.

    “Since I have lived in both Vietnam and Cuba, I know what I’m talking about. You?”

    And Ohio is full of closeted members of the Klan; should I trust their appraisals of the pros and cons of living in Ohio? Laugh.

    One of my friends, Khue, was born in Berlin, of Vietnamese parents. She’s been going to Vietnam, on vacations, roughly once every two years or so since she was fairly young. Her chief complaint was always about how difficult it was, for her (as a German, essentially) to relate to most of her Vietnamese relatives there (especially when she’s over there for longer spells). She never mentioned it being a “hell-hole”… she often said it was “Gorgeous”… whereas, on the other hand, I *know* Chicago is a hell-hole, and I haven’t been there in 20 years!

    So maybe the Vietcong should have saved the US from the inhuman depredations of Late Phase Capitalism? I mean, as long as we’re granting governments carte blanche to use carpet-bombing as a tool of social engineering.

    Or is there only *one* government that’s so special that we allow them to get away with war crimes like that….?

    Which passage in Ulysses is your fave? The part where Joyce heaps praise on men who order the mass-murder of innocent women, men and children for political gain… or the part where he praises the Dupes of such men?

  21. J
    at 2:46 pm on August 13, 2016

    As I thought.

    You don’t actually know what you’re talking about. You’ve never lived under communism nor probably even visited a communist regime.German pals notwithstanding, you’re just another provincial American.

    What’s really amusing–no, sad–is that you praise cliche-free writing but you’re whole spiel on here with its am-I-typing-slow-enough and it’s look-at-me-I’m-so-much-clever-than-you-are nonsense is the antithesis of honest, hard thinking on the issues you raise.

    You’re all cliche, all pose, far more so than the vet with his campfire yarns. You’re just repeating Chomskyite agitprop of the kind you can hear recited by the legions of drones in any undergrad dorm, expressed in an obvious and unfortunate attempt to mimic Vidal.

    I think your tired combination of patronizing superiority and abysmal ignorance plus a measure of cruelty is far more likely to have made Joyce throw up than any speech by Hillary. (Not to mention the overtly political and reductionist reading of his own text!)

    Meanwhile in Tehran they just hanged a few more people for the crime of being gay. Meanwhile in Hanoi my friend, uh, who lives there and is, uh, actually Vietnamese, and who can’t vote and has no right to say what she wants and lost half her family to communist labour camps, well she just woke up at 4 am and put her whole family on a scooter to get to work, including her 11 year old who has to sell trinkets all day because school’s not in the cards for him. In the worker’s paradise. But hey, your German pals says all’s “gorgeous” there so life’s got to be great under the red star . . . pass the barf bag.

    But at least it’s good to see that you’ve rethought and appear to be retracting your idiotic position that great novelists are all left wing ideologues. Because they’re really not.

    War crimes? From a certain moral perspective all war is a crime. But if great literature teaches us anything it’s that hard choices have to be made in an imperfect world.

    “A hesitating soul, taking arms against a sea of troubles, torn by conflicting doubts, as one sees in real life.”

  22. steven augustine
    at 5:44 pm on August 13, 2016

    J-Babe:

    Well, you clearly don’t like me but I like you a lot. I love how one eye of yours is that much bigger than the other (giving you a visionary appearance)… and, also, that vein that bulges in your forehead (all the time). But, to get to your philosophically heavy investigation of Life…

    Indeed, J, the world is not a Disney ride. It’s not a Disney ride in Chicago, it’s not a Disney ride in Detroit, it’s not a Disney ride in the Appalachians or across a sizeable chunk (if not the overwhelming majority) of the US of A, just as it’s not a Disney ride in Tehran (um, is Tehran run by “Commies” now, J?). Yes, J, an 11-year-old in Vietnam has to sell trinkets (much like an 11-year-old in Compton has to sell drugs)… isn’t that pretty much Capitalism at work?

    Which is why I left the US in 1990. I fled for a Social Democracy. Much more civilized than living in a full-on Capitalist Gulag. University educations are essentially free, here… not so in the US. Generous maternity leave, long holidays, socialized health care (and not only did my Wife and I get excellent, high-tech, prenatal care for the nine months before our Daughter arrived, but we also had doctor and two midwives AND a birthing suite to ourselves on the big day and a follow-up house-call from the doctor… I think we paid the equivalent of 200 bucks, in total)… all thanks to the lingering spirit of Socialism!

    I’m suspicious of the bourgeois-underpinnings of most so-called “Communists”, you know, but Social Democracy has been very good to me. Even when YOU aren’t supposedly living in Vietnam and Cuba (why didn’t you throw Beijing in, while you were at it?) and “reading Ulysses”, you live in the Third World, in comparison. Where you are “free” to go homeless at any minute.

    Speaking of which, I’m more on the Parenti “functionalist” (AND “structuralist”) side of the debate than a Chomskyite “structuralist”. Parenti’s lectures on the age-old struggle between “the few” and “the many” are eye-opening. You, J… you’re a member of “the many” who has been trained, like a little dog, to yappingly “protect” the interests of “the few”.

    “Meanwhile in Tehran they just hanged a few more people for the crime of being gay.”

    Nice to see you’ve evolved somewhat since the previous message during which you sneeringly implied that I’m Gay, J! Or were you flirting? But my Wife (a ferner!) is very pretty, J. So forget it (though I’m sure there are some who are into your type). And if I *were* Gay you’d probably be too… you know. “Dinky”.

    “War crimes? From a certain moral perspective all war is a crime.”

    Logically speaking, therefore, the country waging the most Wars (technically speaking they’re blitzkriegs/ invasions, since a “war” is between two nations with actual armies) at any given time is the biggest criminal, no? Go on, J. Put two and two together. I’ll wait for you. I know you can do it…

    (or maybe not)

    See ya! Peace, Babe!

    PS What are you wearing right now? Are you even wearing pants?

  23. Bookscrounger
    at 1:10 pm on September 21, 2016

    Actually, Faulkner outlined ‘A Fable’ on SEVERAL walls.

    There is a parallel between the West & East. Western paintings traditionally were carefully planned & executed; Japanese & Chinese painting were spontaneous and followed Zen principles (in addition to archery and swordsmanship, painting is also a traditional Zen discipline).

    The idea continues into such things as microscopes: the critical aspect of a microscope is the lens. The Germans and Japanese dominate the market. The Germans make lenses very carefully and expensively, and reject few; the Japanese make many lenses quickly and cheaply, test them, and reject most of them.

    What is interesting, the resulting quality and price of the microscopes are about the same…

  24. elliott
    at 2:36 pm on November 2, 2016

    I liked this article. Anytime you categorize, of course, you can argue things aren’t so black and white. Still, it’s fun to know which authors outline and know an ending before starting, and which don’t.

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