Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Dr. Johnson asks, "I wonder what you'd say about the role of difficulty in reading books like The Cantos, Finnegans Wake, Ulysses, Zukovsky, Gravity's Rainbow, WSB, The Wasteland, the S-Cat Trilogy, even Illuminatus! (Just today someone on Internet labeled Illuminatus! as 'unreadable.')?

"Why do you think some readers ENJOY difficulty, while others not only dislike it, but disparage it?

"My main model has to do with personality 'types' and predilections, but I'm not wedded to this as my main model. What say you?"

I've thought about your question, and I don't think I have a good answer.  (You have a knack for asking questions I have difficulty answering.)  I think vanity plays a role. People like me like to feel superior by reading at books which seem difficult, alas.  I only had a slight interest in "difficult" books before I started reading Bob Wilson.  He got me interested in Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos, and as with the tar baby, I've had trouble letting go of those books.

I think part of the appeal of these kind of texts come from their sense of humor, a kind which seems to only emerge out of this kind of chaos.  (At one point late in The Cantos Pound say he'll have to study some Greek to write the poem, but so will the reader.)  I also have a fascination with what kind of book fascinates those whose minds fascinate me.  Bob remained fascinated by Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos for decades, and Tim Leary remained fascinated by Gravity's Rainbow for twenty-plus years.  I would like to understand what they saw in those books.

It struck me once thinking about the Jumping Jesus Phenomena that Joyce and Pound marked the first time that people lived through an information doubling, and they created styles of writing to try to deal with that experience.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful answer! I agree with the part about vanity, but I think maybe I'm trying to convince myself that I'm "one of those smart people" who not only reads those texts but can comment on them, if not "understand" them. With these texts, understanding takes on a different meaning, it seems to me. The feeling of having something like a "mastery" or even a "firm grasp" of every aspect of these texts seems at once both within reach and just beyond apprehension. And I'm okay w/that.

    I think another reason I read these things might be because the concentration, or sheer effort, involved in attempting to grok even a page requires coming to terms with a level of Information Density that, by the time I take a break, I feel I've gone into an altered state, possibly from sheer mental exertion. And could it be that there is a small percentage of the population that are not only willing to attempt this stuff, but ENJOY the difficulties?

    Bob told me he loved these text partly due to their "inexhaustibility."

    I really liked your riff on JJ and EP and Jumping Jesus.