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[MAY 2006.]

Notes Toward

I am in Reno again, as I must be every so often to earn my keep. To keep myself. April was wet and a strange new grass has sprouted everywhere, has blurred into deep green clouds on the red hills of the horizon—like Mars after fifty years of terraforming, right before the first Burger King opens.

Somehow I had assumed that if I became a professor, I would also become a novelist, as an adjunct to that identity; a strange thing to assume, since I knew perfectly well that a writing career is a stupid thing to take for granted at any time, in any place, though particularly here and now. If I had been born twenty years earlier, I say sometimes—but that isn’t even true.

About a week ago I was standing beside the tracks at the Rockridge BART station and saw San Francisco lit across the bay, thought of Le Père Goriot and Rastignac’s final hyper-Romantic challenge to the city of Paris: “Il lança sur cette ruche bourdonnante un regard qui semblait par avance en pomper le miel, et dit ces mots grandioses: ‘A nous deux maintenant!’” It’s understandable, even attractive, for a young man to make such gestures. I’m not so young any more.

There are arguments in favor of growing up, ceasing to inhabit a role that I didn’t create, ceasing to pretend that an affluent family background entitles me to hold money in contempt. Graduate school, like any long and weighty commitment that comes to partially constitute you (relationship, home, career, marriage, family) may appear as either a shelter or a trap. In many ways, so far, it has been the former. I’ll teach in the fall. This ought to be the core of the profession; and it ought to reveal, unlike the training exercises in the seminar room, whether it is a profession I want.


A Truly Wonderful Proof, But the Margin is Too Small to Contain It

Ego certe, quod intrepidus de meo corde pronuntio, si ad culmen auctoritatis aliquid scriberem, sic mallem scribere ut quod veri quisque de his rebus capere posset mea verba resonarent, quam ut unam veram sententiam ad hoc apertius ponerem, ut excluderem ceteras quarum falsitas me non posset offendere.

For my part I declare resolutely and with all my heart that if I were called upon to write a book which was to be vested with the highest authority, I should prefer to write it in such a way that a reader could find re-echoed in my words whatever truths he was able to apprehend. I would rather write in this way than impose a single true meaning so explicitly that it would exclude all others, even though they contained no falsehood that could give me offence.

—Augustine, Confessions, 12.31

Wenn ich ein Buch schriebe “Die Welt, wie ich sie vorfand,” so wäre darin auch über meinen Leib zu berichten und zu sagen, welche Glieder meinem Willen unterstehen und welche nicht etc., dies ist nämlich eine Methode, das Subjekt zu isolieren, oder vielmehr zu zeigen, dass es in einem wichtigen Sinne kein Subjekt gibt: Von ihm allein nämlich könnte in diesem Buche nicht die Rede sein.—

If I wrote a book “The world as I found it,” I should also have therein to report on my body and say which members obey my will and which do not, etc. This then would be a method of isolating the subject or rather of showing that in an important sense there is no subject: that is to say, of it alone in this book mention could not be made.

—Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5.631

I think those two quotes, taken together, are a pretty good explanation of why Ulysses has the form it does. In about five years I should be able to explain why; and then maybe there will be a point to all this.


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