Before I dive into this completely irrelevant and fictional review of Shea's The Deal From Hell, let me briefly discuss some maybe unknown information which is relevant to this book, and to the goodreads community:
1. In 2000, the enormous merger of two of the country's largest newspapers was put in motion. Those companies were the Tribune Company, most notably the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, and the Times Mirror Company, notable publisher of the LA Times.
2. The two companies were incompatible culturally, though financially it seemed (on paper) that the merger would be an excellent success.
3. The merger was effected by large personalities at Tribune, which won over the blasé insouciance of the reigning Chandler family heirs who owned Times Mirror. Some large-ego investment bankers brought the deal together and Shea's opinion is basically that they are evil. The Tribune's newly anointed CEO, a Wall-Street pedigree, Mr. Madigan, cut costs and pursued acquisitions with blind Macbethian ambition. Which is to say: scrambling and self-defeating.
4. The largest merger in newspaper history was a complete failure due to the different objectives and cultures between the rigid and cost-oriented Tribune, and the West-Coast content-oriented LA Times. The combined Tribune Co. went bankrupt, was bought out by method of a leveraged buyout, and subsequently went bankrupt again. It is still in bankruptcy proceedings half a decade later.
An interesting fact: among the living heirs, who sold out the LA Times in 2000 to Madigan and his Wall Street cavalcade: none other than Otis Chandler, the co-founder of GoodReads. Now you know.
That said, now proceeds a totally unrelated fable about the life and times of an online book community called GoodBooks, and the tragic merger with the larger bully-company, an online retailer famous for crowding out small businesses and brick-mortar bookstores, Yangtze Co.
CAVEAT LECTOR: the following is in violation of the GoodReads terms of service, since it is not directly related to the aforediscussed book, <i>A Deal From Hell</I> by James O'Shea, but is rather a illustrative parable derived from the lessons learned therefrom.
GoodBooks: A Deal From Hell: a fable
In a land not so far, and a time not so long-ago, there was a small bookish community, which found pleasant pastures in the electronic Elysium of the internet. This community, which grew and grew, grew near and far and up and down, and more people and more books were always showing up: this community was called GoodBooks. And it should be noted that this GoodBooks, this is a fictional community and not at all related to a similarly named entity.
Who started GoodBooks? That's not at all hard to say! His name was Otis Chumpler, and he co-founded this place with his lovely wife, Elisabeth. Mr. Chumpler was a good-looking, bookish man, smart as a whip, with a thick chevalure like an Iowan field of wheat, a strong angular jaw, and a brazen complexion from the seductive sun of lush Los Angeles beaches and jaunty jogs in the San Francisco parks. He was a young man, still, though he and his wife had found wonderful success in their GoodBooks endeavor, and despite its minor mars and mistakes, it was a good place and it had good people who read good (and sometimes not-good) books. They were happy.
Like Pécuchet imitating the illustration in the book, the dunderheaded duo is ever ruined by their own lack of creative capacity. Their imaginations are purely proleptic: before opening a book they have already fully envisioned their success, but they ultimately lack the modest-temperament and genius required for that achievement. Despite their constant failures, the duo is dogged in their scholarship, and their itinerant passions are never extinguished by embarrassment or disheartedness. They are ever in the pursuit of their grande achievement, and care little wherein that achievement comes from: Like artists they craved applause. In Bouvard and Pécuchet, Flaubert splits himself in two: the stock and liberal, libertine Bouvard, and the gaunt, conservative and virginal Pécuchet. Like in Madame Bovary, Flaubert's last novel is both a condemnation and a mea culpa of human stupidity: a final salut to both mental frailty and scholastic endurance. Our pied protagonists are always devouring book upon book, volume upon volume, and mirror their creator's voracious reading appetite: Flaubert claims to have read north of 1,500 books in preparation for writing Bouvard and Pécuchet. And whether Flaubert's unfinished masterpiece is an encyclopedic farce or, in fact, a farcical encyclopedia, is a matter of debate: the reader will be grateful to have a dictionary handy, for each academic whim and fancy is pursued in the parlance and nomenclature particular to that rite. The great tragedy, and the grade statement of the novel, which teases us and jocosely punishes our foolish friends, is:Sometimes Pécuchet pulled his manual from his pocket and studied a paragraph, standing, with his spade beside him, in the pose of the gardener decorating the book’s frontispiece.
The worlds of science, of literature, of love, are much more in the shadow of our knowledge than in the light: there is ever more to know, and also that which cannot be taught, that which will never be precise or certain, but requires a creative cement to fill in the apertures. Bouvard and Pécuchet simply lack creative genius, they consume and consume knowledge, read books, study at length, but the inherent differences of opinion, vagaries of incomplete knowledge, and contradictions between authors are a pediment to what they believe is true success and enlightenment.“Science is based on data supplied by a small corpus of knowledge. Perhaps it doesn’t apply to all the rest that we don’t know about, which is much more vast, and which we can never understand.”
"They gave up" is the ringing leitmotif of our foolhardy duo, and despite their frequent differences of opinion, they are forever united in their surrender and transition to greener, untended pastures.They no longer had a single fixed idea bout individuals and events of that time. To form an impartial judgement, they would have to read every history, every memoir, every newspaper and manuscript, for the slightest omission could foster an error that would lead to others, and unto infinity. They gave up.
It is hard not to love these clumsy copyists, for every failure is taken in stride, and both stooges and spectators are visited by laughter at the precipitous ruin. Like a slapstick commedia dell'arte, the novel is suffused with physical comedy, but also high-minded ideas and a doggedness of heart that is truly endearing to behold.At times they has almost reached a decision; then fearing they would regret it later, changed their minds, the chosen place striking them as unwholesome, or exposed to the sea winds, or too near a factory, or difficult to reach.
Still, all their reading had gone to their brains.
Bouvard, coming down with a cold, imagined he was getting pneumonia. Since leeches hadn’t relieved the twinge in his side, he resorted to a vesicatory, which affected his kidneys and made him think he was suffering from gallstones.
Pécuchet felt some stiffness while pruning the arbor and vomited after his dinner, which left him terrified. Then, noticing that his skin was a bit sallow, he suspected a liver condition, wondered “Am I in pain?” and ended up deciding that he was.
He conceals his troubles, but his troubles build and boil, wrack and rage beneath the surface, tear him away from the core outward. Wilhelm has self-proclaimedly 'reached the end of his rope' - he is in dire financial straits: unable to pay his rent for the month or support his demanding wife, he is without current employment, having dropped out of school to pursue of pipedream in Hollywood, then quit his job at the Rojax Corporation, where he worked as a salesman, when they divided up his territory. He has failed time and time again, and is won over by glamorous, but meretricious, opportunities which he pursues full-heartedly and abandons wallet-emptied.When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow. So at least he thought and there was a certain amount of evidence to back him up.
Often authors are discussed in terms of their "influences": the seams of borrowed thread which prop up at odd corners of the text: which flash a bit of foreign color, tantalize our collective literary memories. Cole's novel is very much a tapestry of these imitations. This is not to say that the novel is not well written, or unoriginal, but that what it borrows exceeds what it bears. "Sebaldian," "Proustian," even a bit of a Barthesian or Benjaminian ("Benjaminisch"? "Benjaminig"?) cultural skepticism and lyrical insight: all of these influences are present, but they feel a bit to bare. Sebald's Rings of Saturn is the closest mother of Cole's Open City:The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from innumerable centers of culture. Similar to Bouvard and Pécuchet, those eternal copyists, at once sublime and comic and whose profound ridiculousness indicates precisely the truth, of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture which is anterior, never original. His power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them
If one were to replace "writing" with "walking" it would believably be an excerpt from Cole's novel. The novel's texture is one of sinusoidal dips into memory from the present: there is little plot in the present (and in fact, little plot which directly concerns the protagonist, Julius), but a deep plenitude which lies in the past. "Each one of us carries within himself his necropolis" said Flaubert in a letter to George Sand, a sentiment which is manifest manifold in Open City, wherein the city may very well be the city of the dead, a necropolis of memories walking among the living: always boiling at the surface, constantly re-forming the present.But the fact is that writing is the only way in which I am able to cope with the memories which overwhelm me so frequently and so unexpectedly. If they remained locked away, they would become heavier and heavier as time went on, so that in the end I would succumb under their mounting weight.
For Cole, the past is a reflection of the present: a point-for-point double, a mime. As one ages, as there are many aged and aging figures in Open City: from Prof. Saito to Dr. Mailotte, the equilibrium between the power of reflection and the power of the living self shifts: in death one is all reflection, all past and no present. In this view, we are all eased into death by our memories, and when we die out memories live without us: shadows on the edifice of time.To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.
The spectacular media loves to remind us that ours is the age of narcissism, spectacle, illusion. I can think of no more astute way to define our modern normalcy than a self-styled heroism, a moral impunity, and a constant flirtation with the dream of celebrity. What is often lost in our modern era is the self-communion, the walks about town, the mental and psychological ordering and re-ordering which we must do when we are humbly ourselves: when we are Odysseus, but Odysseus in Ogygian exile. Julius is often alone within himself, even in crowds he is the isolated observer: but his spectatoriship is false, a defense against his own memories which at turns haunt and amuse him. He retreats into the memories of others, into larger-than-self issues such as race, war and oppression, to escape the tiny daemon of his own villainy.Perhaps this is what we mean by sanity: that, whatever our self-admitted eccentricities might be, we are not the villains of our own stories. In fact, it is quite the contrary: we play, and only play, the hero, and in the swirl of other people’s stories, insofar as those stories concern us at all, we are never less than heroic. Who, in the age of television, hasn’t stood in front of a mirror and imagined his life as a show that is already perhaps being watched by multitudes?
and again:How I loved maman: I never resisted going to meet her, celebrated seeing her again (vacations), put her within my "freedom"; in short I associated her profoundly, scrupulously. Acedia comes from such desolation: no one around me, for whom I would have the courage to do the same thing.
The egoism of grief is profoundly different from the narcissism of freedom, though they are related. Where the narcissism of relief is one of independence (I am responsible for no one), the egoism of grief is one of icy solitude (there is no one who I care for). Grief, like all extremes of emotion, is a wholly reflexive process, or rather state: "No progress in pleasures (neither in grief), nothing but mutations."Mourning: At the death of the loved being, acute phase of narcissism: one emerges from sickness, from servitude. Then, gradually, freedom takes on leaden hue, desolation settles in, narcissism gives way to a sad egoism, and absence of generosity.
For James, sorrow is an ocean which wears us down, but which we redirect, which we overcome, which passes us by. There is a calming solace in the repetition of waves crashing, but slowly a resistance building, and ultimately a vast ocean overcome like a summer rain. For Barthes, the imagery of the ocean is one of recurring pain, renewed intensity: the dull acedia of the trough and the jarring pain of the crest.Sorrow comes in great waves — no one can know that better than you — but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see.
It is the rhythm and routine of suffering which haunts Barthes, it is the on-off up-down vacillations which renew the strength of his pain. What affects me most powerfully: mourning in layers—a kind of sclerosis.If only I could utter the profound desire of self-communion, of withdrawal, of "Don't concern yourself with me," which comes to me straight and inflexibly from the somehow "eternal" suffering - a self-communion so true that the inevitable little struggles, the caricatures, the wounds, everything that inevitably occurs as soon as one survives, are nothing but a bitter froth on the surface of a deep sea...
I waver—in the dark—between the observation (but is it entirely accurate?) that I’m unhappy only by moments, by jerks and surges, sporadically, even if such spasms are close together—and the conviction that deep down, in actual fact, I am continually, all the time, unhappy since maman’s death.
To whom could I put this question (with any hope of an answer)?
Does being able to live without someone you loved mean you loved her less than you thought...?
The only thing you can do easily is be wrong, and that's hardly worth the effort.
As a twenty-three year old (recently initiated, adieu, twenty-two) I understand the conviction that what one feels, one is the first to feel, perhaps the only one ever to feel: all emotions feel unique, curried with the salt of freedom. If young childhood is the realm of dominant solipsism, young adult hood is the era of narcissism, egoism. It is necessary, I think, to go through this deeply narcissistic phase: we must, at sometime, be the true heroes of our life stories: alone and valiant like Odysseus. At twenty-something, the consequences of our actions are minor, we are yet-formed, yet-completed, we are free to fall and free to rise, but still free to be forgiven. In this period of our lives we must design and build a genuine ego, to replace the mask of entitlement and privilege of youth. Everything which is new is new only by our point of reference: ourselves, and impossible to conceive the true universality of it in the present. Literature, history, makes us feel often that we are not alone, that what we are feeling is rooted in something which is universal, eternal: but we still believe that we have a unique strain, an undiscovered permutation of the human condition.one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.
As humans, we need some escape, or if not escape overtly, some structure which guards us from the brutal chaos of reality. We conceive of ourselves heroes, we are heroically justified, our self-respect buds, we become a solitary wanderer, discoverer, thinker, inventor: we measure ourselves by our potential, not necessarily by our accomplishments.I know something about dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people fill the void, appreciate all the opiates of the people, whether they are as accessible as alcohol and heroin and promiscuity or as hard to come by as faith in God or History.
Self-respect, according to Didion, is a "moral nerve" - those with self-respect "have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things." It is in the golden era of our lives, our twenties, when we are forced to pay for things: our material needs with money, and our mistakes with our self-respect. There is not currency so valuable as self-respect, and no wealth which is harder to regain when it has been lost.To have that sense of one's intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.
I think we are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.
This Marcovaldo possessed an eye ill-suited to city-life: billboards, traffic-lights, shop-windows, neon signs, posters, no matter how carefully devised to catch the attention, never arrested his gaze, which might have been running over the desert sands. Instead he would never miss a leaf yellowing on a branch, a feather trapped by a roof-tile; there was no horsefly on a horse's back, no worm-hole in a plank, or fig-peel squashed on the sidewalk that Marcovaldo didn't remark and ponder over, discovering the changes of the season, the yearnings of his heart, and the woes of his existence.
He extrapolates his jealousy to the musical community as a whole. He is saving the world from... from what? From a foregone future of Mozart's genius. He lacks the same creative genius that Mozart has an imagines that musical composition will end for everyone, there will be no peaks to reach, no music which can compare to Mozart's Everest "Requiem."SALIERI
No, I cannot withstand it any longer,
Resist my destiny: I have been chosen
To stop him -- otherwise, all of us die!
All of us priests and votaries of music,
Not I alone with my faint-sounding glory...
Beaumarchais, the author of the Le Figaro plays, was accused of poisoning his wives for their inheritance money, and in many ways this hypothetical murder of Mozart is more an homage to love-murder than to Mozart. Salieri loves Mozart, Mozart the artist and maybe Mozart the man, but his passion is wounded, for he perceives that Mozart (man) does not live up the impossible grandeur of his expectations, Mozart-genius. His Machiavellian aims are obviously misguided and irrational. They follow only the twisted internal logic of a madman, though Salieri does not seem to be courting real madness in Mozart and Salieri. And if he is, it is a solemn madness, a self-aware madness, his attempts to delude himself of his own viciousness. His vanity is wounded, his hard work feels for naught, though it is obvious that Mozart admires him, his work, his dedication. As Mozart cannot imagine a genius-wrongdoer, Salieri cannot conceive a serious-fool ("too laughable a fellow for such a serious craft" - murder-craft or music-craft, either).MOZART
That Beaumarchais could really poison someone?
I doubt he did: too laughable a fellow
For such a serious craft.
He was a genius,
Like you and me. While genius and evildoing
Are incompatibles. Is that not right?
Rest in peace! Uncovered by dust
Eternity shall bloom for you.
Rest in peace! In eternal harmonies
Your spirit now is dissolved.
It expressed itself in enchanting notes,
Now it is floating to everlasting beauty.
Joyce's novel epitomizes and parodizes this platitude. Bloom's longest way home (a roving roaming through the streets of Dublin, to avoid disturbing his wife's affair with Blazes Boylan) is Joyce's shortest way home (creating a fictional character so real and so complete, a nearly flawless portrait in fiction, and one of the most original uses of the English language). The novel is difficult, it is a challenge, it was a long month of reading, a long way round, but having arrived home it is hard to look back and say I'd change the journey. It feels impossible to deny that Ulysses is a great novel, an important novel, an innovation of the novel, it is easy to admire but perhaps hard to love.The longest way round is the shortest way home
Thus is Stephen's witticism about Irish art, and despite the political overtones as they relate to Ireland's servitude to the English king, it also serves as an aesthetic metaphor for the larger novel of Ulysses, which is not a true-to-life mirror, but rather one that is cracked, deliberately distorted. The funhouse mirror set in front of the "reality" of Joyce's Dublin, to Bloom et al, manages to reflect the truth of the human condition through comedy, confounded consciousness, and evasion. If each chapter appeals to a certain sense, a certain truth, the overall effect is a sort of Barthesian "infinite text" - one which is infinitely referential to all other ideas and fictions. The broken mirror which constitutes Ulysses in fact serves us better than an undamaged mirror; in the skewed distortions, in the pier-glass parallax of the novel, we see, as much as Bloom and Stephen's reflections, our own reflections. As we read Bloom's thoughts on death, and family, women and sex, we ponder these things ourselves. What Joyce lacks in Proustian plenum of ideas, he makes up with his jocular skepticism and whimsy:—It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked looking-glass of a servant.
Every Friday buries a Thursday, indeed! I won't equivocate, though: much of Ulysses is lost on me, much of it is deliberately obscure and perhaps dated too much. There are streams of text which seem to indicate almost nothing (I think particularly of the drunken banter at the tail-end of chapter fourteen). However, despite the occassional obliqueness Joyce also treats us to an endlesslesslesslessness of wordplay, particularly pleasant to the ear:Only man buries. No, ants too. First thing strikes anybody. Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.
The vitreous qualities of Proust and of Joyce are in many ways equal but different. While Proust's narrator observes the world from a number of perspectives: class, jealousy, grief, etc. He remains invisible to us, we do not see him, we only see through him. The mirror is intact, it is nearly perfect, but it is flat and faces only outwards. The mirrors of Ulysses are shattered, broken, they face every which way, but in being broken, in giving us a distorted image of reality, they bring us closer to the complete image.Bloom. Flood of warm jamjam lickitup secretness flowed to flow in music out, in desire, dark to lick flow invading. Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her. Tup. Pores to dilate dilating. Tup. The joy the feel the warm the. Tup. To pour o’er the sluices pouring gushes. Flood, gush, flow, joygush, tupthrob. Now! Language of love!
or:The memories produce a semblance of love; there is the pricking at your pride and the sadness in satisfaction; the atmosphere of romantic fiction catches you by the throat, and you believe yourself lovesick and melancholy, for vanity will always pretend to be grand passion.
Stendhal is an astute observer of the psychologies of love and passion, vanity and jealousy: that's what makes his novels so emblematic of realism (even if I think they're a bit melodramatic - but what do you expect? he's french). He is a man who has clearly been steeped in the language of love, the fictions and philosophies of l'amour, but at times his image of it seems almost too big, too grandiose. I felt, when reading this, that all those loves, all of the many kinds and stages of love, where somewhat false to Stendhal. He seems to be trying, at one and the same time, to raise his own (unrequited) love for Countess Dembowska up to a pedestal, but also to vouchsafe it in the realm of the unattainable, the fictive. His love for the countess is the idol which he adores, but it's an idol out of reach, and maybe one which isn't so great: all gilding and no substance.Some people, over-fervent, or fervent by starts - loving on credit, if I may put it that way - will hurl themselves upon the experience instead of waiting for it to happen. Before the nature of an object can produce its proper sensation in them, they have blindly invested it from afar with imaginary charm which they conjure up inexhaustibly within themselves.
The play is a complete "discord, such sweet thunder" - it is farce, it is pure entertainment no message. A Midsummer Night's Dream is like the Spartan hound, bred purely for the sound but useless in the hunt (of meaning). Likely because this play was written as a sort of farcical epithalamium for a noble wedding in which Queen Elisabeth was in attendance (hence her allusions in the play). There is not quite a total lack of meaning in the play, though it does lack the heavy moral and philosophical implications of some of Shakespeare's great tragedies or late romances/tragicomedies. What the lover's story signifies to me is the farce of young love. Love-at-first-sight, which is apotheosized in Romeo and Juliet is turned from romantic tragedy to nightmarish comedy. What I notice again and again in Shakespeare is the almost meaningless pairings of young lovers. Hero and Claudio in Much Ado About Nothing, everyone in Twelfth Night, even Edmund's nonchalance in picking between Goneril and Regan in King Lear: there is nothing predictive in pairing, all young love leads to success of failure and the courting is only a superficiality; in the words of Hamlet's Player King: Our wills and fates do so contrary runHIPPOLYTA
...Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder.
My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flew'd, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew;
Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapp'd like Thessalian bulls;
Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tuneable
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn
A shadow's shadow - what a concept! And that is what Hamlet is, a shadow of a shadow. He is the darkest umbra of our consciousness, he is the villain and victim of himself. There is no true villain worthy of Hamlet, except Hamlet himself.HAMLET
O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.
Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
A dream itself is but a shadow.
Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
quality that it is but a shadow's shadow.
Hamlet is the shadow to the light of thought. He is in full acknowledgement of his freedom, but he chooses instead to see only his prison. Hamlet writes his own tragedy: the end shocks us, it seems beyond what should have happened, and only Hamlet himself could have conceived the bloody end which is the culmination of his own shadowy thoughts.for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.