Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Self-indulgent masturbation

"At any minute, we could find ourselves in a nontemporal state without ever having realized it. If the ego and consciousness were related but separate entities, and one absented from the other or consciousness differentiated itself to a bodily degree, that would cause the ego's perception of time to alter, like in dreams. Time is a method of organizing entropy in a manner comprehensible to consciousness as perceived by the human mind through the lens of the ego," he said between sips, as if I understood a quarter of that without stopping to think.
The Lightning Stenography Device, by MF Sullivan, is one of the most self-indulgent and pretentious books I've had the pleasure of hate-reading in ages. I read it so you don't have to.

The device in question is a thought-to-text machine, saving you the trouble of writing things down, typing things out, losing all the brilliant tangents one travels down while crafting sentences, and working at the speed of thought itself. For some select individuals, the device seems to capture dreams, too. And those dreams are sometimes of the future.

Lightning Stenography Device. LSD. Get it?
"Cassius, no! Writing about writers is self-indulgent masturbation." Though behind her lurked the shut blinds of her office window and edge of a ficus she'd somehow kept alive since I'd last seen her in person three years before, she was not deterred from snatching up her bourbon. "Nobody wants to read that. Writers write for readers, not for other writers."
No, not so MF Sullivan. She'll condescend to her readers. (Is there any other kind of masturbation?)

The first half of the book is all like this:
"No author did better than Pynchon in dancing around a depiction of that which cannot be depicted. There is a certain aspect of the unconscious which, by definition, cannot be brought fully into consciousness, and it is this from which the Word buffers us. It can, however, be experienced in one form or another, for better or for worse, and communicated with a series of symbols in context. That is what life is: a narrative we build to defend our egos based on a collection of more or less arbitrary vignettes selected to provide us with the context for our own being. When we feel ourselves becoming something we cannot or do not wish to justify, we are stricken by cognitive dissonance and find ourselves forced to face that which we never expected, never considered: that the existence our shadow is dependent entirely upon our own existence.

If we did not exist, now would our shadow; if our shadow did not exist, we would not, either."
Got that? Yeah, it just goes on and on and on. I could've done with 200 fewer pages.

Note that all this intellectual masturbation is served up in the guise of dialogue, which makes it the most boring conversation I never want to be a part of.
"These things are things that come from someplace beyond human imagining. Transmitted, somehow, from someplace beyond comprehension. But that's true of all stories, of all life. Everything that is and was and will be is all eternally present, like reality was a book in the hands of something beyond perception. But we, within the proverbial book, or reading an actual book, can only live this moment, the next moment, the moment after that, in linear order. We can only read one page — one word, truly — at a time. It's the only way to make sense of it."
Also, it's weirdly religious in places. Every writer is a god. And capital G God is the ultimate author.

The last section of the novel has a different tone entirely. A book within a book. Arguably it is the whole point of the novel, with its Jungian archetypes and high fantasy, but the pieces just don't fit together comfortably.

The narrative as a whole harps on the Matrix-like construction we live in, with the layer at the core being that Jungian dream subconscious.

One troubling aspect is how the female protagonists buy into the patriarchal clich├ęs — the farm girl rescued by her prince, that sort of thing, and in the non-fantasy "realist" section, the central woman is somehow lesser, deferring to the older men.

The author provides some background on the publisher's website (although the book appears to be self-published), but even this verbose breakdown is quite patronizing. "One of the elements most infuriating to readers who were expecting a breezy read is, no doubt, both the elements of philosophy, and the structure of the book, itself." [That's two elements, by the way.] "I have received a few low reviews from readers who were disappointed to find that this was a book which required them to think." "I will avoid connecting all the dots for you." "The God the characters of The Lightning Stenography Device address is not so much the traditional godhead, but rather me, and I, in my role as author, play to them a kind of symbol of the far greater demiurge."

Of course, we are all the writers of our own narratives, the heroes of our own stories.
Even when you and I writer and rewrite a story, when we describe events happening to a character, a fictional character is experience it and making choices as that fictional character could only ever hope to make. We as writers experience through the character in our imaginations. The same is true of the reader, who, reading a story, experiences the simulation in their brain the way they would experience the real-life event. That's why you get so sucked into the story: empathy, pathos, between you and the character, that's the key, the binding. So if you want to imagine as a model that God was a writer, or even just a reader whose conscious experience of a work brought it to life, then it makes sense that you have to experience everything you're going through. It might not be a causal thing, necessarily, but if a model is accurate enough, you can make predictive extrapolations using the model, right? This manuscript is a model for our reality; its writer is a model for God. We're pawns in a thought experiment."
But I much prefer when the story takes the form of an actual, well, story. I'm not one to shy away from philosophy, but this book has the feel of little Jungian analysis that's spiraled out of control.
What "I" was, I realized with a gasp in the arms of my lover, was naught but Consciousness. Yes, Consciousness! My one, my truest lover! Why, he had been with me all this time, my sunlight, and I had never seen it because I was his mirror; because I was that Matter upon which he cast the light by which his "I" might see!
Too bad, because I would totally read a book about a thought-to-text machine.
"Next time we talk, you had better come back with a more thorough idea than another book about writers and God and a man who loves a younger woman."

No comments: