Generalizations Decay

Climbing inside.This summer I am reading Haruki Murakami. Reading is perhaps not the word for it. If I could melt his collected works, I would dunk myself and drown there. No, I wouldn’t: I would grow gills and rejigger my metabolism so I could breathe below the surface. I am besotted.  His writing is spare and redolent. It is also lyrical, almost sentimental, and full of magic. He writes about singularities. I suppose everybody does.

I was moved to get hold of his works after a colleague who does not say much to me about intellectual life said on Facebook that s/he was a fan. I have this (hidden) worry that I disappoint this person, that I am an awkward exception to a standard s/he wants to apply, a rule s/he wants to enforce. That I am not “intellectual” enough. I pay attention to clues s/he sheds about significance. Murakami surfaced in one of these.

But it’s not that I never heard of him before; I have passed over his fiction in countless issues of the New Yorker :o) I believe I had looked at his prose and experienced …nothing. So I didn’t put any effort into engaging with his work. Now, though, I do so, and I am rewarded. And who cares why? My motives are not inauthentic. But neither are they native to the work itself. They are immigrant motives, in a way. I have found my own way into his work.

Immigrant labor built this country. Immigrant motives: what are they good for? Is it really true that whatever floats your boat is OK, doesn’t matter?

To engage with something new on someone else’s recommendation: Doesn’t this happen all the time? “The strength of weak ties,” and all that… If you spend your time cycling round in a single tiny orbit that never changes, with others who do the same, you soon exhaust the font of the New. But if your orbit brings you even glancing contact with others cycling round a distinctly Other orbit, you bring fresh — or at least unfamiliar — elements, each of you, to the other. In this way, ideas and opinions, tastes and fears all spread. Like contagion, but also like gears. A social apparatus is set in motion. Contact, like cogs.

Which is more useful: obtuseness? Or courage? Not, “which is more Noble” or “more honorable” or “virtuous.” On a purely pragmatic level, which quality has greater utilitarian value? Actually “gets you farther” — the power to press onward in the face of known (and appreciated) danger? Or the merciful unawareness of danger? There are times, I would argue, when it is a toss-up. There are other times when dullness clearly has the advantage. How often do we remark that some great advance owes its success to the perpetrator’s ignorance of the impossible? Enough, I think, that we should not find it remarkable.

Ours is still a brash, gauche, self-focused, teenaged society. How annoying we are. We are embarassing, as if we lack tutelage in the world’s heritages, and we lack experiences of our own to make up the difference. On the other hand, we have pushed outward. We crack the crusty known. We have released new molten stuff that flowed and fixed itself into shapes that were reminiscent of nothing that came before.

14 thoughts on “Generalizations Decay

  1. So I started that new blog. It had many different names, and that did not affect the stats at all. There were between 2 and 5 visitors a day depending on the “category” names. The best category was “photography” (but I do not normally have photos, so that is not useful for/to? me, but would be highly highly useful to/for you! your photos are excellent in the modern, subjectivist sense. But you ought to put in more.)

    (Your writing is also excellent, but online floaters are not readers. In fact, good prose is slow to read and therefore not right for this glaring screen which encourages simple text scanning)

    I opened a second blog because my basic interest is in linguistics, but posts of that kind did not get read in my “Fishing” blog.

    I rather liked “Biking” as a title, but did not like the repetitive gerund ( “Fishing” and “Biking” ) as if any time soon there would be a third blog called e.g. “Hiking”. I would have liked “Kiosko”, but found it was widely used in songs and names of TV programs. It ended up as “Shop Talk”, though the header still shows its biking past.

    There were zero search keys until I put in a post called “Why is English the world language?” And the stats suddenly jumped to 80 for a post calling Esperanto a no-show. The new blog is at


  2. There is a basic difference between words and numerals, but have you seen yet that there is no difference between fact and fiction?

    It’s all basically fiction, though mostly there is a difference in the language, but that is sometimes part of a protocol or a convention and sometimes it is a make-believe.


  3. Well, I have recently thought of a new way of explaining this.
    The conventional way of explaining the nature of blogs i to liken them to a small newspaper. This comparison is in the interest of the blog hosts who buy and sell KB (or bandwidth? or something like that).

    Instead, I might consider that the “home page” of a blog is a shop window; the “top posts” are the shop and the “archives” are the storage room.

    The idea is that after some time the things that are now being stored get new wrappers and appear again in the shop window. The wrappers are very important.


  4. I have just come here to find out what I had looked up and you thanked me for at Dave’s. I don’t think I looked up anything. This about the spiders? YOu started a new blog, and I often have the temptation to start one too, but I think it is a mistake.

    Did you think it is necessary to keep fact and fiction separate? Do you think there is any real difference between non-fiction and fiction? There is not. The difference is in the presentation, and that often depends on the audience more than on the subject matter. It is the same when people talk. Everybody does it. The more complicated a story, the more it gets adjusted to the audience.

    Hmm… I have been thinking about this all day, cantueso. I have not decided whether I agree or disagree with you. I will get back to you.


  5. This was a joy to read – to the last drop (comment/response) I must have highlighted a line and hit Ctnl-C so many times… let’s see what is still there:

    “fact of the exchange is its only significance; its content has none”

    yep, I agree with David that you cut a great phrase. Put THAT on a resume!

    HI-C! ‘tsup? How’s your summer going? Thanks for the nice thoughts. :o)


  6. Here is Murakami himself explaining how he started to write. He started by listening to jazz! He earned a living by running a little jazz club. His idea is that a good text is somehow a musical event. Of course it is, but that does not translate easily.

    Wow! Thank you! I love these sorts of accounts. I soak them up, sometimes instead of trying, myself. It is a vice, I realize; but a pleasurable one. :o)


  7. I am glad you explained what this photo was, for it looked truly oppressive, as I thought that it was somebody breaking in in broad day light.

    hee-hee…I will tell him you said so. He will also find it amusing. That is, if I ever tell him I wrote this or posted that.


  8. About David:

    Imagine somebody who needs something to read right now.

    Imagine a sardine at the bottom of the ocean saying : “I need to see some water right now”.


    à propos of absolutely nothing: I was well into my 20s before I understood clearly that sardines were a real fish. I was told by a college roommate that sardines were the scraps left over at the tuna cannery after a fish had been processed. I found this horrifying in a colorful way, and believed it for years, because I wanted to.


  9. Well, tags and categories work only within WordPress. The Google spiders read your text and check it every so many seconds (¿¿¿¿¿??????? sounds nuts, eh? and it could be wrong, for I read it long ago) to see if there are any changes. And these spiders look for clues to see what your post is about. Google developed this technology to be able to place ads on all kinds of internet pages exactly where they might be read.

    I suppose that WordPress has its own spiders, but I have not read anything about that.


  10. I have stalked co-workers online, and I use “stalk” loosely because really I just wanted to find a connection, something that would give some clue as to whether or not I could penetrate someone’s hard exterior. The results have been good, even is they weren’t always positive. In some cases I realized that religion (or my lack of it, rather) was playing a big part of the disapproval being heaped my way. Although that’s an insurmountable obstacle (you can’t force someone to agree to disagree, or even to cut you some slack) it did shed some light on it for me. In another case I got a better understanding of a co-worker and realized that we did have one thing in common — motherhood — so I focus on that whenever we’re forced into the awkward situation of making smalltalk. I also saw that she loves romance novels, and although I’m unable to read those, I am able to talk about reading on a superficial level with her. I always ask her to recommend a good book to me and she does, but the titles always leave my head as soon as she’s said them and I wouldn’t buy them anyway.

    GAW, the rituals we observe in dealing with each other! Often enough I am thrown into groups I don’t feel authentically kin to, but for various practical reasons can’t simply ignore, either; then I am compelled to forge some sort of interchange for the sake of maintaining something like a working aquaintance, but as soon as the exchange is complete its substance has evaporated from my head! I know only that an exchange took place but I couldn’t tell you what it was about. I mean, the fact of the exchange is its only significance; its content has none. Nature or National Geographic should do an hour special on this odd animal behavior, complete with Will Lyman’s narration. In hushed tones, from the treeline. Like a golf tournament.

    The La Malinche novel sounds interesting, I hope he finishes it. It took Urrea 20 years to write Hummingbird’s Daughter.

    I am heartily encouraged by such reports. Thanks, Wendy! And Penelope Fitzgerald didn’t publish the first of her nine novels until she was five years older than I am now.


  11. I need something to read now, as the pile of half-reads on my nightstand is entirely unmanageable. I too have passed over all kinds of great fiction in the New Yorker! I’m happy to report however, that every time I’ve bothered to read it, it’s been good. Murakami sounds interesting, and your post’s 1st paragraph is quite tantalizing.

    Interesting photo/header of wall-climbing man too. For no good reason other than your previous post, I imagine the fellow to be your dad. Feeling better is he?

    Actually, that’s my younger brother. He is climbing inside the sugarhouse he built thirty years ago. He finished this structure the night before he left for medical school. He slept up in its cupola that night, and left his season’s Red Sox cap tucked into the rafters. He climbed up two weeks ago to see if any shreds of it have survived his career as well as his patients have. Alas… This just goes to show you how important nurses are.

    “We crack the crusty known” !! Vermonter you come up with some great phrases. I’ve often thought of our culture as an adolescent one too, or maybe like a man in his early 20s, constantly in search of absolutes, clueless in his questioning.

    I get impatient trying to get ideas out, and try always for the thing that takes the least amount of time to write down.


  12. Luis Alberto Urrea writes both fiction and non-fiction, he’s considered a “Mexican writer” because he was originally from Tijuana but was raised in the U.S. He’s been on NPR quite a bit. The Hummingbird’s Daughter is a historical novel based on members of Urrea’s family. It takes place during the pre-revolution days in Mexico and centers around a mystical Indian girl who later became known as St. Terisita. It took me a little while to get into it, but then I just loved it. I was lost when I finished it, I wanted it to go on forever.

    OK: sold. That one’s going straight onto my must-read list. I don’t know when I will surface from my current infatuation with Murakami but I will happily fling myself headlong into a dalliance with this guy next.

    I know a guy here in VT who is working on an historical novel about La Malinche, and I have read great swaths of it, in draft, that recreate her life before Cortez and it is similarly transporting. I hope he keeps it up and finishes it and I get to read the whole thing.

    Meanwhile, I have been thinking about stalking my co-workers online; it occurs to me that Modern Life affords us very little in the way of mentorship by elders. And that perhaps I am here treating Facebook as a kind of poor substitute — an opportunity to learn instead by observation & imitation.


  13. So the categories or tags of this post should be:




    I can’t say anything about this post, because I have never heard of this writer and I rarely ever read a novel. However, I saw your category cloud and you tell me: which of those terms in your view would ever be used as a search key?

    Whereas, the moment I leave this page, I’ll search for “facebook” because I have seen that word 100000000000000000000000 times and finally have to find out what it is. (I somehow don’t like that word. what does it suggest?)

    Tagging with things likely to be search keys? What an odd notion! I have to confess, that’s not what I am thinking about when I tag. But now that you mention it, I suppose I must be dunderheaded to think of tagging as anything else. Yet I do. :o)

    Facebook, the Web 2.0 app, was invented by a couple of Harvard undergrads. To them, the word “facebook” calls to mind the (formerly hard-cover) directory of first-year students that all Harvard freshmen receive as (presumably) an aid to making friends in the new university setting. This directory has long been affectionately referred to as the “facebook” becuase its listings consist entirely of small passport-type mugshots, and brief id info — name, residence hall, declared major if any.


  14. I think it’s cool you’re stalking your co-worker online!
    Just kidding. Kidding! I would do the same thing if I were in your position, and I have.
    I first heard of Haruki Murakami in the most amazing way. I was interviewing a very successful motorcycle builder, but he’s a real biker/chopper guy. I asked him what was on his nightstand (I ask this of everyone) expecting to hear “nothing” or something lude, and he told me “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” I still haven’t read anything by this author but now that you’ve mentioned him I’m intrigued.

    I just finished The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. Loved it.

    I don’t know Urrea – say more!

    …Wind-Up Bird… is my friend’s favorite. A tasty little sampler is the book Vintage Murakami. I can’t speak to its representativeness, because I haven’t read all that much of him yet, but this is a diverse collection, with samples of both his fiction & non-fiction.


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