Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Cause and Affect

Stefan Themerson, Tom Harris: A return to detective fiction, of the epistemic/hermeneutic variety: A crime may or may not have been committed, a self-made man may be responsible for another's unmaking, investigation of a dubious web of relationships unfolds and refolds (as a novel in two parts, both first person), filling in the pattern (and the reader) like the marbled or moiréd endpapers of a well-made (Gaberbocchus) book. I didn't have much to say about Hobson's Island, except its Roubaudian/Hortensean cleverness; this shares that aspect but goes well beyond it. As facts accumulate, in seemingly haphazard fashion, the protagonist is reconstructed but not fully reconstituted. A case of mistaken, or at least ambiguous, identity, resolved only via circular reasoning, fully, in the end, but still left unstated, or better, beyond the reach of explicit statement, unattributable to a particular passage, putting the reader into a predicament similar to that of Harris' artificial butterflies:

But it seemed that on the third (imago) stage a sort of electronic top level would form itself. It would have nothing to do with stimulations and work (anyway not directly). It would deal with only the registrations supplied by the lower levels. In the case of strong stimulations, it was comparatively simple, the top correlated the registration of stimulations with the subsequent registration of the work done and it registered the event in its "memory" for future reference. In the case of a weak stimulation, the thing wasn't simple at all. The top would have found the registration of the work done but wouldn't be able to find the registration of the relevant stimulation and -- as Harris said -- it was puzzled. [...] Not finding the direct "cause" (which would "tell" it why the work had been done), and ignorant of the existence of weak stimulations (which hadn't been registered), it looked for possible causes among all the other registrations memorized in it. Some of them being less improbable than others, it accepted them as registrations of the true causes, which fact, consequently, led it to committing all kinds of "irrational" fallacies [...] (p33)

The prose throughout is not so unadorned as here, but it never carries literariness on its sleeve -- the complications are enough to be elucidated in a more plain-spoken manner, the art residing in selective disclosure, teasing out plot, sorting up from down, recto from verso, letting structure bear part of the epistemic/hermeneutic load, and doing so via a mechanism as ingenious as any of Tom Harris' invention.

Supplemental considerations:
Nick Wadley: Reading ST
Tom Harris:
Ben Ehrenreich
Seamus Sweeney
Derik Badman (who also takes on
The Mystery of the Sardine)
Bob Williams (ditto)

bonus: six short texts (14.5 & much more


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