Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


My own private Zembla

My reading follows an odd course. Not by accident is this thing called "Stochastic Bookmark": my explorations of literature are not determined by any extant map, rather by what I happen upon by chance, and the notes I compile along the way are just what strike me as significant, though the observations may not be so valid statistically. So that these notes may serve others, I tread plod a narrow path between review and criticism, on the one hand giving some assessment while avoiding spoilers for those who haven't read the work in question, and on the other indicating some aspect that is not evident on the surface but which adds to an my appreciation of the text. Part of the task I set myself involves drawing connections to what else I've read, however tenuous, as was the case in my prior post; but sometimes these seem to imply a multifaceted network which, like a spiderweb, is both fragile and sturdy, deriving strength from a design invisible from a fly's-eye view. Still, I'm surprised by the unexpected segue, as occurred with my latest reading:

W.F.Hermans, Beyond Sleep (trans Ina Rilke): The C-R review provides the overview, but this shares a couple of points of reference with Ah Cheng's The Chess Master; one being chess of course, not just as an aside within the novel about prospects (in this case, of science) or lack thereof: "Everything will have been calculated by then. Winning at chess will be a question of memory." There is also the author's note regarding his revisions, a dozen years and 14 printings on:
"There are two sides to everything, and more than two to novels. Not for nothing is the story of Jesus told four times over in the Bible.
Writing a novel can in some respects be compared to playing chess. The difference is that writing is not a competition, A bad move on the part of one player is an advantage to the other. A weak passage in a novel is no use to anyone.
If a chess player thinks of a better move thirteen years after a particular game, it is too late."

Hermans might have profited from Nabokov's comparison to the chess problem, and the last bit disregards how chess theory moves forward with improvements upon prior practice, where a new, previously unanticipated move (a "theoretical novelty") is introduced to resuscitate abandoned lines of play. But this is all by the by.

The other shared orientation is explicit in The Chess Master, as one of only two citations of Western writing as the basis for story-telling within the story, Jack London's "Love of Life". While implicit within Beyond Sleep, it shares too much in common to be discounted (which I will not elaborate, per the constraints I mention above; I will assent to note, unrelatedly, the parallel to mountain climbing -- because it's there). Not that this suggests that these novels have much to do with each other, for, after all, a few pages before the first quote I pulled:

"One of the reasons why the range of subjects dealt with in novels is so limited is that authors want everybody to be able to follow exactly what is going on. Technical terms put readers off. Entire classes of trades and professions never make it into novels simply because it would be impossible to describe the reality without the use of technical jargon. Such occupations as do occur -- policeman, doctor, cowboy, sailor, spy -- are no more than caricatures in response to the delusional expectations of the intended lay readership."

Of course, I'm sure you'll understand if I decide to amend or re-edit this later on; as always, I reserve the right to recall the witness.


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