So the other week when I joked about how Lexiophiles referred to Three Percent as containing “random, unrelated informational debris”? Well, this post sort of proves their point . . .
At 2:30am this morning, I finished what I think will be the last real piece that I’ll ever write about Lost. (Not counting this of course.) It just went live here on Speakeasy, the Wall Street Journal‘s culture blog. I tried to say all that I wanted to say there about the metaphysics of Lost, why the finale was ultimately satisfying (or not—this is a tease to try and drive traffic), etc.
But after thinking about this a bit more—like during the 3 hours I was able to sleep this morning—and reading more complaints from Facebook friends, I have two-three things I want to add. And following the “random, unrelated” motif, I’m just going to throw these down bullet-point style with very little context. Lost fans will understand (hopefully), everyone else can move onto the next post.
That’s it. Done. On to new informational debris.
Did I ever mention that I’m obsessed with Lost? I mean, this international lit thing is great, but right now, given the choice between writing a long post about Fernando del Paso’s News of the Empire or spending my lunch watching last night’s episode, I can safely say that you’ll be reading a long quote from del Paso’s epic novel much, much later this afternoon. (Sorry, god of literature! But damn, I want to find out “What Kate Does.”)
To indulge in my geekiness, here’s an awesome display that Kevin Elliott of Open Books in Chicago made for the books featured on Lost:
On a separate note, Open Books deserves its own post soon . . . From their “About” page:
Open Books IS: a nonprofit social venture that operates an extraordinary bookstore, provides community programs, and mobilizes passionate volunteers to promote literacy in Chicago and beyond.
Open Books has a MISSION: to enrich lives through reading, writing, and the _________ power of used books. For examples of the kinds of power used books possess, check the left sidebar.
Kevin—who used to work at Barbara’s back in the day—runs the bookstore there, which, based on this one display, must be incredible. More on them in the future . . .
Begins tonight with the season six premiere of Lost. And of course, since I lost the TV in my divorce (grr!) and have my kids tonight (yah! except for the no going over to someone’s house to watch Lost aspect), I’ll have to wait until tomorrow or Thursday to actually see tonight’s episode . . . So if anyone reading this is a fan, please, please don’t call/text/e-mail me any details. Begging.
Anyway, to celebrate the launch of the sixth and final season, the Wall Street Journal asked me to write a piece for their Speakeasy blog about the literary references, etc. I kind of went in a different direction, hoping for no clear resolution to all of the mysteries of Lost and pulling in one of my other non-translation based obsessions—The Crying of Lot 49.
The way “Lost” has set up opposing ideas and provided equal evidence for both arguments brings to mind “The Crying of Lot 49″ by Thomas Pynchon, a book that has yet to appear in the show but nevertheless might provide the perfect lens for understanding it and for predicting what the final scene of the finale might hold.
“The Crying of Lot 49,” published in 1966, is the story of Oedipa Maas, a young woman who becomes co-executor of an old lover’s estate. As she sorts through his life, she starts seeing a symbol — a drawing of a horn — everywhere (kind of like Lost’s numbers —4 8 15 16 23 42 — which appear time and again). Through a concerted investigation and pure chance, she figures out that this symbol is either a) part of a vast conspiracy for delivering messages among members of the underground or b) one big joke. As a corollary, Oedipa herself is either a) on the brink of comprehending something monumental or b) completely insane.
Yeah, I know I’m probably the only fan in the country who would be happier if the series ended with a lot of loose ends, but I have my reasons . . . Anyway, you can read the entire post here.
OK, so the podcast about the literature of Lost is now online in its entirety, and hopefully is of some interest to Lost fans . . . We covered a ton of stuff in here: past books from the show, including The Third Policeman, The Invention of Morel, VALIS; my feeling that the best aesthetic lens through which to approach Lost can be found in The Crying of Lot 49; some info about international literature and Open Letter; and a final bit about Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel). All in all I had a great time talking with Jason and Matt and am now more psyched than ever for the season six premiere . . .
The story traces the journey of four Japanese tourists on a tour to India. Each of these tourists goes to India for different purposes and with different expectations. Even though the tour is interrupted when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is assassinated by militant Sikhs, each of these tourists finds their own spiritual discovery on the banks of the Ganges River.
One of the tourists is Osamu Isobe. He is a middle-class manager whose wife has died of cancer. On her deathbed she asks him to look for her in a future reincarnation. His search takes him to India, even though he has doubts about reincarnation.
Kiguchi is haunted by war-time horrors in Burma and seeks to have some Buddhist rituals performed in India for the souls of his friends in the Japanese army as well as his enemies. He is also impressed by a foreign Christian volunteer who helped his sick friend deal with the tragic experiences during the war.
Numada has a deep love for animals ever since he was a child in Manchuria. He believes that a pet bird he owns has died in his place. He goes to India to visit the bird sanctuary there.
Mitsuko Naruse, after a failed marriage, realizes that she is a person incapable of love. She goes to India hoping to find the spiritual meaning of life. There her idea of life is challenged by the awaiting Otsu, a former schoolmate she once cruelly seduced and then left. Although he had a promising career as a Catholic priest, Otsu’s own idea of a pantheistic God and his criticism of the European view of God have led to his relegation by the Catholic Church. In his own way to imitate Jesus Christ, he helps carry dead Indians to the local crematoria so that their ashes can be spread to the waters of the Ganges. His efforts ultimately lead to his peril as he is caught in the anti-Sikh uproars in the country. Meanwhile, Mitsuko meets two nuns from the Missionaries of Charity and begins to understand Otsu’s idea of God.
A pilgrimage, spiritual journey, cancer, reincarnation, failed marriages . . . All so very Lost . . .
Also very Lost-like is this little tidbit about Endo that I forgot to mention during the recording:
When he died in 1996, only two novels were chosen to be placed inside his coffin. Deep River was one of them.
So by my estimation, we are only seven days and nine hours away from the start of season six . . .
Long-time 3% readers know that in addition to literature in translation there are a couple other obsessions that pop-up here on the blog, like my love of the St. Louis Cardinals (and related hatred for the Cubs) and my nearly unhealthy obsession with Lost.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the show knows about its hyper-literary nature. About the weaving in of dozens of dead philosophers (Jeremy Bentham!) and the tons of brilliant literary references (VALIS!, The Invention of Morel!, The Third Policeman! Ulysses!) sprinkled throughout the show. The show is brilliant. Intertextual and one of the most ambitious enterprises to ever appear on network TV. And with thousands of fans reading up on every book cited or pictured in the show, Lost has become a sort of Oprah for the sci-fi hipster literati.
Anyway, to get all giddy excited about next week’s premiere (two hours of pure TV bliss!), tomorrow morning at 9:30, I’ll be talking with Jason Boog and Matt VanHoven about “Literary Lost.” I think you can tune in live via BlogTalkRadio but it’ll also be archived at GalleyCat, and I’ll be sure to link to it from here as well.
(And yes, this was originally scheduled for this morning, but there was a crazy technical difficultly with BlogTalkRadio that caused the delay . . . )
UPDATE: This is some time-skipping shit, but this delay allowed me to receive a bit of info from Lost HQ and I will be able to reveal the title of one book that will be appearing in this upcoming season . . . Not saying a word until tomorrow morning . . .
Just when you thought the Times had figured out how to correctly pair writers with appropriate topics . . . Kidding—the Times will never get that straight. Here’s some clips from today’s review of Lost‘s season finale:
[. . .] the producers of “Lost,” who have devoted the show’s fourth and penultimate season (which ends on Wednesday) to the more mind-bendingly nonsensical dimensions of its sci-fi-ness.
Uh, that would be the “fifth and penultimate season.” And a quick trip to Wikipedia or ABC.com could verify that fact. (I’m way more lenient with the Washington Times claiming a book was translated from Syrian than with the NY Times fucking up a simple pop culture reference. When you’re the “paper of record” you ought to be able to count.)
I don’t want to get into a long-winded defense of Lost — there are other things to complain about than this wildly off-the-mark review, which uses the word “limned” (! — is this Kakutani in disguise?) and seems to be written by someone pretty unfamiliar with the show.
(One last Lost comment: Will Leitch’s bit on Jack Shephard in his weekly Ten Humans of the Week column is way better: “Jack is just a drunk surgeon with daddy issues and a serious case of inflated self-importance, and the great joke about his character is that everyone keeps blindly following him into disaster even though his decisions are always, always wrong. Well, the big gimmick for the final episode is that Jack is trying to detonate a hydrogen bomb on the island, with the idea that it will change history and allow the original flight that crashed on the island to land as was initially scheduled. This is a terrible, awful, hilariously stupid idea — he is trying set off a hydrogen bomb!”)
In other Times goings on, this article by Motoko Rich on e-book piracy has attracted a lot of responses from the blogosphere, including posts from Moby Lives and Book Square, pointing out how incredibly late to the game the Times is with this “news.”
Rather than dump on the Times for being out of touch, I think it’s more interesting to look at all the infuriating, yet typical (and infuriating because they are typical), responses from publishers and mainstream authors about online book piracy.
First we get Ursula Le Guin getting all pissed off (“Why do they think they can violate my copyright and get away with it?”), followed by Hachette’s Sisyphean tactic of endless legal action (“Our legal department is spending an ever-increasing time policing sites where copyrighted material is being presented”), then Stephen King trying to be above it all, but instead taking pot shots at
bloggers internet users (“The question is, how much time and energy do I want to spend chasing these guys” [. . .] “And to what end? My sense is that most of them live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions and discount beer”), and ending with Harlan Ellison’s out and out threat (“If you put your hand in my pocket, you’ll drag back six inches of bloody stump.”)
And buried amid all this sky is falling outrage from people who haven’t learned a damn thing from the movie or music industries, Motoko throws in a few moments of sanity:
“If iTunes started three years earlier, I’m not sure how big Napster and the subsequent piratical environments would have been, because people would have been in the habit of legitimately purchasing at pricing that wasn’t considered pernicious,” said Richard Sarnoff, a chairman of Bertelsmann, which owns Random House, the world’s largest publisher of consumer titles.
Huh, who would’ve thunk?
And more to the point for non-mainstream writers:
Others view digital piracy as a way for new readers to discover writers. Cory Doctorow, a novelist whose young adult novel “Little Brother” spent seven weeks on the New York Times children’s chapter books best-seller list last year, offers free electronic versions of his books on the same day they are published in hardcover. He believes free versions, even unauthorized ones, entice new readers.
“I really feel like my problem isn’t piracy,” Mr. Doctorow said. “It’s obscurity.”
Speaking of which, Cory wrote a post at BoingBoing yesterday about a recent study on the impact of free online book releases on print version sales. From the Bloggasm’s coverage of the report from John Hilton, a doctoral candidate in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University:
On March 4 of this year, Random House announced that it would release five books for free through its science fiction portal, all of which came in downloadable PDF files (among other formats). Hilton recorded the before and after book sales and found that “one of the five books has had zero sales in 2009. So no sales before or after the free version. But the other four books all saw significant sales increases after the free versions were released. In total, combined sales of the five books were up 11%. Together they sold 4,633 copies the 8 weeks prior to being released free and 5,155 copies the eight weeks after being released.”
There are more factors that muddy these results, and the e-releases that Tor did resulted in fewer sales for 20 of 24 titles, but based on these results, it’s clear that the impact of free e-versions of books (or even pirated versions) is much more complicated than most industry insiders and mainstream authors would have you believe.
Long term readers of this blog already know that in addition to international literature, another thing we’re very passionate about is the TV show Lost. (Which should come as no surprise—_Lost_ is the best, and most literary, show on network TV. Any show that puts together a special promo video to talk about how a character will be reading James Joyce’s Ulysses this season totally gets my love.)
With the season 5 premiere only a couple of days away, the New York Times put together a special article about Gregg Nations, the man who puts together “show bible” for Lost:
Enter Mr. Nations, who has now compiled an archive that, were he ever to print it out, might — as he put it in an interview at the Lost production offices on Disney’s Burbank studio lot — give War and Peace a run for its money.
Just how long the entire document is he does not know; he has never printed it out in full, in part because he and his secretive bosses do not want copies falling into the wrong hands. But he has multiple electronic copies, which he keeps in undisclosed locations.
In addition to charting story arcs and tracking characters, Mr. Nations has noted each character’s sojourns on and off the island, mapped the research stations established by the mysterious Dharma Initiative and recorded the appearances and disappearances of polar bears, Smoke Monsters and an unhealthy array of guns.
After the show is over, it would be awesome if someone published this “bible.” Lost is a bit complicated, and for anyone wanting to analyze or write about the show, something like this would be invaluable. . . .
Somewhat full disclosure: I met Gregg a number of years ago when The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien was on the show. We’ve kept in touch ever since, and for a while, did a special Lost radio segment every week on a Top 40 radio station in Normal, IL. (It was kind of like the international literature bits on our local morning news program. Obviously Lost is much more popular than translation, but the way Gregg talks about the show, and drops cryptic hints, was a cut above the morning show norm.)
Although it’s not specifically mentioned in this article, in writing the “Eggtown” episode for last season, he managed to include both Philip K. Dick’s Valis, and Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel, two perfect “Lost Books.” One of which is a work in translation by one of Argentina’s greatest authors, thus tying this post back into our primary mission. . . . But seriously, it’s cool how pro-literature this show is, and the impact that Lost has had on getting people to read interesting cult (or not-so-cult) books is not to be underestimated. Hell, we sold 15,000 copies of The Third Policeman in the few weeks after it appeared on the show. (And mind you, it was only on screen for like half a second.)
I just noticed that it was one year ago yesterday that Three Percent went live. (E.J. and I “practiced” for a while, but unless you’ve scoured the archives, you probably never saw those posts.)
Ironically—well, maybe—the first post was actually a rant about how stupid it was that Grey’s Anatomy was nominated for an Emmy, but Lost wasn’t. (I still totally stand by this. And I feel vindicated that this year both Lost and Mad Men are nominees for Best Drama series, whereas Grey’s Anatomy is nowhere to be found . . .)
That first post was appropriately titled Not Necessarily the Place For It and following in that vein, I think today’s the perfect day to write about this awesome, recently resurrected hoax that sort of, tangentially, relates to translated literature.
Back in 1999, Josh Glenn was the publisher of Hermenaut, one of my favorite magazines of all time, and a sort of precursor to N+1. Anyway, in 1999, Josh published a “Fake Authenticity” issue that contained excerpts from supposed correspondence between Samuel Beckett and Ernie Bushmiller, the creator of the Nancy comic strip.
In Beckett’s supposed letters, he praises Bushmiller for creating such a great existential comic, and offers up a few suggestions for plot lines. Here’s Bushmiller’s “response”:
I don’t know how well they’re going to work. I think the problem you’re having, Sam, is the same problem any literary man might have. You’re not setting up the gags visually and you’re rushing to the snapper. It seems to me you’ve got the zingers right there at the beginning, in panel No. 1, and although I have to admit you got Nancy and Sluggo in some crackerjack predicaments, I don’t see how they got there.
For instance, putting Nancy and Sluggo in the garbage cans is a good gag, but in my opinion, you can’t have them in there for all three panels. How did they get there? Same thing when you had them buried in the sand. I like to do beach gags, but I don’t think that having Nancy buried up to her waist in the first two panels and then up to her neck in the third one is adequately explained, and I’ve been at this game for a while now. Also, why would Sluggo be facing in the opposite direction when he’s talking to her?
Most people would assume this is a hoax—“crackerjack predicaments”? Sluggo facing the opposite direction while Nancy is buried up to her neck in the sand? (check out the link to “Nancy’ above though—sort of ironic)—but last week, Editor & Publisher ran a story about this correspondence. . . . The Stranger picked up on this as well, and a hoax was born again, nine years after it first took place. Fantastic.
I think it’s pretty clear that we like to reference Lost whenever possible, and the new Lost Book Club, is a perfect example of why we’re obsessed with this show.
This very elegant and slick site is supposed to be the “home to any and all literary references made on the show—from Stephen King to Kurt Vonnegut.” (Or Adolfo Bioy Casares to Vladimir Nabokov.)
According to the note from Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof
Over the first four seasons of LOST we’ve managed to incorporate more than 40 books into the show. [. . .] We can’t promise you any of these books will lead you to answers about Lost, but we can promise you’ll be enriched for having read them.
It’s fun to scroll through all the titles listed here, especially because there are a ton that I don’t think anyone noticed. (Like The Stone Leopard.) All of the books can be purchased through the ABC store and there’s a forum where fans can discuss all of these titles—hopefully this will generate even more interest in the literary aspects of Lost.
So tonight is the night for The Invention of Morel to appear on Lost, and in case you’re interested in the context in which the book appears, check out this “sneak peek”:
And in the category of odd cosmic coincidences (a staple of Lost), the actress who inspired Adolfo Bioy Casares to write this novel (Louise Brooks, who is pictured on the cover), spent the last three decades of her life right here in Rochester, NY studying film at the George Eastman House . . .
So, the highly-anticipated fourth season of Lost premieres tomorrow night, picking up where last season and its mind-blowing flash forward left off. And I for one can’t wait. (Especially for episode 4 . . . feel free to scroll to the bottom if you want to know why.)
I unabashedly love Lost, and over the past few years have encountered a ton of other literary people who feel the same way. Ranging from Amy Stolls at the National Endowment for the Arts to Nicole Rudick at Bookforum to Margarita Shalina at St. Mark’s, among many, many others. We shoot e-mails off the morning after each episode, speculating, pontificating, wishing the week would go by faster . . . It’s been said before (and more eloquently), but there’s something special about this show—it’s not the kind of program you watch and enjoy, it’s the kind of show you obsess over for days.
In my opinion, one of the reasons for this is the high literary content of the show. Not only does it unfold like an epic Victorian novel (with the winks, nudges, ambiguity, and paranoia of the most postmodern of works) with layer upon layer ripe for the analysis, but the writers incorporate literature and philosophy in ways that encourage dedicated viewers to read and learn about other works of art—works that end up adding significantly to the Lost viewing experience. (Like knowing who Mikhail Bakunin is, or John Locke, or Rousseau, or . . .)
Lost is one of the few shows on TV that operates within a much wider artistic context. It’s not completely self-contained in its one-hour bits, instead via the internet games (like the Lost Experience) and literary references (like The Third Policeman, Laughter in the Dark, Our Mutual Friend, The Turn of the Screw and many more) it is something so much more.
The books aspect is what really fascinates me, for obvious reasons. When a book appears on Lost—be it as part of the Others’ book club, being read by Sawyer, or on a bookshelf in the Swan—there’s a sort of cult validation of the book in question and a burning need (for me at least) to immediately read this book. These books are deliberately chosen, not to give away “secrets” or to “explain WTF is going on,” but to set a tone and to give the reader/viewer something else to contemplate.
In other words, I’m a fan of the show.
But seriously, books are important to Lost writers. In fact, Gregg Nations—writer and script coordinator—is going to be on a panel with me at BookExpo America in June talking about how Lost has created a readership for various books, etc.
More importantly—I know that was a really long-winded intro to my little secret—there are two fantastic books that are going to be in the fourth episode of the season (entitled “Eggtown” and airing February 21st): Philip K. Dick’s Valis and Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel.
Not going to go into why I know this, but I do want to say that I’ve long held the belief that Morel (published by the wonderful New York Review Books) was the perfect book for Lost fans, and hopefully this will help expand its readership. (Same goes for Valis, which is also amazing, but since PKD has a bigger fan base, I’ll skip that for this post.)
If you’re not familiar with The Invention of Morel you really should pick up a copy. Borges was a fan of this nasty little book, and it was the inspiration for Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year in Marienbad. I don’t want to give away much, but it’s the story of a man on an island who is seeing some strange things . . . It even begins with the perfect Lost-like line: “Today, on this island, a miracle happened: summer came ahead of time” and includes mad scientists, different temporal dimensions . . .
I promise, fan of Lost or not, I can’t imagine anyone picking this up and not falling in love with this perfectly crafted book.
Oh, and watch Lost tomorrow. It’s on ABC.
Numéro, which bills itself as “the FREE Peoria area complete entertainment guide,” is featuring Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel as its August book club selection.
Who knew that Peoria had entertainment? Or a book club? Or a book club capable of picking an awesome book? Generally, I though Peoria was a poor man’s Bloomington-Normal, but whatever, any place that encourages its residents to read Bioy Casares is OK by my standards.
For those unfamiliar with this gem, here’s a brief description:
An escapee is marooned on a formerly inhabited island. He believes he’s alone until he spots the presence of a group of vacationers, dressed in resort clothing from another time. But try as he might, they just won’t take notice of him.
This is a strange, compelling little book that resonates with all Lost fans . . . Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is what Jacob’s reading while rocking in his chair . . .
From Entertainment Weekly‘s ComicCon coverage:
Though loath to reveal any more details about season 4, [Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof] did tip off fans to a few, often cryptic, coming attractions. Jack and Claire will likely figure out that they’re brother and sister. We’ll find out why Ben came to the survivors’ side of the island in the first place. The Kate/Jack “flash-forward” in the last episode last season does not take place at the end of the series. Libby, who’s backstory will be explained this season, may have been a Dharma employee. And remember those mobisodes? They’ll hopefully, finally launch in the fall. The pair also tipped Con-goers off to a few questions fans should be asking: “Who’s in the coffin?” and “Who’s on the freighter, and what do they want?” Then just when you thought you couldn’t get more confused, the duo unveiled another choppy Dharma Initiative reel, which you can see by going to ABC.com today at 5.
UPDATE: Here’s a link to the Dharma video.
Since almost every brilliant book person I know is a huge fan of Lost, and since there isn’t a more literary show out there, I figure I’m justifying in spreading the news that Michael (Walt’s father, the one who left the island) will be back in Season 4. (Via Entertainment Weekly)
And before we all get too excited and ready to share theories about whether or not he’ll be on the island, in flashbacks, or, flashforwards (a la the season 3 finale), I just want to remind everyone that the new season is still more than 6 months away . . .
(I am hoping for more info from ComicCon, and feel dorky writing that, thinking that, etc. Whatever, it’s Lost and the end of last season was amazing.)
But since today is the first day Three Percent is live and viewable by the public, I’m going to get all self-indulgent for a second to say that I’m appalled that “Lost” wasn’t nominated for a Best Drama Emmy. Of course, “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Boston Legal” were. I’m not saying the Emmy-nominating committee panders to the lowest common denominator, but . . . wait, yes I am. “Grey’s Anatomy”?! Best Drama?! Really?!
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .