March Week 1: Unfinished enlightenment & Is love possible anymore?

Last week, I shared my takeaways from Entrepreneurship and the Wired Life: Work in the Wake of Careers by Fernando Flores and John Gray (hat tip to Frank P) and an invitation to vulnerability in response to Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by poet David Whyte.

The Pale King - David Foster Wallace

This week, I finished two novels, The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, and Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq.

Here is my brief review of The Pale King, entitled ‘Unfinished enlightenment’.

In this, Wallace’s so-called  unfinished novel, that is actually at times part memoir and part journalistic feat compiled by his friend and editor posthumously (for Wallace) about his 13 months working for ‘the Service’ at Lake James Illinois’s IRS Post 047 while serving suspension from university (all explained in the book’s Foreword, beginning on page 66 of the first  edition hardcover from Little, Brown), there is not only an inside look  at the ‘Initiative’, which changed the IRS (forever) in the 80s from a  moral entity into a profit-motivated bureaucracy with the assistance of  advancing computer technology (see ANADA), but also a sensitive,  serious, yet hardly cynical lens—actually multiple lenses, since Wallace  attracts … read the full review


PS After writing the review excerpted above, I found Jon Baskin’s book, Ordinary Unhappiness: The Therapeutic Fiction of David Foster Wallace, which includes a section on The Pale King, where the intrigued reader will undoubtedly find insights he hadn’t himself noticed—such as that Wallace with The Pale King is suggesting “that a whole culture can persist in a state of immaturity  and blindness to itself” (131)—which inspires me to reach for an even closer reading in my upcoming efforts.

Serotonin - Michel Houellebecq

To me, Serotonin asks, Is love possible? You might add, in today’s advanced late-modern state.

If you have the chance to love, and live, take it.


PS If we are comparing Houellebecq’s recent works, I slightly prefer Serotonin to Submission, though Submission was banned in France the day it came out (also the day of the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris on Janaury 7, 2015), which may pique your interest. I was generally alerted to Houellebecq by Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe, wherein Houellebecq is described as the ‘great poet of nihilism’, though I don’t see Houellebecq as a nihilist—of course he seems to understand the concept intimately—but rather as a kind of warrior against it. If you’re preferring a lighter (quicker) read this week, go with Serotonin, especially if you haven’t read as many French writers.

Something shorter

Even as my recent focus is on novels, I appreciate that some prefer shorter, perhaps more esoteric, recommendations.

Here are two quality essays:

"How Long Is the Coast of Britain? Statistical Self-Similarity and Fractional Dimension" is a paper by mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, first published in Science in 5 May 1967, building on Jacques Richardson’s study of power laws with regard to deaths in armed conflict, which produced War, Science, and Terrorism: From Laboratory to Open Conflict. (Hat tip Geoffrey West in Scale: The Universal Laws of Life, Growth, and Death in Organisms, Cities, and Companies.)

"Missed Opportunities" by Freeman J. Dyson on the importance of keeping in touch with various chapters of science to make discoveries. (Hat tip to Eric Weinstein on The Portal, podcast ep. 24 with big-wave surfer Kai Lenny, To Play and Flirt with Giants.)

“A half-read book is a half-finished love affair.”

Ongoing nonfiction

Conversations of Goethe with Johann Peter Eckermann - Johann Peter Eckermann

Where I’ve Been, and Where I’m Going - Joyce Carol Oates

Until next week!  -E

PS Why send these emails on Friday? Because you can, if you like, order the book/s and be reading by Sunday, a good day to read, or, if you prefer, take a stroll (Fridays are good for walks, stretching the legs after the week in your office chair) to your nearby bookstore or library to reserve your selection. Be well and happy reading.