joseph mcelroy "women and men" reading group STARTS 6/1

Health insurance rip off lying FDA big bankers buying
Fake computer crashes dining
Cloning while they're multiplying
Fashion shoots with Beck and Hanson
Courtney Love, and Marilyn Manson
You're all fakes
Run to your mansions
Come around
We'll kick your ass in

Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 11:00 am

im thinking chapter 1 (which is very brief) and the first BREATHER for week 1, page count is low for a week probably but the BREATHER sections are quite demanding and should warrant a bunch of discussion i think
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Postby ripersnifle » Fri May 25, 2018 11:15 am

just a q:
can one still participate in this with just the new e-text edition? i haven't been able to justify ordering the physical being a bit lean money-wise these days.
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Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 11:16 am

oh yeah for sure, thats the same text (the 3rd ed!)

ill probably go back and forth between the two since i prefer to read a tablet when im in bed at night
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Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 11:16 am

not sure why i felt the need to use an exclamation mark there
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Postby ripersnifle » Fri May 25, 2018 11:20 am

sick
alright yea im down
wish i had the paper but i can't do it just yet
steakspoon wrote:sorry if sounds corny fellas but i'll always remember where i was when i heard my first big star song..the internet.
Totally wrote:also to the really creepily obsessed kid frothing NON-US SPORTS GEAR IS A COMPLEXITY-SIGNALING DEVICE FOR AGEING HIPSTER ACOLYTES WHO DOWNLOAD MOANA: I have a lot of friends (and an apartment) in Geelong. Get a fuckin life man.
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Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 11:23 am

i juust updated op with a list of people who seem to be in - let me know if i forgot you or if youre not actually in

im really excited about this! i read through division of labor the other night and a bit of the first breather. i love this book so much and cant wait to get back into it and pull more out of it
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Postby feaxfang » Fri May 25, 2018 11:37 am

I don't think I can finish Infinite Jest in time for this lol. Fuck.
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Postby whatabout tim » Fri May 25, 2018 3:27 pm

I’m excited to start this. Life has been complicated lately so my participation may be sporadic but I’ll give it the old college try
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Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 9:57 pm

spending my friday night starting in on the first chapter/BREATHER (im planning to read the BREATHERS twice this go around)

also just reread the article on accretion in mcelroy that i posted in op
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Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 10:21 pm

also just broke out a tentative schedule... 12 weeks. this seems a bit conservative but i think its best to err on that side of things

happy to amend that if thats the consensus
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Postby bro tones » Fri May 25, 2018 10:23 pm

ugh i'm so worried i'll get distracted and won't stick with this. i think 12 weeks is a good timetable. for me, at least.
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Postby bro tones » Fri May 25, 2018 10:23 pm

i'd rather it a bit tighter than spread out
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Postby bongo » Fri May 25, 2018 10:38 pm

we can adapt it as we go too... i tried to base the allotments on what i know from my first reading. the BREATHERs are really demanding, incredibly opaque and dense at times. the 100+ page ones are the most challenging parts of the book so i isolated them to their own weeks. i tried too to ramp up slowly so we see how we're doing, how discussion plays out etc.

mcelroy is a democratic author in my view, not trying to eviscerate his readers. he expects a real collaboration from the reader, a technique which def engenders dialogue
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Postby bro tones » Fri May 25, 2018 10:48 pm

that is sick seeming
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Postby largecrow » Sat May 26, 2018 12:01 am

All of this sounds good and will probably get started as soon as I finish this Maqroll novella
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Postby rushedbehind » Sun May 27, 2018 5:08 am

i made a start on this this afternoon. with a few years on me since i last tried reading it i'm finding it a little easier to grapple with. i think it starts pretty powerfully (love that "we deserve to know what is in us" at the start of the first breather chapter). going to try put in another hour or two later
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Postby forest design » Sun May 27, 2018 5:24 am

bongo wrote:we can adapt it as we go too... i tried to base the allotments on what i know from my first reading. the BREATHERs are really demanding, incredibly opaque and dense at times. the 100+ page ones are the most challenging parts of the book so i isolated them to their own weeks. i tried too to ramp up slowly so we see how we're doing, how discussion plays out etc.

mcelroy is a democratic author in my view, not trying to eviscerate his readers. he expects a real collaboration from the reader, a technique which def engenders dialogue


Really appreciate all the work you've put in. Got the book last week and am really looking forward to this.
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Postby bongo » Sun May 27, 2018 8:50 am

:)
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Postby rushedbehind » Mon May 28, 2018 11:12 pm

this is some fucking dense stuff, good lord. i don't think i've ever read a more cerebral writer
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Postby bongo » Tue May 29, 2018 8:08 am

i have a bunch of notes and thoughts about the first BREATHER, wondering if i should post them or wait until weve started proper? i guess generally this is a question about how we want to address “spoilers”
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Postby whatabout tim » Tue May 29, 2018 9:24 am

I would hold off posting notes until each official week starts. First week is going to be off anyways though, so feel free to post it whenever
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Postby G_S » Tue May 29, 2018 9:26 am

got my copy and weirdly excited about reading again. count me in. aqdding to my gcal now
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Postby bongo » Tue May 29, 2018 9:34 am

excellent
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Postby bongo » Tue May 29, 2018 9:41 am

ill hold off. the impulse to post notes is just that a lot of times, for me and particularly in the case of the BREATHERs, insights into th text are epiphanic and feel a bit like grasping smoke so i’m always excited to get them jotted down/afraid they’ll evaporate before i can
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Postby G_S » Tue May 29, 2018 10:04 am

this was probably mentioned, but I really loved the stories in Night Soul if anyone wants to get a taste of McElroy without committing to a cinder block
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Postby forest design » Tue May 29, 2018 11:02 am

bongo wrote:ill hold off. the impulse to post notes is just that a lot of times, for me and particularly in the case of the BREATHERs, insights into th text are epiphanic and feel a bit like grasping smoke so i’m always excited to get them jotted down/afraid they’ll evaporate before i can



Of course get them down, would folks be opposed to using the spoiler tag for sensitive info?
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Postby alaska » Tue May 29, 2018 1:00 pm

thus far (~50 pp in) it's definitely tough going, but the personality of the book already feels more congenial to me than any of the other Postmodernist Fatbooks i've read
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Postby bongo » Wed May 30, 2018 8:28 pm

alrighty here are some very scattered notes and things to discuss. this isnt really a plotting walkthrough (i can type one of those up if anyone wants) but rather themes, observations, questions

i can spoiler tag this if need be

1. division of labor unknown
The text immediately introduces three central themes with the section title and first sentence - the division of the two sexes, the question of knowability, the nature of time. The woman (is this the Sue who is referred to towards the end of the section at the cocktail party? We don’t know for sure) is working to divide herself. The men attending her are present for her labor, but cannot experience it as she can. Their focus is on the product of her labor (the expected baby). The woman’s thoughts frequently return to how she appears to Shay, her husband - she’s “with it enough to be embarrassed.” The woman feels she remembers very little of the birth, lots of it is about Shay. Shay will tell the story of the birth subsequently. She meditates on what constitutes a “model woman,” she recalls a fixation on Shay moving from her head to down between her legs, she recalls his impatience and her own self-consciousness. Shay “describes” her pain, while she experiences it. Some talk about Shay getting an erection (is this during the birth?) and man’s fundamental infidelity (6). This seems connected with the notion of the model woman - the vacillating from object of desire to mother/caregiver - she’s aware of this shift, says she “doesn’t know herself, only her baby inside her”

2. BETWEEN US: A BREATHER AT THE BEGINNING
On breathers/breathing: i believe there are a couple ways to approach what joe is getting at here. 1) it amounts to practical advice for the reader (who joe views as an equal collaborator) - just breathe, absorb the text, you really cannot go astray if you take the text in organically unless, you’re either not receptive to or patient with this “wide load” or you “breathe so hard as to suck in the tunnel’s membrane (30)”. Within this section we’re exhorted to breathe, as are various characters at different points. I believe Joe is making an important point about how not to read this book by positing breathing as the activity most in line with experiencing it. The plotting/narrative can appear evanescent, like trying to grasp smoke (smoke/smoking are also recurrent tropes), but it is there all around you, fundamentally available for experiencing for the receptive breather. 2) these sections have a sort of extra-narrative, almost chorus-like function, in that they expose us to a whole bunch of characters, tropes, locations, and history as a rush of ecstatic information. They also offer us insights into joe’s methods and aims. The phrase “an articulate structure that gives play to a multiplicity of small-scale units” is said a couple times (or variations of said). For me the text feels at times like it’s breathing - getting larger and smaller, seeming on the one hand relatively easy to exposit but then ballooning out massively when I try to do that.

On the angels: they are distinct from “us” (humans, including the children) but appear to be able to go into us. Angels are said to exist in thought (this is said to be a truth). They have more “power than potential” (12) and their forms are malleable because they’re products of consciousness. The angels appear to be a sort of shaping/form-giving presence at time, helping us find our way (chorus-like in that).

The children: the children are doing homework. They may be read on one level as us/Joe (still sorting all of this out). The children are said to be studying rotation and topography - suffice it to say these are crucial themes in the novel. Also the letter “R.” Joe uses the children’s studies and games to illustrate/foreground narrative events and tropes that will be developed subsequently.

Grace: leads a body workshop in NYC. From the Midwest. Son of a “power vacuum.” The power vacuum refers at least in part to the masculine/hegemonically dominant/all-consuming/power hungry. A mode of being that creates and does but also does violence and misunderstands. Grace is 1/32nd Pawnee. Grace’s high school teacher tells her about Owl Woman (a singer and composer) and how magic is just understanding (17) . Grace’s ex-husband was in market research. Said to be able to be two places at once and have a total view (34).

Jim: Jim is the eldest son of Sarah and Mel, grandson of Margaret and brother of Brad. Mel runs the newspaper business that Sarah’s family owns, while Sarah is a violinist. Their marriage is in a poor state (Mel smiles at work but not at home, Sarah is melancholic). Sarah doesn’t tell stories but plays music. Margaret is a storyteller and a world traveler (the latter of which appears to be a source of envy for Sarah). Jim is urged by Sarah to “go away to where he belongs” “and live a more human life” (26). This is after Jim said he plans to go work with a friend on his family farm for the summer. I take this to be a value statement about working closely with the earth vs. working in words/industry, but also an acknowledgement of jim as having a larger future, indeed we’re told he is able to move through time (and he is shown to exist sort of out of the novel’s time in the scene in which he’s looking at a picture of his father going to a wedding where he’ll meet his mother).

Light/Sound - light is used “for interrogation and inquiry” (42) with the goal of “mastery” - sound is more malleable. Joe appears to be drawing important distinctions between these two. The former seems more linked to science/technology and the latter to a more receptive/phenomenological mode of (non)inquiry - ala breathing.

The Diva - using a tapeworm to lose weight. Tapeworm provided by a medicine man by way of a physician (Eastern/Western medicine linked). The tapeworm loses segments and grows at the same time, its food is what has already been consumed by the diva. It rotates inside her (we don’t know which end of it is up). She’s performing in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (per Wiki: Though a comic opera, the work incorporates some weighty themes (particularly through the Marschallin's character arc), including infidelity, aging, sexual predation, and selflessness (or the lack of it) in love.) She is courted by a South American naval officer, much to her doctor’s dismay)

The inquisitor - the authorial voice/joe himself? Grace urges him to “tell it straight” while jim, mediated by technology, geography, and temporarily does not want to discuss “the Void” and urges him “to go easy on the jokes” (36).

Questions (these and many more)
May 1st?
Femoral/Thigh
“R” / People R Matter (39)
The reverse of a will to power (35)
The Wide Load (the text obviously - “margin was our main worry” (45) but what else?)
The “we” (us as readers, with joe, collaboratively sorting through/breathing)
Obstacle Hunt vs Race (37)
Buddhist Monk/Documentarian (woman in Grace’s workshop who records the burning with a tape (38)
The bass singer’s role (40)
Much, More, Mass (42)

Figures to note:
Owl Woman
Navajo Prince
Hermit-Inventor of NY
Choor Princess
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Postby rushedbehind » Wed May 30, 2018 9:09 pm

good stuff bongo

i especially feel your point about the text feeling like it is breathing. i'm about halfway through the what found grace kimball chapter and there have been these really pronounced oscillations between widescreen, almost world-historical passages and then quiet, naturalistic scenes located entirely in grace's apartment, sometimes within the same paragraph.

i was listening to his interview with michael silverblatt a few days ago (the one for actress in the house), and michael mentioned that he considers mcelroy's work to be consistently obsessed with "simulteneity", which i thought was pretty profound, and has helped me in parsing some of the more difficult sections. mcelroy uses double meanings at a linguistic level but never as a textual "joke" like joyce or pynchon might do; he seems to use them to give substance to both cognitive process and physical action as they occur in tandem. for such a massive novel mcelroy has a pretty incredible economy of language.
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Postby bongo » Wed May 30, 2018 10:00 pm

i should revisit that bookworm episode. agree entirely re: economy of language and avoidance of textual joking. i actually think it’s a bit lazy and wrongheaded to even consider joe alongside pynchon or people like delillo or dfw. of the PoMo Tome writers he probably has the most in common with gaddis and, really, margeurite young (the latter feels a bit more meaningful to me)
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