a computational model of the evocative detail
(I think randomness in procedurally-generated writing sort of has this same effect—it encourages a kind of reading where in the process of bridging the sense-gap you're made to imagine the context that produced the incongruous details. but it's not *quite* the same effect as Miéville's style here, since in cut-up writing [depending on the procedure] that context rarely produces satisfying coherence [whatever "satisfying" means here])
(in a way the _Embassytown_ style [or at least the style of these chapters, I haven't read the rest of the book maybe it changes radically?] reminds me of Rimbaud's _Villes_ https://www.instagram.com/p/BqWxaC0lWRs/ which seems to describe a "place" but relentlessly gets in the way of your matching signifier with referent—it holds together by an alternate dream logic, rather than by a conventional logic of description, the same sort of otherworldliness that Miéville evokes, why am I still typing in parentheses?)
update on reading _Embassytown_: i should have noticed that the chapter i loved so much was called "Proem," because outside this chapter the stylistic properties i noted earlier are pretty much completely absent and (don't read this part China) it just sorta starts reading like a TNG episode where western people with western culture and western values address a conventional western reader. still good so far as scifi but not as much fun to read.
for a work of speculative fiction that maintains that oblique otherworldliness throughout, see Sofia Samatar's _The Winged Histories_. i get a similar feel from Lovecraft's stories in the _Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath_ vein (though obviously you can never really extricate from his work the whiteness of the readers he imagined and addressed the work to)
i finished reading _Embassytown_ on the train back from NeurIPS. it was fun but the Saussure Ex Machina at the end felt like a missed opportunity; also all of the little metanarrative cutenesses never amounted to anything, which was a disappointment. i am a curmudgeon clearly not cut out to read novels and resolve to return forthwith to reading dense monographs about avant-garde poetry, which are my only true love
also similar to Rimbaud's _Villes_: the opening lines of Dorothy Wordsworth's _Alfoxden Journal_ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42856/42856-h/42856-h.htm
actually I can't cope with how beautiful this is
there's a particular—not feeling, because although there's an emotional component to the experience, that component seems like a side-effect, not the thing itself—mental phenomenon (?) that passages like these afford for me, where the sentences sort of slip from one to the next without demanding the "normal" process of signification and deciphering intent (but also not foreclosing on it). and this is the effect I'm always trying to evoke with the kind of work I make
what kills me about this dorothy wordsworth is that it is *exactly and precisely* the aesthetic I was trying to evoke with my nanogenmo project in 2015 http://s3.amazonaws.com/aparrish/our-arrival.pdf as though I have always known about her work somewhere in my soul but I stg I never read it or even knew about it before today
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@aparrish "The woman who read in transit and was slightly disappointed with what was given to her"
@aparrish That makes me wonder what your take on Joyce is. (I've never got past Dubliners FWIW.)
I really enjoyed Embassytown and might have to go back to it in light of your points at the start of this thread. Kind of felt like a couple of plot strands or themes had been left dangling after an edit though. He packs a lot in.
@priryo 🎶 i have never read joyce 🎶 even though everyone tells me to. I think I need to read a book *about* Finnegan's Wake and then I'll try to read Finnegan's Wake
@aparrish I read a book about someone writing a book about Finnegan's Wake (Dotter of her Father's Eyes by Mary Talbot) and that's as close as I want to get.
What you are saying @aparrish dovetails with so much with what I think. I love finnegans wake. I am not sure it is a book. I don't know what it is. I recommend just jumping in and "reading" it and then reading about it as you go on.
Oh my gosh I love finnegans wake. Every piece of each word is in rebellion to its controlling word and each word is in rebellion to each sentence and each sentence is in rebellion to each paragraph and so on.
My first experience with reading it was mostly jumping through obscure memories I hadn't thought about in years. There are many many layered allusions so you are bound to hear one of those echos and as you said the ambiguity forces/allows you to construct out of it whatever your imagination wants. It is a wildly freeing experience once you acclimate to it.
The more I have read it the more I have realized that it is by no means just chaos though, there is a logic and syntax to it, it is just completely alien to any other book's logic or syntax. An event is never an isolated event in finnegans wake, it is always a recollection of the entire history (known of by joyce that is) of humans experiencing similar events.
The experience is a little bit like having only ever heard jazz songs where each instrument solos one at a time and suddenly being introduced to a massive orchestra of instruments all playing the same solo but from their own individual perspective.
It is glorious hahahaha. I love finnegans wake. I also love noise music so the validity and sanity of what I am saying is debatable.
@aparrish good thread, I'll pick up The Winged Histories after finishing the Broken Earth trilogy. Thanks!
@arnicas notably no examples in this thread have been "poetry" proper though & in fact this Dorothy Wordsworth excerpt is almost anti-poetry (apparently she saw her journals as mutually complementary to her brother's capital-P poetry). I get the general impression that poets and people-who-like-poetry are getting something else (or something more) out of poetry? (catharsis, lyricism, metaphor, clever turns-of-phrase, etc are all important parts of poetry that don't cause this effect for me)
@aparrish yes, but for me the feeling reading that is similar to the feeling with good poetry; call it poetic text maybe? a certain overlap in the effect and lyrical writing, anyway.
@arnicas oh I definitely agree it's poetic, and I also think it's poetry. I think lately I've just been trying to come to grips with how and why a lot of work like this doesn't fit into current practices in the Poetry Scene
@aparrish What I get from that passage is a sort of agent-less viewpoint, passively observing a scene and not imposing personal interpretation.
@varx I think there's something about that particular configuration of narration that facilitates the effect, yeah. but I don't think it's a requirement, just an easy way in. I dunno!
@aparrish there's something in this that reminds me of a poem by (i'm pretty sure) gerard manley hopkins that i've been unable to find since i first read it. something about walking in wheat. stars? star waked wheat? white wheat? i don't even know, i can just sort of recall the rhythm of it and the way that descriptions ran into one another.
@aparrish That is really lovely. And certainly slathered in esses, which lends a syrupy sensuousness.
In fact the alternating esses and ks suggest a more rhythmic analysis – sounds like a bebop drum solo. Hmm maybe I could map from IPA categories to percussion – like beatbox in reverse, have a trap set 'speak' a text
@aparrish It also felt sort of Uncleftish Beholding-ish? So I ran it through macroetym and got something maybe interesting:
Middle French (ca. 1400-1600) 1.39
Old English (ca. 450-1100) 72.69
Old French (842-ca. 1400) 17.59
Old Norse 1.39
Possible explanation for 'satisfying' in this context: ratio between complexity before integration & complexity after it (or ratio of shannon information to kolmogorov information I guess).
It's satisfying if in the moment a detail makes you say "wtf" but a paragraph later it makes you say "oh, of *course* that's how it is, because X and Y" (where X and Y are general rules about the setting that you've inferred only by synthesizing the new detail with earlier ones).
'Earlier' here probably matters a lot. Like, each new detail should be satisfying in this way at the time that it's introduced, & that means that we need to introduce stuff in an order where each new detail can be explained by generalizations that we have enough clues to infer already, while providing the necessary components for future inference of new generalizations. (In other words: no retcons, only plot twists.)
@enkiv2 this feels right, but I think the actual phenomenon is more sophisticated and subtle—I think a detail can be evocative in this way even when it doesn't explicitly refer to the ongoing construction of that context ("one-offs"). to me it seems like you need to model the intrafictional "audience" of a text (not the eventual extra-fictional reader, necessarily) and just... fail to elaborate on the details that would be shared between that audience and the intrafictional narrator?
@enkiv2 like what I think makes the style of these chapters compelling (to me) is that it doesn't feel addressed to me; there's no evident didactic intent to build a shared frame of understanding. it's like walking into someone else's kitchen or something.
a computational model of someone else's kitchen
That makes a lot of sense, too.
Like, I can imagine an infodump that is formatted in this way (and I think that, for instance, a lot of Neal Stephenson's stuff is), but it's more impressive if you also can sustain the illusion that the writer doesn't have the audience in mind.
I think it's an unrelated trick though. Like, doing both is extra impressive because they interfere with each other.
@aparrish I definitely got some TNG flashbacks as I got to towards the end. Then again I feel like that's Miéville - The City and the City felt like the best episode of Law and Order ever.
@aparrish The naming of the "immer" and the "manchmal" -- the wrong way round from what I would normally expect, is pretty much my favourite atom of world building in any sci-fi.
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