Some of my work on Updike was discussed on The Dish with Andrew Sullivan.
Some of my work on Ross Macdonald was discussed on Pretty Sinister Books.
Here is my interview with superstar music impresario Wendy Starland.
Here is my interview with Pulitzer Prize nominee Olympia Vernon.
Here is my interview with the editor of Best American Short Stories, Heidi Pitlor.
Here is my interview with acclaimed artist Emil Kazaz.
My musing on John D. Macdonald, Travis McGee, and the chicks was picked up on The Rap Sheet.

The Recurring of “The Thing Itself” in Robert Stone’s Fiction

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        At the American Literature Association Conference in Boston in May, 2013, I presented a paper on what I called ‘recurring motif-images’in the fiction of Don DeLillo.  (A transcript is posted on this blog in the September, 2013 section.) My point there was that in his first seven novels, pre-White Noise, DeLillo had a consistent vocabulary of stock images that he went to over and over again, much like an auteur film director does.  I used these four images from four different films of Kubrick’s as an example of what I meant, my point being that DeLillo does much the same thing in words:

            I’m aware that other authors such as Bellow and Updike do this as well, though I’ve never sat down and rigorously researched their efforts in a thoroughgoing manner as I have done with DeLillo.  A recent period of reading some of Robert Stone’s novels and stories demonstrated to me that Stone, too, employs this strategy.  In what follows below I’ll  briefly discuss the recurring motif-image of “The thing itself”  in some of Stone’s writing.

1.      Dog Soldiers.  When Marge and Hicks first meet Stone writes:
“There was no power in her.  She sought the stale mouth, warmed to the
beak across her belly, curled herself in the fear, the danger, the death.  The thing itself.”
Much later, just before Hicks dies, he thinks:
            “Let them take it back then.  Let them have all the illusion back.  Strip it down, we’ll have it whole.  The answer is the thing itself.”

       At first I thought this was  Stone’s variation on the term Kant invented to describe the noumenal world, “the thing in itself.”  That is, how something exists in and of itself apart from human perception of it.  It wasn’t clear to me at all if Stone is trying to employ this phrase in Kant’s original sense or in some new sense.  Also, the fact that two different characters in the novel should have this phrase rumble across their consciousness in such different contexts might be read as letting the author’s own consciousness intrude upon the fiction a little bit too much (although, of course, that too can be debated).  But I soon realized, as is evident from Children of Light,  that Stone is referring to the famous quote from Lear, “Thou art the thing itself” and not to Kant.

2.      Children of Light.  On the second page of this novel Walker quotes “Thou art the thing itself” to himself as he stumbles around Bronwen’s apartment, hung over – just a moment earlier, seeing himself in the mirror, he had let the phrase silently pass through his mind. 

3.      Outerbridge Reach. 
“It’s been a crazy summer, I know,” Browne said.  “Everything’s upside down.  I’m sorry we couldn’t get to the island.  I really wanted to.”  Maybe, he thought, it was love he was after.  The thing itself. 

1 comment:

  1. That's some cool analysis man! I enjoyed it!