Welcome to Bookmarker!

This is a personal project by @dellsystem. I built this to help me retain information from the books I'm reading.

Source code on GitHub (MIT license).

1

I was taught how to read novels by a brilliant poststructuralist critic called Stephen Heath. I have an image in my mind of Dr. Heath holding a sheet of paper—the hallowed “text”—very close to his eyes, the physical proximity somehow the symbolic embodiment of his scrutinizing avidity, while he threw out his favorite question about a paragraph or stanza: “what’s at stake in this passage?” He meant something more specific, professionalized and narrow than the colloquial usage would generally imply. He meant something like: what is the dilemma of meaning in this passage? What is at stake in maintaining the appearance of coherent meaning, in this performance we call literature? How is meaning wobbling, threatening to collapse into its repressions? Dr. Heath was appraising literature as Freud might have studied one of his patients, where “What is at stake for you in being here?” did not mean “What is at stake for you in wanting to get healthy or happy?” but almost the opposite: “What is at stake for you in maintaining your chronic unhappiness?” The enquiry is suspicious, though not necessarily hostile.

—p.1 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

I was taught how to read novels by a brilliant poststructuralist critic called Stephen Heath. I have an image in my mind of Dr. Heath holding a sheet of paper—the hallowed “text”—very close to his eyes, the physical proximity somehow the symbolic embodiment of his scrutinizing avidity, while he threw out his favorite question about a paragraph or stanza: “what’s at stake in this passage?” He meant something more specific, professionalized and narrow than the colloquial usage would generally imply. He meant something like: what is the dilemma of meaning in this passage? What is at stake in maintaining the appearance of coherent meaning, in this performance we call literature? How is meaning wobbling, threatening to collapse into its repressions? Dr. Heath was appraising literature as Freud might have studied one of his patients, where “What is at stake for you in being here?” did not mean “What is at stake for you in wanting to get healthy or happy?” but almost the opposite: “What is at stake for you in maintaining your chronic unhappiness?” The enquiry is suspicious, though not necessarily hostile.

—p.1 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
3

[...] When a book reviewer, or someone in a creative writing workshop, or a fellow author complains, “I just couldn’t see what was at stake in the book,” or “I see that this issue matters to the writer, but she didn’t manage to make me feel that it was at stake in the novel,” a different statement is also being made about meaning. The common implication here is that meaning has to be earned, that a novel or poem creates the aesthetic environment of its importance. A novel in which the stakes are felt to be too low is one that has failed to make a case for its seriousness. Writers are fond of the idea of earned stakes and unearned stakes; a book that hasn’t earned its effects doesn’t deserve any success.

—p.3 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

[...] When a book reviewer, or someone in a creative writing workshop, or a fellow author complains, “I just couldn’t see what was at stake in the book,” or “I see that this issue matters to the writer, but she didn’t manage to make me feel that it was at stake in the novel,” a different statement is also being made about meaning. The common implication here is that meaning has to be earned, that a novel or poem creates the aesthetic environment of its importance. A novel in which the stakes are felt to be too low is one that has failed to make a case for its seriousness. Writers are fond of the idea of earned stakes and unearned stakes; a book that hasn’t earned its effects doesn’t deserve any success.

—p.3 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
4

[...] In Stakes¹ (let’s call it), the text’s success is suspiciously scanned, with the expectation, perhaps hope, that the piece of literature under scrutiny will turn out to be productively unsuccessful. In Stakes², the text’s success is anxiously searched for, with the assumption that the piece of literature’s lack of success cannot be productive for reading, but simply renders the book not worth picking up. The first way of reading is non-evaluative, at least at the level of craft or technique; the second is only evaluative, and wagers everything on technical success, on questions of craft and aesthetic achievement. Stakes¹ presumes incoherence; Stakes² roots for coherence. [...]

Not to think about literature evaluatively is not to think like a writer—it cuts literature off from the instincts and ambitions of the very people who created it. But to think only in terms of evaluation, in terms of craft and technique—to think only of literature as a settled achievement—favors those categories at the expense of many different kinds of reading (chiefly, the great interest of reading literature as an always unsettled achievement). To read only suspiciously (Stakes¹) is to risk becoming a cynical detective of the word; to read only evaluatively (Stakes²) is to risk becoming a naïf of meaning, a connoisseur of local effects, someone who brings the standards of a professional guild to bear on the wide, unprofessional drama of meaning.

god i love him

—p.4 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

[...] In Stakes¹ (let’s call it), the text’s success is suspiciously scanned, with the expectation, perhaps hope, that the piece of literature under scrutiny will turn out to be productively unsuccessful. In Stakes², the text’s success is anxiously searched for, with the assumption that the piece of literature’s lack of success cannot be productive for reading, but simply renders the book not worth picking up. The first way of reading is non-evaluative, at least at the level of craft or technique; the second is only evaluative, and wagers everything on technical success, on questions of craft and aesthetic achievement. Stakes¹ presumes incoherence; Stakes² roots for coherence. [...]

Not to think about literature evaluatively is not to think like a writer—it cuts literature off from the instincts and ambitions of the very people who created it. But to think only in terms of evaluation, in terms of craft and technique—to think only of literature as a settled achievement—favors those categories at the expense of many different kinds of reading (chiefly, the great interest of reading literature as an always unsettled achievement). To read only suspiciously (Stakes¹) is to risk becoming a cynical detective of the word; to read only evaluatively (Stakes²) is to risk becoming a naïf of meaning, a connoisseur of local effects, someone who brings the standards of a professional guild to bear on the wide, unprofessional drama of meaning.

god i love him

—p.4 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
6

Describing one’s experience of art is itself a form of art; the burden of describing it is like the burden of producing it.”

I like this emphasis. When I write about a novel or a writer, I am essentially bearing witness. I’m describing an experience and trying to stimulate in the reader an experience of that experience. Henry James called the critic’s task “heroically vicarious.” Most of the time it feels pretty unheroic, to be honest; but it certainly feels vicarious. It’s like playing, to a friend, a piece of music you really love. There is that moment when you stand next to this person, hopeful and intense as you anxiously scan your friend’s face, to see if he or she is hearing the same thing you heard. How thrilling it is when the confirmation arrives; and how easily disappointed one can be (though we all learn to hide it) when the friend turns after a minute or two and says, “You can turn it off, this isn’t doing much for me.”

—p.6 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

Describing one’s experience of art is itself a form of art; the burden of describing it is like the burden of producing it.”

I like this emphasis. When I write about a novel or a writer, I am essentially bearing witness. I’m describing an experience and trying to stimulate in the reader an experience of that experience. Henry James called the critic’s task “heroically vicarious.” Most of the time it feels pretty unheroic, to be honest; but it certainly feels vicarious. It’s like playing, to a friend, a piece of music you really love. There is that moment when you stand next to this person, hopeful and intense as you anxiously scan your friend’s face, to see if he or she is hearing the same thing you heard. How thrilling it is when the confirmation arrives; and how easily disappointed one can be (though we all learn to hide it) when the friend turns after a minute or two and says, “You can turn it off, this isn’t doing much for me.”

—p.6 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
9

The philosopher Ted Cohen, in his book Thinking of Others: On the Talent for Metaphor, quotes from a paper written in 1949, by another philosopher, Arnold Isenberg. That paper was called “Critical Communication.” According to Cohen, Isenberg undermines the common notion that by describing an artwork, the critic is producing a reason in support of his or her value judgement. It’s not about producing reasons, says Isenberg. All the critic can hope to do is, by drawing attention to certain elements of the artwork—by re-describing that artwork—induce in his or her audience a similar view of that work. This way, in Isenberg’s phrase, the critic can achieve a “sameness of vision” in his or her audience (i.e. a sameness of vision between audience and critic). Ted Cohen goes on to point out that this is actually a brilliant description of the use of metaphor: “When your metaphor is ‘X is Y’ you are hoping that I will see X as you do, namely as Y, and, most likely, although your proximate aim is to get me to see X in this way, your ultimate wish is that I will feel about X as you do.” So the critical act is a metaphorical act.

—p.9 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

The philosopher Ted Cohen, in his book Thinking of Others: On the Talent for Metaphor, quotes from a paper written in 1949, by another philosopher, Arnold Isenberg. That paper was called “Critical Communication.” According to Cohen, Isenberg undermines the common notion that by describing an artwork, the critic is producing a reason in support of his or her value judgement. It’s not about producing reasons, says Isenberg. All the critic can hope to do is, by drawing attention to certain elements of the artwork—by re-describing that artwork—induce in his or her audience a similar view of that work. This way, in Isenberg’s phrase, the critic can achieve a “sameness of vision” in his or her audience (i.e. a sameness of vision between audience and critic). Ted Cohen goes on to point out that this is actually a brilliant description of the use of metaphor: “When your metaphor is ‘X is Y’ you are hoping that I will see X as you do, namely as Y, and, most likely, although your proximate aim is to get me to see X in this way, your ultimate wish is that I will feel about X as you do.” So the critical act is a metaphorical act.

—p.9 Introduction (1) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
78

[...] Flaubert told Maupassant that 'talent is a slow patience', and that 'there is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought to the thing we are looking at. Even the smallest thing has something in it which is unknown. We must find it.' [...]

—p.78 Saul Bellow’s comic style (74) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

[...] Flaubert told Maupassant that 'talent is a slow patience', and that 'there is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought to the thing we are looking at. Even the smallest thing has something in it which is unknown. We must find it.' [...]

—p.78 Saul Bellow’s comic style (74) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
110

[...] Roth's details and images are often not primarily visual, in the usual Flaubertian sense. He isn't especially interested in describing the exact colour-shade of a man's moustache, and then likening it, say, to rolled filaments of copper [...] he comes at his images from behind, or sideways, and then climbs towards something at once magical and a little abstract. In The Emperero's Tomb (1938), he pictures a businessman talking about his prospects in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War: 'As he spoke he stroked both sides of his mutton-chop whiskers as if he wished to caress simultaneously both halves of the monarchy [i.e. Austria and Hungary].'

love this

—p.110 Joseph Roth’s empire of signs (109) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

[...] Roth's details and images are often not primarily visual, in the usual Flaubertian sense. He isn't especially interested in describing the exact colour-shade of a man's moustache, and then likening it, say, to rolled filaments of copper [...] he comes at his images from behind, or sideways, and then climbs towards something at once magical and a little abstract. In The Emperero's Tomb (1938), he pictures a businessman talking about his prospects in the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War: 'As he spoke he stroked both sides of his mutton-chop whiskers as if he wished to caress simultaneously both halves of the monarchy [i.e. Austria and Hungary].'

love this

—p.110 Joseph Roth’s empire of signs (109) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
270

had​ a piano teacher who used to talk about the most familiar musical cadence – in which a piece returns, after wandering and variation, to its original key, the tonic – as ‘going home’. It seemed so easy when music did it: who wouldn’t want to swat away those black accidentals and come back to sunny C major? These satisfying resolutions are sometimes called ‘perfect cadences’; there is a lovely subspecies called the ‘English cadence’, used often by composers like Tallis and Byrd, in which, just before the expected resolution, a dissonance sharpens its blade and seems about to wreck things – and is then persuaded home, as it should be.

from https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v36/n04/james-wood/on-not-going-home. just pretty

—p.270 On not going home (270) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

had​ a piano teacher who used to talk about the most familiar musical cadence – in which a piece returns, after wandering and variation, to its original key, the tonic – as ‘going home’. It seemed so easy when music did it: who wouldn’t want to swat away those black accidentals and come back to sunny C major? These satisfying resolutions are sometimes called ‘perfect cadences’; there is a lovely subspecies called the ‘English cadence’, used often by composers like Tallis and Byrd, in which, just before the expected resolution, a dissonance sharpens its blade and seems about to wreck things – and is then persuaded home, as it should be.

from https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v36/n04/james-wood/on-not-going-home. just pretty

—p.270 On not going home (270) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
292

[...] When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.

reminds me of DFW's essay on kafka

—p.292 On not going home (270) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

[...] When I left this country 18 years ago, I didn’t know how strangely departure would obliterate return: how could I have done? It’s one of time’s lessons, and can only be learned temporally. What is peculiar, even a little bitter, about living for so many years away from the country of my birth, is the slow revelation that I made a large choice a long time ago that did not resemble a large choice at the time; that it has taken years for me to see this; and that this process of retrospective comprehension in fact constitutes a life – is indeed how life is lived. Freud has a wonderful word, ‘afterwardness’, which I need to borrow, even at the cost of kidnapping it from its very different context. To think about home and the departure from home, about not going home and no longer feeling able to go home, is to be filled with a remarkable sense of ‘afterwardness’: it is too late to do anything about it now, and too late to know what should have been done. And that may be all right.

reminds me of DFW's essay on kafka

—p.292 On not going home (270) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago
323

Or perhaps this is just my fear projected onto him. When I was a teenager, I used to think that Philip Larkin’s line about how life is first boredom, then fear, was right about boredom (those Sundays) and wrong about fear. What’s so fearful about life? Now, at forty-seven, I think it should be the other way around: life is first fear, then boredom (as perhaps the fearful Larkin of “Aubade” knew). Fear for oneself, fear for those one loves. I sleep very poorly these days; I lie awake, full of apprehensions. All kinds of them, starting with the small stuff, and rising. How absurd that I should be paid to write book reviews! How long is that likely to last? And what’s the point of the bloody things? Why on earth would the money not run out? Will I be alive in five years? Isn’t some kind of mortal disease likely? How will I cope with death and loss—with the death of my parents, or, worse, and unimaginably, of my wife, or children? How appalling to lose one’s mind, as my mother-in-law did! Or to lose all mobility, but not one’s mind, and become a prisoner, like the late Tony Judt. If I faced such a diagnosis, would I have the courage to kill myself? Does my father have pancreatic cancer? And on and on.

—p.323 Becoming them (315) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago

Or perhaps this is just my fear projected onto him. When I was a teenager, I used to think that Philip Larkin’s line about how life is first boredom, then fear, was right about boredom (those Sundays) and wrong about fear. What’s so fearful about life? Now, at forty-seven, I think it should be the other way around: life is first fear, then boredom (as perhaps the fearful Larkin of “Aubade” knew). Fear for oneself, fear for those one loves. I sleep very poorly these days; I lie awake, full of apprehensions. All kinds of them, starting with the small stuff, and rising. How absurd that I should be paid to write book reviews! How long is that likely to last? And what’s the point of the bloody things? Why on earth would the money not run out? Will I be alive in five years? Isn’t some kind of mortal disease likely? How will I cope with death and loss—with the death of my parents, or, worse, and unimaginably, of my wife, or children? How appalling to lose one’s mind, as my mother-in-law did! Or to lose all mobility, but not one’s mind, and become a prisoner, like the late Tony Judt. If I faced such a diagnosis, would I have the courage to kill myself? Does my father have pancreatic cancer? And on and on.

—p.323 Becoming them (315) by James Wood 3 years, 6 months ago