Week Nine (Thurs, 3/24): Small Group Discussion


I. so: where to begin...? and end...?
what's been the use-value of this novel,
for our exploration of the evolution of literature????

dfishervan: it may not be to our advantage to eliminate anxiety and depression through the genetic manipulation that Kurton dreams of.

The idea of something needing to be fixed also got me thinking about whether the experimental, unique style of the book itself was something that needs fixing or if there is something so right about it that makes authors of past books feel that their books need fixing.

vlopez: "Le Petit Prince" ... can be read at a young age and at an older age and two completely different meanings will be taken from it.  It's a book that molds itself to 'you'. 

"'This whole thing is bogus. Nothing as complicated as feeling can possibly reduce to genetics ... this isn't good science'" (p. 159).

"the secret of survival is forgetting. If evolution favored conscience, everything with a backbone would have hanged itself from the ceiling fan eons ago, and invertebrates would once again be running the place" (p. 20).

"Enhancement. Why shouldn't we make ourselves better than we are now? We're incomplete. Why leave something as fabulous as life up to chance?" (p. 21)

"we've been remaking ourselves for ten thousand years....We simply can't know our upper limits. All we can do is keep exploring them.... We are collaborators in creation" (p. 25).

"the massive structural flaw in the way the brain processes delight. The machinery of gladness... is an evolutionary hangover.... Back on the savannah, stress kept us alive. Natural selection shaped us for productive discontent" (p. 43).

the real problem: fiction is obsolete. Engineering has lapped it (p. 163).

What would his book be about...the odds against ever feeling at home in the world again. About huge movements of capital that render self-realization quaint at best. About the catastrophe of collective wisdom getting what we want, at last (p. 164).

"'How programmed are we?'...the data keep accumulating....'But stlll, the students who come to see me change. They can get better.... Temperament can self-modify. People can get free, or at least a little freer. And then a little more'" (p. 166).

"Happy citizen of the place that cultural evolution has finally created to shelter the brain, after its long exile" (p. 173).

"all the basic elements of survival...depend on holding background noise steady enough to pick out foreground signals. We're tuned...to the flashing Now, designed to be dead blind to exactly the kind of huge, slow, incremental changes that will kill us" (p. 176).

"he dreams himself into a Pyncheon novel" (p. 185).

"Technology changes what we think is intolerable" (p. 188).

"all literature, all fiction, all prediction to date is nothing more than a preparatory sketch of the possibilities available to the human animal" (p. 190).

Part Four: Melville--retain a temperature of thine own

"He talks of her like some design template for the future....'There's no reason why every one of us can't be equals to our ideal....it's humanity's job to bring God about'" (p. 206).

"if words weren't as hindering as fur on fish" (p. 206).

"So, a French farce: yet another story you know by heart. Only in this one, the other man is four feet tall" (p. 207).

"Most ...agree that the sculpting of affect is lifelong and fluid. But most also concede that people's bedrock emotional skills vary as greatly as their skills in math" (p. 211).

"the mastodon has evolved. It's a whole new elephant" (p. 212).

"If people want mystery and imagination and inexplicable temperament, they should just read Assia Djebar" (p. 214).

"there is no more public or private. There are only slow facts and fast facts, linked and unlinked, and every two sequences of value will eventually be correlated" (p. 217).

"The secret of happiness is meaningful work" (p. 218).

"Everyone alive should feel richly content, ridiculously ahead of the curve, a million times luckier than the unborn" (p. 221).

"He's weakened by his recent bout with joy. Joy does little to increase one's judgement. Happiness is not the condition you want to be in when you need to be at your most competent" (p. 226).

"Imagination dies of shame in the face of its blood relation" (p. 227).

"The guiding principle of her program...is the belief that fortune lies not in our stars but in our changing selves .... anyone can escape any fate by a daily application of near-religious will.... A predisposition to disposition: it's exactly the kind of fatalism the boss is determined not be be determined by" (p. 228).

"'I've seen this film before...And as in every version of this movie that Schill had ever seen, some well-meaning but helpless figure lurked on the boundaries..filled with shameful complicity" (p. 238).

"No one should be anything but dead...Instead, we get honey out of rocks. Miracles from nothing...We don't need to get better. We're already us. And everything that is, is ours" (p. 241).

"finish this nonsense...the sequel that might extricate her" (pp. 242-3).

"I always knew I'd lose my nerve in the end....All I want is for my friends to survive the story intact. All the story wants is to wreck anything solid in them. No one would write a world if he remembered how much fiction eventually comes true" (p. 246).

"The world's two camps of readers, split by inborn temperament, need two inimical things, and each has long ago decided to love or loathe this man according to those needs" (pp. 246-247).

"his work aims only to ... crack open the prison of inherited fate" (p. 247).

"He keeps himself awake listening to an audiobook of The Plague, the novel that defeated him at Stanford...You want to devote your life to life science? Read this first . He's gone back t o Camus after talking with Thassa...She filed him in on all the context.... If I have to choose between justice and my mother, I would choose my mother (p. 248).

"The problem is with the craft of fiction. The whole grandiose idea that life's meaning plays out in individual negotiations makes the scientist wince. Intimate consciousness, domestic tranquility, self-making... all blatant distractions from the true explosion in human capability. Fiction seems at best willfully naive. Too many soul-searchers wandering head-down through to many self-created crises, while all about them, the race is changing the universe...Worse, fiction's perpetual mistaking of correlation for causation drives Kurton nuts...The trick smacks of an reductive environmental determinism" (p. 249).

"The double-blind study... sets human history ..loose in a place beyond personality. He wants to live long enough to witness a new, post-genomic fiction, one that grasps the interpenetrating loops of inheritance and upbringing so tangled that every cause is some other cause's effect. One that, through a kind of collaborative writing, shakes free of the prejudices of any individual maker. For now, fiction remains at best a scattershot mood-regulating concoction" (p. 239).

"The Plague ends..."the bacillus never dies...it bides it time...and perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats agin and send them forth to die in a happy city" (p. 250).

"The scene has already been written" (p. 252).

"I love to look at the world through a viewfinder...The worst things about life are beautiful on film" (p. 252).

"His best response is the billion-year-old, time-tested method of freezing up. If he does nothing the whole thing may pass overhead without incident. So he keeps still and waits, like the rodent in a raptor's shadow.." (p. 256).

"Say that the six thousand years of writing are a six-hundred-page novel...The ultimate sentences is..."'Author, we're outta here'--the happy ending of the race's own making" (p. 260).

"The words explain everything. The words are gibberish" (p. 262).

Part V: "no place is bigger than where we live"--Neruda

"all existence becomes a prize again, through a viewfinder" (p. 267)

"History is just fluctuations in appetite. Technology changes nothing" (p. 267)

"If a reasonably alert person wants to be exhilarated, she just has to read a little evolution.... Why do we need happiness when we can have knowing?....Three billion years of accident is about to become something truly meaningful. If that doesn't inspire us, we don't deserve to survive ourselves" (pp. 274-275).

"Runaway branching feedback--who knew how? Everything...is caused by nothing short of everything else. What she found so amusing about the unfolding scene was how well all the performers already knew it...they'd seen it too often to count in every packaged narrative they'd ever consumed. They had her revolt pegged..." (281).

"the blameless can't afford to look. Just looking is already the worst kind of guilt" (p. 282)

"Chance tries to hand her something..." (282)