======================================================================= Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) -- Volume 2 Number 8, Aug. 2003 Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:abs@well.com =======================================================================

Remembrance of Things Proust

(Part Two)

"One must never miss an opportunity of quoting things by others which are always more interesting than those one thinks up oneself." -- Marcel Proust [Recap: In the last issue I asked what the role of literature was in a cybernetics education, and then by way of an answer traced a chain of recommendations from Stewart Brand and the "Whole Earth Catalog" (where I first learned of cybernetics) to the "Last Supplement to the Whole Earth Catalog" guest-edited by Ken Kesey and Paul Krassner, wherein I found Kesey's "Tools From My Chest," which included praise for the then young author Larry McMurtry, who in his recent novel "Duane's Depressed," recommended the writings of French novelist Marcel Proust. Along the way I churned up the additional questions, "What is McMurtry doing right? What is it about his novels that nurture this student of cybernetics?"] One way I attacked this question was to follow the pointer to Marcel Proust. In "Duane's Depressed" (1999) Larry McMurtry had his simple oil man decide one day to start walking everywhere instead of driving pickup trucks. His family is convinced he has a psychological problem and eventually get him to see a psychiatrist. Expecting a prescription for an anti-depressant, he is instead prescribed the reading one page a day of Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" (c1927-34). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0394712439/hip-20 ) Duane found it tough but persevered. I too found it tough. I easily tracked down "Remembrance of Things Past" in a nearby library, but when I saw the three thick volumes I backed away. Instead I picked up "The Complete Stories of Marcel Proust" (2001), translated by Joachim Neugroschel. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0815411367/hip-20 ) I read one story, "Fragments of Commedia dell'Arte," and found that for a man who with a reputation for wordiness he sure packed a lot into a few pages. He describes a middle class woman who has three friends. One is an aristocrat, who she adores and wants to spend lots of time with, the second is a poor woman, on whom she can shower her largess, and the third is a woman from a slightly lower station in life, who adores this middle class woman and wants to spend time with her. The woman can barely stand her friend in the slightly lower station, because she reminds the woman of her own vanity. This seemed like a bittersweet appraisal of the human condition, despairing and yet amused. I was also aided by an amazing graphic novel, which reminded me a bit of tho old "Classic Comics" and "Classics Illustrated" series of great literature in comic book form. ( www.classicscentral.com/0-list.htm ) It was a cartoon version of Proust, called "Remembrance of Things Past: Combray (Graphic Novel)" (1998) by Stephane Heuet. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1561632783/hip-20 ) Amazon has a picture of the cover available, ( images.amazon.com/images/P/1561632783.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg ) and I also made my own scan of a page that told how the hero took a bite of a pastry called a Madeleine dipped in tea and suddenly remembered events from his childhood in Combray (for about a thousand pages). ( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/madeleine.jpg ) This graphic novel presents an episode in Proust's youth in which he frequently found himself riding as carriage past two steeples in his village. Something about the way he notices them, how they appear one at a time and recede the same way, and how he feels about them, makes him feel sad, frustrated and incomplete. Then one time during the carriage ride he writes down his observations of, and and feelings about, the two steeples, and it helps him feel better, less frustrated, more complete. For some reason, about this same time, I remembered that back when I worked on the kiddy rides at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk in the 1970s, my boss, a local journalist and part time ride supervisor, recommended an early novel of Aldous Huxley's, "Crome Yellow" (1921). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1564783049/hip-20 ) I tracked it down on Amazon.com and bought it for a few dollars, and began to read it. It was based on his remembrances of a summer in the village called Crome in England, and it swirled together in my mind with the Proust. In one hilarious passage a house guest is pressed until he reveals his literary aspirations. For some time Mary's grave blue eyes had been fixed upon him. "What have you been writing lately?" she asked. It would be nice to have a little literary conversation. "Oh, verse and prose," said Denis -- "just verse and prose." "Prose?" Mr. Scogan pounced alarmingly on the word. "You've been writing prose?" "Yes." "Not a novel?" "Yes." "My poor Denis!" exclaimed Mr. Scogan. "What about?" Denis felt rather uncomfortable. "Oh, about the usual things, you know." "Of course," Mr. Scogan groaned. "I'll describe the plot for you. Little Percy, the hero, was never good at games, but he was always clever. He passes through the usual public school and the usual university and comes to London, where he lives among the artists. He is bowed down with melancholy thought; he carries the whole weight of the universe on his shoulders. He writes a novel of dazzling brilliance; he dabbles delicately in Amour and disappears, at the end of the book, into the luminous Future." Denis blushed scarlet. Mr. Scogan had described the plan of his novel with an accuracy that was appalling. He made an effort to laugh. "You're entirely wrong," he said. "My novel is not in the least like that." It was an heroic lie. Luckily, he reflected, only two chapters had been written. He would tear them up that very evening when he unpacked. I was amazed to realize that this was a pretty fair description of Huxley's "Crome Yellow" itself. But by far the most useful tool for getting a handle on Proust came by way of the great meta-tool I've mentioned before, the "Weblog Bookwatch" site which scans "blogs" (web logs) for book links, counts them and produces a weekly top ten. ( www.onfocus.com/bookwatch ) It pointed me at the remarkable "How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel" (1997), by Alain De Botton. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679779159/hip-20 ) A look at its table of contents will give you an idea of the territory it covers: How to Love Life Today How to Read for Yourself How to Take Your Time How to Suffer Successfully How to Express Your Emotions How to Be a Good Friend How to Open Your Eyes How to Be Happy in Love How to Put Books Down De Botton explores, among many other topics, the difference between conversation and writing. Why should one be unable to chat, as opposed to write, "In Search of Lost Time?" In part, because of the mind's functioning, its condition as an intermittent organ, forever liable to lose the thread or be distracted, generating vital thoughts only between stretches of inactivity or mediocrity, stretches in which we are not really "ourselves." From this book I learned that Proust offered keen powers of observation combined with a sensed of resignation about the inevitability of human folly. Somehow it promoted a feeling of lightness in me, a sense of peace. Elsewhere Proust is quoted as saying that sometimes he preferred the reading of railroad schedules to great literature, because of the flights of imagination they provoked. When perusing a list such as this: Paris Mantes la Jolie Vernon (Eure) Gailon-Aubevoye Val-de-Reuil he found the mere names of provincial train stations provided Proust's imagination with enough material to elaborate entire worlds, to picture domestic dramas in rural villages, shenanigans in local government, and life out in the fields. As I was reading this I was enroute to Las Vegas by minivan from San Diego (two sets of parents with kids were going for a non-gambling family vacation), and at a stop at the Mohave Desert Visitor's Center in Baker, California I bought a book called "Zzyzx: History of an Oasis" (1994) by Anne Q. Duffield-Stoll. ( www.csupomona.edu/~library/exhibits/CalPolyAuthors95/home.html ) In it I learned that there was once a railroad from Tonopah to Ludlow (two remote places I happened to have visited) and the stops on the "Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad" included: Ludlow Soda Lake Silver Lake Tecopa Death Valley Junction Leeland Gold Center Beatty Rhyolite Bonnie Claire Goldfield Tonopah As with Proust, this list stimulated my imagination, and gave fuel to a conceit I've worked on in the past: the idea for a one hour television drama called "Last Chance Service" set at a gas station at the Zzzyx Road exit on Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I like to think that I'm learning the right lessons from this stuff. De Botton decries the type of Proust reader who books a tour to France to see the village of Illiers on which Proust's fictional Combray was based, or who buys a cookbook to learn to make all the food Proust mentions, including the evocative Madeleine. What he prefers I do is get better at noticing, celebrating and describing the environment I find myself in. Still, I had to smile when I noticed that my local Starbucks coffee shop has just started selling packaged Madeleines. Is because so many are now reading Proust? I recently purchased a CD of music by the "techno" artist Paul Oakenfold, called "Bunkka" (2002). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000067G5Y/hip-20 ) One compelling track, "Nixon's Spirit," features "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson doing his best William Burroughs imitation as he growls in a gravelly voice: This is not a generational thing. You didn't even have to know who Richard Nixon was to be a victim of his ugly Nazi spirit. Likewise, I've realized, you didn't even have to know who Marcel Proust was to be a beneficiary of his beautiful creative spirit. I felt like I tapped out the Proust pointer, at least for now, and still lacked some answers. I'm not like Duane the oil man in the Thalia trilogy; I'm not a simple working man who discovered the redemptive powers of literature late in life. I'm more like the writer who has avalanches of books everywhere, like Mr. McMurtry. In turned to another voracious reader and prolific writer for help. My all-time literary hero these days is Tom Wolfe, comfortable with Acid Test organizers and with test pilots, with neon sign designers and with world famous architects, with hot rod enthusiasts and with electronics magnates. He is a journalist, an essayist, and a novelist. He practically invented "the new journalism" which he defines (HE defines!) as nonfiction reporting in fictional novel form. And he is single-handedly taking on the literary Old Guard to champion the return of the "realistic novel." I used to read everything he writes as soon as it is published, but I was three years behind when I finally found out this year that he'd published a new book of essays, "Hooking Up" (2000). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374103828/hip-20 ) I raced right out and read it, and I've mentioned it in these pages before. Wolfe's final essay in "Hooking Up," entitled "My Three Stooges," is a rebuttal to literary luminaries Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving, all of whom were bitterly critical of Wolfe's second novel, "A Man in Full" (1998). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374270325/hip-20 ) He recounts an appearance on a Toronto TV show following John Irving's blast at "A Man in Full" on the same show. [Host Evan Solomon] asked me: "One of the foremost novelists in the United States, John Irving, says you simply can't write. You're not a writer. Does that make you feel bad?" "Bad?" I heard myself saying. "Why should I fell bad? Now I've got all three." All three? "Larry, Curly and Moe. Updike, Mailer and Irving. My three stooges." ... A stooge is literally a straight man who feeds lines to the lead actor in a play... "Are you saying they're envious of your success? Is that all it is?" ... [No,] something much more obvious, I told Evan. "A Man in Full" had frightened them. They were shaken. ... [it] was an example -- an alarmingly visible one -- of a possible, indeed, the likely new direction in late twentieth- and early twenty-first- century literature: the intensely realistic novel, based on reporting, that plunges wholeheartedly into the social reality of America today, right now -- a revolution in content rather than in form -- that was about to sweep the arts in America, a revolution that would soon make many prestigious artists, such as our three old novelists, appear effete and irrelevant. Wolfe goes on to describe how "literature" in America fell off a cliff after World War II. The great period ran from the publication of Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" in 1900 to Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" in 1939... It was Alfred Kazin, writing in 1942 in his critical literary history of the period, "On Native Grounds," who first isolated "the greatest single fact about our modern American literature -- our writers' absorption in every last detail of their American world together with their deep and subtle alienation from it." And yet, Wolfe says, just as the American novel was getting so good that Europeans were inspired by it, American academics declared the realistic novel "dead" in favor of the "novel of ideas," a form Wolfe considers impoverished. He explains this is why there seems to have been so little great American literature produced since the 1930s. Wolfe points out that banning "realism" allows the novelist to abandon research (which is called "journalism" by those who disapprove) and to abandon content as well. The resulting product has been a lot of emptiness, dutifully defended by the academies but ignored by the public. The academies have responded by blaming the readers. One argument is that the film has replaced the novel as the medium of choice among the (Philistine) young people of today, due to it's superior technical tricks (and their shallowness). John Updike also took this "blame the readers" approach: When I was a boy, the bestselling books were often the books that were on your piano teacher's shelf... Someone like Steinbeck was a bestseller as well as a Nobel Prize-winning author of high intent. You don't feel that now... Wolfe responds: Were my eyes deceiving me? Was this man actually saying that lack of interest in the "literary" novel in the year 2000 was the READER's fault? He, John Updike, was a victim of a new cultural disease, Reader Failure? And he was invoking the name of John Steinbeck, who wrote in a happier time, back when Updike's piano teacher read great writers? How could he even risk MENTIONING Steinbeck -- unless he actually does consciously and willfully regard himself as my stooge, a straight man whose role it is to feed me lines? Wolfe pointed out that Steinbeck really got rolling when he did a bunch of research, like a grubby journalist, before writing "The Grapes of Wrath," (1939) arguably his greatest book (and the latest in a series of best-sellers that were almost immediately made into movies). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0142000663/hip-20 ) He also sets up and knocks down the idea that -- except for the die-hards in the literary world -- pop culture has entirely moved on from the novel to the movie. The critic Terry Teachout created quite a stir in 1999 when he wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal headlined "How We Get the Story" with the subhead: "Quick: Read a novel or watch a movie? The battle is over. Movies have won." ... "For Americans under 30," he wrote, "film has largely replaced the novel as the dominant mode of artistic expression" when it comes to "serious storytelling." ...Teachout argued that movies had won the battle for a storytelling-hungry public "because the novel is an obsolete artistic technology." But, Wolfe argues, the novel is not obsolete. It has unique technical capabilities that movies can't reproduce: Four specific devices give the naturalistic novel its "gripping," "absorbing" quality: (1) scene-by-scene construction, i.e., telling the story by moving from scene to scene rather than resorting to sheer historical narrative; (2) the liberal use of realistic dialog, which reveals character in the most immediate way and resonates more profoundly with the reader than any other form of description; (3) interior point of view, i.e., putting the reader inside the head of a character and having him view the scene through his eyes; and (4) the notation of status details, the cues that tell people how they rank in the human pecking order, how they are doing in the struggle to maintain or improve their position in life or in an immediate situation, everything from clothing and furniture to accents, modes of treating superiors or inferiors, subtle gestures that show respect or disrespect -- "dissing," to use a marvelous new piece of late-twentieth-century slang -- the entire complex of signals that tell the human beast whether it is succeeding or failing and has or hasn't warded off that enemy of happiness which is more powerful than death: humiliation. No, Wolfe asserts, young people are not flocking to movies because the literary novel is obsolete, but because the literary novelists avoid research ("journalism") while the movie makers embrace it. And just in time to add to the mix, I tracked down McMurtry's wonderful essay on the fate of the oral tradition in America, "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen" (1999). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0684870193/hip-20 ) I realized that if I had this essay to write over (a tortuous thought) I might call it "Larry McMurtry at the Starbucks." Of all the books I have carried around recently, only Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" came close to soliciting as many inquiries from strangers. McMurtry read German writer Walter Benjamin's "Illuminations" at a Dairy Queen, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805202412/hip-20 ) an essay on the loss of oral tradition in Europe, and then went looking for his own community's oral traditions, and found them at the Dairy Queen. I found mine at the Starbucks, and at a local restaurant in the town of Lakeside, California called "Annie Oakley's." ( www.smartpages.com/home/annieoakleys1 ) I told Lee, the owner, about "Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen," and she told us about how she used to live on a ranch where the El Cajon Deportment of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is now, and how she and a friend would ride their horses to the old Gillespie Pool to swim (now long gone, near the current Gillespie Filed airport), ( www.barnstormersbiz.com/NORTHAMERICA/USA/CALIFORNIA/GILLESPIE/gillespieAERIAL600x600.jpg ) and then ride into Lakeside to go to the Dairy Queen, where a taco stand is now located. McMurtry says he tried, in "Lonesome Dove," to de-mythologize the cowboy, and found out that it couldn't be done. Any new details about the decline of cowboys and the closing of the west that he added to the public's consciousness were just absorbed by the cowboy myth, which only grew. McMurtry also ruminates on what makes the American west so important. Frederick Jackson Turner chose 1893 as the year the frontier ended, by which time my grandparents had been in Texas almost a quarter of a century. William Jefferson McMurtry was breaking horses in Denton County when Custer fell. While my grandparents were dealing with almost absolute emptiness, both social and cultural, Europe was approaching an absolute (and perhaps intolerable) density. Walter Benjamin said Proust was the Nile of language; if he was the White Nile, then Virginia Woolfe, in her diaries and letters, may have been the Blue -- and joining these great waters were the long tributaries of Joyce, Lawrence, Musil, and many others. Most of my reading life has been a trip up those Niles, into the riverine abundance of European literature, much of it as long requiem... It was America's relationship with Europe, ultimately the source of the pioneers, that McMurtry found fascinating. Okay, now I was ready to answer the question, what is McMurtry doing right? Several things jump out at me:
  1. He has accomplished "absorption in every last detail of [the] American world together with ... deep and subtle alienation from it."
  2. His Thalia trilogy follows a man's life from twenties to sixties, as the author makes the same progression.
  3. McMurtry has maintained what Ken Kesey described as his ability to "write of Texas and our great southwest with an eye both on how it is and how it was; he sees whatever good there was in our fast fading lone prarie dream, and sees as well the present plastic pestilence carpeting the plains like a variety of Astroturf crabgrass." In fact, he's gotten better. No other author I know of has as successfully juxtaposed past and present to good effect; coming closest are John Nichols in "The Magic Journey" (1978) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0345310497/hip-20 ) and Neil Stephenson in "Cryptonomicon" (1999). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060512806/hip-20 )
  4. McMurtry writes of the American west with an understanding of Europe, and the differences between the two. He juxtaposes Europe creating its greatest literature while American pioneers are fighting to survive drought. (Our literature would come later, after the fact.)
  5. McMurtry, like many literary greats before him, directly wrestles with the question of what literature is for.
You may be asking yourself, "What the heck does all of this have to do with cybernetics?" Well, let's see. I began this journey on faith, with the idea that any friend of a friend of Stewart Brand was worth paying attention to, and ended up enamored with a "western" novelist (as in west Texas not Western Civilization) who juxtaposes shopping at Walmart and watching OPEC news on CNBC with bittersweet memories of the cattle industry and a group of Wichita Falls intellectuals trying to discuss Marcel Proust. At the time it was hard to see where this was going, but in retrospect I realize that these novels have improved my powers of observation, both my ability and my willingness to see, hear and feel what's really in front of me. In addition, is has provided exercise in letting my "right brain" (yes, it's a flawed concept, but you know what I mean) connect the dots for a while, and improved my low-frequency pattern recognition skills. The other day I opened up my copy of Stewart Brand's 1988 "The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT" with the idea that maybe all the "new" ideas in the 1990s were really in this book first, ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140097015/hip-20 ) and stumbled on this quote: Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior. -- Marshall McLuhan This is one of the problems with understanding novels, but it is also one of the problems novels attempt to help solve. I'm beginning to realize that what I'm grappling with isn't trivial after all. The question really is, "What is literature for?" For a cybernetics student, it is more than a source of examples to illustrate subtle concepts. It is truly a technology for transforming consciousness. (Indeed, that's what James Joyce claimed to be up to.) And the tool it uses most to do this is explorations into epistemology. Of course, there is some literature that bears very directly on cybernetics. If I were to draw up my own list, it would include:
  • "Tao Te Ching" (4th Century BC) by Lao Tzu ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/014044131X/hip-20 ) Poetry by a world-weary sage who speaks of the way that cannot be spoken.
  • "King Lear" (1605) by William Shakespeare ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0671722727/hip-20 ) Okay, I haven't read the whole thing, but I really appreciate the parable of flattery vs. integrity.
  • "Shogun" (1975) by James Clavell ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0440178002/hip-20 ) Some would say it is too popular to be literature, but it changed my consciousness.
  • "Gravity's Rainbow" (1973) by Thomas Pynchon ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140188592/hip-20 ) The Pulitzer Prize committee for 1973 (composed of artists) nominated this book for the literature prize but the governing board (composed of business people) vetoed it for being "overwritten and obscene." An impasse ensued, and no literature award was given for that year. Fairly warned you be, this novel of the search for V-2 rocket at the end of World War II by the Americans, British, Soviets, and corporations such as General Electric and Royal Dutch Shell has many insights into cybernetics explicitly as well as covertly. Some of the wisest soliloquies come from the ghosts of Nazis contacted in seances; for example: It's control. All these things arise from one difficulty: control. For the first time it was inside, do you see. The control is put inside. No more need to suffer passively under 'outside forces'--to veer into any wind. [...] A market needed no longer be run by the Invisible Hand, but now could create itself--its own logic, momentum, style, from inside. And this pronouncement: You think you'd rather hear about what you call 'life': the growing, organic Kartell. But it's only another illusion. A very clever robot. The more dynamic it seems to you, the more deep and dead, in reality, it grows. Look at the smokestacks, how they proliferate, fanning the wastes of original waste over over greater and greater masses of city. Structurally, they are strongest in compression. A smoke stack can survive any explosion -- even the shock wave from one of the new cosmic bombs... as you all must know. The persist- tence, then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata -- epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the impersonator. These signs are real. They are also symptoms of a process. The process follows the same form, the same structure. To apprehend it you will follow the signs. All talk of cause and effect is secular history, and secular history is a diversionary tactic... If you want the truth -- I know I presume -- you must look into the tech- nology of these matters. Even into the hearts of certain molecules -- it is they after all which dictate temperatures, pressures, rates of flow, costs, profits, the shapes of towers. . . . You must ask two questions. First, what is the real nature of synthesis? And then: what is the real nature of control? You think you know, you cling to your beliefs, but sooner or later you will have to let them go. . . . The ghost of a German guidance expert speaks several times: Well, Roland must make the best of it, that's all. If they get this far, he has to show them what he knows about Control. That's one of his death's secret missions. ... Ask the Germans especially. Oh, it is a real sad story, how shoddily their Schwarmerei for Control was used by the folks in power. Paranoid Systems of History ... has even suggested ... that the whole German Inflation was created deliberately, simply to drive young enthusiasts of the Cybernetic Tradition into Control work ... If any of the young engineers saw correspondence between the deep conservatism of Feedback and the kinds of lives they were coming to lead in the very process of embracing it, it got lost, or disguised -- none of them made the connection, at least not while alive: it took death to show it to Roland Feldspath... But my favorite fragment of prose is in the main narrative, clearly showing Pynchon's Cornell education as well as his experience as a tech writer at Boeing Aircraft; it is a typesetter's nightmare: So was the rocket's terrible passage reduced, literally, to bourgeois terms, terms of an equation such as that elegant blend of philosophy and hardware, abstract change and hinged pivots of real metals which describes motion under the aspect of yaw control: [partial differential equation] preserving, possessing, steering between Scylla and Charybdis the whole way to Brennschluss. One thing I found remarkable about this passage was the breadth of knowledge required to fully understand it. One must know enough rocket engineering to understand the obscure German term "Brennschluss," which Pynchon was kind enough to define earlier in the narrative: The white line, abruptly, has stopped its climb. That would be fuel cutoff, end of burning, what's their word... Brennschluss. We don't have one. Or else it's classified. One must understand enough Calculus, Linear Algebra and then Partial Differential Equations (PDEs) to decipher the equation "which describes motion under the aspect of yaw control." A text such as "Partial Differential Equations for Scientists and Engineers" (1993) by Stanley J. Farlow (Dover Books on Advanced Mathematics) might be required. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/048667620X/hip-20 ) And one must be familiar Scylla and Charybdis, the mythical whirlpool and sea serpent between which Ulysses had to pass, in Homer's "The Odyssey" (~800 BC). ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0374525749/hip-20 ) All to understand the metaphor of "guidance" according to Pynchon.
Tracking down literature that actually talks about cybernetics (and we haven't looked at science fiction yet) is a rather literal-minded way to gauge the benefits of literature to a cybernetics education, but I find I have another list as well, and this one is about the American west.
  • "The Winning of Barbara Worth" (1911) Harold Bell Wright ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1565544722/hip-20 ) Never regarded as literature, this popular novel from early in the 20th century was a huge bestseller. It is built around the historical event of the accidental creation of the Salton Sea in the southern California desert. It spoke to me.
  • "Heckletooth 3" (1969) David Shetzline ( www.wildlandfire2.com/arc/2002e_may.htm ) This book in some ways fails artistically, but hey, I'll take an ambitious failure over a mediocre success any day. I dug it up after remembering that it was about the only novel Stewart Brand ever recommended. It deals with firefighting in Oregon. I found myself reminded of Pynchon's "Vineland" and wished that Pynchon's writing style and Shetzline's plot could be combined. Then by coincidence I found a connection between Shetzline and Pynchon. According to: www.richardandmimi.com/cornell.html Pynchon, Shetzline and Richard Farina all went to Cornell at the same time. I knew that "Gravity's Rainbow" was dedicated to Richard Farinia. This web site filed in some gaps: David Shetzline is the author of "DeFord" (1968) and "Heckletooth 3" (1969). He was friends with both Farina and Pynchon. He dedicated DeFord to the memory of Farinia.
  • "Last Go Round" (1994) Ken Kesey with Ken Babbs ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140176675/hip-20 ) The true story of the first world broncbusting competition in 1911 is retold as a tall tale. Great stuff. Another Oregon connection.
  • "Duane's Depressed" (1999) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0743230159/hip-20 ) Previously mentioned. I bought a copy to refer to while writing this essay, and I couldn't keep myself from reading it again. It's that good.
I also would recommend the non-fiction of Wallace Earle Stegner. ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?tag=hip-20&keyword=Wallace%20Earle%20Stegner&mode=books ) Especially:
  • "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West" (1982) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0140159940/hip-20 ) In this biography of the last man to discover and name a new wild river in the United States, who also founded the United States Geological Survey and established the 7.5 minute grid still used on its maps, who lead the first boats down the Grand Canyon, who did the first ethnographic survey of native Americans, and who recommended that our western counties be each a whole watershed, Stegner informs us that "the west" is where you find 20 inches of rainfall a year or less, and that California is "west of the west."
  • "The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail" (1981) ( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0803292139/hip-20 ) Stegner, not a Mormon, praises Mormons in this account. I learned something of the cybernetics of wagon roads. Most settlers were selfish and did nothing to improve the roads they used. Over time these trails deteriorated; some became unusable due to mudslides and other obstructions. Brigam Young commanded Mormon wagon trains to improve each road they used, and over time the "Mormon Trail" became the best wagon road in North America.
I'm beginning to appreciate the importance of frontiers from a cybernetic standpoint. The Second Law of Thermodynamics teaches us that entropy (also called "negative information") must increase in any closed system. Only if our civilization is an open system can it continue to increase information. As I think about what I've gotten from the novels, the cowboy stories and the European remembrances, I find myself getting in touch with what's more important to me. I've begun to more fully appreciate the last orange light of sun on the El Capitan rocks, and to look my daughter in the eyes more when I talk with her; I tend to stare off too much, and her eyes are so intelligent. And I find myself heeding this excellent advice from the Bible: Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. -- Philippians 4:8 King James Bible ======================================================================= newsletter archives: www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/ ======================================================================= Privacy Promise: Your email address will never be sold or given to others. You will receive only the e-Zine C3M unless you opt-in to receive occasional commercial offers directly from me, Alan Scrivener, by sending email to abs@well.com with the subject line "opt in" -- you can always opt out again with the subject line "opt out" -- by default you are opted out. To cancel the e-Zine entirely send the subject line "unsubscribe" to me. I receive a commission on everything you purchase during your session with Amazon.com after following one of my links, which helps to support my research. ======================================================================= Copyright 2003 by Alan B. Scrivener