It is no coincidence that I’m reading Steven Moore’s The Novel: An Alternative History. Yes, I happened to jog quickly into the Ann Arbor District Library the other day to pick up my Mom’s eight weekly mysteries. And for no reason at all I stopped to browse, and there it was in the oft-regarded but underpopulated 000–002 shelf of New Acquisitions.
I’d never heard of it. Has a naked lady on it, which I admit is a plus. It’s a lovely crinkly brown, under its acetate. It’s got heft. The basket was mostly empty.
So grab; into the basket it went.
Yeah, that sounds like coincidence. It’s not. I insist.
Because I’ve been at the Bloom again lately. And the Rorty. And the Pragmatists more generally, and thinking about that perennial soapbox of mine: What’s wrong with all those stupid smart people over on the other side of Division Street?
And that very selfsame day, I crack this ink-stained mother open (fore edge stained no doubt by a prior New York Times subscriber, not the local fishwrap folks; covers shaken; corners lightly bumped), and right there on page one (1) Moore launches right in and provides more than an echo of the thumps my soapbox makes: a parallel line of attack, as ’twere. His introduction alone is worth your reading time, especially if you are a literate bookish library-infected person like those I seem to accumulate in my immediate social network.
[Aha: and here the point begins to gleam through the random-seeming chance.]
Because I’ve been thinking about an eight-year-old project, one I framed but have been too broken to implement for near a decade. And it’s about critical engineering. Not critical as in “crucial”, but more the wordy and literate and communicative reflection that literature has enjoyed and frittered away these last few years. Not more straightforward or telegraphic, but rather literate itself, and inspiring and poetic.
Where is the literature of engineering? Where is the literature of science? Why is it so stultified, as if the culture were a package offered by the fucking cable company, and you had to buy those channels of illiteracy with your Discovery Network?
And why do we stomach that other antipathy, the I don’t do math crap that humanities majors and Great Literary Minds proclaim?
All right, all right. Don’t get me started.
Nah, fuck it.
It’s not a zero-sum game, people. How dare the humanities go into closed session and block out all makers of this stuff we have? How dare the makers of this mess of stuff we wrap ourselves within ignore millennia of beauty and promote their history-blind notion of contextless progress?
And here Moore traipses into my bathroom [What? Tell me you don’t read in the bathroom; if you don’t you don’t love it enough.] with his amusingly targeted arguments against the foundationalism in literary criticism, and I’m like, “Hey, this man he is the dude. He has afforded me a big brown acetate-wrapped brick of complementary insight into the selfsame problems I face in a vaster, more malformed literature than even those expensive bottom-shelf litmags limn.” And then I’m like, “Hey, we should totally invite this dude to come to town and ride the teeter totter!” and “I should totally throw a copy of this at Cosma Shalizi and see if it sticks.”
And me, liking all these things, I flip to a rear flap, and there he is.
A useful sensitivity to coincidence is not a trait engendered by a broad and ranging mind (which I disavow having one of, anyway, being normal), nor of a supernatural mystical gullibility, but rather it is a practiced and targeted response to that web of social networks in which we all walk. A fostering of beneficial coincidence comes easiest to those with feet in many circles. From ignoring the borders most other people sense as walls. From passing notes between the brain and hands: He likes you.
One draws a circle beginning anywhere. But you also have to keep the pen moving, is all I’m saying. Elliptically.
What? You want succinct and targeted prose?
This is a book. He is a local author, this little bald man I expect to meet someday soon. I had no idea he was a local author when I started touting his book. But it’s good enough that I’ve started touting it after reading three chapters. Thus, it’s a good book. Go and buy it and read it.
And me, I am going to invite this gentleman to lunch.