David Kline (kline) Sun 24 Feb 08 19:10
I just looked over the seminar part again. It strikes me that we see a lot more about what's going on in Molloy's head during the email and chat sessions than we do about what Judith's thinking. About her, you give us cryptic pieces like this one from p. 84 "Normally she'd have ignored such a personal opening. But pity and curiosity moved her. Pathways she'd lacked the courage to explore. Was this one of them?" Does it really seem like a drag to Judith to be doing this, or is she more freaked out about it? Or has she fixed on an initial judgment of Molloy's character -- like Elizabeth Bennett does in the opening acts of _Pride and Prejudice_. These aren't questions that need answering, necessarily. They're just things that I wondered as I read--enjoyably so I might add.
jagged Judith A Gorog (judithgorog) Mon 25 Feb 08 07:01
about story. As with any of the great 19th century novels, we readers know more about the characters than they do about themselves, and about one another. These two prickly, guarded lovers: Are they gonna get together? We feel impatience, and eventually great relief. GBShaw, if memory serves, did not unite superman and superwoman , nor did myth; that sort of domestic tranquility was reserved for the "lower orders," and was rewarded by the gods with continuing "vegetable love."........ and then the dark corners in the story: domestic violence, "failed" or damaged marriages and relations with children, and Soph -- her immense suffering. She didn't get human love and comfort, nor the scientific legacy she had hoped to leave. Judith, too, faces that possibility-- every artist does: this work a dead end? and always the possibility that someone will come along, see something even the artist/scientist missed, and take things in a new direction -- scooping out of the darkness...
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 07:46
Judith Greenwood is one of the least self-aware characters in the book. Her friends are continuously pointing this out to her, chapter and verse. Yet one thing she understands in her bones is that she's taking that all-or-nothing risk pointed out above: is this work a dead end? Will I struggle to the mountaintop, only to have the wind blow the snow over my footprints in minutes? It was very important to me personally to write a book about a woman taking an intellectual risk like that; sinking her teeth into it and hanging on, win or lose. (Author's note: Judith Gorog, posting just before me, has the book dedicated to her in lifelong friendship--which we have indeed shared for a lifetime--and my Judith Greenwood's name (but nothing else about her) is an homage to my friend Judith Gorog.)
David Kline (kline) Mon 25 Feb 08 08:41
Great to see you here, Judith! >As with any of the great 19th century novels When I had finished this book, it really reminded me of Pride and Prejudice. For me, it was the whole dynamic between Molloy and Judith, how the whole gavotte moved along and played out. Even though it takes place now, it really did have that 19th century feeling for me, that dynamic. I liked that.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 09:11
David asked me about that privately, and I had to confess, it was utterly unconscious. I hadn't read P&P (nor seen the many movie versions) since college, and it was basically buried for me. Plus--I mean it when I said I didn't know how it would end until I wrote the last chapter. Molloy came on in the beginning very dark. I was more afraid of him than Judith was. I had visions of this guy just sinking her career by getting on the board of her institutional home and making mischief, out of malice or out of other motives. I knew he was ruthless--early on he's described as a thug, at best, a desperado. He gave me chills. I really didn't know what to make of him, or what his role would be. I mentioned this to a friend, who said, hey, maybe he's a decent guy who's had some good reasons to stay guarded. So I began his back story, which eventually I brought up front. I was living in Germany at the time, so I had a lot of material I could use.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 09:27
I also want to make the following distinction: Judith doesn't need Molloy--not for her science, certainly not for money. She misses him when he's gone, and she understands how a liaison with him would have opened her to a richer (though not necessarily happier) life. He might even have brought that touch of the divine that she longs for. Austen is different this way: Jane Austen writes with delectable lightness about the Bennett family and their search for mates, but that light touch deftly disguises what is deadly serious for the Bennett women and others of their class--choosing the right husband and securing him is a matter of life-and-death. This is their vocation, their job, getting a husband, in a world run by men for men. They have no alternative. So Austen is often dismissed as "chick lit" (surely one of the laziest, and frankly misogynistic phrases we have around today) when she is writing lightly about what's dead serious, and what, in real life, must have been deeply heartbreaking. Molloy and Judith meet as economic and social equals. Neither one *needs* the other in the sense of a 19th century novel. This makes room for other things they can give or take from each other.
I am of course married to the Berlin Wall (katecat) Mon 25 Feb 08 11:14
and for the other ways they can need each other?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 12:13
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Feb 08 14:45
from Pamela: "chick lit" (surely one of the laziest, and frankly misogynistic phrases we have around today) I've been very much enjoying this discussion from the sidelines and how you approach your writing, Pamela. When I wrote The Hippie Narrative, one of the books I examined was Richard Farina's Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me which was published in 1966. Interestingly, he uses the word chic throughout to refer to young women. Somewhere along the way the term "chick" supplanted "chic." With the women's movement in the 70s, "chick", of course, became a pejorative. Had "chic" remained the spelling of choice, one must wonder if the term, with its hip caché, would have gained this misogynist connotation. Etymological food for thought.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 25 Feb 08 15:17
Interesting question, Scott. Yeah, I go back long enough so that chic/chick was an okay word once upon a time. (In fact, for a while I lived on the road where Richard Farina lost his life. But I digress.) Somebody who loved this book nevertheless repeated that he'd heard it was "chick-lit for scientists." I was puzzled. The major female character is a woman is well into her fifties. Is this what a chick is? It has another female character who, early in her fifties, dies an agonized and sad death. Is this chick-lit? Another woman, also early fifties, faces the fact that her beloved son might die. Is this chick-lit? It has guys, and they have agendas of their own. Is this chick-lit? Well, maybe "chick-lit" is about love, requited or unrequited. Please tell me which of these qualify: "Romeo and Juliet." "Far from the Madding Crowd." "Heloise and Abelard." "The Good Woman of Sezchuan." "Othello." "The Last Chronicle of Barset." "Jane Eyre." "Wuthering Heights." You get my point. Kitsch is kitsch, and literature is literature, and it's much too easy just now to dismiss anything by a woman, which happens to concern women (as well as men) as mere--and it is a pejorative--chick-lit. End of soapbox rant. I just happened to see it in the NY Times Book Review yesterday, although this time it was "chick-lit in male drag." Hello? What the hell is THAT? It's sloppy writing and bad editing, that's what it is.
Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Mon 25 Feb 08 16:16
Great points, Pamela. There's still a ton of sexism out there. (My pet peeve is a "ton" of this, a "ton" of that, but how do we know how much sexism weighs?) BTW, where's the Dude Lit? Isn't that what Cormac McCarthy writes? Or are those Westerns? How about Injun Lit with Sherman Alexie? Maybe you need to cover the markets for both genders, dumb it down a bit and change the title to HEY DUDES: CHIC AT THE EDGE OF CHAOS. ;^)
David Kline (kline) Mon 25 Feb 08 18:48
Heh. Both halves of "chick-lit for scientists" are wrong. Its not (just) for scientists, either. The science that's in there is great, accessible science writing. The way that it is integral to The Story is quite remarkable.
posting for David Thaler (bumbaugh) Tue 26 Feb 08 11:45
David writes, from off-Well: What is the role of reading work such as yours to the doing of science? Some scientists I know refuse disdainfully to read science fiction but others are inspired by it. Some cops I suspect read Sherlock and watch law and order both, others don't go near it. Does your work inspire those who do? Of course seeking need not be in science by itself but there is for instance a popular tradition of "spiritual seeker literature" (eg Sidhartha, Don Juan, Mt. Analogue) and detective/cop literature has at least the sheen of overlap. Some microbiologists I know were inspired by nonfiction accounts. And of course there is the nonfiction saint of Marie Curie as written by her admiring daughter Marie. But what of science novels like yours? what science novels to inspire working/playing scientists?
Jonelle Patrick (jonellep) Tue 26 Feb 08 14:08
I was wondering the same thing, Pamela. You certainly know plenty of serious scientists, many of whom specialize in chaos theory and complexity - have any of your real-life friends had interesting reactions to the book? And here's a mini-question - which came first, the book or the title? I admit thinking that it was an incredibly great title the first time I heard it (OK, what I REALLY thought was, "I wish *I'd* written a book called 'The Edge of Chaos'....") and it so perfectly fits both the explicit subject matter in the book and as a metaphor for the lives and culture of the characers.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 26 Feb 08 16:31
I had a nice (well, since no one will ever see it, brilliantly eloquent) answer half-written to David Thaler's set of questions when power went out at my house for five hours. Nothing to do with the serious power outage in Florida; just Con Ed in front of the house being its usual, uhm, unreliable self.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 26 Feb 08 16:45
Let's see about David's questions. What is the role of a book like mine to the doing, the carrying out of science? I can't think it would have any instrumental role as such. This is not a recruitment brochure for complexity, or even for doing science. To quote, to paraphrase, one of my characters, Molloy, the power of a work of art is not in what it expresses, or even intends to express, but in what it calls up in the reader. Is that inspiration? A rueful sense of self-recognition? Averting the eyes, shocked that anyone would talk so secularly about the holy calling, whether science or the search for the divine experience? Beats me. For some readers, science fiction is a powerful thing to read, for others of us, not so much. This book, of course, is science *in* fiction, which is different from science fiction. I write about the scientific milieu because that's what I've lived in since I was eighteen (English major that I was--I just got lucky, see?). I couldn't write about the ballet world or the world of golf with anything like the same authority, because those aren't the worlds I live in. So I write what I know. What I hope to pull out of that world are universals that speak to people in the world of ballet, the world of golf.
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Tue 26 Feb 08 16:57
To Jonelle's questions: At least one former member of the board at the Santa Fe Institute has gone public with his delight in the book, and for that I am deeply grateful. That's Stewart Brand, and his endorsement (which came as a complete surprise to me; I didn't even know he knew the book existed) was posted on Amazon before I knew it. Other people at the Institute have said how much they like it; certainly the Institute itself was very supportive: when I read at the book launch in Santa Fe, the vice president made sure everyone knew it was happening, and several of the scientists were there at the reading. Another informal group of complexity mavens in Santa Fe were also in that particular audience to cheer me on. I have email that I cherish from people in a position to know whether I got it right. The title comes from a concept that is somewhat in dispute in the sciences of complexity--as David Kline said above, a kind of "goldilocks" concept that may be more metaphorical than scientific, but is a very powerful metaphor. To the best of my knowledge it was coined by Chris Langton, then at SFI, to try and describe that fluid state of a system that is not frozen in regularity or hopelessly chaotic--but on the edge of chaos, open to learning and change. Anyone who loves language could not resist that phrase.
Jonelle Patrick (jonellep) Tue 26 Feb 08 20:02
Count me in that group! <still gnashing teeth that this not the title of MY book> heh. So, OK, here's the question I've been dying to ask and you gave me a perfect opening: "write what you know". Do tell, what bits did you lift from your own life and experiences? (If you must know, I firmly believe in this vision of you attending soiree after soiree filled with the fascinating, famous, and sometimes fractious, much like the sparkling dinner party at teh beginning of the book, so please Tell All!)
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 27 Feb 08 06:22
Oh dear, oh dear. Like, I've been in that cave, but never actually made love there? Sophie's death is, in its physical details, something like the death of a dear friend almost a decade ago, though I personally was not the one who kept watch at the end. Sophie's bitterness about her life is something I could only imagine, though I've observed it in people who have sacrificed themselves, only to find the sacrifice not worth its achievement. Play the science game, and you agree that you'll be superannuated: how you accept that superannuation is up to you. Nola too is forced to sacrifice for her son, but that's not where her bitterness comes from (such bitterness that she has--you couldn't really describe her as a bitter woman). She is completely let down by her self-absorbed husband. I'm afraid we've all known people like this. In short, what you're seeing is not a literal transcription of the author's life, but eyes wide open, watching, watching, and then transforming into something else.
David Kline (kline) Wed 27 Feb 08 08:27
So is it like you've taken small or larger pieces of people or situations you've known and used them, altered to a small or greater degree? One of those pieces I've wondered about is what Judith calls "the dark corners." What are they? Where did they come from? Everyone has something in their life that could be called that -- I'm sure you're not an exception.
Cupido Ergo Sum (robertflink) Wed 27 Feb 08 08:52
>Play the science game, and you agree that you'll be superannuated: how you accept that superannuation is up to you.< Are there games in which you are not superannuated? Is avoiding superannuation a primary interest of existence? Is doing science anything more than one available diversion among others that is available to some of us due to certain abilities?
David Kline (kline) Wed 27 Feb 08 10:11
As a slight aside, here's something I found when I looked up superannuated to tune up my understanding of its connotations Saddest of crackpot theories, said Dr. Bederson, "come from superannuated, formerly fine scientists who late in their careers get bored doing bread-and-butter stuff." -- James Glanz, "Geniuses, Crackpots and a Grand Unified Theory.", New York Times, January 4, 2000 Meanwhile, robertflink's question is a good one: How is science different from other "diversions" re: superannuation?
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Wed 27 Feb 08 12:13
Perhaps superannuation is just more apparent (and decisive) in science than elsewhere. I wouldn't argue. The dark places of the book. Yes, there are plenty. Bad family stuff; bad marriages past and present. Ron and Gabe are the stable points in Judith's life, a loving couple who've figured out how to live with each other and in the world; how to be loyal friends. They understand that their friends aren't perfect; in fact, sometimes friends are exasperating; but these two offer acceptance--and in Judith's case, they offer love--and friendship to almost all. Inez is breathtakingly beautiful, obsessed by a good cause (domestic violence, as it happens). But her own history has been very mixed. I don't see a good outcome for her and Stephen, though I could be wrong. Benito, whom some people here named as their favorite character, is an unworldly man, but that lack of worldliness is a kind of escape from the world. Unfortunately, the world has its way, and he escapes into nightmares. Does anyone really live an all-sunshine all-the-time life? Of course not. That's part of the symbolism of Zozobra (yes, it's a real ceremony, and I pretty much described it the way it takes place in Santa Fe each autumn). Recall that Judith, Gabe and Ron view it as a duty to witness that ceremony. They acknowledge that in the past, possibly in the future, it could be one of them being martyred.
Lecto, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Wed 27 Feb 08 13:09
>Does anyone really live an all-sunshine all-the-time life? Of course not.< To what extent do you attribute success in navigating the perilous seas of human relationships to skill or chance or insensitivity or? ? With science in the mix, are the navigating problems easier/harder. Does it matter if the scientist are of the theoretical type or the experimental type?
David Kline (kline) Wed 27 Feb 08 14:55
As an aside (and before I forget), our guest Pamela can be seen discussing this book on video, in a discussion that took place on Google. It's here on youtube: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqFADvhswd8>
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