Nov 022011
 

This email dialogue took place in the summer of 1999 at the invitation of the magazine Henry Street. See the full story behind it in my introduction to Cheryl Cowdy’s gorgeous essay “Becoming-masks: The Life and Times of Captain N at n – 1 Dimensions.” Cheryl Cowdy teaches Canadian literature and children’s literature at York University in Toronto. This dialogue and the accompanying essay were originally published in Henry Street, 8:1, 1999.

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Lines of Flight

An Email Dialogue on Novels, Nets, Turnips & Nomads

By Cheryl Cowdy and Douglas Glover

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17 June 99

Dear Cheryl

I just realized that summer is almost upon me and I haven’t gotten in touch.  I don’t know how this is going to go. But diving in seems a good idea. I loved your essay, though my exposure to Deleuze and Guattari is pretty thin.  I read a book on masochism. And I know a little about this nomad idea because I had a graduate student at SUNY-Albany doing her dissertation on nomad women. I come at these ideas personally from a different angle—partly existential (I’m an expatriate and a wanderer) and partly philosophical (my academic background is in philosophy—I did a thesis on Kant’s ethics at Edinburgh). So part of what you and I need to do, it seems to me, is translate for each other. This was one of the things that excited me about your essay, which is itself an act of translation.

Here is an example, maybe something we could start with. What the fuck is a rhizome? Well, I know what it is. But when I was first reading your essay I had a different idea. At first, I thought a rhizome was just a root. And this fit perfectly with the general idea I have of what I am doing when I am writing a piece of fiction. My idea of image patterning comes from reading Viktor Shklovsky who uses the word “splintering” to describe certain literary effects and from Christa Wolf’s essays “The Conditions of Narrative” where she talks about “women’s writing” and the “net.” So I think of an image or an idea (e.g. the whirlwind mask) as beginning somewhere and repeating through the book (main root). But it also quickly begins to splinter off side systems (by association and juxtaposition: e.g. masks, whirl, whirlwind, face, death, split face, etc) which also repeat. At the same time as the splintering is going on, there is a contrary effort, using what I call “tie-in lines,” to bring the various root systems back together again and again. So that the system spreads everywhere in the book, creates rhythms, resonances and aesthetic action. So what is a rhizome? Maybe this is exactly what it is?  Maybe I just need to get my biology straight and make a distinction between a taproot and a rhizome. Does this sound right? But then I wonder what D and G are saying. Are they saying the rhizome structure is something new (because it isn’t)? Or are they saying something less ambitious like, certain aesthetic or mental structures are like rhizomes?

Douglas

p.s. This is an attempt to start the dialogue. Let me know how it feels at your end.

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8 July 99

Dear Douglas,

Thank you for your generous response to my essay!  I have been away for a few weeks, so I apologize for my tardy reply.  I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear that you were willing to write to me about my paper, and I hope our correspondence will be a mutually satisfying “act of translation” (I think this is a wonderful way to approach our discussion).

I must confess I am somewhat relieved to hear that you are not an expert on Deleuze & Guattari, if only because it relieves some of the pressure I feared I’d feel to be rhizomatically hip.  My own exposure to them is also quite thin. What I can tell you is that I happened to read the chapters from A THOUSAND PLATEAUS on the BwO and on Becoming at about the same time I was reading THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N., and that this serendipitous reading of both texts at the same time rocked my world.  I think the similarities functioned as an act of translation for me also, so that I felt more comfortable with the aesthetics not only of D & G, but of your novel, particularly Oskar’s Book About Indians and Nellis’ Address to Pilgrims.  So many of your ideas seemed to translate well with those of D & G (for example, the idea that the book is also an antibook, which is an idea I tried to address in my essay).  And for me, your existential position as a wanderer and an expatriate resonates well with Deleuzo-Guattarian nomadology.  As they say, “The life of the nomad is the intermezzo,” and I think this characterizes the wanderer mentality as well.  It isn’t so much about movement as it is about being comfortable with inhabiting the space between points.

So, we’re starting with rhizomes then . . . I’m still not sure I know what the fuck a rhizome is either.  I always start with D & G’s suggestion that a rhizome is opposed to such “linear” or hierarchical models of knowing, feeling & being as the tree, which is a structure that doesn’t seem to allow for what you refer to as the “contrary effort” that brings systems back together.  I don’t think they’re saying the rhizome structure is necessarily something new, but that it hasn’t been the dominant aesthetic, mental, moral, or existential model in western culture.  D & G also define the rhizome as different from a taproot, which they see as simply another “biunivocal” replacement of dichotomous thinking (funny how my definitions of a rhizome depend so much on what it is not.  Does this suggest it may not be possible to escape my reliance on binary machines, or am I seeking the in-between perhaps?).  I believe the most biological analogy is the bulb or tuber, but D & G also describe the rhizome more vaguely, as when they refer to it as a “ramified surface extension,” whatever that means.  I guess I think of it more as an aesthetic or as a methodology than as a “thing” that other structures are like.

I’m fascinated with your description of the narrative structure of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N. and with how well your ideas of “image patterning” or “splintering” and “tie-in lines” complement what D & G have to say at the beginning of A THOUSAND PLATEAUS about the book as a rhizome.  I think the rhythms & resonances that result from your technique make your novel very rhizomatic.  This is something I didn’t have the opportunity to discuss in my essay, so I think it might be an interesting line of flight for us to follow.  I’ve just started reading Christa Wolf, so perhaps we can discuss the correspondences between her narrative aesthetic and your own, as well what D & G have to say.  One of the ideas I found interesting in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS is D & G’s suggestion that the book “forms a rhizome with the world” (this is page 11 if you want to check it out), which seems very different from the system you describe within your book.  I’m wondering what sort of relationship you feel THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N. has with the world beyond or outside it, especially since the book within it—Oskar’s Book About Indians—has such a morally, philosophically and aesthetically complex relationship with the world.

All’s great at this end!  Best regards,

Cheryl

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17 July 99

Dear Cheryl,

I was away teaching and now I am about to leave on vacation w/ my boys for a week. I have not given your message a huge amount of thought, but I am glad we’re getting along so well. Listen, I am trying to pack, but here are some thoughts. 1) The novel as a turnip. Is a turnip a rhizome? Are D and G gardeners? I mean to say what is the full literal extension of their metaphor? How does a turnip connect w/ the world in a way that a carrot does not? And in what way does my idea of “tie-in lines” make my novel more rhizomatic than other novels? I don’t mean for you to answer all these questions. It’s just that these are places where I can’t quite understand what D and G are talking about. Also, to what extent is their description of a rhizome prescriptive? Since Rousseau, the French have been awfully good at developing romantic images from nature and causing revolutions! I am a tiny bit suspicious of ideas like the novel as rhizome (turnip) which seem so available for comic deflation. To put this another way, the idea that “tie-in lines” somehow make my novel more rhizomatic than some other novels (was this what you were suggesting in your last message? I may have quite easily misinterpreted you) seems wrong. Image patterning, splintering and tie-in lines are basically standard writing technique. In other words, ALL novels are like that. Some with more emphasis than others. The difference between one sort of novel and another, i.e. the sort of difference we might be talking about, lies elsewhere and isn’t discrete. And, yes, maybe it does lie in the way the novel hooks up with the world, or the way the author sees the novel and the world. There are novels which are more or less naively about the world (conventional, realistic, etc.) and there are novels which are about novels, about their own devices and techniques, and which become Objective Correlatives (I think) for the world. I could go on about this, but my children are getting restive. 2) I like Christa Wolf’s idea of “women writing” and the net. The novel as a net (hand bag?) as opposed to the novel as a turnip is an idea with a certain appeal (I am being facetious, you know—the two terms in a metaphor never quite fit and there is always room for doubt or comedy). But sometimes I think she is being a devil’s advocate.  I mean to say, once again, all good novels are nets of patterns and relations. Is a net a turnip? Probably D and G and Wolf are saying something the same, right? In any case, with my novel, I was deliberately writing it as a novel, doubling and tripling the effects of novel (aesthetic) technique for fun and for the effect of complexity. There are two sorts of writers (people, novels?): the one considers the world a simple place and writes novels about the world, the other sees the world as inexplicably complex but strangely patterned and uses the novel to make a fair image of that complexity. I am racing, so it’s possible that aphorism I just wrote sounds dumb. I’ll be back in a week.

Douglas

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3 August 99

Dear Douglas,

Wow.  The turnip.  I think my response has been a little tripped up by that one.  Intuitively, I’d have to say that turnips and carrots are very similar, since they both seem to belong more to the bulb family than the tree.  How much does this have to do with the fact that they both grow underground, I wonder?  D & G seem to create a great deal of questions, which is what stops them from being completely prescriptive, I think.  (“Oskar thinks he could write a whole book, and there would be nothing in it but questions”).  I’ve heard this criticism levelled at them before, & I’m not sure how to respond.  Yes, their language sounds very prescriptive, but I wonder if this grew out of a way they needed to write for themselves, in order to free their thinking perhaps?  I suppose my lack of philosophical training makes me less suspicious.  Part of D’s & G’s appeal for me may just be that so many of their ideas ARE ripe for comic deflation.  They have a habit of walking right into the joke.

I do think D & G would go for the gardener analogy—I’m just not sure how far to take it.  How far do we need to take it?  Do we need the full literal extension, as you suggest, in order for it to work?

I didn’t mean to suggest in my last message that I think your book is more rhizomatic than any other book.  It just seems to be more conscious of having a similar aesthetic, or purpose, perhaps, to what D & G have to say about the book and its relationship to the world.  The main point about a rhizomatic structure is that it has no points, just lines, or what D & G like to refer to as lines of flight.  So I’d have to say “yes,” the rhizome sounds a good deal like Wolf’s idea of a net.  But perhaps we’re getting too hooked up on the rhizome metaphor.  D & G also put it another way when they suggest that writing has to do with “surveying” and with “mapping.”  To me, this sounds very much like your idea that all good novels are nets of patterns and relations.  Some books just don’t know it, while THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N. seems very aware.  You mentioned emphasis, and maybe this is the key.

Perhaps the book is a turnip one carries in a net shopping bag?  (Now I’m being facetious).  My point is that there is a point of commonality—perhaps it lies in the word “relations.”  For me, it doesn’t really matter whether D & G are revolutionary or whether they have a right to be considered so.  I’m still fascinated by the serendipitous net of relations & patterns (the “lines of flight”) that formed when I read A THOUSAND PLATEAUS and THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N. simultaneously.

Well, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I think our time is running out soon (Brian needs our exchanges by the end of this week).  I do apologize for taking so much time to respond, but perhaps I can be more spontaneous this week.  I don’t mean to completely change the topic, but I would love to know how you came upon the mask of the split-face god, and the process by which it fit into your net of patterns and relations.  I had a wonderful photo of “He Whose Body is Riven in Twain” that I wanted to reproduce with my essay in HENRY STREET, but as you may know, I wasn’t able to obtain permission to reprint it.  When I think about it, this photo does remind me somewhat of my impressions of D & G.  I think of them as tricksters—serious and prescriptive perhaps, but sporting an undeniable grin whenever they fuck you up.

Best wishes,

Cheryl

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4 August 99

Dear Cheryl

Okay, I got up this morning and re-read your essay and our correspondence so far. I still like the essay, like it even better. I’ll come to the mask in a moment but want to mention some more fugitive thoughts. First, I agree about the way D & G seem to walk into jokes about themselves—and it does inspire affection. Second, their prescriptiveness does make me uneasy in a certain way—it makes me question their assumptions. Prescriptiveness of this (“revolutionary”) sort tends to rise out of the project of modernity (we SHOULD be getting better, right?) even when it seems to be against modernity (we SHOULD be getting better, right?). There is a strange paradox in writing a BOOK! about the advisability of becoming “imperceptible”—the great mystics end in silence, you know. Thomas Aquinas had a nervous breakdown of some sort and never wrote again. McLuhan couldn’t speak at the end of his life. Third, as I re-read your essay I began to realize a) that yes their process and my process is to multiply binary oppositions as an assault on other binary oppositions, and b) that one of the binary oppositions I want to assault is the opposition between being and becoming. I think D & G get trapped a bit in the history of their own discourse. “Becoming” is not really the right word, since it implies a process of turning into SOMETHING ELSE.  Whereas, in my novel, I am trying to look at the territory of abandonment, that is the territory the exists between being what you were and what you might have thought you were reaching for but which you cannot, and maybe do not want to, become either. It is not possible for a white man to become an Indian or an Indian to become a white man. But it is quite possible to become something in between. This state would not be properly called “becoming.” (I think you understand that by finding places to take opposition with D & G I am not trying to “defeat” them or you or anyone, but merely finding a place from which to launch a line of thought and see where it goes—without opposition, there is no self or thought, but opposition itself can be playful, cooperative and provisional.) Fourth, I sense a difference in the way D & G think and the way I think which can perhaps be described as the difference between writing a book about something and writing a novel. My joking obsession with rhizomes and turnips is an example. I am particular and literal and they are a bit more abstract and prescriptive. This isn’t a criticism, merely an effort at description and translation. My question is not What is becoming? My question is more like what does it feel like for a particular person to find himself between worlds, machines, cultures, lovers?  Is between-ness somehow an essential structure of existence? Why would he want or not want to be between? Each of my characters is a different combination of answers and questions. Hendrick, Oskar and Mary are different particular people who find different particular ways of dealing with being between things. They don’t exhaust the possibilities. Fifth, I loved your riff on War and Love—it fits into the novel I am writing now. You may have given me a terrific idea there.

I have to take my kids’ cat for its feline leukemia shot. I’ll continue this in a bit. I’ll talk about the mask!

Best,

Douglas

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Dear Cheryl

To continue:

One thing I wanted to be clear on in my novel was that I did not mean to privilege the Indians over the whites. Culture is culture, being is being.  Perhaps there is a higher discourse from which one can make value judgements between cultures, but I suspect it is a difficult place to reach. But any culture has what the Internet people call “stickiness”—it’s difficult to change from one Internet provider to another provider. And the nature of “stickiness” is interesting to me. Human beings have contrary impulses to preserve identity (stickiness) and to throw it away. We bourgeois souls want to be ourselves and also want to be part of a group. Meaning itself is both wayward and sticky. Meaning has meaning as long at it sticks, but then it is always wandering as well. What, to his horror, Hendrick has discovered is that life is really a mobile state of being in between things, that though we might desire the comfort and stability of BEING, life is a process of moving away from being toward something we cannot know or even see. The falsity of “going Indian” is the rather comic notion that you can actually become an Other. Of course, then there are difficulties in finding a way to express the inexpressible here. When Hendrick says becoming an Indian is like entering a swarming madness he is saying that to him, a white guy, leaving white-dom and heading toward Indian-ness (why do I hate the way this sentence is going?) is like going mad, and he stops there. Hendrick never talks about actually being an Indian. And he only says it “might” redeem you. He doesn’t know.

I don’t know if this is making sense—I did write the novel as the only way of expressing what I wanted to express. The mask, the whirlwind mask, I discovered reading in early anthropological studies. I forget which anthropologist, and all my research is in boxes somewhere. But actually there is not much written about the whirlwind mask. It’s apparently rare to find them, and there are several other masks which are more “popular.” So this anthropologist in a footnote mentioned that there was a theory that the whirlwind was a kind of ur-mask, the original mask, out of which the others have evolved. I really liked this idea, for some reason. And almost at the same time I was reading contemporary diary accounts of Sullivan’s raid into Seneca country and found a reference to some American scouts riding into an abandoned village and finding the image of the whirlwind mask painted on a rock. This becomes the first scene in the novel with Hendrick. I loved the idea that this was an ur-mask, the image of an idea that had been forgotten and superseded but which might underlie all other ideas. I loved the idea that the ur-image is one of splitness and chaos. And, of course, chaos (whirl—if you have kids you’ll understand this!) does tend to assault the self and give you headaches. And we tend to gloss over the underlying chaos with more particular, limited and precise images (masks, explanations). So what Hendrick and Oskar both know at the end and in different ways is that the skin of words, the structure of binary oppositions, is only a dream projected onto a screen that whirls.

Then I discovered all this other delightful stuff, that one Iroquois word for “mask” is “face,” and that an Iroquois word for “death” is “without a face.” And all of a sudden I have these punning linkages all through the book.

I am going to stop for a bit—too much talking about my own work gives me a queasy feeling. I’ll await your reply.

Best

Douglas

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4 August 99

Dear Douglas,

Okay—I’m really excited by many of the ideas in your last message, & I hope I’m up to the challenge of writing an intelligent response.  There’s a terrific thunderstorm going on right now, so it’s a perfect time to stop and write.

I find it interesting that you bring up the danger inherent in the paradox of writing a book about becoming imperceptible.  I’m not sure about Guattari, but I fear Gilles Deleuze has not fared much better than Aquinas or McLuhan.  I believe he committed suicide by jumping out of his window, so I think there’s something to what you’re suggesting.  Suspicion of anything that bears even a hint of prescriptiveness is healthy, I believe.  And perhaps this is part of the difference you note between writing a book and writing a novel.  Similar ideas can be explored in a novel in a way that allows a writer to escape prescriptiveness (though this isn’t always true, I’m thinking here of someone like Ayn Rand).

I think you’re right to suggest that D & G get “trapped in the history of their own discourse.”  Because this discourse is new to me, I nay not have recognized this at first.  When I first read the chapter on becoming in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, I decided I’d have to let go of some of my own assumptions and discourses if I was going to get anything out of my reading. I began to think of “becoming” as a verb that no longer required an object.  Perhaps I was too generous, but it is curious that I came to understand becoming as a process, & therefore similar to what you call abandonment.  As I re-read your message, however, I do think there’s at least one very important difference that I didn’t address when I wrote my essay.  You describe the process of abandonment as being between “what you were” and “what you might have thought you were reaching for.”  This is an important distinction, for while Oskar, Hendrick and Mary discover that they cannot, or may not even want to become what they thought they were striving for, D & G seem to romanticize the position of the other in a way that undermines the experiences of those have been pushed aside by the dominant culture.  I have always been somewhat uncomfortable with the suggestion that a white male can simply “extract particles” to become-black or become-woman.  It sounds incredibly naive, and as you so aptly point out, it is often even impossible.  Yet I still feel that one way to understand it is as an idea similar to Hendrick’s notion that one can abandon “the structure of mind which is peculiarly white,” that becoming-other is about giving up your dominant identity and your power over the other. I’m just not sure about how well D & G distinguish between “becoming-other” and “going-other,” a difference Oskar has to learn the hard way.

I love your question—what does it feel like to be between worlds, machines, cultures, lovers? As you suggest, this type of question can really be best explored in a novel.  I don’t think D & G ever concern themselves with what becoming actually feels like—with how painful or joyful it might actually be to extract those particles and allow oneself to be split.  I think this is what fascinated me so much about your novel, since I have always been a little obsessed with that question myself, though I may not have formulated it in the same way.  My interest in the relationship between identity and in-betweenness comes from growing up as a suburban brat in the uninspiring subdivisions of Mississauga ON. Although I couldn’t wait to get the hell out, I think spending those years between childhood and adulthood in a place that is neither the city nor the country has made me more accepting, even welcoming, of in-betweenness.  I find myself seeking out in-between spaces, yet I still suffer from the contrary impulse to order my life—to “knit up the tear” as you put it in your interview with Joel Yanofsky.  So I’m very compelled by your thoughts on “stickiness” since I currently find myself living in a decidedly suburban townhouse complex (albeit one that is much closer to the downtown core of Toronto), in spite of all my good intentions.

I think I’m running out of intelligent things to say.  I love your thoughts on the whirlwind mask & the way these images, words, puns all end up whirling into some sort of chaotic pattern.  Again, I likened the chaos & whirl of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N. to becoming-imperceptible, but I think you might feel more sceptical about my comparison.  Perhaps we can return to that?

Looking forward to your next installment!

Cheryl

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4 August 99

Dear Cheryl

My boys are in bed, I’m on my second bourbon. I have new thoughts: 1) What you say in this last note about D & G romanticizing the position of the other is exactly right and proves, yes, that they are sons of Rousseau as all good French men are. I tried very hard to keep from romanticizing my characters while, at the same time, reflating the romance of the Noble Savage in a different way. Meeting the other IS a charged and possibly redemptive act (at the very least its exciting, an adrenaline rush) but not because the other is particularly noble or romantic and has something better to teach you. John Metcalf once said I was essentially a religious writer and he’s right.  Meeting the other (the Indians, women, children, or another man) calls identity, meaning, stability, Law, etc. into question, drags us away from selfhood and culture, all the stuff that for a couple of hundred years has haunted the West as somehow not real, genuine or authentic. What you are dragged into is inexpressible. Translation ceases. It is the whirlwind or the abyss or what Hobbes, I think, called Leviathan. From the outside it might look like madness or what used to be called mystical experience. (I DO go on after a bourbon or two.) The other becomes the messenger of God (there is something Platonic in this, but I can’t remember at this time of night the precise passage) even as he shoots you or fucks you or simply passes by.  Existence is a constant to and fro motion. We are always trying to repair the damage at the same time as we are being ripped out of ourselves. It is a violent, painful journey. As the book says, the most violent things are things that change your mind.

2) Deleuze jumped out a window? How could I have forgotten that? Foucault deliberately contracted AIDS. Hubert Aquin shot himself. Leonard Cohen wrote an aberrant masterpiece and then stopped writing novels. (I had an essay about Cohen in The New Quarterly in the spring.) We could do a list of extreme writers who stopped writing/living.

3) I made a note on the margin of your essay at some point: “denotation vs coherence/pragmatism.” (There is a thunderstorm coming. I have to turn off my computer soon.) This has something to do with the difference between writing a book-about-something and writing a novel and also has something to do with a much earlier question of yours about how my book plugs into the world. A book-about-something has obvious linkages with the world. It’s trying to describe the world, speak the truth. And truth here is defined in the simply denotative way. My book about rhizomes has a simple relationship with reality. Of course, there are plenty of second-rate novelists who also think their novels have that simple kind of relationship with reality (you mentioned Ayn Rand). When Nabokov said the purpose for writing a novel is to prove that the novel doesn’t exist (well, he said something like that—I’m tired), he was talking about that kind of novel. But there is a different theory of truth, the coherence theory, which has been around a long time and got to the European semiologists via Pierce, the American pragmatist, who said that the meaning of a sign is just another sign. Now that’s the way artists tend to view the “truth” of their productions. The world of my novel is coherent within itself. All its statements are “true” insofar as they cohere with every other statement in the novel. The lines of flight, the puns, the word patterns, the image patterns form a consistent system. That’s how a novel works, and I notice you use the word “works” in something like this manner. Right? Not sure of this. When we say a novel or a story or a painting or a poem “works,” we are saying something rather mysterious. “Working” is different from, even antithetical to “communication” (which is the project of the book-about-something). Selfhood, identity, culture, conventional meaning, all assume a denotational notion of truth. IT STAYS THE SAME. It’s conservative, anxious, intolerant, etc. But in a novel truth can be quite different, in this conservative sense, from one moment to the next. As Barthes correctly pointed out, a character in a piece of fiction is just a repeating pattern of words. I invented, at some point, a device I call the “device of the wandering epithet.” The best example is in a story called “The Travesty of Sleep” where certain physical characteristics (stigmata, rubbery smell, etc.) wander from person to person, violating all the laws of personal identity but, I submit, not damaging the “truth” of the story at all. In The Life and Times of Captain N., dreams migrate from person to person (I admit I filched this device, not from the Indians, but from Leo Tolstoy who has Anna’s dream migrate to Vronsky). Anyway, the lightning is very close. I have to close. But, listen, you can set up two equations: story=coherence vs communication=denotation. Then you can say communication (along with history, progress, and the individual) is the dream of the modern. Then you can say that one of the central dramas of the late 20th century is the increasing anxiety we feel over the loss of certainty (at the end of the 19th century, we lost God; today, we are losing the self). It’s fascinating to watch, amazing to be alive right now.

4) Love has something to do with all of this because love is the word we use to describe intense relations between a self and an other. Plato said that loving a beautiful youth was good because it led logically to the love of God.

Now the storm is upon me (does this sound Poe-esque, or what?). I must close and send this.

Talk to you tomorrow. This is fun, isn’t it?

Douglas

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5 August 99

Dear Douglas,

Although I’m having a grand time, I think this will have to be my last message (well, for publication, anyway).  I’m off camping tomorrow, so I’ll have to get this to HENRY STREET soon.  I’m also worried that I won’t have anything erudite left to say in response to the wonderful & terribly complex thoughts you have after a bourbon or two . . .

Your thoughts on the experience of meeting the other (& I think that part of what you are describing is how it feels, which takes us back to an earlier discussion as well) remind me of how I felt during my first reading of your novel.  I think it forces a sincere reader to enact within herself what the narrative is describing.  I recall discussing the violence of your novel during a class at York, and many of us felt shocked (“turned upside down”?) by the beauty/ sublimity of the violence.  Violent things are things that change your mind: I believed this after allowing your novel to bring me on its violent, painful (yet humorous!) journey . . .

Denotation vs. coherence/ pragmatism?? I’m not sure I’m getting this. Well, okay, I am getting the explanation, & I see how the world of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN N. is coherent within itself, escaping the denotational notion of truth that you characterize as the dream of the modern.  What, then, is the dream of the post-modern?  Do we have one?  Would you say it is coherence?

I’m going to empty my head now, for a while.  I hope you do have time to respond once more.  Isn’t it funny that the storm came upon both of us while we were writing?

Till later,

Cheryl

P.S. – I have to ask:  Tom Wopat – Dukes of Hazzard, right?

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5 August 99

Dear Cheryl,

Yes, well, they seemed like good thoughts at the time. :)

Whew.

Yes, well, on the coherence thing, I am not sure I can think it through at the moment, or that I want to. I am a bit uncertain about what a post-modern is and might not want to speak for one. Being against modernity, oddly enough, is a thematic thread within modernity itself. You don’t have to be post-modern. But if you read Lyotard and D & G, then some picture of the post-modern notion of truth comes through, and it is more aesthetic, more novel-like. It is provisional, non-totalizing, more along the lines of the coherence theory. Lines of flight is a phrase that charms me. As if thought or language shoots off this way and that, creating trajectories, which look like statements of truth and have a kind of arcing beauty. Being a novel-writer that seems like enough for me.

My book of essays is coming out in the fall. NOTES HOME FROM A PRODIGAL SON.  Some of it you’ve clearly already seen in magazines. There is also a memoir, the story of my apprenticeship :)

This might be it for me, too. I have to go get my boys from day camp. If I think of anything to add, I’ll write. Have a good trip. Keep in touch.

Douglas

—Cheryl Cowdy & Douglas Glover

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