Sunday, February 25, 2007

WikiFray Book Club: The Echo Maker

Part 2, 3


august said...

I got really into this section. I found Weber's appearance steadied the book a little. I feel like it suffers a bit from the immitative fallacy: just because the characters are disconnected from each other does not mean the reader has to feel disconnected from the characters.

The first (and thus far, only) pseudo-scientific idea that i found interesting also showed up in this section -- the idea that neurons can be injured but that the way the mind adjusts might have something to do also with personality (I'm probabaly using wrong words again).

Daniel I find ridiculous.

But I have to say I was into it while reading. I want these characters to make more sense to me, and it keeps me reading.

TenaciousK said...

August, I agree with the steadying influence of the Weber character. Still, Weber is obviously a fictionalized Oliver Sacks, yet Powers doesn't really seem to capture the writer-physician's personality that is so clearly conveyed in his writing (though I haven't read all of Sacks' popular work). Powers plants the seeds of some ethical questions that, from what I've read of the man, don't apply.

I find myself agreeing more with John as the book progresses - the characters, though interesting, are not terribly appealing.

I'm a little confused about your statement. Are you saying that personality affects adjustment to injury, or that adjustment to injury affects personality?

The former can be true, depending on what exactly it is you're referring to. Drive for active stimulation seems to be a dimension on which people vary considerably, for example, and one that undoubtedly affects both development of cognitive skill, and perhaps re-acquisition of skills lost due to neurologic insult. This would vary considerably, however, with the type of injury you're talking about, and a host of environmental and experiential factors. But in that sense, it's not that different from adjustment to other types of injury, as well.

I thought the referral for psychotherapy was sort of ludicrous. The docs would be disposed to try medications first, particularly given possible propensity to outbursts. They'd have him on one of the newer antipsychotics, I'm sure.

I'm afraid the characters are unlikely to make more sense (given a dust-jacket analysis). I think the over-riding theme of the book is more about the subjectivity and tenuous nature of our impressions of who we are, and the world that surrounds us. Given that, I anticipate something more like decompensation, which I suppose could be illuminating, though probably not terribly.

Powers isn't doing too bad a job of portraying diffuse damage (which you might anticipate with cerebral edema), though he's pretty heavy-handed, and he seems determined to throw as much in there as he can: concrete thinking, disinhibition, reduced insight, maybe a little confabulation. It's not at all clear how much this varies with pre-morbid personality, though.

Maybe that's his point, and his motivation for portraying pre-injury Mark as being quite immature and impulsive - less likely to adjust well to this peculiar loss of function, and more likely to fabulize interpretations of his experience. This leaves us wondering what is due to the direct effects of injury, and what is due to the secondary impact of limited capacity for adjustment.

august said...

TK -- not saying anything about the real world. Just that it was interesting to me that in cases where brain was injured, both medication and psychotherapy might be in order. I'm in no position to evaluate any of the science. It's just that of all the various digressions into the mind, that was one that both made sense to me and seemed interesting.

Er, I guess that means "the former." It occured to me that I don't actually know what "personality" is outside of common sense usage. My understanding of Weber's (presumably faulty) reasoning for cognitive therapy -- that there could be
a. a brain injury that causes a problem,

b. various ways one attempts to adjust or understand the problem, and these adjustments could make things worse rather than better.

My category b is still in some sense a result of an injury, but seems of a different order.

I mention this in reference to what I was saying to Keifus earlier about how the science felt like adornment rather than explanation. In this case, I felt like there was an interesting idea, rather than something thrown in to make Weber sound like an expert.

The book as a whole is circling around what I would call personalit -- the idea that I see the world as a coherent whole, that there is some fundamental "me" that is shaped by, but ultimately independent of, my particular experiences, that there will be constants. All that is what I'd call "personality," and I'd like the book better if it spelled such matters out.

As a matter of writing, characters can be disjuncted, but written in such a way that the reader empathizes, sees enough of what is going on to empathize, to root for the character. That happens occasionally, particularly with Karen. I felt inside her head when she walked in and saw Mark playing video games.

The "tenuous nature of our impressions of who we are" is something that can be felt. But for a lot of the characters, I think Powers just makes me feel disconnected from them. I don't understand this lack of connection as some existential reflection of their fractured consciousness. I think that the lack of connection is instead a lack of specific details that would allow me to better understand/feel (for example) Karin's romantic attachments, past and current. Part of the joke of my hookup post is that they all seemed so random, might as well put up a betting line.

TenaciousK said...

[sigh…] Literary analysis is unfamiliar to me, and I find myself wanting to address Powers' specific treatment of the nature of the disorder, and how it’s managed. I should probably refrain from that.

Personality is “a person by situation interaction” last time I heard [chuckle], which really doesn’t seem to define much at all. I think Powers going more with the idea that ideas about the “self” are a complete construction – a perspective probably more Buddhist than psychological in the traditional sense (though there’s certainly some shared perspective there). If this is Powers’ take, I don’t expect much in the way of a description of personality or identity; he doesn’t find it a valid concept.

I think he’s going with the idea that the fundamental “you” has cohesiveness and underlying constants that are purely illusory. This is sort of an irritating (to me) perspective. It’s akin to arguing that nothing really means anything, which sort of misses the point of relevance to the person observing, I think. It’s neither helpful, nor particularly illuminating. It will be interesting to see if this is how he plays it, and how he portrays the deconstruction of the self in the various characters (which is what he seems to be up to).

If deconstructing the self is what he’s about, and he’s going from the take that the self is purely illusory, I anticipate there’ll be an increasing randomness to the characters. If he’s taking more a traditional psychological perspective, his deconstruction will take the form of regressions, which are themselves illuminating, in the sense they are congruent (even if they don’t seem to be initially) with the personality of the character under examination.

august said...

No, I'm interested in how to treat the thing as well. I'm just not qualified to comment on it...

So what's a useful way of looking at the mind? "Useful" defined broadly, useful to philosophers and/or useful to patients, etc.

What do folks think of the narration, I kind of limited omniscience in which we stick pretty much to the mindset of a single character at a time?

I'm going to add to the "recommended" list a blog with an "Echo Maker Roundtable" in several parts. Recommended only for those who have finished reading. Part Four is a discussion of the ending, Part Five has Powers himself sounding off. Part One makes most of the points we have -- but with the sense that this is all brilliant and wonderful. (One person wants it to be even more messy).

And I guess what I'm wrestling with is, I can't put this book down, but I'm not that crazy about it. There's something I do really like about it that I can't quite put my finger on. Maybe it's evocation of a sense of dissociation that we all feel. Maybe something about its "post-9/11-ness." Maybe its landscapes and its cranes. Maybe Mark himself.

Keifus said...

I failed to spirit away my computer this weekend, and had to spend my free time actually reading the book (instead of yakking about it). I guess I won't start a new post, though.

[I'll be getting into parts 4 and 5 a little but will reserve my major points in those sections for later. I think I figured out some of the plot mysteries though, even if they lay fallow for large chunks of prose.]

1. I agree that Weber helps steady things. He's a good authorial tool to establish and pull together themes. One of these themes (TK) is that there's a continuum of psychological vs. physiological trauma. This is the essence of Weber's argument with Dr. Hayes, and, really, with teh community at large.

[Getting ahead now, but only slightly.] Weber may well be suffering some physiological decline, memory loss and feelings of persecution, but it's left (so far) intentionally vague. It may well be "normal" too, typical midlife crisis stuff, while Mark's is certainly artificially induced. (ALso, was the phrase "at the height of his powers" a joke?)

For all his inaccessability, Weber is still a character I identify with, and usually very uncomfortably. He grows to feel he's a credentialed and self-serving fraud, having given up honest science for popular anecdote. (Barely one step above a novelist, he tells himself at one point.) Later, if you haven't got there yet, he's going to serve up a few salient ouch! moments.

2. A second big theme is that there's a continuum of states between a defective and healthy brain. How healthy is Weber above? Is he much less fucked up than Mark? Karin likewise occupies some intermediary position in the mental health universe.

Synesthesia, is, by the way, normal. A healthy mind re-maps this and that to make analogy to reach understanding through metaphor. We take symbols on a page and recreate sense and emotion. Words don't rasp and clang. All metaphor is synesthesia. The difference of health is a matter of degree, not of kind.

3. The above themes get fairly well drawn. He (Powers) talks a lot about this cast of characters business with the brain too, and still, a hundred pages from teh end, does not a damn thing with it.

4. I agree with august that the banter is great. It's like sitcom zingers, but more literate. Tough to imagine how Karin can think Mark and the boys are such losers when they can crank up such quality repartee, even with scientific authorities. Hard to think she can doubt herself when she's good at the same.

What a writer conceit that is, eh? NOw it's a common enough thought the likes of us to communicate at a more profound level than we envision ourselves. But your average yokel? Probably not true.

5. I think current-events-dropping is a cheap technique. Throwing in some references to the 2002 political climate did nothing for the sense of setting, and may have distracted.

On the other hand, I was thinking how much we pipe in our own sense of place. I think he paints the prairie pretty well, gets in there sometimes, comminicates how it infects the mind, but on the other hand, five sentences of Weber on Long Island, and I got exactly where he was.

6. Apropos of very little, the Weber case history of the guy who didn't recognize "left" was the one that grabbed me. (Is it bullshit, TK?) What many directions do our healthy brains withold from us? We grasp time poorly...what about all these other hypothetical dimensions...

7. Some overused words/phrases: "fabulist" (but I love that word), "playing him/her/itself" as though on stage (got it the first time, dude).

Anyway, I got more. Will hold off.


Keifus said...

Hey august, didja notice the shift in tense between Mark's point of view and everyone else's? I think Powers pulls that trick off fairly well, and I like when he looks at the same scene from multiple POVs.

Not much goes on with teh characters in these sectiosn though. And I agree about Daniel--that guy is extra tedious.


TenaciousK said...

Keifus, I agree with your observation about the continuum between “normal” and pathological. This is one of the reasons I love Oliver Sacks so much – I learned more about the subjective experience of having Tourette’s in one chapter of “An Anthropologist on Mars” than in any class I ever took. He humanizes the figures he’s describing in a way that other famous case studies fail ( HM , and to a lesser extent NA , are the ones that used to be, and probably still are, discussed the most). It’s entirely possible Powers is also referencing some controversy about Sacks that I’m not aware of, but it doesn’t seem warranted (to me).

Keifus, if you’re referring to the case study in which he’s describing hemispherical neglect (complete failure to attend to one side of the world), the answer is yes , it happens as he described. Google “Hemispheric neglect” if you want to read about it.

I think it’s difficult to capture the subjective experience of someone who is suffering a neurological condition in much the same way it’s difficult to capture the subjective experience of someone who is suffering a psychiatric condition. How does one go about a subjective exposition in written form in a manner that’s accessible to the reader? Powers is giving his go, in part in series of self-observations, juxtaposing them against the observations of other people (who are also unreliable narrators). It’s a little disorienting, which I believe is the desired effect.

Identity strikes me at the least as being a useful construction – it’s advantageous for me to be able to predict my own responses to various anticipated aspects of my environment, and it’s useful for me to organize my activities in a manner that capitalizes on this type of predictability. One level up, if anyone wants to engage in mutually beneficial cooperation with me, it’s useful for them to be able to predict my responses as well. So I think some idea about who we are is useful, and something we certainly seem designed to accomplish. Psychotherapy, meditation, and various other activities seem designed to address unhelpful aspects of self-concept. Arguing that the whole thing is illusory could, I suppose, be accurate, but it fails to take my subjective experience into account, as well as the manner in which even a constructed, artificial self turns out to be a terribly important and helpful thing.

Other than that, August, I think multiple windows are essential (going with the idea that we’re far to big to observe ourselves, and multiple angles are the best approximation we’re capable of).

Keifus said...

Okay, those other cases you site were also part of Dr. Weber's fictional book. No reason to doubt he's not heavily inspired by Sacks. The conflict between old-school anecdotal neuroscience vs. imaging science may be something that Powers tacked on himself.

Subjective experience. Of course people with neurological conditions are especially hard to get, but really, it's hard to capture anybody's. Best we do is mentally model it and compare to our own. Faking that experience is a big part of any writer's job.

The usefulness of identity. Yeah, I'm with you there. You can reduce it (life, the universe and everything) all down to bits of mss and charge deterministically (maybe) dancing around. And what's the point? We can only perceive by analogy. We'll never know, really, what an electron is, even if we understand them pretty well. It hardly makes the whole business of understanding useless to us selves. And more to teh point, if you reduce it too much, it becomes uninteresting.

I think Powers handles the multiple-POV technique well enough, and it does help get his various points across. But its not exactly uncommon in fiction, and I don't think it provides any particular metafictional insight vis a vis the whole brain bidness.


JohnMcG said...

I wonder if Karin's unrealistic expectations for Weber are also a form of disorder. I didn't see any evidence that Weber ever did anything other than parachute in, take a few notes, and put them into his next book. Yet Karin seems to believe that Weber will be able to set Mark free, or as free as he was before the accident.

I wonder if "cognitive therapy" is Weber's stock recommendation for all cases, or if he genuinely thought it would be particularly useful in Mark's case.

Perhaps what Powers is trying to say it that so much conflict (perhaps including the War on Terror) is rooted in our incomplete pictures of reality. We perceive imperfectly, develop expectations based on that perception, then react violently when reality does not conform.

There is something Mark expects from Karin that he's not getting.

TenaciousK said...

That's an interesting observation, John. It seems people often get into trouble when they attempt to externalize something internal. [Creating evil enemies to bolster a self-perception of righteousness, for example - something we see as broadly as geopolitical events, and as microscopically as Fray/online interactions].

So Mark isn't getting something [kinship? familiar comfort?] from Karin, and he generates explanations for it.

If Powers is attempting to illustrate the manner in which we incorporate others into our world view, he seems to be doing it rather indirectly. Still, it's an interesting observation - highlighting the manner in which we rely on other people to prop up our sense of ourselves, and where we stand in relation to the world around us.

august said...

Quickly: disjunction can be a vague notion of malaise, or it can include specific details, concrete examples, things that allow you to see what is happening. For an example, go to "Today's Pictures" and check out "Tokyo Love Hello."

John -- I'd say the reverse is true as well. Karin expects things of Mark. It reminds me of a comedy sketch I once saw -- a kid can only say one word "shutup." The parents, and everyone who interact with the kid, know what's going on, but it's the same joke over and over again
"what would you like to eat?"
"I was thinking of making lasagna"
"But you like lasagna.."
"You shutup you little freak!"

I think the thing I like best about the novel is the way we see Mark trying to adjust to this phantom Karen. Karen somehow doesn't make the same adjustments, or she makes them through weird relationships with men. It's like she doesn't have the same tools as Mark -- which seems counter to what we've been told about her.

TenaciousK said...

Tangential self-disclosure: Some of my goals in life include never being anyone's clinical case study (includes the more damning phenomenon of having a syndrome or disease named after you) and never having my name in the newspaper.

Just thought I'd mention it, seeing as we're talking about neurology case studies and such.

JohnMcG said...

There are two pretty much angelic characters in the book -- Daniel and Barbara (though Weber's wife seems pretty close to perfect as well, but she's a tertiary character).

The novel seems be winking at us that the Barbara we see really is too good to be true -- that there's probably something we'll find out later that will explain how she is able to be so selfless and competent.

But the novel seems to take Daniel at face value -- his selflessness is matter-of-fact, he's really just that good.

Could we be getting set up to have our own expectations dashed?

Dawn Coyote said...

(posted without first reading the thread, so apologies in advance)

What the hell is Powers doing? Does he know? I get the sense that he doesn’t. He’s written a theme-driven novel in which all the narrators are unreliable. Both of these elements are difficult to manage, but Powers might be able to pull it off if he would remain true to his people, but he doesn’t. Instead he abandons them in POV shifts, and he takes them out of character, such as when Karin confronts Hayes, to bring up points he wishes to cover.

How many ways does one need to make the same point, and how many unreliable narrators can a story sustain before losing the reader’s confidence? Okay, okay — I get it: everyone is living in a subjective universe that is constructed from memory and from feedback supplied by the outside world, and distorted by ego needs. Karin doesn’t trust anyone, manipulating people to get what she wants; Weber’s public persona has eclipsed his private self-concept, and the attack on the former drives him half-mad; shoring himself up against the internal loss of cohesion, Mark refuses all challenges to his conclusions about the world. The story reaches the reader through each character’s subjective filter.

Okay, fine. Go ahead – smash everything. Take the world apart, take your characters apart. Nothing is what it seems. I can accept that. But why doesn’t Powers locate the narrative POV closer to his characters? I’d be more convinced if the narrator were tucked onto the shoulder of each successive character who acts as a lens for the story, but an omniscient narrator keeps strolling through and filling in details. That’s a bridge too far for me.

Even so, it wouldn’t be so bad if I thought Powers was going somewhere, but he seems to have uncovered this flaw in human perception and not got much farther than that. Still, I’d go along with him, even if the ride was short, if he could tell me a good story. As is typical with a theme-driven story, the characters and plot seem loosely constructed to serve the author’s Grand Idea. I keep noticing the idea, and popping out of the story. The addition to my awareness of and frustration with the author’s process, the sort of incongruous details that one ought to catch in the first revision also pull me out of the story — “she spiraled the coffee pots near her ears”, “his elbows flew upward.” If one is going to supply a passel of unreliable narrators, they’d damn well better move in the world the way I expect them to, because if I’m not going to believe them, I’d better at least be able to believe in them. Doesn’t Powers have an editor?

Finally, who needs Weber? The story would have been better served if Powers had invested more in Karin and Mark and Barbara, leaving Weber in the background. One gets the sense that the author is writing about himself through Weber, which seems the most delightful unintentional irony: in a book about the illusion of self, the author spasmodically clutches his own precious self-illusion to the extent that his story suffers. This is so poignant that it almost brings me to forgive Powers for the novel’s failures.

And Richard, if you google yourself and find these comments: I’m a meanie. I like some things about the book very much. Perhaps next week.

I picked up Milan Kundera’s Identity to read after this. It seems to follow the same themes.

Keifus said...

Are these spoilers?

Here's what I'd guessed by page 275 or so. (I'm on about p. 375 now, and not proven wrong.)

- Barbara left the note. (Who else could have, really?)

- Mark is partially correct about a thing or two.

Vaguely, I'll say that it gets a little more interesting when the pov characters actually start interacting again with one another. (I'll also say that Powers remains a little unfair in their development.) I'm kind of agreeing with Dawn however, that the lack of anything happening but theme for 200 pages is mighty indulgent, and agreeing with august, that I found myself sustaining interest anyway. Powers skirts it pretty close with letting plot and character go slack for so long, but I think I see where it's going (and approve).


Dawn Coyote said...

Um, giving Powers some credit: perhaps the irony of the author/Weber taking over the story and feeling like he's exploiting his characters isn't unintentional? I understand that Kundera addresses the reader directly at the end of his novel.

More bitching: Weber's wife sounds so contrived that I don't even believe she exists. She seems entirely constructed in service to Weber's ego. If she were the only character in the story like this I might believe that this is what Powers intended, but even so, couldn't she sound less like a witty Stepford wife?

I get that the rest of you (all?) don't care for Daniel. I was thinking how challenging it might be to write a Buddhist-type character (except for Yoda-like Zen masters). In Daniel, I thought Powers might be attempting to provide a counterpoint to the disjointed narrative supplied by the others, but he fails to telegraph Daniel’s detachment, attention, presence in a way that conveys what that might mean in a disjointed and subjective world. Daniel could have been employed to take the story further: if Weber didn’t take up so much space, if Weber talked to Daniel, if Daniel was less of a cut-out, if any of the characters, confronted with the anomie that surely follows the realization of the insubstantial nature of the self, ask the inevitable question (provided they don’t get to killing themselves first) “where is meaning?”, Daniel might have a response — not an answer, mind you, but a response. My bias aside – Buddhism is a response to existential suffering. That’s what it is, front to back. The character of Daniel is poorly utilized.

A guess: Mark is modeled on someone suffering from meth-induced psychosis. The persistence of the personality changes and the altered relationship with that person are congruent with my own experiences.

Another guess: Powers has some opinions about the internet’s affect on memory, on identity, and on a writer’s process. I wish he’d explored that further. Noting my self-consciousness at my own (jealous, smug?) callousness here. It’s not like I’m meeting with y’all in someone’s living room, spouting off in the privacy of the off-line world. Weber’s reactions to his internet searches on himself definitely had an impact on me. (Bite me, Powers.)

TK: I agree with you that “the over-riding theme of the book is more about the subjectivity and tenuous nature of our impressions of who we are, and the world that surrounds us,” and maybe I’m looking for too much from the book. It does a pretty good job of mapping the problem. I appreciate your perspective on the value of the self-concept. I’m hoping for some decompensation, too.

august: I also thought the use of CBT to treat Mark was an interesting choice. Though it may not have therapeutic validity in the real world, I see the author using it to highlight that the problems people are having are all about perception and adjustment. The post about hookups was a good poke at the characters’ unpredictability. I’m also with you on the compelling quality of the story. All my criticisms aside, I believe the author is doing something quite difficult: revealing the cracks in the surface of the world, with each character coming by their cracks in a different manner. And thanks for the "Echo Maker Roundtable.” I’ll have a look.

keifus: Interesting that you identify with Weber (august and TK – you, too?), because I identify uncomfortably with Karin (I’m not as delusional and needy, but I engage in a great deal of “impression management”). Is there no way to forgive these characters for their humanity? Daniel would have responded with compassion, were he anything more than a prop for a bit of philosophy. I love synesthesia. I’ve often thought it would be fun to give it to a protagonist in a story. Never got further than that. I appreciate your take on it as a metaphor for symbolic interaction with the world.

John: I think Karin’s expectations of everyone are a kind of disorder. I’m not sure what Mark’s not getting from her, but what she’s not getting from Mark is validation. It’s his job to give her life meaning. Interesting that his view of the “real” Karin is idealized, as she wants, but his reaction to the “actual” Karin is so negative, and she can’t get past it. Love the irony there. I like your generalization of expectation and reaction in the larger world. I don’t think this larger theme was well-sketched out in the novel.

Funny: Last week I was reading some theory on identity in advance of beginning the novel. I’ve recently started having migraine headaches, and was experiencing the weird prodromal phase, which involves various neurological disturbances, including distorted cognition and memory lapses. I was suddenly and acutely aware of how thin the film of identity is. This small window of awareness provided me with a way to end a (theme-driven!) short story about identity that I started almost a year ago. It also renewed my fondness for the Buddhist worldview, and I started meditating again. All this before I cracked the book.

I’m really enjoying reading all of you. Great discussion.

(yikes, is this ever long. Sorry)

TenaciousK said...

FWIW: I think the value of a referral to CBT would be damage-control, mostly [a perceptual problem has led to a delusional belief, which is something we don't want to spread]. Psychotherapy is quite expensive, though, and I think the most unrealistic aspect of the referral is that they didn't use any meds first.

In a real-life setting, for better or worse, he'd probably be taking about three psychiatric meds by now. Sad, perhaps, but I think true. Also sad, but true, that it's a lot easier to get coverage for a really expensive prescribed med than relatively expensive psychotherapy. But that's the breaks, I guess.

DC: I agree - this has been a great discussion.

Keifus said...

Dawn, a little ahead of required reading, but, you being the only woman in the group here, I'm dying to ask you about perspectives on some of the stuff upcoming.

Also was maybe some female-centric thoughts on identity may be interesting from another author.


Dawn Coyote said...

keifus: I'll keep it in mind as I read. If you have anything specific, fire away. The stuff with Karin has been decidedly uncomfortable for me. I'll see if I can explain it in a later post.

I was interested in Weber's responses to other people: the women are viewed as potential sexual partners, or not, the men are opponents, or not. Is this accurate? I liked the part when he's in Australia, sleep deprived, at that conference, resisting the urge to assign everyone he speaks to a five-digit diagnosis from the DSM-IV.

august said...

Hola, gang

Well, I finished Echo Maker (will continue to confine comments to appropriate sections), and there was nothing for it but to start in on Anthropologist on Mars. Have I mentioned I'm in a rut? I guess my question is -- okay, identity is thin. What do we get from reading about it in fiction, in Powers's fiction, that we don't get in Sacks?

One answer might be... scared. Empathy for loss. A lot of bird metaphors.

A friend of mine once said (upon seeing Something Special About Mary that he thought a movie (or book) could succeed on a collection of really good moments. For me, those moments almost all involve Mark.

There are thousands of interesting Buddhist characters. Read Monkey (also called Journey to the West. Heck, read the Heart Sutra. Buddhists are all the time getting themselves into wacky scrapes, often by encountering Boddhisatvahs, or narrating some tale that might bring one closer to enlightenment.

Does this work...
Each character we know from the omniscient narration has a prop, a flatter character in conjunction
Weber -- Wife (Sabine)
Karin -- Daniel
Mark -- Barb.

There are a few other floaters -- Mark's buddies, Karsh, Bonny (is that Mark's girlfriend's name? I don't have the book on me to check) etc. In each case, the character on the left feels great affection for, and yet disconnection from, the character on the right. They are sort of corrolaries of the central story of the Capgras, kind of like a Shakespearean play within a play. But in each case, the character on the right blows.

I'll modify what I said earlier about Karin. She makes most sense to me when interacting directly with Mark. But you're right, John, she really is handicapped in some way, and it ain't pleasant. How'd she ever get out of town in the first place.

Identify with Weber? No, not exactly. He feels steady at the begining and loses me with his google searches. I don't find his unravelling... don't know. I can see feeling professionally stuck (in a rut!)but reacting the way he does -- it just seems a little quick to me.

Just saw "Notes on a Scandal." Everybody's disconnected from themselves, everywhere I turn. And has anybody read Girl, Interrupted? That, to me, was the best thing I've read on disassociation, "borderline" -- whatever that may mean. I'll end this very long comment with a link to an excerpt on viscosity vs. velocity. When you are nuts, are you fast, or slow?

Keifus said...

Buddhism and neuroscience:

I was thinking about Dawn's comment on Buddhism last night* regarding Daniel's meditation as a valid respose to navigating the self.

I don't know why that sits poorly with me. I'll give Buddhists a lot of credit for recognizing the questions, but, like Aristotlean chemistry, they're not technically right about a whole hell of a lot, are they? I think the comparison to Aristotle is apt--here's a guy who engendered a scientific mode of thought, but so little by way of fact. Can we expect as much from Buddhism?

I want to throw another idea out there too, about science (my glib comment about understanding electrons). Can we call scientific inquiry a mechanism by which we apprehend the world oustside our sensory map? I think I like that.

Oh, and my own tangential disclosure: I'm happy and interested to know what's outside the matrix, but I think I'd rather live in it just the same.


*fucking insomnia, I'll tell ya

Keifus said...

Er, I mean to say Aristotle was wrong about almost everything. Not that he didn't base decisions on observations of fact (which he tried to do)...

august said...

Keif -- Dawn's claim is that Buddhism is organized as a response to suffering, and that he might have an interesting response if he weren't such an interesting character.

I don't think Dawn's claim is that he would have a cure.

Dawn's experience of Buddhism is quite different from mine (among other things, I'm not a Buddhist). I would say, tentatively, that Buddhism has had a lot of very, very interesting things to say about language and about selfhood.

Even if you think of knowledge and science the way ghost seems to, that knowledge really does advance, that we are moving forward, it's hard to know where we will wind up. When we reach this hypothetical omniscience, we can then come up with some scale for evaluating ideas. Presumably, the great variety of individual Buddhists would mean that different ones would show up at various stages on the ladder.

But as a historical matter, there was a time when Buddhist empires were among the most technologically advanced in the world.

I leave it to Dawn, if she wants, to talk about Buddhist ideas about the self. They are very complicated. So I agree that it's a missed opportunity for Powers. He could have
a. made Daniel human and
b. introduced an interesting alternative set of assumptions about the self, and seen how they reacted to Mark.
I don't think those assumptions would have gotten Mark anywhere, but I think it would have been interesting to read.

Keifus said...

Nah, Dawn's remark sent me off on something of a tangent. She herself took great care to differentiate between a response and a solution. And I agree that some alternates would have been interesting. (Certainly, for example, I found all that masculine style projection pretty tedious by the end. When I have a more than a minute, I'll try to wrap that thought up more cogently.)

I like the idea of early technology advancing free of the influence of teh Greeks. Would be interested in knowing more about the scientific philosophies of the early Buddhists.

(Also, sorry I was so glib in the "rut" comment. Me of all people.)


JohnMcG said...

I guess Karin never heard the advice that you should watch how polite your date is to service personnel, since that will indicate how he will treat you, huh?

If I were Daniel in that restaurant scene, I think I would have gotten up and left right there. What exactly is Daniel getting from this relationship? Or does he bore everyone else with his envrionmental stuff and likes having a somewhat captive audience?