This book is the best introduction to Pynchon because it is so short. If you read and don't love it, do not bother with his longer works. If it leaves you wanting more more more... well, time to crack open Gravity's Rainbow.
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What is magic? It is a power to create whose mechanism can never be fully understood. For Paracelsus, the primary site of magic was external nature: there the Satyrion root and divine mingled and spawned the impossible reality of a materialized spirituality. [...] Things are different in a Kantian world. Kant saw how easily the theology of Paracelsus--which wove the natural, the divine, and the human too tightly and too smoothly--could be attacked on Newtonian grounds and, more disturbingly, how much this susceptibility to skepticism fostered religious disbelief. Kant's response to this moral danger was firs to divorce the sensible world from the transcendental realm and then to allow only mini-encounters between them. Kant separated physics from metaphysics and tried to limit metaphysics to questions of the mind and its transcendental needs, but he did not give up on magic in doing so. Instead, he shifted its principal locale. Kantian magic occurs only fleetingly and ambiguously in nature itself--nature does offer tantalizing threads of connection to the supersensible, but they are fragile and thin. The primary venue of enchantment has become interior to the self, in an imperious "reason" and the "subjective necessities" it spawns.
I spotlight sites of enchantment in order to intensify the experience of them and thus perhaps to erode the belief that an undesigned universe calls above all for a cold-eyed instrumentalism. Such ontological cynicism, it seems to me, is one of the streams that feed political cynicism--liberals who see disenchantment as clearing the way for reason and tolerance come to be cynical about a political sphere that refuses to realize its historical potential, and communitarians who decry disenchantment as the dawn of homesickness come to doubt the ability of politics to induce the kind of spiritual and cultural transformation required to restore the world as a home. But what if the contemporary world is not disenchanted?
A world capable of enchanting need not be designed, or predisposed toward human happiness, or expressive of intrinsic purpose or meaning. It seems that there is a musicological support for this kind of enchantment, for "chant is a modal music, which means that it doesn't have the powerful drive that much of modern music has to arrive at a final harmonic destination." Moreover, the world that I describe as enchanted is not confined to structures, entities, and events in nature; there are also literary, machinic, and electronic sites of enchantment.
This tells us that we do not need to have an anthropocentric world view in order to feel enchantment. In fact we can feel enchantment at feeling insignificant, for example.
This is a 1968 novel by Oulipian Georges Perec. It was authored based on a flow chart (included with the book) and it's in the category of "random walk" style generated novels, with lots of repeated looping sections. It's kind of a slog to read but it's a really cool example of some early generative fiction.
If popular psychological wisdom has it that you have to love yourself before you can love another, my story suggests that you have to love life before you can care about anything. The wager is that, to some small but irreducible extent, one must be enamored with existence and occasionally even enchanted in the face of it in order to be capable of donating some of one's scarce mortal resources to the service of others.
I quite enjoyed this book! A fun narrative about a young diplomat from a remote space station who finds herself appointed ambassador to a Big Evil Empire. The book takes place in the imperial capital and thematically does the whole "man, giant empires really do suck a lot" thing, and does it well. The one Big Weird Sci Fi idea (basically multiple people cohabiting in one brain) is pretty cool and also the author manages to portray it without being offensive to people with, say, dissociative identity disorder. I feel like it dragged a bit at the end and sort of fizzled out, and ultimately I found myself reading a book set on the main character's home space station than at the heart of this big scary empire. I live in a big scary empire so it all seemed pretty standard to me. Still, totally recommend the read.