Reading Review: The Trial and On the Art of Reading

I have read Metamorphosis, and didn’t really get it. The same goes, now, for The Trial.

Kafka has an amazing style, and conjures wonderfully dreary environments for his characters, but the underlying message — the novel doesn’t really go anywhere — eludes me. At first I thought it was about his take on writing, and how he feels trapped, judged by those around him. Then I thought it was about a girl, a commitment to marriage that he wanted to escape, and everything that happened was a horrible dream. The scene where he makes love with the administrator’s mistress is particularly reminiscent of a dream or fantasy.

Where did these ideas come from? The little introduction, the few pages that a lot of classic books have that talk about the author and the book. From reading this one can then judge what the book is about. From pinpointing exactly when in the writer’s life a certain text was written the reader can discern what the hell they are talking about. Rather than Cliff’s notes, read the author’s biography.

This is one of the pieces of great advice that I took from the book On the Art of Reading, a transcription of lectures given by one Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch from around the First World War. Example chapters include Children’s REading, On Reading the Bible, and Of Selection. He restates such virtues as writing every day, and inspires some new thoughts, such as waiting to read Paradise Lost until the age of 30, and using the Book of Job (yes, from the Bible) in literature classes. Not much has changed, and in fact the body of written work has expanded, making judicial choice much more important, and that importance is a matter of subjectivity. To quote Sir Arthur, “Considering for a moment how personal a thing is Literature, you will promptly assure yourselves that there is —there can be — no such thing as the Hundred Best Books.” Read widely, but wisely.

So back to The Trial. Has reading it imparted anything on me? I can’t say, except for perhaps the unique style, that is has. Certainly knowing more of the man may help, but as it is, The Trial is a bleak story and that’s about it.

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Reads of the Day: Writing and Working

There have been a bunch of articles the last few days that I’ve been waiting to read, but due to other commitments haven’t got round to. Finally I have caught up and I see a trend. The following are links that lead to musings on writing, so if you’re not that way inclined, tough luck.

“It’s because it’s hard work a lot of the time, and when it gets hard it’s never more important to stick with it, and good writers know this.” — This speaks right to me, seeing as I am, generally, a very grumpy kind of guy.

“And the shorter format, writers say, is a good fit for the small screens that people are increasingly using to read.” — Just when I start to make serious headway on short form, too.

“So even if short story collections were enjoying a boom in sales at the moment, there’s no reason — or at least no reason the Times’ piece presents — to conclude that digital publishing has played any role in that (nonexistent) phenomenon.” — Oh, a response.

“And yes, we can put a lot of the blame on the skewed priorities of publishers and ask why they don’t hold the written word as sacred.” — Freelancing is the reality; make it a living.

“Unfortunately, my mind is neither slow nor steady; it is erratic, sometimes bursting, sometimes dormant.” — I am SO this way inclined.

“‘Well, I’ll tell you a story,’ the fisherman said. And then he proceeded to do quite the opposite.” — On injecting story into non-fiction.


And finally, a little news piece on working in the CREATIVE arts in Australia.

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Reads of the Day: Going Round in Circles

There’s only so much time in the day, I know, but there’s always a few moments to slip in a good read. And because everyone else does it, here are my favourite links I saw today:

“We are using “game’ to describe too many things, QED by this discussion.” — Not A Game

“MOOCs are how you’d structure higher education if you believed there were no future.” —  Gerry Canavan on MOOCs

“And that’s before you consider the high level of unemployment among college graduates, as in how many have trouble getting hired after they graduate.” — Yves Smith on why you have a right to be pessimistic.

“…the ratio of male to female writers published in literary journals, magazines, and book reviews remains largely disproportionate in favor of male writers.” — A bit of a cheat.

“Today, the focus isn’t on wire services anymore but on discussing events as they unfold, and in their immediate aftermath.” — A fitting read seeing as I started an internship at The Conversation today.

Actually, on that note, the best article of the day:


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Shifting Strands

I go through phases, as I’m sure most people do (but particularly creative types). This blog seems to suffer the most from these phases. Whenever I hatch on to a good idea life steps in and complicates the issues.

So it goes.

As I struggle to work out what to put on this blog, so it is that I struggle to work out what to do with time. Should  I write, or read? Should I take notes, or take it in? Should I become an editor, or fall into academia?

There’s always a lot to do, and so much information out there to persuade you either way. Perhaps making decisions is the hardest part, as the book Willpower (which I recently read) purports. Thinking about whether to follow Option A or Option B is far more stress-inducing than doing either of them. If this is the case then it is understandably easier to just float into some activity, and go with the flow.

Making decisions is decidedly human. Because we have a measure of self-control, discerning whether to eat a cheeseburger or a healthy sandwich constantly vexes us. The easier, tastier option will win out almost every time unless we have built up an immunity to temptation. The best way to do so is to remove that temptation in the first place. It’s hard to do in a foodcourt, but easier in the personal domain. Setting individual “bright lines”, a term used in Willpower, presents a clear indicator of where to stop oneself. For example:

No alcohol, ever.

Zero sugar diets.

Programs that shut off the internet.

Whatever your vice there is a way to block it entirely. However, unless the decadence has caused huge amounts of strife you are not likely to stick to your goals.

I digress, but not too far I hope. Writing is what I want to do, and I’m doing whatever I can do to aid that. To start this year I am studying a Masters, working as a sub-editor for the university paper, doing an internship (two whole days a week) for The Conversation, working in an ever-maddening hospitality job, and planning various writing projects. Plus maintaining human relationships, naturally. It’s overwhelming, but I will manage and succeed. My main fret is what to do with my, ahem, “free time”. Write, or read? Read, or write? Both, but in what percentages?

You become a writer—as I see it, gleaned from  numerous sources—by reading, thinking, learning, and then practising. Learn and steal. I honestly don’t think that I am capable, not yet—and I won’t be capable for at least five years. Plus, there are so many other skills to learn (HTML, Python, InDesign, editing, etc.) and paid employment to hunt down. My goals and desires swirl around my mind, bringing on bouts of elation and desperation in equal measure.

I hope to write more posts here, book reviews (old and new) and general musings. There’s a time and place for structure, and I’m beginning to think writing isn’t conducive to organisation—at least, not for me.

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The Rise of the Self

Computing has made life much easier in almost all aspects. It has touched everything from cooking to culture. The one thing it has affected most is the notion of the self, and the implications of this shift in productive ideology could be a disaster.

Let’s start with the world before modern technology. Communities–from roving band of warriors to medieval village–had to work together in order to survive and thrive. As technology improved less and less focus on the group has been needed. Technology replaces the need for a specialist, the need to rely on your neighbour. It has worked on many levels, particularly in terms of globalisation, but the final battle is now being fought.

Computers specifically have been a massive aid to the improvement of the self. PCs meant working from home, they meant conversing from home, and they meant dating from home. But this democratization of the self doesn’t mean we have found ourselves. Far from it. Sherry Turkle, in Life on the Screen, says that, “…technology is bringing a set of ideas associated with postmodernism.” That is, instability of meaning, among various other theoretical dilemmas. Once where we had to calculate our choices carefully, computers mean that there is no need to fret while simulation takes precedence. And this insidious touch has reached out from the screen.

Companies utilise technology against the individual, to trap the present proletarian exactly where the money and power brokers want. Think about it. At the shops, we have self-serve lanes. Websites and automated answering machines force us to guide ourselves through whatever issues frustrate us, under the euphemism “trouble-shooting”. Education is moving online, prompting “sef-learning” through online courses. And all this we brought on ourselves.

Consumerism is the culprit. We wanted things for ourselves. We wanted the education of our dreams, not what is necessary to be happy. We were sick of off-shore helpline workers. We wanted faster shopping line queues. It’s been me, me, me for decades now, and the world is giving it to us in spades. What this does is cut every person off from their neighbour. It makes the individual an island of selfishness and greed. The Internet is a gateway to learning about the world from the comfort of our bedroom, yet we refuse to listen to experts.

There is a fight back, and there will hopefully always be fight. From farmers markets to Occupy, people do realise that in order to maintain the world people need to come together. The fear is that as technology does more for us, we’ll be less inclined to do so.

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