Category Archives: Reading

Bookfish (HUM220/ HUM303/ HUM415)

Look at this book. Nothing in it is accidental. It is written. Everything has been put here for a reason. This certainty provokes our desire. There is a message here to interpret. How are we to understand it?

Knowledge is formed according to different methods. You can study the history of a thing, its development. You can analyze its structure by breaking it into parts.

Think of a fish. If you want to know the fish you can observe it: watch its action and see where it goes. If you really want to understand the fish you can capture it. You can kill it and open it up. Doing so entails a necessary violence. Understanding comes at a price.

The same is true for a book. The moment of fully engaged reading is like a swimming fish: pure process, complete absorption. That’s the story, working; the spell produced by its movement. But any effort to account for the story—to explain how it works—requires stillness.

Creating stillness—arresting the story in order to understand how its effects emerge from the interrelationship of its elements– is the act of interpretation.

Spring Readings for HUM303

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899) 9780141441672

Like chattel slavery, colonialism is Gothic in the extreme. In projecting his own shadows onto the African landscape, the European is ultimately imprisoned by that which he attempts to master.

Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya, or The Moor (1806) 9780199549733

A Terror Novel written at the time of the Haitian Revolution. Incest, murder, supernatural evil, and miscegenation.

Nick Groom, The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction 9780199586790

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) 9780140437959

Jacobs is working in the vein of the Gothic Romance, influenced by a subgenre established by Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Thierry Jonquet, Mygale (1995) 9780872864092

A roman noir that slips into the nightmare territory of involuntary surgery and subterranean imprisonment.

Franz Kafka, The Castle (1922) 9780805211061

Kafka uses a core image and setting of the Gothic to explore the centerlessness of modernity.

Considered and deferred:

RL Stevenson, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca

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Genesis IV

A quick dip into the internets to find chapter IV of the book of Genesis, a text I’ll be using in HUM303 in the Spring. Keyword “genesis iv” and here’s the first hit:

GENESIS IV is a one-year contract awarded at $45M. CACI will provide the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) with mission support services at INSCOM sites and other national intelligence agency sites, and for other Army intelligence units worldwide. CACI’s role is to provide information technology solutions to help combatant commanders collect intelligence and deploy countermeasures against enemy communications and intelligence systems.

CACI, of course, is a so-called defense contractor– a private corporation that profits from the Forever War.

Here’s the passage I was looking for:

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have acquired a man from the Lord.” Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

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So Far

JG Ballard, Kingdom Come (UK 2006)

It’s all on the surface in Ballard’s final novel, a story set in the shadow of a massive shopping mall in the suburbs of London. Ballard, whose reputation as a chronicler of dystopian modernity was affirmed by David Cronenberg’s 1996 cult-film adaptation of Crash, explores the connections between consumerism and “soft fascism.”

Blind hunger for shallow pleasures, meaningless violence, conformity, and nativism: Kingdom Comer represents a world where the pathologies of capitalist culture stem from the commodity form. Ballard hangs his sociological insights on a reliable narrative of mystery and conspiracy. The son of an elderly man killed in a mass shooting lingers at the scene of the crime, the Metro-Centre, in an effort to discover who was responsible for his father’s death. His investigation brings him into contact with quasi-fascist sports clubs, roaming gangs of middle-class racists, and a vacuous celebrity-fuehrer.

Davide Longo, The Last Man Standing (Italy 2008)

Slow to start but relentless, this vision of social collapse can be difficult to read because of the depravity of some of its characters. On the other hand, a qualified optimism suggests to the reader that the demise of institutions doesn’t necessarily mean the end of community.

Jens Lapidus, Never Fuck Up (Sweden 2008)

Lapidus’s second novel, like his first (Easy Money) a virtual stylistic clone of James Ellroy’s crime stories, is set in a multi-cultural, divided Stockholm where “Yugo” crime bosses and Iraqi dope-slingers mix with privileged “Svens” and rogue cops. Like Ellroy, Lapidus hovers at the cusp of parody; at certain points the narrative is so hard-boiled it risks petrefaction. Still, this is the literary equivalent of watching a crime film, immersive and vivid.

Thierry Jonquet, Mygale (France 1984)

A bizarre and disturbing novella about a twisted plastic surgeon, his beautiful victim, and a naive yet brutal cop-killer. Existentialist themes of identity and vengeance hint at the possibility of an allegorical dimension, though unlike Jean-Patrick Manchette, Jonquet seems unwilling to fully politicize his story.

Maurizio Ascari, A Counter-History of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, Sensation (UK 2007)

A great piece of scholarship on crime fiction, one that contradicts standard accounts of the genre which locate its inceptions in Poe’s “tales of ratiocination.” Highly recommended.

Literary Fiction and the Open Mind

Opening the Closed Mind: The Effect of Exposure to Literature on the Need for Closure.

Djikic, Maja
Oatley, Keith
Moldoveanu, Mihnea C.

Creativity Research Journal. 2013, Vol. 25 Issue 2, p149-154. 6p


The need for cognitive closure has been found to be associated with a variety of suboptimal information processing strategies, leading to decreased creativity and rationality. This experiment tested the hypothesis that exposure to fictional short stories, as compared with exposure to nonfictional essays, will reduce need for cognitive closure. One hundred participants were assigned to read either an essay or a short story (out of a set of 8 essays and 8 short stories matched for length, reading difficulty, and interest). After reading, their need for cognitive closure was assessed. As hypothesized, when compared to participants in the essay condition, participants in the short story condition experienced a significant decrease in self-reported need for cognitive closure. The effect was particularly strong for participants who were habitual readers (of either fiction or non-fiction). These findings suggest that reading fictional literature could lead to better procedures of processing information generally, including those of creativity.



It is hoped that this experiment will stimulate further investigation into the potential of literature in opening closed minds, as well as give one a pause to think about the effects of current cut-backs of education in the arts and humanities. In ancient Greece, all students, no matter their future profession, had to know Homer by heart. The method may seem outdated, yet one may still wonder how such an immersion in literature may have contributed to the education of philosophers, mathematicians, and writers who, although separated from present time by two-and-a-half millennia, developed minds whose supple and agile turns are still admired.