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Part I (Chapters 6 through 10) 
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Post Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
Use this thread to discuss the second half of Part I, chapters 6 through 10.

Edited by: MadArchitect at: 11/2/06 1:49 am



Thu Nov 02, 2006 1:49 am
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
I read Part 1 and have been turning these thoughts around in my head today. The narrator describes the constant motion of the sand, claiming that it "certainly" is "not suitable for life." The protagonist also describes the sand's "ceaseless movement" as being in stark contrast "with the dreary way human beings clung together year in year out" (14-15). His musings go on to wonder whether "a stationary condition [was] absolutely indispensable for existence? Didn't unpleasant competition arise precisely because one tried to cling to a fixed position?" (15). In contrast, the plant and insect life of the desert, such as the beetle, "were able to escape competition through their great ability to adjust..." (15). Later in the story, after spending a night in the woman's home, the man theorizes that if he could build a house that could flow on the sand such as a ship flows on water, it would be a better solution than the constant battle with the sand. "A ship



Mon Nov 06, 2006 6:58 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
I'm almost tempted to go ahead and read your comments, Rose, but I think I'll hold off until I've caught up with you. Hang in there; it won't be long.




Mon Nov 06, 2006 8:53 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
Rose: If, as suggested by the protagonist, one could create houses that always move and flow with the sands, could one erase this "unpleasant competition?" If houses were in this constant motion, if towns and cities were indeed "shapeless," wouldn't it be impossible to form the tribal, cultural and national alliances that lead to this "competition" (i.e. war)?

It would make for interesting social arrangements, but I don't think it would eradicate cultural differences. A good historical test case would be the nomadic tribes of the ancient mid-East. The response, I think, is that competition isn't caused by fixity, but rather by use. Even nomads still need to use things in order to survive. So I think a serious change in the mode of culture, such as the shift to completely mobile homes, would result in a different set of problems, though problems that were still related to the same basic cause of social conflict that we see in our own societies.

He describes the woman's work on his first night as "Quite like the behavior of the beetle" (38 ).

Hmm. It strikes me that this may be an interesting place to launch into the question of the narrators relationship to the protagonist. A lot of the descriptions and metaphors in the book are taken directly from the protagonist's field of inquiry, entomology, but the protagonist and the narrator are presumably not identical -- the first chapter narrates outside of the protagonist's point of view, and the whole novel is written in third rather than first person. But I wonder if it's best to take these descriptions as objective. Or are they only a reflection of how things appear to the protagonist?

The protagonist criticizes the woman's purely physical existence, an existence based entirely on the removal of the sand, which has the unfortunate side effect of keeping her from the protagonist's bed.

I'm not sure. It looks as though her existence might be at least partly ideological as well. After all, her explanation for why they continue as they do is the dictum LOVE YOUR HOME.

This, however, draws a parallel between the woman's endless work and the protagonist's dull, mundane life in the business world.

Good point. It seems fairly obvious now that you've mentioned it, but that isn't something I picked up on the first time.

"The village keeps going because we never let up clearing away the sand like this" (39). In contrast, if the protagonist were to not return home to his town, would his vanishing be equally felt, or is he just another cog in the machine?

I'm not sure there's really a contrast. If the woman's pit were filled in with sand, would the rest of the village really miss her? There may be details about the structure of the village that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, but it seems to me that, despite all the quirks they share, the villagers are all incredibly isolated from one another.




Mon Nov 20, 2006 12:49 am
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
Quote:
It would make for interesting social arrangements, but I don't think it would eradicate cultural differences.


Well this is a purely speculative discussion. However, although I agree that it wouldn't eradicate cultural differences, I wonder if they would remain as fixed.

Quote:
A good historical test case would be the nomadic tribes of the ancient mid-East. The response, I think, is that competition isn't caused by fixity, but rather by use. Even nomads still need to use things in order to survive.


Or you could look at the nomadic Native Americans. The point remains though that, although these people did have wars among themselves for as you say things needed for survival (i.e. land, access to food, safety of women and children for reproduction, etc.), as far as I know (and I claim no sound knowledge on this front, just general understanding), they largely did not fight mass wars of ideology. I think perhaps this is more the statement being made in the text.

Quote:
So I think a serious change in the mode of culture, such as the shift to completely mobile homes,


I think the text is more metaphorical, not a shift to mobile homes, but mobile ideas.

Quote:
...the first chapter narrates outside of the protagonist's point of view, and the whole novel is written in third rather than first person. But I wonder if it's best to take these descriptions as objective. Or are they only a reflection of how things appear to the protagonist?


I was intrigued by the quasi-omniscient third person narrative. It was obvious that the narrator and the protagonist did not have the same perceptions. I've considered perhaps a narrator who is the protagonist after he has finally resolved himself to the point of view at the end of the book. As if he is writing a story about the event of being stuck in the hole and finally accepting it, understanding what his misperceptions were, and explaining them through his new understanding. I haven't looked at the text to support this theory, and it certainly doesn't explain the first and final chapters, but I'm throwing it out there nonetheless.

Quote:
The protagonist criticizes the woman's purely physical existence, an existence based entirely on the removal of the sand, which has the unfortunate side effect of keeping her from the protagonist's bed.

I'm not sure. It looks as though her existence might be at least partly ideological as well. After all, her explanation for why they continue as they do is the dictum LOVE YOUR HOME.


Outside of what you consider to be Abe's intentions, the protagonist, as I stated, is certainly critical of the woman's purely physical existence. He questions the woman: "'But this means you exist only for the purpose of clearing away the sand, doesn't it?'" (39), and becomes "angry at the things that bound the woman...and at the woman who let herself be bound" (39-40). He compares her unvaried work to that of the beetle. He also condescends to explain his significance to his own society, assuming that the woman cannot understand this. Last, he assumes the woman and the villagers perceive "a world where people are convinced that men could be erased like chalk marks from a blackboard" (67).

I would agree that the narration itself does not draw these same conclusions or criticisms, though I would argue for different reasons than the "Love Your Home" signs. These reminded me more of propaganda.

Quote:
I'm not sure there's really a contrast. If the woman's pit were filled in with sand, would the rest of the village really miss her?

Spoiler to page 119:

"'If any one place along the dunes gives way, then it's like a dike with a hole in it'" (119). I was probably taking this quote into account when I wrote the above. The woman describes that when a family successfully escaped it was dangerous for the whole town. And the home needed to be preserved in order to save the village. The village, according to the villagers' perceptions, is certainly dependent on each piece of the puzzle to remain intact. And likewise, each individual home relies on the contributions of multiple workers in order to clear the sand. As we learned (although this too is called into question later), the woman cannot physically survive alone, after losing the help of her husband. Certainly, in the protagonist's society, it is assumed there are families equally dependent on each other for survival. But the protagonist exhibits a contrasting example of living. As can be assumed from the first chapter, and the protagonist's random memories of his other life, there is no one who depends upon him or, likewise, whom he depends upon.

End of Spoiler

As for physical survival, the same can be said of my life. (Though my life is not emotionally deprived as is the protagonist's life.) I think it not at all an uncommon occurrence in contemporary society. Even with a sole breadwinning contributor to the household, the physical survival of the house does not necessarily depend on that breadwinner, were she to no longer be there. Another significant point in the story is the codependence goes both ways. Had it been the woman who had died, her husband would need a second hand in maintaining the sand removal efforts. The narrative depicts differing significance for the individual in these contrasting societies (one modern the other not).

Quote:
There may be details about the structure of the village that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, but it seems to me that, despite all the quirks they share, the villagers are all incredibly isolated from one another.


I would agree that they are pretty isolated. There are no village gatherings, etc. that we know of. All their interactions seem to center around the sand removal. Perhaps we can explore the idea of isolation in this context where people are totally dependent on each other for their physical survival and yet are still fairly isolated.




Mon Nov 20, 2006 3:47 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
irishrosem: The point remains though that, although these people did have wars among themselves for as you say things needed for survival (i.e. land, access to food, safety of women and children for reproduction, etc.), as far as I know (and I claim no sound knowledge on this front, just general understanding), they largely did not fight mass wars of ideology.

That's probably so, but I think there's a very simple explanation for that. They couldn't fight large wars at all, because a nomadic lifestyle makes it difficult to build cohesion in large populations.

Whether or not their wars were ideological... I'm not sure. I might even be open to the idea that all wars are at least marginally ideological. I ran across an interesting book the other day, the thesis of which was that war itself was a kind of cultural idea, distinct from sporadic conflict of the kind we see in animal species, with a distinct (though unknown) starting point in human culture. I wish I could remember the title now. I'm usually so good about writing these things down.

Outside of what you consider to be Abe's intentions, the protagonist, as I stated, is certainly critical of the woman's purely physical existence.

No, you're right about that. I think this is one of those cases of misperception on the part of the protagonist.

You may not have given this much thought as of yet, but I do wonder how the relationship between the two would seem from a female point of view. What I mean is, it would be easy, from my perspective, to explain most of the man's behavior in terms of his predicament, but I'm starting to wonder if his attitude towards the woman isn't settled even prior his realization that he's been trapped. What do you think?




Wed Nov 22, 2006 1:38 am
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
Quote:
That's probably so, but I think there's a very simple explanation for that. They couldn't fight large wars at all, because a nomadic lifestyle makes it difficult to build cohesion in large populations.


I agree. And, just as it is difficult to "build cohesion in large populations" among nomads, it would be equally difficult to build cohesion of ideology, prejudices and biases. Among moving communities these prejudices could not become so solidly grounded so popularly promulgated. That's how I truly read Abe's metaphor of moving houses. Fixed positions and stagnancy require a lack of innovation and I would argue a lack of thought. This is where Abe's "unpleasant competition" arises.

Quote:
I ran across an interesting book the other day, the thesis of which was that war itself was a kind of cultural idea, distinct from sporadic conflict of the kind we see in animal species, with a distinct (though unknown) starting point in human culture. I wish I could remember the title now. I'm usually so good about writing these things down.


If you remember the title I wouldn't mind looking that book up.

Quote:
You may not have given this much thought as of yet, but I do wonder how the relationship between the two would seem from a female point of view.


Oh yeah, I've given it a ton of thought. I think the story also points this way, especially with the protagonist's musings about "the other woman" from his previous life. I tend to read things from such a highly gender sensitive perspective that I tend to leave that out of the discussion, unless, of course, invited.

On the issue of the protagonist's criticism of the woman's purely physical work, I definitely saw the social, classical and religious presumption that woman is physical while man is spiritual/intellectual/philosophical. This is an age old theme played out in literature from classical antiquity, to the Bible; tons of Elizabethan, Victorian, turn of the century American, etc. literature also play on this theme.

Gender issues though, for me, pervade the whole book from the themes of stagnancy and movement, prisoner and oppressor, villager and village (individual and whole) and most significantly in the themes of sexuality, isolation and human relationships to the images of physical labor and survival, earth (sand) and water, violence and passivity and home care (domesticity)



Wed Nov 22, 2006 1:12 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
irishrosem: And, just as it is difficult to "build cohesion in large populations" among nomads, it would be equally difficult to build cohesion of ideology, prejudices and biases.

Between groups, yes, but it looks to me as though nomadic groups were held together in large part by cohesion of ideology and bias, so that kind of culture may end up encouraging those biases within whatever size group it is capable of sustaining. Hence, in nomadic cultures, you get the importance of the blood fued and the vendetta. Of course, you could break the social group down even further. The early American ideal (by early I mean early European-American, not Native American) was that of the yeoman, an iconoclastic pioneer-farmer who was essentially out to establish his independence and, at most, that of his near family unit. And to some extent, I'd say we've held onto that ideal. One symbol of it is our reluctance to live both in prosperity and in proximity -- eg. if you have enough money, you're apt to put a lawn or a fence between you and your neighbor. Another example of vestigal yeomanism -- our social dependence on cars...

Among moving communities these prejudices could not become so solidly grounded so popularly promulgated. That's how I truly read Abe's metaphor of moving houses.

Hmm. Maybe. I thought of it more in terms of security, where possession of the land was held as the foundation of other forms of possession and defending your land was the biggest order of security.

Me: I ran across an interesting book the other day, the thesis of which was that war itself was a kind of cultural idea...
Rose: If you remember the title I wouldn't mind looking that book up.

I know how to find the title again. Basically, I know where I saw it in the bookstore, and I don't think it's very likely that anyone will buy it before I get back. So I'll let you know.

I definitely saw the social, classical and religious presumption that woman is physical while man is spiritual/intellectual/philosophical. This is an age old theme played out in literature from classical antiquity, to the Bible; tons of Elizabethan, Victorian, turn of the century American, etc. literature also play on this theme.

I wonder how common a theme that is in Japanese culture. Also, it seems to have been somewhat inverted in the work of the Romantics, where women are sometimes taken to be almost entirely spiritual (though probably not terribly intellectual or philosophical). That's probably about the time that you start getting pictorial images of female angels, as well. And now I'm off on a tangent...

BTW, is anybody else reading this book?

Frustrating, isn't it? If you feel inclined, you can help me try to drum up some interest. But either way, until someone else shows up, we can make the best of the discussion with just the two of us.




Thu Nov 23, 2006 5:42 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
Quote:
One symbol of it is our reluctance to live both in prosperity and in proximity -- eg. if you have enough money, you're apt to put a lawn or a fence between you and your neighbor. Another example of vestigal yeomanism -- our social dependence on cars...


And yet in cities, out of sheer impracticability, this is no longer the case, physically. People live in high rises, right on top of each other. Only the wealthy are able to own and park their cars and only use them to leave the city. Is it a coincidence then that urban areas seem to more readily embrace pluralism, at least in the U.S.? I'm just musing here, this isn't an argument.

Quote:
Hmm. Maybe. I thought of it more in terms of security, where possession of the land was held as the foundation of other forms of possession and defending your land was the biggest order of security.


Absolutely, the two go hand in hand. When one's concern for the day is physical survival against the elements (as portrayed in the sand hole), it is more difficult to waste time with prejudices, etc. The protagonist's prejudices against the villagers fade after he begins to participate in the survival aspects of the home, as is evident at the end of the book. (I won't cite specifics for fear of spoilers.) Going back to nomadic cultures, if survival is the order of the day, competition, even tribal competition, is born of physical necessity rather than ideological differences. Did these tribal conflicts expand into cultural and ideological wars, absolutely. We have daily evidence of this in Iraq. But the shift to wars of ideology accompanied shifts to communal living. As far as I know, wandering nomads are not the source of the military campaigns in the Middle East, despite the nomadic roots of their original tribes. I guess what I read from Abe's metaphor is just as there are positive aspects of social cohesion into communities, there are negative aspects. The ever-present "us verse them." The larger the community, the larger the "us vs. them" battle becomes. Thomas Friedman spells this out pretty well in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem. I read that and thought how did anyone think that a democratic republic could possibly work in Iraq's current climate. Communities help to contribute to the "unpleasant competition" arising from stagnancy that Abe targets.

Quote:
I wonder how common a theme that is in Japanese culture.


I don't know, that might be interesting to look into.

Quote:
Also, it seems to have been somewhat inverted in the work of the Romantics, where women are sometimes taken to be almost entirely spiritual (though probably not terribly intellectual or philosophical). That's probably about the time that you start getting pictorial images of female angels, as well. And now I'm off on a tangent...


Tangents are where some of the most interesting conversation comes from. As for spiritual depictions of women during Romanticism, as you say they were not wrapped up in intellectual or philosophical depictions. In fact, they still very much seem to embody the goddess/whore dichotomy of earlier cultures. The women were depicted as angels/virgins. The pedestal became more prevalent than the prostitute, and both stereotypes became more interesting, but both images were still the normal depiction. The romantic images of women in Italian visual art held women in a spiritual light as morally superior (virgin). While the British romantic poets portrayed women as emotionally superior, giving them either a pedestal constructed of romantic love or a brothel constructed as the cause of emotional downfall (Eve). Even if you look at Hugo's female characters in Les Miserables. Fantine is the whore who is forgiven and vindicated before she dies. Eponine and Cosette are set up as the dual images of whore/goddess, especially in their competing relationships with Marius.

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we can make the best of the discussion with just the two of us.


Absolutely. I just figured with all the people that voted on the book that others would be reading it. Can we move the discussion elsewhere so we can discuss the whole text? I find it limiting to discuss only part of a book.




Sun Nov 26, 2006 4:17 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
I've been sidetracked lately, so I haven't yet finished the book. Over the next week or so I should have time to finish. In the meantime, if you don't mind, let me stick to the section threads so I don't accidentally read any spoilers.

And incidentally, I tracked down the book on war that I mentioned earlier. The title is "The Ride of the Second Horseman", and the author is Robert L. O'Connell. I went ahead and bought a copy, so if you're interested, we could start a thread in the "Additional Nonfiction" forum.




Sun Nov 26, 2006 7:45 pm
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Post Re: Part I (Chapters 6 through 10)
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I've been sidetracked lately, so I haven't yet finished the book. Over the next week or so I should have time to finish. In the meantime, if you don't mind, let me stick to the section threads so I don't accidentally read any spoilers.


Oops, I had just assumed you had finished it by the references you made. No problem, I'll just wait a bit until you, and perhaps others, finish it. It's a shame there isn't more involvement, the book is full of interesting and significant themes.

Quote:
And incidentally, I tracked down the book on war that I mentioned earlier. The title is "The Ride of the Second Horseman", and the author is Robert L. O'Connell. I went ahead and bought a copy, so if you're interested, we could start a thread in the "Additional Nonfiction" forum.


Thanks for the title. I'll be away next week, going to Florida (ugh). I will look at the book sometime the following week and let you know if I am interested.

Hope you are feeling better today, Mad.




Mon Nov 27, 2006 5:41 pm
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DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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