LIGHTNING RODS.

I am delighted to report that Helen DeWitt’s new novel, Lightning Rods, will be published by New Directions in October (as reported by Helen here); you can preorder it at that Amazon link, or wherever you like, or simply wait for it to appear at your local bookstore (if such things still exist by then). If you’re not familiar with the author, I refer you to my 2003 rave about her first novel (which has nothing to do with the Tom Cruise movie of the same name). Huzzah for her and for New Directions, which has been doing its damnedest to save American literature for many decades now (note the list of forthcoming publications provided in the second parenthetical paragraph of this post—my, I do seem to be addicted to parentheses).

Comments

  1. my, I do seem to be addicted to parentheses
    The habit can be broken, using a technique known as willpower. When composing my comments here I spend a lot of time eliminating parentheses, in favor of commas.

  2. dearieme says:

    Good. But how do you get rid of surplus commas? They infect my efforts, I know.

  3. Snip longer sentences into smaller ones. You then see that many parenthetical expressions can be turned into comma-separated clauses. Others can be detached and expanded into new sentences.
    Once you have trimmed and hemmed the short sentences, they can be quilted into a pleasing pattern. Lacan recommends the additional use of points de capiton or “upholstery buttons” where needed.

  4. Bathrobe says:

    I had a look at Helen Dewitt’s website. I notice she had approaches back in 2005 to make a film of The Last Samurai. (The page on the proposed film has a moderately interesting link to Arabic Typography, which doesn’t totally live up to its promise).
    In rerereads she talks of the reading style of goats (for the benefit of AJP): “goat: studies the contents list carefully, also the index, tables, and typographic indications of the structure, questioning everything – it reads and understands the book thoroughly or else rejects it quickly if initial scrutiny shows it to be worthless (or is foreign to its own ideas).”
    Apart from goats there are also sheep and rabbits.

  5. Today our goats were in the kitchen – the gate and the front door had been left open by accident – and that’s an accurate description of a goat’s m.o. She knows her goats.

  6. At her website, DeWitt put up a copy of the option contract for a film of The Last Samurai. I wonder if its phrasing is typical of Hollywood over-the-topness – see the following (bold type added by me):

    For the sum of $17,000 (the “Initial Option Payment”), payable within 10 business days following Owner’s signature and delivery of this Agreement (and all exhibits attached hereto) to Purchaser, Owner hereby grants to Purchaser the exclusive and irrevocable option (“Option”) to acquire exclusively, throughout the universe, and in perpetuity, the “Rights” (as defined in Paragraph 7 below).

    Now that Hollywood has control over time and space, what next ? I am reminded of the Grimm fable The Old Fisherman and His Wife.

  7. Here is an annotated version of the tale. The translation starts irritatingly, describing the couple as living in a “miserable hovel”, and ends annoyingly, describing their return to the “dirty hovel”. The standard German edition says simply Pisspott, id est a chamberpot, in both places. Or Hollywood, in the present case.
    It won’t hurt to skip the annotations altogether, which are themselves pretty miserable. For example, “by the sea” has the gloss: “The sea is the transitional agent between life and death”.

  8. J. W. Brewer says:

    Grumbly, that’s not Hollywoodese, it’s lawyerese. It’s not uncommon in settlement agreements, for example, to release all claims against the other side that may have arisen since “the beginning of the world” or “the beginning of time.” See http://www.adamsdrafting.com/2006/07/05/release-language/ (some reformer whining about this practice). Hollywood lawyers in the past have been burned by using inadequately grandiose language (e.g., wording dealing with movie rights that didn’t contemplate the subsequent invention of the VCR and the ability to make money selling copies of old movies in videotape format, thus eventually creating ambiguity about who had the right to do what in that new context), so I assume they don’t want to have to fight about who has what rights if and when there is cable tv on Mars.

  9. so I assume they don’t want to have to fight about who has what rights if and when there is cable tv on Mars.
    J.W., I can understand such concerns, but as the reformer you linked says:

    I hope I’m not being controversial in suggesting that besides being quaint, such language is also redundant. If I agree to release all claims against Acme, that means all claims, as opposed to just those claims that arose in the past year, or the past century, or during some other limited period.

    That seems pretty reasonable. However, a commenter replied with this:

    I would respectfully suggest that there are some courts in which that kind of release language is necessary. Florida courts, for example, have construed the phrase “all claims” in a release to be impermissibly ambiguous for purposes of awarding attorney’s fees in an offer-of-settlement context.

    Such decisions seem to exemplify the word-chopping willfulness that induce mistrust in the legal system as a whole. I suppose the best thing is not to imagine courts as dispensers of justice, but as flea markets where every little ruse counts.

  10. It’s not uncommon in settlement agreements to release all claims against the other side that may have arisen since “the beginning of the world” or “the beginning of time.”
    There’s a big difference. I’d want the latter.

  11. I hope I’m not being controversial in suggesting that besides being quaint, such language is also redundant.
    Law revels in redundancy. “Without let or hindrance”. “Malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance”. Perhaps somewhere someone distinguishes let and hindrance, or misfeasance and malfeasance, but even so, the distinction might well be just a folk etymology of the legal phrase.
    Jame’s Boyd White discusses legal language from the point of view of rhetoric and literature in “The Legal Imagination”, a book I strongly recommend — both amusing and informative.
    Legal language is a non-natural garble of Norman French, Latin, and English (with mostly English grammar) and was deliberately created to be unintelligible to non-lawyers, and it uses jargon because legal meanings are different than ordinary-language meanings. “Good came from this, and bad.” (Henry Maine).

  12. At this link malfeasance, misfeasance, and non-feasance are distinguished, but the point is made that the distinction is unimportant in tort law.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    The practical problem is what to do in a context where you are, say, 95-98% sure that particular “quaint” language is entirely redundant and could be edited out without losing any protection for your client. Is the increase in literary elegance or clarity to a layperson worth the small (but often non-zero) risk? Often the risk-averse thing will seem to be to use whatever form of language you and/or more experienced colleagues used the last time you or they did this particular sort of thing without anything going wrong (and cutting and pasting the old language is also often cheaper than drafting anew), which tends to mean you get chunks of language that have accumulated encrustations evidencing prior risk-aversion over the decades or centuries.

  14. With White’s book you can actually develop a taste for legal language, taking it for what it is rather than as a defective form of weird writing. It’s elaborately ritualistic when done well.
    During the first half of the 20th c. at least, legal authors seemed to compete to dig up the most obscure words possible, and IIRC Hat recently cited a contemporary legal scholar who also does that.

  15. I’ve just updated the links at my “Fisherman and His Wife” post (with “Kannitverstan” thrown in for free). Read it in English, Scots, Dutch, the original Low Saxon, German, an American cultural translation, and Pushkin’s Russian.

  16. Is the increase in literary elegance or clarity to a layperson worth the small (but often non-zero) risk? Often the risk-averse thing will seem to be to use whatever form of language you and/or more experienced colleagues used the last time you or they did this particular sort of thing without anything going wrong (and cutting and pasting the old language is also often cheaper than drafting anew), which tends to mean you get chunks of language that have accumulated encrustations evidencing prior risk-aversion over the decades or centuries.
    With a few modifications, that is a fair description of the thinking behind the bad programming practices that result in unmaintainable applications.

  17. My own opinion is that all software problems are due to deliberate malice on the part of the programmer compounded by Bill Gates’ dream of world conquest, but I suppose that this view will be regarded as “paranoid”.

  18. Bill Gates is so last decade. He gave it away, he has very few billions. Nowadays, we mostly complain about Steve Jobs and the quality of iTunes.

  19. And another thing, anyone who hasn’t used the Norwegian edition of microsoft Office™ doesn’t know the meaning of the words we can ruin six months of work in the final five minutes.

  20. Switch to OpenOffice.org, O’Poundage. And yes, localized into Bokmål or Nynorsk. Available for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris.

  21. Crown, you might want to consider doing the following, which I do, in order to compose a letter or article:
    1) Use a plain text editor (by definition, this is the kind that doesn’t crash). That is, don’t bother with the fancy stuff like pictures, hyperlinks and formatting. Just make a note to yourself in the text that you want this picture here, that link there and so on.
    2) Work offline. In particular, don’t compose text directly in a browser edit field.
    3) Save your work in small files, not a single gigantic one. Even when you’re translating War and Peace into Norwegian, make one file for each chapter or section.
    4) Save your work regularly, e.g. every 5 minutes.
    5) When the text is finished, copy it into some crash-prone piece of shit such as Word or (better) OpenOffice. Then you add the fancy stuff like formatting, pictures and hyperlinks. If anything goes wrong, you will have lost only that bit of final layout work.

  22. And when your translation of War and Peace into Norwegian comes out, let me know and I’ll plug it here.

  23. Thank you all. Actually, it was the drawings that caused the biggest screwup with Word, and I didn’t enjoy trying to unravel the problem in Norwegian. Nowadays I’ve got an Apple equivalent of Word, called Pages, that Sashura among his many other talents knows how to work with.

  24. J. W. Brewer says:

    I appreciate AJP’s implicit suggestion that the newly-departed Poly Styrene may have been the Auxentius of Milan of our own times.

  25. Poly had early doubts about the Nicene creed. Indeed it was one reason why I thought it important to put W&P into nynorsk.

  26. I picked up a copy of Lightning Rods at BookExpo America the other day and wondered why the title sounded familiar… I realized why when I Googled the title and found your post. It looks great, and I was lucky to get one of the last copies.

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