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Posts Tagged ‘Mating’

7: A Specifically Male Pathology

May 5, 2015 | by

From “Serious Trouble” to “Wayposts, No Garlic,” pp. 141–165

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And so our narrator has entered the desert in search of Denoon’s Xanadu, the village of Tsau. Last time Tim Horvath left us, after an excellent discussion of boredom, at “Serious Trouble.” Our narrator explains the nature of that trouble: it “began on the fourth or fifth day out. It happened because I was doing a thing I had been warned not to do in the desert: I was reviewing my life.”

Isn’t it always this way? The real difficulty begins when we peer into the labyrinth of ourselves. “The trees were clotted with mud nests, weaverbird nests, sometimes six in a tree,” she explains of the desolate scene: Read More »

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6: “A Craving for Silence”

April 27, 2015 | by

From “Kang” through “Music,” pp. 116–140

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This is the sixth entry in our Mating Book Club. (Sorry for the wait!) Read along.

This latest portion might be dubbed “The Critique of Pure Boredom, especially given that our narrator name-drops Kant in the midst of it. Early on, she declares, “One attractive thing about me is that I’m never bored, because during any caesura my personal automatic pastime of questioning my own motives is there for me.”

Lest we doubt her, she goes on to wonder whether the journey she intends to undertake to Tsau is the byproduct of certain deep unconscious maternal longings, or something else. She dismisses any neo-Darwinian and Freudian interpretation of her behavior, wrangles with the question of that behavior in relation to Denoon’s childlessness (interesting, she notes), and the overpopulation problem, plus her sympathy for abandoned children globally. And she winds up wanting her decisions in the realm of relationships to be not only deliberate, but “deliberative,” which is where Kant enters into it. Slow and steady.

Yet in the world outside her head, she’s on a flatbed truck that’s flying at hair-raising speeds for 250 miles, with cornmeal, mail, and a “fiendish shavenheaded adolescent at the wheel.” Read More »

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5: “If I Overdwell on This It Can’t Be Helped”

April 2, 2015 | by

From “Grace Acts” through “Grace, Again,” pp. 90–116

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This is the fifth entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

“So here he is, after all this setup: Denoon.” That’s how Joshua Cohen began his post last week, and the moment when we finally confront our “genuinely goodlooking man” does feel exactly that dramatic. It’s a strange kind of meet-cute: girl meets boy at furtive political symposium; girl is foisted on boy by boy’s not-quite-ex-wife.

This section takes in two run-ins between our narrator and Denoon: the first inside the guesthouse of the USAID director’s opulent home, the second near the outhouse on the Tutwane family plot in Old Naledi. After this, our narrator shares a meal with Grace, the not-quite-ex, at the humble Carat Restaurant, “which was doomed to fail because they gave you too much food for your money.”

Cohen wrote that last week’s one-act “operat[es] on multiple time lines,” but so does the novel as a whole: our narrator writes from an undefined future, looking back on life pre-Denoon until we “plunge into Denoon and what followed.” As hints accumulate of the disagreements, passions, and disappointments ahead, our expectation grows fevered, even as the details of the meeting itself remain wonderfully unknowable. Even though we’ve been working our way toward this encounter, and even though we know that this is where the story truly begins, the moment still feels wildly significant. The narrator speaks of “a feeling of fatedness”: “The feeling was that this was supposed to happen, according to the stars in their courses.” Read More »

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4: “Here Was the Famous Voice”

March 27, 2015 | by

“A Farce Written in Human Blood,” pp. 70–89

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This is the fourth entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

So here he is, after all this setup: Denoon—the anthropologist beyond anthropology, the man who until this chapter had been kept behind the margins as if in the wings, behind a curtain. Because his entrance here, now, is a stage entrance—he’s going to give us a performance.

Here we have a party whose entertainment consists of an anthropologist’s lecture costumed as an anthropologist’s debate—with politicians, about politics—in the thickly caked makeup of a play: “A Farce Written in Human Blood: THE DESTRUCTION OF AFRICA ACCELERATED BY HER BENEFACTORS, PRESENT COMPANY NOT EXCEPTED.” The caps are Rush’s. Then there’s this heading: Act II. But where was Act I? Did we miss it? We did. Our unnamed narrator gives us access to Denoon only after he’s finished (verbally) demolishing capitalism (rather, “excoriating the capitalist development mode for Africa”)—socialism is next.

But before we get into Denoon’s “objections to the socialist remedy for Africa,” let’s ask a question: Why did Rush write this section as a drama? Why not as a thoroughgoing narrated scene? Read More »

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3: “Blasts and Lurches”

March 26, 2015 | by

From “A Fête Worse than Death” through “A Great Reckoning in a Little Room,” pp. 59–71

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This is the third entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

In their opening salvos to this celebration of/cerebration on Norman Rush’s Mating, it seems only reasonable that my virtual clubmates, Popkey and Piepenbring, have focused on the voice of the novel’s nameless first-person narrator. Without question, she’s a unique creation. Piepenbring calls her, approvingly, “strange,” a strangeness that Popkey would have us appreciate for a believable femaleness. I concede, as Popkey documents, that since Mating received the National Book Award for fiction, in 1991, it has been a point of debate, among critics and readers, to assess the degree of plausibility of the femaleness of Rush’s narrator (a nameless narrator who, in Rush’s third-person second novel, Mortals, has a brief walk-on part in which we learn both her pedestrian forename and her satisfying surname). 

Setting aside here the question of a male novelist’s capacity to imagine female prose (whatever that is), it seems to me that a deeper challenge, and the one by which we might measure Rush’s capacities, is his ability to imagine a character with a complex, plausible intellectual life. Though the human heart tested to its limits is amply central in the history of the novel, a human mind functioning at the peak of its powers is less well represented (and, when amply charted, is more typically criminal: Charles Kinbote and Humbert Humbert, for two). As such, I’m less concerned about veracity of voice than I am with memorableness of mind. No one I know talks like Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, but that doesn’t stop me from believing in him. And no one I know takes in the world quite the way the narrator of Mating does. Read More »

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2: “I Had Been Working My Tits Down to Nubs”

March 19, 2015 | by

From “Martin Wade Leaves a Party” through “Sekopololo,” pp. 29–55

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This is the second entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

My God, that’s awful!” This was, by her own account, Elsa Rush’s reaction to one of the most memorable—and one of my favorite—lines in her husband’s novel: “I had been working my tits down to nubs.”

Some context: Our unnamed narrator is trying to ferret out what her current paramour, a British spy she calls Z., knows about the elusive Nelson Denoon, an iconoclastic figure in the anthropological world. Denoon, who has been hovering on the novel’s margins since its very first pages, will soon become—and I trust this is no spoiler—her lover; but, for the moment, he is merely “the pinnacle of whatever vineyard I was laboring in as a groundling,” the object of her “ressentiment.” “I was thirty-two,” our narrator explains, “and a woman and no doctorate yet, no thesis even, and closing in on my thesis deadline. I had been working my tits down to nubs in the study of man, with the result that my goals were receding farther the faster I ran.” Read More »

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