The Pertinacity of the Asp

imgres.jpgGalileo, complaining about those people who refused to look through a telescope to see those things, such as the moons of Jupiter or sunspots moving across the face of the sun, referred to them as being “replete with the pertinacity of the asp.” Everyone knew that the sun revolved around the earth: it was proven scriptural science.

I recently read William T. Vollmann’s treatise, Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. In general it is a very readable presentation of some rather difficult concepts, both astronomical and mathematical. But truly it is far easier to understand and accept the unnecessary complexities of the scriptural world view than it is to accept that the world obeys the insights of scripture and not of science.

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City of Night

RechyJohn Rechy’s highly autobiographical first novel, City of Night, might also be considered the first openly revealing novel to explore what we now consider LBGT life in America.

It’s interesting to recall the controversy that this book caused back in the ’60s and to recognize that today we even have gay marriage. Let’s take off our hats to the late Barney Rossit who almost single-handedly used the alternative voice of Grove Press to bring us such exciting and thought provoking literature.

I found that you cant always tell a score by his age or appearance: There are the young and the goodlooking ones—the ones about whom you wonder why they prefer to pay someone (who will most likely at least not indicate desiring them back) when there exists—much, much vaster than the hustling world—the world of unpaid, mutually desiring males —the easy pickups. . . . But often the scores are near-middle-aged or older men. And they are mostly uneffeminate. And so you learn to identify them by their method of approaching you (a means of identification which becomes instinctively surer and easier as you hang around longer). They will make one of the standard oriented remarks; they will offer a cigarette, a cup of coffee, a drink in a bar: anything to give them time in which to decide whether to trust you during those interludes in which there is always a suggestion of violence (although, for some, I would learn later, this is one of the proclaimed appeals—that steady hint of violence); time in which to find out if you’ll fit their particular sexfantasy.

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A New Dream

Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes

Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes is a series of novels by William T. Vollmann concerned with the settlement of North America and the conflicts between the settlers and the natives. Each volume focuses on a different expedition in North American history, highlighted by digressions and chronological surprises, all narrated by  “William the Blind.” Eventually the series will consist of seven novels; four books have been published so far.

  • Volume 1: The Ice-Shirt (1990) is about the arrival of the Vikings in North America. [9th-10th cent.]
  • Volume 2: Fathers and Crows (1992) is about the efforts of Jesuit Missionaries in Canada. [16th-18th cent.]
  • Volume 3: Argall (2001), written in a seventeenth-century prose style, is about the settlement of Jamestown. [17th cent.]
  • Volume 4: The Poison Shirt (unpublished), either “concerning the Puritans vs. King Philip of Rhode Island,”[1] or Captain Cook’s voyage to Hawaii.[2] [17th or 18th cent.]
  • Volume 5: The Dying Grass (2013), “about the destruction of the Plains Indian tribes.”[3] [18th-19th cent.]
  • Volume 6: The Rifles (1994) is about Sir John Franklin’s attempt in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage to the Pacific, and also discusses Vollmann’s experiences among the 1990s Inuit. [19th-20th cent.]
  • Volume 7: The Cloud-Shirt (unpublished), “Navajo vs. Hopi (or possibly Navajo vs. oil company) in Arizona.”[4] [20th cent.]

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William T. Vollmann

One of the Yahoo reading groups has been reading William T. Vollmann this past quarter and I decided to read either Imperial (1300 pages) or Royal Family (800 pages):  I finally selected the short novel and keep it in my bedroom where I can read it in the morning sun sitting in my power-recliner (also known as the Heitzer) or sitting up in bed with the dogs sleeping around me (I commonly have to reread the parts where I couldn’t hardly keep my eyes open). As you might imagine, the reading is slow and my arms are getting tired holding up this tome in bed at night.

The Royal Family is part of Vollmann’s writings on prostitution and the seamier side of our society. But it’s also a detective story. Here is the blurb from the back cover of my copy:

Henry Tyler is a failing private detective in San Francisco. When the woman he loves, a Korean-American named Irene—who happens to be married to his brother John—commits suicide. Henry clings despairingly to her ghost. Struggling to turn grief and guilt into something precious, he employs his professional skills to track down the “Queen of the Prostitutes” and her royal court of street-walkers and addicts, who accept him readily into their fold. While henry follows a new path to nightmare beauty and degradation, John defends himself against Irene’s memory with stoic blindness. Driven by his obsessive ambition as a contract lawyer, John focuses on one very lucrative project—drawing up the paperwork for a mysterious establishment in Las Vegas, call Feminine Circus, whose proprietor just happens to be hunting for the Queen.

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