Wednesday, January 30, 2008

BY NIGHT IN CHILE by Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano's By Night in Chile is a major work, a brilliant, beautiful, poetic novella that demands re-reading (the best criterion for literary greatness). If the translator's prose is faithful to the author's--and it must be, for surely no one would take such license today--Bolano has a lovely, baroque, Faulknerian style (not a rarity in Latin America; Gabriel Garcia Marquez once referred to Faulkner as a writer of the northern Caribbean basin, which is every bit as geographically accurate as calling him a 'Southern novelist'), and I detect in this style a very strong Thomas Bernhard influence. W.G. Sebald may also be behind this book somewhere, or that might equally be a misapprehension caused by Bernhard's influence on both writers. Bolano constructs some great, bitter symbols: the Church's trained falcons attacking doves that shit on churches; Western literature as a decaying bourgeois house concealing a torture chamber in the basement. Wow! I can't wait until the rest of Bolano's works are translated and published.

GREY AREA by Will Self

Will Self's short story "Scale" in his collection Grey Area (that's 'grey' with an 'e' as in Eeeeeeeeeeeengland) is one of his works of sheer genius. Built, bizarrely, out of a series of imaginative riffs on the dictionary definitions of the title word, the story includes a devastatingly funny Monty Pythonesque tax assessment satire and a Kafkaesque series of 'falls' into alternate scale model universes, all wrapped inside a Ballardian freeway satire spiced with Burroughsian addiction. It sounds like a mess, but somehow Self makes it cohere beautifully. This is Self at his best, twisting his influences into something entirely his own, Self himself.

THE ALICE BOOKS by Lewis Carroll

The linguistic theme of Through the Looking Glass, the narrative's critique of signification (e.g. Alice's mention of names as objectifying strategies in the "Looking Glass Insects" episode; "the wood where things have no names"; Prof. Dumpty's discourse on language), conforms nicely to the work's overall mirror theme. For Carroll is criticizing the received idea of language as a reflection of the world, a mirror of nature (to invoke Rorty's title phrase), in a way that uncannily anticipates Saussure, Derrida and even Foucault. This is very high nonsense, indeed. An academic could write an article titled "Disturbing Reflection: Lewis Carroll's Critique of Language"...

This critique of language, while intellectually 'radical,' is considerably less subversive than Alice in Wonderland's Swiftian satire of the structures of bourgeois life in Victorian England, its rules, rituals and characteristics (tea, croquet, trials, the sanctity of motherhood, moralistic poetry, etc.) It's interesting that the movement between the two books parallels the trajectory of academic 'radicals' in the post-1960's U.S., from a fundamental critique of society's material base to the criticism of its texts and language. Lewis Carroll made his own 'linguistic turn,' it seems.

Looking Glass is, on balance, a slightly lesser work than Wonderland, lacking the latter's imaginative exuberance, its sense of 'anything can (and likely will) happen.' Looking Glass is a more deliberately structured work,a bit more labored, seemingly less inspired. It does, however, contain many things equal to the best of Wonderland, and there is probably no higher praise than that. Unfortunately, the weakest point of Looking Glass is its climactic chapter, where only the dinner party is up to Carroll's usual standards of invention. If a short work must have a slack chapter, the climax is its worst possible location; Carroll leads us on a wonderful journey, then spends several static pages boring us near the end. Why? It's damn bad craftsmanship, that it is, as M. Dumpty might say (in his W.C. Fields persona).

Both books deeply, deeply impress me (as they have for years now). They are the most fabulously inventive, intelligent, original books ever written for children; they're also a rare Victorian link in the line that connects Swift and Sterne to Joyce and Rushdie.

ULYSSES by James Joyce (part III)

Ulysses does feel seriously lopsided to me on this reading; it's severely backloaded. The first half moves along at a nice, modern, urban, peripatetic pace, a speed attuned to the Hibernian metropolis. But the second half slows down, stretches out, goes inward, becomes a bit (or a lot) too enthralled by its own techniques. (I'm speaking more of Joyce than the book now. After "Cyclops" Joyce has a tendency to become an Edison in love with his multiple inventions, irritatingly forcing the reader to stare at his electric light, listen to his phonograph, etc.) This tendency slows down all of the later chapters. (Contrastingly, Joyce's earlier inventive forms in "Aeolus" and "Wandering Rocks" speeded things up--perhaps because those forms were put to 'public' use, while the later ones are more 'private.') "Nausicaa", "Oxen" and "Eumaeus" are prime examples of Joycean overkill. "Okay, I get the point already," I wanted to cry out to the elongated Irish spirit hovering among the cobwebs near my ceiling. (Note to self: Must buy broom soon.) Only the surreal circus of "Circe" and Molly's monologue save the second half; in these two sections form neither irritates the reader nor overpowers content. Tedium is held at bay by constant metamorphosis and a rapidly flowing stream of consciousness. These two chapters have much more going for them than merely a highly original style, and that makes the difference between groundbreaking success and relative failure.

Now that I've finished it, I have more reservations about Ulysses than on my previous readings. Perhaps I can see the book more objectively now; I'm no longer blinded by aesthetic/intellectual hero-worship and am now able to both admire (enormously) and criticize (at certain specific points) the craft of the book. I've developed enough independence from Joyce to intelligently critique some of Joyce's choyces. Interestingly (dialectically, even) the book itself has made me expert enough to criticize it, for reading Ulysses again and again is surely one of the things that has made me a better reader. Joyce has taught me enough to take a few good eminently defensible swipes at him. But all of this aside, Ulysses remains the defining Modernist novel, as well as the Rosetta Stone of 20th-century literature, the key to understanding it all. (Joyce went Casaubon one better, creating a Borgesian key to a mythology [Modernism] that did not yet exist.) There are many more perfect Modernist works (one by Joyce [the Portrait]), but none is greater. Here ends my unnecessary defense of what's now received opinion.

There's no need to waste time arguing that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the 20th century. Everyone who hasn't read it is already convinced of that, thanks to an excellent PR campaign ca.2000 and the indefatigable (if almost entirely unread) work of the academic Joyce industry. Rather, what strikes me now is the dialectical movement I have undergone through multiple readings of Ulysses: the book has made me a good enough reader to see its faults; my reception of the text has altered because the text has altered my receiving self. (Of course, the fact that I've written a novel--such as it is--since my last reading is probably a more decisive factor. I'm now much more alert to the craft of writing, to the nuts-and-bolts from which art is built. So I shouldn't load the dialectical/critical theory idea with more weight than it can bear.)

And oh, by the way, did I mention that Ulysses is funny as all hell? Most commentators, critics and profs tend to forget this--yet another example of the literary critical profession's deeply ingrained bias against comedy. (But that's a subject for another post...)

ULYSSES by James Joyce (part II)

On this 6th or 7th reading of Ulysses (I've now reached the point at which I've lost count of my readings, a sign of true Joyceanism), the early chapters impress me with their compression and tightness. Later chapters are more slack. "Wandering Rocks" could afford to lose a scene or two, and "Nausicaa" spends too much time beating beyond death Gerty's cliche-constructed consciousness. I wouldn't have "Cyclops" a bit shorter, though.

Another thing that stands out on this reading is Joyce's absolute mastery of the English sentence. The man can and does achieve anything he desires between a capital letter and a full stop. There's the great last sentence of "Cyclops" in which three different voices are joined; there's a sentence in "Sirens" where the reader's reception of the sentence is anticipated and mocked within the sentence itself (a case of the text reading its readers); and let's not forget the narrator's pissing sentence in "Cyclops," a formal parallel of Bloom's earlier shitting scene in which the act of reading commercial fiction is paralleled with defecation and Bloom ends by wiping his ass with part of the story. Talk about a roman a these.

On this reading I conclude that "Oxen of the Sun" is a failure, a high concept experiment in which Joyce falls in love with his formal idea (a chapter that recapitulates through multiple pastiches the history of English prose) and forgets his obligation to further the novel's themes. It's a triumph of style over substance that seems finally less substantial, less pregnant with significance, than the much shorter, earlier chapters such as "Proteus" and "Lotus Eaters." "Oxen" is the most tedious section of Ulysses (an unforgivable fault), displaying Joyce at his most self-indulgent, flogging his ideas into the ground--and then flogging the ground. It's the same tendency that weakens "Nausicaa," where Gerty's consciousness is displayed in tiresome detail. Fortunately, "Circe" enters to save the second half of the book, while the brilliant "Cyclops" bookends the other side of the two-chapter weak patch. Without "Circe" even "Penelope" would not suffice to raise the second half beyond tedium... It's remarkable (to me, at least) that it took me this many readings to see the weaknesses here, to understand them, to gain a more balanced view of Ulysses as a novel that's not nearly as consistently excellent as many other canonical Modernist works, but which, at its highest points, leaves the others far behind--or better, contains them. Ulysses, at its best, contains and anticipates much of what is most impressive in Modernist literature. It's a far from perfect performance but still the quintessential one, the defining Modernist novel. And even when it sucks, it sucks well.

ULYSSES by James Joyce (part I)

Surely someone among the tens of thousands of academics who have published on Ulysses has noticed that the book begins and ends orgasmically?
Buck Mulligan 'came' to the stairhead. It's an unusual first verb for a story, especially in a situation where 'climbed' or even 'stepped' would've been more descriptive choices. 'Came' is too vague, given that we have no idea as yet where Buck has come from. (Is he ascending the stair or preparing to descend?) I suspect Joyce uses the word solely for its punning sexual denotation and the circular symmetry created when this meaning is juxtaposed against the novel's final words. The first sentence depicts a man in the act of 'coming'; the last sentence is a linguistic representation of a female orgasm, "yes I said yes I will yes". And when I visualize the actual Martello Tower at Sandycove and consider that Buck 'comes' out of a dark opening on the top of a phallic symbol, emerging like semen from a penis, I conclude that the pun can only be intentional. This is all an example of how closely Ulysses can be read and how reading it very closely could conceivably take a lifetime--leaving Finnegans Wake, one presumes, for the afterlife, the waking after the wake.

EVERYMAN by Philip Roth

Everyman is the least impressive Philip Roth novel in years, maybe decades. It may well be the most mediocre work of his entire career. It's a lightweight, decidedly minor performance, seemingly not the work of the American master who gave us that Everest of outrage, Sabbath's Theatre. The elegiac is not Roth's mode, and when he essays it he lapses too easily into banality. Everyman reads like a book any good writer might have written; nothing says 'Roth' here. I sincerely hope this is not the shape of Rothian things to come.


In the surprisingly good Memoirs of Hecate County, Edmund Wilson puts into practice, in an artful if rather programmatic way, the theory of Modernism proposed in Axel's Castle, a theory that can be reduced to the problematic formula: Modernism=Naturalism+Symbolism. Leaving aside the problem of defining one ad hoc critical category in terms of two others, I can see now that for Wilson the formula was probably most important as a goad to writing fiction that would retroactively justify it. This he does in Memoirs, creating an original American fiction with deep American roots (reaching back to the tales of Poe and Hawthorne) and a consciousness of modern European fiction. It's not a great book, but it is a good one, and it's probably (for its time) the most daring novel ever written by an American intellectual. Further proof that Wilson was that very rare American bird, a non-academic intellectual polymath. Where are his successors?

Addendum, one day later:

Upon finishing the Balzacian-titled and obtrusively Proustian long central section, 'The Princess with the Golden Hair,' my estimation of Hecate County swerves downward. It's an uneven book, at best. The central story could have been 100 pages shorter. And it does seem ironic that when Wilson sets out to apply the lessons of Modernism to an American setting, he ends up writing Hawthornean 'romance.' I guess D.H. Lawrence was right: the old American writers were already modern.

RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow

Upon rereading E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, one of the books that showed me what the modern novel was capable of when I read it many years ago at age 12 or 13, I find it even better than I remembered. It's a great American novel, propulsive and generous, bursting with life and death. Its complex (but deceptively simple-looking) prose style constantly undermines itself with an irony that only rarely flashes into bitterness. The book can be weakly misread as a nostalgic fugue on American themes, but this is to miss the author's (and the narrator's) careful deconstruction of the nostalgic myth he constructs. The deconstructive, subversive ironies don't end until the last page, when characters in the novel become characters in a movie; thus does fictional realism acknowledge its obsolescence in a world of filmed 'reality,' a world carefully delineated, in the novel's closing pages, in terms of corporate power: industrial, military, media. Maybe that's one of the major arcs Doctorow is describing here: the fall of America from an ideology of liberal individuality into one of corporatism and conformity, accompanied by the death or deportation of all rebels (Emma Goldman, for example). Damn, this is a good book...

Another thing I admire about it is the way Doctorow breaks all the accepted rules of modern storytelling. (In the mid-1970's, it would appear, a bestselling novel could still be experimental. Those certainly were the days...) It's a book that more often 'tells' than 'shows.' Indeed, it's an almost obsessively narrated novel, obviously foregrounding its own telling, its status as histoire, a story about history. Doctorow also delays introduction of a major character, Coalhouse Walker, until halfway through the novel, a very strange and counter-intuitive choice if my suspicions are correct and the Coalhouse story was the seed of the entire novel: Ragtime as an Americanization of Kleist's Michael Kohlhaas. Since Walker is the ragtime pianist whose presence explains the title, my intuition is probably on target.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A THOUGHT ON SPY FICTION (and thriller heroes generally)

The spy's ultimate task is to extricate himself from the web of plot his author has woven around him. A spy is a fictional character trying to become free. Free, that is, of the fiction that is his raison d'etre. His duty is to resolve the plot so he can walk as freely as at the beginning, before the first strands of the web reached out for him--before page one, in fact. The freedom he seeks and finds is the void before birth. (Every successful spy dies a suicide.) There is thus a fundamental circularity to spy fiction (which constitutes its structural similarity to detective fiction): the story returns us to the place where it began, but darkens it.


Marcuse's great late essay "The Aesthetic Dimension" still impresses me as the most dramatic confrontation I've yet encountered between a rigorous Marxist-influenced theoretician and the profound power of the artistic imagination. Marcuse argues, contra the ideologues of social realism, that even art without explicitly 'social' themes (even especially such art) can produce in viewers/readers "a counter-consciousness: negation of the realistic-conformist mind." Provocatively, Marcuse argues that this is more likely to occur in non-social realist works, works whose subject matter is divorced from social realities. This is because those realities have become sublimated in the work, and contact with the work brings about a corresponding desublimation in the viewer, ''an invalidation of dominant norms, needs, and values." "The truth of art," Marcuse writes, "lies in its power to break the monopoly of established reality (i.e., of those who established it) to define what is real." These are powerful ideas and arguments for the political potential of aesthetic experience, even of 'art for art's sake', an argument for the revolutionary political potential even of fin de siecle aestheticism. Ultimately, I think, the essay is a passionate Marxist plea for the beautiful, a brief for the efficacy of imagination.


In Richard Wolin's Labyrinths I found a surprisingly good collection of essays on critical theory, illuminating the disturbing connections between ostensibly left-wing postwar thinkers and the ideologues of 1920's-30's German far right and Nazism. The connections, as Wolin shows, go much deeper than de Man's articles in Le Soir or Heidegger's words and actions as Rektor-Fuhrer. The antihumanism that has dominated advanced leftist thought since the decline of Existentialism (in Lacan, Levi-Strauss, Derrida, Foucault, et al.) has its roots in the pre-Nazi, proto-fascist German right wing antihumanism of the 1920's, a 'conservative revolutionary' movement (shades of Newt Gingrich!) out of which Being and Time emerged. So it's little wonder that Walter Kaufmann, by 1980, was exalting Sartre at the expense of Heidegger. Sartre may have played footsie with Stalin and Castro, but at least he never kissed Hitler's ass. By the same token, the fall of deconstruction (a fairly old story now, dating from the late 1980's) and the hardening of leftist thought into reified 'identity' camps (feminist, queer, African-American, Latino, Latina) suggest that it's high time for an Existentialist rediscovery, a swerve (not a return) toward Sartre and his brand of tough-minded humanism--a 'hard' humanism as opposed to the feel-good brand peddled by the ice cream merchants of the right, an atheistic humanism conscious of the nothingness at the center of our selves, of the absurdity and contingency of existence; a self-conscious and self-critical humanism, an Existentialism that sees freedom not as a given but as a possibility, an achievement, the result of the hard work of rooting out the discourse of the Other in our selves. This is the kind of Existentialism Walter A. Davis is writing towards in Inwardness and Existence, and it's what we need today.


Homer meets Derrida in the tale of Bellerophon, mentioned in the sixth book of the Iliad. At lines 165-6 comes what has been interpreted as Homer's sole reference to writing and thus possibly the earliest mention of writing in any extant Greek text. Not surprisingly to a reader of Derrida, context places the act of writing under a cloud of deception and even murder. Bellerophon, accused of rape by the lascivious wife of his king, is sent to Lycia "bearing a folded tablet inscribed with baleful signs." These 'signs' instruct the Lycian king to murder Bellerophon. I immediately think of Claudius's letter to the English king and Hamlet's substitution of a text that leads Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unwittingly to their deaths. Shakespeare was, knowingly or not, referencing perhaps the oldest writing-related motif in Western literature. The passage also causes me to reconsider Derrida, as it suggests that his 'conspiracy theory' of the systematic devaluation of writing and the privileging of speech in Western thought may have even deeper roots than Plato's Phaedrus. It's interestingly counterintuitive (at least for a writer) to see writing as a technology that makes long-distance deception possible by allowing a messenger to carry a message unknown to himself. Writing thus benefits power by facilitating the objectification of less powerful others as means rather than ends. (The ghost of Michel Foucault bumps into the spirit of Immanuel Kant halfway through that last sentence.) The hapless messenger unknowingly carrying his own death warrant is technologically alienated from his labor, subjected to those who have mastered the technology, and forced to be the unwitting agent of his own death. Baleful signs, indeed. Writing is a dangerous, Kafkaesque business. (Also, the messenger is reduced to a carrier, etymologically a 'metaphor,' a carrier of meaning, a mere figure of speech (or writing)... But this is getting too Derridean, too Derridean altogether.)

THE UNTOUCHABLE by John Banville

This is another of those little-known masterpieces that deserves much greater recognition. More than merely a roman a clef about the Anthony Blunt spy case, it's a marvelous novel of ideas, a genuinely literary espionage novel written in a beautiful allusive prose punctuated by marvelously apt figural strokes. It's a magnificent, penetrating novel that leaves Le Carre gasping in the dust.

AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon (part IV)

Well, Pynchon pulled it off... Against the Day ends brilliantly, with images of hope (imagination, love) juxtaposed against intimations of the fascism to come. Pynchon's satirical inventiveness is indeed downshifted after page 700, to be replaced with something more unexpected, a dramatic seriousness that's as close as Pynchon comes to earnestness. Is the book too long? Perhaps. But given its ambition--nothing less than a radical re-imagining of modern history, perhaps Pynchon's lifetime project--I wouldn't want it a page shorter. It belongs on that short (but reinforced) shelf of great, big, bloated comic masterpieces, a shelf that constitutes a counter-history of the novel as an essentially comic and satirical form: Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, Bleak House, Ulysses, Finnegans Wake, The Satanic Verses, and of course Gravity's Rainbow. There are small gems of satirical imagination in AtD (the Vormance expedition as a satire of Sept. 11; the gasophilia satire of mass media addiction; the harmonica school as a satire of the academicization of American radicalism; the German mental hospital, and so on), and there are also scenes of such brilliant, tragic power that they will haunt me for the rest of my life (the bicycle jaunt over the future WWI battlefields and one character's prophecy there; the mining camp massacre; the transformation of a passenger liner into a battleship). This is an overwhelming novel, one of the truly great ones, and now that I've finished it I have that feeling familiar from my readings of other great books (The Master and Margarita, Blood Meridian): I'm wandering around the bomb crater of the book's being, still feeling aftershocks...Against the Day cuts deep; it's one of those rare works of art that possesses the power to change us, to set up a branch office in our brains (to paraphrase Gravity's Rainbow), to turn our thoughts and imaginations in its direction... This could conceivably be dangerous for me, as I plot my own next novel, but instead of seeing AtD as something to hold at arm's length and guard myself against, I want to embrace it as inspiration, as a license to do my thing as wildly as Pynchon does his.

And my immediate response upon completion of the novel wouldn't be complete without a few niggling criticisms: the 'British idiots' Neville and Nigel are too annoyingly one-dimensional; the silly names and acronyms do tend to get on one's nerves after 800 pages or so (though I loved The Burgher King and L.A.H.D.I.D.A.); and do we really need two harrowing walking tours of the Balkans in the last 400 pages; also, the novel's anti-British stuff seemed gratuitous and wasn't always funny. (I find myself wondering now if all these Brit twits are versions of Tony Blair, as Scarsdale Vibe is a monstrously imagined G.W. Bush figure). But these are all rather minor beefs (as the Burgher King might say). The novel's most serious flaw is a loss of narrative momentum between pages 700 and 900 (due, I think, to too much Cyprian Latewood). Something like this is inevitable, however, in a work of this size. All long novels sag somewhere. Consistency is probably unattainable in a literary work of more than 400 pages. (Unless it's a negative consistency; it's easy to write 600 equally bad pages.)

Bottom line: Pynchon has raised the bar for American fiction so high that most American writers won't be able to see it anymore. WOW!

AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon (part III)

Around page 700, Pynchon's surreal comic inventiveness, his singular genius for energetic imaginative improvisation, begins to flag, and the novel modulates, for the next 200 pages or so, into a more sober performance occasionally punctuated with absurdities and groaningly bad gags that seem calculated to keep the air from becoming too, too HEAVY. The Cyprian Latewood narrative, initially irksome and stereotypical, eventually becomes both a decent adventure story (in its Balkan phase) and, most unexpectedly, an exploration of the complexities of male homosexuality, giving Pynchon an opportunity to finally deal with the homophobia so apparent elsewhere in the book. Now, at page 900, I'm hoping for a return of the darkly playful Pynchon satirical imagination before this big book ends.

AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon (Part II)

I'm approaching the halfway point in AtD (as it's called on the Pynchon chat sites) and the book remains brilliant, outrageous, endlessly imaginative and inventive... It's a book to remind us what the novel, at its best, can be.

AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon (Part I)

I've read Book One of Pynchon's Against the Day, and it's all I could have wished for: brilliant, surprising, endlessly imaginative, satirical, topical, a masterwork, a genius-piece... If Pynchon can sustain the inventiveness of the first 100 pages for the next 900+ (an ENORMOUS 'if'), this will be the first great American novel of the 21st century, one that raises the imaginative bar very high. It's also a thoughtful, engaged, political novel, a book as poltically astute as it is imaginatively fertile (a genuine rarity in American literature, where 'political' usually means 'naturalistic,' an idea held over from 1930's social realist dogma). Onward, Pynchon Readers!!

RUNNING DOG by Don DeLillo

This book is good, very good. I admire the way DeLillo uses the classic 'Macguffin' device--the search for the film made in Hitler's bunker--as a structural backbone on which to hang a wide variety of characters and situations. The quest plot for this ultimately disappointing Maltese Falcon-like object (and a parallel quest for a human 'subject') provides the glue that binds DeLillo's American mosaic, his panorama that takes in senators, pormographers, mafiosi, NYPD cops, a hooker with a heart of brass, spies, compromised 60's radicals, etc., etc. It's a marvelously rich novel of ideas (about technology and its effect on human beings, the systematization of life, the terroristic side of capitalism, the paranoia of ordinary life, etc.) that feels and moves like a thriller. In a way, it reads like a more intellectual, East Coast equivalent of Robert Stone's great 1970's West Coast novel, Dog Soldiers.

FIGHT CLUB by Chuck Palahniuk

Fight Club is, on balance, inferior to its film adaptation. To be fair, it's Palahniuk's first novel and probably not the screenwriter's first movie, but it is a story that seems to work better, in many ways, on film. Like most popular fiction--indeed, like most American thought--it's performed (written) with media models in mind, so the postmodern medium of film seems a more natural home for this material than the pre-modern novel. The movie was also a more intelligent and self-conscious work, was more surprising overall, and, not least, had a much stronger ending. (C.P. leaves some questions unanswered, such as: How did the narrator escape from that bus in a late chapter [or did he?]). The movie also, mercifully, doesn't emphasize the book's Christian parable theme, which suggests that the fight club is a form of left-hand Christianity, sinning to attract the attention of God. This is a very silly, transparently juvenile theme which the author himself ultimately ironizes in the heaven/nuthouse of the last chapter.

One thing this novel, along with Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist, does suggest to me is the efficacy of building a fiction around a constructed metaphor that is symbolically rich (the fight club and Project Mayhem; elevator inspectors). A novel built around such an idea can be a very effective satirical novel of ideas. Thinking up such a symbol is the most deeply imaginative part of writing, perhaps the hardest mental work a writer does.