Tag Archives: Galatea 2.2

Your best work

I always wonder if it’s a good idea to research the author of the book I’m reading.

When the author names his protagonist after himself…the question is even more relevant. Many authors write fragments of themselves into characters in their books. Good fiction observes some kernel of truth.  You have to write what you know for there to be truth.

Galatea 2.2’s fictional Richard Powers is in many ways similar to the author Richard Powers. The real Powers like his fictional counterpart gave up a career in science to pursue the arts. He moved to the Netherlands to avoid the attention and maybe the pressure of the success of his first novel. Galatea seems like a deeply personal rumination on the fear of failing and the fear that your best, most brilliant work is behind you. Many authors must live in terror of this. Writing like most art is a constantly changing process. If you challenge yourself as all great authors must, your art changes from book to book.  But what happens after you’ve written what may be your best work? What happens when everything you produce afterwards is just a shadow in compairson?

I’m struggling through Galatea 2.2.  Even though the writing can be beautiful…most of it strains my patience. The writing is erudite, sometimes overly technical…I worry that by the time I finish the book, I will no longer want to read The Echo Maker.

But I trudge on. While it isn’t especially pleasurable, I find that the book sparks of new ideas and thought paths. I also have to go slow, because it’s so challenging to read. The slowness of the reading allows me to get more out of the reading material. It is a new way of reading, one that tests my fleeting patience but will ultimately make me a better reader.

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Galatea 2.2: Grasping for things lost in memory and first lines

Galatea 2.2 is a retelling of the greek myth of Pygamalion.

Pygmalion was a great sculptor. In order to prove his skill, Pygmalion decides to carve a statue so life-like that it would rival the beauty of any real woman. When he is finished, his work is so spectacular, so beautiful, that he promptly falls in love. It is a tragedy to fall in love with your own creation.

George Bernard Shaw wrote a play based on this myth. In the play, two linguist make a bet to turn a flower woman into an elegant duchess. You probably recognize the plot since it was made into a movie called My Fair Lady.

Galatea 2.2 retells this story in the modern age. A group of scientists and an author make a wager to create a machine that can interpret great works of literature in such a way as to fool everyone into thinking it was human.

The story centers around the protagonist, Richard Powers.  In the story, Powers, adrift in a mid-life crisis, believes he is at the end of his writing career. He knows only the first sentence of his next novel.

“Picture a train heading south.”

But this sentence leads him nowhere. He wonders if he has read it before somewhere. He searches in the catacombs of his memory for it’s genesis.

It reminds me of plots that still haunt me; books that I must’ve read as a child but can no remember the titles of no matter how long I search.  Even as I try to access that memory of those books, they slip further into the recesses of my memory, until I’m not sure how much of the plot I’m making up.

One book from my childhood haunts me particularly. It’s ghost-like in quality. I remember yellow paper, some odd drawings. It was about magic…some sort of transformation took place…something haunting or terrible happened…I think. When I try to access memories of this particular plot, I end up pulling in other storylines, plot points, objects from other books I read as a kid. I will have to be resigned to this unsolved mystery.

But Galatea 2.2 has given me an idea, it would be nice to document the first lines of every book I read when I start them. It’d be an interesting exercise.

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On things left unfinished

When I was younger I was afraid of leaving things unfinished. Every unfinished act seemed to indicate a weak character…another point that would come to weigh against me and any hopes of happiness and success. My mother constantly cautioned against my flighty nature, passionate about plants one month, completely enthralled with swimming the next. I lived in fear and doubt of my passions, focusing on the act of completion in a way that was obsessive-compulsive and oft ridden with fear.  My agnostic parents had managed to invent the sort of guilt  that often only thousands of years of religion would hope to inspire.

One of the consequences of this was my inability to put down a book, no matter how uninspiring or simply bad it turned out to be. I  remember the books that I have left behind with no intentions of finishing on one hand; that number up until today is 0.

But today marks the begining of a new moment of discovery for me. The moment that makes me realize that life is too short to be stuck reading a epicly bad book—one that brings me no joy, entertainment, or illumination. With that in mind after 200 some pages of The Shadow of the Wind, I have made the somewhat milestone decision to stop with no intention of ever begining again. Critics and online reviews be damned. I have read enough books in my life to see a fraud from a mile away. Goodbye horribly rickety omage to the Victorian, gothic, thriller that you are. I can no longer stomach your trite characters, your boring flashback narratives, the horribly distracting flowery and opulent prose, and the flimsy overused plot that has failed to spark even one iota of my imagination.

I’m happily onto something completely different. Here’s a little taste, the beginning of Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers:

I lost my thirty-fifth year. We got seperated in the confusion of a foreign city where the language was strange and the authorities hostile. It was my own fault. I’d told it, “Wait here. I’m just going to change some money. Check our papers. Don’t move from this spot, no matter what.” And chaos chose that moment to hit home.

My other years persist, like those strangers I still embrace in sleep, intimate in five minutes. Some years slip their chrysalis, leaving only a casing to hold their place in my sequence. Each year is a difficult love with whom I’ve played house, declaring, at each clock tick, what it will and won’t put up with.

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