Mexican food. Extra jalapenos, please.

My biggest concern is that the Germans seem to have found a way to make jalapenos bland. Maybe for the locals these pickled peppers are scharf (spicy) enough. But a plate of nachos ordered tonight, heaped with sour cream and lovely green peppers, simply failed to present any spice whatsoever.

On the bright side. The other night we found a real Mexican joint, Viva Mexiko on Chauseestrasse, for T’s bday. A real nopalitos burrito, with green and red salsa that actually got the tongue tingling. I’d even forgotten how much I love the terrible brassy horns of Mexican music to accompany the burrito. That’s clearly some homesick speaking.

Stupid, anti-intellectual American critics…

At least the Germans like Pynchon. TP’s latest book, Against the Day, has been getting decidedly mixed reviews in the US, with the NYT calling it “bloated … pretentious without being provocative,” etc. Others, such as the NYRB, have been far more complimentary, admitting that there are vast dry patches in the 1000-page plus tome, but that it’s riotously funny and relevant to the times.

Der Tagesspiegel here thinks it’s a masterpiece, and takes the time to accuse American reviewers of anti-intellectualism, using the reviews as a profile of what this critic thinks is wrong, or at least lacking, in the U.S. literary world.

The first American reviews of the new Pynchon spoke with an astonishingly aggressive anti-intellectualism and a tangible weariness with literature that experiments with language itself and ventures to try out more complex forms than we are familiar with from the annual crop of late works by the likes of Philip Roth and John Updike. More generally, the American zeitgeist currently seems to have little time for any kind of innovation in literature – if it ever did.

It is probably true that the American literary market does feel the gravitational pull of the mass media, of genre, of readibility, more than Euro markets. The possibility of hit-making means that some literary novels can and do have a wide audience, from Franzen to Zadie Smith; and that these are the ones that are discussed, read by people who talk about novels, and reprinted.

I think there is appetite enough for difficult novels in the US, but it’s among dedicated readers, the counterparts of free jazz or contemporary classical lovers, an opinionated margin. There is a certain reflexive anti-intellectualism, illustrated in a fear of being taken, or of actually *being,* elitist or pretentious. At its best, it means adding literary depth to the conventions of genre, something that’s really as old or older than Homer.
‘Course I’m writing a novel with kung fu in it. Maybe that means I’m American.

Salt on the roads, a sleepy wave…

And a smooch to Berlin, where we meet our friends Kenji and Till up from München for a few days, a birthday dinner and then drinks until late, and when we walk home, newly salted streets are white with black-spotted footprints, bars still half-crowded with 5 am customers. Slush splashes from car tires, bicycles ride despite the ice, despite the hour, despite the drinks.

The heavens open, and confetti drifts down

I woke up late yesterday morning, after dreaming I was in the book Infinite Jest, but instead of tennis, we were playing baseball, and I was expertly catching infield fly balls that were actually slices of ham and bologna. I stumble disoriented to the kitchen, where I pour water slowly into the kettle for coffee, lift my head, and

SNOW! At last!
A smattering yesterday, enough to whiten sidewalks and bring the snow-scrapers out. More today; there are flakes falling from the sky now, dancing down, exposing the twists and ripples in what otherwise appears smooth air. Now to wander, and get them feets cold.

In Theory, there is no beauty

Anyone who has ever tried to read Derrida or other cultural theory, and come away baffled, or even a bit disgusted, should read Brian Boyd’s article “Getting it All Wrong.” It’s a fabulous and bitter attack on modern literature departments’ love affair with deconstruction and cultural critique, to the absolute exclusion of alternative means of reading and analysis. Like, say, the appreciation of beauty, or considering the validity of ideas. Or recognizing that evolution and biological similarities might have something to do with the way our brains work, and with the way our ideas circulate.

A key, and valuable point: Modern “Theory” deconstructs the idea that universal knowledge is possible. “Knowledge” is an artifact of its cultural orgin, this school argues. Boyd notes that this is a misunderstanding of how humans learn. Yes, this may be a useful critique of universalistic Eurocentric philosophy. It’s a devastating rejoinder to medieval scholastic theology. But it parochially ignores the lessons of hundreds of years of actual human thought and activity.

In fact, the progress made in sciences shows a pattern of human learning that is not based on scholastic deductive logic or universal “truths,” but on long series of inductive, error-prone set of evolving theories (small “t”) that progressively add to our tentative store of knowledge about the world. We have medicine that is not culturally constructed (yes, tests have been culturally and gender-biased, but that’s a critique of the test, not of the medicine’s viability). We know increasingly more about the basic fabric of the universe, having come from the harmony of the spheres to an expanding universe and fundamental particles. And so on.

To ignore the universal experience of a *sense* of beauty, no matter if the content of that beauty changes from place to place, is just insane. Theory is blind, but there will always be readers who can see.