Monday, 11 June 2012

Death comes to the Critic

In an idle moment (of which I have few, these days), I reread Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man, in which Death is fired and becomes a farm labourer while the universe tries to cope with an absence of expiration. It's funny and of course rather tender. Death himself is faced with the difficulty of understanding humans and they ways we cope with the knowledge of permanent oblivion, and he comes to admire us. He also has a keen eye for human nature:
There was never anything to be gained from observing what humans said to one another - language was just there to hide their thoughts. 
Which is rather perceptive literary criticism. Who'd have thought Pratchett was a Derridean post-structuralist?

I also remembered another good line from Miéville's Railsea, which uses Moby Dick to explore narrative and obsession, but with trains - it follows rather nicely from Pratchett's point. Here's Captain Naphi explaining her obsession with catching the giant mole:
'You know how careful are philosophies', Naphi said. 'How meanings are evasive. They hate to be parsed. Here again came the cunning of unreason. I was creaking, lost, knowing that the ivory-coloured beast had evaded my harpoon & continued his opaque diggers, resisting close reading & a solution to his mystery. I bellowed, & swore that one day I would submit him to a sharp & bladey interpretation'.

Which is funny because Moby Dick's whale is a symbol onto which multiple interpretations are cast, and because it's what we literary critics do. Well, others do. I stay in port telling people that my last interpretation was THIS BIG.

Books in the post today? Glad you asked. Pratchett's children's book The World of Poo, Alan Warner's new one (again about trains, but also a Scottish bildungsroman), The Deadman's Pedal. Another Scottish classic, Kelman's The Busconductor Hines, and Sheila Rowbotham's history of radical industrial-period women, Dreamers of a New Day.

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