Sentences — November 24, 2008, 5:33 pm

Knowingly and Winkingly

canticle_001In the six months or so that I’ve had this little column, I’ve been surprised and pleased by all the mail. Very little of it is anything less than spirited, whichever way, and always full of stern advice about books I should be reading (and offering, in one instance, an unsolicited recipe for Borscht). Last week took the soup, though, after I posted on the little-did-I-know it was a sacred cow of science fiction, A Canticle for Leibowitz. Readers voted early and often. I got handed my hat. A representative sampling of the G-rated portion of the mail:

Kevin C. Gold: I was a little saddened to read the short piece “Girded Loins,” about Mr. Mason’s chance encounter with A Canticle for Leibowitz. Does he really marvel at the “purity of its awfulness”? Really?

Kate Lowe: Just read your squib on your discovery of this classic of science fiction—also praised (although not by all) by some in the MSM, and well-regarded in literary circles. It’s an acquired taste, admittedly, but I am having trouble believing you really had never heard of it before. I suggest you do a little research.

Ruth Worman: That luridly beckoning first sentence was written, I believe, with tongue firmly in cheek. The Canticle is a sci-fi classic, and it knowingly and winkingly references certain conventions of religious narratives. Thus we have loincloths, Lenten fasts, and the rest.

Jeff Keller: I’m not quite writing to defend “A Canticle for Leibowitz” (although I was rather taken with it when I read it years ago), but I have questions about your post. Specifically, I’m interested in your opinion of the book, but I can’t actually tell whether or not you’re condemning it based on that opening sentence or even whether (in the course of the day) you read the book.

canticle_002 Lest I stand accused of mumpery or worse, I should make a few things clear. I’m all for sci-fi, or, at least, have never turned up my nose thereto. As such, I make and made no claims about the wholesale awfulness of A Canticle, which does seem to have quite a following. Rather, I was indeed talking about that first sentence, which I do find, taken not so much out of context as shorn of purpose, delightfully terrible. I like and trust Ruth Worman’s “luridly beckoning,” though, and am happy to believe that Miller was in on all the fun. As such, rest assured, David Magaro and others, of course I’ll read Miller’s book, in my gas station copy, at left–rather different in trim from the first edition, above–and offer a more comprehensive report of what I find when I’m done.

Share
Single Page

More from Wyatt Mason:

Conversation October 2, 2015, 8:26 am

Permission to Speak Frankly

“By committing to the great emotional extremes demanded by Greek tragedy,” says Bryan Doerries, author of The Theater of War, “the actors are in effect saying to the audience: ‘If you want to match our emotional intensity, that would be fine.’”

From the October 2014 issue

You Are Not Alone Across Time

Using Sophocles to treat PTSD

From the February 2010 issue

The untamed

Joshua Ferris’s restless-novel syndrome

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2016

Acceptable Losses

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Home

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tennis Lessons

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Tearing Up the Map

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Land of Sod

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Only an Apocalypse Can Save Us Now

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
Andrew Cockburn on the Saudi slaughter in Yemen, Alan Jacobs on the disappearance of Christian intellectuals, a forum on a post-Obama foreign policy, a story by Alice McDermott, and more
Artwork by Ingo Günther
Article
Land of Sod·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

Photograph by Mike Slack
Article
The Watchmen·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

Illustration by John Ritter
Article
The Origins of Speech·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"To Chomsky...every child’s language organ could use the 'deep structure,' 'universal grammar,' and 'language acquisition device' he was born with to express what he had to say, no matter whether it came out of his mouth in English or Urdu or Nagamese."
Illustration (detail) by Darrel Rees. Source photograph © Miroslav Dakov/Alamy Live News
Article
Acceptable Losses·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Nobody in academia had ever witnessed or even heard of a performance like this before. In just a few years, in the early 1950s, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student — a student, in his twenties — had taken over an entire field of study, linguistics, and stood it on its head and hardened it from a spongy so-called “social science” into a real science, a hard science, and put his name on it: Noam Chomsky.

At the time, Chomsky was still finishing his doctoral dissertation for Penn, where he had completed his graduate-school course work. But at bedtime and in his heart of hearts he was living in Boston as a junior member of Harvard’s Society of Fellows, and creating a Harvard-level name for himself.

Photograph by Alex Potter

Chances that college students select as “most desirable‚” the same face chosen by the chickens:

49 in 50

Most of the United States’ 36,000 yearly bunk-bed injuries involve male victims.

In Italy, a legislator called for parents who feed their children vegan diets to be sentenced to up to six years in prison, and in Sweden, a woman attempted to vindicate her theft of six pairs of underwear by claiming she had severe diarrhea.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today