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334

af Thomas M. Disch

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"If Charles Dickens had written speculative fiction, he might have created a novel as intricate, passionate, and lacerating as Thomas M. Disch's visionary portrait of the underbelly of 21st-century New York City. The residents of the public housing project at 334 East 111th Street live in a world of rationed babies and sanctioned drug addiction. Real food is displayed in museums and hospital attendants moonlight as body-snatchers."--Back cover.… (mere)
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Engelsk (16)  Spansk (1)  Fransk (1)  Alle sprog (18)
Viser 1-5 af 18 (næste | vis alle)
Bits of this really worked for me! Wish I could remember who on Twitter recommended it.
  hapax_l | Mar 18, 2023 |
Sprawling, hilarious, ugly, compassionate, heartbreaking, humane, precise, casual, experimental, classic.

Every time I read it again, I find more in there. I've written a bunch of annotations for it here. ( )
1 stem elibishop173 | Oct 11, 2021 |
I don't get it. I just don't. This is mostly just grim slice-of-life and not really much of a fun read. ( )
  fmqa | Sep 5, 2021 |
Very interesting, incredibly complicated. The first part is little different than a collection of short stories, but they each hint and themes and characters developed later. There's a *chart* to help the reader follow the narrative leaps in the second half, across 3 characters, different years (out of sequence), and narrative type ('another point-of-view', fantasy, reality, and monolog). There's a total of 43 different vinettes in this section, and amazingly they seem to add up to a story. It's a fun read if you like novels like puzzles.

Another plus: technically a science fiction novel, it wears its exposition so lightly it's hard to even tell most of the time. For example, there is a drug depicted in the novel that gives certain characters an elaborately detailed fantasy life--a sort of pharmacological virtual reality. While several passages occur in these alternate realities, the SF mechanism through which they occur isn't explained until about halfway through.

I think I would have to read it a few more times to pick up on all the connections and interactions. For example, a seemingly throwaway character from one of the early stories (Martinez) turns out to be the estranged husband of one of the main characters (Juan). It's only later that you realize it's the same person (=Juan Martinez).

I haven't read a book that's both challenging and entertaining in a long time. It's usually one or the other, for me. I didn't rank it 5/5 only because I wouldn't recommend it for everyone: I could easily see how the narrative tricks might seem like tedious affectations, and there's a lot of profanity and disturbing imagery. But if you don't mind that stuff, then I heartily recommend it. ( )
1 stem ralphpalm | Nov 11, 2019 |




“The end of the world. Let me tell you about the end of the world. It happened fifty years ago. Maybe a hundred. And since then it's been lovely. I mean it. Nobody tries to bother you. You can relax. You know what? I like the end of the world.”
― Thomas M. Disch, 334

Thomas M. Disch’s 1974 novel, a mix of science fiction and Zola-like social realism, eyeballs 334 East 11th Street, New York City, home to a teeming mass of miserable, poverty-stricken occupants of a 21st century multistory apartment beehive - Thomas Hobbs's philosophy of life as nasty, brutish, and short on a continual supply of amphetamines. Sorry to report, much of Disch's disturbing futuristic world has become harsh reality for huge chunks of our current-day population.

Forty-eight chapters, five long and forty-three short, feature interlinking snapshosts of a dozen or so men and women bound by their common plight of sordidness and desperation. To share a glimpse of what a reader is in for, below are commentary on two of the chapters: first, a longer one, a tale about college student Birdie Ludd in battle with the forces of darkness; and the second, a shorter tale, a vivid sketch of an outing at a most unusual art exhibit:

THE DEATH OF SOCRATES
Birdie Ludd has finally made it out of high school (P.S. 141) into one of New York City’s colleges only to sit in class listening to a professor on a TV yack nonstop about the life of Dante and how nearly everyone according to the Italian author’s Inferno will be tormented in hell, most certainly all the Jews.

When a Jewish girl in the class says that doesn’t seem fair, the professor’s assistant simply replies there will be a test on the covered material. As Birdie is quick to recognize, none of what he is being force fed has any relevance to his everyday life and since teaching is done by television, there is absolutely no possibility of dialogue or a lively interchange of ideas; rather, he is required to simply swallow and regurgitate what he is given.

Summoned to the front office, a Mr. Mack informs Birdie his score on the mandatory state test of “twenty-seven” was a mistake and Birdie is now being reclassified as a “twenty-four,” which means he will not be allowed to father any children. Poor Birdie! He complains it isn’t his fault his father has diabetes. But we learn there are more factors to consider, things like Birdie lacking any exceptional service for the country or the economy.

Additionally, we read how Birdie losses points because of his father’s unemployment pattern but gains a few points “by being a Negro.” Goodness, sound like Disch’s futuristic world has the deck stacked against blacks. What else is new? Perhaps not so coincidentally, Philip K. Dick's novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, also published in the 1970s, maps out genetic engineering geared to eliminate the US black population.

Birdie pens an essay for class entitled Problems of Creativeness, that ends “Another criteria of Creativeness was made by Socrates, so cruelly put to death by his own people, and I quote, “To know nothing is the first condition of all knowledge.” From the wisdom of that great Greek Philosopher may we not draw our own conclusions concerning these problems. Creativeness is the ability to see relationships where none exist.”

Read carefully, this essay reveals a highly imaginative, creative, intelligent mind buried under bad English and disastrous inner city public education. Thus the title of Disch’s tale, The Death of Socrates, bestows a double meaning. As they say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste – and observing the social forces crushing Birdie Lund’s brilliant mind makes for one sad, profound story.

Although Birdie is squashed and squeezed by cramped urban seediness, our young man has the capacity to perceive beauty radiating, glowing on the inside, even in dumb vending machines and blind, downtrodden faces. And, as to be expected, he has to continually fight through mass media and pop culture saturation – singing the words of commercials and viewing the movement of autos and ships as if moments from movies and television shows.

One of the saddest endings I’ve ever encountered: Highly intellectual, sensitive, aesthetically attuned Birdie Lund feels trapped no matter which way he turns. As a last resort, he sees but one option open to him. Here are Disch’s concluding words: “The same afternoon, without even bothering to get drunk, he went to Times Square and enlisted in the U.S. Marines to go and defend democracy in Burma. Eight other guys were sworn in at the same time. They raised their right arms and took one step forward and rattled off the Pledge of Allegiance or whatever. Then the sergeant came up and slipped the black Marine Crops mask over Birdie’s sullen face. His new ID number was stenciled across the forehead in big white letters: USMC 100-7011-D07. And that was it, they were gorillas.”

A & P (2021)
Lottie is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at an exhibit were there are rows and stacks and pyramids of cans, boxes, meats, dairy, candy, cigarettes, bread, fruits, vegetables – all with individual brand names. Juan is so delighted just to be with her here at the museum. For Lottie, this is a time of perfection, one she wishes she could hold forever: “The real magic, which couldn’t be laid hold of, was simply that Juan was happy and interested and willing to spend perhaps the whole day with her. The trouble was that when you tried this hard to stop the flow it ran through your fingers and you were left squeezing air.”

Juan picks up a carrot that has the look and feel of being real but, of course, as part of the art exhibit, the carrot is not real. Visitors were given instructions as they entered the exhibit on what they would see and how to appreciate the art. The food and containers and cans are all fake, no matter how “real” they look – the Met’s tape said so, thus it must be true. But Juan insists, at the top of his lungs, that the carrot is real. One of the guards strides toward Juan and both he and Lottie are thrown out.

We can all recognize how this unusual art exhibit takes Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes and Campbell Soup Cans and expands the concept quantitatively. Arthur C. Danto has written extensively on how Warhol’s creations herald in the “death of art” in the sense that objects of art are no longer separate from everyday objects, no longer special pieces like landscape oil paintings or marble sculptures; rather, the art world defines what is and what is not art. Traveling uptown from his downtown cockroach infested 334 mega-apartment, Juan doesn’t buy into the art world’s artificial distinction. Damn, it’s a carrot! A subtle Thomas M. Disch comment on the would-be state of the visual arts in the years following Warhol and the “death of art.”

Again, these are but two of forty-eight chapters. I hope I have whetted your appetite to sample more of Disch's novel. Special thanks to Goodreads friend Manny Rayner for alerting me to this forgotten classic.



"He knew without having to talk to the rest that the murder would never take place. The idea had never meant for them what it had meant for him. One pill and they were actors again, content to be images in a mirror."
- Thomas M. Disch, 334 ( )
1 stem Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
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Disch, Thomas M.primær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Brumm, WalterOversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Thole, KarelOmslagsfotograf/tegner/...medforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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Im April 1524
entdeckte der aus Florenz gebürtige Seefahrer
Verrazzano,
der die französische Karavelle "La Dauphine" führte,
diese Bucht, die heute den Hafen von New York bildet,
und nannte diese Küsten "Angouleme",
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"If Charles Dickens had written speculative fiction, he might have created a novel as intricate, passionate, and lacerating as Thomas M. Disch's visionary portrait of the underbelly of 21st-century New York City. The residents of the public housing project at 334 East 111th Street live in a world of rationed babies and sanctioned drug addiction. Real food is displayed in museums and hospital attendants moonlight as body-snatchers."--Back cover.

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