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It’s odd when one thinks about the rhetorical situation how one considers words like truth or lies. The simple idea of words mingling with one another and bumping into each other and running ahead of each other already poses the probability of vagueness. Even James Atlas in talking about Boswell’s boast of being “strongly impregnated with the Johnsonian ether” and later using a similar phrase about Roosevelt himself isn’t truly factual or original. How is one “impregnated” with “ether.” Does he mean filled with his light? his essence? his drug? words are merely the clothing. They conceal as well as reveal. They make mystery as well as meaning. This is what Rene Magritte painted. I once attended a lecture at the University of Pittsburgh by French philosopher Jacques Derrida where he said we are all translators. So this is what “Stranger Than Fiction” is getting at, that we are making our own elusive meanings. When we use words, readers translate them into their own meanings. Construction.Deconstruction. Reconstruction. The new meaning is not what the one mind’s meaning made from the symbolic and can never be; another mind has translated the symbolic differently. So it really isn’t about fact or fiction, truth or lies. It’s about what the mind apprehends, and the mind itself can’t be apprehended.
The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Larger by Marc Levinson edifies the reality of how the world got to be the way it is in 2010. I had, probably like many, assumed Internet Technology and immense changes in capital flow drove our recent an present economy. I hadn’t really thought about the container as having such an influence on a global scale through time and space reduction. To read about “break bulk” vessels and how they had to be loaded by hand was engrossing. I was particularly interested in the longshoremen. I thought I recalled seeing a card that my father, Vincent, once showed me when I was a girl, and after a search for a box in the attic, I found the card that was issued from the War Department, which said that in 1944 he worked as a longshoreman. I also found many other personal “landmarks.” I never knew, for example, that my favorite grandmother, Rosalind, was born Nov. 1, 1888 in Manhattan. Oddly, that’s the day my daughter, Rosalind, moved just last year from Monroeville, Pennsylvania to Manhattan. As I am doing more reading, nothing seems too tangential.
I had never thought about the danger of the back breaking work and the corruption the longshoremen faced until now. The personal connection brought tears to my eyes. Then, reading about McLean putting an end to the status quo later on restored my faith that progress sometimes involves improvement.
I love the detail Jennifer Egan skillfully employs and the fact that she becomes part of Lucy’s story: “she wrote in blue pen in a small loose-leaf binder, defining countless acronyms … I, too, was trying to learn the basics of battleships … .” It’s musical and timeless.