Friday, February 9, 2007


Daily Themes this week was about catalogues. A fun week because I tend to like the use of catalgoues, like Homer's list of who shipped out for Troy, or JJ's list of who was present at the hanging in Ulysses, or like the one I've copied in here: TP's account of the desktop of one Lt. Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity's Rainbow. Students had to use models like Harper's index to give numerical data about themselves, to describe contents of a room or a bag, to narrate using a catalogue of actions, and to list a regimen or instructions of some kind. It's an unpredictable week but it's a good week for a) lists, b) looking at stuff, c) thinking about steps or sequences in a procedure.

"Tantivy's desk is neat, Slothrop's is a godawful mess. It hasn't been cleaned down to the original wood surface since 1942. Things have fallen roughly into layers, over a base of bureaucratic smegma that sifts steadily to the bottom, made up of millions of tiny red and brown curls of rubber eraser, pencil shavings, dried tea or coffee stains, traces of sugar and Household Milk, much cigarette ash, very fine black debris picked and flung from typewriter ribbons, decomposing library paste, broken aspirins ground to powder. Then comes a scatter of paperclips, Zippo flints, rubber bands, staples, cigarette butts and crumpled packs, stray matches, pins, nubs of pens, stubs of pencils of all colors including the hard-to-get heliotrope and raw umber, wooden coffee spoons, Thayer's Slippery Elm Throat Lozenges sent by Slothrop's mother, Nalline, all the way from Massachusetts, bits of tape, string, chalk . . . above that a layer of forgotten memoranda, empty buff ration books, phone numbers, unanswered letters, tattered sheets of carbon paper, the scribbled ukulele chords to a dozen songs including "Johnny Doughboy Found a Rose in Ireland" ("He does have some rather snappy arrangements," Tantivy reports, "he's a sort of American George Formby, if you can imagine such a thing," but Bloat's decided he'd rather not), an empty Kreml hair tonic bottle, lost pieces to different jigsaw puzzles showing parts of the amber left eye of the Weimaraner, the green velvet folds of a gown, slate-blue veining in a distant cloud, the orange nimbus of an explosion (perhaps a sunset), rivets in the skin of a Flying Fortress, the pink inner thigh of a pouting pin-up girl . . . a few Weekly Intelligence Summaries from G-2, a busted corkscrewing ukulele string, boxes of gummed paper stars in many colors, pieces of a flashlight, top to a Nugget shoe polish can in which Slothrop now and then studies his blurry brass reflection, any number of reference books out of the ACHTUNG library back down the hall -- a dictionary of technical German, an F.O. Special Handbook or Town Plan -- and, usually, unless it's been pinched or thrown away, a News of the World somewhere too -- Slothrop's a faithful reader."--Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

In subsequent weeks there's an assignment asking students to try to write as long a sentence as possible. This is good example for that week too. For my catalogue of my own desk top, see my blog entry for Nov. 15, 2006.

1 comment:

Andrew Shields said...

Can you send me a copy of the catalogues assignment? I'd like to use it!