Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Service to the profession

In the academic world, there is a lot of things you are supposed to do for free. I'd like to see a business consultant who is content with the wording: “We offer a modest honorarium which is recognition rather than proper compensation for your work”. I am afraid they would use a language I am not prepared to reproduce in public. But we academics are expected to do tons of work for a modest honorarium that does not even constitute a proper day payment. Believe me, I have made careful calculations. 

Let us say that I am asked to write a review for promotion (I have several of these on my desk right now). They usually come with a pile of publications that you are expected to read and judge. Even if it is a colleague whose work you know well you still want to refresh some things, and the amount of stuff colleagues publish these days is intimidating. Say on the average you need to re-read a book, read a newly published book and a dozen articles, taking notes that will then have to be turned into a coherent scholarly evaluation. You need at least to pretend that you are taking it seriously. A promotion review is a very special genre: it is not so much about what you think of this research but how it can be weighted against vague academic criteria. One of these is: Would this person be promoted in your institution? This is a weird question. Promotion criteria are so different. I once reviewed someone being promoted to full professor who didn't have a single book publication. In my institution this person wouldn't have been considered for assistant professor. Anyway, it certainly takes a couple of days to read all these mountains of publications and another day to write the review, where you also have to take into consideration all facts in the person's CV of which you probably know nothing, but can guess at depth and breadth of knowledge and engagement. Three days at least of hard work, and for that, a modest honorarium.

A modest honorarium is also occasionally, although far from always, offered for reviewing a research proposal. I am sitting right now with one, and I know that I am deciding how a dozen of people will spend the next three years of their professional life. I need to argue well. I need to read through the proposal, 30 pages, several times and choose succinct wording for my verdict. It will take me at least a couple of days. For a modest honorarium.

There are, however, tasks where there isn't even that. Reader reviews for articles submitted to journals. They are usually 6-8,000 words. You cannot simply browse through the text since you have to write a solid evaluation that may boost or ruin someone's career. I typically spend more time on articles that are completely unpublishable. With a brilliant article, you can just say it's brilliant and add a couple of minor comments. With a poor article you want – at least I want – to explain to the author why it is poor. A good reader review may be helpful even if the article is rejected, and it happens that the author rewrites and resubmits and it turns out quite good. I have just reviewed a couple of unpublishable submissions, spending at least two days on each.

I have now spent two weeks of my precious time working for nothing or for a token fee, when I should be writing my own book. Why am I doing this? Why are we all doing this? Well, in guidelines for promotion, it is called service to the profession. We serve each other, and we do it for nothing or for the good cause, and if I don't do it, then how would I expect that someone does it for me or my colleagues or my students? It is never reciprocal, but someone wrote my promotion reviews, someone evaluated my grant proposals, someone gave me feedback on my journal submissions and book proposals. I am just paying back.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Snake watch, happy ending?

I feel I owe you, My Dear Reader, a conclusion, but you will be disappointed. Yesterday I went out in the morning and cut dry poppies and deadheaded everything that needed it in the flower bed. Then Staffan kept me company while I picked the rest of black currants, cut back raspberries, tied up the last beans and weeded in the farthest corner, where there is a perfect hide for snakes - if I were a snake that's what I would choose. Staffan kept going in to watch the Olympics. I cannot say I felt quite safe, and I don't think I will ever feel safe again. But I am also mortally scared every time I drive through one of those humongous British roundabouts, yet do I have a choice? Driving and gardening are part of the quality of life.

Today I had a sore eye (nothing serious, happens every now and then), which got better in the afternoon, but right as I started digging and dividing day lilies, a thunderstorm came so I have a very good excuse. However, I did go out, and the day lilies bed is right where the snake was. I suppose I have got over it, just as everybody said I would and as deep down I knew I would, although I promise, it was as serious as I wrote in the first post.

I have no wish to read more about snakes nor look at and touch a picture of a snake. 

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Snake watch, day 3

Click for beginning, Part 1 and Part 2 of this story

Uneventful day from the snake-watching point of view and otherwise. Woke up as usual, breakfast, coffee on the patio. Realised that I needed to get my repeated medical prescription to the surgery and made it a reason to take a short, quick walk (now experimentally proved that the distance through the park is 500 m and takes 5 minutes). Then back to work, writing the last (?) chapter, checking email every now and then and replying to everything urgent – don't people at the Faculty ever take vacation? Looked up some web sites to research red-head characters in children's books, but didn't find anything helpful. Brief lunch break. More writing. Didn't go out at all.

Had a very nice tea with some of the students who are still around, talking dangerous beasts (flying ants, frogs, turtles), grammatical gender in different languages, train journeys and educational systems. Back home, quiet dinner. Then we watched a movie while the rest of the world watched the opening of the Olympics. We saw a little bit of it (James Bond and Mr Bean), muted during the rock, and switched off after Denmark.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Snake watch, day 2

Click for beginning and Part 1 of this story

I got up as usual this morning stating that it was cloudy and perhaps not tempting to go out at all, but by the time we had coffee on the patio it was sunny again. I had a dentist appointment at 11.30 so I knew there was no point starting anything creative, and among the morning emails there were some that needed urgent action so that took care of my morning. However, on my way to the dentist I couldn't help thinking, feeling more and more sick every minute, and telling myself that I'd rather go to the dentist every day than... I was a bit early and popped into one of my favourite charity shops where I always look for small things for the dolls houses. Behind me, two ladies were talking about gardening. I ran away.

On the way home I decided I needed help. It had really gone too far. I looked up Counselling on the University web with advice to try some self-help before seeking a professional. On the self-help page I found a long list of problems including phobias, with just the kind of idiotic advice I don't want. Indeed, look at how you come over arachnophobia in six easy steps:
      1. Reading about spiders
      2. Looking at and then touching a photograph of a spider
      3. Looking at/touching a plastic model of a spider
      4. Looking at/touching a jar with a small spider in it
      5. Picking the spider out of the jar
      6. Picking up a large spider.
I am sure that arachnophobics find this terrifying. Now let's translate this to herpetophobia.
  1. I have just read Lucy Christopher's Stolen, so I've done this one.
  2. Go ahead and touch it. [I had a picture of a snake here. It boosted ny statistics. I guess people were disappointed when they were directed to this page, I have removed it. Imagine touching the picture of a snake on the screen] 
  3. Yes, they sell those in all zoos. Our kids have some. They are horrid.
  4. Looking at/touching a jar with a small cobra in it. Hmm...
  5. Picking the cobra out of the jar. I want to see the counsellor do it
  6. Picking up a LARGE cobra...
You see, it's not that easy. What was helpful, I must admit, was the reminder that hiding from the problem won't solve it. Not that I didn't know it, and not that my dear friend Alyona didn't talk to me for an hour on Skype yesterday. But somehow “managing the level of anxiety” did it for me.

Staffan and I had a Talk. And we agreed that we would go out there together for a little while. Which was very noble of him. I had two strong incentives. A patch on the lawn where Staffan had efficiently exterminated mushrooms by pouring boiling water on them needed mending. And the blackcurrants needed picking. Staffan took the lead to the greenhouse to get the tools, and we picked some tomatoes while we were at it. I fixed the grass patch, and then Staffan put a garden chair exactly on the spot where the snake had been, and I picked the currants while the cat rustled in the shrubs. I still feel sick as I am writing this.

Then I went out for dinner with Morag and David, and to their standard “How are you?” I told them how I was. They were not impressed, and David said he liked snakes and wanted to be a herpetologist when he was young.

Back home and watching the garden through my window. So much needs to be done...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Snake watch, day 1

I am determined to cope with my current herpetophobic issues, but I am not sure how. Perhaps if I keep track of what I am doing it will help. If not - keeping track of what I am doing can be of interest in itself, a repeat of "What professors do".

So: I got up about 7:30 as I usually do when I don't have to be anywhere in the morning. We had breakfast and a long, quiet coffee on the patio. Normally, I would have gone to the raspberry patch to get us a handful of raspberries, but I didn't because the raspberry patch is exactly where I had seen the snake. I can see through my study window that there are tons of raspberries, and the black currants need to be picked now if at all. But I cannot make myself leave the patio. Normally I would also have gone around the whole garden, checking on my beans and courgettes and maybe cutting some rhubarb for pudding. Not today. Instead, I went right to my desk and wrote away like mad until I was desperate for coffee. Staffan was away on some errand, so I had my coffee at my desk. I worked until lunch. Normally, I would have gone several more rounds in the garden, a five-minute break every half hour or so, looking at my flower bed and my wild garden behind the conifers; I would have been in the greenhouse to water the tomatoes and perhaps harvest a few for lunch. Not today. The greenhouse is behind the garage, right in the middle of the jungle.

Staffan made lunch, and then I went back to my desk. Writing went reasonably well, although the chapter I thought would be easy turned out to be quite a tough one, unless I compomised with myself.  I checked my email every now and then and replied to everything that was urgent and sometimes to what wasn't, just to do something else than write.

At half past two I felt I needed a break. Normally, I would go out in the garden where there is always something that needs to be done. Continue with my big hedge project, tying back and trimming branches. Weed below the hedge. Trim grass around small shrubs. Cut away withered prairie grass. Thin new strawberry shoots. Replant day lilies. Not today.

Instead I went for a walk. I have downloaded a training programme for my phone which uses GPS to tell me how far I have walked and how fast. I am not sure it will work in the long run, but so far it's fun. Today I walked to the river and back. I was surprised that this walk was shorter than my circular walk in the park.

I left and came back through the patio door which is the farthest I have ventured through the garden. I did watch the road extra carefully as I walked. Every grey stick is a suspect.

When I came back I felt I couldn't go on with the chapter. Sometimes it is like this. Fortunately there is always somethinjg else I can do. I reviewed a tremendously boring article, so boring that I wrote three times as many comments as I am expected to - maybe the author can learn something from them. I am not recommending this article for publication.

Staffan is mowing the lawn. I am looking longingly through the window. Snakes sleep at night, don't they? Maybe I can do some star-gazing.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Paradise lost

This is a self-therapy session. If you have problems with it, don't read. But I know that there are many people out there who share my anxieties, many many more than would admit it even to themselves. Whenever I feel that my conversation partner is anxious about something, I share my anxiety, and they always thank me afterwards.

Yesterday, I saw a snake in the garden.

I was marking my territory, as I do several times a day, dead-heading flowers, picking raspberries, trimming hedges, weeding – not serious trimming or weeding, but in passing, as a short break from writing. I heard a rustle and turned to talk to the cat, and there it was, slithering – uuuh, this word! - along the paved path. I saw clearly that it was a harmless garden snake: big white spots on the head. But it doesn't matter. Snakes are my worst nightmare, my Room 101 if anyone would want me to denounce my children.

Some of it must have a tangible reason. Adults do scare children to protect me, and I was always told as a child to wear rubber boots when walking in the wood, because there may be snakes. In Karelia, where I spent most of my childhood summers, adders were common. I would see a dozen every summer, sometimes almost stepping on them. One year, a small boy was bitten. My mother was in panic and managed to get one of the two antidote vials available in the whole Soviet Union (or so she said; they were certainly hard to obtain), which we dutifully kept in the refrigerator during winter and brought with us on holidays. I was also taught how to treat a bite. But I have actually never been scared of being bitten. It is simply that the sight of snakes makes me physically sick.

Some people are scared of spiders, birds or wasps. Some are scared of heights, tunnels or caves, small toilets or crammed rooms. When I say “scared” I mean horror that you cannot cope with. And don't tell me you can be hypnotised. My kids once made me watch a television programme in which people with phobias were made to do things there were scared of. One woman who was scared of birds had to go into a bird cage with hundreds of pigeons, each with a hundred-dollar bill tied to its leg. The woman could keep all the money she managed to untie in five minutes. The kids argued that I should do something like this for my herpetophobia. I argued that if that woman had a real phobia she would not enter the cage for a million dollars.

On another occasion we visited the Stockholm Aquarium during a petting session. I was absolutely fine with huge hairy spiders, but that scaly python that Julia let hang over her neck... I did touch it, and it was unexpectedly soft and warm.

Anton and I went to a snake show in Australia. I went because he was very eager. He was nine then. Obviously herpentophobia is not hereditary. The snake master brought one of his pets close to the public to watch. I climbed back over three benches. “You don't take any risks”, he said. We also watched a snake swallow a rat (which luckily was dead). It sort of draw itself over the carcass. It was disgusting, but the snake was behind glass. I am fine with snakes behind glass. Although when we watch nature programmes and there are snakes, I close my eyes till Staffan tells me it's over.

Anyway, I saw a snake in my garden yesterday, and I was shaking for the rest of the day and felt sick and couldn't work any more and cried myself to sleep because I knew I would never be able to go out into the garden again. Staffan told me I was silly. Most people would tell me I am silly. The garden is surely full of snakes that I hadn't seen before. This particular snake is by now far away. It was probably more scared of me than I was of it. Garden snakes don't bite. They bring luck. And so on.

But the people who have a secret phobia would say to themselves: “I know exactly how it feels”. It's silly, it's irrational, but it's there and it won't go away.

I haven't been in the garden since then. I have this vision of a slithering body under every shrub, everywhere I go with my garden tools, with my bare hands. Never, never again. Which is very sad, because gardening has become the foremost joy in my life. I have just about got it the way I want it.

My cleaning lady Helen listened to my confession this morning and suggested that I buy a portable radio and play it very loudly when I am gardening. She said she didn't have a phobia but thought she could understand it. I know she cannot, but it was nice of her. She made me promise to make a list of all my ventures into the garden and show her next week. So far I haven't been further out than the patio. 

Yes, I know that hedgehogs are skillful snake hunters. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The best things in life are free

It costs a huge amount of money to get a masters degree from Cambridge. But there are ways around it. I now have a masters degree from Cambridge without having done anything to earn it. So unfair toward students who have worked hard for it.

This morning I went to town to the robemakers to collect my hood. Graduation is by college, and it was already going on - the robemakers are conveniently just across the road from Senate House. But I had to go to Homerton for rehearsal. I had never worn a hood before so I was glad there were people there to help with the robing. We had been told to bring three small safety pins and one large. Hoods were not meant for women, Men just put them behind their bow tie. Women have to secure them with safety pins.

Then we went through the ceremony. The procession within the college goes by degree. The doctors go first. They have hoods with red lining. There was just one doctor this time, so she went first. I was alone in the second category, master of arts by incorporation (there is a fancy Latin wording for this). I had a hood with white lining. The rest came in fours, with hoods of all possible colours. The Praelector - the college person who presents the graduands to the Senate - extends them a finger each. I got her whole hand. Right hand. And my right hand. "If I don't take your hand it means you've given me the wrong hand. It has to be the right hand". Then we were called out by name, had to kneel down, put our palms together as if in prayer and have a Latin phrase read over us, stand up, take a step back and bow. No curtsey. In some colleges they do curtsies, but not in Homerton. I had ticked the box in my application that I didn't want a Trinitarian blessing, so the Principal wondered whether I was happy kneeling down. I was.

There was tea for graduands and their guests, and that's where I realised that I should have invited Morag and David and all the students who were still around to be my guests. It was weird sitting there, chewing my prawns on my own. So I got over it quickly and decided to walk to town. The weather was lovely, I had plenty of time and good shoes. It was a nice walk. In fact, I think it was the first time ever that I walked from Homerton to town. I was there well ahead of time and stood watching other colleges go in and come out. I felt terribly lonely. One of my former students was graduating so we chatted a bit. Nothing happened for a long while. Apparently somebody had fainted during the ceremony, and there was ambulance and a lot of panic, which delayed the whole thing by forty-five minutes.

Suddenly Clementine turned up. She just happened to be there. Well, she did know I was graduating, but she just happened to be there. We stood and chatted and then it was Homerton's turn, and Clementine promised to wait and cheer when I came out.

It was all very grand, and my Praelector was nervous because the master of arts by incorporation is an unusual degree and she wasn't sure of her Latin. I told her that if she just talked Harry Pottish nobody would notice. The Principal - glorious in her scarlet robe with ermine lining (fake I hope)- forgot I didn't want the Trinitarian blessing so now I have my degree in the name of the Father, etc. It was meant to be.

I went out of the hall, got my diploma, went down the stairs known as "doctors stairs" and there was Clementine waiting for me. It would have felt terrible if she hadn't been there.

Then we went to an unrelated party, and it's all over, as usual in such cases, far too quickly.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Book of the... century?

A casual conversation made me order and read a book that I hadn't read since I was in my teens. It happens all the time these days that I for some reason re-read a book and realise that I didn't remember it accurately or not at all, and in the first place that by no means could I understand it when I read it the first time. Not that I was stupid, but some books - most books - do need some basic knowledge, and some books benefit from deeper knowledge, and some books just need a more profound life experience.

I read The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle, together with my parents and my friends, when it was published in Russian in a paperback science fiction series on poor yellowish paper. For some reason science fiction was a respected genre in the old Soviet Union, and lots of foreign books were translated, including books that would have been stopped by Soviet censors if they had read carefully. But most books were conventional: valiant space explorers and hostile extraterrestials. The Black Cloud was different. It did not portray extraterrestials as little green men or shiny robots. What it did was pose a Big Question: what if intelligence takes a form inconceivable for a human mind? Of course it has to be somewhat conceivable in the book, but the thought was disturbing. The only other book with the same thrust was Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.

As I re-read The Black Cloud, I was struck by some things I would never have thought about when I read it first. The book was published in 1957 and thus written before the first sputnik. It takes place in 1964-65, and it features the President of the United States, but Hoyle does not know who the President will be, and that the previous President will have been assassinated just a year before. He does not know about the Berlin Wall or the Cuba crisis. His possible world of 1964 is simple as compared to what was to come.

An important part of the novel is, understandably, technology. A computer with punch cards takes "just hours" to make calculations a man would need years to make - wow!. Photos of stars are developed and printed and painstakingly compared. British scientists send a cable to their American colleagues about a sensational discovery. I guess my phone can do a thousand times more than the amazing lab described in the book. How could Hoyle, how could anyone imagine what technology would be in fifty years? Science fiction writers envisioned outer space missions, but not the internet. Yet the dilemma of the Black Cloud remains. For all we know, it's right out there.

The frame narrative of the novel takes place in 2021. It must have seemed a very distant future to Hoyle when he wrote it. And we are almost there (having passed both 1984 and 2001).

Then of course the novel takes place partially in Cambridge, and although there is no more Erasmus College in Cambridge than there is Jordan College in Oxford, most things were recognisable. Another part of the novel takes place in California, which was also recognisable. When I read the novel forty plus years ago, Cambridge and California were equally outer space.

Moral: take time to re-read books. As I have learned from a colleague who is a cultural geographer: all things animate and inanimate come from somewhere and move somewhere else. Each encounter is unique.

PS In case you don't know, Fred Hoyle coined the phrase "Big Bang" to ridicule his astronomer colleagues who suggested the theory.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Time travel and other casual conversation topics

What I like so much about Cambridge is all these close encounters of the fourth kind. Today I was invited by a guest scholar to lunch in his college, and after lunch we were drinking coffee in the Combination room when two elderly gentlemen came in, and my host introduced us. They turned out to be astrophysicists, and I said some of my staple phrases about my love of astronomy, and then they asked me what I was doing. Now, I am well prepared for people's reactions to my reply, but this was different. Do you know, one of them said eagerly, that What's-her-name has a very accurate description of time travel in the third Harry Potter book, which he has mentioned in a footnote to one of his studies in the history of astrophysics. I admitted that I had noticed it and allowed myself to point out that Rowling was by far not the first to have done so, which I could say with confidence since I wrote my PhD on time travel in literature, and that literature has frequently predicted the most daring scientific ideas, including the twin paradox, the butterfly effect and many other fascinating phenomena. He confirmed that time travel was technically possible as if I needed to be persuaded. From that we went on discussing Fred Hoyle, whose October the First is Too Late I had re-read only recently, but whose The Black Cloud I had not read since I was in my teens when it was a cult book in Russia. What I didn't know then, however, is that obviously, The Black Cloud has a very accurate description of the very first computer in Cambridge, if not exactly in the room where we were sitting so very close nearby. Then I couldn't help mentioning my old fishing buddy, but my new acquaintances were not impressed. Nobody in Cambridge is impressed by you knowing a Nobel Prize winner. My host seemed to have lost track of what we were talking about, which made me feel awkward.

The first thing I did when I came home was order The Black Cloud from Amazon. Since it was instantly delivered to my Kindle I will read it tonight.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Ying Toijer-Nilsson in memoriam

I heard this morning that Ying Toijer-Nilsson had passed away. She wasn't well known internationally, but acknowledged in Scandinavia as one of the best children's literature scholars of the older generation. Her books on gender on death and on religion in children's literature were among the first of their kind. She was also a Selma Lagerlöf scholar and a feminist critic, and she reviewed children's books in a large Swedish morning newspaper. She was a freelancer, but she received an honorary doctorate for her brilliant research.

I met Ying soon after I had moved to Sweden. She had just published a book on children's fantasy, which wasn't a hot topic then, so she was as always ahead of her time. Since I planned to write my PhD on fantasy I was a bit anxious, but saw, when I read the book, that she was doing something completely different from what I was interested in, and that there was room for more than one book on the subject. I was taking a course in children's literature, and a fellow student invited me to her critique group that was reading Ying's book. Ying was invited too. My fellow student explained who I was, and after a while Ying asked me whether I understood what she was saying. I replied in probably not perfect, but quite acceptable Swedish. Ying liked to recall this episode with marvelous self-irony.

Since she wasn't part of the academia, she didn't attend the seminars at the department, but we met at various events, and we also started a habit of having lunch at each other's places every now and then, at least once a year. We talked fantasy and many other things. Ying was a cat person, and from my travels I brought her cats of all kinds for her collection. I didn't know at that time that I also was a cat person, but we talked a lot about cats, particularly literary cats. We also talked about faith. Ying was deeply religious, and I was exploring my own spirituality. She introduced me to C S Lewis's works on Christianity.

Ying did, however, attend at least one seminar where I presented my work in progress and where my supervisor more or less chopped me into small bits and threw them out of the window – she was like that. I went home and wept and swore I would never again put my foot into the department. Ying called the same evening and told me not to mind my supervisor (they were very close friends). “You know she is like that”.

I was elected to the Executive Board of the Selma Lagerlöf Society, of which my supervisor was president and Ying secretary. This involved a couple of board meetings and an annual membership meeting, as well as various Lagerlöf-related events.

Then Ying invited me to join the annual critics' retreat arranged by the Swedish Church in the little town of Sigtuna, north of Stockholm. This was one of the most exciting professional experiences in my life. It was a little group of people from various disciplines, literature, art, music, philosophy, theology, who would get together for three days and talk to each other about some topic of common interest, not necessarily related to religion or faith. For instance, Ying and I did a joint talk on dystopias in children's literature - about fifteen years before it became a trend. I met some wonderfully interesting people there. It also helped me to break away from exclusively children's literature studies, and for many years I reviewed fiction and non-fiction for the cultural journal of the Swedish Church.

Eventually Ying left Lagerlöf Society Board, but went on with Lagerlöf studies, edited several volumes of her correspondence, wrote biographies of people around Lagerlöf; but she also continued with children's literature, and her book reviews were always brilliant. I read some just a few weeks ago.

Ying was important for many of us, younger scholars. She stayed away from academic squabbles, and she had no personal interest in our academic achievements, but she was always supportive, always encouraging, yet never giving praise unless she meant it. And she was always cheerful and full of vigour and humour.

May she rest in peace.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Book of the week: Embassytown

This was a rare occasion when I bought a book that I didn't know much about. I had read three books by China Mieville. I read King Rat some years ago and remember it vaguely as disgusting. I absolutely loved The City and the City, that Julia had recommended (if I had been aware that it was by the author of King Rat I probably wouldn't have wanted to read it). I started Kraken and gave up after a hundred pages. But someone who has written The City and the City is worth attention, and there are also people whose opinion I value who rank Mieville high. I was browsing amazon to fill up my tablet for travel, and there was one of those silly recommendations: “If you liked X, you may also like Y”. Or perhaps just: “Most popular now”. I didn't read the synopsis.

I am not an avid SF reader so I may be quite wrong about my sense of novelty, but in the first place I don't care whether it is SF or anything else. No spoilers, but this novel is about the use of language. Not about the characters' use of language or even the society's use of language, but about the writer's use of language. You read the first ten pages, and you don't understand anything because all words are strange. You can clearly see that they are nouns, verbs and adjectives, but the meaning is hidden – so far. Then gradually all these empty signifiers are provided with referents, that are also strange and unfamiliar, but it works. And this is such a brilliant example of the interdependence of form and content: the novel is about language, but it also uses language in a way it propagates for.It is also an example of what you can do with language in fiction - possible worlds and all that. Playing with words. It reminded me of a maths colleague explaining high-order dimensions: don't try to visualise it, just think. I hope nobody comes with the bizarre idea of making a movie out of it. I am sure somebody will. 

I wonder whether the author has been reading the same books as I the past couple of years. The novel oozes of cognitive poetics.