Mervyn Peake's sentences, much like Castle Gormenghast which is the center of gravity for the trilogy in which this volume is last, hang impossibly inMervyn Peake's sentences, much like Castle Gormenghast which is the center of gravity for the trilogy in which this volume is last, hang impossibly in the air. They are other-landish, outsized, alternately shouting and whispering of a space he calls "otherwhere," which is more specific than "elsewhere," yet hidden from mortal eyes. He can, in a single sentence, develop a character more fully than other authors accomplish in entire serials. Consider just this from the opening pages of "Titus Groan," the first volume in the series: "It did not look as though such a bony face as his could give normal utterance, but rather that instead of sounds, something more brittle, more ancient, something dryer would emerge, something perhaps more in the nature of a splinter or a fragment of stone."
And so we are introduced to Flay (the names alone are worth reading this series: Rottcodd the art curator, Swelter the chef, Prunesquallor the doctor, Steerpike the villain, and a host of professors' names that feel like Peake is unloading vengeance on squadrons of stultifying British educators), and predisposed to dislike him, and thus prepared for the wonder (any more) of character development. There are dozens of characters in this trilogy, and Peake (as a writing teacher of mine used to admonish us to do, just as his teacher before him had admonished) gives his characters their civil rights. They have wants and fears and prejudices, suspicions and misapprehensions, jealousies, murderous rivalries, and irrational impulses, and Peake sets them all to whirling like dancers in one of Gormenghast's cavernous crumbling halls.
Peake makes you care about many of these characters, damn him, which means he'll break your heart. I've learned much, as a writer, from reading him, and I recommend this trilogy gto anyone who has a love for stories and characters and mystery, and who has the patience to savor his descriptions and reveries. It's all well-worth your time....more
Well, and so some people hate this book. I get it. The pages-long riffs, the footnotes and footnotes to footnotes, the multiplicity of story lines, thWell, and so some people hate this book. I get it. The pages-long riffs, the footnotes and footnotes to footnotes, the multiplicity of story lines, the shifting voices, the seeming obsession with medical oddities and deformities and rare mental conditions. Those couple of footnotes that have CALCULUS formulas, for God's sake. I GET IT.
But my gosh, how do you read Wallace and not see his wide-open heart? To envision people so richly and fully--how they wipe crust from their eyes, how they amble and sit and contort their mouths when they're listening to a story, how they arrange food on their plates and hold a cigarette--there's either a tremendous love in that, or a terrific hate. And there's just no contempt in his voice, not even for his most contemptible characters, whose numbers are legion, and uncomfortably contemptible at that, in the sense that they are too much like you and me, so close that a platitudinal there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I rings false, because sometimes you can't help but think, when you crawl deep up into their cerebellar space with him, that it's really more truly the case that there-quietly-go-I.
I fell in love with Wallace's essays before this novel, and all of these before learning that it's becoming fashionable for the hate-boys at groupthink covens like Salon and The New Republic to deride Wallace for the posthumous sin of being admired by neoconservatives. I regard their shallow contempt as a badge of honor, but I'm glad to know my own admiration for him isn't a reaction (though I'm not above investigating a writer because Clever People say he or she is the Wrong Sort).
But perhaps now I've prejudiced you one way or another, when the point is that you ought to give this a try, a real try, but on its own terms, meaning maybe you accept that there's not going to be a clear plot for a while, or even clarity about who is narrating what scene, or a linear timeline, or an obvious protagonist, all of which are hallmarks, I KNOW, of a crapton of really poor, unedifying, post-modern slop, but which in the hands of someone with Wallace's vision can have a magical effect.
And for those of you who HAVE read it . . . Don Gately. Whoa. Am I right?...more
One of the questions Zizoulas tackles sounds odd to a layman, but to philosophers it's no small inquiry: what is a person? We can dispense with biologOne of the questions Zizoulas tackles sounds odd to a layman, but to philosophers it's no small inquiry: what is a person? We can dispense with biological answers: a person is a being born to people, is homo sapiens, etc., because the question is not: what is a human? or even: what is an individual? The question regards uniqueness: what makes you a unique person, as opposed to, say, the 9,487,756,321st human to be birthed since the dawn of man?
Zizoulas ties his answer to communion--we are unique humans insofar as we are in intimate relationship with other beings. I am no longer human number 9,487,756,321 when I become a son, a husband, a father, a friend. Of course everyone is automatically someone's child, if nothing else, so surely that would settle the silly question, but if you have no place in your heart for your parents, for siblings, for spouse, children, friends, then while you may have biological or social ties, you are not in relationship with them. If you do not love others more than yourself, in other words, you are nothing more than human number 9,487,756,321.
The connection to communion in the Orthodox faith, then, is a recognition of the relationships within the Trinity. Each Being of the Trinity reverences and adores the other, and they invite us to be part of their communion. Our being is tied up in our embrace of the Trinitarian God, our destruction, as unique beings, is brought about when we reject this invitation. Zizoulas traces the implications of this understanding to various topics: why the Orthodox liturgy has the structure it has, our understanding of the authority of bishops, the nature of baptism, and so on, which is probably uninteresting to the non-Orthodox (though it does offer, indirectly, criticisms of non-Orthodox traditions), but which to the Orthodox can be eye-opening. "So THAT'S why we do it that way." Overall a thought-inspiring book....more
Shtenyngart has a wonderful eye for detail, and memorable means of describing characters. He also cares about big trends--the implosion of his nativeShtenyngart has a wonderful eye for detail, and memorable means of describing characters. He also cares about big trends--the implosion of his native Russia and her former satellites, the vapid commercialization of the West and the destruction of tradition this entails, the concomitant commercialization of personal relationships, the pervasive alienation of person from person. The challenge is not letting gimlet eye and historical survey swamp your plot. He leaves his protagonist stuck in the woods at a border between two countries at the end of the novel, which makes perfect sense as a metaphor for all the themes he's explored in the preceding pages. It's artistically just right, I suppose, but unsatisfying to this reader, at least....more
The West won't be extinguished precisely this way, nor will it know when its days are over, for the demagogues and semi-literates who rule it will imaThe West won't be extinguished precisely this way, nor will it know when its days are over, for the demagogues and semi-literates who rule it will imagine its greatest days are still ahead even as the lights go out, but I suspect its demise won't be too far afield from what Raspail describes. Don't bother reading if you're offended by terms like "the West," you'll only be scandalized by a writer who apparently did not give one whit whether he maintained his good standing in the Acceptable Opinions Club....more
We are yanking free the anchors, worrying loose the cables, and where once this was effected with radical fervor, it's now a consequence of indolence,We are yanking free the anchors, worrying loose the cables, and where once this was effected with radical fervor, it's now a consequence of indolence, of decay, of corruption. Our politics are dominated by preeners who speak as utopians and govern as apparatchiks. Our news is brought to us by people who understand little of what they attempt to relate. Our children are instructed by dullards. Our churches continue to splinter, our civil bonds disintegrate, and a near-majority of adults choose either to murder their children in the womb or abandon them at birth.
Russell Kirk can help us understand why the institutions we no longer value are important. He does little to explain how they might be regained when they are shattered, and when a majority of the populace neither understands, values, nor even longs for them. Perhaps this is because when he wrote, there still seemed hope of restoring reason and order to the U.S., perhaps even England. What he didn't anticipate is that the political and business leaders who rushed to the banner of conservatism in his time would be unworthy, and ultimately prove themselves venal, ignorant, and self-seeking.
"In every period," Kirk writes, "some will endeavor to pull down the permanent things, and others will defend them manfully." Even without the pulling of our nation's cold-souled bureaucrats and administrators, the permanent things have begun to collapse under their own weight. Who will build them again? That's the question now....more