Legendary King Gilgamesh fears only death. He travels to the edge of the underworld, past scorpion-people and across the Waters of Death, seeking Uta-Legendary King Gilgamesh fears only death. He travels to the edge of the underworld, past scorpion-people and across the Waters of Death, seeking Uta-napishti and his wife, the only humans ever granted immortality by the gods. Gilgamesh thinks they may share with him the secret of eternal life. For a third time Gilgamesh delivers verbatim the lament for his friend and companion, feral man Enkidu. I find the repetition mesmerizing. The following is the Andrew George translation:
Said Uta-napishti to him, to Gilgamesh: ‘Why are your cheeks so hollow, your face so sunken, your mood so wretched, your visage so wasted?
‘Why in your heart does sorrow reside, and your face resemble one come from afar? Why are your features burnt by frost and by sunshine, and why do you wander the wild in lion’s garb?’
Said Gilgamesh to him, to Uta-napishti: ‘Why should my cheeks not be hollow, my face not sunken, my mood not wretched, my visage not wasted?
‘Should not sorrow reside in my heart, and my face not resemble one come from afar? Should not my features be burnt by frost and by sunshine, and should I not wander the wild in lion’s garb?
‘My friend, a wild ass on the run, donkey of the uplands, panther of the wild, my friend Enkidu, a wild ass on the run, donkey of the uplands, panther of the wild -
‘having joined forces we climbed the mountains, seized and slew the Bull of Heaven, destroyed Humbaba, who dwelt in the Forest of Cedar, killed lions in the mountain passes -
‘my friend, whom I loved so dear, who with me went through every danger, my friend Enkidu, whom I loved so dear, who with me went through every danger: the doom of mortals overtook him.
‘Six days I wept for him and seven nights: I did not surrender his body for burial until a maggot dropped from his nostril. Then I was afraid that I too would die, I grew fearful of death, and so wander the wild.
‘What became of my friend was too much to bear, so on a far road I wander the wild; what became of my friend Enkidu was too much to bear, so on a far path I wander the wild.
‘How can I keep silent? How can I stay quiet? My friend, whom I loved, has turned to clay, my friend Enkidu, whom I loved, has turned to clay. Shall I not be like him and also lie down, never to rise again, through all eternity?’ pp. 83-85...more
Read this for a post-apocalyptic book group. The author’s web page markets his how-to books, including “5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write SmarRead this for a post-apocalyptic book group. The author’s web page markets his how-to books, including “5,000 Words Per Hour: Write Faster, Write Smarter.” All I can say is, he needs to slow down....more
Lena Grove, fallen woman and saintly pilgrim, opens and closes the story with her banal, calm and peaceful observation: “My. My. A body does get arounLena Grove, fallen woman and saintly pilgrim, opens and closes the story with her banal, calm and peaceful observation: “My. My. A body does get around.” She’s been on the road four weeks when she begins the novel. She ends the book four weeks later, still on the road, repeating those words but in changed circumstances. The “getting around” part in the middle gets to just about every human passion and dilemma there is. Faulkner can generate more forceful metaphors per paragraph than other writers do in a book, although at times it does seem like Mr. Faulkner’s book is one, uninterrupted sentence inside one oceanic paragraph. Every word is right where it needs to be, just as every drop in the ocean occupies its rightful place.
Text like this: “When he went to bed that night his mind was made up to run away. He felt like an eagle: hard, sufficient, potent, remorseless, strong. But that passed, though he did not then know that, like the eagle, his own flesh as well as all space was still a cage.” (160)
Here is one lovely passage, a reflection on the process of reading but also much more: Our anti-hero has “a magazine of that type whose covers bear either pictures of young women in underclothes or pictures of men in the act of shooting one another with pistols.” …. “He ate his breakfast with his back against the tree, reading the magazine while he ate. He had previously read but one story; he began now upon the second one, reading the magazine straight through as though it were a novel. Now and then he would look up from the page, chewing, into the gunshot leaves which arched the ditch.… It seemed to him that he could see the yellow day opening peacefully on before him, like a corridor, an arras, into a still chiaroscuro without urgency. It seemed to him that as he sat there the yellow day contemplated him drowsily, like a prone and somnolent yellow cat. Then he read again. He turned the pages in steady progression, though now and then he would seem to linger upon one page, one line, perhaps one word. He would not look up then. He would not move, apparently arrested and held immobile by a single word which had perhaps not yet impacted, his whole being suspended by the single trivial combination of letters in quiet and sunny space, so that hanging motionless and without physical weight he seemed to watch the slow flowing of time beneath him …” (110-112)
One of the great joys of retirement is re-reading formative books from my youth. During my late teens I fell hard for Faulkner, with an at-arm’s-length, horror-stricken sort of obsession. Reading him was like drowning in an ocean I had been seeking my entire land-locked childhood. Today I keep dog-paddling as fast as I can, still the clumsy land-lubber yearning to be a sailor, or perhaps a fish....more
Have your ever read/skimmed a book so puerile that you are ashamed to post it to your feed? Like this one maybe? I am unchecking the FaceBook box as wHave your ever read/skimmed a book so puerile that you are ashamed to post it to your feed? Like this one maybe? I am unchecking the FaceBook box as well. Some lapses of judgment are better not shared....more
An outstanding literary memoir and bitter-sweet character study. The lean narrative cruises through disarmingly warm, busy illustrations of family lifAn outstanding literary memoir and bitter-sweet character study. The lean narrative cruises through disarmingly warm, busy illustrations of family life, where Bechdel tells with compassion and detachment the story of her parents’ loveless marriage … compassion for the restricted lives in which they found themselves … detachment that allows her not to personalize the turbulence their disappointments created. 'Although I’m good at enumerating my father’s flaws, it’s hard for me to sustain much anger at him,' she says early on. Bechdel portrays them as vibrant, creative souls squashed into provincial lives, and she describes them through books she and they read. Her father was both F. Scott Fitzgerald and the Gatsby character he created. ‘Gatsby’s self-willed metamorphosis from farm boy to prince is in many ways identical to my father’s. Like Gatsby, my father fueled this transformation with “the colossal vitality of his illusion.” Unlike Gatsby, he did it on a schoolteacher’s salary…. If my father was a Fitzgerald character, my mother stepped right out of Henry James — a vigorous American idealist ensnared by degenerate continental forces…. I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms. And perhaps my cool aesthetic distance itself does more to convey the arctic climate of our family than any particular literary comparison. My parents seemed almost embarrassed by the fact of their marriage.’ Bechdel handles that embarrassment with maturity and respect and love for flawed parents doing their best with what they had. And doesn’t that describe the child-rearing efforts of most of us?...more
Solaris ranks among the most difficult books I have ever read. And I don’t know why, other than to suggest it is so full of content, subtext, meaning,Solaris ranks among the most difficult books I have ever read. And I don’t know why, other than to suggest it is so full of content, subtext, meaning, metaphor … whatever you call the powerful stuff underlying a story … that I found it hard to process. My reading went this way: Read a chapter. Realize I didn’t know what I’d read. Read it again. Read the next chapter. Realize I couldn’t remember the last chapter. Re-read both chapters. Have an ah-hah moment but be puzzled by it so ONCE MORE re-read both chapters. This non-linear process continued through the entire novel. Usually books like this make me feel dumb … but Solaris does not. Solaris is inviting, like a garden maze on a sunny day. The great plasma ocean/brain/being of the planet seems a familiar place, as my bed is familiar, even as that cozy bed is the launching pad for fantastical, unsettling dreams. That plasma thing and I have been dancing together since as far back as I can remember. Solaris is the unfathomable place outside consciousness that consciousness desperately seeks to connect with, to grasp, to know. What Lem suggests is that the unfathomable place can be stimulated so it reaches out to consciousness.
“[The ocean] has performed a series of … experiments on us,” says Kelvin, the investigator sent to find out what is wrong at Solaris Station. “Psychic vivisection.” (192)
By coincidence, or what Jung might call synchronicity, I read Solaris as I was studying commentary on the Jewish Kabbalah. (Not the spiritualist/Christianized, New Age type Cabbalah.) The Holy Ari’s idea of progressive “enclothement” as energy “descends” into matter reminds me very much of how the entity that is Solaris “enclothes” the fears and dreams and memories of the human scientists trying to contact it. Solaris cuts right into the soul of each character to find seeds around which it can synthesize an uncanny phantom.
Vivisection indeed, while the subject is awake and feeling every painful slice. H.G. Wells captured the curious indifference of the vivisectionist in THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU....more
When the world ends, society’s institutions go with it, yet survivors keep pretending as best they can for as long as they can. Half the fun of the poWhen the world ends, society’s institutions go with it, yet survivors keep pretending as best they can for as long as they can. Half the fun of the post-apocalyptic story is watching how people do or don’t cope with disruption. Carey does a excellent job of setting up and developing his characters by plunging them and the reader into the middle of a new reality, and making that horror become the new normal. Three mutated institutions Carey explores are the children’s classroom, the science laboratory, and the Army.
the children’s classroom: ‘When all the children are in the classroom, the lessons start. Every day has sums and spelling, and every day has retention tests, but there doesn't seem to be a plan for the rest of the lessons. Some teachers like to read aloud from books and then ask questions about what they just read. Others make the children learn facts and dates and tables and equations, which is something that Melanie is very good at. She knows … all the cities in the United Kingdom with their areas and populations …. ‘…. ‘But there’s sort of a problem with that. Melanie learned the stuff about the cities of the United Kingdom from Mr Whitaker’s lessons, and she’s not sure if she’s got all the details right. Because one day, when Mr Whitaker was acting kind of funny and his voice was all slippery and fuzzy, he said something that worried Melanie. She was asking him whether 1,036,900 was the population of the whole of Birmingham with all its suburbs or just the central metropolitan area, and he said, “Who cares? None of this stuff matters any more. I just gave it to you because all the textbooks we’ve got are thirty years old.” ‘Melanie persisted …. ‘Mr Whitaker cut her off. “Jesus, Melanie, it’s irrelevant. It’s ancient history! There’s nothing out there any more. Not a damn thing. The population of Birmingham is zero.” ‘So it’s possible, even quite likely, that some of Melanie’s lists need to be updated in some respects.’ (6-7)
the science laboratory: ‘[Dr Caldwell’s] brusque in her manner, even surly, because this part of the procedure, more than any other, hurts her professional pride. If anything were ever to make her shake her fist at the untenanted heavens, it would be this. She’s read about how brains were sliced and mounted in the good old days, before the Breakdown. There was a device called an ATLUM — an automated lathe ultramicrotome — which with its diamond blade could be calibrated to slice brains into perfect cross-sections of single-neuron thickness. Thirty thousand slices per millimetre, give or take. ‘The best that Dr Caldwell’s guillotine can manage, without smearing and crushing the fragile structures she wants to look at, is about ten slices per millimetre. ‘Mention Robert Edwards to Dr Caldwell. Mention Elizabeth Blackburn, Gunter Blobel or Carol Greider, or any cellular biologist who ever got the Nobel prize and see what she says. ‘More often than not she’ll say: I bet he (or she) had an automated lathe ultramicrotome. And a TEAM 0.5 transmission electron microscope, and a live-cell imaging system, and an army of grad students, interns and lab assistants to handle the dull routine of processing so the Nobel laureate would be free to waltz in the moonlight with his figging muse. ‘Dr Caldwell is trying to save the world, and she feels like she’s wearing oven mitts instead of surgical gloves.’ (39)
the Army: ‘But Parks is a soldier. He knows how to shut up and do what he’s told. In fact, that’s his specialty subject. …. ‘…. ‘…. There are twenty-eight men and women under his command (he doesn’t count Caldwell’s people [the civilians], who mostly don’t know what an order is), and with that small a number, base security needs all of them to be combat-fit and ready to respond if a situation develops. ‘Parks has doubts about half his muster, at this point. ‘Doubts about himself too, insofar as he’s a non-commissioned officer effectively acting as a field commander for a unit maintaining a fixed post with civilian liaison. The minimum rank for that billet, if you go by regs, is lieutenant. ‘Parks has his own scripture, which doesn’t met regs at many points…..’ (72-74)
Added 1/2/17 Readers interested in the craft of writing, might want to check out two texts that reveal changes in how Carey both began and ended the novel. The original short story from which this book was expanded is "Iphigenia in Aulis" in the anthology AN APPLE FOR THE CREATURE, edited by Harris and Kelner. The original ending chapter, which Carey deleted from the published novel, can be read at http://mikeandpeter.com/2016/05/girl-... ....more
I was horrid to my mother when I was 15, and my lovely daughter was horrid to me when she was fifteen. So right away, I found this book fun when it opI was horrid to my mother when I was 15, and my lovely daughter was horrid to me when she was fifteen. So right away, I found this book fun when it opened with a horrid 15 year old girl jitterbugging and dissing her working mother. Her boyfriend says, mid-dance-step: ‘“Annie, your mother’s gonna kill us if she finds us,”’ and, snotty monster that she is, Annie replies, ‘“I could kill my mother.’” From there, the tale expands into a female-centric story that turns on its head the hard-boiled male-centric noir detective genre. The plot twists and turns … mistaken identities, revenge motifs, car “chases,” jealous husbands, chance meetings of people who haven’t seen each other in 10 years … can be absurd and improbable but that craziness seems to be part of the noir parody. Any story weakness is overcome by Feiffer’s lovely, kinetic, frenetic art. I read this twice, so I could go back and see how Feiffer set up the story and to savor the visual layout....more
“The perilous-voyage-through-the-snow novella might be the Russian corollary to the American road novel,” according to a NYT review by Masha Gessen, h“The perilous-voyage-through-the-snow novella might be the Russian corollary to the American road novel,” according to a NYT review by Masha Gessen, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/boo... . So I had to read this book when the reviewer said it employed bunches of my favorite tropes: a quest, a bleak and hostile frozen setting (I love Antarctic expedition fantasies), magical realism (50 micro-minnie horses that power a snowmobile), dark humor, a dystopian future, and a zombie epidemic (although to be fair, the zombie thread is tangential.)
What a terrific read! In addition, Sorokin’s fabulous tale features a comical yet profound side-kick character, a classic Miller’s Wife (no feminist messages here), hypothermia brought on by vodka (it’s FUNNY and includes frozen green snot), and sinister Asian “barbarians.”
All that is most noble about Man (alas, ladies, it is about men only) vs. Nature is both glorified and skewered in a wonderful send up of the human condition and “the meaning of life.”
from pg 116, after unbelievable effort and suffering: ‘The blizzard hadn’t slackened; it was just as strong as ever. ‘After the turn the snow blew straight at their faces. The sled slowed down. ‘Crouper [the sled mobile driver] steered, and the horses pulled, their hooves making a crunching sound inside the hood. The doctor [our protagonist who must deliver a vaccine for the epidemic] looked straight ahead. ‘Soon it was entirely dark. There was no moon. But this didn’t bother either the doctor or Crouper. They continued on their way, just as calmly and surely. The doctor felt that the blizzard itself was showing them the way, forcing Crouper to steer directly into the wind. Snowflakes flew out of the dark into the travelers’ faces, and they just needed to keep heading in that direction without turning. ‘“Drive into the wind, overcome all difficulties, all nonsense and foolishness, move straight on, fearing nothing and no one, move along your own path, the path of your destiny, move onward steadfastly, stubbornly. That is the very meaning of our lives!” thought the doctor.’
"To be anthropocentric is to remain unaware of the limits of human nature, the significance of biological processes undEssays from the 1980s and '90s:
"To be anthropocentric is to remain unaware of the limits of human nature, the significance of biological processes underlying human behavior, and the deeper meaning of long-term genetic evolution." pg. 100
"... culture is ultimately a biological product. .... Culture conforms to an important principle of evolutionary biology: most change occurs to maintain the organism in its steady state." pg. 107
"... culture is created and shaped by biological processes while biological processes are simultaneously altered in response to cultural change." pg. 111
"Biophilia, if it exists, and I believe it exists, is the innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. .... The brain evolved in a biocentric world, not a machine-regulated one." pp. 165-166
"Biodiversity is the frontier of the future. Humanity needs a vision of an expanding and unending future. That spiritual craving cannot be satisfied by the colonization of space. .... The true frontier for humanity is life on Earth -- its science, art, and practical affairs. .... The manifold ways by which human beings are tied to the remainder of life are very poorly understood, crying for new scientific inquiry and bold aesthetic interpretation. .... The search is rendered more urgent by the rapid disappearance of the living part of that environment, creating a need not only for a better understanding of human nature but for a more powerful and intellectually convincing environmental ethic based upon it." pp. 178-179...more
“Faith” is a fat-girl super-hero, lovingly drawn in Rubenesque splendor. She flies with sensuous, glorious abandon while modestly clothed in a white,“Faith” is a fat-girl super-hero, lovingly drawn in Rubenesque splendor. She flies with sensuous, glorious abandon while modestly clothed in a white, skirted pantsuit that drapes just enough … like an updated costume for an angel. She is both innocence and experience … your favorite co-worker, your special friend from high school, the no-nonsense neighbor you admire for her surprising sweetness and her iron code of ethics. Faith indulges in cotton-candy day-dreams, yet keeps herself grounded in a world of demanding bosses, noisy apartments, arrogant ex-boyfriends, and bad guys who dognap puppies. Throughout her story, there runs the persistent question … how does one maintain balance amid life’s ambivalence and uncertainty? From Faith’s favorite TV show, a character faces the dilemma: “Unit 517 had to make the choice that every cyborg eventually faces. …. Which matters more, the robot side or the human?” Metal or flesh? Logic or passion? The alien or the familiar? Self-preservation or the helping hand? Faith's sun-shiny smile makes it seem easy on the surface....more
In a dark wood, Superman fights pitch-black attackers. His mysterious informant explains: “I seen guys like this before. One of Hordr’s allies developIn a dark wood, Superman fights pitch-black attackers. His mysterious informant explains: “I seen guys like this before. One of Hordr’s allies developed the tech. They’re like zombies … corpses that’ve been made into solidified shadow.” Solidified shadow is a fine metaphor for secrets that both give us strength and make us vulnerable. After Superman knocks the shadowy crap out of the zombie gang his own secret is outed. Drastic repercussions result. When loved ones learn our secrets we feel understood, accepted, warm and fuzzy … for the moment. Then our solidified shadows take on a mindless, heartless life of their own and, horrified, we witness the unintended consequences....more
What are we all waiting for? What do we think might happen? "The point is --" as explained by Beckett:
Estragon: Charming spot. ... Inspiring prospects.What are we all waiting for? What do we think might happen? "The point is --" as explained by Beckett:
Estragon: Charming spot. ... Inspiring prospects. ... Let's go. Vladimir: We can't. Estragon: Why not? Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot. Estragon: (despairingly) Ah! ... You're sure it was here? Vladimir: What? Estragon: That we were to wait. Vladimir: He said by the tree. (They look at the tree.) Do you see any others? Estragon: What is it? Vladimir: I don't know. A willow. Estragon: Where are the leaves? Vladimir: It must be dead. Estragon: No more weeping. Vladimir: Or perhaps it's not the season. Estragon: Looks to me more like a bush. Vladimir: A shrub. Estragon: A bush. Vladimir: A --. What are you insinuating? That we've come to the wrong place? Estragon: He should be here. Vladimir: He didn't say for sure he'd come. Estragon: And if he doesn't come? Vladimir: We'll come back tomorrow. Estragon: And then the day after tomorrow. Vladimir: Possibly. Estragon: And so on. Vladimir: The point is --. Estragon: Until he comes. (pages 8-9)...more