I finished Orlando a couple of days ago. It was not really my thing. I understand that it started as a joke, but (even though I sorta know what she wa...moreI finished Orlando a couple of days ago. It was not really my thing. I understand that it started as a joke, but (even though I sorta know what she was making fun of) it just wasn't funny to me. I'm sure Virginia Woolf had a hoot writing it, though, so I'm happy for her.
Towards the middle, the "biographer's" voice started sounding very much like the "lecturer's" voice in A Room of One's Own. In fact, I was surprised at the similarity in tonality between the two works. It had that same quality of breaking the fourth wall, of creating a make-believe scenario that was obviously not true (i.e. written to illustrate a point), and also of that slightly didactic "here's what I want to say on the topic of the sexes" which I didn't mind as much in AROOO since it was an essay afterall.
Anyway, if you (like me) loved Mrs. Dalloway and her other Dalloway-like works, then don't read this expecting more of the same. You may love it or you may hate it. If you hated Mrs. Dalloway and her other Dalloway-like works, then definitely give this a chance. This may be your thing.(less)
It's one of those great books with the rare ability to put into words everything I've always known. *
* Wittgenstein says "About what one can not speak...moreIt's one of those great books with the rare ability to put into words everything I've always known. *
* Wittgenstein says "About what one can not speak, one must remain silent." Of course, as a philosopher, he was right. But what is unspeakable is also exactly where poets must venture forth a primitive utterance. Not to fill it up brashly with idle talk, but to consecrate it with voices which will increase the silence. This is why phenomenology as practiced by Bachelard, though a branch of philosophy, is more akin to poetry. He whispers to you everything you've always known, intimate knowledge that we all share wordlessly, yet he increases its mystery by speaking about it in a hush of clarity that does not defile the subject matter as psychologists, philosophers, or psychoanalysts do. It makes sense then
that he uses poets and writers as the basis for his study of intimate spaces. More specifically, the poet's image, which arises purely, in a realm before thought or language, springing forth without history or context or reason. The image is Bachelard's tool for studying the essence of safe places in which (and for which) daydreaming takes place, like the house, the drawer, and the shell. The phenomenologist, like the poet, is interested entirely in the essence of a thing, which often has only weak ties to the actual physical reality of a thing. Since I also live almost entirely in the imagination,
this book had the odd effect of feeling at once familiar and new. For once, someone does not miss the whole point! Bachelard does not analyze. What he does instead is set the tongues of these various images to ringing at harmonic frequencies, then invite you in to hear the resonances. It's like going to church. There is awe here, and play, and love that comes only after intense immersion. Many of my own poems are rooted in this same seeing/hearing, especially my In the Sea, There Are a Million Things in There poems and my chapbook A Reduction (yes, shameless self promotion!), both of which start with the inextricably linked worlds of large and small as a realm for daydreaming.(less)
Interesting thoughts on women and fiction, written as a hybrid between story and essay. One wonders if Woolf stumbled on this fictive-voice through a...moreInteresting thoughts on women and fiction, written as a hybrid between story and essay. One wonders if Woolf stumbled on this fictive-voice through a need to re-invent the essay form to fit a more feminine, less authoritative perspective? If so,
it would mirror many of the themes she discusses in the book itself. And also seems to be a precursor to the kind of rambling consciousness of a Thomas Bernhard, which I could not help but be reminded of when reading humorous passages such as this:
Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation, I thought, opening the door. But what bearing has all this upon the subject of my paper, Women and Fiction? I asked, going indoors.
She makes a lot of well reasoned points here, not only about women but about men, society, writing, and art in general. I will not try to summarize her points since it is such a short book, so just read it yourself. I did want to share this one quote though:
It is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people ... Think of things in themselves. p115
One of the impressions I had of Virginia Woolf and her narrator Clarissa Dalloway when I finished Mrs. Dalloway a few weeks ago was that they were both fiercely themselves, and just as they would not want to be converted ("conversion" was a big word in Dalloway) by the Sally Setons and Peter Walshes of the world, they would not want to see the Peters and Sallys changed or converted either. That is what made Mrs. Dalloway, the book, so unique to me:
it celebrated each and every voice for what it was, presenting varied points of view without setting up a hierarchy. Yet
when Woolf looks back at the history of women and fiction, she sees that women have been defined and confined by men. Not been allowed to be themselves, not given a voice. I also share this deep sentiment with Woolf. As master gardener Ruth Stout once said:
"It would never never occur to me to tell any other grown human being how to put some flowers in a vase!"
It reads so much like a play that I suspect the only reason it wasn't is that Salinger was scared shitless that it would actually be [mis]performed:
...moreIt reads so much like a play that I suspect the only reason it wasn't is that Salinger was scared shitless that it would actually be [mis]performed:
And if you go into the theatre, will you have any illusions about that? Have you ever seen a really beautiful production of, say, The Cherry Orchard? Don't say you have. Nobody has. You may have seen "inspired" productions, "competent" productions, but never anything beautiful. Never one where Chekhov's talent is matched, nuance for nuance, idiosyncrasy for idiosyncrasy, by every soul on-stage.
In that quote, Zooey was actually arguing for theater, which is a sign of the book as a whole, i.e. each character offers a critique of the other characters, but each character does not live up to his/her own standards. And so Salinger himself does not live up to Salinger's own standards, which is the point of the book. He's ultimately too uncompromising in his intellect, taste, and integrity, and it's not easy when you can also see through your own hypocrisies and double standards. We call that "too smart for your own good".
Phooey, I say, on all white-shoe college boys who edit their campus literary magazines. Give me an honest con man any day.
People who think they're better than others often think they're the only ones who are smart enough to think that way. And yet, so many people identify with Salinger's books, to the point where fans must resort to saying that they are the only ones who truly understand Salinger in order to maintain that feeling of superiority. This is not a critique of the book, but in fact, a confirmation of its themes, that the lessons of the book are so accurate that they are played out in the Salinger-worshipping phenomenon itself. The real world acts as parody of this text, oblivious to the irony of it all.
Do we still have any doubt why Salinger stopped publishing? (less)
I feel inadequate to the task of reviewing this book. It's like asking me to review a person, which is impossible. But that's what this book is. More...moreI feel inadequate to the task of reviewing this book. It's like asking me to review a person, which is impossible. But that's what this book is. More than any other character I've encountered in a book, Ebenezer comes fully fleshed. I loved him deeply, despite his flaws (or because of them), and because he doesn't bullshit. He has lived eighty odd years and he has no time for bullshit, his or anyone else's, and no reason to either. His language is rich, colloquial. Some will say quaint with a negative connotation, but quaint can also be a positive quality in a world where we are pulled apart by technology, tourism, and material goods, so much so that we can't truly see each other for who we are underneath all that.
The book is divided into three parts, and each with 20 chapters, and each chapter is almost OCD-like in their exact length. I imagined Ebenezer scrawling in his notebook, night after night and story after story, and just stopping when he got to the end of the page. Obviously Edwards (the author of this incredible book) was not Ebenezer, but he created a character through which the book is so real that it feels more a product of this character's handwriting and temperament than the author's own. Which is no easy task because Ebenezer is a complete outsider. He is not someone who's read Literature with a capital L. He's lived his entire life on a small island, and that's a refreshingly wonderful perspective in the world of smart, witty, worldly narrators.
The voice here is meandering and charming. It reminded me of listening to my own grandfather recount stories of his youth. They are almost inconsequential in that the stories don't seem to build into a grander narrative. But precisely because of this inconsequentiality they are rich with characterization and unhurried in their depiction of place, speech, customs, and people. But in part two, we see more of a bigger story building. And by part three, most of the important things in his life have already happened, and we are left with the feeling of being out of time--we are stranded on an island with Ebenezer, looking for a bit of humanity when everyone we love has gone. Stranded on an island with strangers, living in the past.
I related on so many levels with Ebenezer. Like me, he's super critical of others, but when he finds someone he really likes, he goes soft and will walk to the ends of the earth for them. The idea of innocents, Horace in Raymond's eyes, and Jim in Ebenezer's eyes--I am not sure if Ebenezer is not himself one of the innocents, in my eyes.
My review truly does not do this book justice. This is one of the most alive books I've read, and I couldn't help laughing and sobbing (sometimes simultaneously!) through parts of it. It really is that good. Or rather, it is beyond good or bad, it breathes. Now is probably a good time to stop reading this stupid fucking inarticulate review, and go get a copy of this book. NOW!(less)
I wanted to like this more than I actually did. It's French, it's experimental, and it was recommended to me by smart folks. But I just didn't feel it...moreI wanted to like this more than I actually did. It's French, it's experimental, and it was recommended to me by smart folks. But I just didn't feel it. I thought her prose was enjoyable enough, but a bit tedious. The format of her similes are always the same, i.e. something simple compared to something long drawn out. And I wanted some variation in her technique. The whole "mystery" aspect was interesting for a little bit until I thought I figured it out, which was about 10 pages in. I am still not sure if I am right or not, since no answers are ever revealed (which I don't mind, I actually prefer it this way), but the nagging sense that I was right, and that the book was really about (view spoiler)[the writing of a book, i.e. about a man (the narrator) who has actually imagined the lives of these other people, who couldn't help himself but imagine them, and who depended on these people of his creation (whether or not they really existed, or whether they existed as separate forms) screamed 'metafiction' to me in a way that didn't increase my pleasure. (hide spoiler)]. I know I spent the whole review complaining about this book, but I actually found it generally enjoyable to read. I just didn't like it as much as I wanted to like it, or thought I would like it.(less)
Starts out funny, but ends up quite moving and deep. There's something compelling about Bartleby, his extreme composure, his unflinching yet mild refu...moreStarts out funny, but ends up quite moving and deep. There's something compelling about Bartleby, his extreme composure, his unflinching yet mild refusal. There's something unnervingly inhuman about him, precisely because behind that veneer you know there is something essentially human, vulnerable, and very much like ourselves. But we are not privy to the inner life that lies behind the blank expression, and Melville wisely does not let us in on it. It's hard not to feel sorry for both the narrator and for Bartleby as well, and the whole time I was reading it I was seeing myself assuming either role very easily, by a turn of fate or flip of coin. (less)
Oh what bullshit I could write here. But I won't. No, not in so many words. This book is a reinvention of form, but that's not important because it's...moreOh what bullshit I could write here. But I won't. No, not in so many words. This book is a reinvention of form, but that's not important because it's not driven by the need to show off. So the reinvention (though necessary) is not the point! It's a means to an end, that end being the need to reconnect, to feel again like we once did about so many things but have been so pathetically unable to. So instead of bullshit I'll just say this, that Mrs. Dalloway killed me a little, and that's a good thing. Fucking shit.(less)
Oh, Felisberto, I'm baffled! All this talk of you being a fabulist and a magician and loved by Marquez and Cortazar and Calvino. All these reviews on...moreOh, Felisberto, I'm baffled! All this talk of you being a fabulist and a magician and loved by Marquez and Cortazar and Calvino. All these reviews on Goodreads, and all this talk about your "surrealism," and not one word about your greatest, least fabulist story of all... "The Stray Horse". One of the best stories I've ever read by anyone. Yes, there is less of that "fabulist" aesthetic. It's there, but it's so much more quiet and subtle, and the story ambles along without any sort of premise. The deliciousness of this story, the meditative tone, and the way you bring the characters and small minor trivial events to bigger-than-life is magical already, and I still can't figure out why your other stories never connected with me in the same way, or why nobody talks about this one. Maybe because this story doesn't involve fantastic imagery... the way I see it, the other stories had fantastic imagery as part of the content of the story, whereas this one showed you the reality of life while letting you peak (almost as if under the skirt of the furniture so to speak) into the abundant imaginary and secret life that flourished beneath it. It's still fabulist but in this way that multiplies through implication.
The story is divided into 2 sections. The first is remembrances. Nothing really happens and nothing unusual happens. But so much clarity and emotion is in each line, you can feel the significance of each nothingness. It's wonderful. And in parts funny too. The second section is a rumination on the multiplicity of the self, the idea of growing up and becoming a different person, and the impossibility of memory. This second part is great but it does get a little repetitive and even over-reaches towards the end, but I can forgive it that, since it is such a masterpiece of a story.
Since it was winter, night came early. But the windows had not seen it come in: they had gone on absently gazing at the clear sky until the last bit of light faded. The night floated up around our legs from under the furniture, where the black souls of the chairs grew and spread. Soon the white slip covers were quietly suspended in the air, like small harmless ghosts. Suddenly Celina would rise, light a small lamp on a coil and attach it to the candleholder on the piano. When my grandmother and I lit up in the light it was like being in a blaze of bright hay.
Celina would make me spread my hands on the keys and, with her fingers, she bent mine back, as if she were teaching a spider to move its legs. She was more closely in touch with my hands than I was myself. When she made them crawl like slow crabs over white and black pebbles, suddenly the hands came upon sounds that cast a spell on everything in the circle of lamplight, giving each object a new charm.
Meantime I would be watching for signs of affection and hiding in the bushes that I assumed would line the road leading to her. Besides, if she had the feelings I thought she had, she would see into my silence and guess my wish. I couldn't help trying to imagine what such a stern person would be like when she softened and yielded to someone she loved. Perhaps her gnarled hand, the one with the scar on it, would be capable of a gentle caress, in spite of the thick black sleeve stretching down to her wrist. Perhaps the whole scene would take on the beauty and charm of the objects around us when struck by the sounds rising from the piano. Perhaps caressing me she would bend forward, as she did to light the lamp, and meantime the piano, like an old man half asleep, wouldn't mind holding the lamp on its back.
Now Celina had torn up all the roads between us, she had torn up secrets before knowing what they contained. Of course, grownups were full of secrets: the words they spoke out loud were always surrounded by others you couldn't hear. Sometimes they pretended to agree on something even though they were saying different things, and it was as surprising as if they thought they were face to face while turning their backs on each other or in the same room while wandering far apart.
It was on one of those sad nights, in bed, as my thoughts edged toward sleep, that I began to feel the presences in the house around me, like furniture that kept changing position. From then on I often had that thought at night: they were furniture that could hold still or move, at will. The ones that held still were easy to love because they made no demands on you, while the ones that moved demanded not only love and kisses but harsher things, and were also likely to spring suddenly open and spill out on you. But they did not always surprise you in violent or unpleasant ways: some provided slow, silent surprises, as if they had a bottom drawer that gradually slid open to reveal unfamiliar objects. (Celina kept her drawers locked.) I even knew some persons with closed drawers who were nevertheless so pleasant that if you listened quietly you heard music in them: they were like instruments playing to themselves. Those persons had an aunt who was like a wardrobe in a corner, facing the door: there was nothing she didn't catch in her mirrors and you couldn't even dress without consulting her.
The painful and confusing story of my life separates the child I was in the days of Celina from "the man with his tail between his legs."
Some women have seen Celina's child in the man while talking to him. I hadn't known the child was visible in the man until the child himself noticed it and told me he was visible in me, and that the women were seeing him and not me. Moreover, he was the first to attract and seduce them. The man later seduced them by appealing to the child. The man learned deceit from the child--who had much to teach him in that area--and practiced it the way children do. But he did not take into account his remorse or the fact that, although he practiced his deceit only on a few persons, they would multiply in the events and memories that haunted him night and day: which was why, fleeing his remorse, he wanted to be let into the room that had once been his, where the inhabitants of Celina's parlor were now gathered for their ceremony. And the sadness of being rejected and even totally ignored by those inhabitants increased when he remembered some of the persons he had deceived. The man had deceived them with the wiles of the child, but had then, in turn, been seduced by the child he had just used, when he had fallen in love with some of his victims. These were late loves become mythical or perverse with age--and that wasn't the worst of it. Worse still was the fact that the child had been able to attract and seduce the man he later became because his charms were more powerful than those of the man, and because life held more charm for him.
"Not for a second do I see the need to be brave. Perhaps being brave is my form of cowardice."
I just realized that I have not reviewed this book yet.
Part of the reason for my lapse is that there is never anything to say about war. About the Holocaust. About torture. About death.
Or rather, there is too much to say that I never know where to begin.
Besides Marguerite said it all already in this book.
Which is in itself impressive. She says it all in here without falling into the typical trappings of saying it all about such a subject.
Without sentimentality. In fact with the opposite of sentimentality.
"There's no point in killing him. And there's no longer any point in letting him live. ... And just because there's no point in killing him, we can go ahead and do it."
She goes to the very edge of emotional experience and is somehow able to write about it almost as it was going on, and it doesn't turn out like an overly emotional teenager's drivel (I just realized after I wrote this that it may be read as a subtle criticism of Anne Frank, but it's not intended that way, I haven't read her since high school, so can't speak on that front).
Part of the reason this is impressive is that to go to the very edge of emotional experience is an entirely different beast than to write out that experience on paper. To affect a reader in that way requires going to a different place inside of oneself after much silence, quite separate from the edge of experience that is experienced while in the midst of experiencing the edge of experience.
Duras was able to do that seemingly in the moment. At the edge and not at the edge at the same time. How?
Maybe the war divides us, divides our experience, so that we can talk about the missing cheese in the same sentence as we talk about the death of a traitor (as they do in one of the later chapters here).
Death and cheese, Duras understood, normally existed on different planes of human experience. But in wartime there is only one plane of human experience. Human experience becomes one dimensional. There are no hierarchies of objects. Everything is simultaneous.
"I feel a slight regret at having failed to die while still living."
This isn't really a review (so don't "like" it, folks), just wanted to write a few notes before I forget... although these are short unfinished novels...moreThis isn't really a review (so don't "like" it, folks), just wanted to write a few notes before I forget... although these are short unfinished novels, they felt almost finished to me, in that the entire arc is included. There are some missing pieces in the middle, but you can pretty much guess it, especially if you read these two along with Malina, which forms a trilogy both in content and in theme. I feel like these two are not as deeply complicated as Malina, while still retaining the amazing writing I found in that one. The idea of erasure, of death by other means, is really quite interesting, and I wish Bachmann had written more novels.
I read this book while not really feeling in the mood for reading... I've been a little burnt out on reading lately. So I read The Book of Franza pretty quickly, but then took almost a month to read Requiem for Fanny Goldmann. It would probably have been more enjoyable if I had read it quicker.(less)
If this book were written by anybody else, it would probably be a two or three star book. It's a bit too plainly allegorical, its critiques of society...moreIf this book were written by anybody else, it would probably be a two or three star book. It's a bit too plainly allegorical, its critiques of society were a bit too simplistic, and its concluding sentiment was a bit too tidy. But even with all these faults, it's the particularities of Daumal's humor, his fantastical inventions, his logical propositions that lead inevitably to a higher non-sense, his wordplay and wit, his sincere truth-seeking (always thirsting for transcendence), and his ultimate quirky vision that saves this book from its larger faults.
The parts are greater than the sum here. Perhaps Daumal knew this when he decided to include a 5 page index to this 113-page book (this is probably the shortest book I've ever read with a full index) with entries as varied as 'young people', 'timeless truths', 'axolotl', 'dietary systems', 'Jarry, Alfred', 'bicycle (made of gold)', 'Flatulencers', 'hashish', 'space (secretion of)', 'pre-actors', 'caterpillar', 'useless gestures (art of)', and 'ouroborism'.(less)
[Klee was dead. He] would no longer draw the interminable, the radiant, that which is irreducible to a prime number; vertiginous, a cavity-unfathomability-hiding place for the innocent, before or after the devastations of life, to play hide-and-seek in; that softest, most delicate, heavenly spiral: Phryne's navel. [...] He was cured of life.
Take the impossible theatrics of the Circe chapter of Ulysses (minus the subconscious stuff), add a little 'futbol', as they call it in Europe, and a little World War II history, and a few philosophers and mathematicians (Schopenhauer, Berkeley, Bertrand Russell) and give them the Herculean task of pondering a lesser-known Paul Klee painting called Alphabet I, and you have this book.
It wasn't an easy read for me, especially not knowing my history or my Schopenhauer as well as I could (also his constant parentheticals in the middle of long sentences about a subject which I knew very little didn't make things any easier... I almost lost my Wille). But even for an ignoramus like me, it was entertaining. Just don't get overly bogged down in the details and enjoy the parts you enjoy. Orelli is very good at telling funny stories (sometimes true, sometimes fictional) in between more serious, somber ones, and he knows very well when to switch it up, so that between lively arguments, stories, quotes, asides, self-reflexive musings, futbol line-ups, and odd facts, the book (although lacking any narrative thrust) rarely slows down.
Also, there's a lot of politics here, but it never felt preachy or self-righteous. Just enough subtlety to be effective, I thought.
Just a few of the high points: Sindelar playing Rotten Egg as a kid but not picking up Bubi's handkerchief, border crossing cows of Pedrinate, Walaschek's and Klee's personal biographies, the futbol player who balanced the ball on his forehead and ran all the way to the goal, Sindelar's death, the part where Cesare Rossi and Giulia Sismondi deliver the ashes to Klee's widow.(less)
I wanted to write you something impossible, like a staircase climbing a spiral to come out where it started or a cube with a vertical line at the back overlapping a horizontal one in front. These cannot exist in three dimensions but can be drawn in two; by cutting out one dimension a fourth is created. The object is that life is impossible; one cuts out fabrication and creates reality. A mirror is held to the back of the head and one's hand has to move the opposite way from what was intended.
It's important to remember that writers are magicians. Their art always starts with deception. In this way, writing is closely related to love. In the last section of the book, the author--Mosley--who happens to be a master magician, weaves an allegory about a princess and a woodcutter. But the magician--Mosley--casts his spell over his tale and reveals them as the witch and magician they really were. Thus another romance starts with deception and ends in the deception of art. For we find out later--too late?--that the magician--woodcutter--and the witch--princess--are both on stage, performing a ridiculous tableau.
"What is the point of being a witch and a magician," said the magician, "if we cannot become something different?"
Meanwhile back in the "real"/main story, the female lover disagrees:
I knew that he always thought that life could be refashioned and go on, but I thought that it should not. There are some things for which one cannot be forgiven.
But the magician--Mosley, in this case--does believe in this refashioning. His mode of magicianship has always been this art of transformation--rabbits out of hats, if you will--the metaphor and the simile, and he has never been shy about either.
p16: She sat with her hands between her legs; like mimosa.
p14: She had a soft mouth which birds could peck crumbs off.
p215: Beyond the waves their heads kept appearing and disappearing like oil.
And he's written his novel around this heavy-handed sleight of hand: story after story, the interlocking mechanism is at first unclear--maybe a connection is made by a similar comparison of a face to Cleopatra's, or a mention of a seaside town. At first the pieces do not add up, like a jigsaw puzzle in which you have focused too much on one problematic piece. By the end, you see that all the pieces do indeed fit, but the problem is now that they fit in too well, like a staircase that has connected itself back to its origin, making a convincing but impossible whole.
"Nietzsche said that everything goes round and round ... He said that everything eternally recurs; or rather that we should act as if everything did." My wife said "Why?" ... I said "Because this is the only way in which life is bearable." My wife looked disinterested. I said "As if everything that we do were such that we were going to go on doing it for ever."
This is a theme in the book. The male idea of being able to repeat something over and over, and the female idea that some things cannot. Thus Mosley--magician-- repeats the age-old, almost impossible theme of love. Can it or can it not be repeated? Likewise can love be repeated or only the disposable actions of love. The idea of acting comes in often, artifice:
We had been sitting in the pub in London one day and I had asked--Then what is our point?--and he had said in his voice that suddenly became like an actor--To maintain ecstasy. (p. 208, emphasis mine)
And the idea of a point. If the point is ecstasy, then love is just artifice, like writing. A set of mirrors to trick ourselves into thinking we are constantly at its height:
What I did not like was that for him life seemed to depend on complexity and flux: and this was not quite real, it was stimulated.
This is a carefully constructed, cynically dosed conception of love, art, and war (if they are not the same thing) that may or may not have anything to do with reality. But I highly recommend you read it anyway.(less)
I don't think I've ever read 1500 pages this quickly. The remarkable thing is that it was so easy. The writing pulled me along with a combination of g...moreI don't think I've ever read 1500 pages this quickly. The remarkable thing is that it was so easy. The writing pulled me along with a combination of great storytelling, philosophy, history, psychology, humor, character study, politics--basically everything I love mixed together perfectly. At times it felt like an adventure story. At other times like reading the encyclopedia if the encyclopedia were fun to read. Still other times I was moved to tears, my heart aching for these characters and their plights. The pages flew by. And all these pages for what? For telling a story that took up a measly few chapters in Genesis, a story I already knew from bible study long ago (although my memory is hazy in many parts). That's the thing though. The way Mann tells it, it doesn't matter if you know the story or not because that's the point of a myth--that it exists outside of time, and therefore it recurs... and every time as if for the first time.
In this book, Mann was able to do justice to that idea of recurrence, because he was able to bring out the humanity in the characters behind the story so that for the first time I could clearly see the complex psychologies, the cultural, historical, and/or personal reasons behind all of the surface action. (Nevermind if those reasons may not be the real ones, nobody knows for sure, what matters is that everything made so much sense to my reality that I believed them completely at the moment of their telling). By making these people real, Mann also reveals layers of moral ambiguity that wasn't in the original. He introduces us to these characters and their situations anew, and adds the necessary complexity to muddy the waters of simple Good vs. Evil.
And I don't mean he just humanizes the main characters, but also the minor characters. Characters like Tamar and Mai-Sakhme (a character who doesn't even have a name in the Bible, but was simply called the "keeper of the prison"), which I do not remember hearing about in bible study probably because 1. they are racy / sexy / violent stories 2. because often these characters are complex in a way that doesn't fit in and therefore are inconvenient or 3. there was just no need to expand into the backgrounds of characters that do not matter in the bigger scheme of God's plans (although there is reason enough for us, and for Mann, because we are more interested in humanity than divinity). Sometimes they are powerful/clever women, or sometimes they are good people who just happened to not believe in the God of the Bible. They don't fit into the "myth" in the way that it is traditionally told. It was amusing when I went back to read the Bible's version of Tamar's story: "And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother." After reading Mann's version, I realized that that Bible passage is bending over backwards just to avoid giving the woman (Tamar) any agency. And because it's doing all these contortions, the logic of the story suffers; it makes no sense and never has (without seriously reading between the lines, which is what Mann does for us).
But Mann not only humanizes his characters, he also humanizes God. For isn't God the one character that Mann himself would relate to most, being afterall the God of this book? (That this God's name is Mann only makes it all the more delicious). By creating a world and breathing life into it with words, isn't he also implicated in this story as a co-author of these people's fates? So that humanizing God comes natural to him, and by plumbing into the depths of His psychology, Mann does Him justice, for His actions are often puzzling until you think of Him as faulty and therefore subject to analysis, scrutiny... even sympathy. Think of Him as motivated by a psychology no different than ours, by jealousies, insecurities, weaknesses, and self deceptions.
As you can see, Mann takes many liberties with these stories. Anyone with a fundamentalist faith in the literal truth of the Bible would probably have fits reading this. But we need not concern ourselves with those people, since those who only have faith in the literal word have no faith at all, seeing as God himself isn't literal but is the epitome of figurative truth, a divine metaphor if you will (note: this is just my opinion, not Mann's). Mann has no qualms about making up new characters (I'm pretty sure there were no midgets in the original version, but I'm glad they're here and by the way, those midgets?--though a bit more two dimensional than the other characters, they had me cracking up uncontrollably on many occasions), new situations, even correcting the Bible. He will often come right out and acknowledge that the Bible says one thing, but that what really happened was more fuzzy/hard to define clearly, and that it was streamlined over the years for certain understandable reasons.
I found the voice of this narrator, in his sobering adherence to logic and common sense, his knowledge of the different political situations at the time, the historical context, and the customs and people of that region, to be strangely comforting. I trusted him more because I was able to see who all the other gods were that other tribes at the time were worshipping and how this tied in politically to whatever larger systems were going on in the region. I felt secure in his all-knowing-ness, even though I too knew that this was a game, much like Joseph's Holy Game. No one is being tricked here, in this game of fiction, although we are all at the same time being tricked, willingly. For don't we all know that there is no possible way for Mann to know all these facts down to the minutest of details? But that is exactly what he provides for us. Instead of 7 years passed as some accounts would have it, Mann gives us page after page (and most of them quite entertaining) of years passing! And we drink it up. For the suspension of belief required in reading a novel is not that different from the one that inspires religious nutcases to mouth such delusions as "everything happens for a reason" and "God works in mysterious ways."
It is now time for me to go all apeshit on certain main themes of the book, and my theories on those themes. Here is where you should tune out before it's too late, if you don't care for this kind of stuff.
And here, to be sure, what we have to say flows into a mystery in which our own information gets lost--the mystery, that is, of an endless past in which every origin proves to be just an illusory stopping place, never the final goal of the journey, and its mystery is based on the fact that by its very nature the past is not a straight line, but a sphere. The line knows no mystery. Mystery lies in the sphere. But a sphere consists of complements and correspondences, a doubled half that closes to a unity; it consists of an upper and a lower, a heavenly and an earthly hemisphere in complement with one another as a whole, so that what is above is also below and whatever may happen in the earthly portion is repeated in the heavenly, the latter rediscovering itself in the former. This corresponding interchange of two halves that together build the whole of a closed sphere is analogous to another kind of objective change: rotation. The sphere rolls; that is the nature of the sphere. In an instant top is bottom and bottom top, if one may even speak in the generalities of bottom and top in such a case. It is not just that the heavenly and the earthly recognize themselves in each other, but thanks to spherical rotation the heavenly also turns into the earthly, the earthly into the heavenly, clearly revealing, indeed yielding the truth that gods can become human and that, on the other hand, human beings can become gods again.
To tell a story is to inevitably deal with the passage of time, either explicitly or implicitly. The best storytellers, in my opinion, do both at the same time.
I already mentioned the implicit bit a little earlier, how Mann has a, let's say, natural predisposition for piling detail on top of detail, but in such a fully realized world that it is almost never boring. What happens in those seven years is told in details, tangents, smaller inconsequential stories. But what matters is that the pages are there, as a placeholder for time passing. I felt the journey that Joseph made with the merchants that took seven times seventeen days (or thereabouts), I felt those long days viscerally as I read page after page before finally seeing the outskirts of Egypt on the horizon. I'm reminded of certain passages in Moby Dick that seemed to me to reflect time's "slabbiness" (my word) or even the section of 2666 with all the deaths (though nothing in this book even comes close to that type of exhausting-ness). The surprising thing is that even though those pages are there and its passage of time is registered in my consciousness, those pages were in no way fillers. They were entertaining and full of interesting tidbits so that the words almost leapt up to greet my eyes, to borrow a phrase from Eliezer.
As for the explicit mention of time... Musil had his pendulum, swinging from one extreme to the other with no stops in between. Mann's conception of time as a sphere is not that different. And the idea of time being cyclic in itself is not all that earth-shattering. What's interesting for me here is his blending of heaven and earth, of how Gods become human and humans become God (yes, there are many references to Jesus in this book, if you were wondering). One must also think of the storyteller's parallel mission--of making the mythic historic and the historic mythic.
Simply by choosing Jacob and Joseph's story, Mann deals with mythic time, by which I mean a story that exists outside of time, a timeless story, and one that necessarily repeats over and over like a motif with slight variations at each iteration. Mann makes us focus on a story which (we are continually reminded) is part of a much larger work, in which stories before and after it are echoed time and again... that this is necessarily a story in the middle of a story, as all stories should be, without beginning or end.
By creating a narrative echo chamber, he reminds us that these are not isolated events, but are part of a series that conform to a mythic template. Even his characters echo these stories to each other, for they are actors in this tradition and must know their roles. He echos things in the past (Abram, Noah) and in the future (Jesus) and by so doing implies that it doesn't matter which story we are telling because we are telling all the stories of the bible (as well as other mythic traditions) at the same time. It feels almost fractal in nature--you can zoom in or out as much as you like, you are still going to get the same general shape. The small story is echoed in the large story and vice versa.
But here the sphere turns and the mythic turns historic. Mann places the myth (which is timeless) in a very specific reality. To be sure, these stories were set in a specific time all along, but not with such detail to the facts of chronology, not with such painstaking concern for the illusion of verisimilitude. In a way, the original stories could have happened at any time. But Mann's insistence on taking these stories, which were previously in a vacuum, isolated to their own lessons only, and surrounding them in the sometimes inconvenient reality of culture, not just one culture but multiple cultures, clans, tribes, religions, sects, political groups, allows us to see that the things happening here are part of a much larger non homogenous real world, and other traditions/stories are happening in concert with what's central here, and each tradition sees itself as the center around which all others revolve.
At what point does flesh-and-blood become story, narrative, myth, and legend? And at what point does the sphere revolve yet again and from these mythic figures mere humans are spat out in all their complex and messy particularities?(less)
It is 10 years since 9/11 and poetry doesn't matter. But this here is to revive my heart to the common palpitations of dance music, to the crowd who s...moreIt is 10 years since 9/11 and poetry doesn't matter. But this here is to revive my heart to the common palpitations of dance music, to the crowd who sweats my sweat. This is the only poetry book that makes me feel like OK here's a something that actually reflects what it feels like to be half alive in this inexpressibly sad as fuck powerless paralysis of a 2012 where we pretend things matter but they don't they're just fucking status updates! Wow oh god OK this book makes me sad, or rather it just puts me back in touch with why I've been sad without knowing it for ten years, and I can't even say why I just now read it over my lunch break (it's short, read it now, it's free too, download it here) and you know how sometimes, very rarely, you read something that expresses basically everything that is the zeitgeist of what's going on in the moment in the world but nobody talks about it because it is so all-encompassing that nobody can see it enough to express it? Read this fucking book now!(less)
How do I rate a book whose quality and style varies from chapter to chapter, though it holds together thematically and plotwise as a novel? It's an in...moreHow do I rate a book whose quality and style varies from chapter to chapter, though it holds together thematically and plotwise as a novel? It's an intriguing and frustrating read.
At the end there is a "Making of" chapter that talks about how the book came into being. Turns out half of these were short stories Broch wrote at different times. He thought it would be more marketable if he tied them all together into a novel, so he wrote the other half of these with that purpose in mind. There are also a few (bad) poems in the midst as well.
Considering all that, it works surprisingly well.
Still, as expected, the stories that he had already written beforehand were much better. Ones like 'Sailing before a Light Breeze' were mindblowingly good. I can't put my finger on why I was so wrapped up in it, how it was so strange yet so familiar and irresistable to me. Broch can definitely write when he's on. But then there are chapters like 'Studienrat Zacharias's Four Speeches' which devolved into pointless diatribes and boring narration and 'The Commendatore' (both written later for the purpose of tying this book together) which were quite a bore to read.
Broch is philosophical, and it works for him sometimes. I found this passage very beautiful for instance:
This friendly warm rigidity, however, could not endure; the specific clarity, or one might say Biedermeier quality, which the afternoon light had given the overall picture, was somehow superannuated, yes superannuated, just as the garden itself and the human group that had gathered there were superannuated, projected into an almost false Indian summer, a false survival, a false rigity, which ceased to be static the moment one viewed the picture with somewhat narrowed eyes: true, even then there was no change in the primordial, light-engendered unity of all things visible, nor could there be any change; but whereas previously, on an outermost surface, as it were, motion was immobilized, so that the animal slipped into the vegetable, the realm of flowers into a realm of stone, now suddenly the reverse occurred, and where previously there had been a world of motionless contours that could at most be broken down into spots of color, there was now a world of motion in which things, regardless of their nature--stone, flower, color spot or line--were set in motion, becoming dynamic as the human mind itself, as though drawn into it, into this mind which in search of rest is forever fleeing rest and even in the storehouse of its memory does not become static, but preserves its stores only in the form of constant tension and action--creative infidelity of faithful memory--because only motion creates contours, creates things, and since even color is a thing, creates colors and a world. p. 181
Beautiful in that Wallace Stevensian way that some may find boring. And when taken too far, it definitely was boring.
But the other part of his philosophical musings seemed to be more political or something... concerned too much with hammering down a point, and came across as way too prescriptive and heavy-handed for me. Here for instance:
Yes, we, our generation more than any other, is faced with the threat that man will be cast out from his kinship with God and fall to the level of the animal, no, lower than the animal, for the animal has never had a self to lose. Doesn't our indifference, even now, mark the beginning of such a fall? For an animal may be capable of bewailing but never of help or even of willingness to help; smitten with the gravity of indifference it cannot smile. And for us the world no longer smiles; nor does the self. Our fear grows. ... Our task is too great, and that is why we arm ourselves with blind indifference. The dispersive force of our self is too great for us. Uncontrollable in its reasoning and terrible logic, it has created a world whose multiplicity has become unintelligible for us, too uncontrollable with its unleashed forces. ... p. 261
I enjoyed the last half of this book considerably less than the first half, perhaps precisely because Broch was trying to tie these different threads together a little too forcefully by the end. I really enjoyed the mysterious quality of the first half, where I couldn't quite put my finger on what he was getting at...
Also, to compare it with his fellow Austrian novelist of ideas Robert Musil... I'd say that Musil is a lot more funny and consistently excellent than Broch. But then again, this book may not be Broch's best.
One more thing, there is a passage in the 'Making Of' chapter at the end that reminded me of Mount Analogue, which was one of my recent favorites, so I wanted to share it...
For the totality of being that an art work is (by virtue of representing it), necessarily encompasses infinity and nothingness, and these two are the foundation of all conceptual knowledge, the foundation (denied to animals) of the most human of all human faculties: namely, the faculty of being able to say "I." Consequently both are irrevocably fundamental to man, though they are beyond the scope of his knowledge, in part because, though one can always think and even count toward infinity and nothingness, one can never reach them, regardless of how many steps of thought or enumeration one takes, because the ultimate foundations of existence (otherwise they would not be ultimate) lie in a second, logical sphere removed from it and accordingly cannot be grasped by the methods of the first sphere. Herein lines the absolute, unattainable in its remoteness, yet suddenly present in a work of art, immediately grasped, the miracle of the human as such, the beautiful, the first step toward the purification of the human soul. p292
Wakefield Press is publishing some of the most exciting new work today. Although when I say 'new' I really mean old, very old, mostly ignored word-exp...moreWakefield Press is publishing some of the most exciting new work today. Although when I say 'new' I really mean old, very old, mostly ignored word-experiments from other countries. Small beautifully designed books of strange unclassifiable curiosities.
This book in particular was highly entertaining, though I never knew how much of it was meant as a joke and how much was meant in all seriousness. Most likely, Scheerbart didn't worry about those kinds of distinctions, just as he didn't worry about the distinction between reality and fantasy.
Ignoring what scientists had agreed upon after the discovery of the conservation of energy, Scheerbart (a German novelist and exponent of 'glass architecture') dedicates more than a year of his life trying to come up with a perpetual motion machine. His writing, interspersed with many illustrations of his machines, is a combination of explanation, wit, philosophy, and speculation. A lot of speculation.
From day one, before he had even built any models, he speculates on the far reaching effects of his machine. People will be able to move mountains with perpets, nations will dissolve, scientists can concentrate on astral affairs, he will become obscenely rich and famous, and ...
Ultimately, we'll have no more need of the Sun.......
But not only did he madly speculate in the positive direction, he also speculated in the negative...
But if, after the discovery of the perpet, things become stupider than before--then one must in fact take care not to perfect the invention.
So I'm actually quite happy that, as of today, the contraption still won't work.
And tomorrow, too, it will remain inoperative--I'd be willing to bet on it.
The thought consoles me a little.
I won't go on quoting from the book because it is so short and it is full of good quotable bits so you should read it for yourself. However, I do want to say one word about the actual machines he invents. One look at them and it is pretty obvious that they will not work. It's quite shocking to me that he even thought they would work.
I think he has a fantastical understanding on the working of the wheel. He criticizes other scientists because "they always insisted that once a weight neared the center of the Earth, it would have to be raised up again. And so it seemed axiomatic to all of them that a perpetual motion machine would be impossible. But once the weight did not approach the center of the Earth--as in Figure 21--one would have to throw this beautiful "scientific" discourse on the scrap heap."
Figure 21 shows a contraption where the weight is elevated, but the problem is that it will never move the wheels he has in place because it is in a state of equilibrium. Only if/when the weight is allowed to drop or move in some way can it create motion. I think Scheerbart believes that potential energy alone can be transferred into the motion of wheels turning without the weight moving or dropping in any way. Even a kid can tell you this is not how things work in the real world. The fact that he could think this is a good indication of how out of touch with reality he really was.
However, this criticism is aimed at Scheerbart's science only, and is in no way a criticism of the book that came out of it... as Scheerbart's failings only make the book better.(less)
Update 8/1/2012: I have revised this Goodreads book review into a proper essay, now published on the Eyeshot website (thanks to Lee for taking an interest! And thanks to all of you for for your likes and comments). I am leaving my original Goodreads review below, as a document of the first draft of this essay, flaws and all.
An Attempt At Exhausting A Book On Goodreads
Date: June 30, 2012 Time: 11:00 a.m. Location: Kavarna (Cafe), Decatur GA Weather: Sunny, Record Breaking Heat
A small book.
The pages are stiff.
Translator's acknowledgment is short, about an inch down the page, and relatively forgettable.
Some kind of introduction in a bold sans serif font, 2.5 inches down the right side. The left side of the page is blank.
Page 5, first solid page of text.
Date, Time, Location and Weather are given at top.
Many bullet points.
Page 6, observations go on.
A title: "Trajectories" in bold.
Sentences follow predictable form describing the destination of bus routes: "The (#) goes to (place)".
Short blocks of indented text, perhaps more personal observations?
Bus observations repeat.
I lose concentration slightly and have to re-read a sentence twice.
Another title: "Colors" in bold.
Page 9: last word is "Pause." about halfway down the page.
Page 10: part 2 is indicated with another set of Date, Time, Location. No weather this time. Does this mean it hasn't changed?
Sentences starting without a capital letter, erratic indents, what do they mean?
Page 11: back to normal format. Capitals at beginning of sentences.
Bus observations repeat.
An Attempt At Being Serious...
OK I was going to write a review of the entire book like that, but I don't think I have the stick-with-it-ness that Perec does. And it wouldn't be worth it just for a joke review, although I am not entirely joking... I did want to see how it would feel to inventory the normally un-noticed. Answer: it is exhausting and I started getting a heavy feeling in my stomach at the thought of finishing this exercise.
In case you haven't figured out by now, this short book is an experiment by Georges Perec to, as the title suggests, exhaust a place. That place is the Place Saint Sulpice, a busy corner in Paris both for car traffic, people traffic, animals, and inanimate objects (churches, cafes, candy wrappers). Perec says "My intention in the pages that follow was to describe ... that which is generally not taken note of, that which is not noticed, that which has no importance: what happens when nothing happens other than the weather, people, cars, and clouds."
This was much more interesting than I had expected it to be from that description. Of course it was boring! Descriptions of people walking around looking not extraordinary in any way, buses passing by, pigeons landing, buses passing by again, he notices these things without attempting to select or curate them based on their interesting-ness, but just based on them happening. But 'curate' is exactly what he does, because he could easily have noticed and written about a completely different set of non-occurences: a bug flying by, or the color of the floor in the cafe he was sitting in, or the speed of the blue Mercedes truck instead of its color. Because the world has so much information in it, it is simply not possible to not select when writing, and this alone is interesting to me.
But it was interesting on a different level as well: what I started to notice through the boredom was that the smallest alteration of his syntax or the smallest change in what he noticed became a much bigger deal than if the book were full of interesting variety and non-boring content. So the reader is observing Perec's tiniest changes while Perec is observing the street for the tiniest changes (thus my review up top was not totally in jest). I started noticing things like:
- he would repeat things like the bus passing by, always with a complete identical sentence like "A 70 passes by" but by the end he shortens this to just "A 70"
- interesting word choices pop out more, like when some cars "dive" into the parking lot. Or when two tourist buses pass by "with their cargoes of photophagous Japanese" (guess what my new favorite word is)
- he visits the same place over 3 days, and is very concerned with the differences between the three days. What has changed since yesterday?
- this different-times/same-place obsession reminded me of Jenny Erpenbeck's book Visitation, which has a similar obsession, and starts with this epigraph: "As the day is long and the world is old, many people can stand in the same place, one after the other." -- Marie in Woyzeck by Georg Buchner
- he starts out being completely objective, sticking to the facts, but soon he starts tossing subjective things in like "A lady who has just bought an ugly candleholder goes by"
- I loved that I could see his thought processes come through every once in a while, like when he muses on the difference between busses passing by and everything else passing by. Several other times he analyzes why he has chosen a particular detail to write about rather than another detail. You get a sense that he is figuring out how he wants to conduct his experiment even as he is conducting his experiment.
Perec's saving grace here is probably that he didn't have too strict of a methodology. He had an idea, but he allowed himself to stray from it occasionally if he wanted to. This provided points of relief, humor, light, and variety (though you should not read this if you're mainly looking for variety) to keep a reader going despite the monotony of the endeavor as a whole.
Lastly: I enjoyed this book thoroughly, but I would never recommend it to anyone without a signed affidavit saying they won't blame me later.
An Attempt at Re-Exhausting a Place
Here's an idea: there is no reason I can't continue Perec's grand experiment by revisiting the very corner where he made his observations! Perec was interested in the passage of time. Well, it's been 38 years plus or minus some months now, and I will go to Saint-Sulpice myself, to see if anything has changed. Have the people become more ordinary, have the pigeons flown off for good? What, if anything, is the weather doing? And I will do all this not by sitting in that spot over three days, but by examining that spot in one specific moment, an instantaneous flash captured on top of a little car with the word "Google" written on the side. Surely Perec would have noticed such an out of the ordinary car, with a camera on top of it? But maybe he's fallen asleep. Or maybe it's too out of the ordinary, and he only notices 'infra-ordinary', boring things. So let's take a look, shall we?
It seems like Café de la Mairie is still in the same spot. And what is this? A bus, you say? "The 87 goes to Champ-de-Mars" Perec says on page 8. "The 87 goes to Champ-de-Mars" Perec says again, just to be sure, on page 9. Now I can repeat it: "The 87 goes to Champ-de-Mars" on page 2012!
And the people! Yes, there must be at least 50 people within view if I do a quick 360. Mopeds and bicycles everywhere. I don't remember Perec mentioning bicycles, but he did say he saw a few mopeds. One of them is going down the road right now in a business suit. Taxis lined up across the street from the cafe. "Agence de V---" my view is blocked. I'm clicking the arrows now, going up and down the street. A woman with red hair is standing in the bus, carrying several green plastic bags. A younger, perhaps asian woman (photophagous Japanese?) sits at the very back of the bus, her left hand on her chin. Oh, I can see the sign now in this view, it says "Agence de Voyages", possibly a travel agency. Among the list of things Perec mentions in the beginning is a travel agency. I have a hard time believing that a travel agency has survived so long.
A woman in a light brown trenchcoat is crossing the street. There are about 50 empty yellow foldout chairs in front of the Cafe de la Mairie, all facing outward. No, not all of them are empty. Will there be a concert across the street? Maybe this is just a form of compact outdoor seating, for maximum capacity/profit. Next to the cafe, two white trucks are at loggerheads.
'Sortie de Camions' My French is awful, I would be so lost in this country. I wonder what Perec would think about Google Streetview. He'd probably write 500 books based on it. A sign says 'Antiquaires.' Underneath it sit two men and a woman on a bench. A narrow alley is blocked off from construction, one side of an old building seems to be worked on. It looks like a government building, a courthouse maybe, but what is it doing with this tall section? http://goo.gl/maps/uuYY I don't remember Perec mentioning this.
The letter 'P' is still here. Perec noticed this too, maybe because his last name starts with a P. More mopeds, everyone is wearing helmets: good. The side of a blue truck advertises 'Bieres de Paris'. Next to the 'P' and the parked taxis is what appears to be a subway station. Was the subway here when Perec wrote in 1974? More trenchcoats, do the French love trenchcoats or what? Perec noticed several in his book.
Two men in light brown jackets walking down the street briskly (I can only assume, from their postures) one is carrying a plastic bag, can't make out the contents. Are they trying to catch one of these taxis? The trees are leafy, green. I don't know when this photo was taken, but probably spring, judging from the clothing and the lack of orange leaves. What appears to be tin huts: stalls in some kind of antique street market? Google won't let me go there to see.
Oh my. It suddenly looks like these photographs were not taken sequentially. This view shows the tin huts http://goo.gl/maps/ZPRL but this one from a few more feet down (meters? they're metric over there, right?) shows white tents in the same spot. Some sort of arts fair must have taken its place. http://goo.gl/maps/SJLe
Two large women are crossing the street, one is dragging behind her some luggage on wheels. Traffic light is red. A larger woman stands at the median. A man in a blue shirt stands waiting to cross the street with a manilla envelope in his left hand. What, pray tell, has happened to all of the pigeons of 1974? An ad reads 'GLAMOUR'. Oh, I have spotted a pigeon in the air! http://goo.gl/maps/8M7E Are you perhaps one of Perec's pigeon's great great grandchildren? Or maybe you're not a pigeon at all, too far to tell what kind of bird you are.
A black SmartCar, parked in front of what appears to be residences. I am moving down the street now, closer to Rue Bonaparte. A woman in a white sleeveless shirt and a blue purse next to men in coats. An apple green moped. Perec mentions a fountain decorated with the statues of four orators, but I cannot find it. Surely that would have survived if the travel agency survived. Where is it? Maybe it has migrated with the pigeons?
Still more Google-time has passed as I go down the road. Suddenly the residential building http://goo.gl/maps/u7eg is now covered in construction plastic http://goo.gl/maps/5wdZ it says: "traitement de facades" and even I can figure that one out despite my poor French. A woman with a very similar blue purse as the woman in the white sleeveless shirt is walking beside the building under construction. Now she is wearing many more layers. A traffic light is green.
I found it! The fountain and the statues! http://goo.gl/maps/Qvbx it seems that the white tents and (earlier/later... time is impossible in streetview) the tin huts had surrounded it and were obstructing its view. I'm so glad it's here, even though I had never seen it before. Why do I feel such relief? It is too far to make out the pigeons. Let me navigate to a better view. http://goo.gl/maps/SVO9 Incidentally, no pigeons.
At the end of the road, suddenly the white tents reappear. 'Alsacez-VOUS! a Paris..." it says. 20 or so mopeds and motorcycles have been cordoned off on the side of the street. A woman in a fierce violet jacket is walking fiercely. http://goo.gl/maps/xcG9 She is carrying an orange shopping bag. Her body, in the act of shopping, has the propulsive thrust of an Olympic gymnast. She is not ordinary or infra-ordinary, she is extraordinary.
I'm back on Google Streetview, feeling re-energized.
Not far from the woman wearing the fierce violet jacket: Two bookstores just a few steps from the Saint-Sulpice, surely one of these books on display is Perec's 'An Attempt'!
Incidentally, I just looked up 'photophagous'. It's not really a word, but apparently a play on the word phytophagous meaning "(esp. of an insect or other invertebrate) feeding on plants". I wonder what the original pun in French was.
Also, had a revelation during my break from Streetview. There is no clear indication that what I assumed was the subway station was indeed the subway station. Maybe it is the parking lot that features so prominently in 'Attempt'. If that is so, it would make sense that the cars 'dive' into it. If it is not so, then where is the parking lot?
Also have been re-reading Perec, and he briefly mentions a district council building, which I am pretty sure is the one next to the Mairie that is under reconstruction.
Police station. Police cars parked out front.
Spotted a 58 at the intersection of Rue Bonaparte and Rue de Vaugirard. I don't remember Perec mentioning the 58.
I think I'm kind of lost, so I'm going back to Cafe Mairie. Different view of the outdoor seating: http://goo.gl/maps/cAUZ Looks almost like student desks. A group of three elderly individuals (men or women? hard to tell with their faces blurred) talking leisurely. Another man appears to be reading the newspaper.
In the opposite direction, a woman in a white jacket and yellow purse walks by a green trashcan. Looking back at the opposite corner: the mopeds here are parked almost equidistant from each other, whereas they are usually bunched together in other places.
In the middle of the street, a young man in a denim jacket carrying an instrument and a young woman in a white jacket on her cell phone, carrying a yellow purse not unlike the earlier woman.
The 86 just happens to be the most mentioned one in Perec's book, at least that is my impression.
And in fact, it is the 86 because the 87 from the front view has a different side. Two buses were in the same spot in two different views, and Google alternated these two time frames within the same street.
"The 86 goes to Saint-Germain-des-Pres" Perec says.
I love how I have to keep backtracking on things I've said as I circle this block over and over again and understand more of what is going on and how Google has spliced together images from different times. What at first seems apparent gives way to multiple deceptions.
I feel oddly like I know this block very well now, when in reality this too is a deception. If I actually traveled to Saint Sulpice, I would be so lost. I would look for all these people, always rooted in their designated spots, as if they were landmarks, statues waiting for pigeons to land on, but they would all be gone.
It occurs to me that Streetview plays with time in a very interesting, almost artistic manner, when in fact it is a random outcome based on the different cameras' routes.
Three time frames:
1. tin hut/antique market (the 86 is in this time frame) 2. white tents in the same spot (the 87 is in this time frame) 3. no tents or huts, clear view to the fountain
There may be other time frames I am unaware of. I feel like a time traveler.
Here is the front of another bus. It could be the same 86, but I'm not sure. It is in the tin-hut time frame: http://goo.gl/maps/GVDF
MikiHouse is the name of the store on the corner of the residential building that is (in some time frames) under construction.
A tour bus that says Knipschild on it.
I think that if I keep going up and down this street I will unlock some kind of secret. I keep looking at the same people. Their frozen postures hold so many stories. Then I see new people too. New things that had escaped my attention the first time through. Each looking has more depth.
I see the same woman in the white sleeveless shirt, and I feel a sense of familiarity, like we've already met.
Tourist in all white and a yellow umbrella crossing the street. Further down Rue Bonaparte: Mom with stroller, baby on back. Dad walking beside her. Man with a baby blue book. Can't make out the title. White haired woman in black coat.
Here is a sign for the metro. So it is a metro afterall, and not a parking lot. Where is the parking lot Perec refers to?
Two bright green street sweepers parked on a corner. A few construction signs on the sidewalk. Corner of Bonaparte and Saint Sulpice.
Fierce woman in fierce violet jacket again. Feeling of familiarity.
In the other direction, asian woman in a pink top and blue jeans. Taxis. A silver Volkswagon with a sunroof. White tents.
A woman riding a bike very close to us. Carrying a small green purse. Tourist with a backpack and another bag slung over the shoulder crossing Saint Sulpice. Small Mercedes hatchback.
From this angle, another ramp leading down. Definitely looks more like a metro station than an underground parking lot. http://goo.gl/maps/wsTn
Starting over at the cafe, going down Place Saint Sulpice... another bookstore: http://goo.gl/maps/KnR0 Woman with shopping bag running down the sidewalk. Why the hurry? I see no taxis or buses nearby. Across the street a woman is unlocking her bike in front of the church.
Wandering off from the square seems like such a luxury. So many new sights and new people to see, easy eyecandy. New sights without effort, whereas in the square I have to strain my eyes to find something new (although every time there is something I've missed before).
Rare man with unblurred out face, looking back suspiciously at the camera: http://goo.gl/maps/cIKG I'm so used to seeing the veil of the blur that I feel oddly wrong, like a peeping tom, when I stare at his face, as if he were naked. But I cannot stop staring.
French taggers: http://goo.gl/maps/hMPr A store called JLR. A garbage truck. I've wandered kind of far now. I apologize if this review has stopped becoming entertaining. But it seems I am driven to look and re-look without any endpoint in sight, least of all entertainment.
A bit exhausted now. To be continued... (maybe)(less)
"Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their l...more"Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions, which symbolically attributes the properties of objects, described by their virtuality, to their lineaments" Daumal quotes Alfred Jarry as saying. This means nothing to me. However, Daumal goes on to quote him saying this:
"It will study the laws governing exceptions," and that made so much more sense to me. Science in general is trying to come up with rules for the generalizing of everything. Pataphysics is the opposite. As a computer scientist (aka programmer), I have come up against this very conflict within myself. The scientist in me wants everything to be the same, homogenous, one big picture that works in every case. This is a dream for a programmer because it makes the job so much easier.
The hardest problems I've ever had to tackle as a programmer have always been those where exceptions creep in. And always there are exceptions! Why? Because computers do not work with computers alone, computers interact with human beings, who are prone to act irrationally and inconsistently.
But the other non-scientist/artist/writer part of me understands this and even celebrates the exceptions! The computer program should not define human behavior, it should yield to human behavior. It should become invisible in the face of the human. And exceptions make the human, because none of us are alike, i.e. each human being is irreducible ("The particular is absurd [...] The particular is revolting"). I think this may be why I'm attracted to writers who struggle with similar issues, writers like Musil and philosophers like Wittgenstein. And now René Daumal.
Speaking of Wittgenstein, Daumal's version of pataphysics reminds me a lot of Wittgenstein's language games (but with a more scientific and literary edge to it, rather than a math and logical edge):
"pataphysical sophism is a proposition which brings into play syllogisms in a nonconclusive mode, but which become conclusive as soon as certain terms are changed in a manner that the mind grasps as quite obvious [...] the object of pataphysical knowledge is none other than the very law governing these changes [...] The reality of thought moves along a string of absurdities, which is true to the great principle that evidence cloaks itself in absurdity as its only means of being perceived. [...] Just as pataphysics as knowledge is the reverse and exact mirror opposite of physics, it probably can also have a powerful effect against attempts to streamline work when applied to the flow of production." (italics Daumal's).
Ultimately pataphysics comes down to a game of language that twists perception beyond its limits. And when I say game, I mean it in the very consequential Cortázarian sense of play, or the serious almost spiritual element that Wittgenstein brings to his language games. Even the pataphysical laughter that Daumal mentions as a key component is a way of transcending an individual's consciousness: "The revelation of laughter will come to every man, but there will be nothing joyful about it [...] the obvious becomes absurd, light is a black veil and a dazzling sun slumbers, whereas my eyes do not."
I find this opening essay very intriguing because it wrestles head on with the forward dash of science. And instead of rejecting it outright or adopting it fully, it creates a third reality, one that assimilates science through a field of laughter into a parallel universe that makes us more human instead of less.
Not to give you the wrong impression, the essay on pataphysics is only a small portion of this book. The rest is filled with glorious pun-ridden prose-poem-like pataphysical particulars. It is almost impossible to explain or review this portion, but it is a pleasure to read:
2. ON INTELLECTUAL GELOIDS, PLUMS EXCEPTED
A projection on a horizontal plane of psychic activity, represented, for example, by A HUMAN FACE PHOTOGRAPHED AT THE PRECISE MOMENT OF PARAMNESIA, furnishes on a protoplasmic mass sensitized by potassium bichromate, after its solution and digestion by the aqueous medium of non-insolubilized salts, a sufficiently approximate image of the static intellect, in the best conditions of visibility. The odor, thanks to the idea of God, is pestilential.
An early example of the blending of fiction and non-fiction in this novelization of German playwright Jakob Lenz. Focusing only on a short period of L...moreAn early example of the blending of fiction and non-fiction in this novelization of German playwright Jakob Lenz. Focusing only on a short period of Lenz's life, it shows his slow descent into madness, but notably leaves out all other context in terms of what led up to any of this, and what happens afterwards. The effect is strange, though I can't put it into words why. The prose is very interesting also. There is a quality to it, where the kind of depression Lenz was going through seeps down into the descriptions (even though it is narrated in third person). It's very subtle, but it seems like these landscapes should be somehow more energetic, more colorful than they are described here. Or maybe that's not it... Maybe they are beautiful, but there is a certain distance in the voice, as if to say "what is it to me if it's beautiful?" Maybe that isn't it either, but I liked this je ne sais quoi-lity of the prose a lot.
One has to love mankind in order to penetrate into the unique existence of each being, nobody can be too humble, too ugly, only then can you understand them; the most insignificant face makes a deeper impression than the mere sensation of beauty and one can allow the figures to emerge without copying anything into them from the outside where no life, no muscle, no pulse surges or swells. p. 33
Overall though, I admired the book more than I was truly thrilled by it. This beautiful Archipalego edition includes 3 secondary texts: Oberlin's journals (which Buchner bases many of his facts on, to the point of copying some sections word for word), Goethe's short account of Lenz (which is unfairly tainted by personal bias and animosity) and the translator's afterword (which was very helpful, especially towards the end, for making heads or tails of this book).(less)
Yes yes yes! If books were perfumes, this one would be the perfect mix of storytelling prowess, enchantment of language, whiff of philosophy, and scen...moreYes yes yes! If books were perfumes, this one would be the perfect mix of storytelling prowess, enchantment of language, whiff of philosophy, and scent of great characters. Oh, and a dash of humor to taste. A highly potent potion, to be sure, yet none of the above elements suffers because of the others. It’s like each word in this short book is doing double or triple duty to those ends.
The gesture, like the gesture a magician makes with his wand, multiplying doves at will, seeded the city with women--voluptuous women smelling of henna and smoke, of the metal knife the moment it halves the apple, of brocade, of nostalgia, of transgression. I felt the press of women's bodies coming at us from all directions.
The imaginination and pure awe infused herein was thrilling, and reminded me slightly of the wonder of certain children’s books, except that even though everything here is soaked in a kind of fantastic openness bordering on magic, you soon realize that nothing is really magical or illogical. Behind the enchantment is a tough reality that guides everything, allowing no short cuts for the characters or the reader. The flaws of the narrator, her father, her mother, and even Ramses Ragab all become apparent. They are all tragically flawed, yet entirely loveable.
Then she [Mother] was back in the cab, her white hand sparkling behind the filthy glass, and then she was gone. p. 80
I remember that Ramses Ragab took up Father’s feet to tuck them beneath the covers. That the beauty of my father’s feet astonished me. p. 85
Reading the other reviews on here, you’d think this was an overly poetic book at the cost of the plot, but it’s not. The things that happen in the book may not seem significant in the normal sense of ‘plot’, but each little thing adds up to huge internal changes in each of the characters. This is what makes it so exciting, and such a fast-paced book (for me), while being such a slow book (apparently) for others.
As father and I retreated into the blazing sun, the rising dust and clamor of the street, the city of Cairo gave way to a forest of the mind. A forest where female animals offered themselves to love and in broad daylight were mounted before the eyes of the world.
I’m amazed at the number of themes Ducornet is able to fit in here, the idea of bottling things up, preserving memories (and thus the body), of sexuality/sensuality, men/women, of betrayal, of rationality vs. everything else, of moral weakness, of games and play vs. life, and thus of reality vs. escape. The book has a lot to say, most of which I can’t even express as binaries, or it would be unfair to. But if there was one thing I was disappointed with, it would probably be the ending, which seemed to reduce (though not completely) the complex network of themes woven previously into one of sexual realization. To me, it seems to be about so much more.
This amulet is often joined by another representing the knife used to cut the umbilical cord. Whenever I find it, I make a quick (superstitious!) gesture across my own belly. In this way I have, over and over, severed ties with Mother. p. 52
This was my first experience with Ducornet, and I am definitely going to check out more of her books.(less)
Irimiás scrapes the mud off his lead-heavy shoes, clears his throat, cautiously opens the door, and the rain begins again, while to the east, swift as memory, the sky brightens, scarlet and pale-blue and leans against the undulating horizon, to be followed by the sun, like a beggar daily panting up to his spot on the temple steps, full of heartbreak and misery, ready to establish the world of shadows, to separate the trees one from the other, to raise, out of the freezing, confusing homogeneity of night in which they seem to have been trapped like flies in a web, a clearly defined earth and sky with distinct animals and men, the darkness still in flight at the edge of things, somewhere on the far side on the western horizon, where its countless terrors vanish one by one like a desperate, confused, defeated army. p. 47
Now when someone asks me that inevitable question: are there any movies that are better than the books they are based on? I will have a definitive answer. Because as good as this book was, it is overshadowed by Bela Tarr's amazing 7 and a half hour film (it takes longer to watch the film than to read the book in this case). The movie takes the best elements of the book: namely the oppressive mood, the rain, the real-time unfolding of events, and makes them so tangible. So visceral. It also does away with some elements of the book that weigh it down, like the clever ending and the narrator's slightly mocking tone. The film is also more mysterious, as the characters' thoughts must be implied and are not explicitly spelled out. Having seen the movie, though, it was nice to read the book and figure out all the intricate workings behind what was simply on screen; I finally get all the connections now.
Not to be too negative either, because maybe it's unfair to judge this book by the film. This particular way of telling this particular story was perhaps always meant to be filmed; perhaps there is no way to surpass that medium in this case. I was happy, however, to finally read a Krasznahorkai novel after hearing so much about him. His prose is not consistently great. But when it is, it sings with such omniscient authority and rhythm that there is no good place to stop. His writing operates on a principle of accumulation. It was dangerous for me to type out this excerpt, because, as you can see, I almost typed out the rest of the book! I finally just had to stop somewhere, randomly:
There she retreated into a wounded silence, clutching the Bible to her bosom, looking over the heads of the others into a kind of heavenly haze, her eyes misting over with a blissful sense of certainty derived from above. In her own mind she stood, straight as a post, high above a magnetic field of bent heads and backs, the proud unassailable place she occupied in the inn, a space she was unwilling to vacate, like a vent in the closed bar, a vent through which foul air could escape so that numbing, frozen, poisonous drafts from outside might rush in and take its place. In the tense silence the continual buzzing of the horseflies was the only audible sound, that and the constant rain beating down in the distance, and, uniting the two, the ever more frequent scritch-scratch of the bent acacia trees outside, and the strange nightshift work of the bugs in the table legs and in various parts of the counter whose irregular pulse measured out the small parcels of time, apportioning the narrow space into which a word, a sentence or a movement might perfectly fit. The entire end-of-October night was beating with a single pulse, its own strange rhythm sounding through trees and rain and mud in a manner beyond words or vision; a vision present in the low light, in the slow passage of darkness, in the blurred shadows, in the working of tired muscles; in the silence, in its human subjects, in the undulating surface of the metalled road; in the hair moving to a different beat than do the dissolving fibers of the body; growth and decay on their divergent paths; all these thousands of echoing rhythms, this confusing clatter of night noises, all parts of an apparently common stream, that is the attempt to forget despair; though behind things other things appear as if by mischief, and once beyond the power of the eye they no longer hang together. p. 89-90
is no there there, Gertrude Stein famously wrote in 1937, a sentence that loops back on itself in order to question its own grammar. Maybe what s...moreTHERE
is no there there, Gertrude Stein famously wrote in 1937, a sentence that loops back on itself in order to question its own grammar. Maybe what she meant was that the first there has no antecedent. But the sentence also pushes out, questions the world, questions the idea of a place in time, a time in place, that exists only because it is not here, relatively speaking.
This novel has a similar trajectory. Broken down into four sections titled There, But, For, and The, it tells an abstract story that questions the meaning of those words. Which may seem slight at first (Duh!), except it's not. Like the puns that the child Brooke is obsessed with, the book convinces us that semantics matter, words matter. And what seems an unlikely story about a man who's locked himself into a room is really a story about how we label our world. Which is really a story about how we think about the world. Which is really about if we can even think about the world (or know it).
Because a pun is basically a mislabelling that creates pleasure. A misnomer. And this book has many. Brooke becomes broke. Miles becomes Milo. Gen becomes Jan. Anna Hardie becomes Anna K. And like a good pun, this book is playful and gives pleasure. It is funny,
not in a ha-ha way. More in an aha way. There is always a but, isn't there? Actually there are many buts. Time and place, memory, history, a rhyme that jogs the memory into thinking of a time and place (where a man jogs in place, or does he ride in place, on an exercise bike?), the ostensible seemingness of things versus The Fact Is of things, these were all seamlessly (seemlessly?) weaved into the prose with great skill. But
then there were things that made me roll my eyes: cell phones, CCTVs, surveillance cameras, microdrones, celebrity culture, internet porn were all conspicuously annoying in the story. Yes, these are important things to think about, but do we really need to be reminded of the obvious (Duh!)? Come to think of it, have any of these things ever made it into a novel that wasn't trying to show me the shallowness of modern life? I felt like Don DeLillo was breathing down my back. And
though I loved the first two sections, the last two felt weaker, in the voice of the elderly Mrs. Young and the young girl(y) Brooke ("broke") Bayoude. Brooke was tolerable, adorable even, when she would only be precociously naive about something during a tense dinner conversation. But being entirely in her head by the last section was too much for me. I got annoyed. But
I do like the idea of them. Maybe Smith is suggesting that when our collective language breaks down, when we can't name things as they are anymore but only as they seem, when language is "broken", that somehow it is most alive, and most alive to those who themselves are "broken", or superfluous to society, the very old and the very young. Because language, in the normal world, is
something: a purpose. Communication or business or banter. And when it is functioning it is functional and boring. Like a machine. You're either for us or against us. Zeroes and/or ones.
Old Mrs. Young couldn't talk at first. But when she was finally able to, the words that came out of her resembled involuntary movements she couldn't control. Like her bladder. Animal utterances. Muscle memory. Phrases she knew but didn't mean to say. Like a bird who repeats things that she doesn't understand. But her age is an asset. "The leaving of life, when it came, might well be accompanied by a different seeing" (p. 142). And Brooke, the child, on the other hand, who is yet to find language functional
is also accompanied by a different seeing. She sees words strangely, as a tiger cub does when batting around its first prey rather than eating it. She's curious about language, about the way it works and still fresh to its odd pun-like qualities. Here is where language belongs. Something about history and the long stretched canvas of language that is best kept by the young and the old, the ones who don't matter as much in society, the overlooked ones, the the.
Thus language is made new again through puns and cleverness. You get a sense that if Brooke never completely grows up, but grows older, she could become Ali Smith and write an incredibly clever book like this. The way the storylines connect, the way the wordplay resonates between the sections and the themes, pretty much everything about this novel was clever. But in its examination of words, the novel also examines itself, and the topic of cleverness: what is cleverness for? No doubt a pre-emptive strike against those would-be critics on Goodreads:
Then she asked Mr. Garth did he really think there wasn't anything wrong with being cleverest. Top of Mount Cleverest, Mr. Garth said. Brooke laughed. Then Mr. Garth said slowly: the fact is, that at the top of any mountain you'll feel a bit dizzy because of the air up there. Cleverness is great. It's a really good thing, when you have it. And when you know how to use your cleverness, it's not that you're the cleverest any more, or are doing it to be cleverer than anyone else like it's a competition. No. Instead of being the cleverest, the thing to do is become a cleverist.
i.e. the becomes a, from a specificity to a generality, we lose ourselves in the collective. Cleverness matters only in this regard: to connect. Empathy with the disenfranchised. There but for the grace of God go I.
What kind of ending is that? The lack of an ending. The lack of anything, but a reference to a reference. The part left out of headlines, because it's implied. Area Man Reads Book Writes Review. The part left out is the only part that remains, for Stevens. When you eat an apple, you throw away the core. Man On Dump. No headline has the word the in it, i.e. There is no the there.
Similarly There But For The has a part missing. There But For The WHAT? I want to ask. But the answer would be Exactly! What's missing is the subject of the book, the whole point of it. We're not there at all because we're missing what we're missing, so we're here. The book wouldn't exist if not for the missing ____ at the end of the The.
So the book is about this missing piece, the story without a core, the center will not hold. And by the end of it we've whipped up a lot of cream without anything to put it on. All the pieces connect, but the reader still feels empty, there is no comforting explanation for the mysteries that haunt us (and that's the point). Does it matter? Does it make it less enjoyable? (My answer is no, but your Milo may vary.) We keep waiting for the revelation. The moment of understanding, of purpose. Of of course. Obviously. Of The Duh.(less)
There is not. It is quiet In the room the plastic house is orange, glowing orange. Sonia says, "Daddy this pillow is not cold enough." It sounds like enush. Daddy there is not. In the quiet.
Dan Thomas-Glass has fallen in that gap between child and child. Something is afresh not there, re etches a future looking back at himself where are clouds which are in the sky, he notes, but this is this. This Sonia and this Kate whom he pre eulogizes the present already a long-ago memory. Lives cast like those shadows in the playground overlapping one on one, and the parts that do not match where do they go? Where does the sweetness go once done? A sea of plastic awaits like the eye of some harm.
Let us wish: for the beach- iest Sundays before burnt skin draws us under, in the shadow of redwood trees a respite we conspire to hold tight, in the shadow of vowel shifts as language invaded language on islands in undifferentiated moments called history then particular for individuals living it--Oh I guess we are no different, if you ask sweet, little larks who flit from branch to branch as evening deepens.
I hear the couplet of fat as it grows in the night like a dune. from "Midnight"
This Chilean poet has been on my radar for a while now, and I actually boug...more
I hear the couplet of fat as it grows in the night like a dune. from "Midnight"
This Chilean poet has been on my radar for a while now, and I actually bought a different book of prose-poem translations a while ago, but was never able to really get into it. The other more-available translation is this Selected Poems by Ursula K. Le Guin (which I do not own yet, but will be seeking out). I've been hearing so many good things about Gabriela Mistral but there's always that risk with translated poetry of being completely underwhelmed, and not knowing if it's the translation or the poems themselves. When I started reading this volume, translated by Langston Hughes, I realized immediately that it was not the poet's fault that I never connected with her before.
From the eyes of wild beasts gentle tears will flow, and the mountains You forged of stone will understand and weep through their white eyelids of snow: the whole earth will learn of forgiveness at Your hand. from "Prayer"
Gabriela Mistral writes from an intense simplicity of expression, image, and emotion and I think Langston Hughes really understood that. Her poems really shine through in these translations. He pays much attention to the music and energy of her line.
In the thicket they look like fire; when they rise, like silver darting. And they go by even before they go, cutting through your wonder. from "Larks"
She moves from physical to metaphysical in a few syllables. She inverts cliches gracefully, without breaking a sweat or calling attention to it. Often her poems seem modest, small, and sweet, while hinting at something deeper.
and she became as water that from a wounded deer turns bloody. from "The Flower of the Air"
One quirk about this volume, though: the title "Selected Poems" suggests these are her best poems covering a broad range of topics. They may be her best poems, but they're not very broad ranging--over half of them deal with pregnancy, motherhood, and children. Many are lullabies. So it seems more like a selection of poems curated on one topic. I think (from browsing the Google Books preview) that the Ursula K. Le Guin translation may have a more broad range of poems on various topics.
This son of mine is more beautiful than the world on which he steals a look. from "Charm"
Now I am nothing but a veil; all my body is a veil beneath which a child sleeps. from "To My Husband"
I feel my breasts growing, rising like water in a wide pool, noiselessly. And their great sponginess casts a shadow like a promise across my belly. Who in all the valley could be poorer than I if my breasts never grew moist? Like those jars that women put out to catch the dew of night, I place my breasts before God.
That's not a complaint though, because before this I had only read a handful of poems about motherhood (mostly by my friend Sarah Vap). It was really nice to see this seldom explored topic given its due all the way back in the 1920's (which was when Mistral published her first poems).
A breath that vanishes in a breath and a face that trembles because of it in a meadow where nothing trembles. from "Paradise"