In one of her short stories, Alice Munro evokes an ancestor who was the last to live at the border of reality and fantasy, for, she The Birth of Myths
In one of her short stories, Alice Munro evokes an ancestor who was the last to live at the border of reality and fantasy, for, she said, he was the last known to have encountered fairies and ghosts. It reminded me of another unusual border, imagined by Umberto Eco on an island where you could freely cross the line between yesterday and tomorrow. These are the stories The Buried Giant made me think of, before Tolkien’s mighty goblins and Yourcenar’s re-invention of history some critics compared Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel to. For it finely imagined a third border, this time between history and myth. It seems to me that this is what The Buried Giant is about: a glimpse at that illo tempore imagined by Mircea Eliade, that is at the dawn of the time, when man inhabited the sacred as easily as the profane.
In a sharp and crushing review published in New Yorker Magazine (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/23/the-uses-of-oblivion ), James Wood accuses the novel, among other things, of being “not a novel of historical amnesia, but an allegory of historical amnesia”. Apart from an arguable identification of the theme, reducing the book to an allegory is unjustly oversimplifying it. First, because an allegory can be roughly viewed as a translation (an image that has a particular meaning) thus limiting the novel at one valid interpretation if the right key is found and second because it denies its magic realism to banish it to the fabulous realm only. But the historical layer, although discreet, does exist, skilfully reconstructing the image of an England before England, some time in the sixth or seventh century, when Britons and Saxons were still living together in a precarious and awkward peace, when monks were still mixing religion and superstitions, when knights were still roaming the country and King Arthur was still a vivid memory. The following description of a Briton village is an example:
In one such area on the edge of a vast bog, in the shadow of some jagged hills, lived an elderly couple, Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them. I would say this couple lived an isolated life, but in those days few were “isolated” in any sense we would understand. For warmth and protection, the villagers lived in shelters, many of them dug deep into the hillside, connecting one to the other by underground passages and covered corridors. Our elderly couple lived within one such sprawling warren—“building” would be too grand a word—with roughly sixty other villagers.
The novel is full of such images, like old blurred pictures in which one has to imagine what he cannot see properly but which he cannot help looking at with a feeling of wonder and dismay. And wonder and dismay are indeed the feelings you feel all along reading this wonderful book: a shadow you almost capture, a meaning you almost get, a hope you almost believe it will last. And above all, the longing for mighty times, mighty heroes whose deeds memory purged, gently forgetting the petty and unjust ones, whilst projecting into myth the brave and great ones. For what is the giant but memory, collective and individual, buried for a while but never fully destroyed? And all the characters in the book are heading towards its cairn, even though they are not aware of its true signification and think they seek something else altogether.
It is there where the past will truly begin to unfold, where the characters step out of myth once again to confront a bleak reality that destroys dreams and beliefs that taints both Arthur’s great victory and Axl and Beatrice’s great love with the memory of the treachery it was based on. It is there where Wistan, the knight of truth, challenges Sir Gawain, the knight of myth and defeats him. Querig the she-dragon is therefore killed and the mist of forgetting her breath had cast begins to rise. At least for a while, the time for Axl to say goodbye to his wife whom he is prohibited to accompany on her journey towards death by an inflexible Charon who cannot overlook a past betrayal, the time for Saxons to slaughter and banish the Britons from their lands in revenge of past killings:
The giant, once well buried, now stirs. When soon he rises, as surely he will, the friendly bonds between us will prove as knots young girls make with the stems of small flowers. Men will burn their neighbours’ houses by night. Hang children from trees at dawn. The rivers will stink with corpses bloated from their days of voyaging. And even as they move on, our armies will grow larger, swollen by anger and thirst for vengeance. For you Britons, it’ll be as a ball of fire rolls towards you. You’ll flee or perish. And country by country, this will become a new land, a Saxon land, with no more trace of your people’s time here than a flock or two of sheep wandering the hills untended.
However, history has a way of its own to turn into myth and eventually the giant will fall asleep again. Wistan’s voice, the believer in the historical truth, is not permitted to become a narrative voice and will be forced to quieten by the other four, more powerful and all of them on the side of the imaginary. All of them luring the reader towards the realm of myth, a little step out of reality, where their own journeys directed them.
The journey of Edwin, the twelve-year-old boy with a mighty soul, started after he was saved by Wistan twice, either from the ogres’ hunger and from the villagers’ superstitious anger, is a journey towards maturity, under the guidance of two often contradictory wills: Wistan’s and (what he thinks it is) his mother’s. The part of the story in which he is granted speech suggests which one will prevail, for he speaks wondrously of a magic land where wander great warriors who fought the dragons Merlin had bewitched to rob humanity of its right to remember, of its right to forget. One of these warriors might become his father, might become his master but he will never make out of him a true warrior, for he was bitten himself by a dragon that unleashed his imagination, that made him forever hesitate between to promises: to follow the path of vengeance led by Wistan in the real world or the path of love led by the voice of his mother in the imaginary world. His journey has just begun.
On the contrary, the journey of Sir Gawain is at its end. The Arthur’s last knight with his rusty appearance reminds so strongly of don Quixote that it takes some time to realize he is in fact an opposite of him, but that he borrows his “sad countenance” and hide behind it to better fulfil the role of the keeper of the dragon his king instructed him with. He speaks through reveries that take care that king Arthur’s image shines unblemished, surrounded by his loyal knights, and that his decisions remain noble and never doubted. Black birds or black widows don’t need to be fought like windmills, for they cannot pas to the other side to tarnish his memory with cruelty and iniquity and treachery.
The journey of the boatman is, at first sight, a simple and repetitive one – he is a Charon who helps the souls to cross Styx. But he is more than this: he is a judge of human feelings. He is granted the power to test true love. His voice ambiguously ends the tale with the allusion to another myth – Plato’s androgyne myth (in which human beings were at first spheres, but were halved by the jealous gods and thrown to Earth where they look for each other to achieve again the lost perfection), and with the promise that true love really is, but only if it never falters. It was not so for Beatrice and Axl, but that does not mean that it cannot be. Love is rare, but that does not mean it doesn’t exist:
A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years—that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together.”
All these voices are dominated by the omniscient narrator’s one, who also speaks from two realms: one of reality, in which he mimics the historian that studies the past and tries to make it intelligible for the modern minds, carefully comparing past and present habits, settlements, landscapes:
I might point out here that navigation in open country was something much more difficult in those days, and not just because of the lack of reliable compasses and maps. We did not yet have the hedgerows that so pleasantly divide the countryside today into field, lane and meadow. A traveller of that time would, often as not, find himself in featureless landscape, the view almost identical whichever way he turned.
The other one is the realm of fiction, more complex this time, because it blends not only legends and myths but also literature, in a refined intertextuality: Don Quixote, Beowulf, Tolkien’s Sir Gawain, A Hundred Years of Solitude, and so on. The narrator’s journey is towards the origins of literature, where Querig’s breath is gentle and necessary. And the beautiful message this beautiful book carries is that whenever reality is grim and lethal you can bury the giant and go to the realm of art. It offers you protection, it offers you beauty, it offers you peace. At least for a while.
Should I feel ashamed? According to some critics of McEwan’s Solar I should, since its hero, Michael Beard, is a despicable character, a philanderer, Should I feel ashamed? According to some critics of McEwan’s Solar I should, since its hero, Michael Beard, is a despicable character, a philanderer, a plagiarist, an egocentric and a criminal liar… whom I totally liked. Moreover, it is a long time since I have been so immersed in a reading to forget everything around me – last week I almost missed the metro stop on my way to university, such I was enjoying this crazy, crazy book, which rose conflicting reactions in its readers.
One of the most acerbic reviews was written immediately after its apparition in 2010 by Jason Cowley in The Guardian (here it is). The journalist pointed out mercilessly many of what he considered the minuses of the novel, from the one-dimensional character to the trodden subject, from the sometimes nonsensical comedy to the lack of other perspectives, ending with a graphical image of the book as an empty room in which only the groan-like confession “of a fat, selfish man in late middle age eating himself” can be heard.
However seductive this metaphor of a novel speaking like an echoic chamber, I beg to differ. Not against the observations per se, they are true enough, but against the implication they are flaws.
In my opinion, Solar is brilliantly a one-man’s show. Is this one-man, Michael Beard, also one-dimensional? Absolutely, since it is the only voice of the narrative (mocking objectivity with its third person) – I should hope this is the interpretation the critic gave to the term, because even though the hero doesn’t change – and is proud of this – he is by no means a flat, superficially built character. Although he has some caricatural traits, they are not inconsistent with his type (and I agree with Jason Cowley regarding the neo-realistic style of the author) and reminded me vividly of David Lodge’s academic figures. Furthermore, he is so forgiving of his own behaviour, so candid in the admiration of his own consistency in vice and weakness he doesn’t try to hide at all, and so determined to resist any woman who would try and change him that he is really touching:
Beard comfortably shared all of humanity’s faults, and here he was, a monster of insincerity, cradling tenderly on his arm a woman he thought he might leave one day soon, listening to her with sensitive expression in the expectation that soon he would have to do some talking himself, when all he wanted was to make love to her without preliminaries, eat the meal she had cooked, drink a bottle of wine, and then sleep – without blame, without guilt.
Michael Beard is indeed a zany fighter for his right to be questionable, to take off his mask of decency and scientific morgue, that is, to come down the pedestal of a Nobel laureate and happily mix with (very) lesser beings. Life is a nightmare, but a funny one, so why not try it all? I think the comedy is genially built precisely on this humorous interpretation of the philosophy of solipsism, that is, on the hero’s belief that his space is inhabited only by him and the others are there to please, importunate or serve him, but they do not have a life independently of him. Like any minor god, he becomes nasty only when the others try to assert their own existence.
This is so human a reaction that even when his conduct is blatantly immoral, the reader empathizes with him and judges its behaviour rather leniently. This bald, fat man had it all and, despite his great talent, scattered it all. And here it might be discovered, in my opinion, the real theme of this superb book: not to depict Beard as a symbol of the consumerism and waste that haunt our times (as Cowley observed) – this is a secondary, even though very clever theme – but to answer an old question: does the spark of genius excuse a questionable behaviour? Theoretically, and in true political correctness, it doesn’t excuse it at all, but what a consolation for everyday people! His misadventures and misconduct can be so easily identified with that it also seems (to our secret delight) that his genius can also be identified with. For here you have a Nobel laureate with a noble mission: to save the world by making the planet green. The same man who made an accident look as a murder in order to frame the lover of his wife, the same man who based his research in artificial photosynthesis on the work of his late student, without mentioning him at all, the same man who sincerely suffered for his wife’s infidelity while he had eleven affairs in the five years of marriage, and so on, and so forth. And, like I said, what makes him even more approachable is that he doesn’t oppose his character at all, he is indulgent with himself and invites the others to do the same:
He was self-sufficient, self-absorbed, his mind a cluster of appetites and dreamy thoughts. Like many clever men who prize objectivity, he was a solipsist at heart, and his heart was a nugget of ice…
Towards the end of his story and possibly his life he has the same epiphany as most of us: the humans cannot really change, not even a Nobel prize, not even a great cause, not even a child can fundamentally transform a criminal into a law-abiding citizen, a cheat into a faithful husband, in a word, a lesser person into a better one. And this comical resignation to a dishonourable fate is the best excuse also for us, for all our past and future failures – so how can we not sympathise with him, how can we not feel, like him, cheated?
The surprise was this: his existence since Catriona’s birth was much as before. His friends had told him he would be astonished, he would be transformed, his values would change. But nothing was transformed. Catriona was fine, but he was the same old mess. And now that he had entered upon the final active stages of his life, he was beginning to understand that, barring accidents, life did not change. He had been deluded.
The extraordinary talent of Ian McEwan regaled us with another book in which apparently incompatible ingredients blended perfectly: extensive scientific vocabulary and research jargon which could arise an inferiority complex in the profane reader but read surprisingly well; an excellent comedy of situations and characters which would deserve an extensive study of its own; an anti hero so happy with his “anti” condition that he becomes, against all expectations, an almost reliable narrator; and last but not least, an unexpected open ending, by cruelly cutting the narrative at its rising point, at the very moment when all ghosts of the past gather to beset our hero. How and if he gets rid of this can only be guessed, although it is devilishly suggested by the narrative voice that the swelling he feels in his heart for his daughter and which he takes for love could be in fact the onset of a heart attack which would solve all his problems once and for all.
Tabor Fischer, complaining about “the brakes… applied rather forcefully” supposes wishfully that they are due to a sequel. I should hope not. Such a book could only have such an ending. ...more
Come diceva Mark Harris? Ci sono letture leggere. E poi c'è letteratura. Ecco una definizione adatta per qu L'insostenibile bellezza delle piccole cose
Come diceva Mark Harris? Ci sono letture leggere. E poi c'è letteratura. Ecco una definizione adatta per questo libro di Milan Kundera, che non è mica facile, ma boy, che virtuosità, che profondità – che letteratura!
Si dice che il postmodernismo (in senso largo, ovviamente) ha riunito senza discriminazione tutte le ossessioni narrative del passato, in una democrazia testuale che avvicina senza problemi l’immagine trasfigurata e il kitsch, l’idea comune e quella ispirata, il linguaggio figurato e quello specializzato e cosi via, incorporando gli alti e bassi non solo delle generazioni anteriori, ma anche della sua epoca, con tutta l’ibridazione e cosmopolitismo che la caratterizza. Comunque, questa generosità e apertura mentale non lo impediscono ad avere anche lui un’ossessione: di marcare il suo territorio, di non permettere la sua trasformazione in qualcos’altro, di non perdere la sua identità romanesca e confondersi con un’arte diversa. E il solo modo di difendersene è rinunciare alle regole narrative classiche:
I nuovi tempi si gettano su tutto ciò che è stato scritto per trasformarlo in film, programmi televisivi o fumetti. Poiché in un romanzo è essenziale solo quel che non si può dire altro che con il romanzo, in ogni adattamento resta solo quel che non è essenziale. Se un pazzo che oggi scrive ancora romanzi vuole salvarli, deve scriverli in modo che non si possano adattare, in altre parole, in modo che non si possano raccontare.
Questa, secondo me, è la chiave principale di lettura di questo libro, troppo complesso per essere considerato un semplice romanzo, ma anche troppo lavorato per non esserlo. Anzi, L’immortalità è affascinante soprattutto per quello che Cioran chiamava “intervallo tra profondità vera e profondità concertata” – cioè complessità delle idee e quella della struttura. E qui forma e fondo sono in un accordo perfetto sui tutti piani – quello della finzione, della parafinzione e della metafinzione, piani che non si sviluppano circolarmente, neppure spiralmente, ma focalizzandosi e defocalizzandosi continuamente, in una sfida al lettore di scoprire la figura nel tappetto.
Primo, c’è la finzione – la storia di Agnes, Laura, Paul e le loro occhiate verso l’immortalità, che sia si sfugge sia si avvicina in un gesto, una passione, un ricordo.
Il gesto verso l'alto sembrava voler indicare a quel pezzo di terra dorata la direzione in cui prendere il volo, e i bianchi cespugli di gelsomino già iniziavano a trasformarsi in ali.
Poi, c’è la parafinzione – non ho trovato altro termine per disegnare quel territorio incerto tra realtà e irrealtà dove si trovano le biografie, i saggi, le ricostituzioni storiche, etc. e dove si potrebbe inquadrare la storia di Goethe e Bettina, in cui una giovane ragazza forza il suo cammino verso gloria eterna cancellando i confini tra realtà e finzione, cioè mutilando la verità. Ma Goethe lascia il piano della parafinzione per entrare nella finzione quando inizia il dialogo con Hemingway, tutto come Avenarius e Rubens, che diventano eroi fittivi, mantenendo deboli tratti communi coi loro modelli.
All’aria della parafinzione appartengono anche i lunghi passaggi saggistici sull’imagologia, sull’hommo sentimentalis, sull’amore et l’immortalità, ma essi si alimentano ugualmente da tutti i tre piani:
Chiamiamo il gesto di Bettina e di Laura il gesto del desiderio di immortalità. Bettina, che aspira alla grande immortalità, vuole dire: mi rifiuto di morire con il presente e i suoi guai, voglio superare me stessa, essere parte della storia, perché la storia è memoria eterna. Laura, anche se aspira soltanto alla piccola immortalità, vuole la stessa cosa: superare se stessa e l'infelice momento in cui vive, fare “qualcosa” perché tutti quelli che l'hanno conosciuta la ricordino.
Infine, la metafinzione non è meno facile a delimitare. Sembra chiaro che la struttura in sette parti imita la storia della creazione divina dalla prima luce – il gesto della donna in piscina che dà allo scrittore l’idea del personaggio Agnes ma anche del tema, fin al meritato riposo – la celebrazione con Avenarius, sempre davanti alla piscina, per il fine del libro. Tuttavia lo scrittore, chiamato anche lui, ovviamente, Milan Kundera, incontra qualche suo personaggio – Laura e Paul, in un viavai in cui non si sa più da dove a dove si varca la soglia. E questa confusione è mantenuta dalla moltitudine di ruoli che gioca il narratore: autore del libro che si sta scrivendo davanti ai nostri occhi, testimone degli eventi presentati, commentatore e saggista degli stessi eventi, personaggio episodico, figura che pretende aver scritto altri libri situati nella zona abbittata dal lettore e che fa anche delle correzioni riguardo ai titoli e al contenuto:
Avenarius tacque un momento, imbarazzato, e poi mi chiese gentilmente: “E come si intitolerà il tuo romanzo?”. “L'insostenibile leggerezza dell'essere”. “Ma mi pare che l'abbia già scritto qualcuno”. “Io! Ma avevo sbagliato titolo. Quel titolo doveva appartenere solo al romanzo che sto scrivendo adesso”.
Finalmente, attraverso tutte queste cariche strade e maschere narrative, potremmo sperare almeno a una disambiguazione de fondo? Apprenderemo che cos’è l’immortalità - una sorte di eterno ritorno come l’aveva suggerito il romanzo con titolo sbagliato nella citazione di sopra – ritorno verso quel gesto o quell’emozione esemplare che un essere non si stancherebbe mai di ripetere? Oppure il nome? Cioè – l’artista o la sua creazione? L’immagine o il senso? Chi lo sa? Come al solito, resta al lettore di scoprire il senso nascosto. Forse la vera, la sola immortalità è quella delle cose fragili, apparentemente insignificanti, ma con una forza terribile a difenderci contro la bruttezza quotidiana:
I clacson suonavano e si udivano grida di gente inviperita. In una situazione analoga Agnes un tempo aveva desiderato comprarsi una violetta, solo un piccolo fiorellino; aveva desiderato tenerlo davanti agli occhi come un'ultima traccia, appena visibile, di bellezza.
P.S. Perché non parlo (sfortunatamente) il ceco, ho letto Kundera in tutte le lingue che conosco e in cui mi è capitato di trovare i suoi libri – inglese, francese, rumeno, e ora italiano. E di tutte queste, penso che l’italiano apporta un’inflessione speciale alla frase kunderiana, una certa poesia che non avevo mai sospettato dietro alla voce solitamente abbastanza caustica dell’autore. Forse anche il tema si presta a questa tonalità, non lo so, ma la cadenza della frase ha avuto, durante tutta la lettura, qualcosa di magico e di impeccabile. ...more
“All the world is a stage”, says Shakespeare in As you like it, as if to prove that metafiction is not really a postmodernis That “Polysemantic World”…
“All the world is a stage”, says Shakespeare in As you like it, as if to prove that metafiction is not really a postmodernist concept. Indeed, the theatrum mundi theme is quite an old one, but it has never lost its fascination. The idea of a hidden script every human being is unknowingly led to play has fascinated many an artist who either tried to find thus a logic in life, a pattern in the carpet, or used it to point that mankind was never really granted freedom of choice, only a little autonomy of movements, non important in the great scheme of things, since the decision to go right or left is irrelevant when both paths lead to the same destination. Destination known only by the master puppeteer, the deus ex machina, the stage director. Or the magus.
Now I saw Conchis as a sort of novelist sans novel, creating with people, not words; now I saw him as a complicated but still very dirty old man; now as a Svengali; now as a genius among practical jokers.
So, here is the magus' story, told by one of his puppets, Nicholas Urfe, forced to go through a painful initiation in the mysteries of life and death. And what better place for this ancient ritual than the sunny Greece, the only place where the gate to underworld can be found, trespassed and revolved again?
Little by little, the young teacher is caught in a web of stories and events that seem true and false at the same time, real and artificial, that fascinate, provoke or repulse him, that reveal mysteries that are proven ordinary at the light of the day, until he realizes he is not a spectator anymore, but a main character in a crazy world that manipulates him, forcing him to see what he didn’t care to see, to acknowledge his carelessness and indifference, to look at himself in more or less deformed mirrors in order to go back on a path he carelessly abandoned. But arrived there, he is afraid to be left suddenly without a script, a sultan without Scheherazade to tempt his imagination, a Theseus without Ariadne to let him out of maze:
I strolled idly all round the domaine, in the windless air; I waited in all the likely places; I kept on turning, looking backwards, sideways, listening. But the landscape seemed dead. Nothing and no one appeared. The theatre was empty; and, like all empty theatres, it became in the end frightening.
Apparently, Nicholas Urfe is taught to love, but love is creation, and since the Big Bang what more wonderful creation than art? Mankind’s duty, our hero seems to realize almost a century after Oscar Wilde, is to transform life into art, to become gradually aware that his smallest gesture is under spotlight, therefore full of consequences.
…all my life I had tried to turn life into fiction, to hold reality away; always I had acted as if a third person was watching and listening and giving me marks for good or bad behaviour – a god like a novelist, to whom I turned, like a character with the power to please, the sensitivity to feel slighted, the ability to adapt himself to whatever he believed the novelist god wanted. This leechlike variation of the superego I had created myself, fostered myself, and because of it I had always been incapable of acting freely. It was not my defence; but my despot.
For is it not this that makes life bearable, the very fact that it can be read as a frenzy narrative, with its infinite forest of symbols, some recognizable, some not really, and the challenge is to decipher its arcane, to catch a glimpse at the cave entrance, to steal a smile from the gods, to feel part of the script? And of course to feel frustrated at the end of the initiation ceremony:
Perhaps that was my deepest resentment of all against Conchis. Not that he had done what he did, but that he had stopped doing it.
John Fowles did not consider The Magus his best. Maybe because The Magus force lies less in the narrative technique (however clever it seems to be – to mention only the open finale that reinterprets the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice) and more in that fascinating crisscross of meanings of the tale, that never-ending allusion to mythology, literature, history characters and events in a vortex that dazes the reader.
As for me, I was afraid that a second reading will prove disappointing. On the contrary it has been more mesmerizing. More magic. Either that powerful Dantesque magic of “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stele” sensed all along the novel, or that hopeful Pervigilium Veneris magic of “cras amet qui numquam amavit/ quique amavit eras amet”, whispered at the very end of the story. ...more
That tragic solemnity hidden behind the strident, aggressive, crazy scenes in The Idiot has always made me think of Ancient Greek mysteries - the Eleu That tragic solemnity hidden behind the strident, aggressive, crazy scenes in The Idiot has always made me think of Ancient Greek mysteries - the Eleusinian mainly, but also the Dionysian ones. Firstly because of the exemplarity of the main character, secondly because of the artificiality of the world that surrounds him: a frenetic, delirious, demented world that indulges in the voluptuousness of the ridicule, of the villainy, on the principle that if you acknowledge your flaws and weaknesses everything is permitted.
Like Herman Hesse in his beautiful essay "Thoughts on the Idiot by Dostoyevsky", I've had some difficulty in accepting unreservedly the comparison to Jesus, that seemed to me too obvious, too general and finally too vague. After all, as Hesse says, "you can compare to Jesus anyone who has been touched by one of the magical truths, who no longer separates thinking from living and thereby isolates himself in the midst of his surroundings and becomes the opponent of all."
Prince Muiskin is Jesus-like in the same way Jesus was exemplary-hero-like. His arrival home is, like many other heroes' of illo tempore, a descensus ad inferos, only his search is not followed by the final triumphant ascent, like in the Eleusinian Mysteries or other myths, on the contrary he remains forever trapped in immanence.
Hesse calls the prince's way of thought "magical" because "more than once he has stood on the magic threshold where everything is affirmed, where not only the most farfetched idea is true but also the opposite of every such idea". No wonder the others tend to insult and stultify him - unconsciously they perceive him as a destabilizing force that, by accepting both sides of the coin, threatens the very order of their world.
This prince whose soul is connected to the music of the spheres and who contemplates the harmony of contraries is a seductive image, but only partially true. For there is something the hero cannot fully understand and is fascinated by: Death, the main theme of the novel.
It is in quest of the sense of death that Muishkin begins his harrowing of Hell only to find himself in front of a vanity fair, which hides its desperate ephemerality behind strident, loud, theatrical words and empty big gestures, a world confined by rules that must be respected, where the slightest movement is hardly innocent, and where nothing is really touched by tragic, only by hideous, grotesque, burlesque. Here he meets a pathetic Munchhausen represented by General Ivolgin, who hides his fear of life behind invented stories with himself in the star-role; a washed-out Cassandra, represented by Hyppolyte, who hides his fear of death behind rudeness and cynicism and whose failed suicide questions both the free will and the grandeur of human gestures; a picturesque Russian Falstaff represented by Lebedeff, who hides his fear of divine retribution behind Apocalyptic interpretations and is eager to acknowledge how base he is; a grim fallen angel represented by Rogojin, who hides his fear of love behind insane jealousy, evil-mirroring the prince's feelings and actions; and the Beauty, in her dual aspect, angelic and demonic, represented by Nastasia and Aglaya, and who hides her fear of perdition behind exaltation and pride and chooses dark over light because she doesn't really believe light still exists.
A mad, mad world, whose pitiful pathetism is the result of the eternal conflict between the effort to conform to the high society rules and the instincts its members are unable to suppress in themselves. Therefore, its artificiality is deliberately emphasized by the narrator: the world is false, delusive, unreliable and only one person can see behind the masks. And this person is nothing but an idiot in their eyes.
Every single being of this world is marked by Death and thus excused, in the eye of the prince, of any extravagance, misdeed or even crime (this is one of the possible interpretations of his out-of-this-world kindness):
I believe that to execute a man for murder is to punish him immeasurably more dreadfully than is equivalent to his crime. A murder by sentence is far more dreadful than a murder committed by a criminal.
And this is because, as Hyppolyte believes,
...death is so terrible and so powerful, that even He who conquered it in His miracles during life was unable to triumph over it at the last.
And, interesting enough, the prince seems to find a way to save this unworthy world not (only) in Faith, but in the contemplation of Beauty. Protecting the Beauty becomes his crusade. Therefore, when despite all his efforts the Beauty is insanely destroyed, the prince is too. Like a tragic Don Quixote's, his quest proved to be only blowing in the wind....more
Umberto Eco affirmait quelque part que la principale fonction de la littérature ne serait pas celle esthétique, mais – ontologique, vu qu’en dépit des Umberto Eco affirmait quelque part que la principale fonction de la littérature ne serait pas celle esthétique, mais – ontologique, vu qu’en dépit des jeux de la hypertextualité elle reste unchangeable, non modifiable, ainsi nous enseignant sur le destin et la mort.
Dans un premier temps, il m’a semblé que cette fonction s’applique également à l’histoire, dont le sort des héros est aussi immutable que celui de Madame Bovary, par exemple. Maintenant je ne suis plus si sûre. Hadrien est à la fois un personnage historique et littéraire et il fait grande figure dans les deux domaines. Pourtant, les hésitations historiques estompent, dépersonnalisent sa figure pendant que les Mémoires la rendent grandiose, bien que les deux se servent des mêmes sources, car Marguerite Yourcenar, dans le Carnet de notes qui suit son livre énumère soigneusement tous les documents historiques utilisés.
Le résultat ? Une émouvante méditation sur la société, les relations humaines, la politique, les sentiments et surtout sur la mort, faite par un homme au crépuscule, sur un ton d’une majestueuse tristesse, qui nous laisse avec un indescriptible vague à l’âme :
« Petite âme, âme tendre et flottante, compagne de mon corps, qui fut ton hôte, tu vas descendre dans ces lieux pâles, durs et nus, où tu devras renoncer aux jeux d’autrefois. Un instant encore, regardons ensemble les rives familières, les objets que sans doute nous ne reverrons plus… Tâchons d’entrer dans la mort les yeux ouverts… »
Une méditation qui essaie de capturer la vraie nature de l’homme, de le dévêtir pour arriver au cœur des choses, issue d’un perpétuel mécontentement que «…tout ce que nous savons d’autrui est de seconde main. (…) Je ne me lasse pas de comparer l’homme habillé à l’homme nu. ».
Et puis c’est le fardeau de l’éphémère qui hante l’esprit avec la malédiction de l’oubli :
« La mémoire de la plupart des hommes est un cimetière abandonné où gisent sans honneurs des morts qu’ils ont cessé de chérir. »
Tout ce qu’on peut faire c’est de capter cet éphémère, trouver le moment de la révélation et d’emprisonner cette épiphanie dans l’art, car: « Les figures que nous cherchons désespérément nous échappent : ce n’est jamais qu’un moment… »
C’est ce que convoite ce roman fait de mémoires, fait d’une voix. La voix d’un grand empereur, "traduite" en français par une grande écrivaine.
Comme la statue d’Hadrien en robe grecque, considérée pendant plus d’un siècle un symbole de son amour pour la culture hellénique pour s’avérer avoir été "traduite" à l’époque victorienne à partir de la tête d’Hadrien mise sur le corps d’un inconnu. Devant laquelle on se pose la question si l’authenticité est bien définie dans les dictionnaires. On essaie toujours de remplir le vide du passé à l’aide de l’imagination : quand on ne reconstruit pas, on simule – le Colisée ou le Parthénon à l’aide de l’ordinateur, on produit –des documents apocryphes, on déduit – la raison de quelque décision douteuse, on invente – des années perdues. Toute notre culture est un « fill in the blanks » quand elle n’est pas un palimpseste. Parfois, la reconstruction est géniale, plus vraie que la soi-disant réalité. Comme l’affirme l’auteur même :
« Quoi qu’on fasse, on reconstruit toujours le monument à sa manière. Mais c’est déjà beaucoup de n’employer que des pierres authentiques. »
Il a fallu plus d’un siècle pour se rendre compte qu’une statue emblématique n’était point génuine. Il faudra plus d’une éternité pour prouver si c’est Hadrien ou non qui parle dans ces Mémoires. D’après moi, il parle de sa vraie voix. Moi, j’y crois.
I could have finished this tiny book in two hours or so, but I didn’t want to. I preferred to taste every word, to linger around every sentence, to se I could have finished this tiny book in two hours or so, but I didn’t want to. I preferred to taste every word, to linger around every sentence, to search for a meaning even in punctuation marks. I wished that quest for books and friendship never ended. Books and friendship - the key words of all my life, unexpectedly gathered together in a bunch of letters about a growing friendship through books.
It is hard to speak about 84 Charing Cross Road without getting emotional, to judge it aesthetically while forgetting that nothing you read is imagined. It is a case of reality sliding imperceptibly into fiction. It is a beautiful argument to support the famous idea: "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life", maybe not quite in the sense intended by Oscar Wilde, but true nonetheless.
For Frank and Helen’s friendship transcends ephemerality as easy as it transcended distance and cultural differences, warming our souls with its spontaneity, humor and generosity:
Poor Frank, I give him such a hard time. I’m always bawling him for something. I’m only teasing, but I know he’ll take me seriously. I keep trying to puncture that proper British reserve, if he gets ulcers I did it.
For the love for books becomes literal, they are not inanimate objects anymore, but treasures to seek, hunt and friendly argue upon, not only to read but also to touch and contemplate and to proudly and humbly possess:
The Newman arrived almost a week ago and I’m just beginning to recover. I keep it on the table with me all day, every now and then I stop typing and reach over and touch it. Not because it’s a first edition; I just never saw a book so beautiful. I feel vaguely guilty about owning it. All that gleaming leather and gold stamping and beautiful type belongs in the pine-paneled library of an English country home; it wants to be read by the fire in a gentleman’s leather easy chair – not on a second-hand studio in one-room hovel in a broken-down brownstone front.
For 84 Charing Cross Road has become a place as fascinating as Borges’ library (and as real), a place in that England of mighty heroes with stern looks and soft hearts, with stiff manners and peculiar sense of humor, in that generous England that is always what we want it to be and always more:
I used to go to English movies just to look at the streets. I remember years ago a guy I knew told me that people going to England find exactly what they go looking for. I said I’d go looking for England of English literature, and he nodded and said: “It’s there.” Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. looking around the rug one thing’s for sure: it’s here. The blessed man who sold me all my books died a few months ago. And Mr Marks who owned the shop is dead. But Marks and Co. is still there. If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.
I heard there is a pizzeria, or a bar, or whatever at that address now. Good. This means that the little bookshop can be finally found where it was meant to be all along: in the geography of fiction (so dear to our hearts) for all eternity.
Thank you, Ginny, my dear friend through books to whom I owe the discovery of this little treasure!...more
Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.
O Beginnings are sudden, but also insidious. They creep up on you sideways, they keep to the shadows, they lurk unrecognized. Then, later, they spring.
One of those books you feel like reading again the very moment you finished it. One of those books that keep you lingering around, replete with a voluptuous sadness. One of those books that give a new meaning of Art as atonement and catharsis. One of those books.
I totally agree with a friend of mine who observed in her review that the characters are not consistent; of course they aren’t, Iris, the loudest voice of the novel (for there are many, as we will see), is unable to scrutinize the others, how could she? she’s blind – they are for her only Chinese shadows, there, but incomprehensible and it is ironic that both her parents made her promise she would be her sister’s keeper when the only guardian angel, hers, is Laura. Laura who tries to talk her out of marriage with Richard, Laura who sacrifices herself for the life of Iris’s lover, Laura who in the end gives up on her:
The white gloves : a Pontius Pilate gesture. She was washing her hands of me. Of all of us.
But does she? Her death awakens Iris who renounces at her identity and transforms Laura in legend – this is her expiation: to erase herself, to replace herself with the worthy one. Unlike Briony of McEwan’s Atonement, she doesn’t change the truth to appease reality, she only changes the voice until even she doesn’t know whose voice is anymore:
Laura didn’t write a word. Technically that’s accurate, but in another sense – what Laura would have called the spiritual sense – you could say she was my collaborator. The real author was neither of us: a fist is more than the sum of its fingers.
The authorship issue, again brilliantly confused either in the construction of the story and the story itself. A story that at first seems reading as two, in two different voices: an old one, going slowly and drudgingly on the heart-breaking trip down memory lane, because she wants her granddaughter to finally learn the truth, but also because
…unshed tears can turn you rancid. So can memory. So can biting your tongue. My bad nights were beginning. I couldn’t sleep.
The other voice is young and telling The Blind Assassin story, which also contains the story of the blind assassin among others, in the same Scheherazade way that keeps love alive while it keeps talking:
Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth. This is how the girl who couldn’t speak and the man who couldn’t see fell in love.
But soon it becomes obvious there is only a story, made by many, only a voice, made by many. It is the impaired photo which haunts the book and the characters that hints at the complicated technique of the narrative: the couple (the main conflict), the hand (the leitmotiv of the novel, symbolizing both protection and creation) and of course the watcher (of the photo, of the story, of the creation). The two Authors, Laura and Iris, that seemed shortly to be one, become in fact three, because of course it’s Sabrina who gathers all information that corroborates the story:
The photo has been cut; a third of it has been cut off. In the lower left corner there’s a hand, scissored of at the wrist, resting on the grass. It’s the hand of the other one, the one who is always in the picture whether seen or not. The hand that will set things down.
And Sabrina is us, free to shed tears over the tragic story, free to marvel over the exceptional writing. Free to identify with the story, free to tamper with the writing, free to become its Authors, too:
…I leave myself in your hands. What choice do I have? By the time you read this last page, that – if anywhere – is the only place I will be.
What is the world for the intellectual? The playground of his ideas or the hell of his emotions? For Moses Hezo "Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?"
What is the world for the intellectual? The playground of his ideas or the hell of his emotions? For Moses Hezog, a forty-seven-year old former Professor in a mid-life crisis is certainly both. Recently gone through a messy divorce and the tragi-comedy of a marital triangle, the hero looks for the cathartic liberation from this emotional ballast in two ways: by writing letters to acquaintances and strangers, to the living and the dead, and by remembering the past. The result? A very exquisite mixture between epistolary and psychological novel intertwined with cleverly hidden intertextual dialogues, in a perfect narrative structure and a memorable collection of characters. A masterpiece signed Saul Bellow.
The novel follows Herzog’s quest to make sense of the world either following Tolstoy’s belief – that freedom is personal and indifferent to historical limitations, or Hegel’s conception – that freedom begins with the knowledge of death, knowledge fed by history and memory.
Therefore, the letters are not necessarily a way of communication (he never sends nor finishes them) they are a way of self understanding, Tolstoyan way: “I go after reality with language.” Thus, he keeps arguing with Spinoza whether the desire to exist is enough to lead to happiness, he feels like rejecting Nietzsche’s view of any present moment as a crisis, a fall from classical greatness on the principle that he had a Christian view of the history despite his accusation that Jesus Christ enslaved the world with his morality, and finally he find a new interpretation of Kirkegaard’s belief that knowledge can be acquired only through hell by seeing suffering as a personal choice; not by playing at crisis, alienation, apocalypse and desperation, but as an antidote to illusion:
…people of powerful imagination, given to dreaming deeply and to raising up marvelous and self-sufficient fictions, turn to suffering sometimes to cut into their bliss, as people pinch themselves to feel awake.
Together with Samuel Johnson, Herzog discovers that suffering can acquire an almost hedonistic quality:
Grief, Sir, is a species of idleness.
If the letters are the intellectual dialogues with the world, memories are the emotional ones. Through personal history, this time in a Hegelian way, Herzog rebuilds his own image, since: “I am Herzog. I have to be that man. There is no one else to do it.” On these grounds he recalls all his “reality instructors”: his parents who taught him to love and to lose the loved one, his women who taught him that “not thinking is not necessarily fatal”, that is he can divorce intellect from emotion unpunished, his friends who taught him that generosity has sometimes an unbearable price tag. Two memorable, Dostoyevskian figures emerge in all their contradictory splendour from this recollection: his second wife, Madeleine, who, according to Herzog, tried to steal his place in the world and his rival and former best friend Valentine Gersbach, who tried to become him, emulating his opinions and gestures. The only form of the self preservation, Herzog discovers, is detachment, so the final lesson the hero is gradually taught is the acceptance of death, be it physical or emotional:
And you, Gersbach, you’re welcome to Madeleine. Enjoy her – rejoice in her. You will not reach me through her, however. I know you sought me in her flesh. But I am no longer there.
However. However. Which is the door to freedom – intellectual or emotional? Tolstoy or Hegel? For it is sure you cannot go through both at the same time, since they are rather opposite. Herzog clams up in the end, refusing either word or feeling, or simply refusing to tell. It‘s up to us to open whichever door we seem fit – for him and for ourselves, in a dignified answer to the mocking question of Longfellow’s dog at Kew: “Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?”...more
**spoiler alert** O carte surprinzatoare, care reinterpreteza citeva motive literare binecunoscute, folosind ca formula narativa principala, la fel ca**spoiler alert** O carte surprinzatoare, care reinterpreteza citeva motive literare binecunoscute, folosind ca formula narativa principala, la fel ca Marin Preda in Cel mai iubit dintre paminteni, naratiunea la persoana I pe doua voci: a eroului Jim Larkin White, alias Ludwig Anatol Stiller si a procurorului Rolf, care va deveni prieten al eroului. Tema romantica a dublului e reinterpretata din perspectiva existentialista, ca o fuga sau mai bine zis un refuz al sinelui, atit pe plan artistic, cit si sufletesc. Arestat in Elvetia si inchis pentru ca nu vrea sa admita ca e disparutul de sase ani Stiller, eroul e confruntat cu trecutul sau - prieteni, sotie, amanta si la final atelierul de creatie si nevoit sa-si accepte identitatea si sa-si reia viata, fara a putea schimba cu adevarat ceva: viata de cuplu esueaza din nou caci sotia sa Julika in continuare nu-i poate oferi iubirea pe care o cauta el iar arta sa se transforma intr-o (oarecum) lucrativa industrie a olaritului. Partea I a romanului e reprezentata de cele sapte caiete ale lui Stiler din inchisoare, in care acesta incearca sa-si fabrice un trecut si o identitate diferite de ale lui Stiller, despre a carui casnicie cu Julika si aventura cu Sybille, sotia lui Rolf vorbeste cu detasare, ca si cind ar pune pe hirtie confesiunile celor doua femei si ale procurorului. Partea a II-a, scrisa de Rolf, relateaza al doilea esec al cuplului pe ambele planuri - sentimental si profesional (Julika insasi e o artista, balerina, dar bolnava de plamini - desi insanatosita miraculos in absenta lui Stiller - boala va reveni si o va ucide). Foarte interesant e portretul Julikai, eternul feminin, o Galatee careia noul Pygmalion nu reuseste sa-i insufle viata. Sybille, pe de alta parte, e un fel de Catalina, un fluture atras de geniul artistic dar care se intoarce in final la fericirea domestica. ...more
J'essaie de trouver le mot juste mais je n'y arrive pas - le charme de ce livre est ineffable. Le retour à la simplicité narrative, peut-être? Les quaJ'essaie de trouver le mot juste mais je n'y arrive pas - le charme de ce livre est ineffable. Le retour à la simplicité narrative, peut-être? Les quatre personnages si vivantes bien que faits des croquis (c'est pas au hasard que Camille dessine)? Le je-ne-sais-quoi du tout? Elle parle de la vieillesse et de l'amour, de l'amitié et de la solitude et impressionne sans tomber en mélodrame, bien qu'elle ne se serve d'ironie non plus. La vie, c'est tout....more
Numele autorului si titlul acestui roman se vor asocia mereu in mintea mea cu legenda mankurtilor, cei carora li se radea parul de pe cap, apoi li seNumele autorului si titlul acestui roman se vor asocia mereu in mintea mea cu legenda mankurtilor, cei carora li se radea parul de pe cap, apoi li se acoperea scalpul cu piele de capra (sau de oaie?) proaspata, care era lasata sa se usuce pe capul lor astfel incit li-l stringea ca intr-o menghina, facindu-i sa-si piarda identitatea si umanitatea - un fel de lobotomie fara operatie directa :). O metafora a alienarii fiintei umane, a automatizarii si programarii intr-o lume oprimata de comunism, dar care-si iubeste si asculta calaul (lacrimile natiunii la moartea "tatucii" Stalin sint semnificative in acest sens). Burannai Edighei, revizor la halta Boranli-Burannai, se hotaraste sa-si ingroape prietenul, Kazangap, in cimitirul stravechi al naimanilor, Ana-Beiit (care poarta numele unei femei ucise de propriul fiu transformat in mankurt). Aceasta inmormintare este dublata de cea a doi astronauti pe care guvernul sovietic si american a decis sa-i "piarda" pentru ca au intrat in contact cu o civilizatie extraterestra. Cimitirul devine brusc punct strategic unde guvernul decide sa construiasca o baza de lansare a rachetelor. Planul real si cel cosmic se intrepatrund asadar, peste ambele suprapunindu-se planul mitic. O carte extraordinara, bogata in semnificatii si de o surprinzatoare originalitate. ...more