Someone complained that Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal is overgrown – that is, that all the ideas it contains could have been easily sy Someone complained that Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal is overgrown – that is, that all the ideas it contains could have been easily synthetized in a long article. I wouldn’t go so far, although I also felt sometimes that one point or another was discussed to its outer limits. Anyway, it was an interesting enough reading, even if not very original.
The premise of the book, disclosed by the title (quoting Graham Swift’s inspiring definition of mankind given in Waterland: “Man – let me offer you a definition – is the storytelling animal”) is that the human being is a Homo fictus, who makes up stories all his life, whether he is an artist or not, and the author takes his time in revealing how and why the fiction influences the human life, to stress “the major function” of storytelling: to shape the very human mind that shaped it, in order to prepare it for the everyday problems.
One of the first arguments concerns the dreams, apparently an inexhaustible spring for tales the brain carefully concocts for our protection, since dreams are not, as Flanagan once believed, “brain waste”, that is, “a useless by-product of all the useful work the sleeping brain does”, but, as Michael Jouvet discovered in the 50s, after realizing that the animals experience REM sleep, rather a rehearsal to prepare both humans and other beings for the life challenges.
Recent research suggests that if geese dream – and it is possible that they do – they probably don’t dream of maize. They probably dream of foxes.
Stories have also the function to fill in the blanks of bizarre and/ or unexplained phenomena, behavior, actions. Another celebrated scientist, Michael Gazzaniga, the pioneer of the split-brain neuroscience school, discovered that the two sides of the brain have different functions: while the right brain specializes in identifying shapes, paying attention to details and generally controlling movement, images, sounds, the left one is responsible for speaking and thinking and imagining, and he observed that quite often, when a subject whose right brain is defective could not offer an explanation for his actions, he would rather fabricate a clever story instead of letting the “why” question unanswered:
The storytelling mind is allergic to uncertainty, randomness and coincidence. If the storytelling mind cannot find meaningful patterns in the world, it will try to impose them. In short, the storytelling mind is a factory that churns out true stories when it can, but will manufacture lies when it can’t.
Here it is a possible explanation for the fact that not only the fool or the stupid but even the intelligent persons can firmly believe in the most fanciful conspiracy theory: the mind needs to be permanently reassured that all experience is meaningful, so it looks for plausible explanations that could counteract evilness:
Conspiracy theories offer ultimate answers to a great mystery of the human condition: why are things so bad in the world? (…) for this reason, conspiracy theories – no matter how many devils they invoke – are always consoling in their simplicity. Bad things do not happen because of a wildly complex swirls of abstract historical and social variables. They happen because bad men live to stalk our happiness. And you can fight, and possibly even defeat, bad men. If you can read the hidden story.
Furthermore, it was proved many times that the stories can inexorably shape our future (and sometimes indirectly the future of the others): think of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Rienzi, which inspired Wagner’s opera, which influenced Hitler, and which thus changed the world; think of Uncle’s Tom Cabin, which made Abraham Lincoln meet Harriet Beecher-Stove and say to her the flattering but not without a grain of truth words that her novel provided all the right reasons for the Civil War; or think of Tolstoy who regarded his work as a noble disease that could “infect” people with his ideas and emotions.
Last but not least, stories (and dreams) apart from preparing us to live our lives and making us discern between good and evil, teach us to live comfortably with ourselves, by fogging the memory of our past actions in order to let us be the impeccable heroes of our lives, thus keeping us apart from the despair of the nothingness:
Depressed people have lost their positive illusions; they rate their personal qualities much more plausibly than average. They are able to see, with terrible clarity, that they are not all that special. According to the psychologist Shelley Taylor, a healthy mind tells itself flattering lies. And if it does not lie to itself, it is not healthy. Why? Because (…) positive illusions keep us from yielding to despair.
It was inevitable, of course, for such a book to argue about the future of literary fiction in a time where the decreasing of reading is a worldwide phenomenon. The author is once again optimistic: many a work a fiction is published every day so the reader species is still alive and kicking. I found it however a little naïve (and a bit insulting) his belief that songs are poems and anyone who can tell by heart lyrics is a connoisseur of poetry:
Ours is not the age when poetry died; it is the age when poetry triumphed in the form of song. It is the age of American Idol. It is the age when people carry around ten or twenty thousand of their favorite poems stored on little white rectangles tucked into their hip pockets. It is an age when most of us know hundred of these poems by heart.
Me too, I’d like to think that poetry is not dead. But I would prefer it to be dead than to be reduced to Taylor Swift’s lyrics, hearted as they are. ...more
I knew almost nothing about John Updike before reading Rabbit, Run, except that he was a contemporary American writer and a pretty good stylist (and a I knew almost nothing about John Updike before reading Rabbit, Run, except that he was a contemporary American writer and a pretty good stylist (and after finishing the novel I can tell you the last appreciation is an understatement). However I was expecting (I don’t know why, especially since I knew all along the novel was published first in 1960) a postmodernist approach instead of a neo-modernist one. In brief, I thought his literary prestige is due to some innovations in the narrative technique and it was quite a surprise (a delightful one) to discover that he uses to deploy his inimitable, truly mesmerizing narrative voice mostly traditional techniques. That is, there is no cleverly built up structure but a restless, rhythmic beat of a prose that discreetly and masterfully recreates a world by skillfully taming the words.
The reading key that could help us to better understand this world is offered not by the title (which is rather a characterization in nuce of the main character) but by one of the Pascal’s “pensées” put as the motto of our story: “The motions of Grace, the hardness of the heart; external circumstances.”
Indeed, the Grace and the Heart, that is, the Faith and the Love (or rather the lack of them) are the “circumstances” that make move around a world as small as a little town in the 60’s, as big as the timeless universe. A world in which the main character is forever looking for rabbit holes where he could hide from his moral and civic responsibilities that bore him to death. Like a male version of Madame Bovary he is not quite able to understand his own restlessness and discontent, that is, his immature ways: however, his perpetual running makes sense in a bizarre way, which renders him quite likeable even when he becomes aware of hurting the others and almost proud of it:
“When I ran from Janice I made an interesting discovery. (…) If you have the guts to be yourself,” he says, “other people will pay your price.”
In an article published in Harvard Magazine in 1996 (Rabbit Reread ), Robert Kiely names Harry Angstrom an “an ignorant, insensitive, uneducated, self-pitying bigot of no particular talent, imagination, or intelligence”. It is an opinion shared by many a reader who judged him solely by his actions and words than by his thoughts and point of view. Because let’s not forget that he is not only the main character of the story, but its main narrator (although not the only one) in a free indirect style. And it is in the role of the narrator that we discover his astute eye for the detail, his empathy with his surroundings, his desire to make sense of a universe that seems at the same time menacingly big and suffocatingly small:
He brought them up there. To see what? The city stretches from dollhouse rows at the base of the park through a broad blurred belly of flowerpot red patched with tar roofs and twinkling cars and ends as a rose tint in the mist that hangs above the distant river. Gas tanks glimmer in this smoke. Suburbs lie like scarves in it. But the city is huge in the middle view, and he opens his lips as if to force the lips of his soul to receive the taste of the truth about it, as the truth were a secret in such low solution that only immensity can give us a sensible taste.
There is always a subtle play of perspectives to be found in Updike’s prose, an alternation between the big and the small picture, a care for the detail that often springs from the background by means of an unexpected comparisons and / or epithet which reveals a story behind the story, like a possible tense relationship with the neighbor whose door is closed “like an angry face” or a metaphysical anxiety induced by a deserted landscape full of ghosts of “children clambering up from a grave”. Attuned to “the sound and the fury” of his surroundings, Harry tries, by turn, either to resign to or to escape the fate they mercilessly mirror:
He feels the truth: the thing that had left his life had left irrevocably; no search would recover it. no flight would reach it. It was here, beneath the town, in these smells and these voices, forever behind him.
It is amazing how an “ignorant, insensitive” oaf like Harry Angstrom is able to recognize and unveil the cannibalism of a city hungry for the modest truth of mediocrity that sustains it, although Robert Kiely is not completely wrong in his assumptions about Rabbit, for our (anti) hero is unable, or simply lacks the patience to understand people, to go beyond their physical appearance he genially notices in the smallest detail with the eye of an artist who wants to catch every shade of color of the body but is not interested at all in the shades of the soul:
Rabbit looks at Ruth. Her face is caked with orange dust. Her hair, her hair which seemed at first glance dirty blond or faded brown, is in fact many colors, red and yellow and brown and black, each hair passing in the light through a series of tints, like the hair of a dog.
Another remarkable stylistic trait is due to what I would like to call jigsaw images: the narrative voice gains unexpected inflexion whenever it chooses to scatter and redo not only landscapes and portraits (for example Ruth’s: “Her wet face, relaxed into slabs, is not pretty; the thick lips, torn from most of their paint, are the pale rims of a loose hole.”) but also states of mind, smashing fleeting images into glittering pieces:
Mr Springer returns and passes through the outside, bestowing upon his son-in-law a painfully complex smile, compounded of a wish to apologize for his wife (we’re both men; I know), a wish to keep distant (nevertheless you’ve behaved unforgivably; don’t touch me) and the car’s salesman reflex of politeness.
Julian Barnes, in his review published in The Guardian (John Updike Rereading. Running Away) is convinced that the Rabbit quartet is “the greatest postwar American fiction”. I only read the first of the four books, but I already strongly agree. This little novel is crafted with such an elegant simplicity that even its somber, Dantesque theme - that there is no escape wherever you run away – seems somehow bearable. For there is always at least a haven – in the beauty of the art. ...more
Quand mon groupe de lecture a proposé pour le mois de juin le texte Cyrano de Bergerac d’Edmond Rostand, une amie à moi a déclaré qu’elle allait le liQuand mon groupe de lecture a proposé pour le mois de juin le texte Cyrano de Bergerac d’Edmond Rostand, une amie à moi a déclaré qu’elle allait le lire seulement après avoir vu la représentation théâtrale. Sage décision, étant donné que ce genre de textes semble conçu plutôt pour être parlé, déclamé, joué, bref vécu publiquement que pour être lu dans l’intimité. Et pourtant, moi, j’ai toujours aimé lire les pièces de théâtre, et, différemment de mon amie, je préfère, si possible, lire avant de voir, apprécier ce que le texte dit avant de m’émerveiller de la façon dont il est reproduit et si je devais absolument choisir entre les deux options, je choisirais toujours la première (sauf s’il s’agissait d’une distribution exceptionnelle, peut-être).
Une première raison de cette décision serait que de cette façon tu peux être sûr d’avoir devant toi le texte intégral et non une variante abrégée par raisons de mise en scène (ou par faute de mémoire des acteurs ☺), ce qui, surtout dans les cas des chefs-d’œuvre, est très important, car chaque mot est irremplaçable, même dans les indications scéniques et les description du décor qui ne se résument jamais à être seulement cela. Et puis, comment pourrait-on autrement capturer l’opinion de l’auteur sur son propre œuvre, étant donné qu’il n’y a pas de voix auctorielle plus impersonnelle et plus discrète que dans le genre dramatique ? C’est seulement par l’entremise de ces indications et de quelques sous-titres et/ ou autres spécifications qu’elle peut trahir un peu son penchant pour le ludique, en influençant, rendre complice ou induire en erreur son lecteur.
Dans le cas de Rostand, cela commence avec les sous-titres et va continuer, discrètement, tout au long de la pièce, par une épithète, une synecdoque, une métaphore etc., tout en contredisant l’impersonnalité habituelle de ces énonces, comme on peut voir dans cette description du décor:
Du même côté, second plan, immense cheminée devant laquelle, entre de monstrueux chenets, dont chacun supporte une petite marmite, les rôtis pleurent dans les lèchefrites.
…ou dans cette indication scénique :
(Toutes les têtes se sont inclinées ; – tous les yeux rêvent ; – et des larmes sont furtivement essuyées, avec un revers de manche, un coin de manteau.)
Quant aux sous-titres, dans la plus vraie manière romantique, ils servent aussi à estomper les frontières entre les genres dramatique et épique, car le nom de chaque acte est aussi un résumé de celui-ci comme dans un roman : Une représentation à l’hôtel de Bourgogne, La rôtisserie des poètes (mon titre préféré pour son ironie gentille), Le baiser de Roxane, Les cadets de Gascogne et La gazette de Cyrano.
En effet, la pièce entière a l’air d’être une porte-parole du romantisme, couvrant à peu près toutes ses traits, le plus important concernant la violation de la règle de trois unités (de temps, d’espace et d’action) que respectait si religieusement le classicisme. Effectivement, la pièce est si longue, a tellement de personnages et se passe dans des lieux si différentes que (selon Wikipédia) l’auteur même a cru qu’elle serait un échec. Un autre trait romantique, la confusion voulue des genres, est entretenu par l’appellation « Comédie héroïque en cinq actes en vers » bien qu’il s’agisse plutôt d’une tragicomédie avec forts accents de farce.
Pourtant la valeur de la pièce, dans mon opinion, est notamment assurée par trois éléments : le langage, la construction du personnage principal et l’extension de la scène vers l’extérieur, afin de comprendre des personnages soit du monde de la fiction soit du monde réel.
En ce qui concerne le langage, on remarque en premier lieu la brillante utilisation du noble vers alexandrin dans des contextes familiers et/ ou triviales, pour entrer dans un dialogue d’une tendre ironie avec les illustres ancêtres littéraires:
Sur les cuivres, déjà, glisse l’argent de l’aube ! Étouffe en toi le dieu qui chante, Ragueneau ! L’heure du luth viendra, – c’est l’heure du fourneau !
Et toujours à propos de la comédie du langage, on trouve un discret humour même dans des rimes comme tartelette/odelette, triolet/ au lait, ministre/ sinistre, conciles/ imbéciles, ou dans des mots-valise comme ridicoculise, apprentif. (Off topic, j’ai enrichi mon vocabulaire avec des termes chevaleresques tels colichemarde ou bretteur, le premier étant selon Larousse une lame d'épée d'abord large puis s'effilant brusquement en carrelet, et le deuxième désignant, dans la même source, celui qui aimait à se battre à l'épée).
Sur le personnage principal on a tellement écrit qu’il serait difficile d’apporter quelque chose de nouveau. J’ajouterais seulement que son aura et si grande qu’elle tend à engloutir les autres personnages, devenues des alter ego, tellement est bien exploité le motif du double romantique : Christian peut être vu comme son idéal physique, Roxanne comme sa partie féminine et son idéal amoureux, et de Guiche comme sa partie ténébreuse, son double négatif. Ainsi émerge l’inoubliable figure de Cyrano de Bergerac, un héros exemplaire qui n’a jamais su ce que signifie le mot « compromis », qui s’est mis au service de la vérité (« Je fais, en traversant les groupes et les ronds,/ Sonner les vérités comme des éperons ») et qui se meurt comme un vrai héros de tragédie classique, l’épée à la main, se battant en duel contre les maux du monde – Compromis, Préjugés, Lâchetés, Sottise, pour laisser vivre dans la mémoire de sa postérité seulement son « panache », vertu glorieuse mais ineffable que même Rostand trouve difficile à définir avec précision :
« Le panache [...], c'est l'esprit de bravoure. [...] Plaisanter en face du danger c'est la suprême politesse, un délicat refus de se prendre au tragique ; le panache est alors la pudeur de l'héroïsme, comme un sourire par lequel on s'excuse d'être sublime[...] »
Enfin, en ce qui concerne l’extension de la scène vers l’extérieur dont je parlais plus tôt, il ne s’agit pas seulement du fait que les personnages principaux sont inspirés des personnes réelles (selon Wikipédia Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac a été un poète qui a vécu au XVIIe siècle, il a effectivement existé un baron de Neuvillette qui a épouse une cousine de Cyrano mais qui s’appelait Christophe, non Christian, et le comte de Guiche était une figure très influente à la même époque), mais aussi du fait que d’Artagnan sort des pages du Dumas pour entrer brièvement dans celles de Rostand, tandis que Molière quitte le monde réel pour embêter le héros principal.
Je m’arrête. J’avais l’impression que ma critique serait très courte, étant donné la difficulté de trouver des points de vue nouveaux quand il s’agit de chefs-d’œuvre. Mais d’autre part n’est-il pour cela qu’ils sont devenus des chefs-d’œuvre – parce qu’on peut en parler à l’infini, sans les épuiser ?
Je finis donc en vous laissant savourer une partie de la fameuse tirade du nez, tout en méditant au fait que voilà, le nez est lui aussi un autre personnage, dont on va se parler une autre fois ☺ :
Ah ! non ! c’est un peu court, jeune homme ! On pouvait dire… Oh ! Dieu !… bien des choses en somme… En variant le ton, – par exemple, tenez : Agressif : « Moi, monsieur, si j’avais un tel nez, Il faudrait sur-le-champ que je me l’amputasse ! » Amical : « Mais il doit tremper dans votre tasse ! Pour boire, faites-vous fabriquer un hanap ! » Descriptif : « C’est un roc !… c’est un pic !… c’est un cap ! Que dis-je, c’est un cap ?… C’est une péninsule ! » Curieux : « De quoi sert cette oblongue capsule ? D’écritoire, monsieur, ou de boîte à ciseaux ? » Gracieux : « Aimez-vous à ce point les oiseaux Que paternellement vous vous préoccupâtes De tendre ce perchoir à leurs petites pattes ? » Truculent : « Ça, monsieur, lorsque vous pétunez, La vapeur du tabac vous sort-elle du nez Sans qu’un voisin ne crie au feu de cheminée ? » Prévenant : « Gardez-vous, votre tête entraînée Par ce poids, de tomber en avant sur le sol ! » Tendre : « Faites-lui faire un petit parasol De peur que sa couleur au soleil ne se fane ! » Pédant : « L’animal seul, monsieur, qu’Aristophane Appelle Hippocampelephantocamélos Dut avoir sous le front tant de chair sur tant d’os ! » Cavalier : « Quoi, l’ami, ce croc est à la mode ? Pour pendre son chapeau, c’est vraiment très commode ! » Emphatique : « Aucun vent ne peut, nez magistral, T’enrhumer tout entier, excepté le mistral ! » Dramatique : « C’est la Mer Rouge quand il saigne ! » Admiratif : « Pour un parfumeur, quelle enseigne ! » Lyrique : « Est-ce une conque, êtes-vous un triton ? » Naïf : « Ce monument, quand le visite-t-on ? » Respectueux : « Souffrez, monsieur, qu’on vous salue, C’est là ce qui s’appelle avoir pignon sur rue ! » Campagnard : « Hé, ardé ! C’est-y un nez ? Nanain ! C’est queuqu’navet géant ou ben queuqu’melon nain ! » Militaire : « Pointez contre cavalerie ! » Pratique : « Voulez-vous le mettre en loterie ? Assurément, monsieur, ce sera le gros lot ! » Enfin, parodiant Pyrame en un sanglot : « Le voilà donc ce nez qui des traits de son maître A détruit l’harmonie ! Il en rougit, le traître ! »
With her “Living by Fiction”, Annie Dillard seems to contradict Emile Cioran’s belief that building on the ideas/ creations of others is a form of int With her “Living by Fiction”, Annie Dillard seems to contradict Emile Cioran’s belief that building on the ideas/ creations of others is a form of intellectual parasitism, such an outstanding proof is this book that criticism can be art, that it can use literature as an inspirational source to its own glory, just like art uses world to the same purpose. In fact these are the two main themes of the essay: criticism versus art and art versus the world, both suggested by the inspired title. The second one is also emphasized by a clever question asked in Introduction: “Does fiction illuminate the great world itself or only the mind of its human creator?”
The answer is gradually developed in the three parts by discussing the how, the what and why of the fiction-world relationship. Part One, “Some Contemporary Fiction”, compares what the author calls historical modernists (Kafka, Joyce, Faulkner, Gide, Woolf, etc.) with contemporary modernists (Borges, Nabokov, Beckett, Barth, Robe-Grillet, Calvino, Cortazar, etc.) to show that the techniques of the first are still employed by the latter, by looking over time, characters, point of view, fable or themes.
One of the most preferred techniques in nowadays fiction is the narrative collage, that breaks time “in smithereens” and simulates chaos, although, in the author’s opinion, art cannot imitate disorder, only pretend it, for there is always unity and meaning in the true art: “In this structural unity lies integrity, and it is integrity which separates art from nonart.” Integrity, says Annie Dillard, is the essential criterion by which we should judge a work, the sieve that separates sentimental art (which “attempts to force preexistent emotions upon us”) from real art (which creates “characters and events which will elicit special feelings unique to the text”).
On the other hand, characters, once the center of the fiction, do not longer appeal to us emotionally, but intellectually. They are flattened (as opposed to the rounded, “drawn in depth” traditional ones), reduced to surfaces, and anyone, and anything can become a character: a mental defective (Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury), a toddler (Grass, The Tin Drum), a dinosaur (Calvino, Cosmicomics), a breast (Roth, The Breast), an axolotl (Cortazar, Axolotl), a goat (Barth, Giles Goat-Boy). Moreover, they are mocked or commented, are given funny names (Humbert Humbert, Betty Bliss, Word Smith, Benny Profane), and sometimes the authors even try to impose a pronunciation (Barth wanted that Giles be pronounced in the same way as “guiles” and Nabokov that Ada be pronounced in the same way as “ardor”).
The same goes for the point of view, already limited by the Modernists to one narrator. Now there may be several voices to tell the story, or an axolotl, or a breast, and it is not a rare event for these points of view to collide, becoming another aspect of the collage. As for the story they tell, well, the drama and action that appeal to everybody are avoided (in the same way modern painting avoids representation) by serious novelists, who want to separate their work from trash, keeping in check the readers’ emotions by telling a bad story:
Literature as a whole has moved from contemplating cosmology – Dante – for the sake of God, to analyzing society – George Eliot – for the sake of man, to abstracting pattern itself – Nabokov – for the sake of art.
As a result, one of the main themes of the contemporary fiction has become art itself, be it in novels that talk about art (with heroes who are artists like in Gide’s The Counterfeiters), be it in novels in which the referents don’t leave the surface of art and the fragmented world becomes an art object contained on its own plane (like in Gertrude Stein’s works or in Nabokov’s Pale Fire). In relation to this theme there is the relationship between the tale and its teller, which can lead not only to the nature of art and narration but also to the nature of perception (the biased narrator deals in part with the theme of perceptual bias):
Gradually, then, the question of the relationship between tale, teller and world fades into the question of the relationship between any perceiver and any object. And this matter is a frequent theme – nay, obsession – in contemporary, modernist fiction.
However, the big challenge of Art, the problem of knowing the world, is by no means abandoned. The problem of cognition can be approached by isolating the object from its context (surrealists), by using language as a cognitive tool to plainly describe the world of objects (Henry Green, Wright Morris, Alain Robbe-Grillet), by looking for the nature of knowing (Stanslaw Lem, The Cyberiad, Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur, Borges, Death and the Compass), by transforming the world in an arena of possibilities (Calvino, Invisible Cities).
But in the end most contemporary writers are in the middle of the distance between traditionalism and contemporary modernism, as are the Modernists themselves, for their mainstream still consists of stories that, using modernist techniques, penetrate the world and order it, and are populated by complex characters.
The second part of the study, “The State of Art”, after observing that there is no real revolution in literature, most techniques being known and used from Sterne’s time, with the new including the old (Gertrude Stein and Finnegans Wake’s efforts to alter the language remained without proselytes, “because the material of fiction is world”), considers that one of the greatest strengths of fiction is that any reader feels qualified to review his readings, the audience of literature being eclectic – educated but not necessarily specialized, which distinguish fiction from the other contemporary arts that “have rid themselves of all impure elements, including an audience”:
Who apart of specialist will say of a Di Suvero sculpture, “It doesn’t work,” or of a Alvin Lucier composition, “It’s no good”? yet who hesitates to rate contemporary novels? This symptom reveals the assumption that fiction, even when it is literature, should answer to its audience by pleasing it.
This easy approach has been facilitated by a blissful mixing of genres (a phenomenon unheard of in visual art). There is no minor or despised genre for most serious writers: Murdoch has written gothic romances, Calvino fantasies, Barth fairy-tales, etc. Unfortunately, from this blurring profits also the book industry, which has no reservation to recommend, for example, a detective novel to those who loved Ficciones. This halo effect can increase or decrease the literary value of a book:
And it is here that the blurring of genres goes too far for art’s health. For the viewpoint of big business, a dog care manual and a novel of genius are both marketable objects called “books”; since the dog care manual will be easier to market for profit, there is no point in taking a chance on the novel.
Therefore, the role of the critics should be to help the readers to escape this halo effect, and in a way it is, since it influences the students’ thinking about fiction and it keeps fiction traditional by defending the canonic works, the national writers, and by ignoring the contemporary writers. But the critic experts are not as needed as in painting, for everyone can approach any work (except Finnegans Wake, maybe). They seem to influence more the contemporary fiction itself, both by canonizing the historical modernism and by making the contemporary one aware of criticism to the point that it helps to create it. Thus, criticism (to reassume the argument I opened my review with) has become a source of inspiration for fiction while proudly separating itself from it:
As an art form, criticism is more highly developed than fiction is. Its own theories are actually the most suitable objects of its intelligence.
If the Part One spoke about the main traits of the contemporary modernism and Part Two about the role and place of Art in contemporary society, Part Three, “Does the World Have Meaning?” speaks about the broken links between criticism, art, and world. Criticism cannot truly interpret art, only create a parallel world and become itself art:
Criticism must always try to know a text on its own terms; but it will always fail. Criticism cannot know its object. There is no guaranteed thread of connection between any interpretation and any text; so criticism is a particularly fanciful and baroque form of skywriting.
And this is because art cannot (and doesn’t want to) interpret the world. What it does is create something that did not exist before, because the artist is more interested to be original than to interpret the world: Melville’s whale is not the object of the world, but the tool of interpretation:
The art object does not teach, exhort, arouse, aid, and so forth. It does not “help us to see”, like an optometrist; it does not “make us realize” like a therapist; it does not “open doors for us”, like a butler. Nevertheless, insofar as art has any function whatsoever (and I am coming to believe that it does), it requires an audience. (…) If outside human perception the art object has no human value, then the art object needs a perceiver, lest or it is or does be lost.
If there is a meaning of the world, the author concludes, it could be found in Art. Art’s greatest gift, finally, is to convince us that the world has a meaning and a purpose. Even if it has not. ...more
Un cadou recent de la fostul meu prof de română, Istoria filosofiei oculte a lui Sarane Alexandrian a venit taman cînd căutam literatură de specialitaUn cadou recent de la fostul meu prof de română, Istoria filosofiei oculte a lui Sarane Alexandrian a venit taman cînd căutam literatură de specialitate pe tema sefiroturilor din Pendulul lui Foucault. Așa se explică de ce am început s-o citesc, ca să zic așa, peste rînd, dar nu-mi pare rău deloc, subiectul, foarte interesant în sine, este tratat excelent!
Autorul afirmă în prolog că a scris această carte pentru că își explică fascinația dintotdeauna a cititorilor pentru magie și vrăjitorie nu prin declinul religiei sub influența materialismului și nici printr-o „aspirație intelectuală spre miraculos”, ci prin faptul că omul are atît o gîndire pragmatică cît și una magică, că o acceptă sau o neagă, că o cultivă sau o înăbușă. Aceasta este evidentă în copilărie, persistă în vise și se revarsă în nevroze sau psihoze.
„Punctul meu de vedere admite... că nu am ieșit total din credințele magice și că, probabil, nu vom ieși niciodată: omul cel mai rațional din lume le păstrează în el, estompate și deghizate. Ele nu tind să dispară, ci să se ascundă din ce în ce mai adînc sub aparențe logico-pragmatice.”
Alexandrian ține să sublinieze că studiul său nu favorizează gîndirea magică în detrimentul gîndirii pragmatice, nici filosofia ocultă în detrimentul celei clasice; el doar atrage atenția asupra unui curent „neglijat de învățămîntul academic, lăsat în voia falșilor profeți și de la care putem împrumuta noțiuni pentru cercetarea adevărului.”
Eseul are opt capitole, primele două ocupîndu-se de gnosticism și de catarism, celelalte șase de ramurile principale ale filosofiei oculte: aritmozofia, alchimia, artele divinatorii, taumaturgia, comunicarea cu invizibilul și magia sexuală.
Gnoza, mișcare precreștină al cărei reprezentant principal a fost școala din Alexandria, a combinat iudaismul cu filosofia greacă, dînd Vechiului Testament o interpretare aristoteliciană. „Religia” gnostică nu are o personalitate centrală, ci este „cultul unei valori transcendente Gnosis (Cunoașterea), decretată superioară credinței”. Încercînd să răspundă la întrebarea „Dacă există un Dumnezeu, de ce există Răul în univers?”, ea a ajuns la concluzia că „există doi Dumnezei, un Dumnezeu rău. Dumnezeul evreilor și al creștinilor, care a creat lumea și a făcut-o atroce, și un Dumnezeu bun „Străinul”, îndepărtat, inaccesibil, care nu intervine în treburile de pe pămînt cărora nu le acordă nici o atenție.”
Deși gnosticismul se încheie în secolul al V-lea odată cu victoria creștinismului asupra păgînismului, influența sa s-a păstrat pînă în zilele noastre, autorul văzînd de exemplu în suprarealiști succesorii ei datorită credinței în mîntuirea prin vis.
Cabala a fost o mișcare medievală al cărei nume, însemnînd „tradiție” era deja folosit în literatura post-biblică „pentru a desemna ceea ce nu făcea parte din Legea codificată, cum ar fi zicerile profetice, povestirile hagiografice.” Cabala este de fapt o metodă de citire a Bibliei prin trei procedee: ghematria (apropierea a două cuvinte care au aceeași valoare numerală, căci literele alfabetului ebraic corespund unor cifre diferite: de exemplu Avraam=Compasiune deoarece ambele cuvinte valorează 248), notariconul (construirea unui nou cuvînt cu inițialele sau finalele diferitelor cuvinte dintr-o frază; sau, invers, extragerea dintr-un cuvînt a unei fraze întregi luînd fiecare din literele lui ca inițială a unui subiect, a unui verb și a unui complement) și temura (înlocuirea unei litere dintr-un cuvînt prin alta după anumite combinații alfabetice).
Ei au creat numeroase cuvinte si formule magice ca abracadabra, o contracție a expresiei Abrek ad habra (Trimite trăsnetul tău pînă la moarte), formulă sacră de alungare a dușmanilor.
O ramură a filosofiei oculte derivată din cabalistică este aritmozofia. Cu ajutorul mathesei (din grecescul mathesis, învățătură) teologii creștini și ocultiștii au definit viața universală combinînd metafizica și matematica, pornind de la regula că primele zece numere sînt cele mai importante (celelalte sînt o reluare a acestora): astfel 1 este numărul divin, 2, cel impur (sugerînd acuplarea deci păcatul), 3, cel benefic și așa mai departe. Interesant de știut că superstițiile legate de numărul 13 nu au legătură cu aritmozofia ci cu vechiul calendar roman unde majoritatea idelor (zile pline de interdicții) cădeau în acea zi.
Alchimia în schimb, își are originile în antichitatea greacă (lexicograful Suidas definea cuvântul chemeia, chimie, „prepararea argintului și aurului”). Alchimiștilor li se datorează descoperirea apei regale, a sulfurii de arsenic, a boraxului, a amoniacului, a bismutului, a antimoniului metalic, a sulfurii naturale de arsenic, a sublimatului coroziv, a cupelației argintului și a aurului (adică purificarea lor cu ajutorul plumbului). Jung a fost fascinat de ea, găsind în simbolismul ei multe resurse pentru psihoterapeut (d.e. a asociat visele cu mandala și „psihicul obiectiv” cu concepțiile din alchimie despre mîntuire, identificînd constant psihanaliza cu alchimia).
Originea artelor divinatorii se pierde și ea în antichitate, iar metodele folosite amestecă idei vechi și noi: profeția, astrologia (ale cărei baze au fost puse de Ptolemeu), geomanția (divinația cu ajutorul pământului), fiziognomia, chiromanția, metoposcopia (prezicerea viitorului unui om după examinarea liniilor de pe frunte), oniromanția (divinația prin vise), captromanția (divinația cu oglinzi, cu derivatele cristalomanția, și hidromanția), cartomanția și rabdomanția sau bagheta divinatorie (ghicirea locurilor unde sunt izvoarele, comorile ascunse și persoanele dispărute cu ajutorul unui bețișor de alun care începe să tremure în apropierea lor).
În ceea ce priveste medicina, cea ermetică, făcînd apel la metafizica creștinismului ezoteric sau a Cabalei, s-a opus celei oficiale, bazată pe logica lui Aristotel, care era dominată de scolastică și controlată de Biserică. Părintele ei este Paracelsus, care a promovat medicina spagirică (de la spao, separ, și ageiro, unesc) „care reunea principiile chimice ce puteau să separe purul de impur, sănătatea de boală”, și care stă la baza medicinei homeopatice. Plantele pentru remedii erau alese în functie de „pecețile” care arată cărei părți din corp îi sînt rezervate: rădăcina de orhidee care seamănă cu organul genital masculin se va folosi la tratarea iritațiilor acestuia, căldărușa este bună pentru bolile de ochi, bobul, pentru durerile de rinichi etc.
Comunicarea cu invizibilul este o parte importantă a practicilor oculte, căci de milenii omenirea se crede înconjurată de spirite invizibile, fie ele îngeri, demoni sau suflete rătăcitoare. Pentru a le contacta se practica fie goeția (de la grecescul goa, urlet), prin care se invocau demoni, fie duetele mediumnice, atunci cînd nu apărea iluminarea, coborîrea grației divine asupra individului.
Cea mai secretă doctrină a filosofiei oculte este însă magia sexuală, „rezultatul a două tendințe: mistica erotică, proprie pasionaților care-și idolatrizează ființa iubită, sacralizînd pretinsele impurități corporale, continuînd tradiția religiilor primitive cu un cult al falusului și cu riturile scatologice, și mistica creștină, glorificînd sufletul în detrimentul trupului, reprimînd elanurile senzuale, dintr-o preocupare legitimă de a face să dispară bestialitatea din omenire.”
Teologii și medicii Evului Mediu alcătuiseră o adevărată ontologie a actului sexual, cu următoarele caracteristici: scop procreator (se credea că fecundarea se făcea prin amestecul seminței masculine cu cea feminină, deci orgasmul femeii era important iar frigiditatea era luată foarte în serios); interzicerea avortului și condamnarea libertății sexuale a femeii pentru că ducea la sterilitate. Actul sexual avea deci fie o funcție procreatoare în căsătorie, fie devenea o cale spre sfințenie dacă putea fi înfrînat.
„Filosofia ocultă și-a asimilat acest dat patetic și, combinîndu-l cu reminiscențe ale păgînismului, a extras din ceea ce rezulta două sisteme (...): pe de o parte, erotismul diabolic, luînd cu exagerare asupră-și desfrîul pentru a combate răul prin rău sau pentru a obține o putere întunecată; pe de altă parte, sanctificarea sexului, îndepărtînd noțiunea de păcat din plăcerile trupești și căutînd în ele condițiile unui nou cult sacru.”
Concluzia autorului este că filosofia ocultă este utilă pentru că propune cîteva mijloace de a separa Binele de Rău în fiecare dintre constantele sale: în analiza rațională a superstițiilor, în credințele sale (că omul are o triplă natură, că se poate comunica cu lumea de dincolo, că energia sexuală are puteri metafizice etc.) cît și în intenția de a crea o medicină paralelă, continuînd tradiția lui Democrit.
„Omenirea va fi, din ce în ce mai mult, preocupată să topească într-o aceeași Tradiție postulatele originale ale păgînismului antic, ale creștinismului ezoteric, ale religiilor orientale și ale dialecticii occidentale pentru a crea un sistem de gîndire cu adevărat universal. Un asemenea ideal nu va fi îndeplinit decît prin perfecționarea comportamentelor inițiatice utilizate încă din vremea Gnozei, astfel încît să ducă la acțiuni și opere în care magicul va fi în deplină armonie cu pragmaticul pentru a preamări viața.” ...more
I don’t know if my habit to read three or more books at the same time is good or bad, but it surely gave me the opportunity to discover connections beI don’t know if my habit to read three or more books at the same time is good or bad, but it surely gave me the opportunity to discover connections between books I would have never put in the same sentence in other circumstances. For example, it was fun to discover, in two very dissimilar books, Martin Amis’s The Pregnant Widow and Dan Lungu’s The Little Girl Who Played God, a similar reaction of the characters in front of some landscape while visiting Italy, and which seemed to their awed eyes so impossible picturesque that it had acquired the glossy quality of a postal card. Or to discover that both Alice Munro’s neorealist The View from Castle Rock and Kazuo Ishiguro’s magic realist The Buried Giant managed to find that elusive border between reality and mythology. Not to speak about those times when a book effectively has called another – as Umberto Eco’s Foucault Pendulum did with Alexandrian’s History of the Occult Philosophy – for how could I explain otherwise the fact that I received the second (without even asking) from my former high school teacher just when I was struggling to put in order some random information about occultism wickedly given to me by the first?
And now I happen to find myself in front of another apparently eccentric confrontation: Jane Austen versus Elena Ferrante, challenging each other in a debate over centuries about adultery through their characters, Fanny Price and Elena Greco, both annoyingly overdoing their point of view until the first one becomes a caricature of the morality and the second – of the amorality. If the heroine of Mansfield Park hides behind her noble principles a certain rigidity and narrowness of thought, together with a lack of imagination and spirit, the narrator of The Story of the Lost Child displays her ignorance of them with aggressive arrogance, acting like the heroines in those bad romances who endlessly cry and suffer and love to be betrayed. Her behaviour is so pathetic that it cannot even be labelled as immoral, only amoral, since she does not seem to have any sense or knowledge of the moral principles, only a penchant for futility that will shatter her and her family life. As her mother-in-law justly observes in a cruel but truthful character analysis, Lenù is guilty of the unforgivable sin of vulgarity (without even the excuse of the lack of education that Mme Bovary had, for example):
Then she said to me in a low voice, almost a whisper, that I was an evil woman, that I couldn’t understand what it meant to truly love and to give up one’s beloved, that behind a pleasing and docile façade I concealed an extremely vulgar craving to grab everything, which neither studying nor books could ever tame.
I have to admit that the first part of this fourth volume of the Neapolitan books, with Lenù running after the worthless Nino like a headless chicken, either amused or irritated me, not only because it revealed a suddenly very superficial character behaving like a moron (thus pretty inconsistent with the image in the former books), but also because my sense of order strongly disagreed with the compositional imbalance of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde structure from which Dr. Jekyll disappeared altogether, for Lila and/ or Lenù, have become petty and trivial, mightily competing for the first place in detestability. Moreover, the Neapolitan slum, which had become such an amazing character in the third volume, is transformed here into a childishly imagined hungry monster that does not want to conquer the foreground anymore but does his worst to blend all the characters in its sinister background. At the end of the day, as Lenù will have the epiphany of, it is only about that typical case of “you can leave the stradone (or the rione or whatever) but you cannot make the stradone leave you”:
Suddenly I felt with shame that I could understand, and excuse, the irritation of Professor Galiani when she saw her daughter on Pasquale’s knees, I understood and excused Nino when, one way or another, he withdrew from Lila, and, why not, I understood and excused Adele when she had had to make the best of things and accept that I would marry her son.
Fortunately, the second part gets better, although the circular structure disclosing the meanings of the first images is a little old-fashioned and its symmetry – from dolls to child and return to the dolls, although emotionally touching, is somehow too sought, too artificial.
Moreover, Lila is stuffed in this final book with so many meanings that she becomes more an allegory than a character, that is, she is in danger to lose any consistency. Indeed, she is charged in turn with the role of the narrator’s daemon (“everything that came from her, or that I ascribed to her, had seemed to me, since we were children, more meaningful, more promising, than what came from me”), she often embodies her sometimes better sometimes bothersome conscience (“I want to seek on the page a balance between her and me that in life I couldn’t find even between myself and me”), when she is not her ideal alter ego with impossible standards to meet (“there was the possibility that her name (…) would be bound to a single work of great significance: not the thousands of pages that I had written, but a book whose success she would never enjoy”), or her mentor that unknowingly had given life to her writings by making her always hear, while creating, the narrative voice Lila had used as a child to compose the Blue Fairy story (Judith Shulevitz, in her insightful review published in The Atlantic Magazine astutely made a connection with Pinocchio’s blue fairy to point that both of them had the gift to bestow life). Finally, in a role reversal, it is Lila who becomes her Galatea, her creation stepping out of fiction to lose herself in a world that can’t tell anymore who’s the creator and who’s the created:
Lila is not in these words. There is only what I’ve been able to put down. Unless, by imagining what she would write and how, I am no longer able to distinguish what’s mine and what’s hers.
Nevertheless, Ferrante knows all the secrets of the compelling narrative and all in all the series of the Neapolitan novels was a long captivating reading, sometimes truly brilliant, especially the first volume, which would have deserved almost a four-star rating. However I preferred a more monotonous three-star rating for all four volumes because although the second and the fourth were closer to two stars than three, I was overall really impressed with the way the author lived up to expectations from the beginning to the end, not making too many concessions to the sometimes questionable taste of the general public. The beauty of the last sentence of the novel is the image of the creator orphaned of his creation. When all is said and done, the characters forever leave the author to live in their readers minds:
I thought: now that Lila has let herself be seen so plainly, I must resign myself to not seeing her anymore.
This third book of the Neapolitan novels (which, by the way, I liked better than the second but not as much as the first), is surprisingly well-writte This third book of the Neapolitan novels (which, by the way, I liked better than the second but not as much as the first), is surprisingly well-written for a sequel, I say surprisingly because, with some notable exceptions I usually find sequels very diluted, shadows that try to suck their force from a first, more vigorous narrative.
Well, this is not the case of Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, which reinforced the impression I had while reading the second book (The Story of a New Name– my review here to whom may interest) that Lila and Lenù are the two faces of the same coin, or better, that each of them is the creation of the other. In a complicated mirror technique, the two characters assume in turn, either the Dr. Jekyll or the Mr Hyde’s role, in a hate-love relationship sometimes beneficial, sometimes destructive:
Everything I read in that period ultimately drew Lila in, one way or another. I had come upon a female model of thinking that, given the obvious differences, provoked in me the same admiration, the same sense of inferiority that I felt toward her. Not only that: I read thinking of her, of fragments of her life, of the sentences she would agree with, of those she would have rejected. (…) I had been forced by the powerful presence of Lila to imagine myself as I was not. I was added to her, and I felt mutilated as soon as I removed myself. Not an idea, without Lila. Not a thought I trusted, without the support of her thoughts. Not an image.
There is an endless game of approaching and distancing, of identifying and separating, of imitating and reasserting oneself, until you are not sure anymore not only of who is one and who is the other, but also of who is the better half of the other ☺:
We had maintained the bond between our two stories, but by subtraction. We had become for each other abstract entities, so that now I could invent her for myself both as an expert in computers and as a determined and implacable urban guerrilla, while she, in all likelihood, could see me both as the stereotype of the successful intellectual and as a cultured and well-off woman, all children, books, and highbrow conversation with an academic husband. We both needed new depth, body, and yet we were distant and couldn’t give it to each other.
Anyway, their lives flow inexorably together, follow the same meanders, even change, to use the same metaphor without malicious implying, the riverbed. Each one pretends to have found her ideal self in the other whereas secretly wishing to destroy her other self, to break her mirrored image into thousand pieces. Like them, their men seem at the same time alike and different – Enzo with his devotion for Lila and Pietro with his intellectual background have the same positive impact in the (two?) heroines’ lives, whereas Michele and Nino ominously shadow them.
The theme of leaving and returning, suggested by the title, is also ambiguous and complicated, because you cannot escape what you have never truly left behind as the beginning of this third volume, with a five-year old memory of the neighbourhood suggests, with a powerful, brilliant image that asserts that, if the regressus ad originem does not really exist, it is only because you have been forever caught in the uterus of the world, your umbilical chord has never been cut, you have never made it outside, you have never been born:
I had fled, in fact. Only to discover, in the decades to come, that I had been wrong, that it was a chain with larger and larger links: the neighbourhood was connected to the city, the city to Italy, Italy to Europe, Europe to the whole planet. And this is how I see it today: it’s not the neighbourhood that’s sick, it’s not Naples, it’s the entire earth, it’s the universe, or universes. And shrewdness means hiding and hiding from oneself the true state of things.
The image of the city as a huge, monstrous, hungry organism, although not new, is powerful enough to deserve to be compared with Henry Miller’s Paris or John Dos Passos’ New York. In the same way, Naples refuses to remain a mere background and occupies, with angry pride, a foreground where it cries out its violent and inevitable story:
In that season of rains, the city had cracked yet again, an entire building had buckled onto one side, like a person who, sitting in an old chair, leans on the worm-eaten arm and it gives way. Dead, wounded. And shouts, blows, cherry bombs. The city seemed to harbour in its guts a fury that couldn’t get out and therefore eroded it from the inside, or erupted in pustules on the surface, swollen with venom against everyone, children, adults, old people, visitors from other cities, Americans from NATO, tourists of every nationality, the Neapolitans themselves.
Yes, I liked to hate it, this ill, frenzy world, which doesn’t care to redeem itself, built by a gifted writer who doesn’t spare us the ugliness of the human nature, even in the most celebrated human traits, often idealized (according to her, at least) into qualities, like self-sacrifice, like geniality, like friendship, like love. A world that prays to be forgotten, a world that prays to be told. ...more
I remember seeing, some time ago, a movie that was bordering comedy and drama without truly becoming neither, not e Through the Revolving Looking Glass
I remember seeing, some time ago, a movie that was bordering comedy and drama without truly becoming neither, not even a melodrama. It was sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes only artificial – like many a successful box office today. The name of the movie was Sliding Doors and it was the plot’s idea I liked most: two alternative futures for the heroine, depending on some apparently minor circumstance – her catching or not a train.
Well, while thinking hard :D about the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, The Story of a New Name, it suddenly struck me that its main technique (the whole series main technique, I guess) is roughly the same – the revolving doors one, combined with the good old motive of the double so favoured by Romantic and/ or Gothic literature. Lila and Lenù are nothing but two faces of one and only character in two different circumstances generated by the turning point of continuing or abandoning her education:
My life forces me to imagine what hers would have been if what happened to me had happened to her, what use she would have made of my luck. And her life continuously appears in mine, in the words that I’ve uttered, in which there’s often an echo of hers, in a particular gesture that is an adaptation of a gesture of hers, in my less which is such because of her more, in my more which is the yielding to the force of her less.
Furthermore (and this gets better and better, oh, genial me ☺!) each of them reinvent the other by degrees, both as an ideal and an enemy, in a game of magnifying and diminishing mirrors. This could explain why a reader accused the narrative voice of omniscience – in fact the narrator tells two stories about the same characters, often from the point of view of the only self able to tell a coherent story (thus the first person narrative) since the other, left in a cruder world, has to be picked up (this was one powerful comparison) like the contents of a luggage accidentally opened:
How easy it is to tell the story of myself without Lila: time quiets down and the important facts slide along the thread of the years like suitcases on a conveyor belt at an airport; you pick them up, put them on the page, and it’s done. It’s more complicated to recount what happened to her in those years. The belt slows down, accelerates, swerves abruptly, goes off the tracks. The suitcases fall off, fly open, their contents scatter here and there. Her things end up among mine: to accommodate them, I am compelled to return to the narrative concerning me (and that had come to me unobstructed), and expand phrases that now sound too concise.
In fact, if the shoes were the obvious leitmotiv in the first book, alluding to a Cinderella story gone wrong, here it has been replaced by a more subtle one: the scattered suitcase, symbol not of a life, but of a narrative, since the Cinderella story is now supplanted by the Rising Artist story, Faustian way:
I began to read The Blue Fairy from the beginning, racing over the pale ink, the handwriting so similar to mine of that time. But already at the first page I began to feel sick to my stomach and soon I was covered with sweat. Only at the end, however, did I admit what I had understood after a few lines. Lila’s childish pages were the secret heart of my book. Anyone who wanted to know what gave it warmth and what the origin was of the strong but invisible thread that joined the sentences would have had to go back to that child’s packet, ten notebook pages, the rusty pin, the brightly coloured cover, the title, and not even a signature.
From this perspective, the abominable wounds the two “friends” successfully manage to inflict each other make an eerie perfect sense – Elena reads Lila’s notebooks to gain perspective of her other destiny, Lila sleeps with the love of Lenù’s life to punish her for her obsession with a rather evil being, Lenù begins to write Lila’s story to punish her for wanting to sink into oblivion without her permission, and so forth and so on. For it seems clear to me that the book is not intended as the story of a friendship, but as a bizarre parallel bildungsroman passed through the merciless introspective analysis the narrator subjects herself when she does not objectively psychoanalyse her other herself. But in the end, it always comes to one single being, and its key word is “imagine”:
I thought: yes, Lila is right, the beauty of things is a trick, the sky is the throne of fear; I’m alive, now, here, ten steps from the water, and it is not at all beautiful, it’s terrifying; along with this beach, the sea, the swarm of animal forms, I am part of the universal terror; at this moment I’m the infinitesimal particle through which the fear of every thing becomes conscious of itself; I; I who listen to the sound of the sea, who feel the dampness and the cold sand; I who imagine all Ischia, the entwined bodies of Nino and Lila, Stefano sleeping by himself in the new house that is increasingly not so new, the furies who indulge the happiness of today to feed the violence of tomorrow.
I read this second volume as eagerly as the first. Until this idea of the double hit me, I confess I was somehow annoyed with the progress of the fable, which seemed to me sometimes in a precarious balance between sublime and ridicule, with its characters sliding slowly and irreversibly from caricatural to grotesque. However, if my Model Author’s intentions coincide with the empirical one’s, this could be an interesting reading key to put things in a new and thrilling perspective. I’ll keep reading the other two volumes and let you know ☺. ...more
If you are looking disconcertedly at the title of my review, don’t worry, I have got ready my explanation: while reading Umberto Eco
If you are looking disconcertedly at the title of my review, don’t worry, I have got ready my explanation: while reading Umberto Eco’s Lector in Fabula, I came across an Agatha Christie’s title that, because of the Italian translation (Dalle nove alle dieci – that is, From nine to ten o’clock) I thought it referred to one book of her I had never read. So I looked for it, only to discover it was actually The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Then I thought: how about re-reading it to practice a little, just for fun, what Eco taught me about the Model Reader?
But before beginning my somehow empirical semiotic analysis, I will only add that this lecture was also a good opportunity to learn some interesting information that I am naturally happy to share with you. First, that this early novel, written in 1926, was voted in 2013, according to The Independent, as the best crime novel ever. Then, that one of its best-developed characters, Caroline Sheppard, will be the model for Miss Marple. Finally, and rather off-topic, given that it concerns another character of the book but not the book itself, I learned that Curtain, the novel in which Hercule Poirot dies, was written during War World II by a frightened Agatha Christie who willed it to be published if she died during the London bombing. Of course she did not die then, so the novel was published only in 1975, and as Gradesaver informs us, “Hercule Poirot was the first ever fictional character to get a front page obituary in the New York Times. On August 6, 1975, a headline ran announcing, ‘Poirot is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective; Hercule Poirot, the Detective, Dies’.”
Now, let’s go back to that point announced by the title of my review and try to roughly recreate a little that Model Reader Agatha Christie had in mind while writing her book, on the principle that, as Umberto Eco reminds us, “You cannot use the text as you want but only as the text wants you to use it.” (The Role of the Reader)
Before going any further, I strongly recommend to those who have not read the book and intend to do it to stop right here, since my review will be, inevitably, full of spoilers.
In Lector in Fabula, Eco observes that in a narrative the author and the reader are more than the transmitter and the receiver of a message and become, in the form of a Model Author and a Model Reader, textual strategies – that is, a set of conditions to be met in order to fully actualize a text. So, what set of conditions does our empirical author Agatha Christie (for I don’t think I can genuinely re-enact her as my Model Author since I don’t remember well my reactions and expectations during the first lecture, which was many years ago) requires from her Model Reader?
The first obvious one, announced by the title of the book itself, is to be a lover of mystery novels, of course. In other words, she relies on the encyclopaedic competence of such a reader, which would include different such scenarios, implying a crime, a suspect (or more) and a detective, following a standard and most appreciated scheme of the discovery of the criminal through a chain of deductions, scheme so successful, as Eco says, “that the most famous authors have founded their fortune on its very immutability”. And as expected, she delivers it all right: here we have four or five persons suspected, at one time or the other, of having murdered Roger Ackroyd, and here we have the famous detective Hercule Poirot, whom the Model Reader will joyfully greet like an old acquaintance, while promptly rising to the challenge of making his own suppositions and predictions, of finding the relevant foreshadowing and the hidden clues in order to outshine, at least this time, his favourite character.
Of course, these predictions, called by Eco “possible worlds” are made not only by the readers, but also by the characters: Caroline, the narrator’s sister, Poirot, police and many other characters with the noticeable exception of Dr. Sheppard, make various assumptions, building worlds that will collapse one by one because they invariably violate the rule of respecting what Eco calls “the S-necessary properties”: for example, the belief that Ackroyd was murdered at a certain time was based on Flora’s lie (which violated the S-necessary property of her not being with her uncle at 9:30). On the other hand, the reader not only makes his own assumptions regarding the events but also regarding the other characters’ assumptions, and the consistency of his own worlds will depend on the same rule.
However, the surprise element lies this time elsewhere: in introducing the unreliable narrator, a narrative trick that Agatha Christie confessed it was inspired by a remark of her brother (who jokingly wished to read a book in which Watson was the killer). By doing this, she broke the rather inflexible, although unwritten canon imposed by the whodunit genre, baffling her Model Reader, who, used to an objective, truthful narrative voice, had looked everywhere but there; maybe this is why she was bitterly accused of the mutilation of the genre in an essay written by Willard Huntington Wright in 1927: “The trick played on the reader in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is hardly a legitimate device of the detective-story writer; and while Poirot's work in this book is at times capable, the effect is nullified by the dénouement.” Reaction that Umberto Eco could label, with another phrase of his, “the hunger for redundancy”, since it seems the fans of the genre are more interested in following the gestures of the “topical” characters than in the suspense.
In all other respects, the text provides the reader with enough clues, and allusions, and foreshadowing phrases to suspect the truth, but which of course will reveal themselves obvious too late. One of them is ironically pointed out by the narrator himself, at the end of the story, when he stresses quite proudly, the subtlety of the sentence “I did what little had to be done” he had written in the first pages of his manuscript:
…when the body was discovered, and I sent Parker to telephone for the police, what a judicious use of words: 'I did what little had to be done!' It was quite little just to shove the Dictaphone into my bag and push back the chair against the wall in its proper place.
Others are his apparent irritation with the statement he has to give to the police concerning the state of drawer from which the dagger disappeared (“a long, tedious explanation which I would infinitely rather not have had to make”), the effort to convince Flora not to go to Poirot to ask him to investigate the murder (which the reader candidly interprets at the time as concern for his friend Ralph), his inner comment when his sister accuses him of stupidity (“I was not really being stupid. Caroline does not always understand what I am driving at”), the knocking down of the mah-jong pieces when he hears his sister’s statement that “Ralph is in Cranchester”, and so on.
As usual, Agatha Christie’s narrative is impeccable not only in the development of the fabula, but also in creating vivid portraits through the biased eyes of her narrator, effortlessly accomplishing a double characterization – of the portraitist and the portraitee:
I am sorry to say I detest Mrs Ackroyd. She is all chains and teeth and bones. A most unpleasant woman. She has small pale flinty blue eyes, and however gushing her words may be, those eyes others always remain coldly speculative.
This quality, together with the fine irony of the appearance-essence game regarding not only the characters but also the society and the events, and together with the coup de theatre of the manuscript intended to mock Poirot and converted into a confession, all these make of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd one of the most memorable books of the genre, although it remains, to finish with the same Eco’s terminology, a closed, not an open work. But, to joke a little, it is so open until it closes!
I will finish here, stressing once again that I only played with Eco’s concepts (whose names, by the way, I had to constantly verify because I haven’t read an English translation of his work yet) leaving aside the too “technical” phrases, for my purpose was not to do a semiotic analysis, only to find another way of interpretation of Agatha Christie. And this is the scarce result. ...more
Dopo aver letto la mia recensione de Il buio oltre la siepe (recensione in inglese che si trova qui per chi può interessare), una cara amica mia virtu Dopo aver letto la mia recensione de Il buio oltre la siepe (recensione in inglese che si trova qui per chi può interessare), una cara amica mia virtuale su Goodreads mi ha chiesto come mai gli avevo dato solo tre stelle. La mia risposta è stata che di solito do tre stelle ai libri che sembrano rivolgersi più al mio cuore e meno alla mia mente.
Ebbene, ho avuto la stessa impressione mentre stavo leggendo L’amica geniale di Elena Ferrante: cioè di aver sotto gli occhi un libro commovente, coinvolgente, gradevole – insomma che si merita tutto l’elenco di epiteti attribuite di solito ai buoni libri – eppure mirabile, durabile, sempiterno, come lo è la grande letteratura… proprio non lo so.
Il romanzo comincia con una prolessi che annuncia il cambiamento dei tempi narrativi: dopo una conversazione con il figlio della sua amica di cui ha appreso la sparizione di quest’ultima, l’io narrante dichiara maliziosamente che comincia a scrivere questi ricordi per punirla di aver voluto “non solo sparire lei, adesso, a sessantasei anni, ma anche cancellare tutta la vita che si era lasciata alle spalle.” Infatti, in un’intervista pubblicata nel Corriere della sera, l’autrice confessa che voleva da molto tempo scrivere una storia sull’impossibilità di sparire senza traccia, visto che c’è sempre un parente oppure un amico da fare “da testimone inflessibile di ogni piccolo o grande evento della vita” dell’altro.
Così comincia la storia di Elena Greco (la narratrice) e Raffaella Cerullo (la sua amica) o Lenù e Lila, in questo primo volume con la loro infanzia e poi adolescenza. Un’amicizia tumultuosa, dove si mescolano generosità e pettegolezzi, rivalità e complementarità, invidia e ammirazione e soprattutto un’impossibilità di vivere l’una senza l’altra, come è ovvio in questo brano dove Lenù, malgrado l’aver fatta, cioè aver continuato gli studi che Lila non ha potuto proseguire per mancanza di soldi, ha un complesso d’inferiorità davanti alla creatività e abilità della sua amica, che lavorava con entusiasmo a un modello di scarpe concepito da lei stessa:
Dovetti ammettere presto che ciò che facevo io, da sola, non riusciva a farmi battere il cuore, solo ciò che Lila sfiorava diventava importante. Ma se lei si allontanava, se la sua voce si allontanava dalle cose, le cose si macchiavano, si impolveravano. La scuola media, il latino, i professori, i libri, la lingua dei libri mi sembrarono definitivamente meno suggestivi della finitura di una scarpa, e questo mi depresse.
Effettivamente, non è mica male questa trovata narrativa che fa dalle scarpe un simbolo del destino di Lila, un leitmotiv che sottolinea la differenza fra sogno e realtà, fra talento e mediocrità, finalmente fra rione e mondo. Lila, rassegnata all’idea di non andare più alla scuola, vede nel calzolaio di suo padre una possibilità di sfuggire alla povertà e, insieme a suo fratello (ma senza l’accordo del padre), comincia a fare un paio di scarpe di lusso, in cui entrambi mettono i loro sogni di ricchezza e celebrità. Purtroppo, queste scarpe fatte e disfatte tantissime volte per raggiungere la perfezione non acquisiscono mai le valenze magiche di quelle di Dorothy, invece seguono la stessa sorte di Lila: prima disprezzate da un padre che ha paura di rinunciare alla sua condizione di semplice “scarparo” per un capriccio, un sogno a suo avviso irrealizzabile, poi odiate da un fratello che ci aveva messo troppe speranze, poi agognate da due giovani che pensano conquistare l’amore di Lila attraverso la loro acquisizione e finalmente regalate, l’ultimo tradimento, dall’uomo che Lila amava proprio nel giorno del loro matrimonio all’uomo che lei disprezzava di più.
In uno stile molto scorrevole (e questa scorrevolezza è stata notata e lodata anche dai critici più acerbi del libro) si fa la ricostituzione di un mondo pittoresco nella sua oscurità, il “rione”, una zona incerta ai confini di Napoli, una trappola della povertà e violenza, un buco nero che ingoia indiscriminatamente drammi e farce, stronzerie e genialità, bruttezza e bellezza. Qui si da in spettacolo la vedova Melina, litigando violentemente con la moglie del suo vicino di casa di cui si è innamorata sperdutamente. Qui è ucciso don Achille, una figura da far spavento ai piccoli e ai grandi ugualmente. Qui vive la maestra Olivieri che riesce a convincere i genitori di Lenù (ma non quelli di Lila, sfortunatamente) di lasciarla continuare a studiare. Qui si spara e si minaccia con la pistola e i padri si arrabbiano e buttano via, letteralmente, i loro bambini:
Avevamo dieci anni, a momenti ne avremmo fatti undici. Io stavo diventando sempre più piena, Lila restava piccola di statura, magrissima, era leggera e delicata. All’improvviso le grida cessarono e pochi attimi dopo la mia amica volò dalla finestra, passò sopra la mia testa e atterrò sull’asfalto alle mie spalle.
Infine, c’è una sorprendente forza evocatrice nelle descrizioni sia dei caratteri e dei paesaggi da mettere in dubbio l’opinione di Jacopo Cirillo, posta all’inizio della sua recensione un po’ cattiva ☺, quando dice che il romanzo “è una lettura perfetta per chi legge poco”. Effettivamente, i suoi ritratti, per esempio, sono sempre pieni di vita e colore, sia quando sono minuziosi, come questo di Lila da bambina precoce e selvaggia:
La sua prontezza mentale sapeva di sibilo, di guizzo, di morso letale. E non c’era niente nel suo aspetto che agisse da correttivo. Era arruffata, sporca, alle ginocchia e ai gomiti aveva sempre croste di ferite che non facevano mai in tempo a risanare. Gli occhi grandi e vivissimi sapevano diventare fessure dietro cui, prima di ogni risposta brillante, c’era uno sguardo che pareva non solo poco infantile, ma forse non umano. Ogni suo movimento comunicava che farle del male non serviva perché, comunque si fossero messe le cose, lei avrebbe trovato il modo di fartene di più.
…sia quando sono fulgoranti, rivelando un vero talento dell’autrice per lo sketch, come quest’immagine plastica da suggerire il passaggio di Lenù dall’infanzia all’adolescenza:
In quell’anno mi sembrò di dilatarmi come la pasta per le pizze. Diventai sempre più piena di petto, di cosce, di sedere.
In ogni caso, J. Cirillo sbaglia anche quando identifica l’io narrante con un narratore omnisciente (e non solo perché mettere insieme i due tipi di narratori è una contradizione in termini, ma anche perché c’è un solo punto di vista e non affatto obiettivo), ma devo dargli ragione quando afferma che le due amiche sono abbastanza sgradevoli nella loro continua caccia alla lode che in fin dei conti rivela solo il fatto che nessuna è all’altezza della relazione definita dal titolo – la genialità: “È per questo che Elena mi sta antipatica. Non perché è l’amica perfettina di Lila la ribelle, non perché ha successo e si fa mille problemi continuamente su tutto, non perché a volte sembra tirarsela mentre altre pare una disgraziata che si autosabota. Ed è per questo che Lila mi sta antipatica. Non perché è l’amica intelligente che non si applica e che se si applica si applica male, non perché è strana e non si capisce bene mai quello che ha in testa, non perché è esageratamente eccentrica e problematica in tutto quello che fa.”
Malgrado tutto questo, il romanzo mi è piaciuto e continuerò leggere i seguenti volumi benché si dica che sono meno riusciti del primo. Sia in italiano, se li trovo, voglio dire, perché per il momento non ho che il primo volume, regalato dalla mia amica Lavinia (insieme ai seguenti, ma in inglese), cui tengo ringraziarne con tutto il mio cuore, sia in inglese. Si vedrà. ...more
Que je me souviens bien de la première édition (une traduction en roumain) du roman Le pendule de Foucault qui m’est tombée entre les mains dans ma jeQue je me souviens bien de la première édition (une traduction en roumain) du roman Le pendule de Foucault qui m’est tombée entre les mains dans ma jeunesse, et de la forte impression que m’a laissé cette lecture ! il m’avait tellement fasciné que, comme une vraie émulation de ses personnages, j’ai lu, par après, tout ce que j’ai pu trouver sur les Templiers (incluant Les Rois maudits☺).
Vingt ans après, comme dirait Dumas, me voici de nouveau émerveillée devant ce chef-d’œuvre d’Umberto Eco, qui, je vous le dis, sonne aussi bien en français qu’en roumain. Il faudra absolument que ma prochaine relecture soit en italien, mais je me suis senti obligée de le lire cette fois en français, étant donné que la présente édition a été un des premiers livres achetés ici, au Canada, avec l’intention de me refaire la bibliothèque que j’avais dû laisser en Roumanie.
Comme tout œuvre postmoderniste, le roman offre tellement de possibilités de lecture, qu’il est difficile de trouver le mot juste pour le décrire : effectivement, il peut être lu comme une parodie du roman d’aventures (car les trois héros s’inventent eux-mêmes leur défi en construisant le Plan qui va les perdre), comme un bildungsroman (et une très intéressante analyse en fait Giuseppe Lovito dans son étude « Le voyage formatif de Casaubon dans le Pendule de Foucault d’Umberto Eco » ), comme une parodie du roman gothique (ayant comme thème la déconstruction de la théorie de la conspiration), comme une recueil ludique (et historique) des croyances ésotériques (Burgess, si je me rappelle bien, se plaignait du manque d’un glossaire de termes à l’appui du texte) et bien-sûr, et toujours (car il s’agit d’Eco) comme un métaroman. Plus que ça, si on considère (comme d’ailleurs il le faudrait) toutes ses clés de lectures (et bien d’autres) conjonctives et non disjonctives, on pourrait les hiérarchiser par niveaux afin de mieux contempler la beauté irréprochable de cette merveille postmoderniste.
La plus fascinante clé de lecture est bien-sûr la reconstitution ésotérique. Malheureusement elle est aussi la plus évidente, correspondant à un premier niveau de lecture qui fait surtout le délice d’un public comme celui de Dan Brown (à propos de Brown, on apprend de Wikipédia qu’Umberto Eco, après avoir lu un de ses romans, aurait déclaré que Dan Brown n’est qu’un de ces personnages sortis du Pendule…, grotesques dans leur obsession avec l’occultisme). Fascination entretenue malicieusement par l’auteur non seulement à l’aide des nombreux motifs et schèmes pris des romans sensationnels (comme le document chiffré, le manuscrit perdu, les disparitions mystérieuses, les réunions sécrètes et les processions des initiés, etc.) mais aussi à l’aide des motos et de la structure. Quand même une mise en garde du lecteur trop naïvement enthousiaste pourrait être considérée le premier moto du roman, qui demande l’effort d’être cherché sur le Web par ceux qui, (comme moi) ne connaissent pas l’hébreux, car il n’est pas traduit (oh, les longs passages en latin du Nom de la Rose, traduites non plus !), pour apprendre qu’il s’agit d’une citation de Etz Hayim, une collection d’enseignements du Rabbi Isaac Luria (la traduction de l’anglais que j’ai trouvé sur Wikipédia m’appartient) :
« Lorsque la Lumière de l’Éternel a été tracée sous la forme d'une ligne droite dans le vide... elle n'a pas été tracée et étendue immédiatement vers le bas, en effet elle s’est étendue lentement – c’est-à-dire, d'abord la Ligne de la Lumière a commencé à s’étendre et dès le début de son extension secrète, la Ligne a été dessinée et façonnée en une roue parfaitement circulaire. »
Est-elle importante, cette description de la forme de diffusion de la Lumière ? On verra.
En ce qui concerne la structure, le roman a dix parties, chacune avec un nom de sephirot. Alexandrian, dans son Histoire de la philosophie occulte, expose la théorie des Sephirots, qui a été conçue non par les Templiers, mais par la Kabbale. Les Sephirots seraient les dix émanations divines de Dieu vers l’Homme : Kétér (la Couronne – la sefira primordiale, qui entoure tout), Hokhma et Bina (la Sagesse et l’Intelligence contenues dans le Kétér et qui sont les parents des six autres Sephirots) : Héséd (la Compassion ou la Grandeur), Gébura (la Justice), Tif’érét (la Beauté), Netsah (laVictoire ou l’Éternité), Hod (la Gloire), Yesod (la Fondation) et Malkhut (le Royaume). Le dix forment l’arbre cosmique auquel on fait souvent allusion dans le roman. Bien qu’Alexandrian trouve peu de relations entre les templiers (et les rosicruciens) et les kabbalistes, Eco en fait une confusion voulue, car qu’y a-t-il de plus fascinant pour un écrivain doublé par un critique que l’obsession de trouver le mot derrière le mot, derrière le mot ?
En effet, la vrai aventure du roman (et la clé de lecture la plus cachée) pourrait être considérée celle-ci – la recherche de ce mot capable à interpréter la création de façon unitaire, c’est-à-dire de trouver à l’Auteur Modèle (ci-nommé « les sardoniques ») son Lecteur Modèle (ci-nommé « les diaboliques ») et vice-versa :
Mais non, nous – les sardoniques – nous voulions jouer à cache-cache avec les diaboliques, leur montrant que, si complot cosmique il devait y avoir, nous savions, nous, en inventer un, que plus cosmique que ça vous pouvez toujours courir.
Pourtant la Création, une fois échappée dans ce bas monde, oublie son Créateur et souvent le trahit, en le sacrifiant sur l’autel du goût (parfois tellement douteux) du public. Ainsi Belbo devient-il le Pendule, et l’oscillation circulaire de son corps, rappelant ce dessin de la Lumière dont parle le premier moto, s’arrête pour devenir le point fixe qui indique le lieu de la révélation artistique, lieu élusif, qui se trouve toujours ailleurs que là où l’on regarde :
Belbo pendu au Pendule, dis-je, aurait dessiné dans le vide l’arbre des sefirot, résumant dans son moment suprême l’histoire même de tous les univers, fixant dans son errance aérienne les dix étapes du souffle exsangue et de la déjection du divin dans le monde. Puis, tandis que l’oscillateur continuait à encourager cette funèbre balançoire, par une atroce combinaison de forces, une migration d’énergies, le corps de Belbo était devenu immobile… Ainsi Belbo, réchappé de l’erreur du monde et de ses mouvements, était devenu lui maintenant le point de suspension, le Pivot Fixe, le Lieu où se soutient la voûte du monde, et sous ses pieds seulement oscillaient le fil et la sphère, de l’un à l’autre pôle, sans repos, avec la terre qui s’échappait sous eux, montrant toujours un continent nouveau – et la sphère ne savait pas indiquer, et jamais ne le saurait, où se trouvait l’Ombilic du Monde.
La condition tragique de l’artiste, dont son propre œuvre se retourne contre lui, semble être la vraie fable du roman. Autour d’elle se ramassent d’autres éléments remarquables et inoubliables, tels les dialogues transtextuelles, les allusions livresques, les ironies, les parodies, les jeux intellectuels etc., qui font le délice de ce texte complexe.
D’abord, il y a la comédie des noms : par exemple, le nom du narrateur, Casaubon, renvoie non seulement à Edward Casaubon, le révérend pédant obsédé avec la recherche scolastique de Middlemarch, mais aussi à Isaac Casaubon, un érudite humaniste du XVIIe siècle, tout comme Foucault ne se réfère pas seulement à l’inventeur du célèbre pendule mais aussi au philosophe Michel Foucault, bien qu’Eco, dans une subtile blague littéraire tienne à souligner que son ami Michel n’a rien à faire avec son roman.
Puis, il y a de nombreuses références ludiques. Par exemple, en commentant la longueur des titres des livres au XVIIe siècle, un personnage remarque ironiquement qu’ils étaient écrits par Lina Wermüller (scénariste et réalisatrice de cinéma italienne qui avait fait, entre autres : Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero 'stamattina alle 10 in via dei Fiori nella nota casa di tolleranza... ; Fatto di sangue fra due uomini per causa di una vedova - si sospettano moventi politici ; Notte d'estate con profilo greco, occhi a mandorla e odore di basilico etc.). Autre fois, Casaubon, s’auto intitulant détective du savoir, s’imagine que quelqu’un lui demande des informations sur « un certain – ou des – Motocallemin. ». Je dois reconnaître que j’ai suspecté que le mot était inventé, mais en recherchant le Web, bien que la plupart des résultats renvoient vers le roman de Eco, j’ai trouvé quand même une référence dans La visione laica del mondo, de Paul Citeur, où il est dit que le mot « motecallemîn » aurait désigné une secte qui croyait que tout ce qui est bon et juste est la volonté de Dieu.
Dans le même appétit pour le ludique s’inscrit la décision des trois héros de fonder la « Faculté de l’Insignifiance Comparée, où on peut étudier des matières inutiles ou impossibles », qui aurait, entre autres, une section intitulée « Tétrapiloctomie (…) l’art de couper un cheveu en quatre ». Et la classification de l’humanité en quatre types représentatifs : le crétin (qui croit, par exemple, que le chat aboie), l’imbécile (qui parlent de chat quand les autres parlent du chien), le stupide (qui raisonne mal, par exemple en pensant que si les chiens aboient et sont des animaux domestiques les chat, toujours des animaux domestiques, aboient aussi) et le fou (qui s’en fout de tout raisonnement – si son idée fixe est que le chat aboie, tout argument sert à appuyer cette conviction). La plus grande partie de l’humanité s’inscrirait dans la troisième catégorie :
Toute l’histoire de la logique consiste à définir une notion acceptable de stupidité. Trop immense. Tout grand penseur est le stupide d’un autre.
Enfin, et la cerise sur le gâteau (pour moi, au moins), a été de jouer à ce jeu d’association d’idées qui te permet, par exemple, d’arriver de saucisse à Platon en cinq passages. C’est comme ça que j’ai enrichi mon vocabulaire, en apprenant que soie désigne non seulement ce truc fabriqué par les vers de soie, mais aussi les poils longs du cochon.
Qui sait ce que je vais apprendre à la prochaine lecture ? Comme la plupart des lecteurs, j’ai traduit le monde du roman selon mon propre monde et comme un vrai diabolique j’ai forcé mon Auteur modèle de dire ce que moi je veux qu’il dise. Mais en m’assumant ce rôle de Procuste, se peut-il que je redevienne à mon tour, pour que le cercle se ferme fermement, son Lecteur Modèle ?
J’étais en train de me demander qui nous sommes, nous. Nous qui croyons Hamlet plus vrai que notre concierge. Ai-je le droit de les juger, eux, moi qui rôde à la recherche de madame Bovary pour lui faire une scène ?
A gossipy reading, with no bibliography to back it up and full of insightful comments like “many believe” or “it seems likely”, or “could it have beenA gossipy reading, with no bibliography to back it up and full of insightful comments like “many believe” or “it seems likely”, or “could it have been…?” etc. Many “mysteries” gathered in the book are well-known and inhabit the gray zone between unexplained phenomena and urban folklore (the flag Neil Armstrong planted on the moon, the cursed objects like James Dean’s car, the little gray extraterrestrial beings, the famous abducted couple Betty and Barney Hill, and the pyramids, of course, the pyramids).
I wanted to give it one star, but in the end I gave it two, because, although I had to verify them, I found some amusing and/ or interesting information, which I’ll generously (☺ ) share with you.
First of all, did you know that there is a Dogon tribe, in Mali, West Africa, who is well informed about the Sirius binary star system (even though the fact that its two stars, Sirius A and B orbit each other in a fifty-year cycle makes only one of them visible in the sky) and think that life originated from them brought to Earth by the Nommo, beings with a fishlike appearance who arrived in a sort of spaceship and released huge amounts of water in order to survive?
Secondly, where do you think the name Alcatraz comes from? I’ll tell you, it comes from the droppings of the pelicans that led the local tribes to call the island the “White Rock”. Then it was renamed La Isla de los Alcatraces (The Island of Pelicans) by The Spanish conquerors.
Then if you think Inquisition Laws died with Inquisition, think again. It was in 1944, in the UK of all places, where a medium named Helen Duncan was charged with witchcraft and imprisoned under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. At least she wasn’t burned at the stake!
Another medium or wizard or oracle or whatever was Rasputin (Rasputin is his surname, and means debauched, by the way) who, after having had a vision of the Holy Mother telling him to help the young Tsarevich Alexis, cured him of hemophilia. In spite of his colourful, eventful and mysterious biography, it was his surname translation I found most interesting and amusing.
It was also fun to read that the first Siamese brothers, Chang and Eng (obviously born in Siam), lived more than 60 years, both married and had 21 children between them. No Siamese offspring, though.
Finally some bizarre medical condition that reminded me once again that fairy tales are inspired from reality even in the creation of their apparently most absurd creatures, such as the two headed beings, since nature offered them craniopagus parasiticus – a condition of having two heads (if you are curious to know more Wiki can help you).
Even Jack-in-the-box seems inspired by the Jumping Frenchman of Maine syndrome (which came to my attention because it was firstly diagnosed on fellow Canadians ☺) – an exaggerated reflex reaction to the smallest of shocks.
As Looney Tunes used to say, that’s all folks. I don’t recommend you to buy the book, but if you already have it, it will prove useful enough to kill the hours of a long journey by train or plane. ...more
I will try not to be emotional and write an “objective” review, even though Hermann Hesse’s Demian moved me beyond words and explanations. Maybe becau I will try not to be emotional and write an “objective” review, even though Hermann Hesse’s Demian moved me beyond words and explanations. Maybe because its serene tone and unaggressive intellectualism have a mesmerizing quality, or maybe because, just like Siddhartha some years later, it does not try to challenge or convince you. Or maybe because of the open-minded way in which it sees the world, it tells its story, it reveals its truth. And last but not least maybe because of the beautiful image of a perfect friendship the book leaves us with.
It has been said that Demian is an indispensable reading in order to begin to understand Herman Hesse’s prose, and I can see why. Like the above-mentioned Siddhartha, it follows the same route towards the inner self. But while Siddhartha chooses the path of the Buddhist serenity and separation from the world, Demian searches the path towards the world as a whole in which the contraries, even though they can’t be harmonized, neither can be separated.
This tiny, tiny book, which manages to be at the same time a psychological novel, a bildungsroman and a novel of idea (and brilliantly so) was published under the pseudonym Emil Sinclair, the name of a friend of Novalis, whom the author much admired; the pseudonym was necessary, for Hermann Hesse’s work had been rejected in Germany after he exiled himself in Switzerland and decided to write against the War. His decision had not been an easy one and the torment between the love for his country and the feeling he somehow betrayed it had consequences not only on his life but (fortunately!) also on his creation, sweeping his old system of values to make place for a new one, influenced both by Jung’s psychology and Nietzsche’s philosophy. Demian, written in 1917 and published in 1919, contains in nuce all the concepts that will haunt Hesse’s future works – such as “daemon”, “unconscious”, “anima”, “archetype”, “om”, “androgyne”, concepts one needs to be familiar with to fully understand his “magical thinking” that combines here ideas from both The Interpretation of Dreams and Beyond Good and Evil.
In fact, the author himself confessed that the name of the novel (which softly reminds of “daemon”) came to him in a dream, and the German philosophe’s influence upon his characters’ thinking is explicitly stated. On the other hand, Emil Sinclair is also the name of the narrator of the story, an older narrator who recalls his journey to his inner self from childhood (the book begins with the image of a disturbed child) to maturity (it ends with the image of a wounded young soldier). From the "Prologue", Sinclair warns us that his story cannot be beautiful since it is true, and cannot be involved with all humanity since “each person is able to interpret himself to himself alone.” Nor is it easy or comfortable, since “nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to follow the path that leads to himself.”
His journey began when he was about ten and discovered for the first time the existence of two worlds – his home, a world of light, peaceful, Christian and safe, governed by moral principles, and the street, a world of darkness, vigorous, intriguing and frightful – and he couldn’t find a reason for their separation. It was the fascination with the second world that made him befriend a boy of bad repute, Franz Kromer and in order to be accepted by him he invented the story of a theft in which he had had the starring role. Kromer, although not really believing him, took full advantage of this lie and made him his personal servant, forcing him to steal and lie for him. This first acquaintance with the evil increased the gap between the narrator and his family, a gap never to be filled again by a boy who feels without being able to explain (yet) that the world is larger than the one his parents were trying to teach him to live in.
In this period of inner and outer torment an enigmatic boy appears to his school, Max Demian, seven years older and seeming even older, with a quiet dignity that discouraged friendship from the other boys even though he fascinates them.
I saw Demian’s face and remarked that it was not a boy’s face but a man’s and then I saw, or rather became aware, that it was not really the face of a man either; it had something different about it, almost a feminine element. And for the time being, his face seemed neither masculine nor childish, neither old nor young but a hundred years old, almost timeless and bearing the mark of other periods of history than our own. Animals might look thus, trees or stars. (…) All I saw was that he was different from the rest of us, that he was like an animal, a spirit or an image.
Demian, with its idol-like stillness and ageless quality and androgyne appearance is not a character but a symbol, a reference point in the narrator’s life, an archetypal hero with a thousand faces who takes by turn the role of the guardian angel who frees the narrator of Kromer, of the brother into Cain who stands tall and clear in a confused world, of the mentor who teaches him the values beyond good and evil, and of the friend who never leaves him behind. Demian is also the embodiment of Nietzsche’s superman, who lives by his own values separated from the conventional ethics, whose sharp vision embraces at the same time the shadow and the light, the weakness and the strength, the happiness and the suffering, without trying to harmonize or divide them, but accepting them in equal measure. He has only one but powerful weapon: the will-power that enables him to stay on his own path and show it to those with the same “sign”, the Cain sign. For Cain, Demian says, was not important in the story because of the fratricide, but because of the mark on his face that singularized him. In fact it was that sign that created the story of the fratricide and not the other way around:
“What happened and lay behind the whole origin of the story was the ‘sign’. Here was a man who had something in his face that frightened other people. They did not dare lay hands on him; he impressed them, he and his children. It is virtually certain that he bore no actual mark on his brow like a post mark! real life isn’t as crude as that. Rather there was some hardly perceptible mark, a little more intelligence and self-possession in his eyes than people were accustomed to. This man had power and they all went in awe of him; he had a ‘sign’. You can explain that how you will. People always want whatever is comfortable and puts them in the right.”
Like Siddhartha, Emil Sinclair acquires the Right View of the world through the dark mirror of the illusions the life blinds us with. His Nirvana is the God Abraxas, and he becomes, if he has not been all along, Demian:
The dressing was a painful business. So was everything else that happened to me afterwards. but when on the many such occasions I find the key and look deep down into myself where the images of destiny lie slumbering in the dark mirror, I only need to bend my head over the black mirror to see my own image which now wholly resembles him, my friend and leader.
And this final, superposed image, emerging strong, proud and clear from the abyss, is one of the most powerful, significant symbols of flesh made spirit, and of humanity redeemed by love I have ever read. ...more
Are Umberto Eco ăsta un talent nemaipomenit de a te lăsa cu obsesii incurabile după ce îi citeşti cîte o carte, fie ea roman sau studiu ştiintific. AşAre Umberto Eco ăsta un talent nemaipomenit de a te lăsa cu obsesii incurabile după ce îi citeşti cîte o carte, fie ea roman sau studiu ştiintific. Aşa m-am procopsit cu obiceiul de a verifica „cancrizabilitatea” fiecărui aforism peste care am dat din momentul în care am terminat Sulla letteratura (am adaptat fonetic termenul, fiindcă nu ştiu dacă s-a găsit vreun traducător suficient de iscusit încît să-i dea un echivalent în limba română, dat fiind că nici în italiană termenul „cancrizzabile” nu exista pînă la Eco, care l-a inventat pornind de la „cancer” adică rac, pentru a denumi acele aforisme care se pot „răsturma” pentru exprima şi adevărul contrar – ca acest aforism al lui Karl Kraus – în traducere proprie foarte aproximativă şi neiscusită: „Nimic nu e mai insondabil decît superficialitatea femeii” care se poate „cancriza” în „Nimic nu e mai superficial decît insondabilitatea femeii”). Sau să mă gîndesc inevitabil, ori de cîte ori mă aflu în faţa unei stupizenii cu pretenţie de adevăr profund pe care mi-o vinde mai ales mass media (dar de care nici unele cunoştinţe ale mele, ale tale, ale lor, nu-s străine), fie la „dinamica căcatului” aşa cum e ea descrisă în Comment voyager avec un saumon (dinamică al cărei simbol este supozitorul, cu traseul lui forţat din afară înăuntru – deci din lumea aparenţei în cea a interiorităţii ☺), fie la „Facultatea studiilor comparate de bătut apa-n piuă” din Le pendule de Foucault. Să mai zic că tot el el e vinovat de faptul că de cîte ori aud cuvîntul ornitorinc îl asociez cu Kant, cu tipuri cognitive şi cu conţinuturi molare sau nucleare?
Ei bine, Lector in fabula mi-a lărgit obsesiile cu noi concepte ca izotopie narativă, competenţă enciclopedică, proprietăţi S-necesare şi altele, numai bune de verificat, de-acum înainte, cînd sînt în stare să mă ridic la nivelul Cititorului Model şi cînd, din punctul de vedere al autorului, evident, o iau pe arătură ☺.
Publicat în 1979, eseul este, aşa cum mărturiseşte chiar autorul în Introducere, atît o sinteză a mai multor studii despre cooperarea interpretativă scrise între 1976 si 1978, cît şi rezultatul descoperirii unui text de Alphonse Allais, Un drame bien parisien, în care Eco a văzut un exemplu perfect de concretizare a acestor acte de cooperare „care, după cum a arătat ulterior Barthes, nasc şi plăcerea şi — în cazuri privilegiate — desfătarea textului.”
Recenzia mea e prea lunga ca s-o pot publica integral aici. Puteti citi restul pe blogul meu, aici.