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No Mere Extrapolation
"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a work of science fiction published by Ursula Le Guin in 1969.
At the time, it sought to differenti...more No Mere Extrapolation
"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a work of science fiction published by Ursula Le Guin in 1969.
At the time, it sought to differentiate itself from most other science fiction in two ways.
Firstly, as Le Guin explains in a subsequent introduction, it didn’t just take a current phenomenon and extrapolate it scientifically into the future in some predictive or cautionary fashion.
Secondly, it explored the nature of sexuality as a subject matter from a sophisticated, feminist point of view.
She goes beyond semiotics, the linguistic significance of gender, and ventures into the philosophy, psychology and aesthetics of gender representation.
From a psychological perspective, she examines the symbolic role of gender. From an aesthetic perspective, she uses it as a metaphor.
From all points of view, she is interested in gender as the arena of power and its abuse.
Just My Imagination
Le Guin's dual ambitions were supportive of each other.
In order to explore the possibilities of "ambisexuality", she had to construct a whole new sexual, social and political world that was materially different from the known world.
To do so, she had to eschew the simplistic and rationalistic approach of traditional science fiction, and invent a new, alternative society (in fact, more than one), that could throw our own society into sharp relief. The novel had to be a fully-fledged work of the imagination rather than a work of methodical extrapolation.
The imaginative qualities are what makes "The Left Hand of Darkness" a great work of literature, regardless of genre.
Read now, almost half a century later, the novel still achieves its goals in style. The prose is economical rather than effusive, often lyrical, but sometimes dry, especially in some of the more descriptive passages. Overall, Le Guin is a master of the craft of elegant, if understated, writing.
The inhabitants of the planet Gethen are "double-sexed" human beings (possibly the descendants of an experiment conducted by Terran (Earth-based) colonizers).
What does this mean? [This is a purely technical explanation which is revealed fairly early in the novel.]
(view spoiler)[During the course of a 26-day sexual cycle, their sexuality changes: for around 21 days, they are "somer", sexuality is latent and inactive; for the balance, they enter "kemmer", during which they remain androgynous for all but a few days, when they acquire both sexual capacity and drive. Nobody knows whether they will acquire the sexuality of a male or a female. They could be either, month by month. A human could be both the mother of one child and the father of another.
Because sexual activity is confined to a limited period, the bulk of their life is sexually indeterminate and inactive. (hide spoiler)]
So it’s not appropriate or relevant to refer to Gethenians as "he" or "she". This is not just significant from a semiotic point of view. As a direct result, the chauvinism of Terra (Earth) is unknown.
The Style of Its Telling
There are two chief protagonists: Genly Ai, a "Mobile" or Diplomatic Envoy assigned to negotiate a Treaty whereby the Gethenian state of Karhide joins a multi-world federation called Ekumen; and Estraven, the Prime Minister of Karhide.
Negotiations do not go smoothly, and the ordeal turns into an 81 day journey across the freezing glacial environment of an inhospitable planet.
The plot, such as it is, is functional. It is largely a vehicle to allow the differences in sexual, social and political characteristics to be showcased.
Most of it is portrayed in alternating journal entries by Estraven or sections from Ai’s official report:
"I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.
"The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust.
"Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
"The story is not all mine, nor told by me alone. Indeed I am not sure whose story it is; you can judge better. But it is all one, and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them are false, and it is all one story."
Even in these concise introductory sentences, Le Guin neatly summarises her approach. She is concerned with facts, the truth, imagination, story-telling, the collaboration of different voices that might or might not form a harmonious composite.
The Gethenians are not socially aggressive or even, it seems, acquisitive, in a personal or collective manner. Technological progress is incremental and measured. They don’t know war. They have eliminated the masculinity behind the rapist and the femininity behind the rape victim, resulting in the elimination of rape and sexual abuse.
This leaves them as a people free to concentrate on their one shared enemy, the environment, the cold, the Winter, the Ice.
Subject to the perils of the climate, their religion (Handdara) allows them to concentrate on an intensified trance-like experience of the present, what they call the Presence, which involves a loss of self through "extreme sensual receptiveness and awareness".
Pleasure derives from sensitivity rather than subjection or submission.
What is missing, absent two genders, is the subjugation of one by the other.
As a whole, the Gethenians are competitive, though more in pursuit of "shifgrethor", their measure of personal esteem, pride, status, prestige, honour, integrity, "face".
The word derives from the old word for "shadow". Each person must "cast their own shadow".
A shadow requires both light and dark to exist. Even though they avoid the dualism of gender, their whole or "holism" is still dualistic.
This dualism is in fact the source of the novel’s title:
"Light is the left hand of darkness
And darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
Together like lovers in kemmer,
Like hands joined together,
Like the end and the way."
Ai recognises the resemblance to Zen Buddhism, and shows Estraven a familiar symbol:
"It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness… how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, [Estraven]. Both and one. A shadow on snow."
This dualistic holism summarises the paradox at the heart of their ambisexuality: they are "both and one".
I and Thou
There is another way in which dualism manifests itself. Gethenians can still pair off, in love and by vow:
"Ai brooded, and after some time he said, 'You're isolated, and undivided. Perhaps you are as obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism.'
" 'We are dualists too. Duality is an essential, isn't it? So long as there is myself and the other.' "
Later, the personal becomes political, and the political becomes personal. Ai applies the language of loneliness to his own mission as a lone Envoy trying to persuade Karhide to join Ekumen:
"I came alone, so obviously alone, so vulnerable, that I could in myself pose no threat, change no balance: not an invasion, but a mere messenger-boy.
"But there's more to it than that. Alone, I cannot change your world. But I can be changed by it.
"Alone, I must listen, as well as speak. Alone, the relationship I finally make, if I make one, is not impersonal and not only political: it is individual, it is personal, it is both more and less than political.
"Not We and They; not I and It; but I and Thou. Not political, not pragmatic, but mystical.
"In a certain sense the Ekumen is not a body politic, but a body mystic. It considers beginnings to be extremely important. Beginnings, and means. Its doctrine is just the reverse of the doctrine that the end justifies the means."
As posited by Martin Buber, meaningfulness derives from our relationships.
And a successful relationship, a diplomatic one just as much as a personal one, must have the right beginning.
Into the Mystic
One aspect in which the Terrans are more advanced than the Gethenians is their capacity for "mindspeech", a form of telepathy.
Its origins are not explained. However, if you wish to hold together and govern a federation of 83 planets, you must be able to protect yourself against lying and dishonesty:
" 'Mindspeech is communication, voluntarily sent and received.'
" 'Then why not speak aloud?'
" 'Well, one can lie, speaking.'
" 'Not mindspeaking?'
" 'Not intentionally.' "
At a personal level, then, just as much as a political level, mindspeech represents the ability of two to communicate sincerely, of two to become one, of the ability of I and Thou to bond, of I and Thou to become We, of We to become something not just political, not just pragmatic, but something mystical.
In this sense, Le Guin’s great achievement is to demonstrate that the conquest of gender difference holds within it the potential to transcend the material, to escape abuse, to leave behind the darkness and to embrace the light.(less)
Notes are private!
May 05, 2013
May 09, 2013
Apr 05, 2013
Jan 04, 1999
Jun 21, 1999
Finally, An Indubitable Proposition
People are debating, when they should be dating.
Notes are private!
Mar 18, 2013
Mar 18, 2013
Mar 18, 2013
Jan 25, 2005
A Note about the Translation
I wanted to support the translation of this volume by James Grieve, a lecturer at my alma mater, Australian National Unive...more A Note about the Translation
I wanted to support the translation of this volume by James Grieve, a lecturer at my alma mater, Australian National University, when I was there in the 70’s.
I’m pretty sure he taught two of my close friends. While I can’t recall meeting him, I did socialise with one of his colleagues, Robert Dessaix, who subsequently became a talented writer.
It was a very capable French Department. However, in the 90’s, it was decimated by budget cuts and Grieve was made "redundant". He subsequently undertook a full teaching load for no remuneration, declining an opportunity to move to Sydney, so he could continue to cycle everywhere around Canberra and continue his commitment to the cause of French language and literature. ANU hasn’t even updated his CV to give him credit for this translation (which for what it’s worth was the favourite of Alain de Botton).
I approached Grieve’s translation a little sceptically at first. I still have a few quibbles (he translated "petite bande" as a "little gang" of girls, which you might do for punks, but I wonder about middle class girls, even if they were perceived as unruly). However, I quickly stopped paying attention to the translation and focussed on the pleasures of the text.
A Note about the Title
The novel continues and extends Proust’s literary analysis of love, focussing mainly on the narrator’s journey through late adolescence and his early sexual experiences (at ages 15 to 20, unless I’m mistaken).
The title of the Grieve translation is "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower", in contrast to the Kilmartin translation "Within a Budding Grove".
Taken separately, it’s difficult to determine the intended meaning of each alternative title.
To what extent is sexuality implicit in the title?
This question reminded me of the title of Chapter 28 of Thomas Hardy’s "Far from the Madding Crowd", a highly sexually-charged chapter that goes by the name "The Hollow Amid the Ferns".
"Within a Budding Grove" might simply refer to a forest of trees, which bud in winter in preparation for spring, a fairly innocuous translation, if still a metaphor.
There is also an English song which might have been known to the translators:
"Yet soon the lovely days of Spring
Will leaf the budding grove."
The budding could also be symbolic of the adolescent experience and puberty of both genders, since females are not mentioned in this version.
On the other hand, given the literal meaning of the French title, the "budding grove" might be a more pointed reference to female puberty, a "rosebud" being slang for female genitalia (see also its significance in "Citizen Kane").
Grieve’s translation is more literal. The young women are in flower (or in bloom), a metaphor for puberty. Perhaps the shadow refers to the darkness of the girls’ transition to adulthood or the fact that they tower metaphorically over the narrator and cast a shadow over his life and social and sexual experiences?
What, There’s More?
After the tour de force that was the first volume, it still amazes me that Proust was able to continue writing about love with such insight, sophistication and wit (and there are more volumes to come).
He keeps finding new things to say, all of which seem to be definitive in their analysis.
Proust possessed amazing powers of observation. In the first volume they were directed partly at his own childhood relationship with his mother, but mainly at the relationship of Charles Swann and Odette de Crecey.
The second volume continues the scrutiny of Swann and the now Madame Swann, but the narrator moves to centre stage.
He is an older and greater participant in the action. However, even this statement has to be qualified in the case of Proust.
The great bulk of the text is what occurs in the narrator’s mind, as he responds to events and stimuli around him. He is still an acute observer. He doesn’t just look and think, he reviews, he criticizes, he critiques, as if every aspect of life is a literary or aesthetic experience.
At times, it approaches the lyrical and the musical, as if Proust were composing a symphony or an opera assembled from his responses and interactions.
The sensation of touch is not enough. He must cerebrally process the sensation and convert it into art. An animal can touch and feel, only a human can create Art. Proust worked at the pinnacle of what a human can fashion from their life experience.
Catherine Deneuve as Madame Odette Swann in the film of "Time Regained"
At Madame Swann’s
It quickly becomes apparent that Odette de Crecey from Volume 1 has married Charles Swann and had a daughter Gilberte, who is a similar age to the unnamed Marcel and is aged from 15 to 18 during the first section of the volume.
Odette divided opinion in volume 1, because she was a high class courtesan. Her marriage to Swann surprised Paris’ polite society and there are still many who scorn her. However, despite all expectations, it seems that their marriage has been a success, at least to the extent that it has been mutually advantageous, which after all is possibly the least we can expect of any marriage.
There are unresolved implications of dual infidelity, but they are back story and not the focus of this volume.
Swann has lifted Odette into High Society, and she is grateful. Odette has given Swann a daughter, who loves him, despite being equally strong-willed, but just as importantly Odette confers on Swann a "purely private satisfaction" that cements their relationship.
The status of the Swann family, despite Swann’s Jewish background, allows Odette to establish a successful literary salon, but also to redesign herself.
Her complexion is dark. In volume 1, her beauty was always played down. Now, "she seemed to have grown so many years younger, she had filled out, enjoyed better health, looked calmer, cooler, more relaxed". Her new pattern was "full of majesty and charm". She wore "this immutable model of eternal youth". At the same time, whatever she wore:
"...encompassed her like the delicate and etherealized epitome of a civilization."
These qualities are, apparently, attractive in a woman.
While Marcel purports to be in love with Gilberte, he is at least partly in love with Odette as well. Alternatively, he actually wants to be Odette, if only so that he can partner Swann, whom he admires. [This is not a simple relationship.]
Picasso’s "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"
See Jim Everett's allusion to this painting here on Proust Reader
Two years later, presumably when Marcel is about 18 to 20, his health requires him to spend a few seasons at the beach resort town of Balbec.
He uses this time to forget his love for Gilberte. Instead, his attention is drawn to a "petite bande" of "jeunes filles en fleurs".
This provides the set up for much contemplation on the subject matter of volume 1, memory and the nature of love, as well as the complications introduced by adolescent sexuality.
It’s these issues I’d like to focus on for the rest of this review. I hope you’ll forgive me if I resort to the abstract or the impersonal, so as not necessarily to reveal the object of Marcel’s affection and spoil your reading of the novel.
A Critique of Pure Devotion
In volume 1, we learn much about the nature of love from the point of view of Swann, as narrated by Marcel. Presumably, the narrative was dictated at a later phase of his life. Here, we see him undergoing his own adolescent experiences, even if they were narrated subsequently.
We learn what the older Marcel knows, only not in chronological order. Proust adheres to a subjective order of revelation, which in a way reflects the fact that memory itself is not chronological. It prioritises itself according to laws that we might never know or understand.
From now on, I'd like to allow Proust's words to speak for themselves as much as possible.
The Subjectivity of Love
The Object of Our Affection is what we make of them:
"Love creates a supplementary person who is quite different from the one who bears our beloved’s name in the outside world and is mostly formed from elements within ourselves."
"Love having become so immense, we never reflect on how small a part the woman herself plays in it."
You love me, because I made you love me:
"This real Albertine was little more than an outline: everything else that had been added to her was of my own making, for our own contribution to our love – even if judged solely from the point of view of quantity – is greater than that of the person we love."
You’ll be my mirror:
"When we are in love, our love is too vast to be wholly contained within ourselves; it radiates outward, reaches the resistant surface of the loved one, which reflects it back to its starting point; and this return of our own tenderness is what we see as the other’s feelings, working their new, enhanced charm on us, because we do not recognise them as having originating in ourselves.”
The Conjunction of Love and Pain
"Whatever I longed for would be mine only at the end of a painful pursuit...this supreme goal could be achieved only on condition that I sacrifice to it the pleasure I had hoped to find in it."
The Quest for Beauty as a Source of Love and Life
"I was at one of those times of youth when the idle heart, unoccupied by love for a particular person, lies in wait for Beauty, seeking it everywhere, as the man in love sees and desires in all things the woman he cherishes."
"Looking at her, I was filled with that renewed longing for life which any fresh glimpse of beauty and happiness can bring."
The Desire to Please, to Possess and to Penetrate
In order to gain love, you must make the acquaintance of the one you desire and then seek their approval:
"I was not yet old enough, and had remained too sensitive, to have given up the wish to please others and to possess them."
First, you have to enter their field of vision and engage them in conversation:
"It was not only her body I was after, it was the person living inside it, with whom there can be only one mode of touching, which is to attract her attention, and one mode of penetration, which is to put an idea into her mind."
Sometimes, a kiss is not enough. You must incite admiration, desire and memory:
"Just as it would not have been enough for me, in kissing her, to take pleasure from her lips without giving her any in return, so I wished that the idea of me, in entering her, in becoming part of her, might attract not only her attention, but her admiration, her desire, and might force it to keep a memory of me against the day when I might be able to benefit from it."
The Relevance of Physical Intimacy
"I had thought the love I felt for Albertine did not depend on any hope of physical intimacy."
The Unattainability of the Love Object
"Love, mobile and pre-existing, focuses on the image of a certain woman simply because she will be almost certainly unattainable."
Sometimes, it’s not impossible, just difficult:
"I was inclined to magnify the simplest of pleasures because of the obstacles that lay between me and the possibility of enjoying them."
The Attainability of the Love Object
The more easily attainable the love, the less the pleasure:
"The main reason for the shrinking of the pleasure to which I had been so looking forward was the knowledge that nothing could now prevent me from enjoying it."
The Possession of the Love Object
"Our love too seems to have vanished at the very moment when we come into possession of a prize the value of which we have never really thought about."
The Postponement of Gratification
"It is seldom that a joy is promptly paired with the desire that longed for it."
The more you dally, the greater the dalliance:
"What monotony and boredom color the lives of those who drive directly…without ever daring to dally along the way with what they desire!"
But don’t dally too long:
"It is not certain that the happiness that comes too late, at a time when one can no longer enjoy it, when one is no longer in love, is exactly the same happiness for which we once pined in vain. There is only one person – our former self – who could decide the issue; and that self is no longer with us."
Be wary of sabotage and self-denial:
"The only thing I cared for, my relationship with Gilberte, was the very thing I was trying to sabotage, through my prolonging of our separation, through my gradual fostering not of her indifference toward me, but – which would come to the same thing in the end – of mine toward her. My unremitting effort was directed to bringing about the slow, agonizing suicide of the self that loved Gilberte."
Self-denial should not be conditional, lest the conditions not be met:
"...unless she made an unambiguous request for us to clarify our relationship, accompanied by a full declaration of her love for me, both of which I knew were impossible..."
The Satisfaction of One Desire Creates Another
"To possess a little more of her would only increase our need for the part of her that we do not possess; and in any case, within our part, since our needs arise out of our satisfactions, something of her would still lie forever beyond our grasp."
The Coincidence of Desire and Reality
"When reality coincides at last with something we have longed for, fitting perfectly with our dreams, it can cover them up entirely and become indistinguishable from them, as two symmetrical figures placed against one another seem to become one; whereas, so as to give our joy its full intensity of meaning, we would actually prefer every detail of our desires, even at the instant of fulfillment, to retain the presence of still being immaterial, so as to be more certain that this really is what we desired."
The Source of Our Memory
"The things that are best at reminding us of a person are those which, because they were insignificant, we have forgotten, and which have therefore lost none of their power. Which is why the greater part of our memory exists outside us, in a dampish breeze, in the musty air of a bedroom or the smell of autumn’s first fires, things through which we can retrieve any part of us that the reasoning mind, having no use for it, disdained, the last vestige of the past, the best of it, the part which, after all our tears seem to have dried, can make us weep again."
The Habits of Love
"This recurrence of pain and the renewal of my love for Gilberte did not last longer than they would have in a dream of her, for the very reason that my life at Balbec was free of the habits that in usual circumstances would have helped it to prevail. It was because of Habit that I had become more and more indifferent to Gilberte."
The Mutability of Love
"If we consciously or unconsciously outgrow those associations, our love, as though it was a spontaneous growth, a thing of our own making, revives and offers itself to another woman."
"There was in me a residue of old dreams of love, dating from my childhood, full of all the tenderness my heart was capable of, all the love it had ever felt, and which was now indistinguishable from it, which could be suddenly brought back to me by someone as different as possible from me."
"This liking for new places and people is of course worked into our forgetting of older ones."
The Indivisibility of Love
"My feeling was no longer the simple attraction of the first days: it was an incipient, tentative love for each or any of them, every single one of them being a natural substitute for any of the others."
The Resemblance of Our Love Objects
"There is a degree of resemblance between the women we love at different times; and this resemblance, though it devolves, derives from the unchanging nature of our own temperament, which is what selects them, by ruling out all those who are not likely to be both opposite and complementary to us, who cannot be relied on, that is, to gratify our sensuality and wound our heart. Such women are a product of our temperament, an inverted image or projection, a negative of our sensitivity."
You Are Too Like Me for Me To Love
"It was impossible for any love of mine for Andree to be true: she was too intellectual, too highly-strung, too prone to ailment, too much like myself. Though Albertine now seemed empty, Andree was full of something with which I was overfamiliar."
"At those moments in my life when I was not in love but wished I was, the ideal of physical beauty I carried about with me...was partnered by the emotional shadow, ever ready to be brought to real life, of the woman who was going to fall in love with me and step straight into the part already written for her...in the comedy of fondness and passion that had been awaiting her since my childhood...as long as she had a pleasant disposition and some of the physical characteristics required by the role."
Love or Enjoyment
"I sensed that those who know love and those who enjoy life are not the same people."
Emmanuelle Béart as Gilberte in the film of “Time Regained”
At the Zoo
[After and in the Words of Proust]
Gave her coat
A loose and
A shy glance,
I was then
With a wink
Of her eye
And a slow
Smile. Oh what
[After and in the Words of Proust]
Did he eschew.
Not content to
Toe the line, hence
Approached from some
Smartness for the
Sake of smartness,
Thus, were his words
But not profound.
Avenue du Bois-de-Boulogne
[After and in the Words of Proust]
Madame Swann sauntered along the
Avenue du Bois-de-Boulogne,
Mellow, gentle, smiling and stately,
At the peak of wealth and beauty,
Delectable in the blooming
Summer season of her lifetime,
From which glorious point she watched
Worlds turn beneath her measured tread,
Until Prince de Sagan spied her.
His greeting evoked chivalry,
Polite and allegorical,
A noble homage to Woman,
Since recalled by Proust after noon
Any fine day in May, a glimpse
Of Madame Swann chatting with him
In the glow of wisteria.
Satisfied, at peace, in love, his
Spirit freed from hysteria.
Une Petite Bande
[After and in the Words of Proust]
Look there, far away
On the esplanade,
Making a strange mass
Of moving colours,
Five or six young girls
All as different
In their appearance
And their ways from the
Other bathers as
The odd gaggle of
Seagulls strutting on
The beach, wings flapping.(less)
Notes are private!
Apr 22, 2013
Mar 11, 2013
May 17, 2011
Jan 05, 2012
Proem: In Which an Ambassador Iangrayetiates Himself With His Host With Impunity
Is a simile
Like a metaphor?
I cannot espouse
This figure of speech.
This...more Proem: In Which an Ambassador Iangrayetiates Himself With His Host With Impunity
Is a simile
Like a metaphor?
I cannot espouse
This figure of speech.
This not unlike that?
One word a signpost?
Can this be that, or
Would subject object?
How could I be you?
Worse still, you be me?
Well, I know my place,
I'm not one to boast.
I am, like, content
To be just a guest,
First and leaving last.
Neither least nor most.
A figure of speech,
If you please, beyond
Compare and contrast,
For you dear, mein Host.
A Story about Language
In a way, every work of fiction is about language, at least to the extent that it applies language to the telling of a story.
However, China Mieville’s "Embassytown" is about the very nature of language and how it both separates and bonds people.
At its heart is a deep knowledge of linguistics (far greater than my superficial understanding).
However, Mieville’s special talent is to weave this knowledge into an exciting adventure story based on linguistic concerns.
It’s a fascinating novel in the way some of us might have been fascinated by Umberto Eco’s "The Name of the Rose" or Don DeLillo’s "The Names" (note the word "name" in both titles) or would have been fascinated if a decent writer had got their hands on the religious and historical themes behind "The Da Vinci Code" (not "name", but "code" this time).
If Tom Hanks can star in a film of an unfilmable novel like "Cloud Atlas", then surely he could help bankroll a film of this novel?
Now that I think of it, if that novel was an Atlas, then this one is a Thesaurus.
It’s about what we can learn about humanity from the differentiation, synonymity and antonymity underlying language.
The Language of Diplomacy
Embassytown is a diplomatic enclave in a City on another planet ruled by the Ariekei or Hosts.
There are human and other Ambassadors and Diplomatic Staff here and, as is the custom, they have to find ways to communicate with each other, despite language differences.
In the ordinary course of events, there could be disputes, and resolutions have to be developed, negotiated and agreed. It is the nuts and bolts of diplomacy that we mere mortals can only dream of.
"Ambassadors speak with empathic unity. That’s our job."
[I once dreamed of being a diplomat and took a university course designed to qualify me for entry, but they started taking diplomats hostage around this time and I lost some of my enthusiasm. Still, I socialized within a diplomatic community for several years.]
Language As She is a Spoke in the Wheel
To the extent that a common language (such as English) is not used, diplomacy must operate at the intersection of two or more languages. We have to observe and respect nuances and exercise caution so as not to offend our hosts with inadvertent connotations or discourtesy.
We are always on tenterhooks or tender hooks.
You can imagine that when two languages first encountered each other, a lot of work had to be done to identify commonalities.
Was the grammar similar? What words meant the same thing? What are your words for "dog" or "girl"? What are our words?
It Semed Like a Good Idea at the Time
This is where a knowledge of semiotics might help an understanding of the novel.
Let's use the word "dog" as an example.
The word is a "sign" or a "signifier", and it "signifies" what society knows to be a dog. The social understanding of the concept relies on convention.
But a "dog" could mean a whole lot of different types of dog, which are all within the convention. These "dogs" are all within the scope of the "signified".
The words are therefore signs or vessels that carry meaning that is influenced by society and convention.
If I say "dog", however, I might be thinking of my dog Charlie, who is small and white, while you might think of your dog, Wilbur, who is big and black.
Our language is flexible enough to accommodate this personalisation of the signified.
Ariekei Thought and Speech
Contrast this with how the Language of the Ariekei Hosts operates.
The word for them is a funnel or a "referent" to the original thought.
This thought occurs within the mind of a Host.
Host-on-Host communication is therefore, presumably, much closer to unadorned or unmediated thoughts communicating through funnels.
If a Host "said" dog, its thought might actually be small, white Charlie dog, and the funnel or referent would ensure that another Host saw and understood small, white Charlie dog, consistently with the thought.
The meaning or signification of the word wouldn't be [as] social or conventional. It would be more specific to the "speaker" or "thinker".
Indeed, it’s arguable that there is only "referral" and no "signification" at all.
We leapfrog the social and conventional, and go straight from thought to thought.
Hence, the Hosts' "speech is thought".
What Lies Beneath a Language
This linguistic process lies beneath the Ariekei fascination with similes and, ultimately, with lies.
The transparency of their thought dictates total sincerity, therefore an inability to lie.
"This" must mean "this" and "this" only (not "that" or "more than this").
A simile requires one thing to mean or imply another.
A simile therefore requires social convention to imply meaning into the words of a speaker that a listener can infer.
The Ariekei just do not get and cannot replicate this process
Similarly, the Hosts can't think of a concept without Language.
As a result, they can't conceive of falsity.
To be confronted with a lie is an impossibility that is capable of giving them a brain explosion analogous to an addictive psychedelic "god-drug" experience.
Abstraction, Action and Interaction Behind the Language
The process also raises the issue of what they can imagine:
"What imaginaries any of them could conjure at all must be misty and trapped in their heads."
How can they think without words?
Are they just taking "snapshots" of the Real?
Can they entertain abstract thought?
Are they limited in what they can think and speak?
Is their world primarily one of action in the real world, not so much abstraction within the world of the mind?
Does the primacy of individual action limit collective or social interaction?
Can there only be dispute and coercion without cooperation?
Language Channels Into Sects and Cults
This is pretty much the back story of the novel.
The front story is intimately concerned with these ideas, and to say more would risk thematic, if not plot, spoilers.
Suffice it to say that a lot happens at the intersection of the two languages.
And it involves interaction, misunderstanding, dispute, negotiation and more.
At a macropolitical level, there is a sense in which language is shown to be an agent or vehicle of control.
How we think limits our potential and our aspirations.
The restraint on thought breeds obsession, which is channeled through religious and political sects and cults.
It is difficult to achieve informed unity and community:
"Those rebels must be a fractured community, without speech, if they were a community at all. Language, for the Ariekei, was truth: without it, what were they? An unsociety of psychopaths."
Freedom and vibrancy require change, and the novel is a dynamic exploration of the change that can occur at the interface.
Woman as Simile
Just as linguistics and political philosophy inform "Embassytown", consistent with China Mieville’s earlier novels, there is an explicit promotion of and support for the active role of women in social and political life.
The narrator is a woman, Avice, who describes herself as a "floaker", a more dynamic version of a modern-day "slacker" who embodies "the life-technique of aggregated skill, luck, laziness and chutzpah that we call floaking."
In the eyes of the Ariekei, she is their principal simile:
"The girl who was hurt in darkness and ate what was given to her."
Yet, despite the technical linguistic interests of her sometime husband Scile, Avice is the true social and emotional vehicle for the communication and rapport-building between the disparate groups and the progress of the narrative.
She is effectively both communicator and problem-solver, not to mention a pretty adept flirt.
Notwithstanding her lack of overt ambition, she would make a pretty good diplomat, if not one necessarily obedient to the powers that be.
Ultimately, what appeals to me so much about China Mieville is his ability to juggle sophisticated intellectual themes, genre demands, convincing worlds, interesting characters and well-paced adventure action.
While the themes of the novel are within my core literary and cultural interests, I admired his skill at bringing the project together with such aplomb.
I was always conscious that there was a puppeteer making this entertainment happen, but he has an uncanny knack of doing it in such a way that you don’t notice him or the strings.
I’d like to call Mieville a "floaker" of some sort, but as Avice’s lover, Bren, says of her at the end of the novel:
"You’ve never floaked in your life."
Genesis (A Very Old Woman's Tale)
(Thanks to Spanish Dancer and Weaver)
In the beginning was god. There was just it, and it was alone. Well, it had to be because it was everything.
God was a genius, but there is no point in being a god-like genius, unless there is company who appreciates it.
So god made woman, to reduce its workload. It intended woman to be the origin of everything else in the universe, which had formerly been god.
Woman would take what had been god and turn it into something else.
The presence of woman was required to make a difference.
So woman differentiated between things.
Having made things, she decided to invent language and words, so that she could give everything a name and put everything in its place.
Woman rejoiced once this was all done, but it was not enough. She needed a challenge. She thought about it for a few days and nights, at which point she decided to make man.
She was feeling reckless. Her intention was to make something almost her equal, but not quite, with whom she could flirt, after which she could birth and care for a child.
Upon the arrival of man, woman looked at him and could not determine whether her project had been a success.
Woman decided not to make it too easy for man, so she played hard to get.
Eventually, man worked out that the way to get woman’s attention was to call her a goddess and worship the very ground she walked on, at which point both woman and man lost interest in god, and it retired hurt.
While woman was birthing, man also lost interest in woman, and never really worshipped her the way that he had beforehand.
Having espied his face in a pond, man liked what he had seen, and decided to revive and re-make god in his own image.
He then made a church with other men and excluded woman from any secret god business.
By this time, woman had realised that when man said she was like a goddess, it was only a simile and he did not mean that she was the real thing, even though a simile is a kind of metaphor.
Many years later, woman made a man called China Mieville for her own entertainment.
China is cute, sensitive, strong, intelligent, talented and has tattoos. He knows what a simile is, but he also knows how to treat a woman as a goddess.
Man is still trying to work out why woman is reading so much genre fiction.
China Mieville continues to write, while man ponders his predicament.
Roxy Music - "More Than This"
Lyrics (Bryan Ferry):
I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they´re blowing
As free as the wind
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing
It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like a dream in the night
Who can say where we´re going
No care in the world
Maybe I´m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing.(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 07, 2013
Mar 17, 2013
Mar 05, 2013
Dec 16, 1996
DJ Ian Digests the Classics in 50 Words or Less
Every time this French geezer has a piece of sponge cake, he remembers some tart who sponged off one Ch...more DJ Ian Digests the Classics in 50 Words or Less
Every time this French geezer has a piece of sponge cake, he remembers some tart who sponged off one Charles Swann many years ago. (1), (2), (3)
(1)(view spoiler)[A guy at the patisserie said she also had a bun in the oven, but he thought that might have happened in the second book. (hide spoiler)]
(2)(view spoiler)[Psychologists call this Involuntary Memory. Monty Python calls it Word Association Football. (hide spoiler)]
(3)(view spoiler)[And I don't mean in un jacuzzi. (hide spoiler)](less)
Notes are private!
Feb 28, 2013
Feb 28, 2013
Feb 27, 2013
Aug 17, 2004
Feb 21, 2005
DJ Ian's Sunday Evening "Tell Me What You Really Think"
Mitchell's Hollow Horn Plays Wasted Words
I’ve tried to understand this novel.
Let me tell you ho...more DJ Ian's Sunday Evening "Tell Me What You Really Think"
Mitchell's Hollow Horn Plays Wasted Words
I’ve tried to understand this novel.
Let me tell you how very much I've strived,
But from my humble little hovel,
It seems to me horribly contrived.
Like, what about the self-conscious display
Of inordinate lit’ry prowess?
Applied for amusement and for play,
It’s the ultimate in high-browness.
He’s in Haruki’s artistic debt,
High up there defying gravity
And recursive time without a net,
Oh what gimmicky depravity!
Such "belletristic masturbation"
Served in mind-expanding proportions
Invites a surgical truncation,
So foxy ladies get their portions.
Mitchell smacks of hippopotamus
When one would expect an elephant.
His homonyms are synonymous.
Does that make him sound intelligent?
When it comes to writing, I prefer
Economy and austerity,
Not for me smug buffoonery or
Now you've heard this missive for a while,
It’s true he has so much greater fame,
Though I don’t envy his success, I’ll
Crawl upon the author to exclaim:
Foresake all your post-modernist tricks
For pseudo-intellectual dicks!
David Mitchell, "you’re prolix, prolix,
Nothing a pair of scissors can't fix!"
IAN GRAYE'S PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL REVIEW
THE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF EVERYDAY METAFICTON
Why are postmodern
When does ambition
Why do plays with form
Evoke such a shrug?
Why does confidence
Seem like it's too smug?
Can writers achieve
Beyond their station?
Why doesn't their quest
Why do six nested
Stories seem to shake
To its foundation?
All this argument
Seems like such a waste.
There really is no
Accounting for taste.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "We Call Upon The Author to Explain"
Rilo Kiley - "Portions for Foxes"
Notes are private!
Feb 26, 2013
Feb 27, 2013
Feb 27, 2013
Jun 05, 1997
DJ Ian's Sunday Evening "Tell Me What You Really Think"
You're listening to Radio KCRCR, "Tell Me What You Really Think", where we listen to the critic...more DJ Ian's Sunday Evening "Tell Me What You Really Think"
You're listening to Radio KCRCR, "Tell Me What You Really Think", where we listen to the critics and you talk back. That's if there's any time left after I finish my rant. Hehe.
A lot of listeners ask me about my namesake. What about that other Ian Graye, you say. The one on GoodReads. What do you think of him? And what did you think of his recent review of David Foster Wallace's magnum opus?
Well, let me reassure you: that other Ian Graye is a wanker. Don’t trust his five star review of “Infinite Jest” (“IJ” for short, but not for long).
He is a classic pseudo-intellectual, who occasionally comes under the sway of people like Nathan, MJ and a few female Good Readers with brains and/or ambition, and tries unconvincingly to run with their small herd, while simultaneously feigning the impression of reading, appreciating and reviewing the big books that appeal to them. He is a post-capitalist lapdog of the tamest and most ineffectual kind.
This is what he would say, if he had the guts. Actually, it’s not what he would say, it’s what I'm saying.
He can wallow in pretension.
IJ is a dogs breakfast. Nobody has actually read it from cover to cover. Nobody has understood it on its own terms. Anybody who reckons they’ve read it or understood it is lying and needs to be exposed for the fibbers they are.
The sooner there is something that is post-postmodernism that we can get our hands and minds and kindles and iPatches on the better. No wait, it doesn’t matter.
Postmodernism was invented so that nerds could take money off other nerds.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world can eat, drink, snort, smoke, dance, party and have sex regardless and in spite of the postmodernist nerdfest going down, down, down in the library.
Surely, it is enough to state the length of this book to condemn it.
If an author has 1,100 pages in them, then write four novels of 275 pages each.
Can Sting possibly be any better on the fourth day of his tantric sex than he is on the first?
What is the point? To achieve a target for the Guinness Book of Records? For as soon as you break the record, somebody else will want to beat you and your record will last for, how long, one year, at most?
In a book that long, there must surely be a lot of repetition of themes and subject matter, if not dialogue and actual words.
As for a book whose ending simply takes you back to the beginning? That's not what I call recycling. Recycling is the yellow bin. Or, wishful thinking for charities, two copies sitting side by side in a second hand book store.
See my comment about Sting. Beyond that, I risk being guilty of the post-modern crime of repetition. In fact, I might already be guilty. Damn. How ironic.
Show me somebody who really knows what irony means and I’ll show you a bullshit artist.
I mean, what does “an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning” mean?
Is there any literal meaning that is not implied? Surely, DFW meant everything his words implied.
Therefore, they are not incongruous, they are deliberate and congruous.
This is starting to sound like that other Ian Graye, so I will stop.
OK, so they play tennis in this book. So what?
And so what if he plays with our minds? Writing this bloody book probably played with DFW’s own mind. How can you control something as gargantuan and prolix as this?
It plays with our minds, because it played with his. If he had won the game, it would have been a shorter, sharper, better book and a more pleasant experience for us.
There is a reason tennis has a tie-breaker. IJ needed a tie-breaker. Around 300 pages.
I like black humor, white humor and Jewish humor. I haven’t heard any other types yet. But I hope I do eventually.
However, I can’t remember any good jokes in IJ, nor can I remember LOL’ing.
Even if I could remember one, there’s no way I would ever tell a mate in a pub or print it on a t-shirt, which is my ultimate test of a good joke, well, an aphorism, anyway.
I mean, are you serious? Who would invent a word like “intertextuality”, but a postmodernist wanker?
Did the English language really need this word? Did it have to be imported from France or Italy, or wherever?
Intertextuality…”the relationship between one text (a novel for example) and another or one text within the interwoven fabric of literary history…an indication of postmodernism’s lack of originality and reliance on clichés”.
Put two things next to each other, juxtapose them, as the other Ian Graye would say, and you have a relationship (a “juxtaposition”). So what?
If you want to refer to another book in your book, it’s a quote if it’s acknowledged or plagiarism if it’s not.
So what? Any graduate student can do this. We used to call it cheating.
As for cliches, we were taught to eschew them in my day. DFW uses truckloads of cliches, mostly old ones, but many new ones of his own creation. How pathetic. There are nearly as many cliches in IJ as there are in Hamlet. I mean, "To be, or not to be", if Shakespeare was half the writer he's supposed to be (or not to be), he would have steered clear of that old chestnut.
Once again, write your own bloody book. Don’t copy somebody else’s. Sampling is cheating. If I want to read the other book or listen to the other song, I’ll find it on iTunes.
Another word created by postmodernists for postmodernists. It’s like a secret handshake. A club for us and not for you. Because you won’t let us into your club, and your club is blockbuster, best-selling fiction with a home and a boat in the Bahamas.
Anybody who can write should strive for a home and a boat, better still, a houseboat. If you haven’t got it in you, don’t waste trees or cyberspace. Write a blog. Do your pathetic little reviews on GoodReads. Or pathetically long reviews, in the case of my namesake.
I mean, honest, we’re talking fiction here, and some critic has to introduce a synonym and pretend it means something different. A distinction without a difference. A high distinction without a job prospect. This is today’s academia for you.
This word makes me want to vomit.
I mean I love Maoris and their language, but words weren’t meant to consist of four consecutive vowels. It's inconsonant.
Another one. What, aren’t the old words good enough for postmodernists? This would have been edited out of the wiki article if anybody knew what it meant or had the guts.
Instead, it’s left in, and college students in my wake will struggle to apply it correctly in a sentence for another 20 years.
If this term was a dog, it would be put down. In fact, this term is a dog. Bang.
It gets worse. “Fragmentation and non-linear narratives”. In a word, drugs. Nobody used this language when the poison of choice was alcohol.
In the old days, the bell would ring, and you’d say, “Oh, is that the time?” Not temporal distortion.
All the best drugs come from South America. Say no more. But put a frat boy in a broad brimmed hat and sit him on a horse and it doesn’t make him a gaucho or a magic realist.
Technoculture and Hyperreality
Doof doof. I can’t remember one computer in IJ. Unless you count microwaves and whatever they played the cartridges on. And, I mean, who remembers cartridges?
The only source of paranoia for me in IJ is the sense that DFW might have known what he was talking about and I didn’t get it. But if he did and I didn’t, then I’ve read all the other IJ reviews on Good Reads, and no two of them are the same, so quit the bullshit and admit it, nobody gets it. It’s time we fessed up, it can’t be got, we weren’t supposed to get it, DFW didn’t design it to be got, leave it alone.
IJ is a conspiracy by the paper manufacturing industry to consume paper, put it inside a hard cover and never let it see the light of day.
Yes, a paranoid conspiracy, I know, but guess what, it worked.
A big word for “long”.
A big word for a little idea. Incongruous, if not ironic, I know.
Yes, IJ is long, but credit where credit is due, it contains a lot of words and meanings, about a lot of things, but let's face it, nobody ever reads an encyclopaedia from beginning to end, we all dip in one entry at a time, if not randomly, and we wouldn’t know shit about all the other bits that we didn’t read.
Let’s hope there's not a question about them in the exam.
Well, that's about it from me. Let me leave you with one more serious thought.
Party at my place. Come on.
KCRCR. Whatever will be will be. And whatever will not be will not be. That is the answer and there's the rub. Thanks, Bill. Can I have my bottle back now, please?
Oh, is that the time? Let's cross to Rupert for the news.
TAME AND INEFFECTUAL POST-CAPITALIST LAPDOG FIVE STAR REVIEW
NERDS ONLY PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL FIVE STAR REVIEW
THE "TELL ME WHAT YOU REALLY THINK" VOTE COUNT (AUDITED BY CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS NICE WATERCLOSET)
February 17, 2013
Post-Capitalist Lapdog Review
February 17, 2013
Nerd's Only Pseudo-Intellectual Review
February 17, 2013
DJ Ian's one star review jennifer garnered more "likes" in 12 hours than either of the other five star reviews did in 10 months (they were posted in April 2012).(less)
Notes are private!
Feb 17, 2013
Feb 17, 2013
Feb 16, 2013
Jan 01, 2004
One True God or Many?
This is a study of the 2,000 year war between polytheism and monotheism, which ended in the victory of religions like Christianit...more One True God or Many?
This is a study of the 2,000 year war between polytheism and monotheism, which ended in the victory of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
I wish I could say I appreciated the book more than I did. I'm intuitively sympathetic to the approach of the author. However, I just don't think he did justice to a great subject.
It's a Bit of a God's Breakfast
While it's an interesting narrative in the style of historian Tom Holland, it seems that Kirsch is first and foremost a journalist who is heavily reliant on quotation of professional historians and secondary materials. He brings little to the cut and paste job in terms of insight or analysis.
Each chapter has a main heading, a sub-heading and an appropriate epigraph. The body of each chapter also contains catchy headings. The problem is that they seem to have been superimposed on the text after it was written, as if the first draft was all text and someone was brought in afterwards to prettify it. The body of the chapters is often haphazard and doesn't always achieve what the chapter headings set out to achieve.
Chapter 1 (sub-headed "A Young Pharaoh’s Experiment in Monotheism and Why It Failed"), which is of particular interest to me, totally failed to explain the reasons for its failure. Indeed, Akhenaton features in less than half of the chapter.
Rigorism and Zealotry Beats Tolerance
If the book can be summarised in one sentence, it would belong to Freud:
"Religious intolerance was inevitably born with the belief in one God."
Implicit in this sentence is Kirsch’s view that monotheism has a dark side, that of rigorism and zealotry attached to the belief that there is Only One True God.
He extrapolates that this same rigorism and zealotry "can be found in all totalitarianism, and nowhere more terribly than in such modern and supposedly secular phenomena as Nazism and Communism".
In contrast, Kirsch argues convincingly that paganism was not crude and demonic, that the classical culture of Greece and Rome was a pagan culture, and that it was tolerant in nature, precisely because it was polytheistic and accepting of gods and cultures of all types, whether they were sourced locally or from afar.
What Do You Believe?
The study proceeds on the basis that "something deep in human nature prompts us to imagine the existence of a power greater than ourselves," whatever we call it or them.
Atheism is almost totally ignored, except to the extent that Kirsch points out that the first use of the term was against Christian monotheists.
As an atheist, I don’t believe that any gods exist. However, I maintain that the existence or non-existence of God is within the realm of "belief", not scientific fact. I accept that if you believe in a God, then it exists for you.
The Pendulum of the Gods
In the past, I have used Akhenaton as my avatar, because it is evidence for me that the belief in one God rather than many is a social construct that is a product of the times.
Kirsch documents the swinging of the pendulum from 1364 B.C.E. to 415 C.E. He shows how the momentum for one belief over another was personalized in individual historical figures. However, nowhere does he contemplate that all of the participants might have been wrong.
That said, Kirsch forcefully makes the point that tolerance of diversity is more important for society than enforcement of conformity, particularly in matters of opinion and belief.(less)
Notes are private!
Apr 18, 2013
Apr 22, 2013
Feb 09, 2013
Mar 01, 2003
Some Greek men, you’ll discover,
Being a lesser lover
Than a renderer of war,
Treat their wives much like a whore.
So one day, Lysistrata,
Some Greek men, you’ll discover,
Being a lesser lover
Than a renderer of war,
Treat their wives much like a whore.
So one day, Lysistrata,
Equipped with all the data,
Reckoned upon a tactic
To withhold love climactic.
She aimed to end all conflict
With some cohorts she had picked,
To flaunt breasts and nothing hide,
Though, ‘til peace, men were denied.
Males came with their pricks erect,
Revealed for all to inspect,
Still their wives rejected them,
Until war they would condemn.
So the violence did decrease
And the warring tribes made peace,
A gently handled magic wand
Made sure a double entendre.
At play’s end, the sun went down
On the whole of Athens town
And nothing followed after,
But the echoes of laughter.
Illustration by Norman Lindsay(less)
Notes are private!
Feb 04, 2013
Feb 08, 2013
Feb 04, 2013
Feb 17, 2005
Feb 17, 2005
A Practical Toolkit for Living, Liking and Loving
I found this book insightful and learned a lot from it.
I will try to integrate what I learned into ho...more A Practical Toolkit for Living, Liking and Loving
I found this book insightful and learned a lot from it.
I will try to integrate what I learned into how I think and live my life.
The book is well-structured, well-written and easy to understand.
CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) argues that our thinking informs and shapes our behaviour, and that flaws in our thinking (often the product of poor self-esteem) can distort our behaviour.
This in turn has a detrimental effect on our self-esteem, which completes a vicious cycle of misguided behaviour.
The book argues that we can correct our behaviour by correcting our thinking.
If it has a defect, it is that it tends to be repetitious. However, this is a result of the stylistic choice to design and define an abstract toolkit, before applying it to specific issues and problems that we confront in real life.
The repetition therefore reinforces our understanding of the toolkit and our ability to apply it practically.
Any person who seeks to benefit from the CBT toolkit will probably have to dovetail it into a system of abstract core values that they might have developed over a long period of time.
This can be a barrier to the process.
The starting point of my personal and political philosophy is that we are individuals.
However, we form relationships with others in the personal, family, social, work and political spheres.
Our first duty and relationship is to our self.
However, we then enter into a zone or space between us and others.
In any of these zones, we can be nervous, cautious, earnest, serious, relaxed, rigid, flexible, spontaneous, playful, flirtatious, exuberant, private, open, careful, careless.
We assert, argue, persuade, charm, play, flirt, seduce, compromise, cooperate, agree, consummate, like, love, respect, value, care, nurture.
The nature of our relationships is not static. As we get to know somebody, our relationship can change, improve and loosen up.
For any relationship to become more relaxed and spontaneous, it needs to be built on the foundation of certainty. This can only come with some level of mutuality and confidence in the relationship.
The desire for certainty and spontaneity needs to be reciprocated. It's a two way street. It needs two people to be committed. It needs to be based on some shared desire or values.
The hard part is determining whether we share this desire and these values.
We can only find out by asking and talking about it. We can't find out by denying an arena for the discussion or failing to respond to questions.
In fact, when you cut off communication, you are making a strong case that there is no shared foundation.
Harmony and Me are Pretty Good Company
In the western world, we tend to approach our other relationships from the perspective of individualism.
Within the political framework of liberty, equality and fraternity, we tend to emphasise our individual freedom.
Unlike the East, we tend to downplay fraternity or what can also be described as harmony.
However, harmony is at the heart of our relationships with others.
CBT is concerned with the impact of these relationships on individuals.
However, it doesn't address the issues or problems in the political language of rights and obligations.
It examines them from an individual personal perspective.
It assumes that we act selfishly in our own self-interest.
Similarly, it assumes that others in our lives act in their own self-interest.
It doesn't assume that harmony is the natural order.
Instead, it assumes that we might act at cross-purposes, and that problems will arise when our self-interest pulls us in opposite directions.
That doesn't mean that other people actually dislike or hate us. They might just be totally neutral about us.
If they fail to like or love us, it doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with us. We just have to learn how to cope or deal with it.
The important thing is that we not undermine our own self-esteem, because somebody else fails to display respect, affection or love.
It's as Easy as A, B, C
CBT uses our intelligence, cognition or rationality to minimise or manage our emotional problems.
It recognises that many of our problems are caused by the way we draw inferences from circumstances or the behaviour of others.
It uses a simple A, B, C approach.
A is the circumstance or behaviour that concerns us, while C is our emotional response to it.
B is the inference we draw from A. It causes our emotional response in C.
Almost inevitably, our self-esteem problems derive from the fact that we draw just one inference and it is the most negative.
So CBT's solution is simply to get us to logically draw additional inferences.
Just by virtue of having other options to explain A, we can minimise or manage the tendency to draw the most negative inference.
This solution has a simple appeal. However, it reflects a faith in rationality. In effect, it asks us to be more rational in how we deal with our emotions.
While I agree with this approach, to some, it must be paradoxical.
Reason and Emotion
My personal life challenge has been how to get reason and emotion to sit happily in the one person, how to let them work as a three-legged race, rather than always be at loggerheads.
I have been professionally trained in logic and analysis. I had to think of all of the possibilities, weigh them up dispassionately and facilitate a decision.
Note that I say that I had to facilitate a decision. The decision was usually not mine, it was a client's. I am in the business of giving advice; the client has to make the decision.
Very early in my professional life, I realised that clients want you to make their decision easy for them. They want you to recommend a decision. Alternatively, they trust your advice enough to permit you to make the decision. They don't want to get a 20 page letter that goes "on the one hand, but on the other hand, so you decide".
What emerges from this professional context is two conflicting approaches: one is what we all know as "overthinking" or "analysis paralysis" (where we are paralysed by the available options) and the other is what I will call "the rush to judgement" or "cognitive bias" or "bounded rationality" (where we grow overconfident of our ability to draw the right inferences and make the right decision and we start taking shortcuts and rely solely on our gut reaction).
Both are destructive of relationships. However, the latter breeds an intellectual arrogance that is possibly more destructive of personal relationships than the former.
It's very easy to fall into a judgement trap: I trust my judgement, therefore by definition, I can't or don't or won't trust yours and therefore, guess what, I am right and you are wrong.
It takes a strong partner, perhaps an equally strong-willed person, to maintain this type of relationship, but then you simply end up with a head-butting competition. And what's the point of that? Why not just find a meek and mild and compliant partner who you can bully into submission?
Obviously, that's just as unrealistic and unfulfilling, so ultimately you have to get to a point where on some issues you can disagree without jeopardising your respect, affection or love.
How to Draw More Inferences
A really important message from CBT is the need to expand your inferences and avoid negativity.
I don't regard this ability as destructive of efficient decision-making.
In fact, I regard it as a power of perception that is not radically different from the literary or linguistic ability to seek and find multiple meanings and connotations, which is the foundation of punning and wordplay and flirtation.
However, I feel that the need to get the basic message out to as many people as possible in an easy to understand format means that everybody gets exactly the same advice, regardless of their personal or relationship circumstances.
Perhaps, this is simply saying that, if you want personal advice, you need to see and pay for a therapist, which is quite possibly the correct approach.
You Can't Behave by Yourself
Another reservation for me relates to how the book deals with the need for mutuality or reciprocity.
There is a tendency in CBT to assume that any relationship is solely a matter of how the one patient deals with A, the circumstances or behaviour of the rest of the world.
It expects the patient to act rationally, to be more realistic and less assertive or argumentative or angry.
However, in many cases, it is the dynamic of the relationship that needs to be analysed.
How Much Do You Want Me to Bend?
This is not an open ticket to blame the other person.
Quite the opposite: if we're trying to run a better three-legged race, perhaps we have to start with what binds us together.
By definition, a three-legged race involves some compromise and accommodation. We can't run the race the same way we would run it solo.
The question is what and how do we compromise.
The book seems to be written from an individualistic perspective. it is dictated by the desire to maximise an individual's self-esteem, which is fair enough, but I think we each have certain core values (openness, fairness, humour, flirtatiousness) that constitute our authentic self.
In a personal relationship, if you have to compromise those values, then there comes a point when you cease to be authentic to yourself and become insincere with the friend.
I'm not talking about shared taste in music or film or books or food. I'm reluctant to use the term "essence", but I can't think of a better one at the moment. The book refers to "core values", which is close, but it uses it in such a broad way that it encompasses the negative view that "I am bad".
I think that friendships and relationships are founded on shared ethics and values.
If we don't have them, we should look elsewhere, regardless of the short-term impact on self-esteem.
Looking Around the Bend
I felt that this book urged too many compromises and accommodations in the pursuit of valueless harmony and personal self-esteem.
We have to accept that sometimes the answer will be that the three-legged binding in a particular relationship cannot be repaired or will never work, and perhaps each of us needs to find another running partner.
Still, I think we have much to learn from the key message of CBT that, if we think differently, we will behave differently.
The A, B , C approach is a very practical way to start the journey.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL HAIKU (THE NICK CAVE SUITE)
(A loose haikufication of the lyrics of Nick Cave)
I've read dirty books,
Tomes on human behaviour,
Still I don't get love.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand
I held your hand but
You took it away from me
I don't hold it now.
I still don't know why
You tore my letters apart,
With long-fingered hands.
I've Been Searching with a Heart of Cold
You always said that
I was your cold-hearted man.
I guess you were right.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - "Nobody's Baby Now"
Notes are private!
Feb 02, 2013
Feb 06, 2013
Feb 02, 2013
Nov 30, 2004
For reasons that will become apparent, my review focuses not on the plot of the novel, but on its style and themes.
If you want to develo...more PART I
For reasons that will become apparent, my review focuses not on the plot of the novel, but on its style and themes.
If you want to develop your own relationship with these aspects of the novel, then it might be better to turn away now.
This is partly why I paid little attention to the excellent discussion group at Proust 2013, before writing my review.
“Swann’s Way” is one of the most personal books ever written, and I want to define my personal relationship with it, without viewing it through the prism of other people’s insights, words and interpretation, no matter how right they might be and how wrong I might be.
I wanted my reading experience to be intimate and personal, not shared and social. Until now.
To the extent that I might reveal any plot points, I think it’s like telling you that Christ died in the New Testament. (Sorry that I had to spoil the surprise.)
Anyway, this is my warning to the spoiler-sensitive.
Apprehended by the Suspect
I have to confess that, before I actually bought the book and opened it, I regarded Proust with greater apprehension than any other novelist.
18 months before, I overcame the perceived intimidation of “Ulysses” and discovered the joys that had awaited me there.
I felt that my apprehension had cheated me of pleasure. It was like starting a relationship with someone, and discovering that it could have happened six months earlier, if you’d only had the courage.
This time, I was determined not to be put off, so I just dived in when the reading schedule was announced. In retrospect, I think this is the only way to do it.
Jump in, the water’s not as cold as you anticipate. In fact, it’s like a warm bath. You won’t want to get out.
Sentenced to Life
The source of my apprehension was the length of sentences and paragraphs.
People who know me know that I write one sentence paragraphs. No matter what you think of my sentences or paragraphs, nobody has ever had to turn over a few pages to see when they ended.
I haven’t always written this way. When I was in secondary school, I acquired a large vocabulary and a love of etymology (which helps).
We were taught that good writing involved a display of our vocabulary, hopefully correctly used.
I turned my back on this practice, as soon as I was exposed to lecturers with different views at university. Later, newspaper editors drummed single sentence paragraphs into me. Voilà.
In the meantime, I read a lot of Dickens and Hardy, and towards the end of school I became obsessed with Henry James, which resulted in my (unfulfilled) ambition to become a diplomat and work in nineteenth century Europe.
This background is just to show that I am not averse to a long sentence, as long as it’s put to good use.
Ex Cathedra Sentences
Right now, I regard Proust as the greatest ever architect of sentences.
His sentences encapsulate a single, complete thought, like mine attempt, only my thoughts are parish churches and his are cathedrals.
I just want you to nod (or shake, disagree and argue) when you read one of my sentences.
Proust forces your eyes and your mind to follow a sentence as it aspires upwards to, yes, the spire of his vision.
His sentences are not just vehicles of communication, they are architectural constructs that inspire awe and wonder.
They take life and love and build a monument to them that will last through the ages, like architects before him built monuments to the belief in God.
His sentences don’t just perpetrate meaning, they perpetuate meaning and beauty into perpetuity.
Proust mounted the most concerted campaign to take the ephemeral and make it perpetual.
Previously, this task was attempted by painters. Only now, when you inspect the damage done to some of the artworks housed in the Louvre, do you you realise the foresight of his choice of creative vehicle.
People will read Proust until, at least, the temperature reaches Fahrenheit 451.
”From Marvel to Marvel”
If every sentence is a cathedral, and every cathedral is a marvel, then the novel as a whole is a gallery, a galaxy of marvels.
So much so that Genet could witness it and remark:
"Now, I'm tranquil, I know I'm going to go from marvel to marvel."
I cite Genet, not just to mention the marvel, but to highlight the tranquil.
Proust’s sentences calmed me, as in a warm bath or a gentle sea. He immersed me in a sea of tranquility, a “Mare Tranquillitatis”.
Proust lulled me. First, he rocked me, then he lulled me. Ultimately, he sang me a lullaby.
Proust engendered tranquility in me.
Observations of a Ladies’ Man
I was worried that I would react aggressively to Proust.
How would I, a male, of sorts, react to a novel that apparently lacked a hero, that lacked action, that lacked a battle and a victory, that lacked a seduction and a conquest?
How would I react to Proust’s effeminacy? His apparent insight into the feminine and oversight of the masculine?
Moreover, was Proust just a gossip, to quote another anecdote of Edmund White, a “Yenta” (the Yiddish word for a female gossip) ?
Proust was in a unique position to document the affairs of a bourgeoisie that didn’t have to work, that had inherited wealth and could survive by the management of its securities and investments.
In the words of Veblen, it was a leisure class, and Proust’s mission was to document its leisure activities.
In “Swann’s Way”, the chief leisure activity is love and sex.
Would it be fair to say that most men wouldn’t be able to write a 440 page novel about love and/or sex?
Or that the sex life of many men might not even have added up to 440 minutes during their entire lifetime?
To that extent, Proust understands love and sex like only a woman can.
Observations of a Man's Lady
If I am correct in this interpretation, then Proust deserves a large audience of women.
Yet, what puzzles me is that Proust, at least in this volume, only presents the male’s perspective, never the female’s.
I read the novel as a male, and during “Swann in Love” I inevitably identified with Charles Swann.
All the way through, I reacted, “That is so me! (I hope none of my friends guess.)”
However, how is a woman to react to “Swann in Love”?
Do they, like me, identify with Swann? Or do they identify with Odette?
Is there an antagonism between the genders? Does Proust call upon us to take sides? Or does he take the side of love?
Is the gender of each lover irrelevant, as long as there is love on the agenda?
Must our perspective on love have a gender? Isn’t it enough to engender love?
Anyway, I wanted to know what was going on in Odette’s mind.
As a first person narrator, “Marcel” knew far too much about Swann’s inner life and too little about Odette’s.
I wanted (want) to know what women think.
Is that so unreasonable? Or is it too reasonable?
The first chapter, Part I of "Combray", is 49 pages long and deals with the narrator's childhood in a home that also houses his grandmother and two aunts.
Over the last couple of years, there have been a few books, the most obvious being Murakami's "1Q84", where I started to use the term "helmet cam" to describe the narrative.
Although it was presumably constructed and edited by an author, it still gave the impression that a helmet cam was seeing everything in front of it, without any editorial cutting or rearrangement.
It saw everything, it recorded everything, it passed on everything to us.
Normally, a helmet cam cannot see the face of the person wearing it. Thus, it sees everything that the person sees from their own perspective.
In "Swann's Way", the verbal description is so vivid and precise that we see the narrator himself.
The Subject is also the Object.
The Subject is its own Object. At least until he discovers M. Swann.
Up until then, the narrator is like a juvenile crustacean, slowly constructing a shell, but not quite there yet.
He is sensitive, even over-sensitive, soft, fleshy, pink, much to the masculine disgust of his father and the embarrassment of his mother.
Yet the helmet cam hones in on every element of sensitivity and emerging sensibility.
He is almost too sensitive for this world, yet he is imminently sensitive to its charms.
He does nothing but observe, imagine, remember, write.
Like a helmet cam, however, he gives the impression that neither he nor anybody else has edited him.
This is the narrator's mind recording time and place with nobody pressing the pause button.
Sentences and paragraphs are irrelevant to this narrative.
Each paragraph is as long as an attention span needs to be.
Only when his attention falters does the narrator need to pause and restart.
Each paragraph is almost like a can of film.
It captures life until there is no film left. Then you remove the film and put in a new reel. And we're off again on another flight of the mind.
The Awakening of the Author as a Young Man
The first section of the novel starts in bed and finishes in bed, a cocoon, a comfort zone.
The narrator is a child, still very much attached to his mother and the comfort of her love, and so is prone to separation anxiety.
His experience of life depends solely on her, and is therefore restricted by her, a woman.
Only if he overcomes his anxiety can he venture out into the world, in order to discover the love of others.
This is a period of intense sensations and associations.
It’s here that Proust develops his concept of involuntary memory, an association of memories with physical sensations common to the past and the present.
The act of soaking a petite madeleine in a cup of lime-blossom tea evokes powerful memories:
"I feel something quiver in me, shift, try to rise, something that seems to have been unanchored at a great depth...and suddenly the memory appeared...the immense edifice of memory."
The narrator describes the sensation as a "delicious pleasure".
It renders "the vicissitudes of life unimportant", the brevity of time illusory:
"...acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not merely inside me, it was me..."
Much of the analysis of Proust focuses on the mechanism of involuntary memory.
However, it’s equally important, if not more so, to recognise the analogy with the workings of love.
Love is an intensity of sensation. We detect everything so much more sensitively. We preserve it and we recall it. We remember all of the detail of our relationship: where we met our lover, our first words, our first kiss, our first correspondence.
So when Proust describes madeleines and tea, he also adverts to the precious essence of love.
He is not just writing about the psychology of perception and memory, he is investigating, in a way nobody had done before him, the essence of the gaze, desire, lust and love.
Each moment that is recalled by involuntary memory is a moment in love.
The Semiotics of Desire
Over the course of the novel, both Proust and the narrator assemble a list of qualities that recognise or recall or "magnetise" desire.
The narrator refers not just to madeleines and tea, but to light, perfume (or fragrance) and colour.
To this list, Swann adds music. He is captivated by a piece of music by the (fictitious) composer, Vinteuil.
Every time he hears it, he is reminded of his love for Odette.
In the last section, the narrator summarises:
"From then on, only sunlight, perfumes, colours seemed to me of any value; for this alternation of images had brought about a change in direction in my desire, and – as abrupt as those that occur now and then in music – a complete change of tone in my sensibility...
"For often, in one season, we find a day that has strayed from another and that immediately evokes its particular pleasures, lets us experience them, makes us desire them, and interrupts the dreams we were having by placing, earlier or later than was its turn, this leaf detached from another chapter, in the interpolated chapter of Happiness."
Later, the narrator refers to "the highest sort of immediate happiness, the happiness of love".
To be in love is to be happy. To love is human, to be loved is divine.
These ideas are collected together in the discussion of place names:
"I needed only, to make them reappear, to pronounce those names – Balbec, Venice, Florence – in the interior of which had finally accumulated the desire inspired in me by the places they designated.
"Words present us with little pictures of things, clear and familiar, like those that are hung on the walls of schools to give children an example of what a workbench is, a bird, an anthill, things conceived of as similar to all others of the same sort.
"But names present a confused image of people – and of towns, which they accustom us to believe are individual, unique like people – an image which derives from them, from the brightness or darkness of their tone, the colour with which it is painted uniformly, like one of those posters, entirely blue or entirely red, in which, because of the limitations of the process used or by the whim of the designer, not only the sky and the sea are blue or red, but the boats, the church, the people in the streets."
In the first section of the novel, Proust offers the narrator two alternative methods of traversing the countryside: the Meseglise way and the Guermantes way.
These "ways" come to symbolize the alternative ways of approaching life and love:
"...so the Meseglise way and the Guermantes way remain for me linked to many of the little events of that life which, of all the various lives we lead concurrently, is the most abundant in vicissitudes, the richest in episodes, I mean our intellectual life."
Much has been said about the alternative translations of the novel and its title.
However, for me, “Swann’s Way” doesn’t just represent a viable linguistic option, it hints at the way that the tale of Swann’s love in the heart of the novel represents a way or method of loving that becomes an option or choice available to the narrator.
In short, the novel is concerned with Swann’s way of loving and what can be learned from it.
I don’t think this is communicated by a translation of the title as "The Way by Swann’s", which seems to focus on the geographical path, rather than the metaphysical one.
Swann in Love
The centerpiece of the novel is the second section, “Swann in Love”.
While narrated by the same character (Marcel?), it betrays a wealth of personal detail about Swann’s mental processes that only a third person omniscient narrator could be familiar with.
This quibble aside, the section is probably my favourite literary analysis of any particular character trait, in this case, the capacity for love and jealousy, which in Proust’s hands are flipsides of the same two-sided coin.
We witness the relationship between Swann and Odette transition between first meeting, flirtation, lust, consummation, self-doubt, suspension, reconciliation, suspicion, jealousy, oscillation, irritation, agitation, indifference, torment, unhappiness, despair, estrangement and cessation.
She has a reputation as a courtesan or kept woman, yet Swann, just as much a philanderer, falls madly in love with her. In the words of the narrator in a different context (that of Gilberte) , they are “sister souls”.
Witness what the equally flirtatious Odette says in her letters:
"My dearest, my hand is trembling so badly I can hardly write."(This letter, Swann keeps in a drawer with a dried chrysanthemum flower.)
"If you had forgotten your heart here too, I would not have let you take it back."
"At whatever hour of the day or night you need me, send word and my life will be yours to command."
Proust is relatively coy about the physical consummation of the relationship.
It becomes sexual, although we are not told how soon or for how long.
Nor are we told why the two lovers fall out, only that Swann starts to feel jealous of other real or imagined companions.
Just as words and sensations have significance for the characters, Swann and Odette develop a code for their assignations.
They describe sex as “making cattleyas”, an expression which refers to the orchids that were present at the time of their first mutual seduction.
So, ultimately, it is clear that we are dealing with not just love, but love and sex intertwined.
Love and Jealousy
Proust displays a remarkable insight into the flip sides of love and jealousy:
"...what we believe to be our love, or our jealousy, is not one single passion, continuous and indivisible. They are composed of an infinity of successive loves, of different jealousies, which are ephemeral but by their uninterrupted multitude give the impression of continuity, the illusion of unity.
"The life of Swann’s love, the faithfulness of his jealousy, were formed of the death, the faithlessness, of numberless desires, numberless doubts, all of which had Odette as their object…
"The presence of Odette continued to sow Swann’s heart with affection and suspicion by turns."
Love is Space and Time Measured by the Heart
Proust persists with the language of involuntary memory throughout the novel, only, he extends it to both time and space.
Time passes, and the reality we once had no longer exists.
Similarly, "the places we have known do not belong solely to the world of space in which we situate them for our greater convenience."
It is the task of memory to revive time and space (and therefore love) that might otherwise be lost.
Our minds work like a filing cabinet of memories. Each memory is:
"...a thin slice among contiguous impressions which formed our life at that time; the memory of a certain image is but regret for a certain moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years."
Conversely, time and space are lost, to the extent that they are not preserved by memory.
Just as “Ulysses” is Joyce’s attempt to record and preserve an Odyssey through 20th century Dublin, “Swann’s Way” is Proust’s attempt to perpetuate moments in love, so that we who follow him may better understand love and, in turn, experience better love, as well as perpetuate and remember our love.
Art of Noise – "(Moments in) Love"
Erik Satie - "Trois Gymnopédies"
Francis Poulenc - "Melancholie"
Claude Debussy - "Golliwogg's Cakewalk"
Gabriel Fauré - "Pavane Op.50" (Du coté chez Proust)
Cesar Franck - "The Little Phrase"
Jorge Arriagada - "Sonate de Vinteuil"
HAIKU AND VERSE:
On Reading Proust, Alone, Rising I
Fancy strays alone,
In ecstasy, inhaling
The scent of lilac.
On Reading Proust, Alone, Rising II
I read not alone,
But thrilled by a creature of
A different kingdom.
On Reading Proust, Alone, Rising III
Occupations that demand
For more verse inspired by Proust, see here:
Notes are private!
Jan 13, 2013
Jan 26, 2013
Jan 13, 2013
Feb 17, 1981
(view spoiler)[“Exercises in Style” retells an apparently unremarkable tale ninety-nine times, employing a variety of styles, ranging from sonnet...more Blurb
(view spoiler)[“Exercises in Style” retells an apparently unremarkable tale ninety-nine times, employing a variety of styles, ranging from sonnet to cockney to mathematical formula. Too funny to be merely a pedantic thesis, this virtuoso set of themes and variations is a linguistic rust-remover, a guide to literary forms and a demonstration of imagery and inventiveness. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I finally located my copy of this ingenuous little number in my attic and read it through again. I think my favourite mode has to be ‘HTML,’ where the narrator links to other computers in the world around him while telling the bus altercation story. I pursued some of these links, before getting lost and deciding that I had to retrace my steps, using a history file that my PC had compiled. It was funnier the third time around, oddly. I doubt whether I would even (get it? Even, not odd?) find it funny at all the fourth time around, but nothing ever is, sadly. I looked up some of the more specific verse forms that escaped me on the first two reads and, oddly, smiled even more knowingly than the first and second times. (A more knowing smile involves greater purchase on the lips of one's target or oneself). It fascinated me that there were things that I missed on my first two reads and that I would now tell you about them in my review. Perhaps, friends will appreciate that someone of my über-talent can be human after all. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I enrolled at Loyola University Chicago, intending, I thought, to wrap up a Ph.D. in short order. It dawned on me in college that I should do some subsidiary reading of fiction. This was one of those subsidiary works, my greatest philosophical concerns being ethical. This book, assigned for Dave Schweickart's Social and Political Philosophy of Literature course, was far and away the most important book I read. Raymond Queneau was someone I had to understand. From the perspective of the class wherein this book was studied, the issue which most exercised the teacher--and, through him, us--was whether or not Queneau fully recognized the socio-linguistic implications of his assumptions and arguments. We were unable to reach a conclusion. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[What with my fear of spoilers and all, I found that the first story acted as a spoiler for all of the stories that followed it, so half way through the second story I hastily and impulsively shelved the book on my “ain-t-ever-going-to-happen” shelf, where it ain’t ever going to happen, I can assure you of that. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Completely related aside:
This novel reminds me of my visit to MoMA. One of the works of art was '10 million years', basically all the numbers from 1 to 10 million written in 10 fat books. How artistic is that? Did anybody check the books? What if the artist had made a mistake towards the end of a book? On the artist's part, it must have taken a lot of patience and hard-work. It probably fed some sort of obsession of his. But no matter what it meant to him, to me it was just BLAH! I can be quite a lousy museum-goer. This novel is the same. Why these 99 stories? Are they the right stories? Are they the best stories? What did he leave out? Are we being short-changed? But really. Who cares? To me it was just BLAH! I can be quite a lousy reader. At least it wasn't a fat book. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ While they make for an engaging and sometimes hilarious read, these stories also work with an overall conceit within the novel that concerns itself with the problematic relationship between philosophical thinking and human interaction. The characters bear such a close resemblance to their creator, that parsing the differences between intentional and unintentional personality traits imbued in them, and their subsequent significance in the novel, would be an exercise in futility rather than style. There is no doubt that philosophy, as a field of study and practice, takes as its defining characteristic to be critical thinking and a dependence on the foundations of logic. Whether intentional or not, the novel applies the practices of critical thinking and analysis to all aspects of the characters’ relationships with paranoiac intensity. Before I descend further into self-parody, let me pre-empt the reader by saying that a parody of me would just be a rambling, self-conscious, psuedo-philosophical rant with a ton a grammatical mistakes. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Having read the original French edition, I thought I would translate it into Swedish. I think it was the better for it. Certainly not, thought so. I mean, certainly, not thought so. I incorporated a cryptic but admiring mathematical reference into the preface for not. I have never seen not so humble as when she encountered my dedication while reading quietly in bed. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Dammit - you've grabbed the hot seat. I wanted to sit there. Now I'll have to settle for being the stooge who always arrives late bleating on about conflated misandry. So I have all of these big fat post-modernist books I’ve just bought and now I have to review them. How should I begin? I debated in the quiet chambers of my mind many hours how to review this book. No, I’ve used that before. I flung ideas at my ever-patient partner about the dialectic of why I thought what I thought, asking to be challenged because this book is seductive by nature and intellectual by design and how can a reader resist the temptation to attack such a potent combination? No, I’m an anarchist. Nobody will believe me when I use the word “dialectic”. Sitting in the bus, up the back with the other non-conformists, I wrote many opening sentences and discarded those, concocted a structure and buried it under a dense blanket of autobiographical rhetoric which I consigned to the bonfire of my vanity, and considered simply silence, as the excruciating riposte. And so after all this deliberation, I chose silence. I had reached my stop. It was time for me to get off. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[It says on the back this book is a meditation on the nature of fiction. So, what is fiction? Fiction is when someone gently tugs this book out of your hands and says "You don't need to read this continental crap, dear. You're coming to bed with me." (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Fit Enough to Read
My wife is the one
Who exercises in style,
While I just read books. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I feel a slight anger towards the author for playing this trick on me, for leading me on into reading the entire book, without giving me anything new which I had not received from the first story. Usually when I decide to read a book, I do it with the knowledge that I will gain something new with each chapter, but Queneau gave me none of that.
What I do appreciate about this reading experience is this: as is stated in the novel, anything that happens only once might as well have not happened at all - does it then apply that any novel that consists of less than one story repeated or recurring, might as well have not been written at all? (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ After finishing Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises in Style”, I had to step back awhile before reviewing in fear I would simply come across as an overzealous cheerleader yelling ‘Give me an R!....Give me an A!...Give me a Y!....,etc, etc’. Like a teenage romance, I was so blinded by my love for this collection and author that I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I loved so much, and if this brightly burning passion was distracting me from the flaws and faults that I wouldn’t realize were there until much later. After giving some time to reflect, my overzealousness has hardly died down and, through some helpful and insightful discussions and rereads of the stories with others (I highly recommend reading Garima's wonderfully comprehensive review!), I have not only been able to pinpoint my feelings on the book, but my appreciation has only continued to grow. The stories in this collection, while each varying dramatically at times in terms of style and voice, all seem to reflect upon the psychological implications of existing in the modern era of media and social pressures. Yeah this one was stunning, no, better than that, awesome. My joy is simply ineffable right now. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[It won’t be fair on my part to give stars to this book on a whole. There are 99 different stories written in distinct styles, some of which went well with me and some not so well. So I will give it three stars. But instead of a review, let me tell you a story about the author. Well, it was supposed to be about the author. I saw him many times around here, since I joined the GR Club. Sometimes having tete-a-tete with one of my friends and sometimes being the cynosure of some group discussions. I thought of approaching him on many occasions but I didn’t want to come up as somewhat forward and I wasn’t even sure if he was my TYPE. You see it’s a long term commitment and there are many things I need to be sure about like compatibility and I don’t even know anything about him yet and at the end I don’t wanna make a fool of myself. Then one day I saw him on the bus and he was arguing with an older man. Then he went and sat down in a spare seat. He seemed to be upset, so I worked up the courage to go up and talk to him. I approached him from behind and gently touched his shoulder. At first, he recoiled. Then he saw me and his mood changed. He smiled. It wasn’t Raymond Queneau after all. It was Sven. I turned around just as the older man was getting off the bus. I didn't get a really good look at his face, but if I'm not mistaken, it was Ian Graye. He can't even have a bus trip without getting into an argument with someone. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I want those 37 minutes back! This book is awful; a total disaster. I’m sure the author was a very nice guy for a Frog and all but he can’t write worth shit. There is not a single identifiable character in this “novel,” and I mean not just a character I can identify with, but there’s not even a character in here. Well there’s two, but we know nothing more about them at the end than we do at the beginning. And plot? Are you kidding me? There is more plot in “A Postmodern Belch”. Plus it has more headings than an Ian Graye review. Of course I didn’t read the whole thing--I got tired of running to the dictionary every three pages just so I could understand the headings (why does every damn pomo author have to be so egotistical and use words us average readers don’t even know?) Anyone that says they’ve read this whole Exercise (“Vomit” would be more accurate) is a liar. This is worse than The Iliad my teacher forced me to read. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Reluctant Cricket Dismissal
From where I stood at midwicket,
He sounded caught behind to me.
Still, given out by the umpire,
With a replay we all could see,
He refused to walk off the ground,
Fortified by his law degree,
He argued toe to toe with all
And even cursed and swore at me,
Until the keeper grabbed his shirt
And, buttonless, forced him to flee. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Oh, my Dog, is it any wonder the French no longer have an Empire? Look at this crap, will you? Write one story 99 different ways and call it a novel? You’ve got to be kidding. This reminds me of the production assistant who asked me for a job once. She had a few CV entries that appealed to me, but I’m not allowed to discuss them on air. The big problem was that she, I mean they, said she, I mean they, had 20 years experience. But as soon as I gave her, I mean them, a trial, it turned out that she I mean they had just had one year’s experience, the same year, 20 times. It just doesn't work that way. Give me plot, give me character, give me character development. Fiction is not a chemistry experiment, where you mix up ingredients and hope it [does/doesn’t] blow up in the reader’s face. There is no suspense inherent in repetition. A reader doesn’t want to read something 99 times in the hope that the last time will be different. Give me a break, give me a break dance. Raymond Queneau is the Plastic Bertrand of French Fiction. I’m sorry, France, you should just stick to movies. Your actresses are HOT! HOT! HOT! Work them to the bone. Don’t even worry about your actors. They’re FAT! FAT! FAT! Oh, I forgot, he’s a Russian now. Maybe I should just cross to Rupert for the news. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Haiku with Word Play
Needing a button,
He argued loudly, after which
He took affront seat. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ This is definitely one great work :) There is much to be grasped here. Though I won't whole heatedly concur with all of the stories, some of them are great pearls to be cherished :) It can positively alter the thought process once you go beyond the text and try to relate it on a more personal level. It is one of my favorites :) I apologize if I haven't been clearer. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I have to admit I don't comprehend this book. It seems like the author is retelling the story in the novel. Is that what it is supposed to be? In which case it really has nothing to do with what a conventional book is, but rather is the author's tag-along take on what he has already done?
I'm not trying to be critical here, but simply trying to explain why I don't see much in this book that speaks to me. I guess I'm too old and too conventional. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[You can tell that story in 99 chapters? Well, I can tell it in nine, better still, one! I'm sick of Raymond Queneau fans gushing over his economy with words and his simple sentence styles. I can appreciate why that sort of minimalism takes skill to master, but I'm a reader for chrissakes - I want to be told a story, not subjected to a sort of narrative and syntactical bloodletting, experimenting with how many different ways we can tell the same story and still have it live. Nobody swoons over the latest car that looks like every other damned car on the road. Nobody runs around recommending their friends to try out the new burger joint in town that gives you the same fascist shit as the Golden Arches. I want content! Narrative abundance! I want to be entertained!! I'll take Proust's runon cumulative sentences over Queneau's narrative and locutional anemia any day. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ Interest in random text generation appears to have begun with the famous, though untested, proposition that an infinite number of monkeys with infinite time at their keyboards would ultimately reproduce Shakespeare. Of course, pure randomness without some kind of structure is a highly inefficient path toward literary art. Plus, the process is just as likely to produce piggy porn as it is to emulate Queneau (granting, for our purposes, that there is a distinction to be made). While the exact algorithm used by Queneau (1981) to produce “Exercises in Style” (henceforth EIS) was never documented, we contend that the method proposed in this review is, on average, in a repeated sampling context, observationally equivalent. As is true of any simulation, there is a deterministic component and a random component. Simulated paths will vary, but the statistical distributions from which the stochastic terms are sampled match those of EIS. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Was I searching for such lust when I entered the bus? I knew the recognizable twinge springing through my warm body when I saw this book laying amid the boisterous articles on the vacant bus seat; the quintessential oddball novel. I had devoured it once, in one sitting or was it between my silken sheets with that night’s sorry lover? Was I truly prepared for the experience once again? Ecstasy swayed in my cold perspiration. The unbearable sighs in the offing for a consequential release; the chronic tapping of feet on the cold floor of the slow riding bus; was I geared up for all? The thought of “Exercises in Style” was more pleasurable than diamond fields and spouter whales. A strange man was just a few breaths away and audaciously gawking at my hand which was meantimes venturing its wiry way between my legs. Politely, I excuse myself from his offered help and dash out of the bus hoping I do not see him again. I realise I have left the book on the bus seat. I chase the bus afterwards, until the next stop where it unloads that cute American girl I’ve spoken to a few times and she is holding a copy of said book. I follow her... (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Give me a bus ride compromised by emotion, drugs, unreliable narrators spilling their guts to a psychedelic riddle that crosses consciousness and space-time continuum. Give me a French bus driver, chain smoking and complaining about the President’s celebrity wife. Give me Lolita. Give me American Psycho. Give me unrelenting displays of cruelty and abuse and subsequent coping mechanisms whose effects are just as vicious as their causes, and sprinkle them with laugh out loud moments clouded by the memories of the aforementioned atrocities. Give me David Foster Wallace. Give me recognition that the brain is an organ just as unwieldy and unreliable as the heart or the kidney, and thinking your way out of something is sometimes the worst possible decision you could ever make. Give me Kafka. Give me the paragon of masculinity breaking down into snotty sobs in front of an openly weeping crowd of fellow human beings, in a transport system that cannot possibly work until it does. Give me Thomas Mann. Give me the revival of hope in mankind, embodied in the briefest touch between one masquerading as the dregs of society, and one unaware of their hopeless plight to a heartrending degree. Give me China Mieville. Give me the type of author who has weird and fantastical dreams that all too easily dip into nightmares and back again, undergoing a number of cycles in a single night. Dreams that he can't help writing down to share with the rest of us. Give me miscommunication on a truly horrendous scale, conversers following their own narratives with minuscule attention paid to their conversees, many pairs of these circling in a bus with no clear and singular "plot". Give me something Gallic, some book that is just so right for this France, this Paris, this creative beacon that teems with contagious culture and ridiculous fashions to this very day, one that can be silly but is often so very, very brave. Give me a book that contains a Truth that will have its way with me that I didn't realize I desperately craved until I am lying on the floor, breathless and aching with tears flowing freely down my cheeks, stunned in the realization that I am not the only one in the room and, yes, oh my God, that adorable Indian woman who I have seen a few times on the short bus, Praj, is beside me. She smiles. She inspects my vulnerability with a professional but slightly perverse gaze. She lifts her hand, moves it slowly, suggestively, sensuously, sibilantly, towards me, and, oh oh, she rests it gently on my book. Then, without further ado, she rises and is gone from my room. So is the book. Yet again, I have found myself lost in alliteration. (hide spoiler)](less)
Notes are private!
Feb 20, 2013
Feb 22, 2013
Jan 09, 2013
Nov 27, 2012
What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Let me confess straight away: I am in thrall to Alain Badiou, a French philosopher who was born in 1937 and therefore in...more What’s Love Got to Do With It?
Let me confess straight away: I am in thrall to Alain Badiou, a French philosopher who was born in 1937 and therefore in 2013 is 76.
I make no pretence to objectivity in this review.
I share his interests, love and politics, culture and philosophy, and his analysis accords with my predisposition.
What has he done? He’s defined a worldview with which I wholeheartedly agree in 104 pages of passionate, pristine prose.
Reading it has been the most amazing and life-changing experience of my postgraduate, autodidactic life.
Unbeknown to me, I have been searching for this man all of my life.
Socrates:"Anyone who doesn’t take love as their starting-point will never discover what philosophy is about."
I Think, Therefore You Don’t Exist
Descartes:"I think, therefore I am."
Notice anything about this sentence? The first person pronoun is used twice. There is no "you"! There is no "we". There is no "us". There is no narrative. There is no love. There is only "solitary consciousness".
Boring! Philosophy, lift your game!
Immanuel Kant later postulated that we could never truly “know” the Other or the exterior, objective world.
And that type of approach resulted in solipsism! You don’t exist, except in my mind!
When I hold you in my arms, I know intuitively that that’s not true.
Half of these philosophers lacked adequate personal experience in sex, desire and love, or felt guilty about it.
Help! We need a philosopher to sort this out. Better still, a French one. One from the Continent.
Let’s give this gentle homme a chance…
Let’s assume that you exist. "You think, therefore you are."
See, that wasn’t that hard, was it?
Now, let’s assume that it’s just the two of us on Earth. Somehow, we meet each other at a party. We enjoy our "Encounter". It’s a "Magical Moment". It’s an "Act of Randomness". Later, we will describe it as our "Random Encounter".
What am I going to do with you? What are you going to do with me?
How do we describe our relationship?
Is This Love or Desire?
I venture the word "Desire".
Alain Badiou: "Desire is immediately powerful... Desire focuses on the Other, always in a somewhat fetishist manner , on particular objects, like breasts, buttocks and cock."
Suddenly, you say, "I don’t like the sound of that. What about Friendship, what about Love?"
Me: OK, but what is Love?
Alain Badiou: "Love is a quest for truth. I mean truth in relation to something quite precise: what kind of world does One see when One experiences it from the point of view of Two and not One ? What is the world like when it is experienced, developed and lived from the point of view of Difference and not Identity? That is what I believe Love to be."
You: Can you have both Love and Desire?
Alain Badiou: "If you declare your Love to each other, Love includes and embraces Desire."
Alain Badiou: "Love, particularly over time, embraces all the positive aspects of Friendship, but Love relates to the totality of the Being of the Other."
You: What do you mean by "the totality of the Being"?
Alain Badiou: "I mean the totality of your Being. All of it, everything. All of you. You. Your heart, your soul, your mind, your body."
Me: What about Sex?
Alain Badiou: "The Surrender of the Body becomes the material symbol of that totality."
You: "Sorry, what do I have to Surrender?"
Alain Badiou: " Surrendering your body , taking your clothes off, being naked for the Other, rehearsing those hallowed gestures, renouncing all embarrassment, shouting, all this involvement of the body is evidence of a Surrender to Love . It crucially distinguishes it from Friendship. Friendship doesn’t involve bodily contact, or any resonances in pleasure of the body."
Me: So, if I declare my Love, she will Surrender??
Alain Badiou: "Within the framework of a Love that declares itself, this Declaration, even if it remains latent, is what produces the effects of Desire, and not Desire itself. Love proves itself by permeating Desire."
I look at you. You nod.
You: Tell me you love me then.
I look at Alain. I look back at you. I say, "I love you."
Alain Badiou: " A declaration of "I love you" seals the act of the Encounter, is central and constitutes a Commitment."
Me: What am I committing myself to here?
Alain Badiou: "You’re committing to Love, which I describe as a ‘Two Scene’ ".
Difference and Identity
Alain Badiou: "Starting out from something that is simply an Encounter, a trifle, you learn that you can experience the world on the basis of Difference and not only in terms of Identity.
"In Love, at the absolute Difference that exists between two individuals, one of the biggest Differences one can imagine, given that it is an infinite Difference, yet an Encounter, a Declaration and Fidelity can transform that into a creative Existence."
You: "We don’t have to be mirror images of each other. We don’t have to be identical. Like Doppelgänger."
A Two Scene
Me: What do you mean by a ‘Two Scene’?
Alain Badiou: "Love involves a separation or disjuncture based on the simple Difference between two people and their infinite subjectivities.
"This disjuncture is, in most cases, Sexual Difference.
"When that isn’t the case, Love still ensures that two figures, two different interpretive stances are set in opposition.
"In other words, Love contains an initial element that separates, dislocates and differentiates. You have Two. Love involves Two. A ‘Two Scene’.
"Precisely because it encompasses a disjuncture, at the moment when this Two appear on stage as such and experience the world in a new way, Love can only assume a risky or contingent form.
"That is what we know as "the Encounter". Love always starts with an Encounter.
"Love is evidence we can encounter and experience the world other than through a solitary consciousness.
"The issue of Separation is so important in Love that one can also define Love as a successful struggle against Separation."
Me: "So it’s a bit like a three-legged race? We have to stick together. We can’t continually pull away or in opposite directions. We have to work out a mutually acceptable way of moving ahead, without One dragging the Other against their Will."
Me: "How are we supposed to deal with our Differences?"
Alain Badiou: "The answer comes down to ‘Truth’".
"I believe that Love is what I call a "Truth Procedure" , that is, an experience whereby a certain kind of Truth is constructed.
"This Truth is quite simply the Truth about Two: the Truth that derives from Difference as such. And I think that Love - what I call the 'Two Scene' - is this Experience.
"In this sense, all Love that accepts the challenge, commits to enduring, and embraces this Experience of the world from the perspective of Difference produces in its way a new Truth about Difference."
Alain Badiou: "Love isn’t simply about two people meeting and their inward-looking relationship: it is a Construction , a life that is being made, no longer from the perspective of One but from the perspective of Two. And that is what I have called a ‘Two Scene’."
You: "So Love is more than Love at first sight?" You looked at me as you said it.
Alain Badiou: "Love cannot be reduced to the first Encounter, because it is a Construction.
"The enigma in thinking about Love is the duration of time necessary for it to flourish. In fact, it isn’t the ecstasy of those beginnings that is remarkable.
"The latter are clearly ecstatic, but Love is above all a Construction that lasts."
Me: So Real Love transcends the Randomness of the first Encounter and outlasts it.
Point by Point
Alain Badiou: "I go along with the miracle of the Encounter, but I think it remains confined, if we don’t channel it towards the onerous development of a Truth that is constructed Point by Point" .
Me: What do you mean when you say "Point by Point"?
Alain Badiou: "A 'Point' is a decision point, a point when you have to decide how you are going to deal with a situation, a particular moment around which an Event establishes itself, where it must be re-played in some way, as if it were returning in a changed, displaced form, but one forcing you 'to declare afresh'.
"A Point, in effect, comes when the consequences of a Construction of a Truth, whether it be political, amorous, artistic or scientific, suddenly compels you to opt for a radical choice, as if you were back at the beginning, when you accepted and declared the event.
Me: So having a made a Commitment, something might happen, a challenge, a problem, a dispute, that requires a decision, you have to negotiate and agree a resolution? You make a new Commitment or you refresh the original Commitment?
Alain Badiou: "Yes. We could say that Love is a tenacious adventure. The adventurous side is necessary, but equally so is the need for tenacity . To give up at the first hurdle, the first serious disagreement, the first quarrel, is only to distort Love.
"Real Love is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world."
A Work of Love
Me: "You say the Truth Process is ‘onerous’. It sounds like hard work. Isn’t the act of falling in Love enough?"
Alain Badiou: "‘Onerous’ must be taken here as something positive.
"There is a work of Love: it is not simply a miracle.
"You must be in the breech, on guard: you must be at one with yourself and the Other.
"You must think, act and change. And then, surely, Happiness follows, as the immanent reward for all that work. "
Me: So Happiness is an Earthly reward for the effort we put into our Love. We earn our Happiness from Love’s Labours.
Me: Does being Jealous prove that you’re in Love? Or does it mean you’re just obsessive?
Alain Badiou: "Good question. On this point, I disagree profoundly with all those who think that Jealousy is a constituent element of Love.
"The most brilliant representative of the latter is Proust , for whom Jealousy is the real, intense, demonic content of amorous subjectivity.
"Jealousy is a fake parasite that feeds on Love and doesn’t at all help to define it. Must every Love identify an external rival before it can declare itself, before it can begin? No way! The reverse is the case: the immanent difficulties of Love, the internal contradictions of the Two Scene can crystallize around a third party, a rival, imagined or real.
"The difficulties Love harbours don’t stem from the existence of an enemy who has been identified. They are internal to the process: the creative play of Difference."
Alain Badiou: "Selfishness, not any rival, is love’s enemy. One could say: my Love’s main enemy, the one I must defeat, is not the other, it is myself, the 'myself' that prefers Identity to Difference, that prefers to impose its world against the world re-constructed through the filter of Difference.
"We must demonstrate that Love really does have universal power, but that it is simply the opportunity we are given to enjoy a positive, creative, affirmative experience of Difference."
Me: So it’s OK to have differences of opinion as long as you recognise and permit Difference and don’t seek to impose the Identity of One on the Other. Differences of opinion are actually healthy?
Alain Badiou: "Christianity substitutes devout, passive, deferential Love for the Combative Love I am praising here, that earthly creation of the differentiated birth of a new world and a Happiness won Point by Point.
"Love on bended knee is no Love at all as far as I am concerned, even if Love sometimes arouses Passion in us that makes us yield to the Loved One."
I Believe in Miracles
You: Why does falling in Love seem like such a miracle? Is Love more than a chance meeting with the Other?
Alain Badiou: "Love remains powerful, subjectively powerful: it’s one of those rare Experiences where, on the basis of Chance inscribed in a moment, you attempt a Declaration of Eternity.
"The moment of the miraculous Encounter promises the Eternity of Love, though what I want to suggest is a concept of Love that is less miraculous and more hard work, namely a Construction of Eternity within time, of the Experience of the Two, Point by Point."
I Will Always Love You
Me: Is Love forever?
Alain Badiou: "If 'I love you' is always, in most respects, the heralding of 'I’ll always love you', it is in effect locking Chance into the framework of Eternity .
"The Declaration of Love marks the transition from Chance to Destiny, and that’s why it is so perilous and so burdened with a kind of horrifying stage fright.
" ‘Always’ means ‘eternally’. It is simply a Commitment within time."
Me: For an Atheist, Love can’t endure beyond death.
Alain Badiou: "There is no fabulous world of the afterlife. But Love, the essence of which is Fidelity in the meaning I give to this word, demonstrates how Eternity can exist within the time span of Life itself .
"Happiness in Love is the proof that Time can accommodate Eternity.”
Me: What do you mean by 'Fidelity'? Does it mean more than the simple promise not to sleep with someone else?
Alain Badiou: "The initial Declaration of 'I love you' is a Commitment requiring no particular consecration, the Commitment to construct something that will endure in order to release the Encounter from its randomness .
"By Fidelity, I mean: I shall extract something else from what was mere Chance.
"I’m going to extract something that will endure, something that will persist, a Commitment, a Fidelity.
"And here I am using the word 'Fidelity' within my own philosophical jargon, stripped of its usual connotations. It means precisely that transition from Random Encounter to a Construction that is resilient, as if it had been necessary.
"In Love, Fidelity signifies this extended victory: the randomness of an Encounter defeated day after day through the invention of what will endure, through the birth of a world."
Me: So the Construction of Love gives birth to a new world comprised of and between the Two. And Fidelity is designed to ensure that that world endures.
Me: You talk about Politics in the same way you talk about Love.
Alain Badiou: "Real politics is that which gives enthusiasm. Love and Politics are the two great figures of social engagement.
"Politics is enthusiasm with a collective; with Love, two people. So Love is the minimal form of communism.
"By 'communist' I understand that which makes the ‘held-in-common’ [ed: 'shared'?] prevail over selfishness, the collective achievement over private self-interest.
"Love is communist in that sense, if one accepts, as I do, that the real subject of a love is the becoming of the couple and not the mere satisfaction of the individuals that are its component parts. Yet another possible definition of love: minimal communism!"
Me: How do Politics and Love differ?
Alain Badiou: "Politics constitutes a Truth Procedure, but one that centres on the Collective.
"Political action tests out the Truth of what the Collective is capable of achieving.
"What are individuals capable of when they meet, organize, think and take decisions?
"In Love, it is about two people being able to handle Difference and make it creative.
"In Politics, it is about finding out whether a number of people, a mass of people in fact, can create equality.
"The problem Politics confronts is the control of Hatred, not of Love. And Hatred is a passion that almost inevitably poses the question of the Enemy.
"In other words, in Politics, where Enemies do exist, one role of the organization, whatever that may be, is to control, indeed to destroy, the consequences of Hatred."
Alain Badiou: "What on earth is 'Fraternity'? No doubt it is related to the issue of Differences, of their friendly co-presence within the political process, the essential boundary being the confrontation with the Enemy.
"And that is a notion that can be covered by internationalism, because, if the Collective can really take Equality on board, that means it can also integrate the most extensive divergences and greatly limit the power of Identity.
"The theatre is a community and the aesthetic expression of Fraternity. That’s why I argue that there is, in that sense, something communist in all theatre."
Art and Theatre
Alain Badiou: "Only art restores the dimension of the senses to an Encounter, an insurrection or a riot. Art, in all its forms, is a great reflection on the Event as such.
"Theatre is politics and love, and more generally, about the two intersecting.
"The theme of Love as a Game is crucial in the Theatre, and that it’s all precisely about Declarations. It is also because this Theatre of Love, this powerful Game of Love and Chance exists, that I have this love for the Theatre.
"The relationship between the Theatre and Love is also the exploration of the abyss separating individuals, and the description of the fragile nature of the bridge that Love throws between two solitudes."
Me: The reconciliation of your Love and your Politics meant a lot to you.
Alain Badiou: "I realised that conviction in Love and Politics is something one must never renounce.
"That was really the moment when, in between Politics and Love, my life found the musical chord that ensured its harmony."
Marxism has always endeavoured to construct a worldview on the foundation of Labour that fulfilled and rewarded the Worker.
To achieve this goal, it had to overcome the Alienation inherent in Capitalism.
Communism in practice never succeeded, because it simply replaced one oppressor with another, the State.
While Badiou still claims to be a Communist, he seems to be a Communist in the Atheist sense of trying, in the absence of God and an Afterlife, to create a Heaven on Earth.
An essential component of this worldview is Love, both at a personal and a political level.
It’s fascinating that his philosophy attributes great value to work and effort.
In Love, as in Politics, as in Employment, if we want something, we have to work for it.
Success is the reward for Effort.
In both Politics and Love, the reward is a Happiness that will last and endure.
The following epigrams are either the express words of Badiou or my paraphrase of his propositions.
1 Love includes and embraces Desire.
2 Love is what we construct on the foundation of our Differences.
3 Love is the birth of a new world constructed and shared by two different people.
4 We deal with our Differences, point by point, one at a time, for the duration of our Love.
5 It is our effort that makes Love endure.
6 Happiness is the reward for the effort we put into our Love.(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 24, 2013
Mar 25, 2013
Dec 20, 2012
Feb 11, 1994
A Miller’s Tale
If "Tropic of Cancer" was Henry Miller’s debut album, an outspoken work of radical sexual and philosophical self-revelation, then "Blac...more A Miller’s Tale
If "Tropic of Cancer" was Henry Miller’s debut album, an outspoken work of radical sexual and philosophical self-revelation, then "Black Spring" is a lesser, sophomore work that is a shadow of the debut.
Though it is still a worthy effort, it is a lesser work in many ways. It is shorter, it isn’t one continuous work that flows inexorably from beginning to end. It is more or less 10 semi-autobiographical works, each with its own chapter title, much like a collection of essays. Indeed, some of the chapters were individually submitted for publication in magazines.
Sexuality is only one subject matter out of many. Paris is only one setting. Miller’s hometown of Brooklyn is equally, if not more, important.
There is a greater concern with Henry Miller the person, the individual, rather than Henry Miller, the lover, the fucquer.
Ironically, the novel is dedicated to Anais Nin, his lover, who helped fund its publication. Perhaps both were trying to prove to the world that he was a serious writer who could write about more than sex, at least from a masculine point of view.
European What Not
Miller’s tale commences in Brooklyn. He describes himself as a patriot of the Fourteenth Ward, now known as Williamsburg. His father was for a period a tailor in the vicinity of Fifth Avenue and 30th Street, Manhattan (near the former Hotel Wolcott).
His family came from Germany ("Hurrah for the German Fifth!"). He describes "the freaks who made up the living family tree". He identifies not only with his family background, but its German and European origins. In both "Tropic of Cancer" and "Black Spring", he refers to Goethe.
"I am a man of the old world, a seed that was transplanted by the wind, a seed which failed to blossom in the mushroom oasis of America. I belong on the heavy tree of the past. My allegiance, physical and spiritual, is with the men of Europe, those who were once Franks, Gauls, Vikings, Huns, Tatars, what not."
Miller derives his ambition from European roots:
"Once I thought there were marvelous things in store for me...I was part of the great tree, part of the past, with crest and lineage, with pride, pride...Always merry and bright!"
In the Street
Miller prides himself on the toughness he learned in the streets of Brooklyn. The street is where you find truth. The street is authentic and real:
"What is not in the street is false, derived, that is to say, literature."
It’s the sensibility of the street that he brings to his fiction, that and the street-wise cynicism of the street-walker. He doesn’t imagine himself writing from a gentleman’s study, but from a poverty-stricken artist’s garret.
Once in the street, you are part of the world, and you could be anywhere.
A Walk, A Dream, A Reverie
Miller claims, "I am not a traveler, not an adventurer," but he is a walker, and his walking takes him first from childhood to youth and then to adulthood, but eventually to Paris, all the time seeking out something, himself.
He sees youth as whole and undivided. "There was no sharp separation between joy and sorrow: they fused into one, as our waking life fuses with dream and sleep." Then comes "the great fragmentation of maturity. The great change":
"...All things, as we walk, splitting with us into a myriad iridescent fragments…We live in the mind, in ideas, in fragments. We no longer drink in the wild outer music of the streets – we remember only. Like a monomaniac we relive the drama of youth."
Miller explored these Proustian concerns in "Tropic of Cancer" as well. Here, he adds:
"One passes imperceptibly from one scene, one age, one life to another. Suddenly, walking down a street, be it real or be it a dream, one realises for the first time that the years have flown, that all this has passed forever and will live on only in memory; and then the memory turns inward with a strange, clutching brilliance and one goes over these scenes and incidents perpetually, in dream and reverie, while walking a street, while lying with a woman, while reading a book, while talking to a stranger..."
Miller wants to reinstate his wholeness (though not necessarily his wholesomeness), and he will wander everywhere, walk anywhere in his quest for wholeness.
In Search of His Roots
If you’ll permit me to descend into the Australian vernacular, Miller didn’t just return to Europe in pursuit of sexual conquests, he was seeking an alternative to the industrial and materialistic life he found in America:
"Things happened to me in my search for a way out. Up till now I had been working away in a blind tunnel, burrowing in the bowels of the earth for light and water. I could not believe, being a man of the American continent, that there was a place on earth where a man could be himself."
Europe was to be that place, well, at least Paris.
I assume that Berlin and Vienna were less appealing in the early Thirties, because of the contemporaneous ascent of Nazism, though Miller imagines Germany in the following terms in a dream:
"Everything is sordid, shoddy, thin as pasteboard. A Coney Island of the mind...Everything is sliding and crumbling, everything glitters, totters, teeters, titters."
Paris gives Miller the freedom to think and to write, notwithstanding his abject poverty, having resolved not to get a job:
"Here I am in the womb of time and nothing will jolt me out of my stillness. One more wanderer who has found the flame of his restlessness. Here I sit in the open street composing my song."
Despite his romanticisation of Europe, he realises that it, too, is changing:
"The map of Europe is changing before our eyes; nobody knows where the new continent begins or ends...I am here in the midst of a great change. I have forgotten my own language and yet I do not speak the new language."
The Great Wall of China
Miller hopes that a new world will emerge from these changes and his own explorations.
He describes this brave new world as "China", not necessarily the nation "China", but a metaphorical place, like the “East” that Hermann Hesse adverts to.
The metaphor seems to derive from his sense of a wall:
"In Paris, out of Paris, leaving Paris or coming back to Paris, it's always Paris and Paris is France and France is China. All that which is incomprehensible to me runs like a great wall over the hills and valleys through which I wander. Within this great wall I can live out my Chinese life in peace and security...
"By force of circumstance. I became a Chinaman - a Chinaman in my own country! I took to the opium of dream in order to face the hideousness of a life in which I had no part. As quietly and naturally as a twig falling into the Mississippi I dropped out of the stream of American life."
The Song of Love
Miller sings his song while the world around him is collapsing:
"I see America spreading disaster. I see America as a black curse upon the world. I see a long night settling in and that mushroom which has poisoned the world withering at the roots...
"I am dazzled by the glorious collapse of the world!"
Ironically, it’s within this context of destruction that he will learn to write:
"The climate for my body and soul is here where there is quickness and corruption. I am proud not to belong to this century."
In essence, what he wishes to write about is not the world around him, not its history, not its politics, not its ideological future:
"Tomorrow you may bring about the destruction of your world…but tonight I would like to think of one man, a lone individual, a man without a name or country, a man whom I respect because he has absolutely nothing in common with you - MYSELF. Tonight I shall meditate upon that which I am."
As does Walt Whitman, "I celebrate myself, and sing myself".
Miller refers to a God, though it’s arguable that it’s not the God of Christianity:
"It is no sacred heart that inspires me, no Christ I am thinking of. Something better than a Christ, something bigger than a heart, something beyond God Almighty I think of - MYSELF. I am a man. That seems to me sufficient."
So above all else it is himself with whom Miller is in love, and he is both the subject and the object of his Song of Love.
This Animal, This Man is Some Body
Miller’s song is his book:
"For me the book is the man and my book is the man I am…I am a man without a past and without a future. I am - that is all."
Miller is content to "be". In the language of Erich Fromm, he doesn’t need to "have", to acquire and horde materialistic possessions.
At the heart of what Miller’s Man is, is the body:
"In the honeycomb I am, in the warm belly of the Sphinx. The sky and the earth they tremble with the live, pleasant weight of humanity. At the very core is the body. Beyond is doubt, despair, disillusionment. The body is the fundament, the imperishable."
Of course, in the mind of a male, the body takes his own shape:
"I am a man of God and a man of the Devil. To each his due. Nothing eternal, nothing absolute. Before me always the image of the body, our triune god of penis and testicles."
Womanhood must be described in the same terms, if for no other reason than authenticity:
"I want a world where the vagina is represented by a crude, honest slit, a world that has feeling for bone and contour, for raw primary colours, a world that has fear and respect for its animal origins."
Who’s This Man?
One last comment about the man before we talk about sex. This is the essence of Miller as he sees himself:
"Because of Uranus which crosses my longitudinal I am inordinately fond of qunt, hot chitterlings, and water bottles...I am volatile, quixotic, unreliable, independent, and evanescent. Also quarrelsome...in short, I am an idle fellow who pisses his time away. I have absolutely nothing to show for my labors except my genius..."
An Inordinate Fondness
There is much more about Miller’s inordinate fondness in "Tropic of Cancer" than there is in "Black Spring".
However, there are two scenes that are examples of what Kate Millett criticizes in "Sexual Politics".
In my review of "Tropic of Cancer", I mentioned his "sexual exuberance".
On page 96, Miller’s protagonist goes to the home of a recent widow with whose beauty he is infatuated.
They are sitting next to each other on the couch, when, after some formalities and sobbing…
"I finally bent over and without saying a word I raised her dress and slipped it into her...she was a pushover...I thought to myself what a sap you’ve been to wait for so long."
On page 123, on a train during rush hour, he is "pressed up against a woman so tight I can feel the hair on her twat. So tightly glued together my knuckles are making a dent in her groin."
Millett refers to the pushover comment in terms of Miller’s and men’s belief that "such opportunities are missed only for the lack of enterprise or through adherence to false ideals."
Men are supposed to have absolute licence, and women are supposed to be perpetually available for sex. In other words, all women are supposed to be as available as whores, except that they should expect no payment or consideration.
Millett makes no comment on the second scene. However, it contains within it a more explicit threat of sexual violence.
The protagonist alights at the same stop as the woman, then follows her up to street level, until he decides that she is not interested in sex and he ends his pursuit.
Later that night, he considers that he "ought to go back to the subway, grab a Jane and rape her in the street".
To the extent that this scene captures what goes on in the mind of a stranger, it is a caution to all women.
While Millett is highly critical of some of Miller’s sexual descriptions, she does preface her comments as follows:
"Miller is a compendium of American sexual neuroses, and his value lies not in freeing us from such afflictions, but in having had the honesty to express and dramatise them…What Miller did articulate was the disgust, the contempt, the hostility, the violence, and the sense of filth with which our culture, or more specifically, its masculine sensibility, surrounds sexuality. And women too; for somehow it is women upon whom this onerous burden of sexuality falls."
While Millett wrote these words in 1969 and I think there is much of literary merit in Miller’s writing, I don’t think Millett’s views should be dismissed, even though it’s over forty years later.
"Tropic of Cancer"
My review of the first volume in the trilogy, "Tropic of Cancer", is here:
Notes are private!
Apr 17, 2013
Apr 21, 2013
Dec 01, 2012
The Strange Workings of Time
The act of telling a story takes up time, it prolongs time and, in doing so, prolongs life.
It preserves memories while we...more The Strange Workings of Time
The act of telling a story takes up time, it prolongs time and, in doing so, prolongs life.
It preserves memories while we are alive, but it can also preserve them beyond our death.
Paradoxically, story-telling might even help us to accept death.
As Marias’ protagonist, Victor, says:
"I can tell the story and I can therefore explain the transition from life to death, which is a way of both prolonging that life and accepting that death."
Expecting to Reign
Victor’s story starts with an "unconsummated infidelity" and the unexplained, but natural, death of his new paramour, Marta.
Marias and Victor get the death out of the way in the very first sentence:
"No one ever expects that they might some day find themselves with a dead woman in their arms, a woman whose face they will never see again, but whose name they will remember."
A life has to be extinguished, so that the story may commence.
Committed to Memory
Proust and Joyce have likewise been concerned with the nature of memory and its ability to preserve both time and place in minute detail.
However, moreso than them, I feel, Marias is also interested in what happens to the memories of someone after they die.
Just as Marta dies in Victor’s arms, he wants to find out what really happened that night and why.
He tries to keep her memory alive by investigating her death.
So he starts to tell a story, a metaphysical detective story. He wants to flesh out his few memories of Marta, detail by detail, clue by clue, and we watch him, fascinated, as he pieces it all together.
Towards Our Own Dissolution
Marias offers us a mental snapshot of Marta at the point of death.
We hear her plead, "Don’t leave me...Hold me, hold me, please, hold me," as she lies foetus-like, half-naked and vulnerable on the bed. Then she exclaims, "Oh God, the child", thinking of someone else, her two-year old son, at the very end.
Soon Victor discovers that Marta’s husband is on his trail, and the progress of the novel concerns how their two stories come together in a slow-build denouement.
The novel flows towards this end in the same almost stream of consciousness manner that the narrative of Virginia Woolf’s "Mrs Dalloway" moves inexorably to its conclusion.
As time goes by, we move unwittingly closer to some sort of understanding, some knowledge, completion, closure, just as in life we move towards our own death.
In Marias' words, "We slowly travel towards our own dissolution", our own end, the end of our memories and stories.
How Little Trace Remains
Time itself has no interest in memories. Memories are passengers, a burden to it. They’re not the main game.
Life is a sequence of actions and thoughts. Once each of them happens or occurs, they are, in time’s eyes, spent, gone:
"How little trace remains of anything."
Just as we have to make an effort to keep love alive, we have to make an effort to keep memories alive.
The Passage of Time
Time just wants to move forward, openly, in the light, its own source of light, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible.
What has occurred in the past is of no consequence to time, its goal is the future, which it gets to via the present.
Time has neither a goal, nor a purpose nor even a direction, other than the movement forward, ahead, which is really no more than a measure of the elapse of time, the passage of time.
So, perhaps, time is nothing, really. Time is nothing, in reality. It has no value, it is worthless:
"All time is useless..."
Darkness and Light
Marias suggests that there are two sides to time. The light and the dark.
The light is time itself. The darkness, the reverse side of time, the absence of light, is what we humans bring to it, what we make of it, the shadows that are created as time shines on and around us.
It takes us to impose utility on time, to make it useful, and one of the ways we do so is memory.
Memories are Made of This
Memory is a conscious act. We memorise things, in order to preserve them:
"I will try to remember, on the reverse side of time along which you are already travelling."
Literature is a record of other people’s memories, both fictitious and real.
We read so that we can experience and preserve these memories, perhaps so that we can enjoy them vicariously, so that we can experiment and explore and learn, without scope for personal error or embarrassment.
Likewise, a photo captures a person’s soul at a particular time, which soon recedes into the past, but the photo remains.
What we remember, what we memorise is the things we think and do. And what we think and do revolves around our desires.
Man Ray, "Femme Endormie" or "Sleeping Woman", 1932
Seeking and Wanting
Marias explores how we "seek and want" in our lives. We pursue pleasure. We eschew pain. We chase others and occasionally catch them. We present ourselves as the answer to their desires:
"Tell me what would be best for you."
It’s implicit in this command or plea or request that we might be able to provide what is best for the other.
Perhaps, we do so in order to experience a moment or more of unreality, of fantasy, of enchantment.
We put enormous energy into our desires, our seeking and our wanting. They exhaust us, they haunt us, they make us weary. We spend our lives oscillating between "weariness and desire".
A Ridiculous Disaster
Frequently, we become the victim of our own desires, and perhaps the desires of others.
Marias doesn’t shy away from the absurd in his description of the life and death experiences of his characters:
"Marta’s death wasn’t just horrible, it was ridiculous."
There is something farcical about the way Marias tells aspects of his story (Victor’s meeting with the King, the indecorous, scoundrel nature of his friend and double, Ruiberriz de Torres, their hilarious visit to the racecourse).
Initially, for me, the sense of farce undermined the gravity of Marias’ novel (and is ultimately why I have given it four stars rather than five).
Perhaps, I was taking him too seriously, or only seriously? Perhaps, my essentially Anglo perspective was getting in the way of this literary version of Pedro Almodavar?
From the Ridiculous to the Sublime
Ultimately, however, I think Marias' story had to incorporate these farcical moments, because life and love do.
We do things that embarrass ourselves. We do things of which we are ashamed. We do things that horrify ourselves and others.
We endeavour to hide our flaws, so that we can protect our self-esteem and our reputation. But life doesn’t just include, it embraces, the horrible and the ridiculous and the shameful. We have to acknowledge it, we have to accept it, we have to accommodate it.
Ultimately, we can’t edit the ridiculous and the shameful out of our life, our story or our life story. We know they exist, as do others. Others watch, others know they exist, others remember. The collective knowledge can’t be extinguished:
"So much else goes on behind our backs, our capacity for knowledge is so limited."
The Collective Consciousness of the Past
Memories and knowledge aren’t just individual. We alone can’t know everything.
Collectively, there is a reservoir of knowledge about all of us, lodged in our minds and memories. We have to put our heads together, and our minds, and our memories.
As a result, the loss of one individual, on death, does not necessarily detract from the collective bank of knowledge.
Still, we only live on after death in the minds of others, in their memories. One day, then, when our last friend or relative dies, there will be no one left to remember us, there will be no memory of us, and we will finally be dead to time.
This has been the way of all flesh for all of time, for eternity. We are part of a continuum, not of time, but of memories. In this way, "the recent present seems like the remote past".
But the past must one day come to an end.
The Special Ridiculousness of the Male of the Species
Marias frequently describes incidents as ridiculous or a disaster or a ridiculous disaster.
There is something peculiarly male in how he goes about this.
In Marta’s case, it was her death that was ridiculous. In Victor’s case, it was his desire, the way he and we males go about seeking and wanting.
There is something vaguely grubby and vulgar in his lascivious gaze, his analysis of Marta’s too small bra and panties, his unsatiated horniness, his subsequent lust for Marta’s younger sister Luisa (now the only surviving one of three sisters):
"I had still not seen that new body that was sure to please me."
Victor proclaims, "I never sought it, I never wanted it," but we don’t believe him. It's in his nature. It's in ours.
Marias sums it up beautifully:
"...only a man is capable of describing as disastrous a night that has not come up to expectations, a night when he had expected to have a fuck, but hadn’t..."
Note how a male converts desire into an expectation, an anticipation, a prediction of what time has in store for him, and so recalls the setup of the novel:
"No one ever expects that they might some day find themselves with a dead woman in their arms."
Back then, it seemed like a tragedy, in fact, at heart it is, but Marias’ skill is to make us realise that, at least as far as Victor is concerned, there is an element of farce in this tale of folly and failure as well.
A Time for Shame
If memory is intrinsically linked to desire, then it must embody expectation, just as much as actuality. A memory is not necessarily true, nor does it necessarily reflect well on us.
Memory, true memory, captures the past, our "folly and failure", warts and all:
"We are ashamed of far too many things, of our appearance and of past beliefs, of our ingenuousness and ignorance, of the submission or pride we once displayed, of our transigence and intransigence, of all the many things we proposed or said without conviction, of having fallen in love with whoever it was we fell in love with and of having been a friend of whoever it was we were friends with, our lives are often a continuous betrayal and denial of what came before, we twist and distort everything as time passes, and yet we are the keepers of secrets and mysteries, however trivial."
An End to Shame and Ridicule
Only death brings relief to the shame and ridicule we have brought upon ourselves:
"Goodbye laughter, goodbye scorn."
However, death also takes everything that was good about a life, the effort, the achievements, the rewards, the friends, the family, the love, so Marias adds:
”And goodbye ardour, goodbye memories.”
Death is inevitable, and one day the present must come to an end.
"Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me"
The title of the novel comes from Shakespeare’s "Richard III":
"Tomorrow in the battle think on me, and fall thy edgeless sword: despair and die!"
It is reiterated many times throughout the text, although there is no clear explanation of its significance.
In the play, the lines are spoken to Richard by the ghosts of his previous victims, who forsee his fate, death in battle.
They contrast with the message to Richmond:
"Thou offspring of the house of Lancaster/The wrongèd heirs of York do pray for thee/Good angels guard thy battle. Live and flourish."
Perhaps there is a suggestion that Evil will be divinely punished, and Good will be rewarded.
However, elsewhere in the novel, Marias questions this inference.
He seems to suggest that we are the sum of our desires and expectations, which are founded in our memories:
"No one ever ceases to be immersed in life as long as they have a consciousness and a few memories to ponder, more than that, it is a person's memories that make every living being dangerous and full of desires and expectations."
Clearly, he thinks that our desires and expectations can be misguided, but is it wrong to be misguided, is it wrong to be dangerous?
Is it an inevitable consequence of Free Will, even if we purport to believe in Fate or Determinism?
"The living also believe that what has never happened can still happen, they believe in the most dramatic and most unlikely reversals of fortune, the sort of thing that happens in history and in stories, they believe that a traitor or beggar or murderer can become king and the head of the emperor fall beneath the blade, that a great beauty can love a monster or that the man who killed her beloved and brought about her ruin can succeed in seducing her, they believe that lost battles can be won, that the dead never really leave but watch over us or appear to us as ghosts who can influence events, that the youngest of three sisters could, one day, be the eldest."
There is a skepticism about Fate and Divinity here. Yet, it has to be weighed against the fact that, in the novel, Marta’s youngest sister does end up being the oldest of the three.
Perhaps then Marias’ message is that our desires and expectations might be misguided, they might be subjective, but at least they are ours, and they might just happen.
As long as we are alive, as long as we hold our swords aloft, as long as there is ardour, as long as there is effort, there is hope.
Memories are made of this. And stories.
"Don’t leave me...Hold me, hold me, please, hold me."
Man Ray, "Natasha", 1929
Nick Cave – "Into My Arms"
"...I believe in love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
"So keep your candles burning
Make her journey bright and pure
That she will keep returning
Always and evermore
"Into my arms, oh Lord
Into my arms, oh Lord
Into my arms, oh Lord
Into my arms"(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 28, 2013
Apr 02, 2013
Nov 24, 2012
Aug 01, 2008
Aug 01, 2008
No novel polarizes opinion like “Lolita”.
True or false?
I thought I’d be on a sure bet, but if you assess the polarization by GR rating...more Polarised Lenses
No novel polarizes opinion like “Lolita”.
True or false?
I thought I’d be on a sure bet, but if you assess the polarization by GR ratings details, this statement is wrong.
Its average rating is about 3.8. 86% of readers like it (a rating of three, four or five). 34% rate it five, 29% four, while only 5% rate it one.
I was going to contrast it with “American Psycho”. How’s this:
Its average rating is about 3.77. 86% of readers like it. 30% rate it five, 34% four, while only 5% rate it one. (The main difference is that the four and five star ratings are more or less reversed.)
What about “Ulysses”?
Its average rating is about 3.77. 82% of readers like it. 36% rate it five, 24% four, while 8% rate it one.
So I’ll recast my proposition: those who love “Lolita” adore it, those who hate it, vehemently hate it.
Usually for moral, rather than aesthetic, reasons.
The question is: why?
I thought “Chasing Lolita” might have the answers.
It came recommended by Paul Bryant, a GR friend who is knowledgeable about these things.
Paul’s and my opinions about “Lolita” and “American Psycho” (but not “Ulysses”) diverge.
However, I assumed that, if Paul liked “Chasing Lolita”, it must at least argue the case for and against “Lolita” as well as Paul is able to.
Instead, I found it to be a second-rate, almost pseudo-intellectual enterprise.
Admittedly, I learned a few facts that I didn’t know (Vickers usually refers to them as “factoids”), although I probably would have known them, if I had already read the works in his very limited bibliography.
My biggest gripe is that you can’t detect a subtle reading of the novel, whether pro or con.
It doesn’t reflect an aesthetic response to the work as literature.
It wants to capture the sense of scandal in the public response to it, whether or not people had read it (or seen any of the films based on it).
It is mediocre and tabloid in tone. It is the work of a hack, a hired gun. (I was going to say “workmanlike”, but that would insult the working class.)
Maybe Vickers can smell a controversy, but he reveals no passion of his own, and he doesn’t do justice to the passions of others.
He plays it safe. He doesn’t want to alienate anyone. The most important thing for him is that you buy the book, regardless of which side of the fence you sit on, regardless of whether you intend to read it, as long as you give him your money.
Ultimately, by trying to please everybody, Vickers pleases nobody.
He’s like the first person to write a biography of a writer. It’s good that somebody bothered, but usually it doesn’t take long for somebody or something more distinguished to arrive.
All Chase and No Catch
What annoys me most is the way the book has been presented to us.
The title “Chasing Lolita” is racy, as if he or we are “pursuing” the character herself, not “investigating” her innermost secrets (which it fails to do anyway).
The book plays on the reader’s prurience, without satisfying either erotic or intellectual curiosity.
The less said about it, the better.
Take Me to Your Lolita
I think there are three general responses to “Lolita” as a literary work.
One, which is mine, is that every aspect of human behavior is a legitimate subject matter of art.
To write about something, does not imply endorsement of the moral stance, nor does it imply that the author has some first-hand experience (i.e., the suggestion that Nabokov himself must have been a paedophile).
The other two responses reflect the way you feel about the character, Lolita.
You can see her as an innocent victim of a paedophile, and sympathise with her, so much so that you think her story should never have been told.
She is a symptom of the premature sexualisation of children, and the whole issue of children’s sexuality and awareness of sexual behavior must be swept under the carpet, even in a novel intended for mature adults.
Alternatively, while not approving Humbert Humbert in any way, you can treat her as a sexually precocious brat who deserves no sympathy.
For those who have never read the novel, the last interpretation seems to be the one that prevails.
The very word “Lolita” has become shorthand for adolescent girls who “prey” on men’s libidos, as if the men are somehow innocent and vulnerable and not in control of their sexuality.
“It wasn’t my fault, she made me do it.”
She’s jailbait of the most cynical and calculating kind.
As if all girls aren’t equally deserving of protection from men who would prey on them, for the very reason that they are children.
Part of Nabokov’s genius is that “Lolita” is actually Humbert’s story, and he tells it his way.
The Lolita that we get to know is his creation, although in reality both Humbert and Lolita are obviously Nabokov’s creations.
However, we the audience see Lolita with Humbert’s eyes.
This puts us in an uncomfortable position.
Do we empathise with Humbert, because we see things from his point of view?
Are we compromised or criminally implicated as accessories, because we see and do what he does?
Do we take his honesty for granted, because he is the first person narrator who is effectively us?
Do we distance and protect ourselves from these moral dilemmas by treating him as an unreliable narrator?
These are the sorts of question I was hoping Vickers would at least ask.
The converse of the way Nabokov tells Humbert’s story is that we can’t know Lolita’s story.
She doesn’t speak a lot. To the extent that she does, Humbert summarises or paraphrases her.
We don’t know what words are on her lips or in her mind. We don’t know what she thinks about her plight. We witness her solely as object, and not as subject.
We don’t know how much to sympathise with her, even though a natural temptation is to relate to her as the victim.
On the other hand, there is a temptation for both Lolita and reader to empathise with Humbert in a perverse version of Stockholm Syndrome.
Ultimately, the whole form and content of the story conspires against the person, the child that is Lolita.
She is the one person in the novel who is most deserving of sympathy, yet she is the one who has been most demonized in popular culture.
The Premature Sexualisation of Children
What I find most disgusting is the people for whom Lolita is a cause (the crusade against premature sexualisation of children), yet at heart there is no personal sympathy for this one example.
It’s as if Lolita had to fall, had to suffer, so that others might be saved. She is a lost cause, better focus on the plight of others. We can talk her down, as if she were a real tart, and we can use her name to demonize others. It’s OK, she’s only a fictional character anyway, as if real girls aren’t hurt, when they in turn get labeled “Lolita”.
While I don’t condone the sexual abuse of children, I feel quite strongly that other aspects of premature sexualisation are equally deserving of condemnation, e.g., placing three and four year old girls in beauty pageants and grooming them for a lifetime of the presentation of self as an object of beauty, rather than as a fully-rounded person of intelligence, social functionality, energy and charm.
As long as girls and women present themselves solely as objects of beauty and adornment, there will be men who cannot react to them in any other way.
This social definition of beauty and sexual attraction is what really interests me about the novel.
It’s very easy to judge Humbert solely as a paedophile and to assume that his sex drive is solely dictated by the desire to possess and defile a girl’s childhood and innocence.
I think society has to make a genuine scientific attempt to understand the motivation of Humbert, if not paedophiles generally, as an objective sexual aesthetic that just happens to be taboo in our society in this age.
Humbert describes his love of Lolita in terms of aesthetics, as well as an attempt to relive his unconsummated early childhood relationship with Annabel Leigh.
It is too glib to treat Humbert as disingenuous and an unreliable narrator.
That just avoids the real issue.
So much of our culture is concerned with the polarity between youth and age, innocence and experience, naivety and wisdom, ugliness and beauty.
These dichotomies are the immediate context of sexuality, yet we understand so little about them.
As a result, we are condemned to perpetuate ignorance and guilt and lack of personal, social and sexual fulfillment.
Not only is it important that science investigate this subject matter, it’s vital that art be able to portray and explore motivations and options (whether transgressive or not) openly and honestly and creatively.
Notes are private!
Nov 14, 2012
Nov 22, 2012
Nov 14, 2012
Dec 18, 2007
Some Fantastic Metafiction
“City of Saints and Madmen” (“COSAM”) not only explores a world of New Weird author’s Jeff VanderMeer’s creation, it gives a...more Some Fantastic Metafiction
“City of Saints and Madmen” (“COSAM”) not only explores a world of New Weird author’s Jeff VanderMeer’s creation, it gives a detailed insight into the method of his creativity.
It’s not just a fantasy novel, but a highly accessible and rewarding exercise in metafiction.
It’s a composite of works: short stories or perhaps novellas, fictional notes, fragments of drafts, reminders, observations, word sketches, drawings, illustrations, doodles, dream diary entries, the history of the fantastic city Ambergris, a family history of the Hoegbottons, a scientific monograph about giant freshwater squid, art criticism, little magazine articles, records of disputes between rival historians and critics, transcripts of witness statements, psychiatric reports, coded messages, correspondence, even a glossary, and footnotes.
In a word, artifacts. Or arty facts. Two words.
Pictures at an Exhibition
VanderMeer is an exhibitionist, he is so incredibly, no, fantastically, talented, and these bits and pieces are the pictures at his exhibition.
The most analogous experience I have had is “Nick Cave: The Exhibition”, a collection of personal possessions, notebooks, drawings, posters, photos, objet d’art and ephemera.
While the apparent object of both artists was something else (a novel, song lyrics and music), both collections or anthologies add up to a snapshot or a mirror image of the soul of the artist, which in turn is a mirror turned around and focused on our souls.
In the works of Jeff VanderMeer and Nick Cave, you can find almost anything you need to know about your self.
That is, if your world can accommodate a little Philip K. Dick or Edgar Allan Poe or Thomas Pynchon or David Foster Wallace in it.
The Juxtaposition of the Elements
"What remains obscure, even to those of us who knew him, is how and why [Martin] Lake managed the extraordinary transformation from pleasing but facile collages and acrylics, to the luminous oils—both fantastical and dark, moody and playful—that would come to define both the artist and Ambergris."
“COSAM” is an assemblage or collage of disparate elements that VanderMeer works into something luminous.
For me, a simple juxtaposition is not enough. You don’t sit two or more characters together, unless you expect some chemical reaction to occur and your expectation is satisfied.
This is the Way the World is Built
I tend to allow an author like David Mitchell to get away with loose or almost thread-bare connections.
VanderMeer doesn’t need the same sense of forgiveness.
His elements are all more overtly connected to the theme of Ambergris, a city that doesn’t seem to be as developed as the modern world, but still doesn’t seem to resemble any city from the past, apart from aspects of the Byzantine Empire.
This is VanderMeer’s way of world-building.
Clearly, there are different styles, subject matter and perspectives. However, what is important is the accretion of detail. We readers can synthesise it into an understanding of his world.
In a sense, what is important here is not so much a hero and their journey, but the comprehension of a world, and perhaps the manner in which and extent to which it consists of saints and madmen.
From Prosaic to Mosaic
For me, therefore, it's like a painting or mosaic that takes shape by the construction of discrete sections on the canvas or board, without needing to have a chronological order or a narrative imposed over the subject matter.
This, too, is the defence against any argument that there is too much or that it is sloppy or excessive or repetitive.
I'm prepared to let VanderMeer paint his painting or assemble his mosaic the way he wants to.
Also, I'll let him choose the sheer physical size of his canvas or board. Size doesn’t matter when it comes to building worlds.
The Illumination of the Psyche
"Lake ’s tones are, as Venturi has noted, ‘resonant rather than bright, and the light contained in them is not so much a physical as a psychological illumination.’"
Within the fantasy genre, the novel shines a light on desire, love, imagination and fantasy.
It originated one night in 1993, when VanderMeer awoke envisaging a scene from the novel with “super-heated intensity”, as if in “a vision or waking dream”.
It was like he had a key that could open a locked door and “found an entire fantastical city in my head”.
While he draws the cityscape with precision, he also draws its emotional landscape with expressionist accuracy.
I Desire Your Love
At the heart of the scene in VanderMeer’s head was a man’s desire for a woman he sees sitting in a window, the basis of what became the first story, “Dravid in Love”.
It explores just how much desire, lust and love occur within the head of the Subject, regardless of the existence, knowledge, awareness, consent or encouragement of the Object.
Somebody who convinces themselves that they are in love can build a whole fantasy world around their love, without any real participation by the second character.
In a sense, desire and lust can make us imagine that we are in love.
In VanderMeer’s eyes, desire influences and distorts our perception. It can result in an illusion or self-delusion.
Our gaze can turn us into madmen.
In contrast, two of the characters with whom VanderMeer seems to have the greatest sympathy are blind, possibly because they cannot physically see in order to be deluded.
Perhaps they (and only they) are the saints.
I Interpret You
VanderMeer extends the concept to interpretation in "The Transformation of Martin Lake", a story that consists of art criticism, on the one hand, where the critic draws inferences about the motivation of the artist, while, on the other hand, a separate narrative strand reveals what their true motivation was.
Just as a man can sit in front of a woman in a window and draw particular inferences, a critic can sit in front of an art work and believe that they understand its origin, intent or effect.
They can then perpetuate their interpretation as definitive, regardless of its truth.
Again, VanderMeer suggests that we should not rely on just one view to establish the truth of the matter.
Perhaps, there can be no truth in a story told by or in the first person, unless it is verified by the second person.
We are, all of us, unreliable narrators.
My Darkness and I
These tendencies occur within relatively normal behavior, but they can also constitute either neurotic or psychotic behavior.
The problem is accentuated when the person is an artist.
Their role is to build a credible world where these forces and tensions are at play.
In VanderMeer’s words:
"...the world has to be metaphorically and metaphysically interesting, which means you can’t be too consistent. Everything can’t be tidy and pat, and it should be in flux—it should be, in a way, alive. Above all else, to be interesting, a fantastical city should be a reflection of the writer’s obsessions and subconscious impulses."
Writers have to objectify their obsessions and impulses, and then give life to them.
In the process, they shift them from inside to outside their self. They create an Other.
Then they begin to struggle and wrestle with the Other.
One of VanderMeer’s characters describes the Other as “the Darkness”, which then takes on the form of a manta ray.
We now have a situation where a person, an artist must effectively struggle with a lethal marine life form.
I Wouldn’t Miss This for Squids
VanderMeer doesn’t just use manta rays, elsewhere the antagonists are squids and mushrooms.
Whatever their form, they represent the aggressive, threatening Other, the Alien, the Aggressor, the part of our Selves that threatens to undermine and destroy us.
In VanderMeer's imagined world, perhaps the Id is a Squid.
A Disremembrance of Things Past
So with all this delusion and darkness, bad and traumatic things can and do happen.
If we do bad things, we will feel guilt or remorse, and we will want to relieve or assuage our guilt.
We don’t always deal with it by penance, sometimes we deny our actions and attempt to obliterate them from our memory.
However, often, the subconscious works against us by resurrecting our guilt in our dreams and nightmares.
"The Strange Case of X"
Most of the above subject matter draws attention to the self-consciousness and sub-consciousness of everyday living.
VanderMeer explores the implications for writing (and, by extension, reading) in the most metafictional story, "The Strange Case of X".
Whether or not “X” is an alter ego, he has written works with the same titles as components of COSAM.
He also seems to have committed a crime for which he has been charged and exonerated by a jury, which believed his “story”. Now he is being interviewed to establish his sanity.
His defence is that the alleged crime happened only in Ambergris, a fictitious world, not in “real life”.
This world took over his life for many years, as readers demanded more and more material about Ambergris, but now he has ceased to believe in it.
X tries to escape the burden and the guilt by denial.
Imagine My Amazement
Paradoxically, VanderMeer perpetuates the fiction by writing the story, a story within a story, a disturbing spiral from which the reader eventually has to extract their own mind.
This is easier said than done. Thus, the novel starts with a gaze and ends with a maze.
There is no escape. You have to return to or remain in the world of Ambergris. It is our cage. And we can either sing or scream.
Whatever, VanderMeer has created a novel and a world that are "both fantastical and dark, moody and playful".
I can relate to that.
"’All writers write,’ he whispered. ‘All writers edit,’ he muttered. ‘All writers have a little darkness in them,’ he sobbed. ‘All writers must sometimes destroy their creations,’ he shouted.
"But only one writer has a darkness that cannot be destroyed, he thought to himself as he clutched his wife to him and kissed her and sought comfort in her, for she was the most precious thing in his life and he was afraid—afraid of loss, afraid of the darkness, and, most of all, afraid of himself."
"I will not believe in hallucinations."
The Ways of Love
The Blindness of Irene
I see your beauty.
I'm blessed you, though blind, can feel
Mine with your fingers.
Died Pretty - "Ambergris"
Jesus And Mary Chain - "Darklands"
"I'm going to the darklands
To talk in rhyme
With my chaotic soul
As sure as life means nothing
And all things end in nothing
And heaven I think
Is too close to hell
I want to move, I want to go
I want to go
Oh something won't let me
Go to the place
Where the darklands are
And I awake from dreams
To a scary world of screams
And heaven I think
Is too close to hell."
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - "Saint Huck"
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - "Lie Down Here & Be My Girl"
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - "Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere?"
"I remember a girl so bold and so bright
Loose-limbed and laughing and brazen and bare
Sits gnawing her knuckles in the chemical light
O where do we go now but nowhere
You come for me now with a cake that you've made
Ravaged avenger with a clip in your hair
Full of glass and bleach and my old razorblades
O where do we go now but nowhere
O wake up, my love, my lover wake up
O wake up, my love, my lover wake up"(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 16, 2012
Jan 11, 2013
Nov 13, 2012
Dec 01, 1993
Not Timeless, But Not a Waste of Time
These sixteen stories were written before 1932, when Anais Nin turned 29.
It is not clear how old she was when she...more Not Timeless, But Not a Waste of Time
These sixteen stories were written before 1932, when Anais Nin turned 29.
It is not clear how old she was when she wrote the earliest of them, though at least one story is written from the point of view of a 12 year old girl.
Nin considered them to be "immature". All of them were rejected for publication by American magazines at the time of writing, and subsequently she forbade them to be published, until shortly before her death in 1977.
Ultimately, she agreed to their publication, so that young writers could see her progress from juvenilia to maturity.
She did however perceive the flowering of two of her characteristics in these stories: her talent for irony and her feminism.
Ultimately, she asserted that "this is a book for friends only," presumably expecting friends to be more tolerant of their flaws.
I think she was unduely harsh on her work.
All of them deal with interesting subject matter in prose that at worst is competent, at best insightful, if a little conceptual, rather than grounded.
None of them is overtly erotic, although they do all relate to a strong girl or woman who seeks a different world, removed from the "ordinary life" chosen by her school friends and peers.
She was clearly enormously intelligent and attractive to more creative or intellectual men, some of whom lacked her strength of character and would have been totally vulnerable to manipulation, if that was what she desired.
However, I think she would have preferred someone who was at least her equal.
In these cases, she would have been irresistibly seductive.
However, we will have to wait to read her diaries and later books in order to obtain a greater insight into her modus operandi.
Not Entirely Yours
[After Anais Nin]
“You obsess me.”
No, you just want
To possess me.
“I want to love you.”
You cannot bear
Any thought of
Me above you.
“I long to touch you,
But I fear that
I would lose you.”
You might touch me,
But you wouldn’t
Ever hold me.
“I don’t want mere
And so upon
You choose nothing.
I remain, then,
Not yours truly,
In the words of
Notes are private!
Apr 02, 2013
Apr 02, 2013
Nov 08, 2012
Of Life and Death, Verbs and Nouns
I expected this novel to be difficult. However, it wasn't difficult at all. It was an enormous pleasure.
I was struck...more Of Life and Death, Verbs and Nouns
I expected this novel to be difficult. However, it wasn't difficult at all. It was an enormous pleasure.
I was struck by the preponderance of verbs .
The novel might happen in the head of Clarissa Dalloway or the other characters, but they are observing activity and their thoughts reflect it.
It is more dynamic than passive or self-conscious or self-reflective.
It was less a stream of consciousness, than a consciousness of life as a stream or a number of streams, rolling and tumbling and flowing in the direction of some great expanse, the ocean, an ocean of possibilities, perhaps even a party.
The word "life" is a noun, but in my opinion, the Life we live is a bundle of verbs. Life is the vitality and vibrancy of the verbs we inject into it. Life is what you "do" during the course of your time on earth. All the large and little things you do.
Life is Eros, a life force, which can be juxtaposed in Freudian terms with Death (the absence of life) or Thanatos.
Perhaps Clarissa Dalloway represents the vitality of Eros, while her "double", Septimus, represents Thanatos.
Whatever, the two coexist in the novel and in each of us.
How our lives turn out depends on how we accommodate their coexistence.
We can let them fight or allow them to dance.
"A Dance to the Music of Time"
Ultimately, Virginia Woolf's novel felt to me like a dance, a progressive waltz, perhaps between Life and Death, Eros and Thanatos.
It seemed to be even more worthy of the description "A Dance to the Music of Time" than Anthony Powell's work.
Here is a description of the Poussin painting of that name from the first novel in the sequence, "A Question of Upbringing", part of which could apply to "Mrs Dalloway":
"These classical projections, and something from the fire, suddenly suggested Poussin's scene in which the Seasons, hand in hand and facing outward, tread in rhythm to the notes of the lyre that the winged and naked greybeard plays.
"The image of Time brought thoughts of mortality: of human beings, facing outward like the Seasons, moving hand in hand in intricate measure, stepping slowly, methodically sometimes a trifle awkwardly, in evolutions that take recognisable shape: or breaking into seemingly meaningless gyrations, while partners disappear only to reappear again, once more giving pattern to the spectacle: unable to control the melody, unable, perhaps, to control the steps of the dance."
I started to gyrate as I read on, then unable to control the melody, unable to control the steps of the dance, I grew dizzy, and slowly I started to remember something that happened a long, long time ago...
The Call of Duty
Each long table in the dining room seated 20 people, ten aside facing each other, as you'd expect, just like the year before, only now there would be some faces gone and some new faces expected, you wouldn’t really know who until everybody had returned from the end of term vacation and taken their position, some sitting in the same place, some moving to fill the gaps, some leaving a space to be filled by someone new.
There were a dozen or so at their usual table by the time Ian arrived for dinner, he looked up and down the table, until he saw six familiar faces, a hint of recognition on his face, his friends were all towards one end of the table, away from the front doors, although nobody occupied the two end seats, they had been left for latecomers.
To the left of his friends, a group of first year students were sitting in the middle of the table, not yet known or identified by names, so Ian pulled out a seat at the end of the table and prepared to sit down, gently lifting his chair so as not to make a sound and disturb the conversation that was in progress, chatter, chatter, talk, talk, this is what I did on my holidays, Keith had obtained work as a legal clerk, Ginny had spent the whole time at her parents’ beach house on the South Coast, Becky had returned to Switzerland and worked in a strawberry jam factory, making tiny woodchips that were supposed to replace the seeds that dissolved in the acidic process of making the jam.
An olive, almost dark, complexioned woman walked up and asked if she could sit on the chair opposite Ian, he nodded yes, not knowing who she was or whether she already knew his friends, she had not been in college last year, while everybody else reacted enthusiastically, yes, sure, of course, thanks for joining us, Judy, Becky said, have you met everybody here, this is Ian, she said, I’ve heard so much about this Ian, Judy replied with a smile, in her Eastern European accent, he couldn’t work out where it was from, though it was not as guttural as German, he stood and shook Judy’s hand, almost chivalrously, although there was no need for chivalry yet, at least, nothing to be chivalrous about, these days, apart of course from the presence of this charming woman, which was more than enough, but Ian was already smiling, he liked this new Judy.
She answered Ian’s many eager questions politely, until finally he had ascertained that she was Hungarian, and that her father was the Hungarian Ambassador, from Communist Hungary, as it was then, she was moving into college for her second last year while she worked on her honours thesis in French Literature and wanted to be closer to the French Department and away from the temptations of diplomatic parties and constant socializing, as if college life would be any less demanding, even though she loved that life, she was diligent in her studies, she wanted to be a writer, a publisher or a diplomat herself, and Ian had found all of this out while he deftly worked away at his roast lamb and three vegetables, it was a Sunday night before the first day of the new term, and there was always a roast of some sort.
Some of their friends finished their meals and left during the conversation, though Ian continually brought the chit chat back to Judy, as if they were the only ones present, you could tell he was infatuated already, well, Becky could, she was more alert to these things, her father was the Australian Ambassador to Switzerland, it wasn’t a big deal, Switzerland was only a small country anyway, it wasn’t even discussed amongst their friends, but they had nevertheless gravitated towards each other, informally forming a group of diplomatic children, Ian being the odd one out, the son of a banker, though his ambition was to be a diplomat, and if unsuccessful in that ambition, to at least get a few foreign affairs under his belt, he had a taste for the exotic, almost as if he was seeking a life raft upon which to escape from the routine life that awaited him in Australia in those days.
Judy was the first one of the remaining group to rise from the table, but as she did so, she reached into her handbag and took out four small envelopes, they contained invitations, each of them inscribed with someone’s name in neat blue fountain pen, though not the script that was familiar to Australians at the time, even her writing was exotic, she gave three to Ian’s remaining friends, and then, looking Ian in the eyes, handed him one, too, I would be delighted if you would come to my room for drinks on Tuesday night, any time between 8 and 11, Ian looked at the envelope and saw that it already bore his name, Ian Graye, he still has that envelope somewhere, with his other love letters and curios, Judy said, I knew I would meet you sooner or later, so I took the liberty of making out an invitation for you, what if you hadn’t liked me, he asked, well, in that case, I would have wasted an envelope and some writing paper, she said, not a great loss, but I didn’t think there was much chance of that.
No sooner were the envelopes circulated than Judy left to return to her room, Ian rising almost immediately afterwards, looking at his watch and saying, well, duty calls, Becky spotted the glint in his eye and laughed, you mean, Judy calls, and she laughed again, as if she had just read his fortune in a teacup.
The next two days, Ian didn’t see Judy or Becky or Keith or Virginia, because other friends saw him enter the dining room and asked him to join them, each time introducing him to first year students that they had just met, so Tuesday night came around quickly, although first he had to have some drinks in the Union Bar with some other students from his Political Science class, he had intended to finish up around 10pm and return to college for the last hour of the party, but it was 10:30 when he looked at his watch and realised he was going to be late, it was totally dark when he got outside, there was no moon and the stars were obscured by clouds, he walked quickly, anxiously, embarrassed, the crushed granite surface of the footpath crunching underfoot, his heart started to beat faster and a droplet of sweat formed on his temple, he was almost out of breath by the time he arrived at Judy’s door, giving the impression that he had hurried to be there, even though he was close to three hours late and had nearly, rudely, missed the party altogether, still as Judy was farewelling some of her other guests, she greeted Ian with a kiss on either cheek in the European fashion, and he wished that it had been his lips, I didn’t think you were going to attend my party, she said, half reproachful, half delighted that he had actually turned up, he said, there was no way I would have missed it, I’m sorry that another duty called, she poured him a glass of Bulls Blood, Egri Bikaver, and sat him on the chair next to her writing desk, by this time they were the only ones left in the room, and she sat on her bed, from this time on, she said, I expect to be your first duty, Ian placed his glass on the desk, having had only one sip, not that it was his first and only drink of the night, and he went and sat on the bed next to her and, perhaps too boldly, he passed his right hand under her black bob, and then their lips touched, for the first, but not the last, time.
A moment later, she pulled back, not by way of rebuff, by any means, and commanded him gently, but still firmly, tell me, what is the name of your most important duty now?
It is Judy, he said.
And there she was.
Jimmy Smith - "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"
Herbie Hancock - "Watermelon Man"
Bill Lee [Composer] - "Mo' Better Blues"
That's Denzel Washington lip-synching the trumpet in the Spike Lee film of the same name.
The band comprises trumpeter Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis on tenor and soprano, pianist Kenny Kirkland, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts.
Di Ienno, Di Bella, Mori Trio - "Mo' Better Blues"
Notes are private!
Jan 25, 2013
Nov 08, 2012
Blood on the Tracks
Every one of us is a potential criminal, a potential killer, a potential murderer.
The question is: what circumstances would justif...more Blood on the Tracks
Every one of us is a potential criminal, a potential killer, a potential murderer.
The question is: what circumstances would justify the crime, what situation would warrant us murdering someone?
If someone attacked one of our children, would we attack the assailant? If we went to war, would we kill for our country?
If the past was at war with the future, would we kill for the sake of the past, or would we kill for the sake of the future?
Well, the past is always at war with the future, so what are we going to do?
Will we kill, or will we sit back and wait for the war to end?
How can a war between the past and the future ever end?
How can we not kill?
Is Nature at war with Modernity? Is Realism at war with Modernism? Are Realism and Modernism at war with Post-Modernism?
Would you kill for Post-Modernism?
Regardless, come inside.
Up Against the Wall
I struggled with this novel for almost a half of its length. Perhaps a less patient or persistent reader would have thrown the book against the wall.
However, if I had done so, I would have missed out on one of the greatest reading experiences I have ever had.
Everything I read about the novel in advance, not much apart from the blurb, suggested that it was a post-modernist work. However, this did not reconcile with the words in front of me.
Initially, it came across as a jumble of very realist descriptions and lists and highly abstract concepts, occasionally in alternating paragraphs.
The narrative seemed to hop up and down on one foot, before passing arbitrarily to the other, for a while, and then back again.
A Life of Crime
I read on, puzzled, then finally I started to realise that I might now have all of the pieces, at which point a picture started to assemble in front of me.
I had done a lot of the work, but the author had placed the pieces there for me, like clues.
Turkish author Orhan Pamuk worked like a criminal, leaving enough clues for me to find, so that I could eventually identify the culprit myself.
"The New Life" might be metaphysical, it might be meta-fiction, but it also has many of the qualities of crime fiction.
Around chapter 13, it all came together, after which it was a roller-coaster ride. The last 100 pages just blew me away.
Skimming through my notes in order to compose this review, I realised just how subtle and widespread were the clues.
If you can be bothered to read the book once, I’m sure it will repay a second reading.
For a long time I questioned whether this was a minor work by a Nobel Prize Winner, alternatively did he really deserve the Prize?
Having finished, I feel this novel is a major achievement, regardless of where it stands in his ouvre.
"I Read a Book One Day"
The first paragraph announces the novel’s intentions:
"I read a book one day and my whole life was changed…It was such a powerful influence that the light surging from the pages illumined my face; its incandescence dazzled my intellect but also endowed it with a brilliant lucidity.
"This was the kind of light within which I could recast myself; I could lose my way in this light; I already sensed in the light the shadows of an existence I had yet to know and embrace…
"It was with dread that I became aware of the complete transformation of the world around me, and I was overtaken by a feeling of loneliness I had never before experienced – as if I had been stranded in a country where I knew neither the lay of the land nor the language and the customs."
Within 24 hours, the narrator, a 22 year old engineering student (whom I won’t name), has fallen in love and is seeking out the truth of the book, the “meaning of life” and therefore a "new life":
"Love was every bit as devastating as the light that surged from the book into my face, proving to me how substantially my life had already gone off the track."
At first, I suspected that the book must have been a political tract like “The Communist Manifesto” or a religious Holy Book or a counter-cultural tome like those that proliferated in the 60’s and occasionally more recently ("Eat, Pray, Rebel").
However, Pamuk doesn’t reveal much about the contents of the book, even its name comes late in the novel, if it can be believed.
Instead, we learn about it by its effect on its readers. They become converts, though because of its nature, they are secretive. They disengage from mainstream life.
From the outside, they appear to be radicalized and subversive. Conservative political and religious groups feel threatened and start to attack back, one ultra-right group even killing a number of readers. They track down those who are "off track".
In just a few pages, we are plunged into a metaphysical battleground, although absent detail of the rival belief systems, it’s hard to determine who is Good and who is Evil.
Perhaps this is the way it’s meant to be. Perhaps this is the way it always is.
How are we to know who to side with? Perhaps we shouldn’t side with any side? Perhaps both sides are equally culpable?
And so we read on...
On the Road, In a Bus
The narrator and his friend, Janan (Arabic for "heart" or "soul" or "soul mate"), embark on a spiritual journey or odyssey through the Turkish countryside.
Their quest takes them on the road, off the beaten track, away from urbanized Istanbul.
They spend months travelling by public bus, trying to find the other realm hinted at in the book.
Roads join different people and parts of the country.
The bus is a symbol and vehicle of modernity and modernism that drives us toward our destination, our destiny, the future.
We start our journey from home, but as soon as we depart, our home is in the past. We are cut off from our former lives, we are cast loose. The bus cannot take us back home into the past, it can only take us inexorably toward a collision with the future. Just as we seek out spiritual integrity, things start to disintegrate. We fall apart.
Nature Versus Television
So the quest makes us witness to the battle between conservative, unpretentious, rural Turkey’s Islamic tradition and the apparent way of the future, the rapid and pervasive influence of Westernised commercial culture.
Rural Turkey is symbolized by Nature in the form of almond, chestnut, walnut and mulberry trees.
In contrast, the West pervades Turkey through television, radio, movies, advertising; even railway travel is viewed as an unwelcome, external, alien influence that detracts from tradition.
"If today in this town… the virtue of living an ascetic life is considered shameful...it’s because of the stuff brought in from America by that mailman, the buses, and the television sets in the coffeehouses."
The Other Side
The narrator meets Mehmet, a former lover of Janan, who has also read the book, but turned his back on its message about a brand new world:
"World shmorld...it doesn’t exist. Think of it as tomfoolery perpetrated on children by an old sap. The old man thought he’d write a book to entertain adults the same way he did children...
"...if you believe it, your life is lost...
"Believe me, at the end there is nothing but death. They kill without mercy…There is nothing to pursue to the end…just a book. Someone sat down and wrote it. A dream. There is nothing else for you to do, aside from reading and rereading it."
Can it be true that, in our search for enlightenment, we might only find darkness and despair? Isn’t the path to wisdom and contentment illuminated?
Can we find our own way out of our predicament? If we get lost, how will we be found? Who will find us?
Does this dilemma only apply to adolescents and young adults? 22 year olds like the target audience of Japanese author, Haruki Murakami?
"We are not here to represent youth...but to represent new life."
Can an entire nation like Turkey find itself in this predicament?
Especially at a time in Turkey’s history when it wishes to become a member of the European Union?
Ironically, while everyone is skeptical about advertising, posters proclaim:
"Happiness is being a Turk."
Who are we to believe?
A Labyrinth of Reflections
By this point, the novel appears to have abandoned any pretense to unadulterated realism.
It has more in common with the Magic Realism of South America, not to mention the dream-like aspects of Franz Kafka’s "The Castle" and Mikhael Bulgakov’s "The Master and Margarita".
Bit by bit, we are forced to contemplate, suspect, negotiate and reconcile truth, reality, spirituality, imagination, coincidence, memory, beauty, love, happiness, death and terror.
Love provides some solace:
"Love is the urgency to hold fast to another and to be together in the same place. It’s the desire to keep the world out by embracing another. It is the yearning to find a safe harbour for the human soul.
"The only piece of heaven I was sure of was the bed where I was lying next to Janan."
Still, as we reflect, we are surrounded and confused and trapped by a labyrinth of our own reflections.
We can’t even safely look at our own image in a mirror. We are afraid of what we might see or learn there. We can’t even trust love.
The novel highlights the clash of cultures between Islam and Western-style Capitalism.
While Pamuk writes about it in a strident manner, he does so through the mouths of his characters.
It’s hard to tell whether Pamuk personally is anti-West or at least regrets the impact the West has had on Turkey’s heritage and culture.
"The West has swallowed us up, trampled on us in passing. They have invaded us down to our soup, our candy, our underpants; they have finished us off..."
"We have no desire to live in Istanbul, nor in Paris or New York. Let them have their discos and dollars, their skyscrapers, and supersonic transports. Let them have their radio and their colour TV."
Yet, Pamuk doesn’t just defend, he counter-attacks.
He highlights how much impact Islamic culture has had on the West.
For example, Pamuk reminds us that the chess term "checkmate" comes from the Arabic "shah mat"
("the king died").
The word "caramel" (which relates to a subplot of the novel) also derives from the Arabic words "kara" or "cara", which means "dark".
Should Western readers feel personally challenged or threatened by these claims and attacks?
I don’t think so. We are subject to the same forces of Capitalism in the West.
In every neighbourhood in every city or rural area in the Western world, Consumer Capitalism ("the Dealers’ Conspiracy") has bought up or destroyed local products and brands, all in the name of efficiency and global recognition, but at the expense of local character.
It’s just that Capitalism treats the Third World worse than its own backyard.
Pamuk resonates, because he criticizes what many of us in the West have grown to accommodate.
He is brave, when we are complacent.
Perhaps this is why he was awarded the Nobel Prize?
I originally questioned how appropriate it was to describe "The New Life" as Post-Modern.
However, the further it progresses, the more it becomes self-referential.
The narrator addresses not just "the Angel", but the Reader, us.
He even calls into question whether the narrator might be an unreliable narrator (in a scene that reminded me of the Magic Theatre scene in Herman Hesse's "Steppenwolf"):
"So, Reader, place your faith neither in a character like me, who is not all that sensitive, nor in my anguish and the violence of the story I have to tell; but believe that the world is a cruel place."
Most importantly, Pamuk questions whether the novel is a tradition of the West that cannot be replicated in Turkey or what the West calls "the Middle East":
"Besides, this newfangled plaything called the novel, which is the greatest invention of Western culture, is none of our culture’s business...
"I have still not quite figured out how to inhabit this foreign toy."
By Machinist or By Hand?
Pamuk uses the character Doctor Fine to question Literature:
"Considering that the pawns and tools of the Great Conspiracy assail us, either knowingly or unknowingly, through books and literature…we ought to take precautions against printed matter…The culprit is not only that particular book, the book that snared my son, but all the books that have been printed by printing presses; they are all enemies of the annals of our time, our former existence.
"He was not against literature that was scripted by hand, which was an integral part of the hand holding the pen…the books Doctor Fine opposed were those that had lost their glow, clarity, and truth but pretended to be glowing, clear, and true. These were the books that promised us the serenity and enchantment of paradise within the limitations set by the world..."
The irony is that, whatever the view of Literature, all of the views conveyed in Pamuk’s novel itself operate within Western literary traditions, well at least, within the tradition of Post-Modernism.
Finally, within the framework of Post-Modernism, there is the dual interest in the fracture of life, perception and time:
"Life is so fractured…TV abounded in gunshots, passionate lovemaking, shouts and screams, planes falling out of the sky, exploding gas tankers, all sending the message. No matter what, things must be smashed and broken."
At the same time, the author and the reader are both concerned to reverse the fracture, by way of integration of the material in front of them:
"I discerned encoded whisperings between texts from which I could detect their secrets; and putting these secrets in order, I constructed connections between them..."
The Bus Timetable
Any transport system must define three things: our destination, the intervening stops and the timetable.
Any journey or quest must comply with the same rules, even a spiritual one:
"My restless soul which did not know respite was struggling to get somewhere or other, like some bus driver who had forgotten his destination."
Without a destination, how else can we define our journey?
However, Pamuk also emphasises the difference in approach of West and Middle East:
"Our timetables and timepieces are our vehicles to reach God, not the means of rushing to keep up with the world as they are in the West...
"Timepieces are the only products of theirs that have been acceptable to our souls. That is why clocks are the only things other than guns that cannot be classified as foreign or domestic.
"For us there are two venues that lead to God. Armaments are the vehicles of Jihad; timepieces are the vehicles for prayer...
"Everyone knows that the greatest enemy of the timetable for prayers is the timetable for trains."
There is much that I cannot discuss, because of a concern about spoilers, not so much factual spoilers, but thematic spoilers, given the manner in which Pamuk skillfully lays out his metaphysical tale.
However, like Proust (and Nabokov) before him, Pamuk is concerned with the concepts of time and memory:
"I was about to discover the single element common to all existence, love, life, and time..."
There is only one life, this one.
There is only one "new life", that is, any life that there might be after death.
There is only the present, the past does not exist, except in our memory.
There is no paradise on Earth other than what we create ourselves.
We must make do with this one life.
Love and life are attempts to transcend time. They seek eternity, of love, of pleasure, of happiness, of fulfillment.
However, the paradox is that, when time stops, the journey ceases and the destination confronts us:
"We had embarked on this journey to escape time.
"This was the reason we were in constant motion, looking for the moment when time stood still. Which was the unique moment of fulfillment. When we got close to it, we could sense the time of departure...
"The beginning and the end of the journey was wherever we happened to be. He was right: the road and all the dark rooms were rife with killers carrying guns. Death seeped into life through the book, through books."
Time is not infinite. It is finite. Or our share of it is finite. We are mortal and our life is finite. Life must end, either by design or by accident:
"What is time? An accident! What is life? Time! What is accident? A life, a new life!"
So, ultimately, accidents, fractures in time and intention, are fundamental to the narrative drive of "The New Life":
"So that was life; there was accident, there was luck, there was love, there was loneliness; there was joy; there was sorrow; there was light, death, also happiness that was dimly there."
Ultimately, Pamuk, through an Earth-bound Angel of Desire, urges patience, counsels that we take our time:
"Your hour of happiness will also strike...Do not become impatient, do not be cross with your life, cease and desist envying others! If you learn to love your life, you will know the course of action you are to take for your happiness."
Contrary to Western belief, life is not solely defined and governed by intention, deliberation and purposiveness, it must accommodate the accidental, both fate and fortune, both the unplanned and the unexpected.
In a way, Pamuk is reassuring the Middle East (as we call Turkey and its surrounds) that the best way to protect yourself against the Occidental is to embrace the Accidental.
Extremely Spoilerish Postscript
It is continuing to frustrate me that I was unable to discuss some major themes of the novel, for fear of offending the Spoiler-Sensitive.
While they are fresh in my mind, I will write down some brief notes.
Please do not read these notes if you have not read the book.
It is important to me that any reader experience the metaphysical journey that the book takes a reader on.
(view spoiler)[The narrator's name is Osman. Although Mehmet is Janan's former lover, Osman regards him as a contemporary rival for her love.
Janan possibly represents the heart and soul of humanity. Thus, the rivalry is a clash of cultures seeking to win over at least the people of Turkey, if not humanity as a whole.
Having initially fallen for the ideas in the book, Mehmet rejects the apparent modernity of its vision. Still, if only to earn an income, he hand copies the novel, which perpetuates its life, and complies with the apparently Islamic acceptance of a book that has been written by hand, rather than printed by a machine.
While Mehmet's adherence to tradition seems to be less extreme than that of Dr Fine (his blood father), he still seems to represent Turkish tradition.
Dr Fine believes that his son has been killed in an earlier bus accident. He gives his "new son", Osman, a gun with which to kill the followers of the book.
Osman decides to use it to kill Mehmet, thus killing both tradition and his double (who has been using the name Osman), his rival in love.
In effect, Osman must kill Nature and Realism in the name of Modernity and Post-Modernity, Modernism and Post-Modernism, a New Life and a Post-Life.
At the end, Osman learns, via his own death by bus accident 13 years later, that there is no New Life on Earth. It has all been in his mind, the imaginary world created by a reader in response to the book. There might however be an After Life.
Notes are private!
Feb 24, 2013
Mar 08, 2013
Oct 25, 2012
Apr 22, 2010
Fledgling at Play
I read this play, momentarily unaware that it was actually a companion to a fully-fledged novel.
This might turn out to be fortuitous,...more Fledgling at Play
I read this play, momentarily unaware that it was actually a companion to a fully-fledged novel.
This might turn out to be fortuitous, because if I had read both works in reverse order, I might have been tempted to treat this work as secondary, instead of a creative act that stands and succeeds on its own merits.
As you would expect with a play, the dialogue is the chief mode of communication with the reader.
It’s possible that it is a distillation of the dialogue from the novel. However, there is no sense of it being disjointed or culled down from a greater whole. In fact, it propels forward like a very fast train or a jet fighter.
I read it in one sitting, and upon putting it down, could only find it in myself to say, “Wow.”
Extrapolation, That’s the By Word
“Bloomsday”, as the title suggests, is an extrapolation on James Joyce’s “Ulysses”.
Structurally, it takes Episodes 14, 15, 16 and 18, and transposes them in place and time to Boston in 1974.
It’s not readily apparent why David has chosen this era, except that for many of us alive today, Vietnam represents our closest cultural experience of coming home from a long and winding war, apart from the excursions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran (which, for those who remember, don’t have the same resonance as the war that divided almost every first world country and transformed culture and politics forever).
So 1974 mightn’t be contemporary, but it is as symbolic as the Trojan War was to Homer and Joyce.
At its heart, “Ulysses” doesn’t just describe a city (Dublin), it describes a family.
At a more macro level, it describes a nation at war with England and internally within itself.
I suspect David selected Boston, not just because he resides there, but because it received a large proportion of the Irish emigrants who arrived in America in the nineteenth century.
It therefore makes it a likely destination for the descendants of Leopold and Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, who feature in the play.
“Bloomsday” therefore perpetuates Joyce’s concerns into the twentieth century and, by inference, to today.
A Play on Words
If “Ulysses” is the grandparent, “Bloomsday” is a legitimate grandchild.
Just as the play is not an inferior distillation of the novel, it is not a dilution of the creativity of Joyce.
It’s a courageous act to stand up and ask to be measured against Joyce or “Ulysses”, but I think David has succeeded in this work.
It’s a work rich with wit, punning, wordplay and wisdom.
I can indulge in this wordplay in short, sharp exchanges, usually with another swordsperson or fencer, but I doubt whether I could sustain the effort so successfully for over 100 pages.
Besides, spontaneous exchanges are intrinsically ephemeral.
David’s words are not just designed to endure, they are intended to be spoken by live actors on the stage.
It’s the quality of work that should become a mainstay of every Bloomsday.
An allusion isn’t just a dry reference to something. Its etymology reveals that it derives from the Latin word, “alludere”, which means "to play, sport, joke, jest."
“Bloomsday” is so rich with allusion, it’s difficult to track its inspiration.
I felt that its feet were grounded in the Bible, Shakespeare and, obviously, “Ulysses”.
But David’s notes also mention Poe, Hemingway and Frost.
The more you look, the more you find. And it’s all gold, no fool’s gold. Except to the extent that, in this work, everybody plays the fool.
Men and Women of Good Fortune
As with “Ulysses”, the apparent focus of “Bloomsday” is men, in this case Rudy Bloom and Dr Thomas Dedalus, descendants of the protagonists of Joyce’s novel.
Yet, as with “Ulysses”, it builds to a climax that is shared with women, if not wholly concentrated on them.
“Ulysses” might be construed as a romance with Dublin at the centre, but it is also a love letter to Molly Bloom and womanhood.
David extrapolates on this theme, and makes “Bloomsday” a celebration of women or woman as lover, wife, muse and mother.
There could be no creation unless a child was first born of a woman.
From that point onwards, Men play, ultimately, not just to please themselves, but to impress and/or seduce Women.
Having seduced a good Woman, “Bloomsday” might just reflect Man’s effort to deserve, retain and maintain that Woman.
In a way, “Bloomsday” is David’s way of saying thank you to the women in his life and in ours.
For the rest of us males, he is our Cyrano de Bergerac (by which I don’t mean that he has a big nose).
David supplied a copy of this play to me for review purposes.
I guess this makes me Christian de Neuvillette and you, if you are a woman, Roxanne.
If only this joint effort could be as successful as Christian Grey.
Notes are private!
Oct 21, 2012
Oct 21, 2012
Oct 21, 2012
Oct 09, 2012
Oct 09, 2012
What Would Happen If I Tried to Enter Someone Else’s Novel?
Earlier this year, this triplasian 333 page volume was delivered to my modest residence by...more What Would Happen If I Tried to Enter Someone Else’s Novel?
Earlier this year, this triplasian 333 page volume was delivered to my modest residence by a vehicle whose only identifying marks were a muted trumpet logo and the acronym W.A.S.T.E. (I think that's an acronym? MJ, help me).
My wife, FM Sushi, was typically suspicious that I had received a parcel from somebody called "Lulu", well "Lulu.com", to be precise.
Knowing my private affairs as she does (she manages my Gmail account for both remuneration and entertainment), she enquired, "Doesn't W.A.S.T.E. normally deliver the books you get from that vamp, Oedipa Maas?"
My explanation that Lulu was a vanity publishing outfit was less than persuasive. Or so it seemed.
Then she turned the book in her hands, ran her delicate fingers along its spine and laughed, revealing that she had been pulling my leg all along.
"M.J. Nicholls? I've read some of his reviews." Her smile reminded me of a shark about to attack. "He has a lot of qualities a man could be vain about."
I couldn't work out whether there was an element of admiration in her remark.
She has never complimented one of my literary efforts like that. Well, to be honest, any of my efforts. (She is the inspiration for my well-honed sense of modesty.)
Some time afterwards, I noticed that the book had gone missing.
I looked in our recycling bin, to see if she'd accidentally thrown it out with the packaging. No. She had spared it the fate of most of my metafiction.
Then as the temperature plummeted with a mid-morning storm and I realised I needed something warmer than my Big Lebowski t-shirt, I went into our bedroom and noticed that she had put MJ's Meisterwerk (I learned this very useful word from Scribble, or was it Nathan, or MJ himself?) on her bedside table.
Not only that, she had removed half a dozen "you must read this" books I had recommended to the library downstairs.
When I quizzed her about the pile of literary tips, including one on "corporate personality' that Bird Brian had rated five stars, she replied, "I don't need to read them." I waited for the shark again..."I've already read your reviews...and they were quite enough, thank you."
Again, I wasn't sure whether this constituted flattery, but she soon cleared that up.
"In fact, in some cases, I think your review was longer than the book."
"Bullshit," I declared, defiantly. "That was only 'Infinite Jest', no others. And that was the whole point!"
Determined to further injure my pride, she added, "Then, I suppose, you have to count the footnotes, too."
It was clear that FM Sushi was getting ready to settle in with MJ.
I await the outcome of her
Strictly on the QT, I also await the imminent arrival of my black vinyl summer pyjamas.
I must keep an eye out for the postman's scooter. Or should that be an "ear out"?
Who knows what FM Sushi would think about a package from "Victoria&LolitasSecret.com"?
Its logo is a muted strumpet. Or two, if I recall correctly.
In the meantime, I'm giving this novel one star.
I'm not increasing it, until MJ gives me my wife back.
A Straight Swap
"I’ve come to return your thistle," Horrold (AKA M.J. Nicholls) said, finally, this morning.
"Thistle? No no no, Horrold. When she left me, she was a full woman thing. With woman things."
"Nice ones, eh?"
"I want her back. In the state she left me. She belongs to me."
"I propose a straight swap. You give me a good review, I’ll give you your wife back."
"I can’t guarantee a good review. I haven’t read the book yet."
"What about a good review from your wife then?"
We both turned to FM Sushi. She nodded.
FM Sushi’s Review
This book reminded me of a man’s penis. Could it have been any better if it was longer? Would I have missed anything if it was shorter? In both cases, the answer is no.
These views might come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with my husband and who will therefore know me as someone who is content with the merely adequate.
DJ Ian Interviews Postmodernist Author MJ Nicholls
This is an edited version of an "interview" DJ Ian did with the "author".
As much as he loves MJ Nicholls, DJ Ian's job was to stay out of the way as much as possible and let him riff in his own words (all, well, most, of which derive from his book and not a "real" interview between a "real" DJ and a "real" author).
DJ Ian: Today in the studio I have "author", MJ Nicholls, whose novel sees Man, not to mention Woman, rise from the Primordial Slime to the Postmodern Belch. Welcome, MJ.
MJ Nicholls: Thank you.
DJ Ian: You say this is a postmodern novel, but the word on GoodReads is that it is a self-indulgent exercise in distracting postmodern bullshit. It is vapid and pointless. None of the invention, playfulness, wit or erudition of postmodernism are present here. In short, it’s boring.
MJ Nicholls: That’s bullshite, obviously. I’m here to bulldoze the boredom. To pile-drive the prose. To bedeck the slow indulgent bits of the novel in a regalia of quirks and lunatic tendencies. I'm here to irritate, invigorate, to confront.
DJ Ian: So your agenda isn’t just some undergraduate pisstake? It’s more ambitious?
MJ Nicholls: You could almost say, postgraduate. The initial conceit was that it be would be the book to end all books, to debook the book so to speak. I wanted to create a new superstructure of literature and pave the way for future generations of artists and thinkers...an uberbook.
DJ Ian: Marvin Amiss wasn't particularly impressed...
MJ Nicholls: We come from different schools of writing – he the highly disciplined Oxford school of stylistic obsession (an endlessly searching desire to achieve a state of beyond Nabokovian eloquence) – while I am content to be a playful satirist/humorist, lounging on the sidelines poking fun at literary styles and idioms.
DJ Ian: Another criticism that has been levelled at your work is that it is onanistic.
MJ Nicholls: I think a certain amount of onanism is essential to any postmodern work, perhaps even the author/reader relationship.
DJ Ian: The problem is, once you've started, you have to know when to stop.
MJ Nicholls: I think you're right. The aim is to stop before it gets out of hand. I like to think I've learned the knack.
DJ Ian: How would you describe the sense of humour of the novel?
MJ Nicholls:It’s a dazzling postmodern comedy – a jocose, absurdist riptide of indulgent piffle and boogerdash...
DJ Ian: You seem to take the piss out of your role as the author?
MJ Nicholls: Throughout the course of this book, I spin a continual reel of self-deprecating humour, harping on about how talentless and worthless the author is, and how his novel is a one-joke idea stretched to the last gasping crumb of credibility.
DJ Ian:You also deprecate the three characters in your novel who believe they are the authors of this fiction?
MJ Nicholls: Exactly, their ideas and values seemed to revolve around cheap exploitation and crude humour.
DJ Ian: Some critics attack the novel for what they call its “perverted exuberance”. It seems to be preoccupied with voluminous vaginas and cocks. There are so many gigantic genitals in sight, a la Robert Coover, it becomes banal.
MJ Nicholls: Well, you know when something is so imposing and grand, it becomes banal. Like a skyscraper or a stretch limo. An extended sandwich with five fillings. Leaves you feeling stuffed for months. That’s how I feel about Harold’s penis...If anything, his penis is a metaphor for the supersize mentality cutting a riptide through our occidental culture.
DJ Ian: What about Lydia’s vagina?
MJ Nicholls: I was hoping someone would ask me that question. Initially, I treated her vagina with a certain degree of curious immaturity.Then it switched to adulation...the flipside of this vagodeification was that Harold performed a series of masochistic, phallocentric mating rituals, whereby he slung his schlong around a series of opaque imaginings of Lydia, hoping to woo her vagina into a kind of self-basting translucence, hungrily awaiting the elixir of his cock.
DJ Ian: It sounds narcissistic...
MJ Nicholls: Lydia is just as narcissistic as Harold. The male characters and I were besotted with this combative, self-important narcissistic hostess of narrative discontent. I wanted somehow to become her torrid lover...Unfortunately, I myself personally, M.J. Nicholls, wasn't a character in the novel. Strictly speaking.
DJ Ian: So, would you like to be a character in one of your novels?
MJ Nicholls: Pretending to be a fictional character is much better than pretending to be a "real" human being.
DJ Ian:What does it take to be a character in one of your novels apart from voluminous genitals?
MJ Nicholls:You have to suffer. Harold existed in a dark bedroom of alienation, cut off from all forms of emotional connection with the ‘real’ world. This is because, like me, Harold is a troubled genius; a perfectionist freak with an agoraphobic bent.
DJ Ian:Is "A Postmoderm Belch" autobiographical?
MJ Nicholls: All I can say is, those reading "A Postmodern Belch" aren’t reading fiction, they’re reading what it’s like to live inside a fiction, and to make fiction one’s reality.
DJ Ian: One of the characters describes the novel like this: "No narrative, no characters, no readers. You’re up the creek, honey…completely lost in the wilderness of your own thoughts." What is your response to that?
MJ Nicholls: This novel is an endlessly regenerating entity, driven by a constantly self-updating stream of tychistic possibilities, arcing out into a million directions with merely the tweak of one sentence. Or, as you might say, "if u right it different it cum out different".
DJ Ian: Many readers, including FM Sushi, were delighted to reach the end of your novel.
MJ Nicholls: A theme of the novel is a kind of end-of-the-novel and end-of-the-world rapture. There is a state of unlimited unhappiness derived from the knowledge that the book is finally about to end.
DJ Ian: What does your novel say about you as an author?
MJ Nicholls: I am a prisoner of the postmodern condition.
DJ Ian: What about your characters, who seem to have a mind of their own?
MJ Nicholls:They don’t exist, obviously. They’re all merely a product of my imagination. Their entire world is a complete fabrication.
DJ Ian:They seem reluctant to meet their author?
MJ Nicholls: As we are reluctant to meet our maker.
DJ Ian: What do you mean?
MJ Nicholls: They are refusing to learn the name of their creator. In human terms, it’s like refusing to discover the identity of your God, to unravel the entire mystery of the universe.
DJ Ian: Your writing is highly self-conscious.
MJ Nicholls: I struggle to write a sentence that is not in some way blatantly aware of itself. Can there exist one prized four-word sentence of perfection that defines all that has been committed to paper since words were invented from logs and twigs?
DJ Ian: Is there one sentence that defines the true mission of your book?
MJ Nicholls: Buggered if I know.
DJ Ian:Is that the sentence or is that your answer?
MJ Nicholls: That’s for the author to know and the reader to find out.
DJ Ian:Well as you say in the novel, you’re still a fuckodicious poncificator. Thank you for joining us.
MJ Nicholls: Thank you for having me, though I don't feel like I've been had. You have the gentle hands of a true belletrist.(less)
Notes are private!
Mar 17, 2013
Mar 24, 2013
Oct 17, 2012
Mar 03, 2001
What My Oldest Daughter Claudia Believes (at Age 17, on 9 October, 2012)
I believe that honesty is important; however there are some situations where i...more What My Oldest Daughter Claudia Believes (at Age 17, on 9 October, 2012)
I believe that honesty is important; however there are some situations where it's better not to say anything at all. Sometimes the truth hurts more.
I believe that religion started as a written story that acted as a code of morals to help people live a good and virtuous life, however some time in history the story got lost in translation over generations and people began to believe that it was true. I believe that I can live a virtuous life without the need to follow the principles of a religion. My parents said this to me only once as a young child, and it is one of the things I have never forgotten and taken to heart. I consider myself an atheist and I do not need a religion or a God to help me through life.
However; even though I do not believe in the story surrounding Christianity and God, I believe that the principles or the Ten Commandments are very important to live a virtuous life – such as: no killing; respect family, friends and neighbours; do not steal; do not commit adultery; do not envy. As long as you have a sense of morals – with or without the help of religion, I believe that you can go far in life.
Similarly, I believe that the fact that there are so many different religions that have different messages trying to compete for our loyalty, means that there is no right and only religion. If there were only one main religion, it confuses me why were more created with each trying to out-do each other. The fact that we do not have one universal religion and world view makes me believe that there is no religion.
I believe that humans have no soul, and instead our consciousness and morality result from our brain and previous experiences.
I believe that there is no life after death and no heaven because we have no soul. When we die, our body decomposes and is returned to the earth where we are recycled into a new organism. I am not scared of dying, as I believe that if you live your life to the fullest every day, you are then able to die a happy and satisfied person.
I only believe in things that have hard facts and scientific proof. I believe in reason over faith.
I believe that it was a fluke of evolution that humans exist and that we are living right now. We have advanced and created to the point where we have been able to support such sophisticated lives. It is the nature of humanity to try to control and manage the environment, to continue to survive. Therefore, this makes me believe that there is no celestial being that controls us.
I believe in the importance of exercise and healthy eating. We have developed over time to become such a sophisticated society, however I find it extremely worrying that people are doing less and less exercise and are no longer concerned about their health and well-being. To me, this seems like a backwards step, as we came from ancestors who were constantly fit in order to survive. I believe that something must be done urgently about obesity because it will eventually cause the destruction of our population. I am passionate about teaching and helping others to live a healthy life.
I believe in striving to perform all tasks given to me to the best of my capabilities and giving everything 100% effort. While it may seem annoying and worthless at the time, I know I will look back on that moment and realise I could have given more. I take this approach in my assignments, study and my sporting life, as I take everything seriously and give it my best shot. That way if I know I’m disappointed with my results, there is nothing to regret on my behalf.
I believe that it is important to get out of the house and do something – either with friends, or just being outside and enjoying the world around me. The world is too beautiful to spend inside sitting on the couch and watching TV. This belief came from me through my mum, as she is extremely active and would rather be doing something interesting with us.
I believe in the value of travelling and experiencing different cultures. It is important to not be narrow-minded, and it also helps appreciate and understand other people, while also realising that the world does not revolve around you. When I leave school, I am travelling to Paris and London with my family; and then I am going on my own trip to Greece and Italy with my friend Emma during the University Holidays, so I get so see more of the world. Similarly to this, I also believe in the value of learning history at schools, because it further teaches you this acceptance of other cultures.
I believe that commitment is important. Whether it be in a team sport and training, or commitment to others in group work; there is always a bigger picture and your attitude will negatively or positively affect somebody else.
I believe that bad things happen, and often they are uncontrollable and just bad luck. However; I think it is important to make the best out of each situation and take a valuable life lesson from it so you are better prepared. Things have happened to me, which at the time felt unbearable, but I found the strength to get through it, and I know that I am a better and more confident person because of it.
I believe in the quote by the Dali Lama, “Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.” To me I find this really appropriate because it is very important to live your life with some flexibility and openness for change, as every day will not be the same and you never what to expect. However; while you should embrace the change, you should still retain the values you believe in, because they never need to change.
I believe in Gay Marriage. Everyone should have the right to love whoever then want, and be able to express this love in a way they choose such as marriage. Everyone is equal, and someone should not be discriminated by their sexual preference.
Notes are private!
Oct 09, 2012
Oct 09, 2012
Jan 01, 1970
Lone Star Saloon
What has this novel got going for it?
Some friends whose opinions I value highly have rated it three to four stars.
The prose...more Lone Star Saloon
What has this novel got going for it?
Some friends whose opinions I value highly have rated it three to four stars.
The prose is both economical and accessible.
It substitutes a young woman for Christ in the myth that God's son died for our sins.
Um, I can't think of anything else.
A Bar Graph of the Stars
Most of the reviews I've done since joining GR have been of books I regard as part of my personal canon.
As a result, the average rating has been high, so much so that friends have questioned whether I can write a negative review.
I hope this will suffice.
Why No More Stars?
So why no more stars for this work?
Firstly, I don't regard it as a work of metafiction, just because it inserts a woman into Christ's robes.
There needs to be some level of literary inventiveness over and above that.
Secondly, when Christ is inserted into this symbolic structure, his suffering is designed to highlight the magnitude and selflessness of God the Father's forgiveness.
We can accept Christ's suffering, because we know it is functional in the grand design behind the Christian vision.
Dodeca does not purport to be a part of the Holy Trinity or the Holy Quaternity, for that matter.
There is no obvious tie of her suffering to God's forgiveness or anyone else's, for that matter.
As a result, I found the focus on her suffering, which is primarily of a sexual nature, prurient and voyeuristic and degrading.
There was no sublimation of her travails into a universal theme or a message that parallels the Christ myth.
For me, it never lifted itself up from an exercise in what more offence could be heaped on this relative innocent.
It was like selecting the most offensive 84 pages of the Marquis de Sade, stripping it of any merit, literary or philosophical or otherwise, and offering it for our delectation in some neon-lit window in Amsterdam.
Is there some deep and meaningful significance in the concept of a dodecahedron?
I do know that the only positive male character is called Hedron, so that if you accept the posibility of a Holy Duality, then you might get a Dodecahedron out of the amalgam of their names.
But, honestly, so what?
Doing the Maths
A dodecahedron is a three-dimensional polyhedron with 12 equal faces, each of which is a regular pentagon.
If you sit it on one face, then there is a parallel face at the top, and two sets of five faces, one on top of the other, so that the faces are assembled 1-5-5-1.
Plato described the dodecahedron as the fifth classical element or platonic solid.
It has been speculated that the dodecahedron is the quintessence of the universe and the basis of the Zodiac.
Some suggest that Plato used the word "quintessence" himself in the sense that the dodecahedron was the fundamental building block of the entire universe.
As far as I can tell, the word did not exist until much later in the early fifteenth century.
The Online Etymology Dictionary suggests that the word is a "loan-translation" of the Greek "pempte ousia", which means "fifth being" or "fifth essence".
Later, the Romans translated the Greek into the expression "quinta essentia", which the French translated as "quinte essence" before it entered the English language as "quintessence".
So, Plato could not have used the term "quintessence" in the manner in which we have come to understand it (which originated in the 1580's).
Therefore, you have to question the broader significance of the dodecahedron.
Does the fact that there are 84 pages in the book have any significance?
Mathematically, 84 is a product of the numerals 3, 4 and 7 (the latter of which is the sum of the previous two, and the product of 3 and 4 is 12).
Well, again, so what?
So one star it is and one star it remains.
I'm sorry, but that's all, folks.(less)
Notes are private!
Nov 22, 2012
Dec 07, 2012
Sep 16, 2012
Jan 01, 2004
ROMEO AND JULIET: THE MUSICAL (A BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN PRODUCTIONS EXTRAVAGANZA)
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
"Bruce Springsteen mixes Shakespeare’s best kn...more ROMEO AND JULIET: THE MUSICAL (A BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN PRODUCTIONS EXTRAVAGANZA)
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
"Bruce Springsteen mixes Shakespeare’s best known romance with electric guitars, pianos, keyboards and saxophones." (Rolling Stoned)
"Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, cars, bikes, gangs, bangs, brawls, literature, blood, sugar, death, magik, kitchen sinks, meatloaf, clowns. It’s got everythnig." (Grauniad)
"E-Street Bard." (Village Voyce)
"Star-crossed Lovers Killed by Loose Windscreen." (Notional Enquirer)
"The Boss Updates Big Willie" (The Unyun)
"Bruce Shakesteen or William Springspeare: You Decide!" (Variete)
"I Haven't Seen It. Have You Seen My Backlog of GR Notifications?" (Paul Bryant)
"Like." (Bird Brian)
"Well everybody better move over, that's all/He's running on the bad side/And he's got his back to the wall/Tenth avenue freeze-out, tenth avenue freeze-out" (Richard)
"This show sets the bar very high, almost out of reach of regular top-shelf drinking patrons." (Bruce Shakespeare, The Australian Shakespearience Dinner and Floorshow)
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
The midnight gang's assembled
And picked a rendezvous for the night
Man there's an opera on the turnpike
There's a ballet being fought in the alley
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets,
And made Verona's ancient citizens
Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments,
To wield old partisans, in hands as old,
Canker'd with peace, to part your canker'd hate.
Outside the street's on fire
In a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here
Don't write nothing at all
They just stand back and let it all be
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.
In the quick of the night
They reach for their moment
And try to make an honest stand
But they wind up wounded
Not even dead
Tonight in Jungleland
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows,
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.
Enter Romeo, still love-sick for Rosaline.
Rosaline, jump a little higher
Senorita, come sit by my fire
I just want to be your lover, ain't no liar
Rosaline, you're my stone desire
True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind.
In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway Italian dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Romeo, still pining for Rosaline, discovers Juliet and becomes newly infatuated.
Juliet, let me in, I wanna be your friend,
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Bruce realises he has competition for Juliet’s love and wants to elope without her parents’ permission.
Together we could break this trap
We'll run till we drop, baby we'll never go back
Romeo pleads even harder, now he has learned about his rival, Bruce.
I gotta know how it feels
I want to know if love is wild
Babe, I want to know if love is real
Oh, Juliet, can you show me
Juliet learns that Romeo comes from a rival family.
My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Juliet falls for Romeo regardless.
What ’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Juliet decides she must confront Bruce and tell him they are not meant to be.
Bruce, the angels have lost their desire for us
I spoke to them just last night
and they said they won't
set themselves on fire
for us anymore
Bruce persists, trying to hold onto the memory of their love.
I'm really sorry, Bruce
I've gotta set you loose
I know you've got a beat up old Buick
And dreams of something better for me
But, frankly, I just can't see it
My vision for me can't be achieved
In the back seat of a second hand Fiat
While your friends hang around drinking Corona
You say you don't like it
But girl I know you're a liar
'Cause when we kiss
Juliet grows weak and almost falls.
What is wrong, my love?
I have the worst headache.
Here take some of these now, and again when you feel the pain coming on.
Bruce gives her a small glass bottle of non-prescription drugs. Blue tablets.
How many should I take?
No more than two every four hours.
Juliet takes three tablets immediately.
It hurts me to say but you gotta know it
There’s no point in remaining coy
I can’t marry you, Bruce.
I could never be happy with a boy
From Long Branch, New Jersey
No amateur actor or drama queen
No busboy, bellhop or dead ringer
For De Niro or a film student from Pomona
Not for me, your guitar-slinging outlaw singer
I crave more than an Asbury Duke or an E Street Loner.
Romeo looks dashing in his open-necked shirt and film director scarf. Juliet has never seen anything like him.
The love between Romeo and Juliet grows in leaps and bounds.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
Beneath the city two hearts beat
Soul engines running through a night so tender
In a bedroom locked
In whispers of soft refusal
And then surrender.
I long for a real hot-blooded man
An alpha male of the highest order
A man of another world from here
Someone from across the border
I don't just mean New Jersey
Or Philadelphia, PA
You see, I love a Prince from far Verona
With a flash suit and money to burn,
A mansion and a real fast car
A smart haircut and a leather-coated boner
He’s waiting for me now
I've got him in my view
He's the rising son
Of the House of Montague
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run
Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.
Juliet feels no relief for her headache. She opens the bottle and takes another two tablets. It’s only an hour since her last dose.
I want to be a star
Of the stage and screen
I don't want a bit part
Or a role that’s obscene
I've had enough of men who work
All week for minimum wages
I want to be remembered
Through time eternal...and for ages and ages
My love’s a director who makes serious films
Not just action flics designed to wow
Even his money men are all agreed
“Romeo, Romeo, we’re for art now”
The moment he cast his eyes on me
He sat me down and cast me on his couch
He said he’d get my photo in the magazines
And we’d drive around all night in limousines
Romeo and Juliet resolve to escape in Romeo’s car.
Just so I could live in this promised land
I turned my back on Bruce’s traveling band
No more Buicks or Fiats for this Capulet
Dear husband, I pledge to be your wife, Juliet
So I can feature in a film cameo
In the front seat of your Alfa, Romeo.
Tybalt chases them on a motor bike. He crosses suddenly into Romeo's path and clips the front edge of the car. He loses control of his bike and falls to the thundering road. Romeo can't avoid running over the top of Tybalt and killing him. Still, Romeo rolls his car three times while taking evasive action, and both Romeo and Juliet are knocked unconscious when their heads hit the side door panels.
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead (in that order).
Juliet wakes first, only to look over to the driver’s seat, where she sees Romeo. She can’t tell if he is alive or dead. She realises that her headache has now become extreme. If she can treat her pain, she can try to help Romeo.
She touches her forehead where it hit the inside of the car door and pulls her hand away, covered in blood that still seems to be flowing profusely. Tears form in her eyes and her eyesight becomes blurry. She reaches into her purse and takes another four tablets, in the hope that it will kill her pain. She lapses into unconsciousness.
Shortly afterwards, Romeo awakes and finds Juliet still beside him. There is blood everywhere and a white froth has descended from her lips and dried on her chin.
O my love! my wife!
Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty:
Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death's pale flag is not advanced there.
Romeo wipes the froth from her lips and gives her one last kiss. He lifts the left leg of his trousers and pulls out his knife.
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last!
Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death!
Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark!
Here's to my love!
Romeo drags the knife across his throat. He drops the knife and holds his hand to the artery in his neck. He continues to feel the slow, regular pumping of his heart, until it pumps no more.
Now, Juliet wakes again. Still groggy, she looks over to Romeo. Convinced by the abundance of blood that he has died, she shakes the rest of the tablets in the bottle into her hand and swallows them eagerly.
O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.
She kisses Romeo and dies.
Never was a story of more woe
Than this of Bruce, Juliet and her Romeo.
Bruce lives alone and works his day job, almost like an automaton. His only salvation is the time he spends in his beat up old Buick. Every night, he drives the streets of Verona, haunted by the love he felt for Juliet and the guilt that it was the pills he gave her that took her life. Sometimes, through the tears in his eyes, he imagines that he sees her walking down the street, only to lose sight of her as she slips quietly down an alleyway.
You're still in love with all the wonder she brings
And every muscle in your body sings as the highway ignites
You work nine to five and somehow you survive till the night
Hell all day they're busting you up on the outside
But tonight you're gonna break on through to the inside
And it'll be right, it'll be right, and it'll be tonight
And you know she will be waiting there
And you'll find her somehow you swear
Somewhere tonight you run sad and free
Until all you can see is the night.
Please don't sue me, Boss.
How can I possibly argue that your lyrics deserve to be on the same page as Shakespeare, unless I shamelessly misappropriate them in the pursuit of parody, pastiche, spoof, send-up or lampoon?
This isn't damning with faint praise. This is no piss-take. This is a full-on homage, a big hurrah, a laud almighty. I say, more kudos to the Boss!
As the literary theorist Linda Hutcheon puts it (as quoted by my WikiLawyer), "parody...is imitation, not always at the expense of the parodied text."
I already have multiple copies of your albums on both CD and vinyl, even the boring ones. I don't need any more, until you release 50th anniversary editions with bonus disks I don't already have. [I really hope I'm still around in 2045, so I can be the first to buy "The Ghost of Tom Joad Uncut".]
If that doesn't convince you it's not worth suing me, Brucewad, I won't have any money left to support this great music industry of ours that is being killed by illegal downloads.
Please get your lawyers to spare my humble upload.
And if they do come looking for me, they'd better be pretty damned fit, coz tramps like us, baby we were born to run.(less)
Notes are private!
Sep 08, 2012
Sep 07, 2012
Mass Market Paperback
Jun 16, 2012
Jun 17, 2012
This review has been pieced together from notes written by my friend and sometime accomplice Clem de Menthe before he went into hiding wit...more Introduction
This review has been pieced together from notes written by my friend and sometime accomplice Clem de Menthe before he went into hiding with other members of Wikisucks in Icequador.
As far as I can tell, once he had written them down on a sheet of lined A4 paper, he chewed them, until they were a soggy mess.
He then turned them into ice cubes, using Troy DeNuthe’s special formula, where you half-fill an ice cube tray with water, freeze it, insert the foreign object (in this case, the soggy mass) and then pour more water on top, before freezing the full tray.
He then sent me a coded text revealing that he had hidden his review in his fridge.
I placed the ice cubes in a glass of rum and coke. I had to drink it really quickly, so that the ice didn’t melt too much and expose the paper pulp to the corrosive rum and coke mix.
Luckily, some of the ice did melt in my drink, so it didn’t take me long to locate the paper, spread it out on my workbench, separate the work using my clinical tweezers, recognise the pattern of his words, expose it to a lamp and dry Clem’s review.
I’m still not sure I got everything in the right order, but I think you’ll agree with me that his thoughts were worth preserving for posterity, if not necessarily in ice.
"Just the Tip of the Icecube" (by Clem de Menthe)
When I was reading Troy DeNuthe’s book, it suddenly dawned on me (the first of my Eureka moments) just how poor is our knowledge of ice cubes.
So I looked up the Wikipedia entry for “ice cube”.
Maybe I should have looked up the plural “ice cubes”, because the first page I got was the American rapper. (I just searched “ice cubes” now and it took me to the right “ice cube” entry straight away.)
This sort of thing has happened to me before, so I knew that if I wanted more, I had to click on the link for “ice cube (disambiguation)” (BTW, I’ve never seen or heard the word “disambiguation” used outside Wikipedia. Maybe I mix in the wrong circles?).
Another Eureka moment, for there waiting for me were three alternative meanings, one of which was “a chunk of frozen water in the shape of a cube”.
So I looked it up and guess what? There were less than 1,000 words on this topic.
Pathetic, isn’t it?
I mean, we expect Wiki to contain everything there is to know about everything, but if they can’t get “ice cubes” right, what does that say about the authority of the rest of Wikipedia?
What does this say about the very roots of epistemology in the twenty-first century?
So, Eureka moment three: just a few minutes spent in the clutches of "Troy DeNuthe's World of Ice Cubes" is enough to establish that Troy DeNuthe knows far more about ice cubes than the entire Wiki community, which I assume is the whole world (apart from Troy).
We cannot begin to tap the resource that is human knowledge, until we can extract from men and women like Troy DeNuthe the detailed knowledge of their individual areas of expertise.
Until we do this, all the Encyclopedias and Wikipedias strike me as a fraud on the masses. They’re a farce, a joke. A travesty of wisdom, a mockery of knowledge, a caricature of erudition.
This intellectual sloth cuts no ice with me.
Wikipedia is just scratching the surface, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I want to know what’s beneath the surface. What are they hiding from us? Is this some epistemological conspiracy? Who’s behind it all? Is it the I.C.I.A?
Anyway, this is a quick snapshot of the world that Troy DeNuthe rides on into on his small but perfectly formed steed of a book, “Troy DeNuthe’s World of Ice Cubes”.
A thousand words on ice are not enough, they do not suffice for a man like Troy, someone whose greatest passion is to [ed: this part was a bit difficult to read, but I think he wrote “suck ice”].
Wiki might give us the berg, but Troy gives us the cube. The full cube. Indeed, but for some private suggestions I propose to draw to his attention, the whole kit and caboodle.
Forget about Wikileaks. This Wiki sucks, and Troy is just the man to achieve its true potential. A man of enormous [ed: perspacicity?], he is the Julian Iceage of the epistemological liberation movement.
His work does not purport to be exhaustive. It’s just a preliminary building block, an ice block that is content to form the base of an igloo, a shoulder upon which giants of ice can stand (to quote the English band, Oasice).
No doubt, there is more that Troy personally can impart in further volumes, and I propose to contact him with a modest proposal.
However, hopefully, in “The World of Ice Cubes”, he was just [ed: sorry, I think Clem did actually say “breaking the ice”].
Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot tolerate this epistemological conspiracy any longer.
We must entice Troy DeNuthe from his hiding place, encourage him to return to the source of this slow-moving glacier of insight, arm himself with an ice pick and deal a fatal blow to the head of the icebergoisie who sit by complacently while the rest of us endure injust-ice.
Ladies and gentlemen, we must escape the darkness of our cubicles and embrace the ice cubes of enlightenment.
"How to Improve Your Ice Sight Without Glasses: A Proposal" by Clem De Menthe
The following notes appear to be suggestions for a proposed collaboration between Clem and Troy on a second volume of “The World of Ice Cubes”:
Why ice cubes, not ice balls?
Why are they the size that they are? Not bigger? Not smaller?
Can you freeze hot water faster than cold water?
Who invented the ice cube tray?
What is the best size of ice cube tray?
What are the relative merits of imitation ice cubes?
I swallowed an ice cube, will I die?
Would an ice cube melt in enough time for me to be able to breathe?
"Haiku DeNuthe (Ice Cubey Dooby Do)" by Clem De Menthe
Troy, beat exemplar,
Zen master of frozen ice
And cubic beauty.(less)
Notes are private!
Aug 11, 2012
Jul 02, 2012
Bread and Circuses
Snedwick P. Philebius is the Robert ["Woody Allen"] Zimmerman of their generation.
Perhaps, Dylan stated the obvious when in 1965 he...more Bread and Circuses
Snedwick P. Philebius is the Robert ["Woody Allen"] Zimmerman of their generation.
Perhaps, Dylan stated the obvious when in 1965 he sang "even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked".
Yet, who would have guessed how degenerate things could get since then?
Bread and circuses were once a distraction from the main game of commerce and politics.
Now, capitalism is all about generating bread, and politics has become a circus.
Clown Time's Not Over, It's Only Just Begun
In today's world, corporate executives and politicians alike have become clowns.
These times call for a man or woman of courage, someone who will point out that the emperor is wearing no clothes and even the clown sometimes must have to stand naked.
And, readers, Snedwick is that man or woman.
[From now on, I will refer to Snedwick in the gender-free plural, because surely talent of these dimensions could not be encapsulated in a singular mortal being of just one of the three available sexes.]
Erotically Attracted to a Protracted Tract
Not only is Snedwick a cultural critic of great perspicacity, they know how vital erotica has become to the cultural and political discourse of today.
"Clownfucker", as the name suggests, is a political and erotic thriller, a philosophical and fibromuscular tubular tract that Snedwick uses to penetrate the vagina of cultural modernity, work its way through cervical resistance and unblock the neuter uterus of morality, decency and popular taste.
From Here to Internity
Of course, today's metaphorical clown requires an intern, or better still, two interns, who ironically take it in turns, so to speak, to caress and pull him through his anti-hero's journey.
In Snedwick's capable hands (and, indeed, their own), Alice and Traci are today's equivalent of the aptly named Mona and Fiona of Richard Condon's "The Vertical Smile", an hilarious novel and precursor to "Clownfucker", which I can't recommend highly enough.
The Pubic Yearning of Erotica
In the political satire "The Public Burning", Robert Coover, like Dylan, damns Richard Nixon and the culture of corruption that surrounded him.
I can think of no greater compliment to pay "Clownfucker" than to say that Snedwick's genius is to add to Robert Coover's important work the pubic yearning of various sordid private enterprises.
All the Presidents' Mien
However, just as much as Coover, Snedwick's work reveals what really goes down in public office (not to mention public offices and orifices).
And it didn't stop with Tricky Dicky.
Ultimately, Snedwick's contribution to literature is that it adds a little comic Pecker (or a comic little Pecker) to the earnestness of Woodward and Bernstein, with some vital help from the Deep Throats of Alice and Traci.(less)
Notes are private!
Jul 04, 2012
Jul 02, 2012
Jun 01, 1993
In Her Own Write
To paraphrase a less hyperbolic comment by David Foster Wallace, the point of this review is that “The Blindfold” is an extraordinary...more In Her Own Write
To paraphrase a less hyperbolic comment by David Foster Wallace, the point of this review is that “The Blindfold” is an extraordinary novel.
DFW described it as a “really good book” that is “clearly a feminist reworking of some of the central themes of [Don] DeLillo and his literary compadre, Paul Auster.”
I don’t think this does justice to what Siri Hustvedt achieved in her own right. Nor does the following question from a “reader” on amazon.com:
"Would this book have been published at all, had Siri Hustvedt not been married to Paul Auster, another completely overrated author?"
As Iris Vegan (Hustvedt’s protagonist) might have said, "Stuff it up your ass."
While Hustvedt was writing “The Blindfold” in 1992, Auster was writing “Leviathan”.
She dedicated her work to her husband, while he dedicated his to DeLillo (who later reciprocated by dedicating “Cosmopolis” to Auster in an apparent act of bro-love).
However, Auster included the character Iris Vegan in “Leviathan”. How meta-dedicated is that!
First Things First (But Not Necessarily In That Order)
“The Blindfold” is divided into four untitled sections of quite different lengths. By the time I’d got to the beginning of the third section, I was starting to wonder whether there was any relationship between them and whether the book would have been better called a collection of short stories.
Was the fact that Iris Vegan was in each section enough to constitute a novel?
However, I soon realised that this was indeed a tightly plotted novel where every intricate detail was very precisely described and located, like objects in a museum or art gallery.
To paraphrase Iris, Hustvedt is a one-woman performance team, a juggler who works with objects.
She moves the objects around, on the shelf or in the air or on the canvas.
It doesn’t matter when or where we start looking. The point is to observe them all.
Only once we have followed one entire sequence do we start to get an idea of the whole.
Once you’ve detected the trend, you discover that you are contained or enclosed in a drama that intensifies with every word and that ultimately you don’t want to stop.
The novel maps the course of a number of relationships that Iris forms over the course of three years, while she is a postgraduate English student at Columbia University.
During the course of her studies, she develops headaches and suffers migraine auras.
We never find out whether her affliction is the result of a physiological condition or the emotional stress that she undergoes.
However, migraine auras can result in a disturbance of the patient’s sense of time. In the words of an actual patient, “The feelings of a pre-migraine aura are definitely one of 'otherness', with...temporal, aural and visual disturbances.”
While the events are recounted by Iris in the first person eight years after they occurred, her condition allows Hustvedt to mess with time and the sequence in which events occur.
It also raises the question of whether Iris is an unreliable narrator.
For the first half of the novel, I was quite prepared for some tragic turn of events from a medical point of view.
However, after a while I felt that Iris was quite normal, if a little intense, in the manner of a highly intelligent student preoccupied with her self and her role in the world (although the same could be said of a male).
Before I move on, I want to dispense with one issue that threatens the appreciation of the novel as a whole.
One of the relationships is with a college professor who is in his early 50’s. While Iris is 22 at the time and not a child, I assume that this relationship would offend the university’s sexual misconduct policies.
The relationship is consensual and one which Iris consciously or unconsciously seeks almost from their first handshake.
The professor displays reluctance in initiating the relationship and ultimately cannot handle the personal and professional guilt that threatens the future of the relationship. He commits an act that in most cases would warrant someone terminating the relationship, even though Iris understands the psychological cause of the act and is prepared to forgive him for it.
Because Iris herself does not make any adverse comment on the propriety of the relationship, I don’t propose to comment on it adversely, especially because it seems to me (as a male of a similar age) to contribute to her growth as a person in the novel.
Once you’ve finished the novel, it really is quite time-consuming to try and work out the linear chronology.
If you can be bothered, it serves mainly to enhance your appreciation of Hustvedt’s skills as a story-teller.
The timeline as presented is actually one that makes sense organically in the development of the themes of the novel.
We witness the growth of Iris’ self in a logical, analytical manner, even if the timing is manipulated.
Equally importantly, it builds to a climax which happens to coincide with the most recent and most important of the events in the narrative.
Because the story concerns Iris’ psyche, it makes sense that the events are presented in this sequence, as if they are part of a professional character assessment or diagnosis.
The Development of Female Identity
In a way, the novel can be seen as a casebook on the development of female identity as illustrated by the example of one woman.
As a male surrounded by one wife and two daughters, I’ve lost the ability to judge whether the casebook is representative of women at large.
However, if either of our daughters experienced relationship problems in maturity, I would point them in the direction of the novel if advice by first their mother, then me or a professional proved inadequate.
It really is that insightful, at least in my male eyes.
An Eye on Your Own Identity
What appealed most to me about the novel was the way in which it explored the role of looking and seeing in the relationship, not just between the sexes, but between any two people, or one person or subject (on the one hand) and an object (on the other hand).
The very process of perception is described as if it were a more dynamic verb or action. How someone looks (actively) or how someone looks (passively) is just as important as what they ‘do” in some other sense.
The eyes are indeed the window to the soul, and this is very much a novel about the soul, the essence of Iris Vegan.
It’s no coincidence that Iris is a word that describes part of the structure of the eye, nor that it is the reverse of the first name of the book’s author.
While there is a normal amount of dialogue, so much of the novel’s message is revealed by the way people look and see.
However, equally importantly, Hustvedt is concerned with the psychoanalytical nature of “the gaze”, not just how a male gazes at a female, but how a female gazes at a male.
Without reading like a textbook, the novel explores the type of gaze described by Lacan.
The gaze is not just the process of looking, seeing and perceiving.
It describes the relationship between subject and object.
The subject can desire the object, he can aspire to possess and control the object, to make her or it a possession or a chattel.
Conversely, the object can possess a power over the subject, especially when the object is aware that she is being gazed at.
The object can capture or enchant the subject.
Either way, there can be a power relationship between subject and object, particularly in the sexual context.
It’s interesting that Hustvedt uses the concept relatively even-handedly, even though her principal interest is Iris.
On the novel’s third page, Iris remarks, “Without any apparent reserve, he looked at me, taking in my whole body with his gaze.”
Note that the act of looking involves a taking of something, the body, in fact.
Yet, only a few sentences before, Iris “looked at the skin of his neck”.
Midway through the novel, when she first meets Professor Rose, “I stared at him and he continued to gaze at me. This went on for maybe half a minute.”
The relationship at the heart of the novel starts with a stare and a gaze.
Within a few pages, the sexuality at the root of the gaze is made even more explicit:
"He gazed at me and pressed his index finger into the hollow beneath his cheekbone. Then he nodded. It was the nod that unraveled me, with its suggestion of penetration, almost telepathy. I looked back at him and felt my jaw relax, my lips part. Who are you? I thought. He took in my whole face with a leisure that astounded me. We looked at each other for too long, and the impropriety made me tremble."
The sentence is rattled off, almost innocuously, as if the word “penetration” relates to Iris’ mind, yet the reader can’t help but infer physical sexual penetration as well.
As with the first example, the subject “takes” something (or some thing), this time the object’s face.
The object is not just the thing looked at, but the thing possessed, as if it is a material object.
The gaze can possess both the body and the psyche of the object.
I’m Touched by Your Presence, Dear
Hustvedt uses the gaze as a foundation for a more palpable or tangible relationship.
Just as characters gaze at each other, they touch one another.
Valuable items remain boxed up, “to keep them untouched by the here and now.”
While sitting at a bar, Iris’ knee “grazes” a gun in a policeman’s holster. (Note the rhyme.)
Iris "felt Tim beside me, the sleeve of his coat touching mine," the inanimate object almost an extension or projection of the animate self.
At one point, the art critic (known only as) Paris promises he’ll "be in touch"; at another, the photographer George acknowledges a comment by Iris with the rejoinder, "Touche."
More importantly, sexual encounters are described in terms of their sensual appeal:
"Their intense wishes made me claustrophobic. They were always breathing on me, pulling, tugging, even begging for some mysterious gift they thought I could give them. But I didn’t really have it – the thing they wanted. I know they dreamed of sexual triumph, of some erotic cataclysm that would erase their need, and I know that by eluding them I became more and more a creature of their hopes, a vaporous being with blond hair and blue eyes. They weren’t to blame. Distortion is part of desire. We always change the things we want."
Note how desire sometimes involves distortion, elusion feeds illusion.
Tell Me, Tell Me, Tell Me, Do
Within relationships, Hustvedt also explores the significance of silence and telling and revelation.
Her longest relationship is with Stephen, who is carrying a copy of "The Portable Nietzsche", when she first sees him.
Stephen maintained a reserve in their relationship. Secrecy undermines their intimacy:
"Stephen was secretive. He enjoyed withholding information…I should have known that he was lost to me from the very beginning, but his body was magic then, and it drove me on. One look at his neck, his hands, his mouth, brought on a shudder of sexual memory, a pleasure that became a torment, because Stephen rationed his body..."
His explanation of himself is quite Nietzchean:
"I’m telling you what I can’t bear is the ordinary. I don’t want to bore myself, to sink into the pedestrian ways of other people – heart to heart talks, petty confessions, relationships of habit, not passion. I see those people all around me, and I detest them, so I have to be divorced from myself in order to keep from sliding into a life I find nauseating. It’s a matter of appearances, but surfaces are underestimated. The veneer becomes the thing. I rarely distinguish the man in the movie from the spectator anymore."
Stephen’s attempts to elude intimacy end up ludicrous. They are not just self-delusion, they delude others such as Iris as well.
In contrast, the ability to confide in George creates a confidence in their relationship, at least in the short-term:
"George inspired telling. He was so easy in his manner, so kind and understanding, it was hard not to confide in him. But there was something else, too, something more important. George had a way of talking to me as if he knew me better than I knew myself, and in George this presumption was a kind of wizardry that turned loose thoughts and memories I had never spoken of to anyone before."
This is a relationship that is not consummated physically, although George “takes” a photo of Iris that is regarded as a study in eroticism, as if he had captured her naked.
George regards the photo as “extraordinary”, while Iris regards it as “an object of regret”.
Having taken it, the photo satiates George. In his eyes, “It’s all there…everything I want.” He rebuffs Iris’ one advance:
"I looked at George. He grinned. He was sitting on the floor with his camera in his lap. I knelt down and crawled toward him, looking at his lean arms and beautiful mouth. I lifted my right arm and extended my hand toward his face, but something in his expression stopped me. I have what I want, it seemed to say. Don’t come any closer. I dropped my arm and sat back, still breathing hard."
Iris imagines George "stealing photographs in the darkness, his flash igniting the startled faces of those caught in an act they wanted to keep secret – a kiss or a fight or an illicit transaction – and then I saw George run from the spot like a burglar."
Not just does George take photos, he steals them from the psyche of the object.
Notes from Underground
While George seems to thrive in the darkness, Iris has already had an experience of life in the demimonde or netherworld.
After the rape of a resident of her apartment building, she starts dressing as a man in a suit in order to go to and from her night jobs.
"It wasn’t so much that I looked like a man but that the clothes created an image of sexual doubt. With no makeup and my hair hidden beneath a fedora, I seemed to be either a masculine woman or an effeminate man..."
At a crucial moment in the development of her sexual identity, she is able to experiment with a male persona.
People cease to look or gaze at her as a sexual object. She evades men, by impersonating a man. She removes men from the picture, by removing herself as woman from the picture.
Iris neuters herself, firstly as an act of self-defence, secondly as a stepping stone to personal and sexual confidence.
While inhabiting this world, a world that reminded me of Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground” or Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf” (including the Magic Theatre), Iris is poverty-stricken, starving, hallucinating, bordering on the hysterical (in Freudian terms).
Fortunately, her experience starts with a transgression of sorts and ends up as a transition,a journey, an Odyssey that prepares her for her next relationship with Michael (Professor Rose).
Giorgione’s “The Tempest”
Loving You the Way You Want
Hustvedt is also fascinated by the nature of desire.
In some people, as we have already seen, it represents the lack of something, a want, a need, an absence, an emptiness, a [black] hole that the subject attempts to fill with the object.
Ironically, when Iris doesn’t share the desire, she finds that the subject’s desire is even greater:
"Men I cared nothing about called me…on them my indifference worked like an aphrodisiac. Because I didn’t want anything..."
On the other hand, when she suggests that Stephen has never loved her, he responds:
"I’ve always loved you…I just don’t love you the way you want."
Yet again, Hustvedt has a poet’s eye for both the multiple meanings of words and their resemblance to other words.
You have to want, to love and be loved; you have to want to be loved; and you have to be loved the way you want!
When Iris experiences love with Michael, there is a different want, a new emptiness, a fear that they will lose each other, a desire that things stay the same, even though the truth is that they can’t.
The risk is that this emptiness will become an evil, a source of cruelty and destructiveness, something that will bring about the end of their relationship.
Walking the Last Stretch Blindfolded
Just as the novel explores looking and seeing, it addresses blindness.
With Iris’ migraine auras, she experiences black spots, blindness that starts with a hole and ultimately blacks out the whole, not just of the object, but the subject.
"Only later was I able to tell myself that I had suffered a migraine aura. The following months were a time when the everyday became precarious. At any moment an ordinary thing, a table or chair, a face or hand, might disappear, and with the blindness came a feeling of that I was no longer whole. I had put myself back together and now my body was failing me."
The negative connotation of blindness is the inability to look or see, or even to gaze.
Paradoxically, the blindfold incident in the novel offers a positive connotation to blindness.
Michael gives Iris a scarf. As they walk along the familiar streetscape back to her apartment, her confidence in her route leads her to tie the scarf around her eyes. In a scene that reminded me of the film “Trust”, she voluntarily embraces blindness. She must trust herself and/or Michael in order to get home safely.
This key metaphor is pregnant with connotations:
"He kissed me, and it was good not to see him. He could have been any man. The anonymity was his and mine. Like a child, I felt that blindness made me disappear, or at least made the boundaries of my body unstable. One of us gasped. I didn’t know who it was, and this confusion made my heart pound."
Despite the danger of her predicament, she did not want anything. She did not want a particular person, a particular man, for what they could give her. She could not look, she could not desire, she could not gaze, she could not judge beauty, she could not detect an object, but equally she could not be a subject.
She had lost her sense of self, at least her extreme self-consciousness. Her self had disappeared. It had become one with her surroundings, including Michael. That one, the “one of us”, gasped. She had everything, because she saw and needed nothing. Because she could not see, the two of them had become invisible and anonymous in her own mind (even if Michael could still see and gaze at her).
I wonder whether there is a hint of Zen “non-attachment” in this scene.
Like a Bat Out of Hell
The novel does not end with the blindfold scene, which would have been a convenient romantic denouement.
Instead, it sees Iris running away from the touch of the tiny, almost effeminate art critic Paris, to the IRT.
He sees Iris as some kind of Odysseus to his Penelope, whether or not he knows that she was treated for her migraines at Mount Olympus Hospital.
What should we infer from the ending?
Did Iris simply elude the Judgment of Paris?
A pessimist might conclude that Iris has returned to the darkness of the Underground.
An optimist might hope that she has finally put the past behind her and is ready for the next stage of her journey as a woman who has constructed a female identity she can be proud of, and who has something to offer other women.
Notes are private!
Aug 09, 2012
Aug 17, 2012
Jun 30, 2012
Dec 07, 2001
Not Your Typical Lad
This is an odd little book, but one that is hugely rewarding.
There is a trend in English writing towards "lad lit", by way of imit...more Not Your Typical Lad
This is an odd little book, but one that is hugely rewarding.
There is a trend in English writing towards "lad lit", by way of imitation of "chick lit".
Most chick lit that I’ve read (e.g., Kathy Lette – nobody does upwardly mobile English bourgeois quite like an Australian) seems to be at home in its genre, whereas most lad lit seems to me to be lost in imitation, as if the author was writing down to this level, while waiting to be discovered and offered the opportunity to write something more ambitious and literary.
Otherwise intelligent men descend upon this genre in the hope of generating some fame and filthy lucre (which might fund their indulgence in literary fiction), whereas women engage in it as either writer or reader with a sincerity and pleasure that men cannot seem to match.
"The Debt to Pleasure" is not quite lad lit. John Lanchester is made of Sterner stuff. He has been restaurant critic of the Guardian and deputy editor of the London Review of Books. He has a formidable intellect and presumably has a qualification akin to a Classics Degree from Oxford. He knows about food and alcohol (as does any quality journalist), but like the best authors he knows both how to write and how others write and have written before him. He also has a wicked sense of humour.
The Cook, the Critic, the Brother and His Biographer
Lanchester’s first person narrator, Tarquin Winot, is an entertaining and erudite food critic.
For about half of the novel, he outlines some favourite menus and tells wonderful stories about each course. If you’re a foodie, he’s just the sort of person you might love to sit next to at a dinner party.
Only, as he reveals more about himself, you start to realise there might be a reason he seems to have no spouse or partner. In the second half, we see him flirting shamelessly with Laura, the young female biographer of his sculptor brother, Bartholomew. His authority diminishes as he demeans himself and he becomes a more and more unreliable narrator.
Tarquin Winot has been compared with Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert. My reading of "Lolita" might be flawed, but I never felt that Humbert was unreliable. I felt that he was telling his truth and that it was transparent right from the beginning, even if it was distasteful.
Tarquin descends in our esteem the more we learn about him. If by half way through the novel we feel that we have befriended him, by the end of the novel we question our judgement and want to scamper away with our tail between our legs. I read the novel in 24 hours and, to the extent that my relationship with Tarquin was a one-night stand, it was one I regretted in the morning, at least metaphorically.
The Raw and the Cooked
The novel is easy to read, but there is a nice sophistication working beneath the surface.
On the one hand, it explores the cultural rivalry between French idealism and English empiricism, not just in food, but in philosophy, art and literature.
On the other hand, it works within a structuralist framework suggested by Claude Lévi-Strauss, that of the raw and the cooked.
In the novel, the cooked is civilized, while the raw is primitive or barbaric.
The first half of the novel is founded on formally structured menus. However, in the second half, the structure is abandoned, order breaks down, and relaxation, spontaneity and chaos take over.
Events descend into what the French, the Italians and the Americans would respectively call a debacle, a fiasco or a fuck-up.
Civilisation requires structure, we must be cooked and served in the correct sequence. If we seek psychic liberation, if we are only half-cooked, we, men in particular, will go off, like Tarquin, half-cocked.
Nevertheless, Lanchester quotes Walter Benjamin (without expressly identifying the source of the quotation) to the effect that “Every act of civilization is also an act of barbarism.” Perhaps, the distinction between civilization and barbarism is illusory? Perhaps, Tarquin symolises the illusion?
Eros and Thanatos, Love and Death
At first, Tarquin embodies the qualities of a sophisticated and knowledgeable bon vivant, one who enjoys the good life. By the end of the novel, he is quite the opposite.
Tarquin recalls a conversation with his sculptor brother in which he (Tarquin) contrasts the artist with the murderer:
"...one of the impulses which underlies all art is the desire to make a permanent impact on the world, to leave a trace of selfhood behind…to leave a memento of himself...
"The murderer, though, is better adapted to the reality and to the aesthetics of the modern world, because instead of leaving a presence behind him – the achieved work, whether in the form of a painting or a book or a daubed signature – he leaves behind him something just as final and just as achieved: an absence. Where somebody used to be, now nobody is.
"What more irrefutable proof of one’s having lived can there be than to have taken a human life and replaced it with nothingness, with a few fading memories?"
Das Ich und das Essen
"If the artist’s first desire is to leave something behind him, his next is simply to take up more space – to earn a disproportionate amount of the world’s attention. This is routinely called ‘ego’, but that term is far too mundane to encompass the raging, megalomaniacal desire, the greed, the human deficiency that underpins the creation of everything from a Matisse papercut to a Faberge egg...
"...[the truth] is not that the megalomaniac is a failed artist but that the artist is a timid megalomaniac, venting himself in the easy sphere of fantasy rather than the unforgiving arena of real life…
“Why don’t people take Bakunin more seriously? Destruction is as great a passion as creation, and it is as creative, too – as visionary and as assertive of the self."
And so he concludes:
"The artist is the oyster and the murderer is the pearl."
It’s interesting that this philosophical and aesthetic debate occurs within the framework of food.
It’s almost as if the self is the Ego (das Ich) and everything else external, but food and alcohol that we consume, in particular, is the Id (or das Es).
To stretch the credibility of the argument even further, in German, Tarquin pluralises das Es, until it becomes das Essen (i.e., food).
I am what I eat, I do what I eat, and red meat implies a capacity to kill in order to survive.
Not Just Desserts
While "The Debt to Pleasure" is as entertaining, if not more so, than most English lad lit, it also reveals that Lanchester can write.
If nothing else, he has admirable influences.
While some might find the comparisons odious, I would place this very English novel midway between the French Marcel Proust (1) and the American Paul Auster, with a large dollop of Nabokovian playfulness and a sprinkling of Peter Greenaway.
I’m looking forward to his later works, including "Capital".
(1) One sentence occupies the whole of pages 198 and 199, only it flows so well in the Proustian manner, you don’t notice its length, until you get to the end of it (TWSS, anyway).
W.H. Auden's Martini
Tarquin Winot: "As a subsequent refinement [on the seven-to-one martini of Beefeater gin and Noilly Prat vermouth of my aesthetic period], I borrowed W.H. Auden's technique of mixing the vermouth and gin at lunchtime...and leaving the mixture in the freezer to attain that wonderful jellified texture of alcohol chilled to below the point at which water freezes...the Auden martini is not diluted in any way...a 'silver bullet'."
In Search of Auden's Martini
W.H. Auden's Martini Haiku
Could any tiger
Drink martinis, smoke cigars,
And last as we do?
Heston Blumenthal's Version of Apicius' First Century Recipe for Calf's Brains with Rose Petals
"The Imperfect Enjoyment" by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
This is the poem from which the title of the novel was derived:
The Debt to Pleasure
Once is not enough,
Why does heat desert your flame?
Is there then no more?
Notes are private!
Feb 22, 2013
Feb 23, 2013
Jun 02, 2012
Yet Another Woodcock and Bull Story
Doctor Rodney Woodcock, M.D. (known to his patients as Doctor Rod) started to tire of day to day practice at his Ho...more Yet Another Woodcock and Bull Story
Doctor Rodney Woodcock, M.D. (known to his patients as Doctor Rod) started to tire of day to day practice at his Hollywood Clinic 12 months ago.
Since then he's been looking for a new direction and he believes he might have found one.
It's not that he's unhappy with the money or the patients. He knows he’s been lucky in his chosen profession. He’s already made a number of fortunes in his 45 years, prescribing drugs of choice to the stars, celebrity look-alike cosmetic surgery for their audiences.
He wasn’t the first to build a multi-million dollar business that satisfied these needs, but he was the best.
Still, the money he’s made out of these specialities could be tiny compared with the success he foresees in an area he himself has pioneered, professionally, personally and confidentially: body double genital sculpting.
The beautiful thing is, it's a logical fit for his existing practice.
Now he's almost ready to go public.
He looks at the draft brochure his wife and business partner, Doctor Wendy Bull, has commissioned.
“Not happy with the way your tits and dicks look? Want your private parts to be more photogenic? Witness something during a wardrobe malfunction you’d like to mimic? See an actor who's got something you want? Why should the stars get all the best parts? Now, you can have them, too. Call us to hear how the Woodcock and Bull Story can re-write the script for the next act in your lives. Then choose one of our industry-leading, medically proven photogenital techniques to achieve your dream facade.”
“I don’t know, Wendy, something doesn’t look right.”
“What are you thinking?”
“Well, ‘tits and dicks’, for instance. Shouldn’t it be ‘tits or dicks’? No one patient could have both tits and dicks, could they?”
“Well, not as much as the eighties and it's always been less common on the West Coast, but I see what you mean.” She crosses out “and” with her blue pen and inserts “or”.
Then she looks at him and ventures, “Are you sure this is what you really want to do? Isn’t it time we gave back something to the people who’ve made us so frigging rich?” *
“Who do you mean?” Doctor Rod knows his wife hasn't been totally happy lately as well. "Why would we want to give them anything they haven't paid for?"
“Well, what about people who are beyond surgery, people who would benefit from therapy, patients whose systems are so clogged with chemicals and additives and bi-products they can barely lift themselves on or off the sex partner of their choice. Men whose arteries are so hardened they have a permanent stiffy**, but not in their pants. Can’t we do something to relieve their pain? Or at least manage it? Or keep them distracted?”
“You mean, can’t we make money out of them some other way? If only we could figure out how to make money, without having them come to the Clinic. Maybe you could write a book or something.”
“You can see right through me, Rodney, you should have been a radiologist.”
“Ha ha, well I thought you were going to investigate a few ideas at the Faculty Library. How did you go with the Arterioschlerotic Literature?”
“Nothing suitable, let alone erotic.I did come up with an idea though. I found a paper that might interest you...sex for the elderly wine connoisseur...before and after kidney stones.”
“You’re kidding me?”
“Well, actually, it was called ‘Non-Surgical Strategies to Help the Sex-Challenged Couple Manage Kidney Stone Afflictions’.”
“You think you could make something out of that?"
"I don’t know, I thought I could re-purpose it somehow. Maybe even fictionalize it. Elderly...rich...business entrepreneur...wine connoisseur... expatriate Australian mistress...fast cars...penthouses...international business trips...second wife dies unexpectedly...kidney stones...erectile dysfunction...Hollywood doctor...miracle cure...step-son finds out about mistress...mistress meets Hollywood doctor...step-son falls in love with mistress...Hollywood doctor falls in love with stepson..."
"Aren't you the creative one!”
“Yeah, I haven't worked out how to finish it yet, but I figure there has to be a market for medicorotica, especially in this town."
"You wouldn’t want to do it under your name though."
"I think I’d have to change the title, too. Something a little less technical, obviously.”
“Oh yeah, what were you thinking of?”
...Six months later...
"Rodney, would you mind looking at the mock-up of the cover? Something doesn’t look right.”
"Well, see his right bicep? If you didn't realise it was a bicep..."
Wendy's eyes light up, "It might look like a breast, his right breast..."
"...and that might be a cleavage, which must mean..."
"...the woman is fondling the guy's left tit?"
"I still think it works," Rodney is encouraging. "They're quite nice tits for a guy."
"I just hope he's not one of your patients."
"Here, show me...I'd better have a closer look."
Before handing the artwork to Rodney, Wendy checks the mock up of the back cover. "Well, at least he's only got one dick."
* Wendy is a posh expatriate Australian who doesn't say "fuckin' rich".
** Wendy is a posh expatriate Australian who reverted to saying "stiffy" instead of "hard-on", when she found a new Australian cafe in L.A that served espressos and flat whites.(less)
Notes are private!
Jun 02, 2012
Jun 01, 2012