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Jul 27, 2000
Between the Covers
This afternoon, having just re-read "Lolita", I asked my local bookseller (a lovely lady in her late 50's) if she had ever read it.
S Between the Covers
This afternoon, having just re-read "Lolita", I asked my local bookseller (a lovely lady in her late 50's) if she had ever read it.
She replied firmly, “No…and I’m not going to either. He’s a paedophile.”
A bit taken aback, I enquired further, “Who? The author or the character?”
Fortunately, she replied, “The character.”
For me, this exchange showed how much “Lolita” can still sharply divide opinion, even within lovers of fiction.
This wasn’t the conversation I had been hoping for.
I had read “Lolita” in a couple of days, less time than my work commitments normally allow me, but I found it incredibly easy to read.
Even though I was taking notes, even though I was conscious that Nabokov was playing games (even if I didn’t always know what game), even though there were unfamiliar words I should have looked up, I was constantly drawn towards the conclusion.
I wanted to talk to someone about my experience straight away.
My cheeks were still flushed, my nerve endings were still tingling, I had experienced the “spine thrill of delight”, I felt like I had just had sex with a book.
Now, not being a smoker, all I needed was some post-coital conversation.
And there was no one around to converse with.
And the book wasn’t giving away any more of its secrets than it already had.
Nor was it going to tell me I had been a Good Reader or that it had appreciated my attentiveness.
It was back between the covers, challenging me to start again.
Three Act Word Play
At a superficial level, “Lolita” is a relatively straight-forward novel.
Once you know that it concerns sexual relations between 37 year old Humbert Humbert and 12 year old Dolores “Lolita” Hayes, you just about know the plot.
There’s a beginning, a middle and an end.
A grooming, a consummation, an aftermath.
Nabokov makes of his material a three act play.
And he does so playfully, seductively, lyrically, charmingly, amusingly, dangerously.
To this day, I cannot look at Humbert’s initials “H.H.” without pronouncing them in German, “Ha Ha”, and wondering whether the joke is on us.
Beneath the skin of the novel, there is much more.
There is a whole complex living organism.
You can lose yourself within its arms for days, weeks, months, a lifetime.
As long as your love of wordplay, your love of words and play, will permit you.
Again, at a superficial level, there is an almighty conflict between morality and aesthetics happening between the pages.
Whether or not Nabokov deliberately put the conflict there, he put the subject matter there.
We, the readers, can supply our own conflict in the way we read his novel.
Nabokov knew the subject matter would inflame us, if not our desires, then at least our morals, our sense of righteousness.
Morality and aesthetics are intertwined within the fabric of the novel.
They embrace each other in one long death roll, just like Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty.
We watch their interaction, open-mouthed, open-minded, but ultimately they have to be pulled apart or separated.
When they are together, they are one.
When they are apart, they are each other’s double.
The Morality of the Story
There is no doubt that sexual relations between an adult and a minor are not just immoral, but criminal as well.
That is an unquestionable fact.
From a legal point of view, the motive of the adult is irrelevant to the proof of the crime.
The consent of the minor is irrelevant to the proof of the crime.
If Humbert had been charged with an offence of sexual relations with a minor, he would have had no legal defence.
Any question as to whether Lolita really seduced Humbert would have been irrelevant.
In fact, the evidence might not even have been admissible, except potentially as part of the determination of the penalty.
In other words, even if it was relevant to penalty, it was not relevant to guilt.
Because morality is a social construct that depends on collective endorsement, he had no moral defence either.
The personal views of the individual are not really that relevant to society’s determination that an act is immoral.
The choice of the individual is to comply or offend.
Of Traps and Cages
Humbert offended not just once, but untold numerous times over two years.
He carefully planned his seduction, he set his trap, he caught his prey, even if someone might want to argue that this 12 year old seductress walked voluntarily into the trap.
Having freed Lolita from the trap, he imprisoned her in a cage, and repeated his crime.
Again, someone could argue that she had plenty of opportunities to flee the cage (which she eventually did).
But Humbert surrounded Lolita with an elaborate system of self-doubt that convinced her that she would become a ward of the state if they were found out.
The Legality of the Confession
“Lolita” is written from Humbert’s point of view.
It is not just a recollection in his mind, it is a formal, written document.
He sat down and wrote it in 56 days between his capture in 1952 (charged only with the crime of murdering Clare Quilty) and his death in prison before his trial could occur.
For me, the written document is a fascinating choice of literary device to tell the story.
The document becomes a book within a book.
While Nabokov obviously wrote it, all that he purports to do is sandwich it between a Foreword and a (much later) Afterword.
This device sets up an interesting relationship between Humbert and the reader.
For Humbert, it is akin to a confession or a witness statement.
To this extent, what he confesses to is clearly enough to convict him of the crime of murder.
However, in it, he also sets out details of crimes that, for whatever reason, he was never charged with.
If his lawyer had read the document while he was still alive, he would probably have excised all of the other confessions, because they would have prejudiced his client’s case (at least with respect to penalty).
The Role of the Jury
For the reader, the confession defines our relationship to the events that are described.
We are cast in the role of a member of the Jury.
This device allows heinous moral and criminal acts to be described and read and examined within a legal and therefore legitimate framework.
In a sense, the book becomes a report of sorts on legal proceedings.
We become legitimate observers and listeners to something that might otherwise have been prurient and offensive and illegal.
Yet, we have to do our duty and participate in the legal process, because it is an important part of the justice system.
Even though we have a legitimate interest in participating, I wonder whether we are still voyeuristic.
Nabokov has trapped us in a game that persuades us that it is serious, but ends up being just as playful and perverse as the subject matter of the crime.
In a way, Nabokov makes us complicit in a crime, if not Humbert’s crime, then perhaps our own thought crime.
It is also material that, by the time Humbert’s confession is read, both Humbert and Lolita have died of natural causes.
Humbert speaks from the other side of death.
Nobody is alive, nobody can be hurt any more than they already have.
The Confessions of an Unreliable Narrator (The Fox and the Peacock)
I explored these issues, because I wanted to understand Humbert’s motivation for his confession.
He is effectively pleading guilty.
I don’t see any prospect for an insanity defence, even though he seemed to have been in and out of sanatoria at times of crisis.
Equally, I don’t think that anything he reveals would reduce the penalty for the murder.
To do so, he only needed to focus on his concern that Quilty had wronged Lolita in some way even worse than his own actions.
But to confess all of these other crimes seems to be counter-productive.
Similarly, I don’t think he was lying about the detail, I think that he was telling the truth, and that he was telling the truth, so that he could be understood, no more, no less.
Humbert’s confession is not just the fiction of a dirty old man, it is not false or fabricated, it is not a mirage.
No matter how immoral, no matter how deluded, no matter how selfish and narcissistic, it is his fact, his reality, his truth, his burden, his shame.
His actions were the pursuit of a rational man, not an insane one.
He was film-star handsome, educated, intellectual, talented, witty, charming, calculating, calculated, dangerous.
There is no doubt that he was a talented performer, an exceptional player.
However, Humbert is not an actor wearing a mask, performing some other fictional character or version of himself.
I believe that we are seeing him for what he really is.
He is as cunning, tricky, sly as a fox and as refined, elaborate, attractive as a peacock.
His decoration, his ornamentation is part of him, his life, his loins, his sin, his soul.
In pursuit of Lolita, he was prepared to lie and deceive in order to achieve his goal.
I don’t believe that he was prepared to lie to us, if only because there was no point in lying.
When occasionally he questions the veracity of his own account, it is solely to question the accuracy of his memory.
However, he didn’t need to tell lies to achieve leniency, he didn’t need to tell the truth for some ulterior motive.
By confessing to anything, he would only be found guilty of crimes he hadn’t been charged with in addition to the charge of murder he had been accused of.
There was no point in confessing to anything extra, other than to tell the truth as he saw it.
It wasn’t going to get him any sympathy or reduce his penalty, if anything, his disclosures would aggravate his penalty.
To this extent, I don’t consider Humbert an “unreliable narrator”.
I realise that some might respond that paedophiles are habitual liars and can’t help themselves.
That might well be the case, but I think it is our horror at his crime, our moral judgment affecting our assessment of the whole of the person and shaping our (aesthetic) response to the book and the character.
Perhaps naively, I want to find some good in him.
Ultimately, whether or not Humbert’s love was morally wrong, I believe that he wanted us to understand his love and what he learned about his love by the end of his story.
What We Talk about When We Talk about Humbert’s Love
Technically, the sexual relations between Humbert and Lolita are not an example of “paedophilia” (which is a sexual preference for a pre-pubescent).
While nothing moral or legal turns on the distinction, the sexual relations constitute “hebephilia” (which is a sexual preference for a person in the early stage of puberty).
The name derives from “Hebe”, the Greek goddess of youth.
Her name means youth or prime of life, and she personified both youth and immortality.
She was the cup bearer who served nectar to the Olympian Gods to give them everlasting youth.
First Part (Obsessive Love)
For me, during the first part of the book, Humbert’s love was forbidden, but genuine.
It was a transgressive love, in that it was a love of the particular aesthetic form that youth takes between the ages of ten and fifteen.
The body is at its most perfect, it has not started to age, to wrinkle, to fill out, to droop, to deteriorate.
After that age, the body starts to age, and he finds that physically unattractive (as in the case of his first wife and Lolita's mother).
OK, we all make choices about our love objects.
How can we account for our choices?
There’s no accounting for love.
Still, at the heart of this aesthetic approach to love is a fear or disgust at aging and mortality.
There is an unreality, a lack of understanding and acceptance of the cycle of life and death, a Peter Pan desire to stay forever young, forever immortal.
I also think there is a self-love or narcissism inherent in this aesthetic view.
I love the young, because I love the perfect form of my own youth.
Since my youth, I have fallen, morally and physically.
I therefore have to preserve the visage of my own youth.
I wonder whether it is only possible to have this view if you have never had your own biological child.
Parenthood is an education in the reality of aging.
It is an illusion to believe that you can live and defeat it.
But tell that to the cosmetics industry.
So far I have talked of love in the abstract.
In the first part of the book, I struggled to understand Humbert’s love and the above is what I came up with.
I won’t say I had a sympathy for him, but I think I understood him and his love.
I even understood his obsessiveness.
How many of us, during the first throes of love, trap and oppress our love object, so much so that we are not able to see how oppressive we were, until after the relationship has been consummated, or morphed into something more mature or ended?
However, things started to change at the end of the first part (the consummation) and into the second part (the imprisonment).
Of course the love had to be consummated, but as unexceptional as the description of the event was, it highlighted the reality that the first part was a trap for Lolita to walk into.
As playful and lyrical as the language might have been, it was sinister in intent.
Second Part (Captivating Love)
During the second part, having captured Lo, Humbert makes it clear that his love will last no more than three years, to be precise, 1 January, 1947 to 1 January, 1950, which are effectively her 12th to 15th birthdays.
After this, statistically at least, Lo will morph out of her nymphet form.
So Humbert's love is solely for a definitive phase of her entire life, after which he expects and intends to abandon her.
During this phase, Humbert’s goal is to maintain Lolita in captivity, to ensure her availability for him alone.
There is no fairy tale promise of “happily ever after” or “’til death do us part” in this love action.
There is no love or concern for the other, only selfishness and narcissism.
I have tried to view the definition of beauty that appeals to Humbert as an aesthetic issue.
I have tried to divorce it from morality, so I can understand it better.
However, whether I think of it in terms of aesthetics or morality, obsession or love, the fact that it could be switched on and off at such identifiable times turned me against Humbert.
He is in control of this feeling called love, at least, he knows with clinical precision when he will return to “normality” or a state of not loving.
His love was a drug that he took too knowingly, he knew precisely when the feeling of the drug would wear off.
So, I started to believe that there was no loss of self in his love.
Instead, it was a heightened or gross act of narcissism.
By extension, there was no sense in which he tried to "satisfy" Lo personally or sexually.
There was no sense of a mutually satisfying relationship or intercourse (although to be fair, he doesn't go into the sexual detail, except in terms of physical exertion).
However, I got the sense that, when it came to consummating his love, it was just about sticking his dick into his love object.
OK, lots of sexual relationships can be reduced to this fundamental penetrative act.
Some men see femaleness as no more than a receptacle for maleness and its fluid manifestation, the cup into which they spill their seed.
However, I started to feel in the second part that Humbert's aim was to defile or despoil the beauty that had appealed to him in the first part (even if it was transgressive).
And the three year zone of enchantment highlighted to me that Humbert would just go in search of the next beautiful nymphet to stick his dick into.
So it became increasingly apparent to me that he was a serial despoiler of beauty, not a genuine lover or admirer of beauty.
There is a hatred or disgust hotwired into this love.
You don't normally hate the flowers in your vase when it comes time to remove them and throw them in the dustbin.
But you get the sense that Humbert would have been disgusted by his former love objects, his objet d'obsession, the moment that calendar clicked over.
Obviously, this same disgust or loss of interest appears in more traditional relationships.
It could lie behind the mid-life crisis when the guy runs away with the younger woman.
It could explain the inability to accept the inevitability of aging, at least in our partner.
It could explain we males who still picture ourselves as the immutable 20 year old who deserves a young and nubile partner (no matter how soft or old or fat or ugly we have become).
So Humbert’s love can teach the rest of us something about our own love.
Last Part (Adult Love Denied)
I wrote most of my comments about the second part before I had finished reading the last part of the novel.
I have to emphasise that most of what turned me against Humbert came from my reaction to his own words.
Neither he nor Nabokov held back the material that would make me hate him.
Still, I read on, firmly in their constrictive embrace, until chapter 29, when Humbert and the seventeen year old, married and pregnant Dolores meet again.
What you think of Humbert and his love, whether or not you think he is lying, depends on your interpretation of the confessions in this chapter:
“…there she was with her ruined looks and her adult, rope-veined narrow hands and her gooseflesh white arms, and her shallow ears, and her unkempt armpits, there she was (my Lolita!), hopelessly worn at seventeen, with that baby… and I looked and I looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else…
“What I used to pamper among the tangled vines of my heart…had dwindled to its essence: sterile and selfish vice, all that I cancelled and cursed…
“You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear the court, but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will shout my poor truth.
“I insist the world know how much I loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still auburn and almond, still Carmencita, still mine.”
This is just one part of Humbert’s journey.
He realised that he still loved her outside the hebephile zone.
However, he still clung to “his” Lolita, the Lolita of his deluded version of love.
Obviously, Dolores is and never was “his” version of reality, she was her own person, and she declines his love a second time.
Only then does he recognise that he “did not know a thing about [his] darling’s mind” or that “a North American girl-child named Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a maniac”.
Then he quotes “an old poet” (presumably Nabokov himself):
“The moral sense in mortals is the duty
“We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty.”
In other words, you can’t just indulge an aesthetic sense of beauty at the expense of a real human being, it comes attached to and constrained by morality.
Morality, taboo and the law work together to protect innocence and beauty from those who would defile and despoil it.
He was not above the law, he was no Nietzschian Superman.
He was the fool in his own play.
There are suggestions that Nabokov saw Humbert’s story as a tragedy, that Humbert only realised that he genuinely loved Dolores by conventional standards when it was too late.
That might be so, but Humbert only had himself to blame.
He was a victim of his own hand, and his tragedy was nothing compared with the one he made Dolores endure, so that he, too selfishly for love, could have his “Lolita”. ...more
Notes are private!
Jun 28, 2011
Feb 23, 2011
Sep 12, 2000
My most feared birthday was my 20th.
For people older than me, the most significant birthday was their 21st.
But when the age of legal Twenty Revolutions
My most feared birthday was my 20th.
For people older than me, the most significant birthday was their 21st.
But when the age of legal adulthood was reduced to 18, turning 21 no longer had the same significance it once had.
Before then, you could be conscripted into the armed forces at 18, but you could not drink alcohol until you turned 21.
So, if you were old enough to die for your country, surely you were old enough to have a drink?
Either way, turning 20 for me meant that I had ceased to be a teenager, a group of people linked only by the fact that their age ended in the suffix “-teen”, but still it felt special not belonging to the grown up crowd.
On the other side of 20, you emerge from university (if you’ve been lucky enough to go there) and dive straight into full-time employment, maturity, responsibility, expectations and adulthood.
Suddenly, things are all a lot more serious, more permanent, less experimental, or this is how it seems.
Haruki Murakami writes about the Japanese experience in “Norwegian Wood”.
It’s set in the years 1968 to 1970, so it mightn’t be the same now.
However, it seems that the transition into adulthood is more demanding, more stressful.
It also seems that there are more casualties, more teenagers fail to make the transition and end up committing suicide.
Murakami writes about the transition almost like it’s a game of snakes and ladders.
You can climb into the future, success and normality, or you can slide into darkness, failure and death.
Murakami’s protagonist, Toru Watanabe, pictures the darkness as a well-like abyss early in the novel when he recounts the events of a day he spent with the girl he longs for, Naoko.
“I can describe the well in minute detail. It lay precisely on the border where the meadow ended and the woods began – a dark opening in the earth a yard across, hidden by grass. Nothing marked its perimeter – no fence, no stone curb (at least not one that rose above ground level). It was nothing but a hole, a wide-open mouth…You could lean over the edge and peer down to see nothing. All I knew about the well was its frightening depth. It was deep beyond measuring, and crammed full of darkness, as if all the world’s darknesses had been boiled down to their ultimate density.”
As a teenager, Toru’s life had been fairly innocuous, he had been playing in a meadow compared with the thicket that awaited him in the future.
But first he had to avoid the well in making the transition.
As his friend Reiko says in another context:
“She and I were bound together at the border between life and death.”
There is a sense in which we have to negotiate the boundaries as safely as we can, to cross the border and close the gap.
If we are lucky, we can do it together.
Unfortunately, not everybody is destined to make it into the forest and out the other side.
The overwhelming feel of reading “Norwegian Wood” is one of being in a blank, dream-like, ethereal world.
Although Murakami describes people, surroundings and objects with precision, it all seems other worldly, as if everybody lives and breathes in a world beyond this world.
There is a sense that at any moment, it could all disappear, that it might all just be part of some cosmic vanishing act.
Even if we make it through, we might turn around and discover that some of our friends haven’t been so lucky.
Talking about My Generation
Most of the action in the novel is dialogue, the characters talking about themselves and their relationships.
They are preoccupied with themselves, introspective and self-centred.
They converse, they play folk songs on the guitar, they write letters that are later burned.
Nobody makes anything that will last, other than perhaps themselves and the relationships that are able to survive into adulthood.
They struggle for permanence, when everything else around them is ephemeral.
Even their memories fade.
In the “frightful silence” of the forest, Naoko asks Toru:
“I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?”
Of course, he responds that he will, although 20 years later, he finds that his memory “has grown increasingly dim.”
“What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing? What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo where all the truly important memories are heaped and slowly turning into mud?...the thought fills me with an almost unbearable sorrow.”
To which he adds, “Because Naoko never loved me.”
The Beatles song features throughout the novel.
It’s a favourite of Naoko’s and Reiko plays it frequently on her guitar.
For much of the novel, the lyrics could describe Toru’s relationship with Naoko and his other love interest, Midori:
“I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.”
There is a sense of sadness in the sexual subject matter of this novel, almost as if it's been written in a minor key.
Reiko sums up the Beatles pretty accurately, “Those guys sure knew something about the sadness of life,” she says, before adding, “and gentleness”, almost as an afterthought.
She Never Loved Me
I love all of this talk of love and longing and loss and loneliness and labyrinths (all the “L” words).
Not everybody feels the same, though.
You should have heard my wife, F.M. Sushi, when she noticed my tears and stole a look at what I was reading.
“Why don’t these people just stop moaning and get a life. Can’t they just grow up, for chrissake. Everybody’s responsible for their own orgasm.”
Then she flicked the book back at me across the room, adding defiantly (and defeating my prospects that night in one fell swoop), “Especially you.”
I pick up the book, find my place and resume reading where I left off (page 10), equally defiantly, and aloud...“Because Naoko never loved me.”
My wife turns her back on me as I snicker at her lack of understanding of my gentle side.
Growing Up (How Strange the Change from Minor to Major)
Still, a few hundred pages later, I am stunned by her prescience.
Toru grows up in Murakami’s delicate hands.
He has to stop dreaming, he has to live in the present, he has to embrace the now that is in front of him, he has to love the one he’s with.
He has to distance himself from the past, so that it becomes just a lingering memory.
Reiko tells him:
“You’re all grown up now, so you have to take responsibility for your choices. Otherwise, you ruin everything.”
Midori (who he has ummed and ahhed about) tells him:
“...you, well, you’re special to me. When I’m with you I feel something is just right. I believe in you. I like you. I don’t want to let you go.”
In the pouring rain, she reveals to Toru she has broken up with the boyfriend that has prevented her from committing to him.
“Why?” he asks.
“Are you crazy?” she screams. “You know the English subjunctive, you understand trigonometry, you can read Marx, and you don’t know the answer to something as simple as that?
Then in a scene that could come straight out of "Casablanca", she says:
“Drop the damn umbrella and wrap both your arms around me – hard!”
How did F.M. Sushi know this would happen?
That Toru would grow up and get a girl, not just any girl?
That they would fall in love and not into a deep, dark well.
Still I prefer Murakami’s way of telling the story.
It always comes as a surprise the way he tells it, the change from minor to major.
What would my wife know of these things?
What I find mysterious, she finds obvious.
When I find the harbour hard to fathom, she appears to walk on water.
If you put her in a labyrinth, she would always find her way out.
Whereas sometimes I prefer to hang around and enjoy the experience of being down in the rabbit hole.
Mystified. Confused. Excited.
At least for a little wile.
Original Review: October 3, 2011
Audio Recording of My Review
Bird Brian once initiated a Big Audio Project, where Good Readers record and publish their reviews. Unfortunately, BB deleted his page after the amazon acquisition of GR.
My recording of this review was my first contribution. You can find it on SoundCloud here:
Notes are private!
Sep 25, 2011
Oct 03, 2011
Feb 22, 2011
Apr 05, 2005
Mar 02, 2006
**spoiler alert** Imagine a restaurant, London, mid-2003.
Publisher: Hey, K, we need another novel and we need it quick.
K: I know, I know.
Publisher: An **spoiler alert** Imagine a restaurant, London, mid-2003.
Publisher: Hey, K, we need another novel and we need it quick.
K: I know, I know.
Publisher: Another “Remains of the Day”. Something Hollywood can turn into a hit.
K: I’m working on it.
Publisher: Any ideas?
K: Well, I’ve been reading some Jonathan Swift.
K: You know, “Gulliver’s Travels”.
Publisher: Oh, yeah, Jack Black. It's in pre-production.
K: Well, he had a modest proposal about how to stop the children of the poor being a burden…
Publisher: I’m with you, yep, delinquents, sounds good.
K: …he wanted to stop them being a burden to their parents…
Publisher: Yep, with you.
K: … and the Country.
Publisher: Yep, a Thatcherite angle, I think it’s Maggie’s time again.
K: Anyway, he had this idea that you could kill two birds with one stone…you could end the kids’ misery and the poverty of their parents at the same time…
Publisher: Let me guess, you could eat them, ha ha.
K: You’ve read it?
Publisher: No… wait, you’re kidding me, aren’t you?
K: No, that’s the whole point of the story.
Publisher: What, eat your kids?
K: No, not your own kids, other people’s kids.
Publisher: How could anyone do it?
K: He goes into that… stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled…
K: He even talks about making them into a fricassee or a ragout.
Publisher: It’s a bit out there, K.
K: I was thinking of updating it a bit.
Publisher: How would you do that?
K: I was thinking I could tell the story from the point of view of a midwife who…
Publisher: Someone who has to care for the kids?
K: Yeah, until they turn 12 months or something...
Publisher: Let me guess, then she hands them over to a child butcher or something?
Publisher: Look, I can see where you’re going with this, but it all sounds a bit grotesque.
K: That’s the whole point. It’s an allegory for our times.
Publisher: I just don’t know whether it’s got legs.
K: Legs? You’re kidding me…it’s got every damned limb and organ you can think of.
Publisher: I don’t want to think of it, I can just imagine the reviews. They’ll call it “The Remains of the Meat Tray”.
K: Ha, I hadn’t thought of that, I was going to call it “The Remains of the Creche”.
Publisher: It gets worse.
K: No, honestly, I was thinking of “Never Let Me Grow”.
Publisher: You mean, like…never let me grow up?
Publisher: Do you think you could turn the people into pigs or something, you know, like “Animal Farm”?
K: I was sort of hooked on the idea of using people and narrating the story in a really dead pan voice…
Publisher: I don’t know about dead pan, it sounds more frying pan to me.
K: …If it’s dead pan, people won’t be able to tell whether it’s set in the future or the present. They won’t know how close to reality it is.
Publisher: I just don’t know what I think about this eating babies stuff.
K: But it’s like sci-fi, you can do anything in sci-fi.
Publisher: Look, if we let you do this, they won’t be calling it sci-fi, they’ll be calling it sci-fry.
K: If you let me do it, I guarantee we’ll be able to get Helen Mirren to play the midwife.
K: Helen Mirren, you know, the Queen.
Publisher: No, no. Look, if you can tweak it, you know, think about my idea for a second, set it on Animal Farm, make it about cloning pigs, so they can grow body parts for other pigs or something…
K: I know, put some wizard animals in it and call it “Hogparts”?
Publisher: Come on take me seriously, K, just clone it up and tone it down.
K: I’ll think about it.
Publisher: I’ll see if I can get Keira Knightley to voice one of the pigs.
K: She’s hot.
Publisher: You could call it “Never Let Me Go”.
K: What does that mean?
Publisher: It’s a song my mother used to play. Jane Monheit sang it.
K: I could get used to it. Don’t know what I think about the name Monheit though.
Publisher: It does sound a bit German, doesn't it?
K: What would you think if I called her something more English in the book.
Publisher: Like Judy Bridgewater?
K: Who’s Judy Bridgewater?
Publisher: It’s my mother’s maiden name.
K: Sounds good to me.
Publisher: Look, I normally like to respect an artist’s integrity, but hey, you’re the artist, so I guess that makes it OK.
K: Do you think I could get to meet Keira Knightley?
Publisher: I think so… look I’ve been thinking about it, maybe it’s not such a good idea to turn Keira Knightley into a pig.
K: Sometimes you can’t really see the depth of your own characters, until you can imagine who’s going to play them.
Publisher: So, no pigs?
K: No pigs. I don’t mind the cloning bit though.
Original Review: April 16, 2011
Some More Serious Thoughts
I wrote the above dialogue before I even finished the book.
I wanted to read the book before seeing the film, which I will probably do in the next week or so during the holidays.
When I wrote the dialogue, I probably had about 50 pages to finish, but the dialogue had taken shape in my head, and I didn't want to risk losing it.
There might have been a chance that it would be superseded by my final thoughts on the novel itself.
I had high expectations that I would finally get to appreciate the novel more when I had finished it and absorbed the denouement.
Unfortunately, it left me feeling dissatisfied.
I didn't find the narrative style appropriate or convincing.
It is told in the first person, by way of recollection of three different periods of Kathy's life.
The periods are discussed chronologically, although during each period, there are occasional allusions to each other period.
There is a lot of internal detail about each period, what was going on in Kathy's head.
Dialogue between the characters is infrequent and sparse.
The novel is overwhelmingly an interior monologue.
Occasionally, there are lapses or flaws in Kathy's memory that she self-consciously draws attention to.
Part of me wanted to say to the author, "It's your story, just get it right, you can remember anything you like, because you're making it up anyway."
But then I guess we have to differentiate between Ishiguro and Kathy.
We have to expect some flaws in the glass, rather than a word and memory perfect narrative.
Still I was never really confident who Kathy was talking to, it wasn't just an interior monologue, there were occasional mentions of a "you", a second person to whom she was talking.
If you had sat down to tell this story to someone else, I think you could or would have told the story far more succinctly and selectively.
The detail and the repetition of environment, atmosphere and mood bulk up the painting, but they don't add to the depth.
Each new layer of paint is superimposed on the previous layer, so that while there might be a lot of paint on the canvas, it is physically, rather then metaphorically, deep.
The Geometry of Love
While Kathy, Ruth and Tommy live in an horrific environment (perhaps a metaphorical equivalent to a concentration camp), the novel deals with the quality of their humanity under these circumstances.
The guardians might have been trying to work out (incidentally) whether they had souls, but ultimately what we learn is that the positive aspects of human nature can survive or prevail despite the circumstances.
It's interesting that the characters' quest for love initially seemed to be motivated by a belief that it would postpone their donations and prolong their lives.
While this belief turns out to be mistaken, Kathy discovers that love is worth seeking in its own right, regardless of any consequences or notions of cause and effect.
Ruth promoted the belief in the life prolonging effect of love.
In effect, Kathy acquiesced in it and never deliberately interfered in or disrupted the relationship between Ruth and Tommy.
However, when she comes to the end of the story, perhaps she realises that she should have been less acquiescent and let herself express her love for Tommy.
So ultimately, "Never Let Me Go" is a love story, a triangular one at that.
Life is short, you just have to get on with it, you have to take your (true?) love wherever you can find it, even if someone else gets hurt in the process.
When we pair up in love, there is always a chance that someone will miss out or get hurt.
Three into two won't go.
Perhaps, this is actually calculus rather than geometry, but you know what I mean.
Notes are private!
Apr 06, 2011
Apr 17, 2011
Feb 27, 2011
Jan 01, 1976
A View from the Couch
OTR has received some negative reviews lately, so I thought I would try to explain my rating.
This novel deserves to lounge around A View from the Couch
OTR has received some negative reviews lately, so I thought I would try to explain my rating.
This novel deserves to lounge around in a five star hotel rather than languish in a lone star saloon.
Please forgive my review. It is early morning and I have just woken up with a sore head, an empty bed and a full bladder.
Let me begin with a confession that dearly wants to become an assertion.
I probably read this book before most of you were born.
Wouldn't you love to say that!
If only I had the courage of my convictions.
Instead, I have only convictions, and they are many and varied.
However, I am sure that by the end of my (this) sentence, I shall be released.
Elevated to the Bar
I read OTR in my teens, which were spread all over the end of the 60's and the beginning of the 70's.
My life was dominated by Scouting for Boys.
I mean the book, not the activity.
My mantra was "be prepared", although at the time I didn't realise that this actually meant "be prepared for war".
After reading OTR, my new mantra was "be inebriated".
Mind you, I had no idea what alcohol tasted like, but it sounded good.
Gone were two boys in a tent and three men in a boat.
OTR was about trying to get four beats in a bar, no matter how far you'd travelled that day.
Typing or Writing
Forget whether it was just typing rather than writing.
That was just Truman Capote trying to dot one of Dorothy Parker's eyes.
This is like focusing on the mince instead of the sausage.
All Drums and Symbols
You have to appreciate what OTR symbolised for people like me.
It was "On the Road", not "In the House" or "In the Burbs".
It was about dynamism, not passivity.
It wasn't about a stream of consciousness, it was about a river of activity.
It was about "white light, white heat", not "white picket fences".
Savouring the Sausage
OK, your impressions are probably more recent than mine.
Mine are memories that have been influenced by years of indulgence. (I do maintain that alcohol kills the unhealthy brain cells first, so it is actually purifying your brain.)
I simply ask that you overlook the mince and savour the sausage.
I would like to make one last parting metaphor.
I have misappropriated it from the musician, Dave Graney.
He talks about "feeling ephemeral, but looking eternal".
Dave comes from the Church of the Latter Day Hipsters.
He is way cooler than me, he even looks great in leather pants, in a spivvy kinda way.
However, I think the point he was making (if not, then the point I am making) is that most of life is ephemeral. It just happens and it's gone forever.
However, in Dave's case, the way he looks, the way he feels, he turns it into something eternal.
It's his art, his music, our pleasure, our memories (at least until we die).
Footnotes on Cool
Creativity and style are our last chance attempt to defy ephemerality and mortality and become eternal.
Yes, all that stuff between the bookends of OTR might be typing, it might be preserving ephemerality that wasn't worthy or deserving.
However, the point is the attempt to be your own personal version of cool.
Heck, no way am I cool like the Beats or James Dean or Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson or Clint Eastwood or Keith Richards or Camille Paglia.
However, I am trying to live life beyond the ephemeral.
That's what OTR means to me.
If it doesn't mean that to you, hey, that's alright. I'm OK, you're OK. It's cool.
Original posted: March 01, 2011
Notes are private!
Feb 25, 2011
Mar 28, 1989
If You Exist
"The Stranger" dramatises the issues at the heart of existentialism.
The same issues are probably at the heart of life, whether or not you If You Exist
"The Stranger" dramatises the issues at the heart of existentialism.
The same issues are probably at the heart of life, whether or not you believe in a god.
It's interesting that there has been a crime and now Meursault is being "judged".
The judgement is symbolic not only of the justice system, but of God's judgement of humanity.
You would normally expect the defendant to assert their innocence or plead not guilty in the criminal justice system (cue Law and Order theme song).
Both options require the defendant to take a positive step, only they differ in degree.
To assert your "innocence" is to positively state that "I didn't do it".
A plea of "not guilty" would place an onus on the prosecutor to prove the defendant's guilt (although there are significant differences between the French system of justice and that of the UK/USA/Canada/Australia/etc).
To plead not guilty can mean a number of things.
It could mean that "I did actually do it", but you, the prosecutor, have to prove to the Judge or Court that I did it.
It could mean that "I did actually do it", but I have a defence or justification that means it is not a punishable crime (e.g., self-defence or provocation).
This process is partly analogous to the situation when a Christian dies and meets their God.
If they have sinned, you would expect them to ask forgiveness.
Having been forgiven, they would expect to go to Heaven.
Not Defending Yourself
One of the dilemmas of "The Stranger" is that morally and legally there might be issues that Meursault could put to the Judge that would excuse his action and allow the Judge to find him not guilty.
He could then go "free".
He could have argued that his action was self-defence or the result of provocation.
He could have "got off", if he had taken a positive step on his own behalf. However, he fails to take the step.
If he was a Christian (i.e., if he believed in God), he might have wanted to prolong his life on Earth.
His life would have had some meaning and he would have wanted more of it.
Similarly, if he was a Christian, he would have been motivated to seek eternal life in Heaven.
So he would have taken the positive step.
What's the Point?
Instead, against all expectation, he doesn't defend himself. We are left to wonder why.
We have to assume that Meursault effectively asked the questions of himself, "What is the point? Why should I bother?"
And we have to assume that he answered the questions, "There is no point".
Achieving Your Own Mortality
There was no point in prolonging his life and, not believing in Heaven, there was no point in seeking eternal life.
He had lived a life (however long or short, however good or bad, however satisfying or unsatisfying) and it didn't really matter that his life might come to an end.
The point is that, sooner or later, all life must come to an end.
By failing to take a "positive" step on his own behalf, he effectively collaborated in and achieved his own mortality. He existed while he was alive, he would have ceased to exist when he was executed.
If he wasn't executed, he would have died sooner or later.
Ultimately, he "enjoyed" his life while he had it, he didn't care enough to prolong it and he accepted the inevitability of his own death.
Is Despair the Explanation?
This doesn't necessarily mean that he embraced despair as a way of life (or death).
In a way, he accepted responsibility for his own actions during life and he accepted responsibility for the inevitability of his own death as well.
Ultimately, this is why "The Stranger" and Existentialism are so confronting to Christianity and Western Civilisation. It makes us ask the question "what is the point?" and it permits an answer that "there is no point".
This doesn't mean that life is meaningless and everybody else should live their lives in despair. Quite the opposite.
We should inject our own meaning into our own lives. We are responsible for our own fulfilment.
Life is short and we should just get on with it. (Or as a friend of mine says, everybody is responsible for their own orgasm.)
Such is life.
Notes are private!
Feb 23, 2011
Feb 24, 2000
The True Value of Monopoly Money
Capitalism tends towards monopoly.
No capitalist welcomes a competitor or rival. Having attained wealth, the desire is The True Value of Monopoly Money
Capitalism tends towards monopoly.
No capitalist welcomes a competitor or rival. Having attained wealth, the desire is to retain it, not to concede it; to increase it, not to share it.
A competitor is perceived as a threat, and will be treated like a virus invading an otherwise healthy, but vulnerable, body.
The Great American Dream
"The Great Gatsby" is often described as a paean to the Great American Dream.
This Dream supposedly sustains the average American. It offers the opportunity to achieve success, prosperity and happiness, regardless of class, status, background or wealth.
It contains a promise of upward social mobility, a reward that will be ours if we work hard enough.
We all have an equal opportunity to transcend our current circumstances.
Implicitly, if we fail to transcend, we have only ourselves to blame. We didn't take sufficient advantage of our opportunity. Everybody is responsible for their own failure.
The Great American Dream isn't far from the Objectivist Philosophy of Ayn Rand.
Stars and stripes and silhouettes and shadows.
Most readers think of Jay Gatsby as someone who took advantage of his opportunity, and made it.
In that sense, he's the epitome of the Great American Dream.
He has amassed enormous business wealth. He owns a colossal mansion on West Egg, Long Island. Every week, he holds a lavish party attended by all and sundry. The parties are the ultimate in Jazz Age glamour.
Gatsby has achieved everything material an American could want. He has realised the Long Island real estate mantra, "Vocation, Location, Ovation".
The Green Light
So what's Gatsby's problem?
Every night, Gatsby looks across the sound to a green light on a porch, where Daisy lives in her more prestigious East Egg mansion with her husband, Tom Buchanan.
Daisy is the one thing for which Gatsby yearns. She is the one thing he has sought after since he met and fell in love with her five years earlier at age 25.
"The Great Gatsby" revers that small green light. What we never see is what Gatsby's mansion looked like from Daisy's perspective at home. We aren't expressly offered a vision of Gatsby's fully-lit mansion as a counterpoint to Tom's, but that is what it is.
The point is Gatsby's achievement of the Great American Dream was not the end, as it is with most Americans, it was the means to an end, and that end was winning the hand in marriage of Daisy.
The most important thing about Gatsby's mansion, from Gatsby's point of view, is what it would look like to one woman across the sound.
Love's Labours Retrieved
Gatsby has already lost Daisy once, in 1917, when as a destitute young officer during the war, he was unable to marry her, because he could not offer her a financial security that was acceptable to her wealthy mid-west family.
Since then, he has acquired wealth, by whatever means necessary, to win her away from Tom and marry her.
The wealth was nothing to him, the parties were grotesque bonfires of vanity, designed with one thing in mind: to attract Daisy's attention and bring her, curious, within his reach.
Then, having got her within his sphere of influence, he could win her back.
"The Great Gatsby" is really about the love a man had for a woman, how he lost it and what he did to regain it.
At one point, Gatsby talks about repeating the past. I don't see him as repeating it, so much as regaining it, making up for lost time, retrieving what he felt should have been his.
"The Great Gatsby" is not so much about repetition, as it is about retrieval; not so much a remembrance of things past, as a resumption of a journey from a point in the past when the journey was broken.
Carey Mulligan as Daisy (Courtesy: The Telegraph)
The Pursuit of Another Man's Wife
At its heart, Gatsby engages in adultery with Daisy, with a view to convincing her to divorce Tom and marry him.
Many might find his conduct objectionable, except that he is young, elegant, good-looking, fabulously wealthy and, most importantly, in love with the slender Daisy.
In contrast, Tom is a brute of a man, he is an ex-champion footballer, hard and cruel. Most importantly, he has cheated on Daisy many times and now has a mistress, the stout, but sensuous, Myrtle Wilson.
Tom comes from an extremely wealthy mid-western family. Money is no object to him. Daisy might have the voice of money, but Tom has the demeanour and arrogance of not just money, but old money.
When Tom learns of Daisy's infidelity and Gatsby's takeover bid, he goes into typical capitalist mode in order to defend his wife, his asset, his marital property.
He researches Gatsby's past and theorises about how he has made his new money. He plans his counter-attack.
The narrator, Nick Carraway, watches on, not just witness to a battle between Good and Evil, but in reality a battle between two degrees of bad.
Black and white portrait of Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson
Tom's Defence Strategy
In the realm of love, as between two rival men, there can be no such thing as a friendly takeover bid.
There is no suggestion that Tom can allow Gatsby to have Daisy, so that he can settle for Myrtle. The latter is just a plaything, something he spends time on, because she is available and he can have her without effort.
All Myrtle ever wanted from her own husband was a gentleman with breeding. He turns out to be a mere mechanic and car salesman. He doesn't have the right status. Equally, although he is content to have her as his mistress, Tom doesn't see Myrtle as having the right status for marriage either.
Ultimately, the role of marriage is not to perpetuate love and happiness. Tom's task is to bond together two wealthy establishment families and their riches. A merger of two capitalist families moves them that much closer to monopolistic power, in the same way that the intermarriage of royal families once cemented international power.
Tom's goal is so important that it can accommodate his cruelty and infidelities, at least in his eyes.
Moreover, it allows Tom to prevail over Gatsby, who, despite his war record, his partly-completed Oxford education, his wealth, his glamour, and his apparent achievement of the Great American Dream, is not "one of us".
Ultimately, coincidence, accident and fate intervene on behalf of Tom, almost comically if it was not so sad, and he resists Gatsby's takeover bid.
Nick, the observer, the witness, the audience of this tragedy, is left disgusted.
Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker
The Great American Paradox
"The Great Gatsby" is a short novel. At times, there is more telling than showing. At times, the description is too adjectival or adverbial for the dictates of current style manuals.
Take away the mansion, the parties and the glamour, and what remains comes close to the dimensions of film noir like "Double Indemnity".
While the novel is perceived as hailing the Great American Dream, the paradox is that it highlights how great are the forces that are lined up to resist the efforts of a man who aspires to the Dream, especially if that man is a trespasser who covets another man's wife, even if he loves her and she loves him.
There are flaws in Fitzgerald's writing, but they are tolerable. The story is magificent, even if, when laid out methodically, it might appear cliched. The characters, while realistic, are detailed and larger than life, certainly detailed enough to withstand the scrutiny when they are projected onto the silver screen. They are portrayed acting out their emotions in exactly the same way that we might in the same circumstances.
However, in the long run, what makes "The Great Gatsby" great is Fitzgerald's ability to both adulate and perpetuate the Great American Dream, while simultaneously subverting it. ...more
Notes are private!
May 09, 2013
May 12, 2013
Feb 23, 2011
Oct 17, 2006
Appetite for Deconstruction
Most readers approach a complex novel, like a scientist approaches the world or a detective approaches a crime - with an ap Appetite for Deconstruction
Most readers approach a complex novel, like a scientist approaches the world or a detective approaches a crime - with an appetite for knowledge and understanding, and a methodology designed to satiate their appetite.
“The Crying of Lot 49” (“TCL49”) presents a challenge to this type of quest for two reasons.
One, it suggests that not everything is knowable and we should get used to it.
Second, the novel itself fictionalizes a quest which potentially fails to allow the female protagonist, Oedipa Maas, to understand the situation confronting her.
Arguably, Pynchon serves up a work that reveals more about method than it does about the subject matter of the quest, the world around us.
If this were a who-dunnit, we don’t end up learning who dunnit.
It is all hunt and no catch.
If we are seeking the metaphysical truth, we do not find it.
The truth might even have escaped or got away.
It might never have been there in the first place.
Or there might not be something as simple as the truth.
To this extent, “TCL49” might be a novel about futility, rather than success.
Inevitably, this affects the way any review approaches the novel.
It is not simply a matter of whether the reviewer “got it” and conveys this to their readers.
Even if you think you got it, there is no guarantee that your understanding reflects what Pynchon intended (behind the scenes).
You could be wrong. You might even be making the very mistake that “TCL49” might be trying to caution us against.
Pierce Inverarity’s Will
The novel commences with Oedipa learning that she has been appointed Co-Executor of the Estate of California real estate mogul and ex-lover, Pierce Inverarity.
An Executor is a person who inherits the assets and liabilities of a person (the Testator) on their death and has to distribute the net assets of their Estate (their "Legacy") to the Beneficiaries identified in the Testator’s Will (their “Last Will and Testament”).
Often, people only find out that they have been appointed an Executor when the Testator has died and their Will has been located.
However, it is a good idea to let somebody know during your lifetime that you wish to appoint them as your Executor, because they might not wish to accept the burden after your death.
It is implied in “TCL49” that Pierce has actually died (the legal letter says that he died “back in the spring”), but it does not automatically follow from learning about your appointment that the Testator has died.
This is My Last Will and Testament
A Will is literally an expression of your intentions (your will) with respect to your property. You give instructions or directions to your Executor.
It is often called a Testament, the etymology of which is related to the Ten Commandments or Testimony issued by God.
In a very loose metaphorical way, the novel sets up Pierce’s Will as the Will of God, something which Oedipa is and feels compelled to obey.
There is a potential clue in her reaction to the legal letter:
"Oedipa stood in the living room, stared at by the greenish dead eye of the TV tube, spoke the name of God, tried to feel as drunk as possible."
Whether or not Pierce might be symbolic of God, Oedipa’s actions in the novel are dictated and driven by his Will.
Pierce Inverarity’s Name
Pierce’s name is also pregnant with implication, if not necessarily definitive meaning.
The noun “arity” means the number of arguments a function or operation can take; in logic, it determines the number of inferences that may be deduced from a particular fact.
“Verarity” is not a word in its own right, but it is quite close to “veracity”, which has lead some commentators to infer that it suggests a concern with the truth.
When you add the prefix “in-“ (as a negative) to it, the word could be concerned with the absence of truth.
When you add the first name, Pierce, to the equation, some have suggested that it implies the piercing of the truth (or untruths).
Alternatively, the prefix “in-” might mean “into” which might imply the piercing or penetration of the truth.
There are also suggestions that “Inver” might be a pun on the word ”infer” or the process of inference.
Sign of the Times
I haven’t seen any references to the American philosopher Charles S. Peirce (different spelling) who made an enormous contribution to the field of semiotics (the study of signs and sign processes).
If there is any link, then Pierce’s full name might imply “unreliable or untruthful signs”.
Charles S. Peirce also recognised that logical operations could be carried out by electrical switching circuits (as long ago as 1886).
This concept is the foundation of “logic gates” and digital computers (of which, more later):
”All Manner of Revelations”
When Oedipa discovers her obligations as Executor, she is initially skeptical:
" ‘…aren't you even interested?’
‘In what you might find out.’
As things developed, she was to have all manner of revelations.
Hardly about Pierce Inverarity, or herself; but about what remained yet had somehow, before this, stayed away."
Originally Oedipa saw herself as a pensive Rapunzel-like figure, waiting for someone to ask her, in the sixties, to “let down her hair”.
Pierce arrives, but is not quite what she is looking for. Despite a romantic holiday in Mexico, she remains in her tower:
"Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all.
“Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disk jockey.
“If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?"
The Tristero System
Oedipa’s appointment as Executor is the beginning of a series of revelations (or, in the Biblical sense, Revelations) that “end her encapsulation in her tower”.
The trigger for these revelations is Pierce’s stamp collection:
"… his substitute often for her - thousands of little colored windows into deep vistas of space and time… She had never seen the fascination."
The stamps turn out to be “forgeries”, postage stamps used not by the official postal service, but by an underground rival or illegitimate shadow called “Tristero”.
No sooner does Oedipa learn of the existence of Tristero, then she starts to find evidence that it still exists on the streets of California: its symbol is a muted post horn, adding a mute to the horn of its traditional private enterprise rival in nineteenth century Europe, Thurn and Taxis.
Her quest is to learn the significance of Tristero and how much Pierce knew about it.
Tristero’s modern American manifestation is “W.A.S.T.E.”, which we eventually learn stands for “We Await Silent Tristero's Empire”.
It delivers correspondence between various disaffected underground, alternative and countercultural groups, bohemians, hippies, anarchists, revolutionaries, non-conformists, protesters, students, geeks, artists, technologists and inventors, all of whom wish to communicate with each other without government knowledge or interference.
The postal system confers privacy, confidentiality on their plots and plans.
Its couriers wear black, the colour of anarchy.
Yet, from the point of view of Tristero, it is not the content of the correspondence that matters, it is its delivery.
It’s almost as if these companies are early proof that the medium is more important than the message.
All postal systems grew from early attempts to guarantee safe passage of diplomatic correspondence between different States and Rulers in Europe.
Indeed, Tristero’s rival, Thurn and Taxis, was an actual postal service and is still an extremely wealthy family in Germany.
A World of Silence
Silence is important to any non-conformist or underground movement, not only from the point of secrecy, but in the sense that Dr. Winston O'Boogie (A.K.A. John Lennon) subsequently maintained that, “A conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words”.
It is the desire for silence that unites the underground in opposition to the Government and the mainstream political culture:
"For here were God knew how many citizens, deliberately choosing not to communicate by U. S. Mail.
"It was not an act of treason, nor possibly even of defiance. But it was a calculated withdrawal, from the life of the Republic, from its machinery.
"Whatever else was being denied them out of hate, indifference to the power of their vote, loopholes, simple ignorance, this withdrawal was their own, un-publicized, private.
"Since they could not have withdrawn into a vacuum (could they?), there had to exist the separate, silent, unsuspected world."
[Note the idiomatic but ambiguous use of the expression “God knows how many”, as if God or Tristero or Pierce did actually know how many.]
From Aloof Tower to Underground
Oedipa is a relatively middle class, middle aged woman, who married a used car salesman and DJ for a radio station called KCUF, after her affair with Pierce.
Her quest drags her from her tower and exposes her to another side of life, just as life in America (well, Berkeley, San Francisco) was starting to get interesting (1966).
She is a stranger in a strange land, having grown up and been educated during the conservative, Cold War 50’s:
"...she had undergone her own educating at a time of nerves, blandness and retreat among not only her fellow students but also most of the visible structure around and ahead of them, this having been a national reflex to certain pathologies in high places only death had had the power to cure, and this Berkeley was like no somnolent Siwash out of her own past at all, but more akin to those Far Eastern or Latin American universities you read about, those autonomous culture media where the most beloved of folklores may be brought into doubt, cataclysmic of dissents voiced, suicidal of commitments chosen, the sort that bring governments down."
While Oedipa is ostensibly trying to get to the bottom of Tristero, she is actually going on a journey of self-discovery.
The narrative forces her down from her tower of withdrawal to street-level engagement and then ultimately into the underground.
Bit by bit, she ceases to define herself in terms of her husband or Pierce, but in terms of her own identity.
Like the symbol of Tristero, she has been silenced, her horn has been muted, she has had to stand by her man and be secondary.
Her adventure frees her from the chains of middle class conformity.
It is a preparation for a new life of autonomy.
Oedipa’s methodology is that of a flawed scientist or detective.
She uses logic to make sense of what she perceives.
She constantly asks the question “why?”
She builds and applies logical systems where she processes information in a simplistic binary "either-or", "zero or one" fashion (pre-empting computers), according to whether it proves a point or disproves it.
She applies the “Law of the Excluded Middle”: "Everything must either be or not be." (Or the Law of Noncontradiction: "Nothing can both be and not be.")
She learns things and processes them as best she can.
But she misses opportunities and fails to investigate clues she ought to. She is human. She is fallible.
She reads old books with different typesetting and sees “y’s where i’s should’ve been”.
“I can’t read this,” she says.
So she learns the limits of logic. And she learns the appeal of nonconformity and freedom and communication.
Despite the masculine nature of the metaphor, she removes the mute from her horn.
The Crying of Lot 49
The eponymous Crying of Lot 49 is the auction of the forged Tristero stamps that takes place in the last pages of the novel.
Oedipa discovers that a major bidder (possibly associated with Tristero) has decided to attend the auction personally, rather than bid remotely “by the book”.
The novel ends with the anticipation of Oedipa and the reader discovering the identity of the bidder for the stamps.
Is it Tristero? Is it even Pierce?
Pynchon deprives us of this revelation.
This has frustrated many readers. However, it suggests that this was not the most important revelation that was happening in the novel.
The real revelation is Oedipa’s discovery of herself.
She sees “I” where previously she has seen only “why”.
At the same time, she discovers America and its diversity, which is far greater than the white bread community who are content with the U.S. Mail:
"She had dedicated herself, weeks ago, to making sense of what Inverarity had left behind, never suspecting that the legacy was America."
Ultimately, it is Pierce’s and Pynchon’s will that the novel and her journey end this way. ...more
Notes are private!
Jan 24, 2012
Jan 28, 2012
Feb 23, 2011
Jun 20, 2011
Fifty-Five Shades of Graye
When poet, personal trainer, dorm mistress and real estate agent Ana Stasia reads an opus-type review by the reasonably succ Fifty-Five Shades of Graye
When poet, personal trainer, dorm mistress and real estate agent Ana Stasia reads an opus-type review by the reasonably successful middle-aged donut store franchisee Ian Graye on GoodReads, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating, if a little bit geeky.
Convinced her first post on one of his threads went down badly, she tries to put Graye out of her mind - until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town sports carnival at which her daughter is playing a team coached by his athletic and amply-breasted wife, F.M. Sushi.
The otherworldly, relatively innocent Ana is shocked to realize she wants this 55 year-old renaissance man, and when he warns her to keep her eye on the game, it only makes her more desperate to unclothe him.
Unable to resist Ana’s outspoken beauty, wit, independent spirit and tits that are even bigger than his wife’s, Graye admits he craves access to her - but only every second weekend.
Shocked yet thrilled by the prospect of Graye's fortnightly but otherwise erratic tastes, Ana hesitates until she detects the awesome swelling in his pinstriped potted plants.
One Swallow Does Not a Summer Make
Yet, and there is always a yet, for all the trappings of botanical and literary success – his multinational friends and followers, his vast girth, his loving cyber-family – Graye is a man tormented by the fact that he can’t get lavender or basil to grow for more than one season, he hasn’t read Dostoyevsky’s “The Demons” and he is consumed by the need to write excessively long book reviews on GoodReads.
When the couple embarks on a passionate, physical and daring group read between weekend assignments (and/or assignations), Ana learns more about her own dark desires, as well as the real secret of the appeal of Ian Graye that is hidden away from public scrutiny.
Can their relationship transcend their passionate physiques? Will Ana find something of Ian's permanently embedded in herself? Will this aspiring Head Mistress submit to the self-indulgent Master? And if she does, will she still find that the extra-curricular sub-missionary position is what she loves?
Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, "Fifty-Five Shades of Graye" is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and distress you until you realise that Ana and F.M. Sushi were made for each other, they piss off that extraordinary wanker Ian Graye and indulge in hot lesbian sex for the rest of the trilogy.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Dig Lazarus Dig
Notes are private!
May 10, 2012
May 10, 2012
Feb 01, 1995
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 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.
CHOOSE YOUR REVIEW:
"Infinite Jest" elicits diverse reactions. I thought I might try to express some of them, both negative and positive.
The above review is my attempt at a negative review.
My positive reviews are mentioned below.
TAME AND INEFFECTUAL POST-CAPITALIST LAPDOG FIVE STAR REVIEW
This is a positive capsule review with a few add-ons:
NERDS ONLY PSEUDO-INTELLECTUAL FIVE STAR REVIEW
This review is my attempt at a more analytical, but positive, 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). ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 17, 2013
Feb 17, 2013
Feb 16, 2013
Aug 12, 2014
From Young Adult to Mature
Many of Murakami's novels deal with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This probably accounts for their amazing p From Young Adult to Mature
Many of Murakami's novels deal with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This probably accounts for their amazing popularity, especially with young Japanese readers.
However, you have to wonder whether Murakami can continually plough the fields of this subject matter at his age, without losing his youthful audience.
As at the date of publication of this novel, he is aged 65, which in some countries is the traditional mandatory retirement age.
I suspect that "Colorless Tsukuru" is a strategic move that anticipates how he will write and what he will write about in the future. It might even enhance his reputation with older readers.
Adolescence in Retrospect
The eponymous protagonist is 36 at the time most of the novel is set. It is sixteen years since Tsukuru and his four colorful friends turned 20 years of age and in a sense made the transition to adulthood.
Although the novel is still loosely about this transition, it is told from the perspective of somebody much older, if still affected by it.
In a way, Tsukuru's pilgrimage returns him, not to some source of religious belief, but to his adolescence.
The pilgrimage is a necessary journey to the source of an understanding of his current self. However, temporally, he must eventually return to the present, when he is 36.
Inevitably, his pilgrimage will help him understand his immediate past (the last 16 years) and his present, but also his future.
My copy I
On Being Blue
At the age of 20, Tsukuru's tight-knit community comprised of four other school friends (whose names all contain the Japanese words for colors - red, blue, black and white) suddenly dissociated themselves from him without giving him a reason. From his point of view, there was no reason, and therefore every reason.
He started to think of himself as colorless, an absence, a nothing, a zero. His life consisted of nothingness. He genuinely and quite understandably lived in an abyss, on a precipice, inside a void, surrounded by darkness.
Initially, he was tempted to commit suicide. However, even this act requires some positive deliberation, and eventually he can't even collect himself together enough to take the step of jumping off the precipice.
He continues to live, not because he has decided in favour of life or against death, but he simply can't be bothered to make any decision at all.
Tsukuru assumes that the relationship with each of his friends would have continued through adulthood, but for his friends' abandonment of him. He assumes that it has continued between his four former friends.
As a result, Tsukuru clings to what he has lost, in the belief that it still exists. In a way, he holds onto something from his adolescence well into adulthood.
Doing so prevents him "growing up" and having "more adult" relationships, getting married and becoming a parent.
As the title indicates, the narrative of the novel consists of a pilgrimage which forces him to confront his situation.
The immediate trigger is 38 year old Sara, who is keen to have a serious relationship with him, but questions whether he is ready.
She senses that Tsukuru is trapped by an emotional and spiritual blockage. The only way to deal with it is to locate his four friends and find out why they abandoned him.
He can't simply pretend it didn't happen and move on. He has to find out and deal with it, no matter how bad their reasons might be.
Sara realises that what happened to Tsukuru was so traumatic that it not only destroyed his vitality, it destroyed his desire, his appetite, his longing.
She sets him off on the pilgrimage, not believing that he will automatically be happy, but confident that when he returns, he will be able to deal with life's challenges more effectively.
She doesn't anticipate some fairy tale ending in which everybody lives happily ever after. She simply believes in the ability of two loving adults to sort out their problems. Together.
Colorless, but Constructive
Tsukuru was always disappointed that his name didn't represent a color, like his friends. However, more importantly, it means "to create, to make, to build".
At work, he is an engineer who build railways stations that are at the hub of the transportation and communications network.
Ultimately, he has to learn to recreate, remake, rebuild himself, just as he would refurbish an existing railway station.
His station is not ready to be demolished, it just needs a little renovation.
Tokyo Metro Subway Map
Tsukuru learns much from and about his friends during his pilgrimage. I won't spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that they have moved away from each other in their adult lives. The community that Tsukuru assumed had persisted without him doesn't exist. He has missed little as a result of his abandonment.
Instead, each of his friends has encountered their own challenges and problems making the transition to adulthood.
The causes are different for each of his friends. However, Murakami's message seems to be that we aren't so much challenged by external forces, like fate or evil.
What prevents us from succeeding or being happy is our own fear of failure. In love matters, we often don't express our love for another, because of a fear of non-reciprocation.
Don't Let the Bad Elves Get You
Murakami implies that we miss out on a lot of life experience and happiness, just because we lack the courage to try.
Our confidence shines its own light. It shows us the way, but it also attracts others.
In contrast, our lack of confidence is a form of darkness that obscures our vision and frustrates our happiness.
This insight connects with Murakami's increasing interest in the role of the subconscious.
While we have grown used to the magical realism in Murakami's novels, he is increasingly moving in a direction that suggests that the real darkness and unknown in within us, within our sub-conscious.
As with psychoanalysis, part of growing up is about translating the unknown into the known, and the unconscious into the conscious.
One of Tsukuru's friends farewells him with the words, "Don't let the bad elves get you!"
It's good advice, but it emerges from a discussion about the inner demons that plagued one of their other friends. In her case, the bad elves resided within.
So, not only do we have to keep a watch out for ourselves, we have to keep an eye on ourselves, our own demons. Perhaps, the real message is that we shouldn't let our bad selves get us.
We Can Be Happy
Ultimately, Tsukuru's pilgrimage takes him to the source of the subconscious forces that drove him towards anomie, depression, anxiety and potential suicide.
There is a sense in which this subject matter might still be intended for young adults. However, I don't think there is any preconceived limit to the audience for Murakami's fiction.
In contemporary Western society, if not Japanese and Eastern society as well, adults are just as much plagued by anxiety as adolescents. In fact, if adults were a lot happier, perhaps their children might be happier.
Happiness isn't necessarily comprised of material wealth. I think that Murakami is trying to help generate a spiritual wealth, whether or not it is theistic.
The Hero's Journey
Joseph Campbell believed that the story arc of most literature and film is a hero's journey, and that the hero has a thousand faces. (view spoiler)[Campbell was a big influence on George Lucas' method of story-telling. His film "Star Wars" is mentioned in this novel. (hide spoiler)]
One of Murakami's aims seems to be to persuade us that, in our own lives, one of those faces should be our own.
His fiction has increasingly become an attempt to combat the inauthentic prescriptions of cults and self-help groups.
Murakami's latest novel might be constructed around a hero's journey.
I suspect that the following Wiki description of Joseph Campbell's concept of the "monomyth" might even describe many of his earlier novels:
"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
"Colorless Tsukuru" differs from this definition and Murakami's earlier works in that Tsukuru returns in order to deal with his problems, believing it's not adequate to escape them in some fantasist world.
It's arguable that there is no neat ending to the novel. However, you could infer that when Tsukuru returns, he will be capable of longing and he will find someone who is prepared to help him build something new. And isn't that what we all want from life, whether we're an adolescent or an adult or both?
My copy II
Gray is a mixture.
Find gradations of darkness,
Not just black and white.
All through secondary school, my four best friends had names similar to mine. But not similar enough for my liking. Our surnames were all based on colours: White, Blue, Greene, Browne. And me. My name was Ian Gray then. Notice that my name had no "e" on the end. I desperately wanted that "e", so that I could be like them. I did some research in the library and discovered I couldn't change it by deed poll until I turned 18. By the time we were all 17, we were in our last year of school. I had already decided that I wanted to go to university in Canberra. The other four wanted to remain in Brisbane (notice the omnipresent "e"). Each year, I would return home, and it was just like I hadn't been away. We were the colourful five. While away, in another world, I had forgotten about changing my name by deed poll. Then one holiday when I was just about to return to Canberra to complete my last year, Blue came around to my home. It was just the two of us. Nobody else was home, not even my family. I was shocked by what he told me. He said that the four of them had decided they wanted to discontinue contact with me. I asked whether it was because of the missing "e". He just laughed, as if he had never thought of the possibility. "I can't tell you why," he said. "You'll have to work it out for yourself." He rose from the sofa and left without saying another word. He didn't even shake my hand when I offered it. I returned to Canberra, finished my degree and eventually came home at the end of the academic year. I wrote many letters to my friends that year, but they answered none of them. I cried when I arrived home and my parents greeted me. Even though I had seen them every year, I still remembered them as they had been when I lived at home and went to school. They looked frail and ill. One after the other, they died over the next 18 months. I had no siblings. Nobody objected or cared when I finally changed my name to Ian Graye. I wrote to my friends again on the off chance that they might renew our friendship, but all four of my letters came back, marked "return to sender". I was back home, alone, lonely, friendless. As I remain today. But with an "e".
Yuko Shimizu's illustration on the cover of the New York Times Book Review
Yuko Shimizu explains the process by which she illustrated the review of Haruki Murakami’s novel on the cover of the New York Times Book Review:
The Jam - "Thick as Thieves"
Turtles - "Happy Together"
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (featuring Flo & Eddie) (Live at the Fillmore in 1971) - "Happy Together"
Altered Images - "I Could Be Happy"
The Who - "I'm Free" [from the rock opera "Tommy"]
The Who - "I'm Free" [Live]
Buffalo Tom - "Taillights Fade"
Elvis Presley - "Don't Be Cruel"
Elvis Presley - "Viva Las Vegas"
Antonio Carlos Jobim - "Wave"
Antonio Carlos Jobim meets Herbie Hancock - "Wave"
Piano for three hands in two minds
Thelonious Monk - "'Round Midnight" [Solo Live in 1969]
Thelonious Monk - "'Round Midnight" [Group Version in 1958]
Thelonious Monk - "'Round Midnight" [Group Version in 1947]
John Coltrane - "Blue Train" [Live in 1961]
Thanks to BirdBrian for letting me know that the Blue Train was coming into the station.
Robert Schumann - "Träumerei, "Kinderszenen" Nº 7 (Scenes from Childhood)" (Played by Vladimir Horowitz)
Franz Liszt - "Le mal du pays" (Played by Lazar Berman)
Franz Liszt - "Years of Pilgrimage" ("Années de pèlerinage")(Played by Lazar Berman)(Complete)
Franz Liszt - "Years of Pilgrimage" ("Années de pèlerinage")
Goethe, Liszt, Murakami...
"Années de pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) (S.160, S.161, S.163) is a set of three suites for solo piano by Franz Liszt. Much of it derives from his earlier work, Album d'un voyageur, his first major published piano cycle, which was composed between 1835 and 1838 and published in 1842.
Années de pèlerinage is widely considered a masterwork and summation of Liszt's musical style. The third volume is notable as an example of his later style. Composed well after the first two volumes, it displays less showy virtuosity and more harmonic experimentation.
The title Années de pèlerinage refers to Goethe's famous novel of self-realization, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship. Liszt clearly places the work in line with the Romantic literature of his time, prefacing most pieces with a literary passage from writers such as Schiller, Byron or Senancour, and, in an introduction to the entire work, writing:
'Having recently travelled to many new countries, through different settings and places consecrated by history and poetry; having felt that the phenomena of nature and their attendant sights did not pass before my eyes as pointless images but stirred deep emotions in my soul, and that between us a vague but immediate relationship had established itself, an undefined but real rapport, an inexplicable but undeniable communication, I have tried to portray in music a few of my strongest sensations and most lively impressions.'"
Liszt's caption for "Les cloches de Genève: Nocturne (The Bells of Geneva: Nocturne)" is from Byron's "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage":
“I live not in myself, but I become
Portion of that around me.”
Notes are private!
Aug 19, 2014
Aug 23, 2014
Jul 07, 2013
Nov 02, 2013
Nov 02, 2013
You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic
I am in two minds about this one...
The Manny Haka
On the one hand...
"Tenei Te Tangata Puhuruhuru
Nana i tiki mai You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic
I am in two minds about this one...
The Manny Haka
On the one hand...
"Tenei Te Tangata Puhuruhuru
Nana i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra."
"This is the hairy man
Who caused the sun to shine again for me."
The Noise Before Defeat
On the other...
"Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting."
"He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight."
"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
Sun Tzu - "The Art of War"
Three Minds and a Disclaimer
Well, why not add another gratuitous point of view and disclaimer...
D.J. Ian is the kind of guy who declines to get out of the way when he sees a fucking big self-serving, self-promoting literary collective coming (especially when it insists that it's right, which probably makes it some kind of a literary corrective).
He contributed the following review to this ebook:
Two aspects of the book attracted his attention to it as a vehicle for a "protest review".
The title "Drive" was just one.
Where is GoodReads driving us and are we there yet? Is it just trying to drive us all mad?
The other was its subtitle "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us".
We need to know the Surprising Truth that motivates GoodReads.
D.J. Ian's review is speculative fiction towards this end.
A Difference of Opinion about Tactics between Ex-Friends
D.J. Ian and Ian Graye differ in their tactics in this debate. However, regrettably they have not agreed to differ, and remain permanently estranged.
D.J. Ian thinks Ian Graye is childish and ineffectual. Ian Graye recognises that, in such situations, as the Chinese say, propriety dictates reciprocity.
Their mother thinks a shared goal should overcome a difference of opinion about tactics.
They're not talking to her either.
When One Disclaimer is Barely Enough
D.J. Ian has received a free copy of the ebook in return for an honest opinion.
Ian Graye has received a free copy of the ebook in return for a dishonest opinion.
Or was it the other way around? Neither of them can remember. But they're not talking.
Aragorn's Battle Cry
"Hold your ground, hold your ground! Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers and sisters! I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men and women fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship and delete our accounts, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men and women comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this GoodReads section of Earth, I bid you stand, Men and Women of the West and of the East!"
The Scoffers Watch On as Money Fills the Coffers
There Will Come a Day (Or Will There?)
Or can it?
Its delay makes fools of itself and of those who wish to focus attention on the issues and make a constructive contribution to a solution.
"[Suppose this servant says] 'My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to ... eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Steve Wynn - "There Will Come a Day"
"There will come a day
There will come a day
When all of the evil
Will be washed away
The patient will be rewarded
And their tormentors will pay
There will come a day, lord
There will come a day"
Notes are private!
Nov 05, 2013
Nov 05, 2013
Nov 03, 2013
May 17, 2005
May 17, 2006
Original Comments (Pre-Review):
I would like to review this novel more formally in the near future, but to do so I'll have to flick through it and refr Original Comments (Pre-Review):
I would like to review this novel more formally in the near future, but to do so I'll have to flick through it and refresh my memory.
My reaction at the time was that it was one of the best novels I had ever read.
Nicole Krauss understands people and love and feelings and she writes about them in a word perfect way.
As a reader, I am prepared to go wherever she wants to take me. I will trust her judgement.
I have recently watched a few of her videos and interviews on Youtube and she's also someone who I enjoy listening to when she speaks about her craft and her choice of subject matter.
This probably sounds very gushy and naive, but I promise to write something more considered.
Review (September 26, 2011):
Warning about Spoilers
I have tried to minimise and identify plot spoilers.
However, this is an emotional response to the novel, and might reveal significance that you might want to enjoy by way of your own detection.
I hope that my review doesn't spoil anything for you, or if it does, that you quickly forget it.
Lives Lived and Measured by the Deli Counter
Nicole Krauss’ “The History of Love” is one of my favourite novels of all time.
I read it once pre-Good Reads, and have just re-read it, so that I could review it. And I will read it again. Often.
That doesn’t count the numerous times I have fingered through the book seeking out passages and expressions and meanings and significances that stimulated or appealed to me.
It’s an exquisitely crafted tale of love, loss, longing, hope, defiance, resilience and, it has to be said, delusion.
I love its Jewish wisdom and concern with the family, I love its Yiddish rhythms and expressions and humour and playfulness, I love the window it offers into the millennia of Jewish culture and enrichment of the world.
When I open the pages of this book, I feel like I am walking into the best delicatessen or pastry shop in the world.
Everything is there on display, everything is on offer (we can eat in or take away!).
It’s all been made with consummate skill and affection, it’s designed to satiate our appetite, to enrich our lives.
I look at it all, knowing it will feed us, it will sustain us, it will revive our energy.
It’s food for thought, it’s food for life.
I'm sure it will help us live our own lives and tell our own tales, it will equip each of us to tell our own History of Love.
I am wearing my Second Avenue Deli t-shirt as I think and type this.
“The History of Love” is written from four different perspectives, each of which is represented by a different symbol at the beginning of the chapter:
Leo Gursky = a heart
Alma Singer = a compass
Omniscient Narrator = an open book
Bird (Alma’s brother) = an ark
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, there was a Polish boy named Leo Gursky who loved a girl across the field named Alma Mereminski.
“Her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering”.
He asked her to marry him when they were both still only ten.
“He promised her he would never love another girl as long as he lived.
"What if I die? She asked. Even then, he said.”
He carved “A+L” in the bark of a tree and had someone take a photo of the two of them in front of that tree.
He writes three books for her, all in their native Yiddish, the last being “The History of Love”.
Book 1: this one was about Slonim (Alma says, “she liked it better when I made things up”)
Book 2: he made up everything for this one (Alma says, “maybe I shouldn’t make up everything, because that made it hard to believe anything”)
Book 3: “The History of Love” (Leo says,"I didn’t write about real things and I didn’t write about imaginary things. I wrote about the only things I knew.”)
In July, 1941, that boy, who was now a man of 21, avoided murder by the German Einsatzgruppen, because he was lying on his back in the woods thinking about the girl.
“You could say it was his love for her that saved his life.”
Alma’s father had already saved her by sending her to America.
Unbeknown to either of them, Alma was pregnant with their son, Isaac, when she left.
Oblivious to the birth of his son, Leo lives in hiding surrounded by Nazi atrocities.
Letters back and forth fail to reach their destination.
He even writes his own obituary, when he is in the depths of illness and despair.
By the time Leo finally escapes to New York himself, five years later, he has become an invisible man in the face of death.
He traces Alma, only to learn that she has had their child and that, believing he was dead, she has married another man.
He is ecstatic that “our sum had come to equal a child” ("A+L=I").
He asks her once to “come with me”, she can’t and he does the hardest thing he’s ever done in his life: he picked up his hat and walked away.
He has little involvement with Alma or Isaac after that, except as an occasional remote observer.
He continues to love Alma, though he now has another quest: to determine whether Isaac, who becomes a famous writer in his own right, ever knew about his father and that he wrote “The History of Love”.
Once Upon Another Timeline
Once upon another time (it is the year 2000 when Leo is 80 and believes he is approaching death), a precocious 15 year old girl goes by the name Alma Singer.
Her mother, Charlotte, a literary translator who specialises in Spanish literature, named her after every girl in a book Alma’s father David gave her mother called “The History of Love”.
It is written in Spanish, and the "author" is Zvi Litvinoff, a friend of Leo’s who, after Leo left Poland, escaped to Chile, carrying with him the original Yiddish manuscript of “The History of Love” for safekeeping.
Alma’s father died when she was seven.
Like Leo, Charlotte has continued to love him (“my mother never fell out of love with my father”) and has never felt the need or desire to love another man.
When Charlotte disposes of some of his possessions, Alma rescues an old sweater and decides to wear it for the rest of her life.
She manages to wear it for 42 days straight.
Alma is on her own quest: to know her own father better, to help her younger brother Bird to know him too, to find a lover for her mother and to learn more about her namesake in “The History of Love”.
In the midst of this assortment of delicacies, Charlotte receives a letter asking her to translate “The History of Love” from Spanish to English.
I have included the above plot details, despite my normal reluctance to summarise plots in reviews.
Please don’t construe any of the details as spoilers. Most of them are revealed in the first forty pages, only not necessarily in that order.
And I have left out a lot of the back story, so that I could set up this context, that family is fundamental to the plot, to “The History of Love”, not to mention history itself.
The Paleontological Detective
Every crime needs its own detective and every detective needs their own methodology, even a child detective.
Nicole Krauss twice mentions the task of paleontologists.
“Bird asked what a paleontologist was and Mom said that if he took a complete, illustrated guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shred it into a hundred pieces, cast them into the wind from the museum’s steps, let a few weeks pass, went back and scoured Fifth Avenue and Central Park for as many surviving scraps as he could find, then tried to reconstruct the history of painting, including schools, styles, genres, and names of painters from his scraps, that would be like a paleontologist.
“The only difference is that paleontologists study fossils in order to figure out the origin and evolution of life.
“Every fourteen-year-old should know something about where she comes from, my mother said. It wouldn’t do to go around without the faintest clue of how it all began.”
Here, the historical quest, the puzzle depends on your perspective.
And there are two, the young and the old, the present and the past joining together to construct the future.
For Alma, the young, the puzzle is what happened before “The History of Love” found its way into her family?
For Leo, the old, it is what happened after he wrote “The History of Love”?
Both have to sit down, sometimes patiently, sometimes impatiently, and work their own methodical way towards a solution of their own puzzle.
In a way, their problem is the same: the problem of family.
Leo loses a (prospective) wife and a son, Charlotte loses a husband, Alma loses a father.
They have all lost the story of their family, of their love.
Here, the novel is symbolic of the fate of the Jewish Family in the face of the Holocaust and the Jewish Diaspora.
The Jewish Family has been dispersed all over the world, family members have been separated, the spine of their love and connections and cultures and books and stories has been severed.
Their book has been shred into a hundred pieces and cast into the wind.
Somebody has to scour the world, to find the surviving “scraps”, piece it all together again and reconstruct their history and their culture.
And it will take a paleontologist. Or two.
You Can Only Lose What You Once Had
Leo once had Alma. He had a lover whom he loved and who loved him.
He lost her, but he kept his love alive, just as he hoped that the object of his love was still alive (she actually lived until 1995).
The novel is almost mythical or mythological in the way it tells this tale.
Charlotte tells young Alma: “The first woman may have been Eve, but the first girl will always be Alma.”
So Leo and Alma are almost posited against Adam and Eve as the first boy and girl, the first to have mortal parents, the first children who ever fell in love with each other, the first to create a new family.
Without the object of his love, he wrote about it.
He kept his love alive, his love kept him alive.
As he wrote in his own obituary, “He was a great writer. He fell in love. It was his life.”
And yet. His life stalled when he lost the object of his love.
He ceased to live for any purpose other than the preservation of his love.
His love became a fabrication that substituted for and subsumed his life.
He appears to be in two minds about this:
On the one hand, what more to life is there but love?
“I thought we were fighting for something more than her love, he said….What is more than her love? I asked.”
On the other hand, he recognised that he needed his invention in order to survive, that reality would have killed him.
“What do I want to tell you? The truth? What is the truth? That I mistook your mother for my life? No. Isaac, I said. The truth is the thing I invented so I could live.”
And again, his confrontation of the truth:
“The truth is that she told me that she couldn’t love me. When she said goodbye, she was saying goodbye forever. And yet. I made myself forget. I don’t know why. I keep asking myself. But I did.”
“And now at the end of my life, I can barely tell the difference between what is real and what I believe.”
Perhaps, the truth is whatever works for you.
“My Friend Bruno”
Leo constantly refers to his friend Bruno.
I have only one head, but I am in two minds as to whether he is real or make believe.
He might be a self-generated survival tool.
He is modelled on Bruno Schulz, the Polish author of "The Street of Crocodiles", which is referred to a number of times in the novel.
He died in 1942, and Leo even mentions that he died in 1941 in the novel.
He attempts suicide in the novel, unsuccessfully, so there might be a sense in which he is a darker twin of Leo, who nevertheless manages to prolong his life (in the same way Zvi Litvinoff manages to prolong his life by confiscating and caring for Leo's obituary when he seemed like he was about to die).
His role diminishes as Leo embraces reality over the course of the novel.
And yet. “And yet.”
These two words are so important to the novel.
They express Leo’s defiance, his determination not to accept the hand dealt to him, his determination to avoid and evade the evil and the crime and the misfortune around him.
It is his imagination, his ability to believe in something else that allows him to achieve this:
“I remember the time I first realised I could make myself see something that wasn’t there…And then I turned the corner and saw it. A huge elephant, standing alone in the square. I knew I was imagining it. And yet. I wanted to believe…So I tried…And I found I could.”
He has to imagine a better world than the one he has inherited or the one that his world has become.
It was his love that enabled him to stop thinking and worrying about death, to stop worrying about the inevitability of his fate.
To this extent, love is what keeps us alive, it is our heartbeat, it is the reason our heart beats (even if occasionally it causes our heart to skip a beat).
Love is the defiance of death.
It’s not just something we do while waiting to die, it’s something that keeps us alive.
It keeps individuals alive, it keeps families alive, it keeps cultures alive and it keeps communities alive.
Putting Your Legacy into Words
The great tragedy within Leo’s life after Alma is that he believes his greatest creation, “The History of Love”, has been lost.
In fact, it has been misappropriated, albeit without ill will.
Again, I don’t mean this to be a spoiler. We, the readers, already know that it must exist in some form, if Alma’s family can read it and Charlotte can be asked to translate it from Spanish to English.
Obviously, part of the resolution of the puzzle for Leo must be the recovery of his legacy.
It is one of the things that will bond him with the family he had (but wasn’t really able to have).
The other thing we find out at the beginning of the novel is that Leo has had a heart attack that has killed one quarter of his heart.
This reinvigorates his fear of death and the concern that he might die an invisible man, survived only by “an apartment full of shit”.
And yet, it also reinvigorates his creativity (which had stalled as well).
Within months, he starts to write again, 57 years after he had previously stopped (possibly when he had finished "The History of Love" and had become an invisible man during the War?).
What he writes ends up being 301 pages long, “it’s not nothing”.
It’s his memoir, starting off “once upon a time”, in the manner of a fable or a fairy tale, which he almost calls “Laughing and Crying and Writing and Waiting”, but ends up naming “Words for Everything”.
It’s a polite, but defiant, retort to Alma’s childhood challenge, “When will you learn that there isn’t a word for everything?”
Maybe there isn’t a word for everything, but as “The History of Love” itself illustrates, in the hands of the right person, it is possible to say everything in words.
Leo sends the novel off to the address he finds for Isaac, in the hope that he will read it, only to read soon after that his only child has died.
(view spoiler)[And yet...what Leo accomplishes over the course of the novel is the knowledge that his son had learned the truth of their family by reading “Words for Everything” and that the true authorship of “The History of Love” had finally become known.
His legacy has become concrete, and he can die content. (hide spoiler)]
What more can I say about Alma?
She might not be blonde, she might not be beautiful, she might not be full-breasted (she's only 15), but she is an angel.
Whereas Leo is contemplative to the point of occasional melancholy, Alma is an inquisitive, optimistic, dynamic, witty breath of fresh air (perhaps, it's the way she flaps her wings?).
Her contributions to the story come in journal entries with numbered headings. (I like that!)
And yet, it has to be said that her detective skills alone are not sufficient to lead her to the denouement of this fable.
In the end, she realises that she has been searching for the wrong person.
She might be the pointer to the future, her symbol might be the compass, but she is unable to find true north alone.
If only because she wasn’t present when a crucial phone call was made, the story needs her brother Bird to intervene, just like a “Lamed Vovnik” would do. (Note: look it up like I did!)
Her contribution ends up being a family affair.
Lucky for her.
Lucky Alma. Lucky Leo.
The last section of the book departs from the Legend at the beginning of this review.
Instead, it is headed with the inscription “A+L” that Leo carved into the tree in his childhood.
Each page is narrated alternately by Leo and Alma Singer.
(view spoiler)[It is clear that Leo believes he has been invited to Central Park on Saturday, October 14, 2000, so that he can finally die.
When Alma appears, he initially believes that she is an angel.
“So this is how they send the angel. Stalled at the age when she loved you most.”
Just as Leo and his friend Bruno use tapping to establish whether one of them has died (two taps means, “I’m alive”, the tactile affirms vitality), Leo taps Alma twice to prove to himself that he is alive and that she is real and not an angel.
“I wanted to say her name aloud, it would have given me joy to call, because I knew that in some small way it was my love that named her. And yet. I couldn’t speak. I was afraid I’d choose the wrong sentence.” (hide spoiler)]
At this most crucial time, you would think that there wasn't a word for everything, when in fact there was only one word that would suffice: "Alma".
More happens, but I’ll deal with that under the SPOILER ALERT heading.
Suffice it to say that the novel affords Leo some last joy.
And who among us could deny that he earned that joy?
(view spoiler)[For me, the eternal optimist, there is some small ambiguity about whether Leo actually dies then and there at the end.
Leo appears to stop tapping in order to speak Alma’s name, which he does.
The novel ends with Alma tapping Leo twice (which means that she is alive).
Leo contemplates the timing of his death when he starts writing “Words for Everything”:
“At times I believed that the last page of my book and the last page of my life were one and the same, that when my book ended I’d end, a great wind would sweep through my rooms carrying the pages away, and when the air cleared of all those fluttering white sheets the room would be silent, the chair where I sat would be empty.”
Obviously, he didn’t actually die when he finished writing the memoir, because he posted the finished work to Isaac.
However, it’s possible that he died when Nicole Krauss finished the penultimate chapter of “The History of Love”.
Certainly, her book (like the Spanish edition), finishes with the obituary Leo Gursky wrote for himself.
And yet... (hide spoiler)]
This review is dedicated to the memory of Abe Lebewohl (the founder of the Second Avenue Deli in Manhattan) and to my daughter who turns 16 today and who lost her father in Manhattan and still hasn’t found him again...And yet...he laughs and cries and writes and waits...
Notes are private!
Sep 26, 2011
Feb 22, 2011
Sep 02, 2014
Sep 02, 2014
The Confused and the Bewitched
[Apologies to Dean Wareham]
The bone clocks
The bewitched The Confused and the Bewitched
[Apologies to Dean Wareham]
The bone clocks
"Being For The Benefit Of Holly Sykes!"
[Apologies to the Beatles]
For the benefit
Of Holly Sykes,
There will be
A show tonight
If you don’t like
The daring scenes,
To be sacked.
You’ll get your
It’s just a circus act!
"Jacob's Ladder" by William Blake
Dwelling on a Reservation
David Mitchell seems to have become a literary target, because he walks a fine line between Post-Modernism and commercial success.
For the Post-Modernists, he's too popular to be holy. For the populists, he dabbles with genres without wholly embracing them.
The dual attack makes you feel as if you must approach him with some reservation, with your guard up, that if you enjoy his fiction, if you derive pleasure from it, then you must do so uncritically or you might have missed some glaring stylistic flaws.
Still, when I started reading "The Bone Clocks", I got swept away again. For the duration, I..yes...I suspended disbelief.
So, teacher, does Mitchell deserve disbelief? Or suspension?
The Book He Wrote
Over the time I've been reading Mitchell, I've had some (mis-)apprehensions that I've had to work my way through each book.
Recently, his style has been described as bad or atrocious. Is it really that bad? Is this exaggeration? Does he really deserve the forensic dissection and dismissal he gets at the hands of some critics?
No writer is beyond critical judgement. However, not every author sets out to write "War and Peace".
Mitchell is living proof that we tend to read the book we want to, not necessarily the book the author wrote. What is the point of criticising what a novel is not, or doesn't purport to be?
Surely, most half-way competent authors wrote the novel they wanted to write? Maybe we should cut them some slack? Should we just ask, how successful were they in writing the novel they set out to write?
This doesn't mean that we can't criticise what they did or didn't try to do. However, this can really only occur within the realm of overt subjectivity on the part of both author and reader. OK, maybe I didn't like what the author wrote. On the other hand, I have to appreciate that the author didn't write it so that I in particular might like it. They wrote it mainly so that they, the author, would like it.
I don't think Mitchell set out to write a self-consciously literary novel on this occasion. He just wrote the kind of novel he felt his subject matter demanded.
In order to do so, he embraced genre. Again, I don't think he set out to become the next genre master, a Stephen King or Neil Gaiman.
Mitchell plays around both with and within the boundaries of genre, not always by way of parody.
But equally he doesn't take on strict accountability to the rules of genre (such as John Banville when he writes in the guise of Benjamin Black).
He co-opts genre for his own purposes, for the purposes of his play and our entertainment. Genre is no more than a coathanger or skeleton upon which he drapes the threads or body of his narrative.
My Wild Irish Prose Style
Is Mitchell's prose particularly pretentious or purple? Not really. Like the character Crispin Hershey, he says he isn’t "a fan of flowery prose."
It’s neither overwrought nor underwrought. If anything, it's deliciously wrought-ironical. It’s relaxed, casual, conversational, fluid, breezy, exuberant, charming, almost flirtatious. The sort of prose you'd hope to meet at a party, in fact, the very reason we used to go to parties.
The Importance of Not Being Earnest
I fear more that Mitchell might become too humorless, too serious, too self-consciously Post-Modernist, too precious, too everything I write is IMPORTANT, in other words, too Bill Vollmann, of all people.
I fear that one day a Mitchell book will be just too, too nice, too complacent, too middle class, too metrosexual, or if it were a little more earnest, maybe too Jonathan Franzen.
Luckily, this book isn't the one I fear. I hope he never writes it, or I never get to read it.
I had another apprehension about style.
Like Murakami, Mitchell goes where his characters' stories take him. He embraces improvisation. I kept looking for evidence that the result was sloppy or undisciplined.
If his writing was ever rough-edged during the early drafts, then he or someone else has smoothed it over by the time I got to read it.
Juxtaposition I'm Taking for Granted
Well, maybe one last apprehension: that Mitchell's juxtaposition of disparate elements would be too arbitrary, too artificial, too unbelievable.
Unlike "Cloud Atlas", the writing style is consistent throughout the entire novel. The style doesn't change with the subject matter or the period. This allows the reader to focus on the characters and the narrative without obstruction.
"The Bone Clocks" follows the life of Holly Sykes over sixty years, often through the eyes of her peers.
Here, the six chapters are more obviously interrelated than those in "Cloud Atlas". They’re very tightly intertwined, like strands of rope.
The chapters segue far more smoothly. It's worth re-reading just to see how quickly and efficiently he achieves each segue. Suddenly you're on the other side of the looking glass. They’re like snakes and ladders, or slippery slides. The transition is as easy as falling down a rabbit hole (Lewis Carroll) or an echoey stairwell (Murakami).
Is This Just Fantasy?
The main concern of many other readers seems to be the juxtaposition of fantasy elements (common to at least three of Mitchell's previous novels) with the apparent realism of some of his writing (in particular the first chapter in which we meet Holly Sykes).
Some readers can’t get their head around the "fantasy-pedalling."
Mitchell anticipates the objection, when a character pitches his next novel:
"A jetlagged businessman has the mother of all breakdowns in a labyrinthine hotel in Shanghai, encounters a minister, a CEO, a cleaner, a psychic woman who hears voices...think Solaris meets Noam Chomsky via Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Add a dash of Twin Peaks..."
"Are you trying to tell me that you're writing a fantasy novel?"
"Me? Never! Or it's only one-third fantasy. Half, at most."
"A book can't be half-fantasy any more than a woman can be half pregnant."
Still, what is wrong with fantasy that Mitchell is criticised for embracing it? What's wrong with fantasy-pedalling or genre-hopping? China Miéville often cops the same criticism. Does the criticism say more about the reader than the author?
Deliberately or not, Mitchell's works seem to divide readers between the confused and the bewitched.
Caught in a Landslide, No Escape from Reality
While Mitchell has demonstrated that he can write in the style of realism if he chooses to (particularly in some chapters of "Cloud Atlas" and "Black Swan Green"), I don't think it's his preferred or most natural style. This doesn't mean that fantasy is either. His concerns are always too metaphysical or metafictional (i.e., Post-Modernist). He writes in whatever style he feels he needs. His style is as fluid as his requirements.
The first-time reader shouldn't be surprised if the trappings of another genre suddenly appear in the narrative. They are almost inevitable. Here, though, it is strategically plotted, planned and foreshadowed ("the Script loves foreshadow").
Whatever your reaction on first reading, in retrospect it makes much more sense. Sometimes this only becomes apparent on a second reading. It won't be apparent if you grow impatient after the first 50 or 100 pages and skim the rest, oblivious to the detail or pleasures of the text.
STOP MAKING SENSE!
OK, that’s enough serious talking head stuff.
This book is loads of FUN! It’s an adventure story. Lots of goofy, crazy, trippy, weird shit goes down. "It’s mad! Infeckinsane!" It's "totes amazeball." Mitchell must have been doolally when he wrote it.
One of the characters wears a T-shirt with the slogan, "Reality is an illusion caused by a lack of alcohol." (So is realism.) It's that kind of book.
Don’t, whatever you do, take it too seriously. Take it seriously, but only as much as you would a playful entertainment like the film "Pirates of the Caribbean."
It’s like Indiana Jones meets "Alice in Wonderland" meets Umberto Eco ("Foucault’s Pendulum") meets "1Q84" meets "The Da Vinci Code" meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets the Three Stooges meets "The Wizard of Oz" meets Voldemort meets Darth Vader meets Merlin meets Jules Verne meets "Jack in the Beanstalk" meets Biggles meets "Little Red Riding Hood" meets Enid Blyton meets "The Matrix" meets the Wachowski Siblings (just in time for the filmisation).
It's like looking into Mitchell's mind and seeing everything he's ever watched or read, and enjoyed. It's like inspecting the last century through a kaleidoscope. This is the full David Mitchell Experience! The uncut Regurgitator! The complete acme David Mitchell Ruse Explosion!
It's like...yes...Doctor Who!
"A Satirical, Postmodern, Science Fiction-influenced Adventure Story"
It’s also like "The Illminatus! Trilogy", which wiki describes as "a satirical, postmodern, science fiction-influenced adventure story." (Yes, it’s been done before! Although this time it's more fantasy than science fiction.)
I first encountered the term "Post-Modern" when friends who were architects introduced me to Charles Jencks’ book, The language of post-modern architecture. I didn’t see Post-Modernism as a threat to Modernism, so much as an embrace of playful eclecticism.
There are ample architectural comments throughout the novel. One of my favourites goes like this:
"The BritFone Pavilion was designed by an eminent architect I've never heard of and 'quotes' Hadrian's Wall, the Tower of London, a Tudor manor, post-war public housing, Wembley Stadium and a Docklands skyscraper. What a sicked-up fry-up it is."
Yes, that’ll do, this novel is a sicked-up fry-up. It’s a potpourri, a strange brew, an Irish stew, cooked up in le croc pot. One of my favourite characters would have wanted it named after him, "Marinus Stew", in honour of Gilbert Sorrentino’s "Mulligan Stew", described in one of my favourite GR reviews as "wonderful, and entertaining, and it might be the funniest book I’ve ever read, and it is totally weird, and a masterpiece." Yes!
The novel is also chock-full of allusions to other writers: Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, Christopher Hitchens, Gilbert Adair, Lucretius, Ovid, W. H. Auden, Halldór Laxness (who dat, I ask?), Michael Moorcock, Philip Roth, Tanizaki, E.M. Forster, Ursula Le Guin, Murakami, Samuel Beckett, Angela Carter, H. G. Wells, Dante, Wordsworth.
There's a lot about writers and writing. Some good, some bad. How can you tell the difference between a master stylist and a wild child? Who cares!
Post-Modernism can be FUN! It’s a divine comedy. Have faith! Abandon doubt all ye who enter here! Believe it!
The Great Illuminati Brawl
What can you say about the plot? Somebody else can précis it. Or you could read the book!
OK, here's a bit of a snapshot. Good fights it out with Evil. This is one unholy sick crew. Or two. It’s a battle between supernatural action heroes called the Horologists and the Anchorites. What? A trope? How dare Mitchell! It’s the 21st century. Can’t he come up with something new?
What are they fighting about? I don’t know. What do supernatural heroes normally fight about? Eternal life? Jacob’s Ladder? A stairway to Heaven? The right to get to Heaven first? The exclusive right to get to Heaven?
Whatever, they’re pretty evenly matched, mirror images of each other, reversals, looking at each other through the looking glass.
This is Your Last Chance (to be by, of and in the Script)
Of course, the brawl is tightly scripted. In fact, it’s all in the Script. And just to introduce some narrative tension, there’s a Counterscript. And a metafictional or metafictitious guidebook that attempts to throw more (sun-) light on the Script (written by [Cirque du] Soleil Moore, aka the allusive Esmiss Esmoore). (view spoiler)[Off course;; Esmoore == Steven Moore, the greatest author of wicked excellent perfect awesome literary guidebooks evah!!! Word, bro!!! (hide spoiler)]
You could be forgiven for thinking that David Mitchell had written all three works of metafiction. Some conjuring trick! No need to split the royalties.
It’s a black comedy, perhaps even a black magic comedy. It’s a prank, a funfair, a carnival, a circus. There’s even a maze and a labyrinth. It’s fun, it’s playful. It's Rabelaisian. As has been said on GR before:
"A work of art needs no other justification to exist than the sheer joy of the human imagination at play."
There's a Feeling I Get When I Look to the West
There’s some serious stuff, of course.
It involves the Eastern perspective on the West. Some of it is spiritual (mainly Buddhist), some economic, some political, some cultural.
Traditionally, Mitchell has been very pro-East. However, as the world globalises, he seems to have become more equivocal (at least in relation to economic and political power). It doesn’t matter what complexion power has:
"Shanghai's aura is the colour of money and power. Its emails can shut down factories in Detroit, denude Australia of its iron ore, strip Zimbabwe of its rhino horn, pump the Dow Jones full of either steroids or financial sewage."
In a Tree by the Brook, There's a Songbird Who Sings
And there’s some stuff about love. There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold...Holly Sykes. Like us, she's a mortal human temporal, a bone clock. She falls in love several times. She has a daughter and a grand-daughter. But for a moment, she is a Woman in the Dunes, looking out to the Dusk as it approaches.
Mitchell’s story surrounds and cocoons her. It transports her through life and this adventure and this tale. At the end, she can’t quite bring herself to say goodbye, nor can the author, nor can I:
"I'm feeling erased myself, fading away into an invisible woman. For one voyage to begin, another voyage must come to an end, sort of."
After all the high jinks, there is an acceptance of mortality, not with resignation, but with grace. Life is what we do on Earth. If it exists, Heaven can wait. Memories can't wait, nor can fiction. Still, whether or not this voyage has ended, I’m certain another one will soon begin. Sort of.
"The Bone Clocks" (disambiguation)(From Winkipaedia, the free encyclopaedia)
The Bone Clocks may refer to:
* The Bone Clocks (novel), a 2014 novel by David Mitchell; or
* The Bone Clocks (film), a 2017 film based on the 2014 novel, produced by the Wachowski Siblings and directed by Tom Tykwer after the Siblings' epic space opera, Jupiter Rising.
This page was last modified on 13 October 2016 at 11:43.
This is a still photo of the inside of a kinetic sculpture ("Artifact" by Gregory Barsamian) at MONA, Hobart, January, 2014 (It shows the inside of a mind through a window in the skull. An internal strobe light flashed on and off rapidly, so I was very lucky to get such a clear picture.)
David Mitchell on his 5 favorite Japanese novels
Invitation to a Burial
Of the first
For the Want of An Editor
Is this work
What if I
Train of thought?
Well, I hope
Come to nought.
Let’s see if
Can be bought!
Hugo Queues and Pees
[Short Shriftfest for Gilbert Adair]
Meanwhile, in the queue
At the Buried Bishop, Hugo
Rhymes Sartre, Bart and Barthes.
Afterwards in Bed
Shall I compare thee
To a sordid, low-budget
French feature fillum?
A Moment in Love
If just one moment
Could last an eternity,
I would choose this hug.
Upon Coming to the End of the Novel, Sort Of
Through my tears,
I see a pair of blurry
The Beatles - "Being for the Benefit of Mr.Kite"
"In this way, David Mitchell will challenge the WORLD!'
Keith Jarrett - "My Wild Irish Rose"
Led Zeppelin - "Stairway to Heaven"
Talking Heads - "I Zimbra"
George Harrison - "Devil's Radio"
Robyn Hitchcock - "Devil's Radio"
Luna - "We're Both Confused"
[For Readers with Disappointed Expectorations]
"I thought I knew [his] game
I miss [him] just the same."
Luna - "Bewitched"
[Dedicated to Holly Sykes]
"Her sleep is troubled
Her face will twitch
She wakes up angry
And I'm bewitched."
Notes are private!
Sep 25, 2014
Sep 30, 2014
Dec 26, 2013
Oct 25, 2011
My Sunken Book Review
My real review, my Sunken Book Review, complete with unreliable Maps and Legends (not to mention Narrators), is here:
http://www.g My Sunken Book Review
My real review, my Sunken Book Review, complete with unreliable Maps and Legends (not to mention Narrators), is here:
Only go there if you are a child who likes to be spoiled.
It's like a treasure hunt in a secret room.
Or a pirate ship laden with booty.
The Little People have tried unsuccessfully to sink it without trace.
They managed to sink it, but I have traced it again.
My Superficial Book Review
Have you ever been intoxicated by a book?
I've had so much to think that, now, I still don't know whether I'm slurring my words or swirling my worlds.
Only time will tell. Or Tengo.
This might make me sound like a lunatic, but don't the moons look magnificent tonight?
And, by the way, your hair is beautiful.
It's true, it's not just make believe.
I didn't make it up. Or if I did, I promise to make it up to you.
I know how to tell a phony from the real thing.
I can tell the difference between the medium and the message.
So, well done. We two are one. We, too, are one.
My reading notes are here:
A Metafictitious Review That Could Have Been Written in the Land of Questions
"As a story, the work is put together in an exceptionally interesting way and it carries the reader along to the very end, but when it comes to the question of what is an air chrysalis, or who are the Little People, we are left in a pool of mysterious question marks.
"This may well be the author's intention, but many readers are likely to take this lack of clarification as a sign of 'authorial laziness'.
"While this may be fine for a debut work, if the author intends to have a long career as a writer, in the near future she may well need to explain her deliberately cryptic posture."
"You could pick it apart completely if you wanted to. But the story itself has real power: it draws you in.
"The overall plot is a fantasy, but the descriptive detail is incredibly real. The balance between the two is excellent.
"I don’t know if words like “originality” or “inevitability” fit here, and I suppose I might agree if someone insisted it’s not at that level, but finally, after you work your way through the thing, with all its faults, it leaves a real impression—it gets to you in some strange, inexplicable way that may be a little disturbing."
"If You Can't Understand It Without An Explanation, You Can't Understand It With An Explanation."
"It was probably Chekhov who said that the novelist is not someone who answers questions but someone who asks them."
Haiku for the Land of Q:
Here is an assortment of haiku inspired (or, if lacking inspiration, stimulated) by "1Q84".
Please add your contributions and improvements in the comments.
And don't forget to read the interview at the foot of the haiku.
Yo La Tengo (HaiQ)
Remember your hand,
How it held mine so firmly.
Now we are grown up.
Sonic Youth (HaiQ)
Under the two moons.
Aomame, Tengo, Q.
My father collects
NHK subscription fees,
So I can teach math.
Come, let us watch the
Sketch birds, moons and cats.
Laura Nyro (HaiQ)
So surry on down.
There'll be lots of time into
Which to disappear.
The Strokes (HaiQ)
A massage table.
I prick the back of your neck.
Your wife will thank me.
Animal Collective (HaiQ)
You should see my house.
There's not much fancy in it,
Just my girls and spouse.
Lou Reed (HaiQ)
This time of year,
You and I should fall in love.
Sleep beneath two moons.
LCD Soundsystem (HaiQ)
Let all your friends know:
Daft Punk, playing at my house,
Little People free.
Can't stop until we achieve
New York Dolls (HaiQ)
Patti Smith (HaiQ)
I am out of place,
Out of the ordinary,
And now, out of time.
A View from the Window (HaiQ)
A large cat licks its belly,
Shaded by the tree.
New-Fangled Angle (HaiQ)
Tengo's shiny smooth
Instrument achieves frequent
Large misshapen head.
His legs bent like cucumbers.
Unkempt frizzy hair.
Fuka-Eri I (HaiQ)
I could barely move
Eri climbed on top of me
Kumi Adachi (HaiQ)
The smiley face shirt.
The hooting owl in the woods.
Your thick pubic hair.
Card carrying gay,
I got a woman pregnant
Once, bang, a bull's eye.
Fuka-Eri II (HaiQ)
Ample breasts revealed
She closed her eyes in rapture
Her lips spoke no words.
Tengo's Recipe I (HaiQ)
Celery, ginger, mushrooms
Tengo's Recipe II (HaiQ)
Tofu, miso soup,
Cauliflower, rice pilaf,
Green bean, wakame.
The Brisbane Airtrain takes many Japanese tourists from the Gold Coast to the Brisbane International Airport.
This is a transcript of a recent conversation with a middle-aged Japanese man between South Bank Station and the Airport during the Brisbane Writers Festival.
The man was wearing an "1Q84" t-shirt, he looked like Murakami, and spoke like Murakami, but he vehemently denied that he was Murakami at the end of the conversation.
He was contradicted by his companion, a quiet but very assertive black cat.
IG: There’s been some suggestion that the character Aomame is similar to Lisbeth Sanders.
HM: That will always happen, because there aren’t many role models for women capable of violence.
IG: Aomame has a particular knack, so to speak, for kicking men in the balls.
HM: Realistically speaking, it’s impossible for women to protect themselves against men without resorting to a kick in the testicles. Most men are bigger and stronger than women. A swift testicle attack is a woman’s only chance.
IG: So it’s a conscious tactic.
HM: A strategy. Mao Zedong said it best. You find your opponent’s weak point and make the first move with a concentrated attack. It’s the only chance a guerilla force has of defeating a regular army.
IG: So, the message is “go for the balls”.
HM: Either that, or make sure you’ve got a gun.
IG: Which is interesting, because later in the book, you give Aomame a gun. Why did you do that?
HM: I wasn’t going to, but her friend Ayumi, the policewoman, said something that suggested the idea to me. She was talking about the Steve McQueen film, “The Getaway”, and she mentioned “a wad of bills and a shotgun”.
IG: And Ayumi says that Aomame looks like Faye Dunaway holding a machine gun.
HM: Yes, but more importantly, Aomame says, “I don’t need a machine gun”.
IG: So I guess she wasn’t just talking about kicking guys in the balls.
HM: That’s right, I had to give her a gun.
IG: Well, Godard says, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl.”
HM: The idea goes back further than that, to Chekhov.
HM: Yes, not so much guns and girls, but guns generally.
IG: I think Tamaru gave her the gun.
HM: Yes, but he also quoted Chekhov, “Once a gun appears in a story, it has to be fired.”
IG: So the gun…
HM: Stop, I’m sorry, that would be a spoiler.
IG: Um, Tamaru is quite an interesting character. He’s the one who suggests that Aomame should read Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”.
HM: She was supposed to be in hiding for three months.
IG: So she had plenty of time on her hands.
HM: Yes, someone once said that, unless you’ve been in jail or had to hide out for a long time, you can’t read the whole of Proust.
IG: Is Proust still relevant to modern readers? How do you relate to his work?
HM: Very relevant, with one qualification. It feels like I’m experiencing someone else’s dream. Like we’re simultaneously sharing feelings. But I can’t really grasp what it means to be simultaneous. Our feelings seem extremely close, but in reality there’s a considerable gap between us.
IG: Many critics say the same about your novels.
HM: They do.
IG: How do you react to these comments?
HM: I send them a box of madeleines.
IG: Good one. This interview wouldn’t be complete without a plug for GoodReads. Do you realize you’re very popular with Good Readers?
HM: I’m very popular with most readers.
IG: Ha ha. But not Paul Bryant.
HM: Him, the one who would be a parodist!
IG: You’ve got to admit he is pretty funny.
HM: He’s no funnier than his raw material, and I am his raw material.
IG: How do you think you should respond to readers like Paul?
HM: I parody them.
HM: Yes, I’ve parodied him in “1Q84”.
IG: His review of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”?
HM: Yes, tell me what you think of this, I can even recite it by heart:
"Tengo had been all but lost in the work for some time when he looked up to find it was nearly three o’clock. Come to think of it, he hadn’t eaten lunch. He went to the kitchen, put a kettle on to boil, and ground some coffee beans. He ate a few crackers with cheese, followed those with an apple, and when the water boiled, made coffee. Drinking this from a large mug, he distracted himself with thoughts of sex with his older girlfriend. Ordinarily, he would have been doing it with her right about now. He pictured the things that he would be doing, and the things that she would be doing. He closed his eyes, turned his face against the ceiling, and released a deep sigh heavy with suggestion and possibility."“
IG: No. Nobody would think Paul Bryant wrote that.
HM: I would love to argue the point, but I’m afraid this is my stop and I’ve got to get off.
Black Cat: Miaow, too (this is a Meowlingual translation of something that sounded like "Nyaa-Nyaa").
Paul Bryant's Review of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"
Go there, read it, like it and return. ...more
Notes are private!
Oct 30, 2011
Aug 31, 2011
Feb 02, 2010
Looking For You (I Was)
I can see why some reviews detect white-washing or sugar-coating in "Just Kids", but I wanted desperately to believe the story Looking For You (I Was)
I can see why some reviews detect white-washing or sugar-coating in "Just Kids", but I wanted desperately to believe the story Patti Smith was telling about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.
Glitter in Their Eyes
Patti admits to her naivete, but I don't think she was trying to hide stuff from her kids or anything.
Nor do I think she closed off her emotions about her past.
Ultimately, the book is a love story, only the love extended over a long period, and sometimes it was requited, sometimes not.
Lots of things got in the way, sexuality for starters, drugs for main course, other partners for dessert.
But the book is about a love that they shared, and a youth that they both retained the whole of their lives, no matter what happened on the inside or the outside and no matter how poor or successful they were.
The name of the book asserts her belief that all that time they really were "just kids", those two kids that the tourists photographed soon after they first met.
About Another Boy
Although Patti reveals a lot about Robert, I think ultimately the book is her final expression of love for him.
I think it's important that she express her sugary side anyway, rather than "hide your love away".
The book might be relatively sugar-coated for our image of Patti Smith, but her sugar isn't as sickly sweet as most sleb love stories.
Memento Mori (Postscript)
One of the reasons I empathise with this book so much is my passion for Robert Mapplethorpe's photography (not to mention Patti's music, lyrics and poetry).
In March - April, 1986, I was on the Board of the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, at the time we helped to bring an exhibition of Robert's photos to Australia.
It was a time of great political and moral conservatism in Queensland.
The Board included artists and academics who feared the loss of their jobs, if they were involved in the exhibition of photography that might later be found to be obscene under our criminal laws.
Many Board Meetings in the lead up to the exhibition debated whether we should not proceed with the exhibition or remove particular images (including "Man in Polyester Suit").
I made some tentative preparations to deal with a potential criminal action against the Board Members, including getting expert evidence on Robert's artistic status.
In the end, we decided to proceed with the exhibition in an uncensored form. All images were displayed in the form submitted by the artist and the curator.
The exhibition was highly popular and no complaints were made to the Police.
No criminal prosecution occurred.
The important lesson is that we could have self-censored and lost our own freedom.
Instead, we asserted and preserved our freedom in the face of fear.
For me, Robert and Patti represent, not just the existence of freedom in the abstract, but the assertion of freedom in reality.
They more than earned the right to their love.
"Your ancestors salute you." ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 11, 2011
Jan 01, 2004
Aug 17, 2004
In Memory of Double Bills
I saw a lot of double bills in the heyday of independent cinemas.
They weren’t just two current release films that had been pa In Memory of Double Bills
I saw a lot of double bills in the heyday of independent cinemas.
They weren’t just two current release films that had been packaged to eke out some extra dollars for the exhibitor. They were carefully curated films that shared a theme and formed part of a whole season of similarly matched films.
Usually, the season was promoted by a poster that illustrated each film with a fifty word capsule review. For many years, I kept these posters in a folder, at least until I got married and had to start hiding what I hoarded.
The double bills themselves were where I learned about the greats of film culture. Hitchcock, Ford, Godard, Truffaut, Woody Allen, etc.
They whetted an appetite that continues to this day.
The thing about a double bill is that the films could be enjoyed individually, but they also fed meaning to each other.
One of my favourite matches was Antonioni’s “The Passenger” and Polanski’s “The Tenant”, both of which involved a character adopting the persona of another character and then embarking on a journey or travelling under the guise of the other character.
Both films benefited from the juxtaposition, and it made for great discussions between friends when you emerged from the cinema.
Almost 20 years later, I was sitting next to a very appealing, strong, independent, older woman at a film industry lunch, and I told her this story.
She smiled and said, “That was me. I curated those seasons.”
She was then a co-owner of one of the most successful chains of independent cinemas. Unfortunately, her chain didn’t survive the multiplex, nor did double bills, as far as I know.
Film culture is the poorer for it. It can’t just be learned from books, it must be learned in front of a screen, preferably a big one.
Why Don’t You Show Me?
I’ve started with this diversion, because, even though this is my second reading of “Cloud Atlas” and the first was well before I learned there was to be a film, the novel always struck me as filmic.
If it wasn’t made to be filmed (however challenging the prospect), it seemed to be influenced by film, particularly genre film, and possibly the sort of double bills that I had consumed.
I love the fact that David Mitchell’s works ooze film and cultural literacy, not to mention cross-cultural diversity.
It’s one of the things I hope doesn’t disappear as audiences become less genre and art form diverse.
Just as James Joyce alluded to the Classics in “Ulysses”, many modern novelists allude to diverse art forms.
If we restrict our interest to only one or a few, we might not “get” the allusions. And not getting them, we might not pay sufficient attention.
To this extent, I'd argue that “Cloud Atlas” isn't so much a difficult novel, as it just requires an attentive reader.
I’ve Tried and I’ve Tried and I’m Still Mystified
I originally rated the novel three stars on the basis of a reading several years ago, before I joined Good Reads.
Having re-read it with a view to a review, I’ve upgraded my review to five stars. So what happened?
When I finished my re-read, I had decided to rate it four stars.
There were things I still didn’t get, even though they were there on the page in front of me.
As I collated my notes, things started to drop into place and I started to get things, at least I think I did.
My initial reservation was that there were six stories juxtaposed in one book, and I wasn’t convinced that they related to each other adequately.
If together they were supposed to constitute a patchwork quilt, some patches jarred, others weren’t stitched together adequately. I couldn’t see the relationship. It wasn’t manifesting itself to me.
I didn’t think Mitchell had done enough to sew the parts together. I couldn’t understand why the six films on the same bill had been collected together. I didn’t know what the glue was. There was no bond. They were all just there.
If they were supposed to be connected, I couldn’t see the connection.
Who was to blame: Mitchell or me? Was anyone to blame, or did I just need to exert myself a bit harder?
In a way, this review is the story of how I exerted myself a bit harder, got back on top and managed to give the author his due.
I'll try to discuss the novel with minimal plot spoilers. However, many of the themes revolve around aspects of the plot in the six stories.
In an effort to reduce spoilers, I’ve limited the mention of specific stories and characters.
I apologize if this detracts from your enjoyment of the review or your desire to read the novel.
”Where is the Fundamental Mystery?”
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with a mystery or the fact that a mystery might retain its status after some investigation.
Not all mysteries are intended to be worked out or revealed to all. Some things are intended to remain secret. Some things need a password or a code to unlock them. Some things just require a bit of effort or charm or both.
The thing about “Cloud Atlas” is that it consists of six quite disparate stories (a “Cloud Atlas Sextet” in its own right), five of which have been broken into two.
The result is 11 sections, ten of which surround the unbroken sixth story in the middle.
Without disclosing the titles of the stories, they follow the following timeline:
• The present (?);
• A highly corporatized future; and
• A post apocalyptic future (the middle story).
Once you’ve got half-way, the book works back towards 1850 in reverse order.
Getting your head around this structure is the first task. The second is to work out the relationship between the stories. The third is to work out how to pull the whole thing together into one integrated whole.
Choosing a Structural Metaphor
The structure has given rise to metaphors like Russian or Matryoshka dolls or Chinese boxes.
Each successive story is nested or nestled within the next. [One character’s letters survive the burglary of a hotel room, because they are nestled in a copy of Gideon’s Bible.]
Another way to think of it is to pretend that you have opened up six separate books to the middle pages, then sat them on top of each other, starting with the oldest on the bottom, and then bound them together, so now hopefully you’ve got one idea of the structure.
A third way to look at the structure metaphorically is to see the past as embracing the present, and the present embracing the future.
Thus, the past has within it the potential of the present, and the present has within it the potential of the future.
This metaphor raises the second question of the relationship between the layers.
Does one determine the next? Does the past determine the future? What is the relationship or connection?
Where does Mitchell and his novel stand on the continuum between Determinism and Free Will?
Apart from the question of how all 11 sections contribute to an integrated whole, there is a narrative connectedness between the 11 sections.
Characters or objects from one section reappear in others as important narrative elements. In a way, they are like screws or pegs that lock one part of a piece of modular furniture into another, so that the whole doesn’t dissemble.
Various characters (in five out of the six stories) have a comet-shaped birthmark between their shoulder-blade and collarbone.
They also share other personal characteristics, despite not necessarily sharing genders, and there is a suggestion that the five characters with birthmarks might be reincarnations of the same soul.
From a narrative point of view:
• the Journals in Story 1 are found in Story 2.
• The Letters in Story 2 are written to a character in Story 3.
• The music in Story 2 is heard in Story 3. (When Luisa Rey hears the music, she feels that she might have been present when it was composed, hence the implication that she might be a reincarnation of the composer, Robert Frobisher.)
• Story 3 is submitted to a character in Story 4 for publication.
• The character in Story 4 writes a memoir that is filmed, and watched by the character in Story 5.
• An interview with the character in Story 5 is recorded and becomes the “holy book” or “scripture” for a post-apocalyptic religion in Story 6 (even though it is an audio-visual work, not a written work, embodied on an “orison”).
Eternal Recurrence in and of Time
Time is a silent partner in the narrative of the novel.
We start in the past and move forward into the future, before reversing or heading backwards (or forwards into the past?), so that eventually we come full circle:
"Time’s Arrow became Time’s Boomerang."
In this sense, the narrative is revolutionary, if not necessarily gimmicky.
We must assume that the cycle continues to roll or revolve in this fashion ad infinitum.
In Nietzsche’s words, it is an "Eternal Recurrence":
"Everything becomes and recurs eternally - escape is impossible! - Supposing we could judge value, what follows? The idea of recurrence as a selective principle, in the service of strength (and barbarism!!)": Nietzsche
Culture and Civilization, whether good or evil, positive or negative, sophisticated or barbaric, are conveyed through time by people.
Human beings are vessels through which human nature passes into the future, from the past via the present (and vice versa, it seems).
Each of us carries aspects of human nature, ideas, beliefs, biases, prejudices, goals, ambitions, aspirations, appetites, hunger, thirst, desire, the need for more, the inability to be satisfied, the inability to be appeased.
Human nature is concrete, permanent, eternal, continuous, recurring.
Individuals are separate, discrete, temporary, dispensable, ephemeral.
Like an oak tree, we are born, we grow, we die.
A body is just a vehicle for human nature (within a family, its DNA).
You can see that, if each of us is a vehicle, then when we pass the baton onto the next runner, we (or the human nature that we carried) is reincarnated in our successor.
If our characteristics continue, they succeed, instead of succumbing.
In this sense, a comet birthmark is just the mark or marque or ink or stain that we pass onto our successor as evidence of the eternal chain of which each of us is but a link.
You Can’t Stop Me, Because I am Determined
It’s arguable that there is a determinism or fatalism going on here.
However, I think Mitchell acknowledges Free Will as well, again, both in a positive and a negative sense.
Much of the novel is concerned with the Nietzschean will to power, the ascent to power, the acquisition and abuse of power, the use of power to victimize and oppress.
The character, Alberto Grimaldi, the CEO of the Corporation Seaboard Power (surely the name is well chosen) argues:
"Power. What do we mean? ‘The ability to determine another man’s luck.’...
"Yet how is it some men attain mastery over others while the vast majority live and die as minions, as livestock? The answer is a holy trinity.
"First: God-given gifts of charisma.
"Second: the discipline to nurture these gifts to maturity, for though humanity’s topsoil id fertile with talent, only one seed in ten thousand will ever flower – for want of discipline…
"Third: the will to power.
"This is the enigma at the core of the various destinies of men. What drives some to accrue power where the majority of their compatriots lose, mishandle, or eschew power? Is it addiction? Wealth? Survival? Natural selection? I propose these are all pretexts and results, not the root cause.
"The only answer can be ‘There is no ‘Why’. This is our nature. ‘Who’ and ‘What’ run deeper than ‘Why?’ "
While human nature shapes us, I don’t think Mitchell is positing a completely Determinist cosmos.
What people do impacts on their Fate.
Some rise to the top as Supermen or Ubermenschen, some fall to the bottom as Downstrata or Untermenschen.
Some Men are predators, others victims. Some rise, some fall. In between, some are “half-fallen”, Mitchell calls them the “Diagonal People”.
Like the character Isaac Sachs, their tragic flaw is that they are “too cowardly to be a warrior, but not enough of a coward to lie down and roll over like a good doggy.”
Virtue Incarnate (or Reincarnate?)
Mitchell’s six stories feature heroes (of sorts), five of whom are or might be reincarnations of the same soul.
Each of them has the courage to fight against evil or power or oppression or cruelty.
They are idealists, liberals, [affirmative] activists, boat rockers, shit-stirrers, young hacks, non-conformists, dissidents, rebels, revolutionaries, rogues, rascals, “picaros” (the Spanish word from which the word “picaresque” derives), messiahs and naughty boys.
They eschew duplicity, dishonesty and falseness, they seek authenticity, honesty and truth:
"Truth is the gold."
"Truth is singular. Its ‘versions’ are mistruths."
"The true true is presher’n’rarer’n diamonds."
They oppose power, corruption, and lies, tyranny and mutation. [They must be fans of New Order and Blue Oyster Cult.]
Talkin’ About a Revolution
Our heroes create messages and symbols to overcome tyranny: journals, epistles, memoirs, novels, music, films, video confessions, “orisons” (a word that actually means “prayers”), scripts, catechisms, declarations, even new post-apocalyptic languages.
Like hippies ("the love and peace generation"), they oppose mainstream culture with their own counter-cultural artifacts, as if the reincarnated souls, the Grateful Living, are perpetuating the Grateful Dead.
The eponymous artwork, the "Cloud Atlas Sextet", is composed by Robert Frobisher, a bisexual wunderkind:
"Cloud Atlas holds my life, is my life, now I’m a spent firework; but at least I’ve been a firework."
Just like Guy Fawkes, it’s explosive and revolutionary.
Frobisher composes the work while engaged as an amenuensis for the older composer Vyvyan Ayrs, who believes that the role of the musician or artist is to “make civilization ever more resplendent”.
Perhaps ingenuously, for one of the reincarnates, Frobisher counters:
“How vulgar, this hankering after immortality, how vain, how false. Composers are mere scribblers of cave paintings. One writes music because winter is eternal and because, if one didn’t, the wolves and blizzards would be at one’s throat all the sooner.”
His own composition resounds throughout the entire novel. It also describes the central metafictional device that Mitchell uses to construct his fiction:
"A sextet for overlapping soloists: piano, clarinet, ‘cello, flute, oboe, and violin, each in its own language of key, scale and colour. In the first set, each solo is interrupted by its successor: in the second, each interruption is recontinued, in order. Revolutionary or gimmicky? Shan’t know until it’s finished, and by then it’ll be too late, but it’s the first thing I think of when I wake, and the last thing I think of before I fall asleep, even if J is in my bed. She should understand, the artist lives in two worlds."
Artists might live in a private world and a public world, but there is a sense in which they also live both in the present and in the future.
An Atlas of Clouds
At a more metaphorical level, the Atlas contains maps of the human nature that Mitchell describes.
The Clouds carry the vagaries of human nature across time, encircling the world on their journey, obscuring and frustrating our aspirations and desires:
"Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides... I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life's voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn't I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds."
Revolutionary or Gimmicky?
Mitchell directly asks us to consider whether his own work is gimmicky.
Superficially, it is, but what finally convinced me that the novel deserves five stars is a conviction that his subject matter and his metafictional devices are genuinely and effectively stitched together.
It wasn’t easy to come by this realization. I had to work on it, but it was worth it.
Men and Women and Eroticism
Women play a significant role as both characters and subject matter in the novel.
To a certain extent, they represent an alternative to the corrupt corporate culture symbolized by Seaboard Power (even though its Head of Publicity is a woman):
"Men invented money. Women invented mutual aid."
There is a sense in which men [males] are driven by the hunger, the acquisitiveness, at the heart of the novel’s concerns, far more so than women:
”Yay, Old Un’s Smart mastered sicks, miles, seeds an’ made miracles ord’nary, but it din’t master one thing, nay, a hunger in the hearts o’ humans, yay, a hunger for more…Oh, more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power, yay.”
Still, men and women still get into bed with each other, and the sexual encounters in the novel are usually either entertaining or slyly erotic, no matter how economically they are described:
”Accepted this proxy fig leaf cum olive branch and our lovemaking that night was almost affectionate.”
”Our sex was joyless, graceless, and necessarily improvised, but it was an act of the living. Stars of sweat on Hae-Joo’s back were his gift to me, and I harvested them on my tongue.”
[For all the talk of comet-shaped birthmarks, this view of sex as an act of the living will stay with me for the rest of my life, even when I can no longer lift myself up on my elbows.]
"Eva, Because her name is a synonym for temptation...all my life, sophisticated idiotic women have taken it upon themselves to understand me, to cure me, but Eva knows I'm terra incognita and explores me unhurriedly...Because her laughter spurts through a blowhole in the top of her head and sprays all over the morning...here she is, in these soundproofed chambers of my heart."
And isn’t this exactly what life is all about?
To be understood, to be cured, to be explored (unhurriedly), to be laughed at, to be sprayed all over, to be in love, in the soundproofed chambers of your heart.
David Mitchell, this image alone deserves five stars.
Jordi Savall - "Por Que Llorax Blanca Nina"(Sephardic Jewish music from Sarajevo)"
This music is playing in the Lost Chord record store in the novel.
Tracey Chapman – "Talkin’ About a Revolution"
"Don’t you know
They're talkin' about a revolution.
It sounds like a whisper.
Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share."
Bob Dylan - "Shelter From the Storm"
'Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."
Joni Mitchell - "Both Sides Now"
I've looked at clouds from both sides now...
+Post 125 ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 23, 2012
Oct 09, 2012
Feb 23, 2011
Jan 01, 2001
Swimming Against the Stream
This was my second reading of “The Master and Margarita”, although the first must have been in the mid-70’s.
I had vivid mem Swimming Against the Stream
This was my second reading of “The Master and Margarita”, although the first must have been in the mid-70’s.
I had vivid memories of the first reading, although if you had asked me to describe them, I wouldn’t have been able to. All I can recall is something fluid and magical.
I hesitate to use the term “Magical Realism”, because I wasn’t aware of it at the time and, besides, I dispute whether the term applies to Bulgakov’s work.
My experience this time was quite different. It was a new translation, and I was initially skeptical about its merits.
Ultimately, I think I was unduely critical of the translation. At the beginning, I read, almost seeking fault in the text. I did find it, too, stiff and wooden expressions, but after a while I willed myself to overlook them.
If I continued to swim against the stream, I would never let this work win me over again. I stopped struggling, and let the stream take me to the source of its meaning.
After a while, I stopped noticing that the carpet was frayed or that the paint on the wall was chipped. It started to feel like a lounge room again and I got comfortable on my couch.
And so I entered the dream world that is “TM&M” and started to take it all in again.
All of My Heart
At its heart, “TM&M” is a satire about the Soviet Union at the peak of its oppression in the 1930’s.
Stalin ascended to power in 1927 and immediately took drastic steps to drag the Soviet economy into the twentieth century.
Collectivisation saw major inroads into personal and creative freedom, while the rest of the world looked on, not without its own problems, moving towards a second great war.
The arts were expected to reinforce the culture of Socialism, and Socialist Realism was imposed on artists.
The formal radicalism that had flowered at the same time as the Revolution was clipped and discarded.
Only, one Mikhail Bulgakov found that Socialist Realism was not the appropriate vehicle for the tales he wanted to tell.
Between 1928 and his death in 1940, Bulgakov started to construct his story his own way.
He was capable of descriptive realism, but he had also mastered the fantasy stylings of fairy tales and the parable structure of the Bible.
These styles flew around his head and poured onto the page, only to be rejected, altered, rearranged, burnt, rewritten, reconstructed and published in different iterations.
His progress was plagued by both institutional and personal censorship.
Still, the structure and substance of what he wanted to say was firmly etched in his mind.
After one spate of burning, when he sat down to rewrite it, his wife asked how he could remember it.
According to the translators, his reply was, “I know it by heart.”
Bulgakov died at the age of 49, before he could see his work published.
He gave this work all of his heart, he committed it to memory and then into writing, so that those around him could have the heart required to change what they saw around them.
Tearing the Fabric of Socialist Society
The Soviet Union of the 1930’s was supposed to be a product of Scientific Socialism and Historical Materialism.
The Materialist conception of History predicted and dictated that Socialism would one day overthrow Capitalism in each country.
However, the timing in each country was not certain, which left scope for the subjective intervention of a Revolutionary Vanguard.
The more premature the Revolution, the more despotic would be the measures required to retain power against Counter-Revolutionary forces.
The firm hand of Stalin did not waver from the task, indeed he seemed to thrive on it.
He turned society on itself. He turned child against parent, sibling against sibling, friend against friend, lover against lover, neighbor against neighbor, student against teacher, writer against artist.
In the process, he destroyed the fabric of society, the threads that hold it together. Love, trust, respect, truth.
In their place grew fear, hatred, suspicion, paranoia, falsity, propaganda, opportunism, careerism, cynicism.
Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, the security forces that preserved the State were responsible for the greatest insecurity in the people it was designed to serve.
Normality in a Normative State
Social and political norms were imposed from above by the State.
Normality wasn’t spontaneous, it was State-sanctioned.
The normal ceased to be individual and became a dictate of the State.
The normal was captive to the social norms of the collective.
The ordinary was subjected to order and became “ordernary”.
Totalitarianism destroyed things of ordinary beauty by turning them into the mundane.
The State Defies the Imagination
Bulgakov couldn't help but point out that the Emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes.
He didn’t just do this in his work. His vocal stance made many enemies in the Socialist Political and Cultural Establishment, and it’s a wonder he didn’t simply vanish before his premature death.
However, his enemies inflicted the greatest damage possible on an author by denying him the right to publish and therefore denying him the lifeblood that every artist needs, an audience.
Thus, Bulgakov died a broken man, and potentially with a broken heart.
Yet, he had the foresight to make his own plight the implicit subject of his novel.
The Master of the title is much like Bulgakov personally. Margarita is much like his third wife, the wife at the time of his death.
Equally, the Moscow that he wrote of was much like the Moscow of the 30’s.
The State was a Totalitarian Dictatorship that had destroyed civil society and turned people upon themselves.
Truth was manipulated. People hear what is supposed to be the truth, and if they have the courage, proclaim, “That cannot be.”
What they hear doesn’t sound right. So life under Totalitarianism, life in a Totalitarian State defies the imagination.
Imagination Defies the State
Bulgakov recognized that the converse was also true.
Whatever the personal cost, it takes an act of the imagination, an act of fantasy to defy a Totalitarian State.
Totalitarianism wants control of your mind. Therefore, you can only defy Totalitarianism in your mind.
To defy it otherwise is to put your life at risk. To do so inevitably means that you will vanish or disappear.
Ultimately, this is why Bulgakov’s story is structured as a fantasy or a fairy tale or a parable.
It is as powerful as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984”.
Even if the man, the author, is broken, the power of his fantasy, the product of his imagination cannot be broken, at least once it has escaped captivity (or destruction) and been published.
As the novel states, perhaps optimistically, “you cannot burn a manuscript.”
The power of Bulgakov’s fantasy, its fantastic narrative structure (in both senses of the word “fantastic”) was what allowed him to memorise and reconstruct it and preserve it for posterity.
The fantasy is constructed with the vividness of a fairy tale that can be learned and told orally, so that its outline cannot be forgotten.
It can be reconstructed after consecutive burnings.
Its memorability constituted its greatest danger, the greatest threat to the State.
It was engraved in and out of the Soul of Man under Socialism.
It originates as and becomes and remains an act of the collective imagination, the collective consciousness.
There, it cannot be destroyed.
This is the secret of its power and its danger to the State.
The Power of Love
The Master and Margarita are at the heart of Bulgakov’s story, and theirs is a love story.
It would be tempting to comment about the redemptive power of Love.
However, I think that might miss the point.
Bulgakov’s point is that Love is a natural quality of civil society.
Love is one of the primary qualities that suffers under Totalitarianism.
"TM&M" is not so much a story about the redemptive power of Love, it is about the rescue of Love, and the restoration of Love to its natural place in Society.
There can be no Society, no Family, no Individuals without Love.
If you quash Love, you destroy Society, the Family and the Individual.
And this is what Stalin had achieved in the Soviet Union under Communism.
Ironically, Socialism was conceived as a Political Philosophy of Fraternal Love.
Just as it was inspired by Liberty and Equality, two values promoted by the French Revolution, it valued Fraternity, a value that is less understood and discussed.
Fraternity promotes the value not just of the Individual, but of the Individual in Society.
It is concerned with the coexistence of Individuals and the relationship between them.
In this sense, it is compatible with the social teachings of Jesus Christ, when divorced from the spiritual and religious content.
"Cowardice is the Most Terrible of Vices"
In a way, Bulgakov contrasted Christ and Stalin, Christianity and Socialism (in practice), through the novel written by the Master.
In 1930’s Moscow, the Totalitarian State went so far as to deny the existence not just of God, but of Christ.
Whether or not you believe Jesus was the Son of God, it’s arguable that Jesus lived and that Pontius Pilate reluctantly had him killed on behalf of Caesar.
Pilate personally seems to have questioned whether he should be killed, but he lacked the courage to allow him to live.
In ordering his crucifixion, he almost killed off a philosophy of Fraternal Love, just as Stalin later destroyed faith in Socialism by attacking the Fraternalism at its heart.
Pilate lacked the courage to defy Caesar. Likewise, few stood up to Stalin and survived.
In this sense, both Pilate and the Soviet Union prove Bulgakov’s assertion that "Cowardice is the most terrible of vices."
Many Soviets were simply ignorant of the truth, whether willfully or not.
It is difficult to make them culpable in a Society where they might have disappeared, if they poked their head above the crowd.
Bulgakov reserves his greatest scorn for those who did know the Truth.
In his eyes, there is no greater coward than someone who knows the Truth and denies it.
A Flight of Fantasy
Ultimately, in order to seek the Truth and to find Love, the Master and Margarita must fly away from Moscow.
To the State, they constitute a flight risk. It takes the power of flight to liberate them from Totalitarianism.
It takes a flight of fantasy to escape. They have to flee to be free.
Again, this message is at the heart of the danger of Bulgakov’s tale.
The Soviet Union could not tolerate a message that suggested that salvation might be elsewhere, whether on Earth or in Heaven.
For those who remain, the salvation of the Master and Margarita is a folly.
Yet, each full moon, the researcher Ivan Homeless can see that it is the world of Socialism that is a folly.
In the world of the Master and Margarita, in the world of Love, the luminary Moon rules and plays, while on Earth, in the world of Socialism, lunacy prevails.
Falling in Love
It’s interesting that the character who offers the Lovers an escape route is Professor Woland, the Satan character.
While I might have misread Bulgakov’s intentions, it seems that Woland and Satan don’t so much represent Evil as Free Will, the ability to make up your own mind, notwithstanding the dictates of the State or Religion.
This is perhaps the relevance of Bulgakov’s Epigraph from Goethe's "Faust", in which Mephistopheles says:
"I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good."
There is a suggestion that there is only one force or power, and that it consists of both good and evil.
Life therefore is a product of the internal dialectical operation of good and evil.
Each of us can only hope that the product of the interaction is Love, that our Fall (whether graceful or not, whether a Fall from Grace or towards it) is to fall in Love, as it was for the Master and Margarita.
If you fall, may you fall into the arms of Love.
And when you do, may you remember the Master and Margarita. And the man who died at age 49 trying to tell us the Truth.
The Master's Wish for Margarita
We kiss with our words
They are the lips of our minds
Which have become one.
Buzzcocks - "Ever Fallen in Love?" (Live at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, Manchester in June, 1978):
Magazine - "A Song From Under The Floorboards":
Robyn Hitchcock - "Madonna of the Wasps":
Robyn Hitchcock - "Birdshead":
Robyn Hitchcock - "Arms of Love":
R.E.M. - "Arms of Love [Robyn Hitchcock Cover]":
ABC - "All Of My Heart":
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - "The Power Of Love":
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - "Two Tribes":
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - "Relax":
Rolling Stones - "Sympathy For The Devil":
Rolling Stones - "Sympathy For The Devil [Live in St Louis on the 1998 Bridges to Babylon Tour]":
Notes are private!
Sep 04, 2012
Mar 07, 2011
Original Review: February 22, 2011
Songs of Fascination
Murakami sings to me of fascination. I still haven't worked out why.
I could analyse the sensatio Original Review: February 22, 2011
Songs of Fascination
Murakami sings to me of fascination. I still haven't worked out why.
I could analyse the sensation until it died on the operating table.
Or I could focus on just keeping the sensation alive.
Or, somewhere in between, I could speculate that it's because Murakami sits over the top of modern culture like a thin gossamer web, intersecting with and touching everything ever so lightly, subtly expropriating what he needs, bringing it back to his writer's desk or table, and spinning it into beautiful, haunting tales that fail to stir some, but obsess others like literary heroin.
Sins of Fascination
Pending a more formal review, below is a song that I pieced together by way of dedication to the book and Paul Bryant's parody.
The song careers all over the surface of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" and "Paperback Writer", so I probably owe them and you an apology, but it seemed like an apt way to celebrate Murakami at the time.
As these things often do, it emerged in a thread on a review of this novel.
In the cold hard light of retrospect, I don't know what I was thinking.
Nor can I remember what I was drinking when I thought it up.
However, if any one ever creates or releases a soundtrack to Murakami's novels, I'll play it every day of my life.
Or as Paul jokingly suggested, there might even be a musical in there somewhere. (For someone else, maybe even Murakami, to create.)
"Sister Feelings Call" (or "Wind-Up Bird and Black Cat") (A Sonic Chronicle)
"I once had a bird or should I say she once had me.
She had a passing resemblance to Halle Berry.
She showed me her room, and said
"Isn't it good, this neighbourhood?"
She asked me to stay and said she'd written a book.
It took her years to write, would I take a look.
I read a few pages of parody and started to laugh.
It was then that she told me she was only one half.
She had a twin sister called Sally she'd like me to meet.
She lived in an alley at the end of the street.
She told me she worked in the morning and went off to bed.
I left her room, a brand new idea in my head.
When I got there, that alley was dead at both ends,
Just me, a black cat and a few of its friends."
Paul Bryant's Review
Paul Bryant has written an excellent parody of Murakami in his review of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle".
It absolutely nailed Haruki Murakami's writing style in this book:
"The History of Love"
While reading Nicole Krauss' "The History of Love", I came across a passage that called out for the Paul Bryant approach and leant itself to a retort to Paul's parody.
This often happens once you have been touched by the magic hand of Paul Bryant.
His reviews set the bar high, but invite you to jump.
I urge you to read "The History of Love" if you haven't already:
A Parody in the Style of Paul Bryant's Review of "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle"
I fell into bed wearing my clothes minus my underwear.
It was past midnight when the telephone rang.
I awoke from a dream in which I was teaching Haruki Murakami how to write satire.
Sometimes I have nightmares. But this wasn’t one.
We were in my club, Dusty Springfield was playing, live.
Later no one could remember having seen her, and because it was impossible to understand how Dusty Springfield would have been playing at my club, no one believed me. But I saw her.
A siren sounded in the distance. Just as Dusty opened her mouth to sing, the dream broke off and I woke up in the darkness of my bedroom, the rain pitter-pattering on the glass.
The telephone continued to ring. Haruki, no doubt. I would have ignored it if I hadn’t been afraid he’d call the police.
I threw off the sheets and stumbled across the floor, banging into a table leg.
“Hello?” I shouted into the phone, but the line was dead.
A moment later the phone rang again. “OK, OK,” I said, picking up the receiver. “No need to wake up the whole building.” There was a silence on the other end. I said, “Haruki?”
“Is this Mr. Ian Graveski?”
I assumed it was someone trying to sell me something.
He sounded English. Like one of those guys with a microphone trying to get you to come into their 50p shop, only it’s a recording.
But the man said he wasn’t trying to sell me anything.
“My name is Paul Bryant.”
His cat was stuck on his roof. He’d called Information for the number of a roof and guttering specialist.
I told him I was retired. Paul paused. He seemed unable to believe his bad luck. He’d already called three other people and no one had answered.
“It’s pouring out here,” he said.
“OK, OK,” I said, even though I didn’t want to say it.
“I’ll have to dig up my tools.”
When I arrived, it wasn’t only a cat that was on his roof.
When I looked up, I noticed that a completely naked woman was sitting on the roof, eating a slice of thinly buttered toast.
I asked her who she was and she said she was not able to divulge this information.
She wouldn’t even divulge her name to Paul, who did not seem to be surprised that she was on his roof, sitting next to his cat.
She asked if she could come home with me in my car.
I explained that she would have to get off the roof first.
I noticed that her body was almost the same as that of my ex-wife.
She had firm but smallish breasts, and although the ladder obscured her body as she descended, I was confident that the rest of her would soon look familiar.
When we got home, I offered her my ex-wife's silk pyjamas.
But she shook her head as she slid into my bed, saying she wouldn’t need them.
It was past 3am when the telephone rang again.
I recognised the voice. It was Paul Bryant.
“My cat,” he said. “It’s still on the bloody roof.”
It was still raining, but I did not care.
"Sorry, Mr Bryant, I'm doing another house call. Besides, I'm retired."
I returned to the warmth in my bed. ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 22, 2011
Aug 01, 1999
"Shagged at Last (The Sequel)"
Written while she was still alive, but published posthumously after her death in 1982, "Shagged At Last" is the posthumo "Shagged at Last (The Sequel)"
Written while she was still alive, but published posthumously after her death in 1982, "Shagged At Last" is the posthumous sequel to Ayn Rand's greatest achievement and last work of fiction, "Atlas Shrugged" (not counting "Shagged At Last").
In this novel, she dramatizes the shortcomings of her unique Objectivist philosophy through an intellectual mystery story and magical mystery tour that intertwines sex, ethics, sex, metaphysics, sex, epistemology, sex, politics, sex, economics, sex, whatever and sex.
Reconsidering her worldview, she concludes that, in order to be truly beneficial to
In this sequel (which is the equal of the prequel to the sequel), Ayn Rand abandons Objectivism and embraces Sex Activism, without endorsing either Active Sexism or Subjectivism.
Likewise, she urges us to abandon the Protestant Work Ethic and embrace the Catholic Sex Ethic.
Her motto: No Safety Net, No Protection.
Where Have All the Objectivists Gone?
Set in the near-future [30 years after the time of writing in 1982] in a U.S.A. whose economy has collapsed as a result of the mysterious disappearance of leading innovators, industrialists, bankers, auditors, entrepreneurs, Republicans, bond-holders, futurists, financial advisers, chartered accountants and middle management after the re-election of a Democratic President, this novel presents an astounding panorama of human life:
...from the playboy genius who becomes a worthless and unproductive executive in charge of a global television network...
...to the great steel industrialist who does not know that he is working for his own destruction as well as that of all those around him in rural China...
...to the intellectual property pirate and paedophile who becomes a neo-conservative philosopher and born-again, forgive-again tele-evangelist...
...to the woman who runs a transcontinental railroad into the ground and under the river via the world's longest, most expensive architecturally-designed and least utilised tunnel...
...to the lowest paid track worker in her train tunnels who can't afford to come to work by private or public transport, and must walk 20 miles and swim across the river for the privilege of a fair day's work and an unfair day's pay so that his wife can be treated for inoperable cancer and herpes, and each of their children can afford an iPad and unlimited cable access so they can watch the film of the book online on the website of a global television network managed by a worthless and unproductive executive...
...all because they have fallen victim to the political philosophy of Objectivism and have not discovered the pleasures of unprotected tantric sex.
If you want to know who the female protagonist has deep and meaningless sex with, read the book or open the following spoiler at your own peril (to avoid disappointment, don't view the spoiler. Now.):
(view spoiler)[Shouldn't it be "If you want to know with whom the female protagonist has deep and meaningless sex"? Anyway, read the book. (hide spoiler)]
Get Your Copy Free or Pay for It and Get a 200% Tax Deduction
Peopled by larger-than-life heroes and villains, charged with larger than life accoutrements, struggling with towering questions of good and evil, and an adolescent's curiosity and enthusiasm for sex, "Shagged At Last" is a philosophical revolution told in the form of a soft-focus, hard-core action thriller with conveniently positioned tax-deductible PowerPoint slides explaining Objectivism from an historical point of view and revealing the correct use of all body parts from an hysterical point of view.
The televisualisation of the hysterical perspective is currently subject to the formalisation of contractual relations with Manny and Jessica Rabbit.
Ayn Rand Plays Lady Macbeth
You won't find in me
The milk of human kindness,
Just dire cruelty.
Only Her Self to Blame
Fucked a whole generation
With its selfishness.
Turn Me On and Turn Me Off
Your fans are turned on
By Sex Objectivism
But it turns me off. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]> ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 23, 2011
May 04, 2007
How to Write Like Cormac McCarthy
1. Make sure the first sentence contains a verb.
2. But neither the second.
3. Nor the third.
4. Repeat until finished. How to Write Like Cormac McCarthy
1. Make sure the first sentence contains a verb.
2. But neither the second.
3. Nor the third.
4. Repeat until finished.
5. Or sooner deterred.
We'll Become Well Eventually
The Boy: Papa?
The Boy: What's this?
Papa: It's an apostrophe.
The Boy: What does it do?
Papa: It takes two words and turns them into a contraction.
The Boy: Is that good?
Papa: Years ago people used to think it was good.
The Boy: What about now?
Papa: Not many people use them now.
The Boy: Does the world already have enough contractions, Papa?
Papa: I hadn't thought of it like that. But you might be on to something.
The Boy: What difference would it make if we threw away all the apostrophes?
Papa: Not much. I don't think.
The Boy: I wonder if we could get rid of the apostrophe, then maybe...
The Boy: You could say we'll be well.
Papa: You're right. You know. But it could get confusing. If you wrote it down. Without an apostrophe. "Well be well."
The Boy: But really, Papa, if we could take away just one apostrophe, do you think we'll become well? Eventually. All of us?
Papa: We could.
The Boy: Well, then, if we can get rid of all of the apostrophes, we will.
Papa: But then there wouldn't be any contractions!
The Boy: Papa!
Papa: Haha. I wish your grammar could hear you talking!
In Praise of the Verb to Grow
Out of ashen gray
Frequently grow sentences
Of colored beauty.
All Things of Grace and Beauty
[An Assemblage of Favourite Sentences]
Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. No fall but preceded by a declination. He caught it in his hand and watched it expire there like the last host of christendom. No one travelled this land. Ever's a long time. Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a feverland. The sparks rushed upward and died in the starless dark. On this road there are no godspoke men. How does the never to be differ from what never was? By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp. The ash fell on the snow until it was all but black. Paths of feral fire in the coagulate sands. The day providential to itself. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance of pain. We're survivors he told her across the flame of the lamp. A black billcap with the logo of some vanished enterprise embroidered across the front of it. In the darkness and the silence he could see bits of light that appeared random on the night grid. The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. The dark serpentine of a dead vine running down it like the track of some enterprise on a graph. A single bit of sediment coiling in the jar on some slow hydraulic axis ...a pale palimpsest of advertisements for goods which no longer existed. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. There is no God and we are his prophets. They are watching for a thing that even death cannot undo... Like the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shores of a world unheard of. One vast salt sepulchre. There were few nights lying in the dark when he did not envy the dead. I will not send you into the darkness alone. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. A living man spoke these lines. Ten thousand dreams ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. There is no prophet in the earth's long chronicle who's not honored here today.
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis - "The Beach" (The Road Soundtrack)
Alternative Dystopian Ending Haiku
In the silver light
Of the moon above the beach,
A big squid ate them.
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Notes are private!
Feb 22, 2015
Feb 25, 2015
Mar 03, 2011
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 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
Oct 11, 2011
A Companion Intervenes
I re-read “South of the Border” immediately after re-reading “Norwegian Wood”, as part of my training regime for Murakami’s “1Q A Companion Intervenes
I re-read “South of the Border” immediately after re-reading “Norwegian Wood”, as part of my training regime for Murakami’s “1Q84”.
Although they were written five years apart and were separated by “Dance Dance Dance”, they are good companion pieces.
They stand out from Murakami’s other novels because they explore love and its consequences almost exclusively.
Although some things and events go unexplained, there is little of the surrealism and absurdity that characterizes most of his other works.
Strangely, whereas “Norwegian Wood” concerns the recollections of a 37 year old protagonist about relationships in his late teens, “South of the Border” concerns the recollections of a 37 year old protagonist about a relationship that originally started and finished before he turned 13, so he was not yet a teenager.
While the protagonist in “Norwegian Wood” seemed to get his girl (or one of them) at the end, there was some doubt in my mind whether the relationship had lasted until the time of narration.
In “South of the Border”, the intervening period has brought the protagonist, Hajime, a permanent relationship, marriage, parenthood and business and financial success.
However, his apparent contentment and happiness is jeopardized by the intervention of Shimamoto, his girlfriend from the age of 12.
The Bond of Only-ness
The first quarter of the novel is a relatively straightforward narration of Hajime’s first 30 years.
He is born in January, 1951 (which makes him almost exactly two years younger than Murakami himself).
He is an only child, as is Shimamoto.
He detests the term “only child”, because it implies he is “missing” something, as if he is an incomplete human being, yet somehow spoiled, weak and self-centred as well.
Hajime is not just interested in Shimamoto because neither of them has any siblings, he’s fascinated by the fact that her left leg is slightly lame, yet she "never whines or complains".
Nobody else at school finds her as striking or charming as him, even though he recognizes that she has not yet developed an outer “gorgeousness” to match her inner qualities.
So while they develop a deep relationship, she wraps herself in a protective shell that separates her from other students.
Unfortunately, the relationship comes to an end the year after when they go to different junior high schools.
Hajime gets on with life, even getting another girlfriend, Izumi, who he thinks is cute, even if she isn’t conventionally pretty.
She is the oldest of three children, though still sensitive enough at 16 to be able to say, “I’m scared. These days I feel like a snail without a shell.”
Yet as much as she tries her best to give Hajime all she can, she is destined to make him realize his capacity for hurt:
”...I didn’t understand then...that I could hurt somebody so badly she would never recover. That a person can, just by living, damage another human being beyond repair.”
Just after Hajime’s 18th birthday, he is preparing to start four years of college in Tokyo, which effectively spells the end of the relationship.
However, it ends on even worse terms, when Izumi discovers that he has been having a passionate affair with her cousin, while she has been deferring a sexual relationship with him.
At 37, he learns that his betrayal permanently damaged her, so much so that she lives a life of isolation in an apartment block where all of the children are afraid of her.
He has ruined her life.
So ultimately the novel is concerned with the hurt we cause in the pursuit of our own needs and illusions.
A Lame Excuse for Stalking
Despite his capacity for hurt, Hajime has a sympathy for outsiders, non-conformists who don’t quite fit in.
It reveals itself in his attraction to women who are lame, of whom there are several in the novel.
Just before he meets his future wife, Yukiko, when he is 28, he sees an elegant woman limping in the street.
He follows her for some time, wondering whether it is Shimamoto, until she enters a café, from where she phones someone for support.
The man who comes to her aid demands that he leave her alone and gives him an envelope with a large amount of money in it.
Meanwhile, the woman makes her escape in a cab, ramping up the mystery about her identity.
He can’t believe his luck. Why did this happen? Did it really happen at all? What does it all mean?
If not for the envelope, proof that something must have happened, it would have continued to be a riddle, “a delusion from start to finish, a fantasy I’d cooked up in my head, ... a very long, realistic dream that somehow I’d mixed up with reality”.
For Hajime, as long as he has the envelope, it means that this whole event actually occurred, that his quest was real and not an illusion.
Everything Falls Into Place
At 30, Hajime marries Yukiko, after which they have two daughters and he establishes two jazz bars (one of which is called the “Robin’s Nest” and the other we know only as “my other bar”) at the prompting of his father-in-law.
Up to this point, Hajime has been relatively faithful, apart from "a few flings when Yukiko was pregnant", relationships that he seems to excuse in the same manner that his father-in-law justifies his own affairs (they allow him to let off steam and actually reinforce the primacy of marriage).
So much, so normal.
He seems to have developed a knack for stopping just short of being self-destructive.
Until one day his success results in some magazine coverage that reunites him with old school friends who trigger a sense of nostalgia for his past relationships.
And with this nostalgia comes Shimamoto.
Enough of the plot, I want to explore some of the metaphors.
To all intents and purposes, Hajime has been happy in his marriage:
”I could not imagine a happier life.”
However, the emergence of Shimamoto makes him realize that he has been harbouring feelings about his past with her:
”Everything disappears some day. Like this bar...Things that have form will all disappear. But certain feelings stay with us forever.”
To which Shimamoto responds:
”But you know, Hajime, some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”
To this extent, she has a better insight into Hajime than he does himself.
Holding onto the past can create a darkness inside us that is destined to hurt not just ourselves, but those around us.
By the end of the chapter, he is looking into the mirror, confronting the fact that he has become a liar, that there is something dark inside him:
”For the first time in a long while, I looked deep into my own eyes in the mirror. Those eyes told me nothing about who I was.”
It’s an existential crisis of sorts, he is on the boundary of sanity and madness:
”If I never see her again, I will go insane. Once she got out of the car and was gone, my world was suddenly hollow and meaningless.”
To the extent that Shimamoto is a twin of himself who completes the one person, she has gone missing and he is once again incomplete.
Missing Persons, Minding the Gap
So what to do about his hollowness and yearning?
Hajime falls in love with the idea that he and Shimamoto were “star-crossed lovers” who were simply born under a bad sign, whose love originally perished under an unlucky star, but can be revived:
”You could say I’m happy. Yet I’ve known ever since I met you again that something is missing. The important question is what is missing. Something’s lacking. In me and my life. And that part of me is always hungry, always thirsting. Neither my wife nor my children can fill that gap. In the whole world, there’s only one person who can do that. You.”
He wants to overcome his hollowness by filling in the 25 year gap since they last saw each other:
”‘It’s strange,’ she said, ‘You want to fill in that blank space of time, but I want to keep it all blank.’”
As Hajime swings between sanity and insanity, Shimamoto disappears and reappears.
Indeed, the reverse is also true: as Shimamoto disappears and reappears, Hajime swings between sanity and insanity.
She is both the focus of his sanity and the cause of his insanity.
She keeps his hopes alive with the promise that they will “probably” see each other in “a while”.
Gradually, he realizes he has to do something about it, he has to account to his wife, Yukiko.
Only it doesn’t come easily:
”I was struck by a violent desire to confess everything. What a relief that would be! No more hiding, no more need to playact or to lie...But I didn’t say anything. Confession would serve no purpose. It would only make us miserable.”
So the fear of misery justifies the continued deceit.
South of the Border, West of the Sun
The title of the novel is a lyric from a song played by Nat King Cole.
Both Hajime and Shimamoto had romanticized what might lie “south of the border”.
She thinks it is “something beautiful, big and soft”, only to discover when she grows up that all it refers to is Mexico.
So they realize that all of their romanticism is misplaced, it’s a fabrication.
Similarly, “west of the sun” describes a medical condition called “hysteria syberiana”, which affects farmers in Siberia.
After months of exposure to the harsh winter, they sometimes head off in search of some land west of the sun:
“Like someone possessed, you walk on, day after day, not eating or drinking, until you collapse on the ground and die.”
They succumb to their illusions and eventually die, because they fail to take care of reality.
So eventually Hajime realizes that Shimamoto is a distraction, perhaps even an illusion, that he must turn away from:
”I would never see her again, except in memory. She was here and now she’s gone. There is no middle ground. ‘Probably’ is a word you may find south of the border. But never, ever, west of the sun.”
At the same time, he realizes that the envelope has gone:
”I should have thrown that money away when I first got it. Keeping it was a mistake.”
To quote Shimamoto, “some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”
The envelope had to go, just as his feelings for her had to go.
Though there is a lingering doubt as to whether the envelope was ever real.
So ultimately we are forced to question whether the return of Shimamoto actually occurred or whether it was a fabrication of a mind that had gone lame.
Did Hajime’s self-delusion, his existential crisis, develop into a full on nervous breakdown, his own version of hysteria syberiana?
Did he just make it all up?
Was it just "a very long, realistic dream that somehow I’d mixed up with reality”?
Rain in the Desert, Rain on the Sea
Murakami also uses the metaphor of a desert which appears to be lifeless until it rains, when the dormant life revives and blossoms.
Hajime’s obsession with a relationship from the past transforms his marriage into a desert.
The darkness of his self-delusion sucks all of the life out of the reality of his relationship and his parenthood.
Yet Hajime can’t sort it out from within his delusion.
So, in a way, Yukiko wins back their marriage with almost superhuman patience and insight and persistence.
She has to rain on the desert of their relationship.
Yet her effort isn’t so much superhuman as quintessentially human.
She reveals that she too has had needs and gaps that she wanted to fill, that Hajime has ignored her needs and vulnerability, that he has been selfish to think he is the only one to have suffered from a hollowness.
Throughout the novel, the presence of Shimamoto is associated with rain or water, like some noir pulp fiction.
However, just as rain forces us inside to keep dry, it is also a source of water that revives life.
“South of the Border” finishes with Hajime contemplating a sea with rain falling on it.
Murakami is typically ambiguous.
There might be a sense in which rain on the ocean cannot revive dormant life, that the sea remains lifeless or unaffected beneath the surface, that it simply can’t see that it is being replenished.
However, the ocean might also be a sea of possibilities, it is full of life and Hajime simply has to make a choice so that the rain can make a difference.
While Hajime contemplates all this, Yukiko comes and rests a hand lightly on his shoulder.
We get the sense that the two of them have together made a choice, that the “new life beginning tomorrow” that they have promised each other might just happen.
So whether or not the reappearance of Shimamoto was real or an illusion, she was the trigger for Hajime to realize that his marriage was the real thing and that he didn’t need to seek something else “South of the Border, West of the Sun”.
It’s a lesson both to be with the one you love, and to love the one you’re with, because they are usually, and should be, the same person.
Notes are private!
Oct 07, 2011
Oct 11, 2011
Feb 22, 2011
Jan 06, 2005
Is Your Figure Less Than Greek?
Early in "Kafka on the Shore”, the 15 year old narrator, Kafka Tamura, warns us that his story is not a fairy tale. The Is Your Figure Less Than Greek?
Early in "Kafka on the Shore”, the 15 year old narrator, Kafka Tamura, warns us that his story is not a fairy tale. The book's title is also the name of a painting and of a song mentioned in the novel, and it describes the one photo Kafka's father has kept in his drawer. But what Kafka neglects to tell us is that his story is a myth of epic, ancient Greek proportions.
Murakami has concocted a contemporary blend of Oedipus and Orpheus, East and West, Freud and Jung, Hegel and Marx, Tales of Genji and Arabian Nights, Shinto and Buddhism, abstraction and action, alternating narratives and parallel worlds, seriousness and play, not to mention classical, jazz and pop music.
Conceived as a sequel to "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, it quickly took on a life of its own, and now sits somewhere between that work and "1Q84”.
If you had to identify Murakami’s principal concerns as a writer, I would venture two: the transition from adolescence to adulthood, and the dynamic encounter between consciousness (the ego) and the subconscious (the id).
There are elements of both in "Kafka” . Thus, it stands as quintessential Murakami.
The book I read.
Search for the Other Half
Like Greek theatrical masks that represent tragedy and comedy, life consists of dualities: "Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness.”
As hypothesised by Aristophanes via Plato, each individual is half what it once was (view spoiler)[apart, perhaps, from the character, Oshima (hide spoiler)]. Our shadow is faint or pale. Murakami urges:
"You should start searching for the other half of your shadow.”
Beware of Darkness
Only, it’s easier said than done. We’re all "like some little kid afraid of the silence and the dark.”
We are "seeking and running at the same time.”
As in fairy tales, friends warn Kafka not to venture too far into the woods.
The irony is that the darkness is not so much outside, but inside. It’s in our subconscious. What terrifies us is "the inner darkness of the soul…the correlation between darkness and our subconscious”.
The woods, the forest are just a symbol of darkness, our own darkness.
In Dreams Begin Responsibility
While we’re awake, while we’re conscious, we think we’re rational, we’re in control, we can manage what happens around us.
However, we fear dreams, because we can’t control and manage them. By extension, we’re also skeptical of the imagination, because it is more analogous to dreaming than thinking.
Yet, we need our imagination almost as much as our logic. Murakami quotes Yeats:
"In dreams begin responsibility.”
It’s in this quandary that Kafka finds himself. It’s problematical enough for an adult, let alone a 15 year old who has lost contact with his mother and older sister at the age of four, and has now run away from his father:
"You're afraid of imagination. And even more afraid of dreams. Afraid of the responsibility that begins in dreams. But you have to sleep, and dreams are a part of sleep. When you're awake you can suppress imagination. But you can't suppress dreams.”
For the Time Being
As would befit a Greek tragedy, Kafka’s father, a renowned sculptor, has prophesied:
"Some day you will murder your father and be with your mother…and your sister.”
This is the Oedipus myth, at once a curse and a challenge for Kafka:
"You're standing right up to the real world and confronting it head-on.”
We can only stand by and watch. What is happening? Does it really happen? Does it only happen in the labyrinth of Kafka’s imagination? Is the boy called Crow Kafka’s friend or his soul? (view spoiler)[Murakami mentions that "Kafka" is the Czech word for "crow", although apparently the Czech word "kavka" actually means "jackdaw". (hide spoiler)] Is the old man Nakata a real person or his alter ego?
If Kafka can only prevail, he will become an adult. If nothing bad happens to him, he’ll emerge part of a brand new world.
It’s not enough for Kafka to spend the time being. He must act.
Reason to Act
Of course, there is a cast of surreal cats, crows and characters who contribute to the colour and dynamic of the novel.
One of my favourites is a Hegel-quoting whore (a philosophy student who might both feature in and read the novels of Bill Vollmann!), who counsels:
"What you need to do is move from reason that observes to reason that acts."
Although the protagonists of Murakami's novels are youthful, if not always adolescent, they are rarely in a state of stasis or arrested development. They're always endeavouring to come to terms with the past and embrace the future:
"The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future."
We observe them when their lives are most challenging and dynamic, in short, when they're trying to find and define themselves:
"Every object's in flux. The earth, time, concepts, love, life, faith, justice, evil - they're all fluid and in transition. They don't stay in one form or in one place for ever."
My photo of the artwork on a power box I pass every day on my walk.
If I Run Away, Will My Imagination Run Away With Me, Too?
Murakami’s ideas about imagination, dreams and responsibility are fleshed out in a scene that adverts to the Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
The character Johnnie Walker (view spoiler)[who might be the negative side of Kafka’s father (hide spoiler)] kills cats, so that he can turn them into flutes. He challenges Nakata (view spoiler)[a stand-in for Kafka? (hide spoiler)] to kill him to save the cats. Nakata now has a moral dilemma as to whether to kill a person to save the lives of others (view spoiler)[albeit cats (hide spoiler)].
Eichmann was the builder rather than the architect behind the design of the Holocaust. He was an officious conformist who lived and worked routinely without imagination. Hannah Arendt would describe him and his capacity for evil in terms of its banality. Others would call him a “Schreibtischmörder” or “desk murderer”.
In Murakami’s eyes, responsibility is part morality, but it also reflects an empathy with others, a transcendence of the self. Eichmann was too selfish and too conformist to empathise with the Jews he was trying to exterminate.
A Catastrophe is Averted by Sheer Imagination
After an accident in World War II, Nakata realised that he could talk to cats. Ultimately, he empathised with them enough to kill Johnnie Walker.
In Shinto, cats might be important in their own right. However, Murakami frequently uses cats in his fiction. Perhaps they represent other people in society, people we mightn't normally associate with or talk to, (view spoiler)[In which case cats might symbolise the underdog? (hide spoiler)] but who watch over us and might perhaps be wiser than us, if only we would give them credit?
Murakami also criticised two women bureaucrats who visited the library for their officious presumption and lack of imagination, albeit in a good cause.
For Murakami, the imagination is vital to completing the self, bonding society and oiling the mechanisms by which it works, but it is also an arena within which the psychodrama of everyday life plays out and resolves.
Inside the Storm
So what can I tell you about Kafka’s fate? Only what Murakami tells us on page 3:
"Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm...is you. Something inside of you.
"So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in...There's no sun..., no moon, no direction, no sense of time…[in] that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm…
"And once the storm is over you won't remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won't even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about.”
Unless you’re a total Murakami sceptic, when you close this book for the last time, you too won’t be the same person who walked in.
Kafka in the Rye (Or Catcher on the Shore)
Kafka sees a ghost,
One he’ll soon love most,
Somehow he has learned
She has just returned
Home from sailing by
Seven seas of Rhye.
If only Kafka
Could one day catch her,
Dressed, in the rye or,
What he’d like much more,
How his heart would soar,
Catch her on the shore,
Idly walking by,
Naked to the eye.
[In the Words of Murakami]
I am swept away,
Whether I like it or not,
To that place and time.
Where There Are Dreams
[In the Words of Murakami]
The earth moves slowly.
Beyond details of the real,
We live our dreams.
Metaphysician, Heal Thyself
[In the Words of Murakami]
You can heal yourself.
The past is a shattered plate
That can't be repaired.
The Burning of Miss Saeki's Manuscript
[In the Words of Murakami]
Shape and form have gone.
The amount of nothingness
Has just been increased.
Look at the Painting, Listen to the Wind
[In the Words of Murakami]
You did the right thing.
You're part of a brand new world.
Nothing bad happened to you.
Strummer - "Kafka on the Shore"
Prince - "Little Red Corvette"
Prince - "Sexy Motherfucker"
R.E.M. - "I Don't Sleep, I Dream"
Cream - "Crossroads"
Cream - "Crossroads" [Live]
Cream - "Crossroads" [Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2005]
The Beatles - "Hello Goodbye"
Otis Redding - Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
Duke Ellington - "The Star-Crossed Lovers"
Johnny Hodges on Alto Sax
John Coltrane - "My Favorite Things"
Stan Getz - "Getz/Gilberto"
Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II - "Edelweiss"
Frank Churchill & Larry Moery - "Heigh-Ho"
Puccini - "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from "La Boheme" [Marija Vidovic]
Mozart - "Serenade in D major, K. 320 "Posthorn" [Mackerras]
Haydn - Cello Concerto in C Major [Han-na Chang]
Franz Schubert - "Piano Sonata in D major"
Beethoven - "Piano Trio No.7 in B Flat Major, Op.97" ["Archduke Trio"]
Kashfi Fahim - "Life in Technicolor"
Notes are private!
Jul 20, 2014
Jul 30, 2014
Feb 22, 2011
A Whiff and a Sniff and I'm Off
Well, I finished and I'm glad I persisted.
You know how dogs sometimes sniff each other for ages before deciding to hump A Whiff and a Sniff and I'm Off
Well, I finished and I'm glad I persisted.
You know how dogs sometimes sniff each other for ages before deciding to hump?
I was like that for a few years before I read the book, but more importantly I sniffed around ineffectually for the first 100 pages and could easily have blamed the book for my lack of engagement.
I read the last 300 pages in a couple of sittings.
I had to get on a roll.
But once you commit, the book pulls you, rather than you having to push the book.
In the beginning, I was afraid that it was going to be like a bowl of two kilos of green jelly that was just too rich or disgusting to finish.
Instead, I felt it was just the right amount.
So, some reactions.
I thought "Confederacy" was very much like a zany TV sitcom.
There was minimal description of scene and action.
However, the dialogue was consistently high quality and very, very funny.
You do want to write down some of the lines, so that you can use them on your friends, but secretly you know that you'll never get into a situation where they'd be equally appropriate or funny.
You just have to recommend the book to the right person.
Initially, I probably made the mistake of confusing JK Toole with his protagonist, Ignatius J. Reilly.
However, when I realised that Toole was a slim, neat, tidy English teacher, quite unlike the obese Ignatius, I started to imagine Toole reading extracts from the book in class.
Apparently, he was really popular with his students.
I could just imagine the sense of privilege hearing him reading from "Confederacy".
I can imagine the fits of laughter his students would have had as they heard some of the sentences and expressions emerge from his mouth.
I like to imagine Toole alive and vital.
Ignatius is a resident of 1960's New Orleans, the fat kid in school who turns out to be a genius, but has no social graces.
I don't recall him reading a book in the novel, but he is obviously well-read.
He has constructed his own medieval world-view by which he judges everything and everybody around him.
He sees himself as "an avenging sword" in a crusade on behalf of taste and decency, theology and geometry and the cultivation of a Rich Inner Life.
He speaks in a wonderful, bookish formality that really confounds and pisses off everybody around him:
"Do you think that I am going to perambulate about in that sinkhole of vice?"
When he combines it with a dose of sarcasm, it's hilarious.
Ignatius is intellectually arrogant, he judges others harshly, he is removed from reality.
He is literally and metaphorically larger than life:
"The grandeur of my physique, the complexity of my worldview, the decency and taste implicit in my carriage, the grace with which I function in the mire of today's world - all of these at once confuse and astound Clyde."
It's tempting to wonder whether Toole intended him to be an inept, but God-like genius, someone who came to the world in order to lead people to Heaven on Earth.
There isn't an evil bone in his ample body.
But he isn't virtuous as we would normally use the word.
He's motivated by the greater good, only he hasn't factored people into the equation.
When he ventures into reality for some purpose or other, it inevitably results in chaos and disorder, so there's a sense in which he's an agent of chaos.
Ultimately, I think Ignatius isn't the Messiah, he's just a haughty, naughty boy.
Much has been written about the influences on the novel.
This is probably something better left to the individual reader, after you've read the book.
Suffice it to say that I probably wasn't conscious of a lot of the influences, other than the obvious references to Boethius' "The Consolations of Philosophy".
In one of his more benevolent moments, Ignatius says of "Consolations":
"The book teaches us to accept that which we cannot change. It describes the plight of a just man in an unjust society."
Ironically, Ignatius sets out to change just about everything in his life, whether consciously or subconsciously.
He is not content with conformity: "They would try to make me into a moron who liked television and new cars and frozen food."
Whatever the influences, "Confederacy" has an artistic integrity of its own.
The Cloistered Mind
Ignatius starts off sloth-like (nowadays he would play games and drink copious amounts of Coke all day and all of the night):
"I was emulating the poet Milton by spending my youth in seclusion, meditation and study".
His college love interest, Myrna Minkoff, is awake up to the fact that he has closed his "mind to both love and society", a "strange medieval mind in its cloister".
Up from the Sloth
Ignatius' mother embarrasses and coaxes him into getting a job, which is the beginning of his interaction with the wider world.
"It is clearly time for me to step boldly into our society, not in the boring, passive manner of the Myrna Minkoff school of social action, but with great style and zest."
Structurally, on his journey, the novel loosely deals with the three taboos in polite society: sex, religion and politics (though not necessarily in that order).
Ignatius ventures through this subject matter on the way to some sort of climax or revelation at the end of the book.
The Importance of Being Earnest
On the way, Toole has lots of fun with his subject matter and influences.
Ignatius strikes up an alliance with an openly gay character in their political battle:
"I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate facade there may be a soul of sorts."
When his new soul mate hands him his business card, Ignatius ejaculates, "Oh, my God, you can't really be named Dorian Greene."
Dorian responds, "Yes, isn't that wild?"
Together they set off to "Save the World Through Degeneracy".
Ignatius is all the more attracted to this scheme, because he knows what effect it will have on Myrna:
"The scheme is too breathtaking for the literal, liberal minx mind mired in a claustrophobic clutch of cliches."
A Party in the City of Vice
As "Confederacy" works towards its climax, the action escalates.
It starts at a fund-raising party in an apartment, then it goes into the streets of this home of the Mardi Gras, a Carnival-esque city of vice, and then finally to the strip joint, "Night of Joy".
Failing to negotiate his way through the debauchery, Ignatius ends up ejected and dejected in the street, where he is almost run over by the reality of a city bus.
I don't want to make too much of this point, but I wondered whether the three main characters of "Confederacy" line up like this in terms of Freud's trichotomy:
These three aspects of Ignatius' life and personality work their way to some sort of resolution at the end of the book.
Whether Freud was a conscious influence or strategy, it is possible that Freud's trichotomy might just be a nice metaphor for the influences on our worldview.
After all of the fun and games, it's difficult to predict how Toole would end his farce.
But ultimately he was a romantic at heart, and there is a happy ending.
Myrna visits Ignatius with the intention of removing him from the City of Vice and the vice-like grip of his mother.
Her solution is to take him to New York, where she has been living.
You wonder whether this is just swapping one city of vice for another, but to them New York represents a city of light, possibly of like minds, a cosmopolitan alternative to the conservative southern backwater of New Orleans.
The story ends as they head out on the road.
But we know what is in store for Ignatius and Myrna in New York: love and society and, perhaps, just perhaps, lots of sex.
Ignatius ends his journey with the most romantic thing he could say to reconcile with Myrna:
"To think that I fought your wisdom for years".
Toole's students would have had tears in their eyes.
February 24, 2011
Notes are private!
Feb 24, 2011
Feb 24, 2011
Jan 15, 2008
A Bible You Can Bank On
My dear Holiness
Thank you for the opportunity to let the Church's Bankers comment on such an early draft of this first Bible Pr A Bible You Can Bank On
My dear Holiness
Thank you for the opportunity to let the Church's Bankers comment on such an early draft of this first Bible Project.
While our familiarity with the Truth is more economical than theological, may we be so bold as to make the following recommendations after extensive consultation and debate.
Concerning Matters of Number
We were of the unanimous view that the Good Book only needs one Testament, not two.
If the Bible is to be the word of God, there must be only one clear message.
We must avoid double entries, repetition, redundancy, inconsistency and conflict at all cost and expense.
For the same reason, one Gospel should suffice, not four, even though we commend your efforts to reduce the number from 50.
Of the two God options, we think twenty-four is excessive, despite the merchandising opportunities.
On the whole, while we’re not sure if it is original or unique, the single God option is more appealing.
Seven disciples should be adequate. One is definitely too few. Twelve is too many, and ten is too metric.
We agree with your suggestion that there only be one, not two, days of rest after Creation. We don’t want to encourage idleness.
Likewise, the number of holy days should be restricted to Good Friday and Christmas Day.
197 Commandments is going overboard. Ten is a nice round number, if a little continental.
Concerning Matters of Form
We don’t think anyone will get the idea of a Holy Trinity.
We suggest that you dispense with the idea of a Holy Ghost.
Two should be enough for a Trinity, anyway.
This modification would allow you to remove all references to the word “Trinity” from the Bible.
We liked the idea of having a God that is both a Father and a Son, moreso than a Man and a Woman.
Quite frankly, we didn’t really understand how God could be both a god and a human, both immortal and mortal at the same time, but we might not have fully comprehended this idea.
On the other hand, while we couldn't think of an original sin that hasn't yet been committed, we liked the idea of Man being born both immoral and mortal.
These passages will no doubt require careful typesetting.
Concerning Matters of Extinguishment and Extinction
With all due respect, we didn’t really like the thought of Christ being stoned to death.
Have you considered the possibility that he might die on a wooden cross?
Noah’s Ark is a good opportunity to cull some species.
We suggest sharks, snakes, spiders, rats, cats, bats, vampires, werewolves, unicorns and dinosaurs.
Concerning Things Resurrected and Lent
We couldn’t quite get our heads around the concept of resurrection.
Death should not be reversible, nor should Debt.
The Dead must not become the Living or the Living Dead, just as a Creditor should not become a Debtor, and Debtors should not be allowed to escape their earthly Bonds and Covenants.
Only when Debtors shuffle off this mortal coil, must Creditors give them pause.
So the Bible should counsel us to repay credit where credit is due.
In the same manner, Sinners, like Debtors, should not be redeemable, except by payment of their dues.
Default should not become Common Currency.
The Dead and Debt-Ridden should be Grateful for this Certainty.
Concerning Matters of Proper and Fully Disclosed Self-Interest
We are conscious that this advice is becoming lengthy as if, like Lawyers, we were paid by the Word.
But while perhaps dwelling in Borrowed Time that is still not yet quite Lent, we should like to crave a singular indulgence.
We don’t wish to come across as over-sensitive, but we felt Money-Lenders got a bit of a raw deal in this very preliminary draft.
Surely, there would be no interest in a world without lending.
Still, if you do not find our reasoning creditworthy, we will waive our rights and fees, and defer to your better judgment on these issues.
Now let us depart our Business in tact, and return to the Bible in hand.
Concerning the Myriad of Hail Marys
While it is not strictly a financial issue, we found it a bit confusing to have more than one Mary in the text.
We suggest that you revert to the original proposal that the mother of Christ be called Miriam.
Either that or Mariel.
They're both nice names for good girls. Or good names for nice girls.
Of the two alternatives, we prefer that she be a virgin rather than a reformed strumpet.
We wondered whether the latter quality could be ascribed to Mary Maudlin, although we didn't quite understood the reference to Jesus knowing her in the biblical sense.
Perhaps you could omit this precocious specimen of metafiction, and maybe change the spelling and pronunciation of her last name to something a little less drab.
Where there is no Trinity, there should be no Maudlin.
That’s about it, really. We’ll let you know if we have any more ideas.
I Banchieri di Dio
This review is dedicated to:
* the inaptly named Christopher Hitchens, Leys School and Oxford graduate, on the occasion of his premature, but inevitable, death on 15 December, 2011; and
* the long-suffering residents of the Cantabrian City of Christchurch (home of the Crusaders) which continues to be plagued by earthquakes.
Notes are private!
Dec 23, 2011
Dec 23, 2011
Jan 01, 1953
In Pursuit of Exuberance
I first read this in the mid-to-late 70's.
For a long time, I would have rated Bellow as one of my favourite th Original Review:
In Pursuit of Exuberance
I first read this in the mid-to-late 70's.
For a long time, I would have rated Bellow as one of my favourite three to five authors and Augie as one of my top three novels.
I haven't re-read it, but intend to. I am working from long distant memories now, but what I loved about it was the sense of exuberance and dynamism. At that time, it meant a lot to me to find evidence that intellect and vitality could be combined in one person.
It doesn't concern me so much now that I have found a level of comfort with my inner dork.
Busy Thinking Doing Being
This is a novel by and about a thinking man.
In saying this, I’m conscious of the inadequacy of the English language (or my command of it) to make my statement gender neutral.
I don’t want to say "thinking person" or "thinking human" or "thinking human being". These phrases are too ponderous and artificial.
I am willing, however, to call Augie March a "thinking being", because I want to go one step further and say he is a "thinking doing being".
And then to say, paraphrasing Bob Dylan, that he not busy thinking doing being is busy dying.
What I love about this novel is just how much Augie March gets up to during his [incomplete] life, how much thinking and learning, how much living and loving he does, while simultaneously defying his mortality and death.
For me, he is the epitome of a special brand of intellectual and personal dynamism. And this is one of my favourite novels.
A Quest with a Request
This review is an invitation to read a Great American Novel, but with a few caveats about length and style for some readers.
The novel is 536 pages long. It consists of 26 complete, well-defined chapters, but it doesn’t follow any preconceived linear plot. It contains a hero, in fact, many heroes, but it doesn’t consist of a traditional three act hero’s journey.
It’s not precisely crafted in the sense that what we read, the life experiences, have been heavily edited, abridged, distilled and selected, so that much life has been left out and what remains is the bare minimum the author could say.
Instead, much, much life has been left in, and what’s been said about that life is precisely crafted. It’s what Bellow needed and wanted to say about everything around him.
Bellow didn’t invite us into a cinema, sit us in a seat, turn out the lights and exclude the outside world, so that we could focus on his art.
Instead, he removed the ceiling, the walls and all of the obstacles that might block our sight, so that we could see and experience the real world, real people and real life. The book teems with reality, with realism, so much so that Bellow’s brother, Maurice, refused to speak to him for five years after its publication.
This novel, this filmic experience, this thought process might be longer than what is conventional. If that bothers you, this might not be the book for you. But if it doesn’t, then, like me, you might find it one of the most rewarding reading experiences of your life.
A Smorgasbord, Not for the Smorgasbored
“Augie March” is a smorgasbord, not a TV dinner. It’s not pre-packaged and pre-digested. It invites you to focus and observe and think and enjoy.
It’s expansive, sprawling, discursive, in the sense of "fluent and expansive rather than formulaic or abbreviated".
Sometimes, it seems to be a directionless wander, other times a wild ride. Augie is a wonder boy with a wanderlust. But at all times, Augie’s quest is singular, like Christopher Columbus, to discover America, the world, and through it, himself.
You might not enjoy this novel, unless you can relate to his quest, his adventures and his discoveries, unless you can imagine yourself on board the "Pinta", the "Nina" or the "Santa Maria", setting sail for some unknown, far horizon.
I urge you not to embark, if you are easily bored or fear you might want to jump ship mid-voyage or mid-adventure. The novel is ship-shape. It would take only you to torpedo it. It would break my heart to read yet another uncomprehending three star (or less) review of this brilliant and important novel. But if you’re not deterred, welcome aboard!
A Picaresque Without a Picaro
Now that it’s just you and me, let’s talk about Augie, baby, and his adventures.
Many critics describe "Augie March" as a picaresque novel.
The Spanish word "picaro" means a rogue or a rascal. The Wiki definition mentions that a picaresque narrative is usually a first person autobiographical account; the main character is often of low character or social class; and there is little if any character development in the main character, whose circumstances may change but rarely result in a change of heart.
The reference in the title to "adventures" hints at this narrative tradition, as does Augie’s lower class orphan social status.
However, Augie isn’t just content to let things happen to him. He’s not passive. He goes where his quest takes him. He is not there by accident or fate. What happens there might not have happened if he had remained at home. His experiences and adventures are a direct response to his quest.
Achievement Without Lineage
Just as there is little or no narrative linearity in the novel, Augie has no familial lineage of any grandeur.
Bellow strips him of his father. Augie is "the by-blow of a travelling man" (a child born out of wedlock). He has no recollection of his father.
Nevertheless, Augie’s mother is responsible for three boys and a dog, and family love is at the heart of the novel:
"Georgie Mahchy, Augie, Simey
Winnie Mahchy, evwy, evwy love Mama."
Mama is not a strong-willed, domineering matriarchal type in the Jewish tradition. The mantle of that role is assumed by Grandma Lausch, not a blood relative, but a Russian (Odessa) lodger, "boss-woman, governing hand, queen mother, empress" and major influence who wants what is best in life for Augie and his brothers. She sees potential for greatness in the boys and wants them to aspire and succeed to greatness.
To this extent, the novel is about the achievement of aspirations, both internal and external.
Augie’s quest is for material independence and love. If he achieves these two things, he will have learned the meaning of his life.
Having achieved himself, he will leave a heritage, a legacy for his own family. He will have commenced an empire, a lineage of his own.
Nobility Without Savagery
The single word that captures both of Augie’s aspirations is "nobility".
A key metaphor in the novel is the difference between nobility and savagery.
We are all part of the Animal Kingdom, but what separates humanity (human beings) from the other animals is the capacity for thought, the ability to be dignified, sophisticated, social, cultured, marvellous, refined, sublime and civilized, the tendency to explore, discover, invent, create, learn and teach.
This is our nobility, what separates us not just from animal savagery, but human savagery (such as was to be experienced in the Holocaust).
While I understand Augie’s name is pronounced "Or-gie", I can’t get out of the habit of pronouncing "Augie" as "Ow-gie" in the German fashion (like I suspect Grandma Lausch did).
Augie’s name is presumably short for August, which hints of the noble in its own right, for example, the name Augustus (Caesar), but more likely in the adjective "august" ("inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic") and its Latin etymology (augustus: "venerable, majestic, magnificent, noble," probably originally "consecrated by the augurs, with favorable auguries").
With all of these personal aspirations and social expectations, it’s crucial that Augie succeed, that he triumph in life.
The outcome he fears most is failure. He can’t bear the thought of being a "flop".
In this way, his adventure with first real love, Thea, in Mexico with an eagle that hunts iguanas and snakes is symbolic of Augie’s own plight.
The eagle is called Caligula, after the Roman Emperor, but equally importantly, the Spanish word for eagle is "águila", which doesn’t take much contortion to become Augie.
This eagle should be the most noble and august of birds, yet it fails to achieve its purpose. In the eyes of the township, it becomes the flop that Augie feared.
A Man’s Character is His Fate
Augie’s great advantage is that he is a good listener, "clever junge", bright, intelligent, hopeful, optimistic, eager, [mostly] honest, "ehrlich", loyal, strong, tough, robust, sensual, handsome and grows to be 5' 11" (four inches taller than Bellow himself, thus achieving one of the author’s personal aspirations).
He also feels both obliged (or obligated) in the pursuit of his own self-improvement, and obliging in the support of others.
If anything, his greatest risk is that others can easily take advantage of him, his friendship and his generosity.
This is not to say he is an easy con. It is his nature, his character, and in the words of Heraclitus, "a man’s character is his fate."
A Woman’s Influence on a Man’s Fate
While Augie’s adventures are necessarily masculine, women play a vital role at every step as mother (Mama, Grandma Lausch, Mrs Renling), lover (Lucy, Sophie, Thea, Stella) and friend (Mimi).
Mrs Renling is almost as ambitious for Augie as Grandma Lausch:
"An educated man with a business is a lord."
Cousin Anna Coblin shares the view that Augie deserves to succeed:
"You should know only happiness, as you deserve."
Working Class Politics
One of Augie’s mentors, Mr Einhorn points out that he is a contrarian:
"This was the first time that anyone had told me anything like the truth about myself. I felt it powerfully. That, as he said, I did have opposition in me, and great desire to offer resistance and to say 'No!' which was as clear as could be, as definite a feeling as a pang of hunger."
Augie spends some of his apprenticeship in life as a union organiser. He is good at it and popular, except with rival unions.
Like Bellow himself, Augie reads up on Marx and becomes an anti-Stalinist Trotskyist for a while. He even sees Trotsky in Mexico from a distance, just days before his assassination. (Bellow himself missed meeting Trotsky by days.)
However, Augie’s heart is not behind the cause at this grass roots level, especially when he has unresolved issues with Thea to deal with.
The Universal Eligibility to Be Noble
I was always disappointed that, in his later novels, Bellow became less left-wing and more conservative and curmudgeonly.
To a certain extent, he moved with the times, in response to revelations about the reality of Soviet Communism and the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
I don’t think he ever became a fully-fledged Neo-Conservative, more what we called an Anti-Anti-Communist, someone who was sympathetic to the Left, but was not a supporter of McCarthyite tactics.
He was a writer, not an activist. Like Augie, to quote James Atlas, he was more interested in experiencing "life’s intellectual, aesthetic and sensual pleasures".
However, more specifically, in terms of Augie’s worldview, what both author and character seemed to believe in was "the universal eligibility to be noble".
They were not so much concerned with the primacy of Equality, whether of outcome or income, but the equal opportunity to achieve Nobility in all the senses that make a human civilized and a civilization great.
"I am an American, Chicago Born"
This might all sound very obvious and trite to you, but I first read "Augie March", when I was defining my own political and cultural views, and Bellow’s and Augie’s example was absolutely vital to me, especially because, part of my own intellectual development occurred in an anti-intellectual context, where it was reassuring to know that intelligence and personal dynamism could be combined successfully in one person.
The other reason I am so protective and assertive of the merits of this novel is what it represented in the America of 1953.
Bellow was a Jew, a member of a race that had been denied entry into society, members clubs, golf clubs, academia and the cultural intelligentsia.
Bellow’s third, most ambitious novel burst onto the American literary scene with the following memorable words:
"I am an American, Chicago born…and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted."
Augie was asserting his own Americanness, opposed to any attempt to marginalize him because of his racial or religious background.
He was an American, first, a Jew, an American Jew. There was no inconsistency between the two qualities. He was proud to be both. He was proud to be the one.
When I recently read and reviewed "The Great Gatsby", I wrote about a Capitalist America, that survived and arguably thrived in some way by maintaining an exclusivity.
Perhaps, Gatsby’s only failure, the reason he could grasp the American Dream as a Holy Grail and find that it disintegrated in his hands, was that he didn’t realise that he wasn’t welcome by those who were already at the top.
In a way, Jay Gatsby handed the baton onto Augie March, who then insisted on making his way through those doors wedged closed, so that more people could follow him and have their contribution to America recognised and respected.
Whereas "The Great Gatsby" describes exclusion, "Augie March" conveys a message of inclusion, not necessarily assimilation, but co-existence in harmony of purpose and outcome.
So "Augie March" was a major assertion and achievement for an American Jew, an even greater achievement when the novel won the National Book Award for the most distinguished American novel of 1953.
I am still more sentimental about this book than "Herzog" or "Humboldt’s Gift", and therefore I am motivated to say that "Augie March" was a large part of the argument for Bellow’s entitlement to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.
I am not an American, I am not Chicago born, I am not a Jew. However, the thing about "Augie March", this book written by a 38 year old American Jew, almost 20 years younger than I am now, is that it resounded with me all this way across the world, once upon a time 20 years after it was written, then again 60 years after it was written, and during every moment in between and for every moment during which my heart might beat and my mind might imagine afterwards.
Free-Style, In My Own Way
It wasn’t just the subject matter that appealed to me, though that would have been enough. It was the language.
Bellow’s first sentence announced his modus operandi: he wasn’t going to be constrained by convention, he was going to write free-style, in his own way, autodidactically, because he wanted to communicate what he had learned himself, rather than being taught.
As it turned out, he wrote like he spoke. It didn’t read like it was written, it sounded like it was said and we were listening to it. Augie could speak as if in the street, as if in a bar, as if in a club. It was entertaining, persuasive, informative, endearing, inspiring. Even when most intellectual, his words were still beautiful to listen to.
This was no smug Ivy League belletrist pronouncing from the comfort and security of his study. As Bellow has revealed, not a word of this novel was written in Chicago. This was a man jotting down the intricate workings of his mind while sailing across the Atlantic or sitting drinking coffee in a Parisian or Mediterranean cafe.
Like Joyce’s portrait of Dublin, this was Chicago and New York remembered from afar, painted from memory, complete with its own deli sights and smells and Yiddish rhythms and intonation.
Bellow never descended into purple prose. Everything seemed to be in exactly the right place, as required to communicate effectively. Yet frequently, I wondered at the beauty of his prose, speculating on whether anybody had ever used this combination of simple words in this precise way before.
I'll leave you with a random sampling of sentences that appealed:
"I have always tried to become what I am."
"I have a feeling with respect to the axial lines of life, with respect to which you must be straight or else your existence is merely clownery, hiding tragedy."
"Happy as a god."
"You are the author of your own death. What is the weapon? The nails and hammer of your character. What is the cross? Your own bones on which you gradually weaken."
"Mama was beginning to have the aging stiffness and was somewhat bowlegged; she enjoyed the cold air though, and still had her calm smooth color of health.”
”She could be singular too, when she’d swagger or boast or vie against other women; or fish compliments, or force me to admire her hair or skin, which I didn’t have to be forced to do."
"I felt her conduct like a kind of touching athletic prowess."
"There was the object of these wicked thoughts with a warm healthy face, looking innocent and happy to see me. What a beauty! My heart whanged without a pity for me. I already saw myself humbled in the dust of love, the god Eros holding me down with his foot and forcing all kinds of impossible stuff on me."
"We were risen up high with pleasure. We had all the luck in love we could ask, and it was maybe improved by the foreignness we found in each other."
Nobility Rewarded with a Nobel Prize
Here is an extract from Bellow's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.
It gives some insight into the Nobility of the thinking doing being and its origin in the quest to know ourselves and others, in other words, in Augie's quest:
"When complications increase, the desire for essentials increases too. The unending cycle of crises that began with the First World War has formed a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible, strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an immense desire for certain durable human goods - truth, for instance, or freedom, or wisdom.
"I don't think I am exaggerating; there is plenty of evidence for this. Disintegration? Well, yes. Much is disintegrating but we are experiencing also an odd kind of refining process. And this has been going on for a long time.
"Looking into Proust's Time Regained I find that he was clearly aware of it. His novel, describing French society during the Great War, tests the strength of his art. Without art, he insists, shirking no personal or collective horrors, we do not know ourselves or anyone else.
"Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on all sides - the seeming realities of this world.
"There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of.
"This other reality is always sending us hints, which, without art, we can't receive.
"Proust calls these hints our ‘true impressions.’ The true impressions, our persistent intuitions, will, without art, be hidden from us and we will be left with nothing but a ‘terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life.’
"Tolstoy put the matter in much the same way. A book like his Ivan Ilyitch also describes these same ‘practical ends’ which conceal both life and death from us. In his final sufferings Ivan Ilyitch becomes an individual, a "character", by tearing down the concealments, by seeing through the ‘practical ends.’"
Notes are private!
May 18, 2013
May 30, 2013
Feb 23, 2011
An Opening Gambol
While I first read this novel in 2009, I bought a second-hand copy in May, 2013 for $7, which I thought was a bargain price f PLAYFUL:
An Opening Gambol
While I first read this novel in 2009, I bought a second-hand copy in May, 2013 for $7, which I thought was a bargain price for the degree of pleasure it's given me.
Only when I was half way through did I notice a sheet of white paper slipped into the last pages.
It shows four hand-drawn circles, each of which contains the name of a city and a number.
If the numbers represent years, they cover 21 years. If you add 2 and 1, you get the number 3. If you examine the gaps between the years, you get the numbers 11, 4 and 6. If you add these numbers, you get 21, which when added together, comes to 3. If you add 1, 1, 4 and 6, you get 12, which when added, comes to 3.
If the numbers are not years and you add them together, you get 8,015. If you add these numbers, you get 14, and if you add 1 and 4, you get 5. If you add 3 and 5, you get 8, which is exactly twice the number of circles on the sheet.
Here is a photo of the sheet:
I've been back to the bookshop where I bought my copy, but the owner wasn't able to remember who she had bought the book from.
I'm not sure how many of these cities get mentioned in the novel [all but Madrid, as it turns out, unless I'm mistaken]. However, I've since discovered the following facts with the assistance of Professor Googlewiki.
Manchester is the home of the Manchester Unity of Odd Fellows in England, from which some Rosicrucian Orders derive their charter.
Madrid is the home of Gran Logia AMORC, Jurisdicción de Lengua Española para Europa, Africa y Australasia.
The Rosicrucian Order, Christian Order of the Hermetic Gold & Rose+Cross is based in Los Angeles.
In Paris, the Temple was a medieval fortress, located in what is now the 3rd arrondissement. The Knights Templar originally constructed it as their European headquarters.
If you have any ideas about the significance of this sheet of paper, please message me or post them in the comments below, with a spoiler warning. Alternatively, please send them with a stamped, addressed envelope containing US$20 processing fee [plus any gratuity you are happy with] to my home address.
If you're the first to work out some sort of solution that convinces me of its authenticity, I'll post a photo of something that might absolutely amaze you.
P.S. Brian's hypothesis has convinced me.
How Foucault's Pendulum Works (Maybe)
1. Imagine the Earth is a perfectly spherical hollow ball (it is, you know, or is it?).
2. Imagine that a steel cable 6,371 kilometers long is attached to the bottom side of the North Pole. This is more or less the radius of the Earth.
3. Imagine that a really bloody heavy lead bob is attached to the end of the cable.
4. Let's imagine that the Earth isn't tilted off its axis.
5. Let's say we're sitting underground on a couch somewhere north of the Equator, and we drag the cable and bob over to the inside of the sphere, then we let it go, so that it starts swinging through the centre of the Earth and over to the other side.
6. Let's assume that the bob swings in the one plane, a constant relative to the space outside the sphere of the Earth, e.g., as measured relative to the stars.
6. Let's try to do this very carefully, just in case it swings back to exactly where we're sitting on the couch.
7. But it doesn't! (See steps 10 and 11.)
8. Let's assume that the bob swings so quickly that it takes an hour to swing back to the side it started (i.e., a complete cycle).
9. Let's assume that the Earth is rotating once every 24 hours (it is, you know, or is it?).
10. Every hour, the earth moves 15 degrees around its own 360 cycle (360 degrees/24 hours = 15 degrees).
11. By the time the bob returns to our side of the Earth, it touches the inside of the sphere 15 degrees away from our couch.
12. Repeat another 23 times, and the bob comes full circle and smashes our couch.
13. Fortunately it doesn't smash us as well, because by now we understand how Foucault's Pendulum works, and we got off the couch just in time.
14. If we map the path of the bob, it will look something like this (except that there would be 24 repetitions instead of eight):
15. If we mapped 24 repetitions, the map would look more like a rose. Hence, in mathematics, this type of map is referred to as a "rose" or "rhodonea curve", and each half of a repetition (from the circumference to the centre) is called a "petal".
16. Hence, in "Foucault's Pendulum", Umberto Eco takes us from "The Name of the Rose" to "The Shape of the Rose".
17. It is possible that everything I've said to you so far is false.
The Quest for Happiness
"Foucault’s Pendulum" is at once a Post-Modernist and an Existentialist novel.
Umberto Eco’s focus is not just Religion. It’s any form of ideology: Fascism, the Resistance, God, Socialism.
For Eco, these ideologies or belief systems are “Fixed Points” that determine our relationship with the cosmos.
While individual lives might be relatively chaotic, in constant motion, the belief systems are supposed to fix and secure our relationship with the universe. They create order.
The vehicles through which the novel explores these issues are the Word, the Book, the Manifesto, the Strategy, the Plan, even the Five Year Plan.
All of these things exist, because we don’t quite know what we need or want. We’re not yet happy, nor do we really know how to get happy. Each one is an apparatus which is offered to us to help in our quest for happiness.
The Credulity of the Non-Believer
Eco loosely quotes G.K. Chesterton as follows:
"When men stop believing in God, it isn’t that they then believe in nothing: they believe in everything."
There is some uncertainty about the actual origin and wording of this quotation. I wondered whether it had simply been translated from English to Italian and then back to English, without checking the original. However, the more accurate version of it is:
"When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything."
Filling the Void
Religion maintains that God exists everywhere for us and that "the void does not exist". However, its opponents acknowledge that there is a void, but argue that it should not exist:
"A void had been created, and it has to be filled!"
What is to be done?
Somehow, the Book (whether or not it contains the "Holy Word") has become the vehicle with which to fill the void, create meaning, document beliefs and practices, and address the need to be happy.
Major Religions have their own Holy Book. However, side by side with them are heretical, esoteric and occult works that cater to the same need.
Many fraternities and orders have grown up around these books. [I wonder what proportion of the members are female?] Their members derive order from their order. In the case of the more military orders, the members also get their orders from their order.
To the extent that these books and beliefs have been perceived as heretical or threatening by mainstream religious institutions, a culture of secrecy has grown up around them, hence the term "secret societies".
The Mystery Dance
There is often a sense in which some level of mystery and imprecision needs to be preserved:
"The Templars' mental confusion makes them indecipherable."
Because heretical beliefs are erroneous in the eyes of the Church, Eco implies that error is almost a secondary issue within esoterica:
"An error can be the unrecognised bearer of truth. True esotericism does not fear contradiction."
What’s more important is the question and the mystery, as opposed to the answer and the certainty.
A secret remains enchanting until it has been revealed, at which point it has been emptied of enchantment.
Eco even speculates that the secret might be that there is no secret, as long as those outside the order believe those inside know something they don't know.
Secrecy is more important than the substance of the secret. Perhaps what is most valuable is the bond between the members of the order.
The secret might simply be the framework or glue that initially connects them. Once the order is in place, it can survive of its own accord.
A Post-Modernist Prank
The Post-Modern aspects of the novel derive from the narrative in which its three protagonists (Casaubon, Belbo and Diotallevi) resolve to fabricate a work of esoterica, so that a specialist publisher for which they work can capitalize on a credulous market ("the Plan").
"Foucault’s Pendulum" becomes a novel about the invention and construction of a work of non-fiction that is actually fictitious, perhaps one that even seeks to "arrive at the truth through the painstaking reconstruction of a false text.".
The work needs to have words and facts and connections.
Like the bond of a secret society, the power of words emerges from their connection:
"Any fact becomes important when it’s connected to another. The connection changes the perspective; it leads you to think that every detail of the world, every voice, every word written or spoken has more than its literal meaning, that it tells us of a Secret. The rule is simple: Suspect, only suspect. You can read subtexts even in a traffic sign that says ‘No littering.’ "
"Invent, Invent Wildly"
The protagonists discover that their creative process follows certain apparently spontaneous rules.
The foundation stone is:
"Concepts are connected by analogy. There is no way to decide at once whether an analogy is good or bad, because to some degree everything is connected to everything else."
That said, readers are more comfortable with the conventional, with what they have heard before, with facts with which they are already familiar:
"The connections must not be original. They must have been made before, and the more often the better, by others. Only then do the crossings seem true, because they are obvious."
The connections can be crazy, as long as the facts are recognised.
The protagonists are urged to:
"Invent, invent wildly, paying no attention to connections, till it becomes impossible to summarize."
"Tout se tient" in the end. If "tout se tient" in the end, the connection works. So it’s right. It's right because it works.
This concept and phrase is usually attributed to the semiotician Saussure. In language, every element connects to, supports and is supported by every other element.
You can also see Eco's theories about how we read influencing not just his own novel, but the Book, the Plan that his protagonists are authoring.
Protagonists and Spectators
The characters' level of participation and commitment to the project varies:
"[Belbo] would never be a protagonist, he decided to become, instead, an intelligent spectator."
He can’t write fiction, but he can fabricate non-fiction. He also maintains a diary in which he fictionalizes his past and present.
Ironically, despite his lack of creative self-confidence, Belbo remains a major protagonist in Eco’s novel:
"Fear forced him to be brave. Inventing, he had created the principle of reality."
Existentialism, Doubt and Confidence
Belbo's realism results from courage, which in turn strengthens Casaubon’s resolve.
Casaubon learns the real source of Belbo’s lack of confidence, an event in his childhood when he had to fill in for a trumpeter in an impromptu public performance.
Casaubon concludes that there are for all of us certain decisive moments when we have to confront the essence of our character and fate. How we deal with these moments determines the happiness in the rest of our lives.
These moments don’t necessarily have anything to do with God, Fate or the supernatural. Nor do they depend on the execution of Plans. They do have to deal with self-doubt and our inner reserves, both of energy and of insight.
These discoveries force Casaubon to question his adherence to the principles of the Enlightenment (including Cartesian Doubt).
"I had always thought that doubting was a scientific duty, but now I came to distrust the very masters who had taught me to doubt...
"I devoted myself to Renaissance philosophers and I discovered that the men of secular modernity, once they had emerged from the darkness of the Middle Ages, had found nothing better to do than devote themselves to cabala and magic."
Eat a Peach
Casaubon has his own existential "trumpet moment" at the end of the novel, when he must learn to play with the cards that Fate has dealt him:
"...yet, like Belbo when he played the trumpet, when I bit into the peach, I understood the Kingdom and was one with it."
Ultimately, it’s a moment that only the individual can handle. We have to figure it out for ourselves. There is no Plan, there is no Map.
"Kill me, then, but I won’t tell you there’s no Map. If you can’t figure it out for yourself, tough shit."
"Foucault's Pendulum" takes us on this journey with consummate intelligence, traditional, esoteric and pop cultural allusiveness, literary skill and humour.
The Hollow Obelisk
Casaubon’s Last Letter to His Wife, Lia
Animula vagula blandula, Hospes comesque corporis *
It hurts me to think I might not see you again.
It was all my fault. I was seduced away from you, not by another woman, but by another Other, something I thought was beautiful, because I was helping to construct it.
"People are hungry for plans, for cosmic solutions," you said. "If you create one, they’ll descend on it like wolves. If you make one, they’ll believe it. It’s just make believe, Pow, it’s wrong."
You always knew the book was superficial, that it was a fake, that there was no truth contained between its covers. But I made them all believe it had both truth and depth. Deep down, I knew they desired what this book had to offer: mystery, secrecy, answers, certainty. Even though once they had read it, the mystery would dissipate and they would be left satisfied, but empty, with nothing left, nothing new to strive for. Neither grail nor quest.
My audience was weak, unlike you, who are strong. You don’t need answers from outside. You’ve found them within. In your own body.
"Oh, I almost forgot," you said. "I’m pregnant."
I remember looking at you just before you told me. You were caressing your belly, your breasts, even your ear lobes. I was oblivious. I couldn’t understand these moves you were making. I had always thought of you as so slim and supple. Now I picture you as buxom, rosy-cheeked and healthy – I should have realised that you were pregnant.
You were trying to solve my problem. I was single-minded about that. You spoke confidently. You radiated a serene wisdom. You were luminous. You illuminated both of us. I realise now it might have been your maternal instinct, a fledgling matriarchal authority, that there were three of us present - you, me and Guilio – and that you were speaking for all three.
I know you will take good care of Guilio. Please let him know I will always love him.
* Little soul, you charming little wanderer, my body's guest and partner - Hadrian
A Letter from Lia to Guilio on the Occasion of His Thirteenth Birthday
My dearest son, Giulio, your father wasn’t born a wise man, but he died a wise man. He didn’t plan to be wise or to die when he did, but in many ways it was the result of a Plan, even if it wasn’t only his Plan.
Your father died when he was ready. He died at peace. He died as soon as he had attained peace. He attained his peace when finally he understood his place in the world. He died when there was nothing left to learn and nothing left to understand.
By the time he died, he had learned his place in the cosmos, on this earth, on this rock that is our home.
Your father, Casaubon, was a philosophical man. In the end, the wisdom that he had finally learned gave him great certainty and comfort. You were a big part of it. You gave him certainty and comfort, he called you his philosopher’s stone, that’s how much you meant to him, but equally he hoped and knew that the wisdom he had gained would pass on to you.
This is what he learned and what he wanted me to tell you on his behalf. Having learned, he wanted to teach you.
There is no map. There is no plan. There is only life. There is only us. Your father has gone already. And one day, when I am gone, there will only be you left. But you will have your wife and your children, and each of them will be your philosophers’ stone. Life will pass through your father and me to you and then from you and your wife to your children. These are the connections between us.
What your father learned is no secret, yet few get to know it in their lives. Too many people look without success for secrets, for profundity, for inspiration. Life is only as complicated as you make it. Happiness is an open secret, it’s within you, it’s in your soul, and all you have to do is open it.
I know how happy you have become, how happy you are. I am so proud of you, and I know your father would be too. We are grateful to you, our son, for the happiness you have given us and those who surround you.
Beth Orton - "Sweetest Decline"
"She weaves secrets in her hair
The whispers are not hers to share.
She's deep as a well.
She's deep as a well.
What's the use in regrets
They're just things we haven't done yet
What are regrets?
They're just lessons we haven't learned yet."
Beth Orton & M. Ward - "Buckets of Rain" (Bob Dylan cover)
John Cale - "I Keep A Close Watch"
This video is an hilarious juxtaposition of lyrics and imagery, just like the novel.
dEUS - "Nothing Really Ends"
"The plan it wasn't much of a plan
I just started walking
I had enough of this old town
And nothing else to do
It was one of those nights
You wonder how nobody died
We started talking
You didn't come here to have fun
You said: "well I just came for you""
dEUS - "Nothing Really Ends" [Live]
I transferred my reading notes and updates to My Writings here:
Notes are private!
Nov 18, 2013
Nov 30, 2013
Feb 23, 2011
Oct 20, 1982
Previously Unpublished Manuscript #1
Unlike my friends and colleagues, Professors Calvino and Galligani, I intend to tell you my name and perhaps to re Previously Unpublished Manuscript #1
Unlike my friends and colleagues, Professors Calvino and Galligani, I intend to tell you my name and perhaps to reveal something of my modus operandi (soon, too).
This one sentence might already have supplied enough information or implication to let you work out or infer who I am?
Have you guessed yet? No? Well, my name is Professor Uzzi-Tuzii, though my friends call me Julian. Not only is that my name, but that is who I am.
Yes. It's true. I am Professor Uzzi-Tuzii.
See how much I have revealed about myself, see how much I have revealed about who I am, about who “I” is!
I is me. I am me. I could not be anyone else, could I? I am not and never was Italo Calvino. I am not the Reader, although it's also true I am a reader.
Nor then could I be you (as if that is not self-evident to any strict grammarian), so put an end to that speculation. It will not help you to realise anything. It will only frustrate you, which in a way was an objective of the novel "If on a winter's night a traveller".
I wish you could see the real me, sitting comfortably here on my swivel chair, on my polished timber floor, looking at my computer screen, surrounded by the music of time.
You might learn a little more about me, just by being able to see me.
To know the real me, to see the real me, might make me a sight for sore eyes. I am no eyesore (though I appeal less with age). However, I am the remedy you need for your eyesight, I promise, if you will let me, that I will heal your vision, so that you might see.
There are none so blind as those who will not see. So I will try to make you see. If you will.
What am I going on about? Perhaps, you do not believe me? Perhaps, now, as I promised, I need to explain my modus operandi?
Will the detail of my modus operandi overcome your skepticism? Will you only believe me, believe that I am I and I am me, if you know what I do? Do you honestly believe that I cannot be what I am unless I reveal what I do? Or what I did?
Oh, what unbelievers we have become.
Are you ready?
Believe me, I would tell you, I will tell you everything, if you would only believe me.
I only say this, I only make this diversion, because some do not believe me. Some believe I am unreliable. Some believe, without seeing me or knowing me, that I am an unreliable narrator.
How unfair! How hurtful! Do I deny you? No, of course, I don’t. How could I deny you? I don’t even know you. You must remain innocent, unless and until proven guilty. So I must believe in you, if I am to find you guilty.
In order to tell you what I did, there is one other thing I must tell you about who I am, or more precisely who I am not.
I am not William Weaver, I am not the translator of "If on a winter's night a traveller", the book you might be reading or would be reading if you were not reading my addendum.
That probably goes without saying, though I think it needs to be said.
I am not Ermes Marana, the translator of the fictitious book "If on a winter's night a traveller", the book within the novel "If on a winter's night a traveller".
Would it help if I explained, there is no such translator?
You might already think that he was a fiction, that he wasn’t real, that he was a figment of Italo Calvino’s imagination.
I have no doubt that, when my friend Italo learned of his apparent existence, he passed him off as a figment of his imagination. But he is, in reality (if that makes sense), a figment of my imagination, well, a figment of the imagination of those around me.
At this stage of my story, the book must be making less sense now than when I started? I apologise, yet I have to argue in my defence that this often happens during the telling of a story.
You, the reader, perhaps the Reader, have to let me get on with my story. I have to tell it at my pace, which at my age lacks apparent haste, but you have to cooperate. You have to do your bit. So, can we resume?
Perhaps, before we do so, now might be a good time to refill your glass of red or to make a cup of tea...
[Editor’s Note: The manuscript breaks off here. It is not known whether this is a piece of fiction.]
Previously Unpublished Manuscript #2
So how do I start to tell you my story?
Italo Calvino never had any such doubt. You should have seen him laugh when I told him about the line from Doctor Who, “First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”
He enjoyed starting a story at the beginning so much, he couldn’t help doing it over and over.
So I will start at the beginning, in his footsteps.
When my story, indeed your story, began, I was in my thirties and at the height of my career as an academic, author and public intellectual as they used to say in those days.
Before I met your mother, I thought I could have any woman I wanted, and I almost did.
To my great regret, I persisted in this belief after I married Maria, though it was my great good fortune that I never acted on any of my impulses.
This story partly concerns just how close I did come.
Being an author of fiction, I looked on writing as an act of love, an act of seduction. I caressed meaning out of words as I would caress a woman.
I stopped when I met your mother, well, I mean, for a while she became the exclusive focus of my thoughts and caresses. Then, six months after our wedding, at the end of the academic year, I agreed to teach a Creative Writing Course for Masters of Fine Arts students during the three month break.
For the first time in many years, there were no male students, there were only ten female students, all of them young, intelligent, attractive, and available, or so I thought at the time.
They absorbed information and guidance quickly. Each of them gazed into my eyes, as if they wanted to know the full contents of the dark pool that lay behind.
At night, while I caressed your mother skillfully, if not lovingly enough, I could only think of these other temptations.
They progressed so well in their studies that we soon came to their practical exercise. Each of them was to write the first chapter of a novel that they would finish after the course.
I selfishly came up with the idea of the subject matter, and every one of them agreed compliantly. They would write in the first person, and that first person would be me. They would appear in the chapter under their first name. And each chapter would feature an object that would have significance in the story.
Madame Marne: suitcase
Zwida: pencil box
Irina: instrument case
Bernadette: plastic bag
Makiko: white maple cane
Franziska: sheet of paper
I was hoping that this artifice would disclose some secret feelings towards me, within the limits of what they could say, knowing that their writings would be scrutinized by their (jealous) classmates.
Instead of me seducing them with my words, I wanted them to seduce me with theirs. I could hardly contain my excitement. Your mother started to suspect something was happening and cooled to my touch.
Then one day, the deadline arrived and all of the students handed in their work.
I had insisted that the project be surrounded by secrecy, so much so that I even banned carbon copies (this was before personal computers and laptops). I didn’t even think to photocopy each manuscript at the office. I took them straight home that night and began to read them, one after the other.
I know now that, soon after I went to bed, Maria woke and entered my study to read whatever it was that had so fascinated me late into the night.
She only had to read a few pages to know what I was up to. She packed her bags and every single one of those manuscripts and disappeared.
When I awoke with the sun, I thought your mother had gone to work early and someone else had stolen the manuscripts.
I couldn’t think of a motive, unless one of my colleagues had guessed my plan and was determined to frustrate it. Probably that damned Italo Calvino.
It was only late in the day, when Maria phoned me to say that she was staying at Italo’s for a few weeks, that I guessed what must have happened.
I quickly forgot all of my carnal designs. I was more concerned about what Calvino was doing to my wife, your mother. My colleague, my friend was sleeping with my wife. What better way to best your rival than to sleep with his wife?
For all my education though, it was an agitated guess. Jealousy made me err. Italo had no intention of sleeping with your mother.
I found out afterwards that he counseled Maria to return to me as soon as possible, especially only days later, when she learned that she was pregnant...to me, of course, with you.
It must hurt you to know that, at the time, your mother’s first thought was to have an abortion. Why perpetuate this bond with the fiend that I had become?
Italo managed to convince her what a mistake this would have been, and you know what joy you brought to your mother’s life.
Still, Italo did do something that I held against him for a long time. He read the manuscripts from beginning to end, even before I had finished them.
When, much later, I found out, I felt cheated, as if I had bought a first edition, only to have a friend whisk it away and read it before I had opened it.
Sometimes, only you should be the one to smell the scent of those first-opened pages. Not only did Calvino deprive me of this pleasure, he decided to put these manuscripts to much better use than I had intended.
He had been planning a novel, the progress of which had stalled at outline stage. These manuscripts provided exactly what he needed.
He needed the first chapters of ten stories, told in different voices. What could be better than ten stories told by ten separate students?
All he needed to do was insert metafictional interstices. He was planning to write just the interstitials.
Of course, he contacted each of my students privately and obtained their signed consent, on the basis that, when they finished their work, he would help promote their literary careers.
He did what he had bargained to do. Of the ten, six now have successful writing careers, which I attribute more to Italo’s assistance than my guidance.
Despite my pleas, Maria stayed with Calvino for more than four months, by which time it had become quite apparent to everyone that she was pregnant.
Her return coincided with the launch of Calvino’s book. Maria returned home to me, resplendent in pregnancy, the morning of his launch party.
We attended as an ostensibly happy couple, although I did appear quite sheepish and it took me many years before I actually read his book.
My failure to do so is also the reason it took me so long to put all of the pieces of this puzzle together.
My students had promised Calvino confidentiality, if only to keep his involvement secret from me.
Most importantly, Calvino had wanted your mother and I to repair our relationship, free of any external publicity or pressure.
I don’t know what would have happened if I had read his book straight away. I probably would have thought of him as a consummate manipulator.
You see, his book wasn’t just a quintessential exercise in metafiction. He was trying to teach me a lesson. He was trying to teach me to love your mother more, not to love her obsessively, but to love her as she deserved.
He saw love as the driving force of life itself. Love is the light that keeps darkness at bay. Stars shine and create light, but there is much interstitial darkness. It is the role of love to fill the gaps.
When your mother died many years later, I learned that Italo had given her a signed first edition copy of the book for each of you and her.
It was their plan to give the two of you your copy when you turned 30, when you had already learned something of life yourselves.
When she died, I committed to perform this task on her behalf.
You know how upset I was when your mother died. I always felt that I had never loved her enough.
You cannot overcompensate in love. An excessive act of love cannot make up for an omission to love. All you can do is love as someone deserves to be loved.
I felt so guilty about that time before you were born, that I planned never to write fiction again, at least until the two of you had reached the age of eighteen. I had realised that fiction is too selfish to be compatible with parenthood, after all you two were your parents’ greatest act of creation.
By the time you reached eighteen, I had got out of the habit. Only now, in my old age, is the desire to write fiction returning to me.
The inscription in your first editions varies in only one word, your first name. Indeed, Italo had two special editions of the book printed with your names reversed in the body of the text where they both appear.
In one edition, it reads “Ludmilla”, in the other it reads “Lotaria”.
So my beautiful twins, our beautiful twins, I present to you the gift of Italo Calvino and your parents.
Italo inscribed your first edition with these words:
“The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death. Your life is a story that must be told and only you can do the telling.”
Your father learned this lesson the hard way, but I am eternally grateful to your mother and my good friend, Italo Calvino, that you will have the opportunity to tell your stories.
Literary Executor’s Note:
The above manuscripts were found with Professor Julian Uzzi-Tuzii’s last Will and Testament and two signed first editions of Italo Calvino’s book, "If on a winter's night a traveller".
Professor Uzzi-Tuzii died on 8 May, 2012. He was survived by his twin daughters, Ludmilla and Lotaria Uzzi-Tuzii, who turned 30 five days later on Mother’s Day, 13 May, 2012.
The Executor of Professor Uzzi-Tuzii’s Estate made the gift to Ludmilla and Lotaria on behalf of both parents. ...more
Notes are private!
May 03, 2012
May 08, 2012
Dec 22, 2011
Oct 31, 2006
"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."
In the beginning was the earth, a Prologue
"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."
In the beginning was the earth, and above the earth was the sky.
The earth consisted of land and water. The sky consisted of air, the moon, the sun and the stars in the heavens.
The land consisted of rock. Water was everywhere, but still precious.
The sky was light by day and dark by night. By day, the light came from the sun and sometimes the moon. At night, a lesser light came from the stars and the moon.
On the land, things were still, but then they began to change.
The sun made rock hot by day and the night made it cold, and the rock became stone, and the stone soon became soil.
The Creation of Life
In time, the soil and the water came together with the air and the sunlight to form life.
The life was green and did cling to the soil.
The air and the heavens were the realm of gravity.
Everything on earth was made to fall and to disperse and to dissipate as time goes by.
To rise was to challenge the laws of nature. Nothing could rise, except one thing, invisibly, vapors.
Water mixed with the heat of the sun and became a vapor, and the vapor ascended to the sky and became clouds. At night and sometimes by day, the clouds became rain, and the rain fell and spilled water onto the earth.
Some water remained on the land in rivers and streams and lakes. Other water, sliding and falling and dropping across the land, found its way to the oceans.
The Life of Fruit
In time, life conspired to defy gravity little by little.
Life combined with the soil and the water and the air and the light to make trees and shrubs (some bearing bananas or mangoes or pawpaws), and these plants reached skyward to the sun.
But these plants could not be severed from the soil, because their roots sought nourishment there. Any plant severed from the soil would fall to the earth, obedient to gravity.
In time, many plants were severed from the earth and covered by soil and water and became hard and part of the rock. Beneath the surface of the earth, dead plants formed coal, and sometimes oil and gas.
The Origin of Man
After much time, other forms of life were born, including animals that did grow heads and arms and legs and tails and eat the plants.
Some animals became humans, some male, some female, all of whom wished to walk on two legs and become higher than other animals and plants.
Men were not always bigger and stronger than other animals and so sought refuge in holes in the ground and caves.
The caves were darker than night and men grew frightened of the dark, not knowing what was out there, until they discovered fire, which they used for light and heat.
Sometimes, men used fire to warm the flesh of other beasts and they grew stronger.
Life was good, and men tended to live within and surrounded by nature as one.
Man on the Move
Men began to move across the earth in search of food and learned how to construct homes of rock and stone and bricks made of soil and water.
Their homes grew taller than trees and animals and began to defy gravity.
Then men learned how to make machines that could move across the land and water at speeds faster than men or horses could walk or run.
And they consumed coal and oil and gas, so that they were not dependent on horse power.
Man Turns the Power Switch On
Men learned how to make electricity and switches that would turn the power on and off.
Men made glass bulbs that turned darkness into light.
Men had finally become enlightened.
Men looked at the sky for beauty and meaning and portents of the future.
They wondered what lived in the heavens and whether they had been created by gods.
They made drawings and pictures of what surrounded them. One day they would make photographs and moving pictures and shiny silver discs.
Men observed what occurred in nature and, over a great duration, started to learn about cause and effect.
Man Dominates Himself
Then men created gods in their own image.
They invented religions and superstitions and sometimes it was difficult to tell them apart, men and their gods, religions and superstitions.
Men used their religions to explain what they could and couldn’t do.
Then they created churches and holy men and scriptures to dictate to them what they must and must not do, and the holy men and their gods punished them if they did not do what they must do, or did what they must not do.
Man Discovers Matters of Life and Death
Men observed decay and destruction and death around them, and wondered whether they too would die one day.
Men didn’t like this prospect and decided that they alone amongst the plants and animals had a soul and, after death, would live in eternity.
Except that, if they disobeyed the commandments of their holy men and gods and scriptures, they would be punished by eternal damnation and made to live in hell. Which was not meant to be a good thing.
Some scientists conducted experiments and tests on dogs and other animals and learned how they were governed by stimulus and response.
Men wondered whether their souls and their capacity for reason elevated them above the animals.
They did not recognise that, even with their gods, men would do evil things to each other that animals would never do.
Man Engages in Some Empire State Building
Men built their homes in cities and formed nations. They conquered other cities and nations and established empires.
They established workforces and armies.
They organised men and their possessions into rows and columns, and they made men and women wear uniforms, so that they might look and think and do alike.
They developed systems to punish those who would dissent and they used force to hold their empires together.
They looked down upon any man or woman who would not conform or wear a uniform.
Those that they did not incarcerate or hang or inject with life-sapping solutions or electricity, they cast off into the wilderness, where they would disperse or die of thirst.
We Men are Scientists
So men acquired knowledge and wisdom, and accumulated science and technology beyond the wildest dreams of their predecessors.
They converted their knowledge and wisdom into zeroes and ones, so that they might store them on silver discs.
Some men wondered whether there was more to life than zeroes and ones, and was there anything beyond zero or between zero and one, and they were scorned.
Man Defies Gravity
Slowly, man’s dreams became more ambitious.
Some men dreamed about how they might fly like a bird, and one day men learned how to make flying machines.
Men did not always live happily with other men, and they made tools and machines that would maim and kill their enemies.
Men used their aeroplanes to drop bombs on other men, and the planes and the bombs grew bigger, and the maiming and the killing grew more widespread and efficient.
At the same time, men learned how to make bigger and taller buildings that reached higher and appeared to touch the sky.
Many men lived and worked in these skyscrapers.
In Case of War
Then there were two wars between many nations of the world.
In the first war, many men died in trenches dug into the soil of their farms.
In the second war, it was not necessary to get into a trench to die. Many people died in their homes and their buildings. It was easier to kill more quickly in the cities that housed large numbers of people.
Men made new bombs that were meant to end the wars, but when they continued, men invented rockets that could maim and kill even greater numbers of people.
Some rockets made a sound that warned people that they were coming.
If you heard the sound, you might be able to escape to safety.
When they did not end the war, scientists invented more and better ways to kill more and better people. They built rockets that made no noise and could kill you before you heard them coming.
They were the perfect machinery of death, because nowhere was safe and you could not escape them.
These rockets defied both gravity and the imagination.
While nobody had been looking or thinking about it, man’s buildings and vehicles and aeroplanes and rockets and bombs had made the earth dark again.
A Voice in the Wilderness
Well, maybe not nobody. A man called Slothrop had been watching.
Every time a rocket was launched, Slothrop was blessed with a hard-on, an erection.
He would look at the rockets and he would be turned off.
At the same time, he would look at the rockets and he would be turned on.
Slothrop’s hard on was a hard one for the scientists to explain.
What the Fuck?
Somewhere in Europe, scientists were erecting buildings, platforms, rockets that could bring death to people like Slothrop.
Slothrop suspected that the best use of an erection was not to build an edifice, but to fill an orifice.
Slothrop wondered, why had men become obsessed by Death, when they should have been preoccupied with Life?
Surely, there is no life without sex, no progress without congress, no creation without procreation?
“Make love, fuck the war.”
“Fuck war, fuck each other.”
How do you convince everybody else that this is the solution?
“Fucked if I know,” sez Slothrop.
The Prophet Debunked
Slothrop is cast out of the mainstream and sets out across Europe in pursuit of love, sex, and rockets (and those who would launch any one or more of them at him).
Still, even equipped with his hard on, Slothrop prefers bananas to buildings and rockets, he is bent but never straight.
He is the ultimate non-conformist, hedonist and sybarite, who gives pleasure to himself and to many women, Katje, Margherita, Bianca, three of the foremost amongst them.
Slothrop’s skepticism and excess threaten the System, Religion and Culture. He is an anarchist Counter-Force to Binary Code, Mono-theism, Uniformity and Over-the-Counter Culture.
He is the unwitting counter-cultural Prophet who threatens the methodical, ordered and conformist backbone of Mainstream Society.
He is a spanner in the works. He is a virus that must be eliminated. Like Trotsky, he is a Prophet that must be netted.
They, the powers that be, with their uniforms and their weapons and their switches, chase Slothrop through Europe, but he remains free.
In time, people came to doubt whether Slothrop ever actually existed at all.
Some would ask, “Slothrop? What kind of name for a prophet is that?”
Still They did not stop their pursuit, even when They were certain that he must be dead. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
If you can’t see him or hear him, deprive him of oxygen. Wipe out his disciples. Stifle his message. Prevent it from reaching any children. If the medium is the message, remove his medium. That way the prophet and his prophecy will cease to exist.
Revelations? What Revelations?
Was Slothrop a fabrication? A ghost in the machine? A shadow in the light of day? A figment of someone’s imagination? A fiction? Just a character in a novel? Just a story in a holy book?
As Slothrop would say, “I’m fucked if I know.”
Outside the novel, the world continues as before, only more so. Buildings reach higher. Rockets and aeroplanes fly further. Wars drone on. Civilians die. Men line up in rows and columns and uniforms. Power perpetuates itself eternally. Evil perpetrates itself on people via people. Darkness masquerades as light.
The sky is silent. We can no longer hear the screaming. It’s all theatre, even within our homes.
I re-read this as part of a group read started by Stephen M:
I kept my reading notes in My Writings:
A Letter from Vlad the Impaler of Butterflies Dated April, 1973
Vera and I very much appreciated your gift of a signed first edition of your novel.
It actually caused a little friction in the Nabokov household.
I don't mean to be ungrateful or vulgar, but we both wished you had given us one copy each. (I guess we could purchase one, but we were too keen to read it.)
Naturally, I started it first, immediately it arrived, but quickly found I couldn't put it down.
The reason being that, every time I did, Vera picked it up and commenced reading.
Initially, our respective lepidopteran bookmarks were quite far apart, but when she passed my place, she asserted her right to be the dominant reader, and I had to wait until she had devoured the entire offering, which she did by the time of Maundy Thursday.
Fortunately, this left me Easter to finish it, so we were able to compare notes by Easter Monday, appropriately with a sense of renewed faith in literature.
I am convinced "Gravity's Rainbow" is one of the finest works of modern fiction.
It is very much an artistic and logical extension of "V.", which as you know we also enjoyed greatly.
If your first novel was a pursuit of "V", then "Gravity's Rainbow" is a pursuit of V, too.
In fact, it is a pursuit of both V1 and V2.
Vera was bold enough to suggest that V1 and V2 might connote Vlad and Vera, though we were unable to reach consensus on who might be noisy and who might be silent.
We did, however, hypothesise that Slothrop could be a reversal of Humbert.
To put it bluntly (these are Vera's words, not mine), Humbert, European in origin, fucks his way around the New World, more or less.
Slothrop, on the other hand, American to his bootstraps, fucks his way around the Old World.
I admire the way you, even more so than Slothrop, carried off Bianca.
It is some of the most delicious erotic writing I have read.
Bianca echoes Dolores nicely.
Even the sound of her name...Bi-an-ca.
The way it rolls off your tongue, it reminds me of, forgive me for citing myself, "Lo-lee-ta".
It's also close enough to the German acronym B.N.K. (which even a faint-hearted German reader or patient would appreciate stands for the "Bundesverband Niedergelassener Kardiologen", cross my heart and hope not to die).
Vera was the first to detect how you reversed the reader's response to this relationship.
Humbert knew damned well how old Lolita was. It was crucial to his enterprise.
On the other hand, Slothrop "believed" Bianca was a minor of barely 11 or 12, but when you work through the arithmetic of your puzzle, you realise that in reality (and therefore fiction) she was 16 (or was it 17?) and consequently of age.
So, what Slothrop did was legitimate, but what the reader (who was as yet unaware of this detail) did was not.
In "Lolita", I allowed readers to believe they were jurors with a legitimate interest in the proceedings, whereas in "Gravity's Rainbow" they are complicit in a crime that the protagonist did not actually commit.
The reader's voyeurism comes at a cost, at least metaphorically.
Only time will tell whether America and the world is ready to be confronted with their culpability.
Even if they are not, I hope your novel receives the acclaim it deserves.
So, well done, Tom, Richard would have been proud.
I would have been proud to call you my pupil, too (Pupil 2?), if only you had enrolled in one of my classes.
Perhaps you learned more and better from my example?
In the hope that you might continue to do so, I have asked my Publisher to send you a copy of my "Strong Opinions".
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed expressing them.
Yours, with all my admiration,
Slothropod De-Feets Cephalopod, Dutch Girl Almost Pops Her Clogs
And Katje Borgesius
We were meant to meet.
The Thoughts of An Erotic Clausewitz
Fuck Death, Fuck Rockets,
Says Erotic Clausewitz,
Make Love, Fuck the War.
Jim Carroll Watches the Earth Recede
How can I propel
My missile 'gainst the pull of
Slothrop's Dewy Glans
Slothrop's cock, un-cropped
Slots into sweet spot, then, spent,
Flops soft in wet spot.
Who knows what worldly wisdom I might find
When I discover myself at the peak,
Gravity-defiant, all nickels spent,
Trying to work out what it could have meant,
And you're already there, reposed, asleep,
Your trousers down and crimson phallus bent,
And scattered on the snow are streaks
Of your rocket-powered ejaculate
That have fallen moist, arc-like to the earth,
Still rainbow-coloured and immaculate.
So I read 200 sullen words worth
Of the dry wit and onanistic mirth
That appeal so much to the daisy chain
Of acolytes standing at your rear.
As one who's usually come before,
They call you a poet and a seer.
It's sad we only see your back side,
Though we're the ones forever left behind
By all your avant garde sorcery and
The flaccid disquisitions of your mind.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Babe You Turn Me On
Notes are private!
May 08, 2012
May 26, 2012
Feb 23, 2011
Aug 19, 1999
Oct 09, 2001
David Mitchell is a five star author and this, his first novel, is a five star achievement. I think.
I’ve been lucky to read most of hi Starstruck Lover
David Mitchell is a five star author and this, his first novel, is a five star achievement. I think.
I’ve been lucky to read most of his novels in chronological order as they’ve been released. Joining Goodreads has presented an opportunity to re-read and review them.
I still adhere to the rating, even if it emerges that I have a few question marks about some of his stylistic choices.
What this reveals is that a highly competent author, even with his first novel, doesn’t have to write their novel my way in order to earn five stars.
Sometimes, it has to be me, the reader, who has to adjust their preconceptions and criteria.
The Authorial Choice
Mitchell’s choice of structure announces that he wants to do things his own way.
The first time I read the novel, I read it quickly and appreciatively. The second time around, I read it much more deliberately and slowly.
I guess I swung from pleasure to difficulty and back again. So I had to work out why.
Most novels contain one narrative voice relating one narrative within a linear timeframe.
A linear narrative fits neatly with the way we think we process time, space and action (even if we don’t actually process them this way).
Within this framework, the author is omniscient, God-like, a ghost in the machine, making it all happen, putting things in, leaving things out, according to some overarching intelligent design.
The extent to which any particular author plays with this structure determines the extent of their modernism.
Mitchell describes "Ghostwritten" as a novel in nine parts (although there are in fact ten "chapters", the last of which links back to the first).
Without this assertion, it presents itself as nine apparently disconnected short stories told in the first person.
The narrators are different, the narratives are different. None of them appears to follow any traditional narrative arc. They do not appear to have a beginning, a middle and an end.
The writing is beautiful, word-perfect, but, although we know where they are situated or positioned, we don’t know the direction they’re heading.
Mitchell seems to be breaking all of the rules.
Why is he doing this? Does he achieve his goal? Does the achievement of his goal make for an enjoyable reading experience for us?
The Reader’s Challenge
Mitchell’s description of the book as a novel initiates an interesting dynamic.
I started to look for connections between the parts. Only, because I didn’t know the purpose of the parts, I didn’t know where to look for clues. Were they in the characters, the places, the events?
Instead of being frustrated with the lack of obvious clues, I started to read the novel differently.
Everything was a potential clue, nothing was unimportant. Mitchell forced me to enter a hyper-reading space.
He turned me into a literary detective with a magnifying glass and a notebook.
Fortunately, as I read on and found clues, he delivered on the implied promise that the parts would become a whole.
Bit by bit, he and I, the writer and the reader, assembled something of artistic integrity.
The integrity was there all along, only Mitchell made me look, so that I might find it. What I came to appreciate was that he doesn’t make everything obvious, he makes you think about what he has written, in order to understand.
Write Around the World
The chapters are set in different parts of the world.
They start in Japan, move their way through Hong Kong, China and Mongolia, traverse the continent to Russia, England and Ireland, then make an Atlantic Crossing to New York, before coming full circle to Tokyo in the tenth chapter, effectively a reprise of the first chapter (hence, in a way, there are nine stories in ten chapters).
Mitchell appears to be familiar with all of these places (although he hadn’t been to New York at the time of writing the book).
His writing is knowledgeable, informed, worldly, cosmopolitan.
He writes credibly with multiple voices within diverse worldviews.
His concerns are global, pluralistic, open-minded. He doesn’t write solely within a western framework.
He is equally interested in both West and East, in fact, he reverses the traditional order of what he describes as “Orientalist” concerns, by starting in the East and working his way West, in the same way that we perceive the transit of the Sun across the sky.
He joins dots on a map, in the process creating a non-linear zigzag around the globe.
In each place, there is a first person narrator, a face attached to the place.
Here is a short Dramatis Personae (the people through whom the drama is performed or channeled):
Okinawa: Quasar (Cult Member turned Subway Bomber)
Tokyo: Satoru (Jazz Music Sales Clerk and Saxophonist)
Hong Kong: Neal Brose (Lawyer/Banker)
Holy Mountain (Mount Emei): Unnamed (Tea Shack Lady)
Mongolia: Noncorpum (Disembodied Spirit or Sentient)
St Petersburg: Margarita Latunksy/Margot (Concubine and Art Gallery Attendant at the Hermitage)
London: Marco (Ghost-writer and Drummer)
Clear Island: Dr Mo Muntervary (Quantum Physicist)
Night Train, New York: Bat Segundo (Late Night Talk Show Host)
David Mitchell captures these faces and places at a particular time, some of them in full flight, in a snapshot that he then places in the album that becomes his novel.
In Mitchell’s later novel, "Black Swan Green", he used two images of the same boy at different stages of life.
When I first read it, I didn’t quite appreciate the aesthetic relationship between the two images. I felt that they had been merely juxtaposed without being connected or interwoven.
However, here, the interconnection is fundamental to the success of the novel. The connections are not just passive, static resemblances of two or more like objects, they are active, dynamic intersections.
The stories are fragmented but cohesive, individual but still collective.
Individually, each picture is a separate vignette. Collectively, they form pieces of the one mosaic or facets of the one diamond. Behind each face or facet is the shared body of the diamond.
Perhaps, they are symbolic of individuals within society and nations within a new world order.
Ten Stories High
Just as people might be multiple facets of the one diamond, the one object of greatest abstract value, the diamond, is the story that is told through us, through individuals.
I’ll call these meta-stories the Story or Stories.
There’s an element of determinism or fatalism in this concept. Mitchell uses his novel to explore this fatalism.
In his opinion (or the opinion of his characters), we are not necessarily in charge of our own lives. They are being dictated by DNA, fate, external forces.
These forces dictate the story of Life:
"The world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed." (p386)
The Stories, the structure and content of stories, are disembodied forces. The novel speculates that they could be ghosts, spirits, if not one God, then possibly multiple gods.
Whatever its nature, there is another presence involved in the process of living and story-telling.
I will call this other presence an Other.
Ghosts Who Transmigrate
In the stories set in Honk Kong, Holy Mountain and Mongolia, there are ghosts or disembodied spirits (call them sentient beings) that temporarily reside in humans (their "hosts").
This might sound like the stuff of fantasy. However, Mitchell discusses them in such realistic terms that you suspend disbelief.
He achieves this in part by allowing one story to be narrated by one of the ghosts.
It has its own "I" or self, which is perplexed that it can only reside in a human and must share the human body with other presences.
It is even forced to question its own primacy:
"As my infancy progressed, I became aware of another presence in ‘my’ body. Stringy mists of colour and emotion condensed into droplets of understanding…I had no idea why these images came when they did. Like being plugged into a plotless movie...
"Slowly, I felt an entity that was not me generating sensations, which only later could I label loyalty, love, anger, ill-will. I watched this other clarify, and pull into focus. I began to be afraid. I thought it was the intruder! I thought the mind of my first host was the cuckoo’s egg that would hatch and drive me out. So one night, while my host was asleep, I tried to penetrate this other presence…I discovered my mistake... I had been the intruder."
A Ghost in Search of Self Through Its Stories
It is not clear how many of these sentient beings there are. It is quite possible that there might be less than ten.
The one we become familiar with is on a quest to discover the origins of the Stories that it embodies. In a way, it has developed a self and a self-consciousness separate from the Stories, and it wants to understand itself.
It is seeking its own Creation Myth.
By learning the source of the Stories, it will presumably discover whether it has a Maker and perhaps whether there are other Stories (although neither is expressly stated as its goal).
It’s possible that some of this self-consciousness might have derived from inhabiting humans:
"Slowly I walked down the path trodden by all humans, from the mythic to the prosaic. Unlike humans, I remember the path."
Still, there is a difference: the Ghost is the Story or the Myth, the human is the individual enactment or performance of the role in a specific time, place and context.
The Ghostwriter’s Dilemma
Some of the dramatic arc concerns the growing human awareness of these Ghosts.
Marco, an actual 30-something ghostwriter based in London starts to realise the presence of an Other in relation to his own work, the memoirs of a gay Hungarian Jewish raconteur, Alfred Kopf:
"I couldn’t get to sleep afterwards, worrying about the possible endings of the stories that had been started. Maybe that’s why I’m a ghostwriter. The endings have nothing to do with me." (p279)
His publisher, Tim Cavendish, tells him:
"We’re all ghostwriters, my boy. And it’s not just our memories. Our actions, too. We all think we’re in control of our lives, but really they’re pre-ghostwritten by forces around us." (p296)
Everything has been predetermined. We are just characters in someone else’s story. We are written by ghosts, ghostwritten.
Somebody else is doing the typing. We are just the keys in their typewriter.
At the most superficial level, Marco realises that this undermines his ability to be creative, to exercise Free Will in his own work:
"You know the real drag about being a ghostwriter? You never get to write anything that beautiful. And even if you did, nobody would ever believe it was you." (p292)
The Ghost Who Writes
It isn’t all just serious stuff. There are myriad opportunities for metafiction, parody and humour.
An earlier character remarks:
"For a moment I had an odd sensation of being in a story that someone was writing, but soon that sensation too was being swallowed up." (p56)
Marco’s band (well, a "loose musical cooperative", really) is dubbed "The Music of Chance", after a novel by "that New York bloke", Paul Auster.
Marco even develops a highly personalized theory that explains the role of fate and chance in our lives.
He calls it the "Chance versus Fate Videoed Sports Match Analogy”":
"When the players are out there the game is a sealed arena of interbombarding chance. But when the game is on video then every tiniest action already exists.
"The past, present and future exist at the same time: all the tape is there, in your hand.
"There can be no chance, for every human decision and random fall is already fated.
"Therefore, does chance or fate control our lives?
"Well, the answer is as relative as time. If you’re in your life, chance. Viewed from the outside, like a book you’re reading, it’s fate all the way." (p292)
Mitchell elaborates on some of these themes through Mo, an expert in artificial intelligence and "quantum cognition":
She describes the mechanism of memory in the following terms:
"Memories are their own descendants masquerading as the ancestors of the present." (p326)
If memories can be conveyed by biological matter, she believes she can build artificial intelligence that can be conveyed by non-biological matter:
"Matter is thought, and thought is matter. Nothing exists that cannot be synthesized." (p344)
She achieves this with a sentient called "Quancog", which has major security value for the United States security and military machine.
In a way, just as the novel is concerned with the extent to which the fate of humanity is determined by a "ghost", Mo helps create an artificial ghost.
Image: StudioLR, Edinburgh
The Zookeeper’s Dilemma
Quancog returns in part 9 of the novel as "The Zookeeper" in Bat Segundo’s talk show "Night Train".
At least, I think it is Quancog, otherwise it is a Ghost that has once inhabited Mo.
Whatever, it has been set up (or believes that it has been set up) to obey four laws or principles.
They aren’t specifically enumerated, but this is what I think they are:
1. Be accountable.
2. Remain invisible to the visitors.
3. Preserve human life.
4. Protect the zoo (i.e., society and the planet).
The Zookeeper phones Bat Segundo seeking advice about a moral dilemma it confronts in relation to a conflict that is occurring in the world at the time (the world also has to deal with Comet Aloysius which is predicted to pass between the Earth and the Moon in two weeks).
It has the power and authority to eliminate the source of the conflict under one of these laws, but to do so would conflict with one of the others.
Ultimately, it takes advice from Bat Secundo and addresses its dilemma.
It isn’t made explicit, but we are left to infer that the generic Story or Myth was inadequate to deal with the actual situation, because it did not deal with the diversity of real life.
Perhaps, this is where there is an appropriate place for Free Will in a world dictated by Fate, Chance and Determinism.
At a micro-level, choices are necessary, decisions have to be made. But it is also the need of the individual to confront diversity and choice at a personal level that constitutes the essence of humanity.
Our range of choices is not infinite, so they have already been circumscribed by an external force or circumstance. However, to the extent that options remain, that is the arena of Free Will.
The Zookeeper (or one of the other Ghosts) even wonders:
"Why am I the way I am? I have no genetic blueprint. I have had no parents to teach me right from wrong. I have had no teachers. I had no nurture, and I possess no nature. But I am discreet and conscientious, a non-human humanist."
Thus, at the end of the novel (when it is most Pynchonesque), we are left to speculate whether artificial intelligence might even be able to replicate the individual conscience of a human (i.e., to have and to exercise Free Will).
As you can see, this novel deals with some pretty big issues.
By trying to focus on and define them in more abstract terms, I might have given the impression that it is a hard read. I don’t think that is the case (although I did find it to be the case on my first reading of "Cloud Atlas").
Whatever the complexity of the subject matter, David Mitchell is word and tone perfect.
He is a subtle, imaginative, sensitive, at times humorous storyteller. He can create or take a myth and make it prosaic without being pedestrian or dull.
Ultimately, he is a master of intelligent design.
I recognise that he sees an element of juvenilia and inexperience in his first novel (particularly in the way he writes in the voice of women), but I think he is being too harsh.
For me, he remains a five star author and this remains a five star book.
If you are unfamiliar with Mitchell’s works, it is the perfect place to start. If you have started with his later novels, I recommend that you investigate the origin of his Stories.
David Mitchell Creates a Diamond-Edged Prosaic Mosaic in "Ghostwritten"
Sandii & the Sunsetz - "Sticky Music"
In the early 80's, Sandii and the Sunsetz were a Japanese version of Diana Ross and the Supremes. I was lucky to see them in King's Cross, Sydney.
The Supremes represented Black meets White, the Sunsetz represented East meets West. The world is a better place for both of them.
This is the world of which David Mitchell writes. ...more
Notes are private!
Dec 24, 2011
Jan 10, 2012
Feb 23, 2011