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Jan 01, 2003
My more formal review of this novel is here:
The purpose of these notes and comments (and...more Formal Review
My more formal review of this novel is here:
The purpose of these notes and comments (and they are really nothing more than that) is to help build a picture of the intellectual, cultural and political context and subtext of this unique and uniquely Australian novel, so that readers not familiar with the landscape or culture of Australia can get some additional insight into the novel.
Despite or regardless of its Australian origins, the novel transcends national boundaries.
Hopefully, a discussion of the following issues will help unlock the merits of the novel beyond the beauty of its writing.
The narrator refers to the remote central districts (presumably of Victoria). (4)
The only coastal city mentioned is Melbourne.
The Individualism of the Narrator and the Plainsmen
The narrator develops a belief that only he can interpret the plains:
"I recall clearly a succession of days when the flat land around me seemed more and more a place that only I could interpret. (3)"
This individualism seems to be something he developed from proximity to the plainsmen.
They don't value a common belief. They are not trying to create an agreed tradition:
"Listening to the plainsmen, I had a bewildering sense that they wanted no common belief to fall back on: that each of them became uncomfortable if another seemed to take as understood something he himself claimed for the plains as a whole. It was as though each plainsman chose to appear as a solitary inhabitant of a region that only he could explain. And even when a man spoke of his particular plain, he seemed to choose his words as though the simplest of them came from no common stock but took its meaning from the speaker’s peculiar usage of it. (9)"
This individualism is reflected in their use of language. There is a sense in which even the words, the signifiers, are individual, rather than social. Needless to say, the signified is peculiar to the individual plainsman.
The plainsmen are not collectivists. The community of tastes and values is seen as a virus that can be contagious to the individual:
"I saw that what had sometimes been described as the arrogance of the plainsmen was no more than their reluctance to recognise any common ground between themselves and others. This was the very opposite (as the plainsmen themselves well knew) of the common urge among Australians of those days to emphasise whatever they seemed to share with other cultures. A plainsman…would affect to be without any distinguishing culture rather than allow his land and his ways to be judged part of some larger community of contagious tastes or fashions. (9)"
The individualism of the plainsmen seems to be opposed to the tradition of mateship and egalitarianism in Outer Australia.
The narrator meets up with a group of plainsmen in the bar of the hotel where he is staying.
They are townsfolk. They are different from the Landowners.
Unlike the townsfolk in the coastal cities, they are all referred to as "intellectuals and custodians of the history and lore of the district."
Two Intellectual Movements
Historically, at first, there were two intellectual movements among the plainsmen:
* the Horizonites (15); and
* the Haremen (15).
These groups emerged out of a "cautiously expressed manifesto signed by an obscure group of poets and painters". (27)
This could be an allusion to the role the Surrealist Manifesto played in the early stages of Modernism.
The Horizonites are identified in terms of a more metaphysical approach to culture:
"They may well have intended no more than to provoke the intellectuals of the plains to define in metaphysical terms what had previously been expressed in emotional or sentimental language. (28)"
They are less concerned with actuality. Their art contains:
"…few renderings of actual places on the plains (29)
"What moved them more than wide grasslands and huge skies was the scant layer of haze where land and sky merged in the distance. (29)"
"Talked of the blue-green haze as though it was itself a land – a plain of the future, perhaps, where one might live a life that existed only in potentiality on the plains where poets and painters could do no more than write or paint. (29)"
Their pivotal art work is the poem, “The Horizon, After All” (27).
There could be some allusion to the use of the concept of the "horizon" by Husserl.
Their colour is Blue-green.
Their political party is the Progressive Mercantile Party (which aims to "establish new industries and build railway lines between the plains and capital cities".) (36)
It is possible that this party might be based on the Australian conservative coalition. However, this could be overly simplistic, especially because the Haremen political party does not equate obviously with the left-wing Australian Labor party.
The Horizonites consider themselves to be men of action (35)
They think of themselves as "true plainsmen, ready to push back the limits of pasturage into regions too long neglected." (35)
Their polo team is the Outer Plains (sea-green uniform).
The Haremen are named after a marsupial plains-hare:
It is noted for its stubborn foolishness (31):
"It was obliged to cling for safety to its barren surroundings; to persist in seeing the shallow grass of the plains as a fortress against intruders.” (32)
The Haremen "wanted the people of the plains to see their landscape with other eyes; to recover the promise, the mystery even, of the plains as they might have appeared to someone with no other refuge." (32)
Their pivotal art work is Decline and Fall of the Empire of Grass. (30)
Their colour is weathered gold or yellow (32)
Their political party is the Plains First League (“Buy Local Goods”). (36)
The Haremen insisted that "they were the practical ones, contrasted their own realistic plans for closer settlement with their opponents’ grand plans for populating a desert." (35)
This party does not seem to relate to the traditional Australian left. Instead, it seems to anticipate more conservative, nationalistic Australia First-type parties.
There even seems to be a suggestion of a White Australia policy, which was embraced by the Australian Labor Party in its early stages.
Their polo team is the Central Plains (yellow uniform).
Third Intellectual Movement
Later, a third unnamed movement starts. It is described as a "new absurdity".
However, its tenets are not identified in any detail.
This movement ironically unites the other two in opposition:
"They discredited it finally on the simple grounds that it was derived from ideas current in Outer Australia. (33)"
It sounds existentialist.
Overview of Three Intellectual Movements
The three intellectual, cultural and artistic movements can possibly be differentiated on the following basis:
* Metaphysical/idealist vs
* Naturalist/Realist vs
These are very approximate summations of the movements, and could well be totally inaccurate.
However, they might start a discussion of the substance of Murnane's writing on these issues.
I also feel that these concerns place him within a Modernist tradition, rather than a Post-Modernist tradition, even if he explores metafictional concerns.
After the decline of these intellectual and political movements, two secret societies formed.
Murnane doesn't give much detail about these societies, other than to say that they engaged in brawls.
It's not clear whether or how they were aligned with the above movements. It's possible that they crossed boundaries.
Brotherhood of the Endless Plain
This society elaborated a scheme for "transforming Australia into a Union of States whose seat of government was far inland and whose culture welled up from its plains and spiraled outwards."
The Union would incorporate Outer Australia.
This is closer to the type of federalism that Outer Australia did embrace.
League of Heartlanders:
This society proposed a separate Republic of the Plains.
The Republic would exclude Outer Australia. Thus, the continent of Australia would be split into different nations.
The great landowners "kept aloof from politics."
They come across as powerful mandarins to whom the other plainsmen kowtow.
They engage the townsfolk to provide cultural services to their families.
The processes by which they select plainsmen to provide these services resemble the grants process adopted by the Australia Council (formerly the Arts Council).
While the process must ultimately be subjective, a whole bureaucracy surrounds the administration of the financial support.
A Post-Structuralist Diversion
Many artists would argue that decisions of the Australia Council are not solely made on merit. As far as I am aware, it took Murnane many years of unsuccessful applications before he received any funding.
He did however receive an Australia Council emeritus award in 2008. The other recipient that year was:
The Chair of the Australia Council’s Literature Board at the time was Dr Imre Salusinszky, who wrote a critical study of Murnane in 1993:
The monograph was based on interviews Salusinzski conducted at the University of Newcastle:
This news item mentions a Film Australia documentary called "Words and Silk", which was made by Philip Tyndall:
Salusinzski has been described, perhaps unfairly, as "an ultra-Right political columnist for the Australian".
He was an editorial adviser to "Quadrant", a conservative literary and cultural journal similar to "Encounter" (some might recall the allegations that the funding it received from the Congress for Cultural Freedom was sourced from the C.I.A.).
He has been a lecturer at Yale University, I gather, while on a Fulbright Scholarship. He is keenly interested in the Canadian critic Northrop Frye and the French philosopher/critic Jacques Derrida, and has written about "Yale School" Post-Structuralism, which is reflected in many of the interviews found in this text:
Salusinzski was born in Hungary. This might explain Murnane's decision to learn Hungarian late in life.
Murnane has quoted the title of an essay by Derrida in one of his own essays. However, I suspect that he doesn't have much time for Derrida, and might have first learned about him from reading the Times Literary Supplement, rather than from Salusinzki.
Despite the fact that Salusinzki has played a large role in promoting Murnane, I am not sure whether Murnane endorses everything Salusinzski says about his work. I have a fleeting recollection that I might have read that the two had fallen out.
For an example of the Culture Wars that occur in Australia (mentioned in my other review), see the transcript of the debate between Peter Craven and Ken Gelder below (note the centrality of Gerald Murnane):
Ken Gelder wrote a monograph on David Ireland, who I would juxtapose against Gerald Murnane as an explorer of the Australian psyche, although not to the exclusion of either.
Peter Craven is a prominent Australian literary critic. He co-founded the literary magazine, "Scripsi", with Michael Heyward, who is the publisher at Text Publishing, which has re-printed works by both Murnane and Ireland under its "Text Classics" imprint.
Heyward also published a book on the "Angry Penguins Hoax", which is the basis of Peter Carey's "My Life as a Fake".
The Temperament of the Plainsmen
The narrator identifies a "basic polarity in the temperament of the plainsman: anyone surrounded from childhood by an abundance of level land must dream alternately of exploring two landscapes – one continually visible but never accessible, and the other always invisible even though one crossed and recrossed it daily." (45)
The Seven Landowners
The first dialogue in the novel appears at pages 61 to 75. It consists of snippets of conversation or speeches by seven Landowners. There is a continuity to their views on the subject matter. However, it might also be possible that each Landowner has discrete views. I didn’t really pursue an attempt to determine these views after re-reading the dialogue a few times.
One issue is the complexion, pallor or colour of the skin of the plainsmen, especially their ideal woman including their wives and daughters. They place great value on white skin and delicate golden tans.
The complexion of the women is preserved by the use of silk blouses and parasols, which provide a screen between the real world and the object of a male’s love.
(view spoiler)[Silk recurs in Murnane's fiction, also being associated with the silk jockey shirts, caps and colours worn by jockeys in his favourite hobby of horse-racing. (hide spoiler)]
This practice is recorded in a 200 stanza poem called ”A Parasol at Noon”. Ironically, the poem captures ”the posture of men forever looking into the distance.” Like their vision of the plains, the features of the object are never quite distinguished. It remains an unreachable ideal.
Another goal of the plainsmen is the exploration of the plains and what lies beyond.
The seventh Landowner remarks, ”a man can know his place and yet never try to reach it.”
Ironically, despite the narrator’s own journey of exploration, he takes up a role with this Landowner.
Words and Film
The narrator’s film [“The Interior”] will be ”the story of this man’s search for the one land that might have lain beyond or within all that he had ever seen…the Eternal Plain…What distinguished a man after all but the landscape where he finally found himself?”
For Murnane, the quest of the artist, like that of any man, is find himself: ”Every man may be travelling towards the heart of some remote private plain.”
For the narrator, his film will be ”concerned with memories and visions and dreams, …and the last sequence of ‘The Interior’ would bring to light the strangest and most enduring of my dreams.”
The novel is necessarily made of words. However, the narrator’s task is to make a film.
Ironically, the plainsmen have ”a scant interest in films and…claim that a camera merely multiplied the least significant qualities of the plains – their colour and shape as they appeared to the eye.”
What matters to them is the narrator’s words, ”a form of writing…which came near to defining what was indefinable about the plains.”
They are interested in what lies beyond the light of the plains, which happens to be darkness.
Ultimately, Murnane believes that man must be the source of his own light. What lies beyond man’s own light is darkness.
The Australian Cultural Cringe
For a long time, Australia had a cultural cringe, an inferiority complex about its own intellectual and cultural status. Indeed, it’s arguable that we still have one.
In the 60’s, many writers and artists left the country to seek inspiration and recognition overseas. Examples of such expatriates are Germaine Greer, Clive James, Robert Hughes and Richard Neville.
Politically, this was a conservative period. Many people on the Left would argue that, only when the Whitlam Labor Government was elected in 1972, was there a cultural resurgence and a greater self-confidence in our creativity.
It meant a lot to Australia that Patrick White won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973, even if many of the Left hadn’t read or liked his novels up to that point.
Not only did we consume more local talent domestically, but we exported it as well. However, equally importantly, with greater self-confidence, we opened up to new ideas from outside.
We had always fed off British and American culture. However, we were now more open to European culture, including Continental Philosophy, which contributed to the radicalization of University Arts Faculties.
The Role of Gerald Murnane
Gerald Murnane, who has recently been considered a possible recipient of the Nobel Prize, stands adjacent to, but not wholly within, this recent tradition.
He has consciously never travelled outside Australia, even though he has read widely and recently learned Hungarian in order to read that country’s literature.
Still, he has played a major role in addressing the cultural cringe, at least at a personal level.
Apart from his teaching roles, I would argue that he pursues his goals individualistically and idiosyncratically.
In ”The Plains”, he journeyed into Inner Australia, not just to find what was there, but to turn his back on what was in Outer Australia, i.e., the urbanations on the coastal fringe.
By heading towards the centre, I suspect he was better able to see and understand Outer Australia in his rear vision mirror.
I don’t think he feels much in common with the Australian culture he is witness to.
This is not necessarily to denigrate him or Australian culture.
I would say he has to be one of the most self-contained writers and artists anywhere on the planet.
It doesn’t matter that he looks beyond the horizon and sees darkness.
The important thing for him and for us, is that he looks within and finds light, and he harnesses that light, so that those of us, particularly Australians, who are willing might be enlightened.
For as long as Murnane continues to write, I’m confident that he will build on the personal vision he has constructed.
To the extent that this brings him success, it’s possible that many academics in Australia will jump on his bandwagon.
In my other review, I’ve argued that there is an element of hoax in the novel.
If I’m wrong in this opinion, it is at least a declaration of independence from those who would claim him as their own (e.g., post-structuralism and post-modernism).
This isn’t meant to detract from the uniqueness and distinction of his writing.
I think that in this novel he is playing a game with his audience in the same way that Nabokov played with his readership.
For all of his earnestness, I suspect that this solitary man, Gerald Murnane, is also a Great Australian Ratbag. I admire all of these qualities in him.
Neil Diamond - "Solitary Man"
Johnny Cash - "Solitary Man"
Notes are private!
Jul 08, 2014
Jul 10, 2014
Jul 19, 2014
Oct 28, 1969
The Existence of Metaphysics Precedes the Essence of Metafiction
Barth’s second novel, "The End of the Road" ("TEOTR"), is now usually packaged as part...more The Existence of Metaphysics Precedes the Essence of Metafiction
Barth’s second novel, "The End of the Road" ("TEOTR"), is now usually packaged as part of one volume with his first novel, "The Floating Opera".
In the introduction to the package, Barth gives the impression that "TEOTR" is the lesser of the two, and that both are inferior to his later, more metafictional works. However, there is much of value in both works and especially in "TEOTR".
It's a deeply philosophical novel. However, what appeals to me is Barth's ability to examine profound philosophical issues within what is ostensibly a realist fictional construction, even if it betrays an occasional black sense of humour or sense of the absurdity of the cosmos.
At the most abstract level, the plot encompasses a grab bag of existential and/or existentialist issues: life, being, nothingness, the abyss, choice, indecision, immobility, remobilisation, progress, advice, depression, treatment, inauthenticity, bad faith, deception, infidelity, adultery, a gun, nausea, abortion and death.
Yet, Barth pulls all of these together into a novel that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
A Cosmopsist Narrator
The first person narrator is Jacob (Jake) Horner. Sometimes I wondered whether he was supposed to be Little Jack Horner. Others, at a glance, "Horner" looked like "Homer".
His therapist, perhaps an alter ego, remains anonymous, and is known only as "the Doctor".
From the Doctor, he learns that "In a sense, I am Jacob Horner."
As with "The Floating Opera", the narrator falls into a triangular relationship with a married couple, Joe and Rennie Morgan.
An English teacher (grammar), Jake describes himself as a "placid-depressive":
"My lows were low, but my highs were middle-register."
He's afflicted with a cosmic malady Barth calls "cosmopsis":
"When one has it, one is frozen like the bullfrog when the hunter's light strikes him full in the eyes, only with cosmopsis there is no hunter, and no quick hand to terminate the moment - there's only the light."
Jake is unable to make choices, he freezes, becomes paralysed, immobilised, when confronted with a decision. It's as if he is continually standing at the abyss, suspecting that it's all absurd.
A Rational Being
In contrast, Joe's life is driven by logic and what is rationally justifiable:
"I can always explain what I do or say."
At the same time, he's an individualist. While he purports to be objective, he is still essentially subjective:
"In my ethics the most a man can ever do is be right from his point of view...he's got to expect conflict with people or institutions who are also right from their points of view, but those points of view are different from his."
He's not interested in ostensibly absolute values like the greater good or the good of the state: "four things I'm not impressed by are unity, harmony, eternality and universality."
Of all of the characters in the novel, he's the one most capable of making a decision when confronted by a situation. However, his thought processes are so rational that they almost seem irrational from a personal or social point of view.
Joe sees no inconsistency in his predicament:
"...the more sophisticated your ethics get, the stronger you have to be to stay afloat. And when you say good-bye to objective values, you really have to flex your muscles and keep your eyes open, because you're on your own.
"It takes energy: not just personal energy, but cultural energy, or you're lost.
"Energy's what makes the difference between American pragmatism and French existentialism - where the hell else but in America could you have a cheerful nihilism, for God's sake?"
A Self-Sufficient Being
Rennie is self-sufficient, physically strong and private, by and large a common sense type of person, perhaps an authentic, real life, down to earth (non-philosophical) pragmatist. Yet all those around her seem to regard her with condescension and disdain. She comes across as devoid of an ego, "...but you think I'm a zero."
Indeed, Jake treats all of those around him like pawns or cyphers in some absurdist cosmic game. All of the characters in the novel are, or are treated like, beings on the edge of nothingness.
Apart from the Doctor, Rennie has the greatest insight into Jake's condition:
"I think you don't exist at all. There's too many of you. It's more than just masks that you put on and take off - we all have masks. But you...cancel yourself out. You're like somebody in a dream. You're not strong and you're not weak. You're nothing."
An Engagement with the Doctor
The other person who seems to have some insight into Jake's existential problem is the Doctor. He demonstrates his approach by asking how many seats there are in the Cleveland Municipal Stadium:
"Logic will never give you the answer to my question. Only Knowledge of the World will answer it...The world is everything that is the case, and what the case is, is not a matter of logic...but if you have some Knowledge of the World, you may be able to say...[unlike logic,] no choice is involved."
The Doctor elaborates in a way that takes this argument from its Wittgensteinian origins "The world is everything that is the case" to a Sartrean Existentialism ("human existence precedes human essence"):
"Choosing is existence: to the extent that you don't choose, you don't exist. Now, everything we do must be oriented toward choice and action. It doesn't matter whether this action is more or less reasonable than inaction; the point is that it is its opposite [i.e., the opposite of inaction]."
So the Doctor's therapy involves action, movement:
"Above all, act impulsively: don't let yourself get stuck between alternatives, or you're lost...keep moving all the time. Be engagé. Join things...Say something! Move! Take a role!"
The Doctor is not so much concerned with authenticity (whether or not in relation to some underlying essence), as motion rather than paralysis, mobility rather than immobility, engagement rather than disengagement.
It’s a Shame about Rennie
The first role Jake takes is a teaching position at the same institution where Joe teaches. The second involves an adulterous relationship with Rennie. In a way, the two males present her with a choice between Reason and Unreason. However, it's equally possible that Joe is just another double or alter ego that allows Jake to learn about himself.
Rennie is the least satisfactorily drawn of the characters. She seems to be just a board upon which the metaphysical forces play out their game of cause and effect. Yet, she is the one who suffers most from the clash of these pseudo-titans.
Towards a Therapeutic Mythopoesis
If there is any flaw in the novel, it is that, for Jake, Rennie is just a minor character, a bit part in the film of his life.
However, once again, the Doctor might have an explanation:
"Not only are we the heroes of our own life stories - we're the ones who conceive the story, and give other people the essences of minor characters. But since no man's life story as a rule is ever one story with a coherent plot, we're always reconceiving just the sort of hero we are, and consequently just the sort of minor roles that other people are supposed to play...
"This kind of role-assigning is myth-making, and when it's done consciously or unconsciously for the purpose of aggrandising or protecting your ego - and it's probably done for this purpose all the time - it becomes Mythotherapy...
"Mythotherapy is based on two assumptions: that human existence precedes human essence...and that a man is free not only to choose his own essence but to change it at will."
In a sense, we are what we make of ourselves (no matter what we make of others).
The first task is to heal your Self, then you can take care of the Other(s).
Beyond the End of the Road
Ultimately, "TEOTR" documents Jake's course in Mythotherapy, leaving his ego functional enough one day to shave, dress, pack his bags and call a taxi.
His destination? The "terminal”, at the end of the road, from which he can depart his old life and perhaps commence a journey on a new road to being both somewhere and someone else.
Attractatus Barthicus Medico-Logico-Philosophicus
1.1 The World is everything that is the case.
1.2 What the case is, is not a matter of logic.
1.3 Logic involves choice.
1.3.1 A choice requires logic.
1.4 Knowledge of the World does not require choice.
1.4.1 Knowledge of the World does not require logic.
1.5 Choosing is existence.
1.5.1 To the extent that we don't choose, we don't exist.
1.5.2 If we use logic, we exist.
1.6 Action is a choice.
1.6.1 Action is existence.
1.6.2 If we act, we exist.
1.7 Everything we do must be oriented toward choice and action.
1.7.1 It doesn't matter whether any particular action is more or less reasonable than inaction.
1.7.2 Action is the opposite of inaction.
1.7.3 Inaction is not a choice.
1.7.4 Inaction is the failure to make a choice.
1.8 Inaction is nothingness.
1.8.1 If we don't act, we don't exist.
1.9 Don't get stuck between alternatives.
1.9.1 Act logically.
1.9.2 Act impulsively.
1.9.3 Act the goat.
Notes are private!
Jul 02, 2014
Jul 05, 2014
Jun 30, 2014
Apr 26, 2012
"The Man in My Mind Who Sits in the Fields of Grass"
"I watch the man in my mind writing with his pencil in his notebook while he sits in the fields of...more "The Man in My Mind Who Sits in the Fields of Grass"
"I watch the man in my mind writing with his pencil in his notebook while he sits in the fields of grass."
Gerald Murnane, "In Far Fields", 1995
"Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Plainsmen Fiction"
This is a beautifully written novella. Every sentence has been carefully and lovingly crafted. You don't often encounter writing as good as this.
Only it contains within it a hoax (view spoiler)[(or perhaps two, if you include both those perpetrated by the author and the narrator) (hide spoiler)] of magnificent proportions, one that Alan Sokal would be proud of.
It might seem like a sympathetic piece of metafiction, but I smell a rat.
I suspect that one of the aims of this highly intelligent writer and novella is to interrogate the world of Post-Modernism it purports to inhabit and to aggravate its adherents, practitioners and benefactors.
It is, at heart, deeply conservative, politically and culturally. In this sense, it reminds me of the contemporary response to the work of Patrick White.
Of course, its conservatism is no reason to refrain from reading it.
By all means, read and enjoy it (I've rated it four stars), but I suspect it's a Trojan horse that has made its way into the forecourt of the citadel of Post-Modernism.
As a web-savvy Virgil might have warned, beware of geeks bearing gifts.
"A World of His Own"
There are a few precise beautiful descriptions of the Australian Outback. But the Plains are something metaphysical beyond the Outback.
The Plainsmen don't exist, except in Murnane's mind, and he has created them, in equally precise and beautiful prose, in order to undermine, criticise and parody them.
The Plainsmen do not constitute an imagined or imaginative world that is intended to be inspirational or aspirational for the author or for the reader. They are there to be questioned and attacked. This is an eloquent political tract, a satire of Swiftian scale and achievement.
Although the Plainsmen are intellectual and sophisticated, they represent a culture that threatens the personal, creative or social world that Murnane has grown used to (even if that culture wasn't fully-formed in Australia at the time - it was the end of the conservative Fraser government - he saw it coming, almost prophetically).
"Less Concrete Concerns"
Here, later, an interview with Murnane describes his relationship with this culture:
"Perhaps surprisingly for someone so self-contained, [Murnane] taught creative writing for many years at Prahran Teachers College, now absorbed into Deakin University.
"He took early retirement from teaching, disillusioned, he says, by the shift from text to other, less concrete concerns, such as literary theory...
" 'The unit I dealt with was the sentence. It was where I started: no theoretical talk about meaning, theme, character, social relevance or any such thing.' "
A Space of My Own
Read Murnane for the beauty of the text, his sentences (they are not only flawless, but consistent) and the innovative skills needed to construct his "elaborate daydream world", but don't assume that he is sympathetic to the world of Post-Modernism that he plays with and against.
He is an exquisite formalist, at best an old-fashioned, patrician Modernist, in the style of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.
He is primarily metaphysical, and then only secondarily metafictional, perhaps because he has always been interested in the method of writing, at least his method, the nature of the craft, sometimes so he can teach others:
"I would then go on to tell my student that my mind consisted only of images and feelings; that I had studied my mind for many years and had found in it nothing but images and feelings; that a diagram of my mind would resemble a vast and intricate map with images for its small towns and with feelings for the roads through the grassy countryside between the towns."
Driven to Abstraction
I infer from this description of his craft that Murnane is writing about "phenomena" in his mind, rather than the "noumena" that exist in the outside world.
To this extent, his approach and work could potentially be described as phenomenological.
However, it's quite something else to infer that Murnane's style derives from or is influenced by the philosophy of phenomenology or that his work consciously investigates its implications.
Rather, I suspect that he has intuitively arrived at a similar understanding of how his own mind and writing process work to that of the phenomenologists, and that he is simply exploring his own personal phenomena in his fiction, as opposed to plumbing the depths of the philosophy.
Ironically, Murnane eschews the concrete of external "noumena" in favour of the abstraction of the "phenomena" of his own mind, even though it was the less concrete concerns of literary theory that motivated him to retire from tertiary education.
Presumably, there are different degrees or qualities of abstraction. Unless it's as simple as, my abstraction is better than your abstraction. And what, after all, could be more subjective than abstraction?
"To Write is to Go in Search" (Jacques Derrida)
If my suspicion is right, it is even more remote from the truth to argue that Murnane's work is self-consciously Post-Modernist or Post-Structuralist.
This is an argument arrived at from the outside rather than from the inside.
It probably reflects the tendency of Post-Modernism and Post-Modernists to appropriate practices used in the past as if they were a precursors to the concerns of Post-Modernism, rather than practices that existed in their own right and emerged out of totally different historical and cultural contexts:
"Good writing exactly reproduces what we should call the contour of our thought."
[Herbert Read, "English Prose Style" as quoted by Gerald Murnane in "Why I Write What I Write".]
The difference is twofold: first, Murnane's work doesn't have to be construed in terms of any ostensible Post-Modernism, and second, he might actually not relate to Post-Modernism in any particularly meaningful way.
Murnane might relate to somebody like Derrrida to the extent that he writes in order to search the images in his mind. However, that doesn't mean that he has read Derrida more than superficially or bought his philosophy wholesale.
Both Artisan and Partisan
Rather, I'd argue that Murnane approaches Post-Modernism from the opposite perspective, in other words, critically, as both artisan and partisan. To make greater claims of his Post-Modernism is to confuse reality with an image of him. It's just a trick of the light.
Still he writes beautifully within the constraints he has set himself, within the private, imagined space that he has made his own and that he, in turn, offers to us.
CONTEXT AND SUB-TEXT
I've added some personal views on the context and sub-text of the novel here:
VERSE [A TRIBUTE TO A HOAX WELL EXECUTED]:
[Apologies to Harold Stewart and James McAuley]
The Obliquity of the Darkening Ecliptic
Just a black swan of trespass
On such remote inland plains.
The Love Life of Ern Malley, Poet, Post Restante the Wimmera
A secret book,
Out on the plains,
Lilac and black,
In the library
Does now abide.
If you do look,
It might astound,
For it contains
Plans of attack
To seduce, ably,
My patron’s bride.
My Life as a Fake Plainsman
Why not decry
These writers, not
If not curious,
About boundless plains,
Who’re yet to set
A foot on them,
As if they’re just
A Telegram from Herbert Read
"I TOO WOULD HAVE BEEN DECEIVED BY ERN MALLEY BUT HOAXER HOISTED BY OWN PETARD HAS TOUCHED OFF UNCONSCIOUS SOURCES INSPIRATION WORK TOO SOPHISTICATED BUT HAS ELEMENTS GENUINE POETRY"
SOUNDTRACK ("YOU WANNA BE THERE, BUT YOU DON'T WANNA TRAVEL"):
The Triffids - "A Trick Of The Light"
"Well the rim of her mouth was golden
Her eyes were just desert sands
But that's not her!
That's just the light
It's only an image of her
It's just a trick of the light."
The Triffids - "Wide Open Road"
"The sky was big and empty
My chest filled to explode
I yelled my insides out at the sun
At the wide open road."
Dave Graney 'n' the Coral Snakes - "You Wanna Be Loved"
Good old Mount Gambier boy! It's further away than the Plains!
Dave Graney 'n' the Coral Snakes - "I'm Gonna Release Your Soul"
Sanctum Theatre - "The Plains" 2008
"Anyone surrounded from childhood by an abundance of level land must dream alternatively of exploring two landscapes one continually visible but not accessible and the other always invisible even though one crossed and recrossed it daily."
Gerald Murnane - Melbourne Prize for Literature 2009
Gerald Murnane - "The Writing Room" (ABC)
Gerald Murnane - "The literary life of Gerald Murnane" (Radio National Book Show)
Notes are private!
Jul 08, 2014
Jul 10, 2014
Jun 30, 2014
Whether to Exit if Not Entranced? That is the Question
Time is a river. And all the world's a stage...in this case, on a steamboat, a showboat, no less...more Whether to Exit if Not Entranced? That is the Question
Time is a river. And all the world's a stage...in this case, on a steamboat, a showboat, no less, plying up and down the river.
Life itself is an entertainment, a comedy, a circus, a play, an opera performed on this floating stage, hence a floating opera.
To top it off (so to speak), all men and women are merely players in their own shows, although they might also be spectators in the shows of others. They have their exits and their entrances.
Some exit by their own hands, while others remain entranced, alive.
Which players are right? To be or not to be, to live or not to live, enquires the Bard, as channelled by John Barth.
A Primer in the Moral and Refined
Despite his undertaking, Barth's vessel doesn't just stick to the channel. He navigates a meandering stream, much in the style of Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy".
This was his first novel, completed when he was just 24, but it betrays a mastery of his craft. It purports to be the work of a literary ingenu, who is concerned that the plot might sail in and out of view, but it's extremely carefully planned, plotted and executed. He "simply carries out [his] premises completely to their conclusions." It's a delightful piece of meta-fiction, even if it contains more evidence of realism than its successors.
Like "Adam's Original & Unparalleled Floating Opera" (the source of the novel's title), Barth's work boasts DRAMA (!), MINSTRELS (!), VAUDEVILLE (!), a gas-driven Calliope (!)(aren't they all?) and a Panithiopliconica (!), as well as promising to be Moral & Refined!
A Would-Be Annihilist Stares Into the Abyss
Barth cites not just Shakespeare and Sterne as influences, but James Joyce, the Brazilian novelist Joachim Machado de Assis and Albert Camus.
The latter informs both the style and the concerns of the novel. Indeed, it's structured as a philosophical inquiry into issues both profound and profane, such as life and death, cause and effect, free will and determinism, friendship and parenthood, adultery and adventure, mortality and suicide, anarchism and Marxism, sophistication and cynicism, stoicism and existentialism.
The first person narrator, Todd Andrews, in many ways a comic, smiling nihilist (once bent on destruction of both Self and Others), explains:
"My Inquiry is timeless, in effect; that is, I proceed at it as though I had an eternity to inquire in...
Barth very eloquently summarises two key preoccupations of civilisation: contradiction and time.
I Found a Reason (In Parentheses)
En route along the river, Todd resolves the tension. Having stared into the abyss, he manages to conclude (if not necessarily prove rationally) that life is worth living, even if it might ultimately be meaningless.
In other words, the fact that life might be objectively meaningless doesn't mean it can't be subjectively meaningful. (Or to further parenthesise, just because there might be no "reason" to live doesn't mean there is a "reason" to die.)
This conclusion would be reason enough to read Barth's novel, but he also gilds his entertainment with abundant exuberance, a wry sense of humour and shrewd story-telling.(less)
Notes are private!
May 12, 2014
May 26, 2014
May 12, 2014
Mass Market Paperback
Aug 12, 1988
"A Little Quiet Fun At My Own Expense"
The waiter set a glass down on the table in front of me. It was my sixth drink in an hour. I couldn’t even remem...more "A Little Quiet Fun At My Own Expense"
The waiter set a glass down on the table in front of me. It was my sixth drink in an hour. I couldn’t even remember ordering it. I drank it. It seemed like the right thing to do. The waiter watched me put down the empty glass. “Another shot?” he asked. I nodded. “You’ll have to pay for this one.” I looked around the room in search of my benefactor. I saw her first, sitting alone at a nearby table, then I saw her legs. They didn’t look like any legs I had seen before. Then they moved. She could see I was watching them. She crossed her legs, and I hoped to die, but not straight away. She reached into her handbag and withdrew a packet of cigarettes. She flipped it open and put one in her mouth. Her lips glistened the whole time. Then she fumbled around in her bag for a lighter. She returned the bag to the chair beside her, empty-handed. She looked at me. I shrugged. I had given up smoking since my last novel, only I hadn’t told my author. There was much I hadn’t confided in him. The time had come to make some changes in my life. I didn’t move. I watched her mind working. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I wasn't sure whether she was my type. “Well…” She paused. She was improvising. It wasn’t something she was normally expected to do. My author usually made our decisions for us. “If you won’t light my cigarette, will you at least kiss me?” I ambled over to her table and sat down. But first she had another request:“Stop looking at my legs.” I did as I was told. I was hoping the effort would be rewarded. She returned her cigarette to the pack and put it back in her bag. I looked into her eyes. I could see nothing unless you want to count lust, or was that just a projection on my part? I wondered what she saw in my eyes. The same? I moved closer to her, and had another look. I clasped my hands around her face. Then I pulled her closer and kissed her. She licked her lips, inquisitively. “Christian Dior?” She asked. “Of course,” I replied. Her lips embarked on the most direct path towards mine. “Kiss me harder.” I did. She slipped her hand inside my blouse and squeezed my breast. Maybe I could like her after all.
Notes are private!
Apr 05, 2014
Apr 06, 2014
Apr 05, 2014
Mar 25, 2014
"In the Spirit of My Divisions"
Joseph McElroy has imagined himself, "in the spirit of [his] divisions, somewhere between Vladimir Nabokov and Norman M...more "In the Spirit of My Divisions"
Joseph McElroy has imagined himself, "in the spirit of [his] divisions, somewhere between Vladimir Nabokov and Norman Mailer."
Initially, this statement comes across as egotistical, given the relative status of the three authors. How many readers have even heard of McElroy, let alone read him? Of those who have read him, how many have read him critically enough to question his self-assessment?
On the other hand, what of his choice of author?
It's understandable that authors might aspire to the standards of Nabokov, especially ones who, like McElroy and Pynchon, are science-literate or numerate. They inject science and mathematics into both the subject matter and the form of their fiction.
However, why Mailer? What is the connection? How proximate are the two authors? Why does McElroy appear to rate Mailer so highly?
One of the reasons for McElroy's interest is the significance of confession in Mailer's works (not necessarily in a religious sense). Indeed, this mode of writing is equally present in "Lolita".
A lot of critics of "Lolita" tend to overlook the fact that it is effectively structured as a confession, even if it was never actually read during Humbert Humbert's life and therefore had no impact on any criminal proceedings (which would have been discontinued after he died while awaiting trial in prison).
In "The Armies of the Night", Mailer mentions that during the day preceding the night of Robert Kennedy's assassination, he [Mailer] was enjoying a dalliance or secret assignation with a woman. Having revealed this (almost, if not probably, unnecessarily), he adds, "Let us leave it at that."
You have to ask why, if he was going to leave it at that, he didn't leave it out altogether?
The only answer consistent with Mailer's character is his overwhelming sense of sexual and political braggadocio.
Something about this quality simultaneously attracted and repelled or disgusted McElroy.
Whatever we might think of Mailer now, he was a very public intellectual, a celebrity, a media personality, at a time when it was rare for authors in particular to enjoy such a profile outside their chosen art form.
McElroy refers to Mailer's self-disclosure as "an embarrassment of greed, but also an open assault on his own privacy."
Mailer craved the limelight, the attention, the enhancement it might offer his sex appeal and life.
It didn't matter that he might embarrass or disgrace himself. What mattered was the perception of machismo. If it was a public perception, all the better.
For all his creative virtuosity, McElroy doesn't strike me as the same sort of egotist as Mailer. He seems to have a genuine interest in the mechanisms and success of relationships. He writes about relationships as something you do with somebody, rather than something you do to somebody.
Mailer seemed to write about sexual relationships as if they were 15 round boxing matches that the male had to win, even if it meant that the conquest of the female might result in her death.
Occasionally, I wondered whether McElroy resembled Saul Bellow or William Gaddis in any material way.
While Bellow is not as macho as Mailer, I think that there is still a sense in which the solo man is dominant and a woman might be a convenient accessory for social events or status.
Compared with Gaddis, the concerns of metafiction are more omnipresent or at least waiting just around the corner, even if the manner of their execution sometimes threatens to unrail McElroy's fluid and elegant sentences.
McElroy arguably has more in common with the John Updike of "Couples" (absent the metafictional practices).
He seems to define a person, regardless of gender, as someone who is capable of, and ought to be having, a relationship of some kind, whatever the trauma or difficulty or inconvenience. For McElroy, the quality of the relationship is very much the measure of the person.
A Letter to a Dominant Male
"Ancient History" is structured as a letter to a dead man, Dom, who could be modelled on Mailer.
Dom has just suicided by defenestration. In "An American Dream", the protagonist kills his wife in the same way, and ends up outside on the ledge of an apartment building, wondering whether to jump.
McElroy's protagonist, Cy, walks into Dom's open apartment shortly after the police have left, sits down at his desk and starts to write a letter, which is the novel, using Dom's pen and paper.
There is a sense of urgency about the composition of the letter. The authorities or family members could walk in and discover Cy at any stage. In fact, at the exact half-way point, Dom's son-in-law removes the first half of the letter.
This epistolary form is the only stylistic issue I felt was unconvincing in conceit.
During the first few pages, the style is as crisp as a detective novel. However, it soon degenerates into a soliloquy, more like a recording of Cy's thoughts (though never a stream of consciousness: the sentences are too precisely crafted). It just doesn't sound like a story somebody would tell, either to an acquaintance or a stranger, certainly not in letter form.
At times, I wondered whether Cy was mentally unbalanced, at the very least a stalker. This angle isn't pursued, although this might simply be a product of the fact that it is a first person narrative.
Just like "Women and Men", "Ancient History" is set in an apartment building. It's a microcosm of society and the semi-public space in which both characters and readers are educated. In a way, the Building is the Bildung, and the Novel is a Buildingsroman.
Similarly, just as McElroy is interested in the relationships between people, he's interested in how they can be measured.
He describes them mathematically, and maps their coordinates on graph paper in accordance with Field Theory. Tripartite friendships are described in terms of the friends being equidistant. The proximity of C and D varies when A and B move closer.
This aspect of the novel warrants greater scrutiny. There are probably sophisticated mechanisms at work in the novel's structure that aren't immediately obvious. If so, they're still there for someone else to track.
To be honest, I didn't find this aspect of the novel particularly fascinating. I don't want to condemn McElroy to realism, but I think if he devoted less effort to metafiction, he would emerge with better fiction.
Spiral Bound Fiction
Still, the aspects that most appealed to me appear to be structured around mathematical parabolas and spirals.
The relationships occupy spaces that spiral from the magnitude of society at large, to the microcosm of the apartment building, to the 12th floor, to Dom's apartment, to his study, to his desk, to his pen and paper, to the mind of Cy, to his letter, to, finally, the novel itself.
McElroy is interested in not just time, but space. The two novels that I have read explore the poetics of space, both inside and outside, both inner and outer space (including spacecraft).
Sometimes, it seems as if McElroy is trying to pack too much sophistication and subtlety into his novel. He seems to be trying too hard, when he could sit back and trust his novel to do its job.
As you get towards the end, though, after many times wondering what the hell is going on and why, it all comes together. You feel that you have finally lifted the bonnet on the engine of his vehicle and you can appreciate the engineering in all of its precision and beauty. However, many readers would not last the distance.
Man of Letters
McElroy shares another flaw with Norman Mailer, though not to the same degree.
The latter tried too hard to tie himself to the Zeitgeist, by endeavouring, self-consciously, to define and embody it. Now, decades later, it's very easy for his writing and preoccupations to seem dated. Time has moved on. So have ways of seeing.
The very fact that Mailer symbolised so much to McElroy begs the question why (as much as he is one of my literary keystones). Surely it is more than a fascination with the dual perspective of a public intellectual?
As it turns out, Cy's letter is much more about his own Ancient History, and his own confession. Still, you have to question whether it would have been a better novel without the implied need to incorporate traces of Mailer's macho Weltanschauung.
I don't know enough about McElroy personally. However, on the basis of his writing, I suspect that he is at heart a shy person, a relative introvert, who is more comfortable in the guise of a man of letters in contrast to Mailer's ostensible man of action. Ultimately, we only need one Norman Mailer. It would be illuminating to see even more of the real Joseph McElroy, a unique man of letters, in his own work.(less)
Notes are private!
May 08, 2014
May 11, 2014
Mar 22, 2014
Jan 01, 1975
Mar 11, 2014
Beware of Hagiography
When an author is regarded as a master of the sentence, it's tempting to approach all of their works with the expectation that ev...more Beware of Hagiography
When an author is regarded as a master of the sentence, it's tempting to approach all of their works with the expectation that every single sentence will be equally masterful.
In Gass' own words, we're prone to "plait flowers in [our] hero's pubic hair."
However, while a poem might strive to achieve this demanding standard, it's much more difficult for prose, whether fiction or not, to maintain it.
"On Being Blue” is divided into four parts. In the first half of part III, I started to question its merit, even to respond "so what?" It had ceased to please me.
In retrospect, this was probably when Gass’ subject matter was most familiar, his exposition most methodical and potentially least impressionistic and imaginative.
By the second half and in part IV, he pulled his inquiry together, and his prose continued to amaze.
Beware of Preconceptions
It might help to avoid some of the preconceptions that I had.
While it occasionally touches on it, "On Being Blue" is not primarily about melancholy, sadness, depression or tristesse.
It is not so much about the suffering of the Self. It is more about the relationship of the Self with its Object, with an Other, and the extent that this might be sexual.
It’s the blue in blue movies, blue stockings, the aspects of life that are described in terms of birds and bees and flowers, that are too often censored or blue-pencilled out of the blue-print for humanity or propriety.
In a sense, “On Being Blue” is a rebellion against the tendency of straight-laced white conservatism and convention to expel the blue from their midst.
Gass set himself the task of understanding how this occurs from a social, literary and philosophical point of view.
This doesn’t mean that Gass wanted to promote the writing of pornography. He is the first to acknowledge how difficult it is to write convincingly and authentically about something that is so familiar to us all.
He simply wants to win back the freedom to engage with all aspects of life in person and in literature, to return colour to what has been bleached out of life.
He urges us, "don’t find yourself clergy’d out of choir and chorus…[we must win back the freedom to] sing and say," if we’re to avoid a world where "everything is grey."
The Methodology of Blue
Gass describes five ways by which sex enters literature:
1. the direct depiction of sexual material.
2. the use of sexual words.
3. the displacement of sex from life (e.g., by indirection, symbolism, metaphor or euphemism).
4. the analogy of the “skyblue eye” that for prudes signifies insinuation, innuendo and indecency.
5. the use of language like a lover, "… not the language of love, but the love of language, not matter, but meaning, not what the tongue touches, but what it forms, not lips and nipples, but nouns and verbs."
To this discussion, Gass adds two methodological or strategic concerns:
1. three functions (or what he says a Marxist might describe as "modes of production") for blue words, which he explains in terms of the verbs use, mention and utter.
2. three motives for using blue words or material in literature from the point of view of the reader, the writer and the work itself. (In summary, they allow a reader to spy, they allow a writer to fashion a voyeur into a reader who sings, and they constitute the work itself as a body of some beauty that can be celebrated in its own right (this is a "love that brings its own birth with it" and which might effectively replace blue things with blue words).
I won't go into any detail on these seven issues, except to say that he works through them methodically, giving examples from literature, from the likes of Rabelais and personal favourite contemporaries, like John Barth, Stanley Elkin and John Hawkes.
At times, it's difficult to follow the thread or sequence of his arguments. However, the following statement is a good example of what Gass seemed to be saying:
"...sentences are copied, constructed, or created; they are uttered, mentioned or used; each says, means, implies, reveals, connects; each titillates, invites, conceals, suggests; and each is eventually either consumed or conserved…"
The Philosophy of Blue
Gass argues that the rejection of colour in general and blue in particular is a product of the philosophical opposition of an object’s essence and its qualities.
The essence is detected by reason, while qualities appeal to our senses (which are irrational):
"Reason is so swift to slander the senses that even Hume did not escape, replacing shadow, mood and music, iris and jay, with a scatter of sense impressions artificial as buttons: each distinct, inert, each intense, each in self-absorbed sufficiency and narrowly circumscribed disorder like a fistful of jelly beans tossed among orphans or an army of ants in frightened retreat."
Gass advocates ”blue for blue’s sake…praise is due blue, the preference of the bee.”
Blue contrasts domesticity with intimacy: "Let her wash her greens, I go where it’s blue." He even quotes the similarly euphonious James Joyce in "Ulysses":
"Light sob of breath Bloom sighed on the silent bluehued flowers."
Living in the Country of the Blue
As writers, Gass and Joyce allow us to get blue beneath the fictitious sheets of literature.
The blue celebrates life, and blue writing is intrinsically celebratory, if well executed:
"It is not simple, not a matter for amateurs, making sentences sexual; it is not easy to structure the consciousness of the reader with the real thing, to use one wonder to speak of another, until in the place of the voyeur who reads we have fashioned the reader who sings; but the secret lies in seeing sentences as containers of consciousness, as constructions whose purpose it is to create conceptual perceptions – blue in every area and range: emotion moving through the space of the imagination, the mind at gleeful hop and scotch, qualities, through the arrangement of relations, which seem alive within the limits they pale and redden like spanked cheeks, and thus the bodies, objects, happenings, they essentially define."
Gass ends by entrusting his book to his wife, Mary, for safekeeping, on behalf of ”all those who live in the country of the blue.”
The Preference of the Bee
[Assembled from the Words of William H. Gass]
I remember best the weed which grew between the steps...the mind at gleeful hop and scotch...she is still preparing salad at the sink...leaves like hanging lanterns...foliage like mascara'd eyes in midwink...the snicker and giggle of ink...what good is my peek at her pubic hair...martini on the tongue...cleavage for the eye... a deep blue crack as wide as any in a Roquefort...split like paper tearing...the self that in the midst of pitch and toss has slipped away...like a lucky penny fallen from a dresser...a cool flute blue tastes like deep well water drunk from a cup...a muff, a glove, a stocking, the glass a lover's lips have touched...praise is due blue, the preference of the bee…
Miles Davis - "So What" [from the album "A Kind of Blue"]
Miles Davis & John Coltrane - "So What" [Live in 1959]
Lou Reed - "Pale Blue Eyes" [Live in 1998]
Orange Juice - "Blue Boy"
The Sound of Young Scotland channelling the Velvets!
Elvis Costello - "Almost Blue" [Live]
Joni Mitchell - "Blue"
Buffalo Springfield - "Bluebird" [Rare Long Version]
Notes are private!
Jun 27, 2014
Jun 28, 2014
Mar 15, 2014
Sep 01, 1968
Nov 01, 1985
The Object is to Get the Best of Both Worlds
I wanted to write you something impossible.
It occurs to me there are many alternative strategies you can...more The Object is to Get the Best of Both Worlds
I wanted to write you something impossible.
It occurs to me there are many alternative strategies you can employ to read this novel (which was first published in 1968, not that there's any inkling of the Summer of Love). So let’s start.
Imagine a spider web. There are several ways you can approach a spider web. You can encounter it unseen, unexpectedly, and recoil. You can detect it shining radiantly in the spring morning sun and admire it. You can return later, having forgotten it, and become entangled. “Impossible Object” is an exquisitely spun metafiction, not unlike a spider web. Having finished it, having the latter parts inform the earlier parts retroactively, you want to return to the beginning and start again. You want to get entangled. Let’s start again.
The novel is a post-modern sequel to Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” in which a latterday Ramsay family embarks on a boat ride, without procrastination, but with tragic consequences. Let’s start again.
The novel is an impossible object written for a loved one and for us: “I wanted to write you something impossible, like a staircase climbing a spiral to come out where it started or a cube with a vertical line at the back overlapping a horizontal one in front. These cannot exist in three dimensions but can be drawn in two;by cutting out one dimension a fourth is created. The object is that life is impossible; one cuts out fabrication and creates reality. A mirror is held to the back of the head and one's hand has to move the opposite way from what was intended.” Let’s start again.
There are eight stories. With no effort at the truth, I’m going to give four of the characters names (for they are not all named). Nick is an unmarried writer. Harry is married to Elizabeth, but is having an adulterous affair with Natalie. Much of their affair occurs in a pub near the British Museum, which is frequented by Nick, while he is researching a biography on Nietzsche. Harry might be a conductor, a writer or the owner of a pirate radio station. Natalie might be a flautist or a poet.
Nick ends up writing voyeuristic stories about Harry and Natalie. Harry ends up writing a story about Nick. Natalie writes a story about Harry. However, there is a sneeking suspicion that Nick is Harry (“You can’t exist! Or you’re myself. You see how this is impossible!”), and that the stories about Harry and Natalie are narrated by Nick, so that Harry can write about himself in the third person. Or are they written by Nick, so that he can write about himself in the third person? Or did one person write all of the stories? And was that person, let's face it, Nicholas Mosley? Let’s start again.
This is the story of a love affair, not to be confused with the 1950 film by Michaelangelo Antonioni. Let’s start again. This is the story of a love story, not to be confused with a 1973 film by John Frankenheimer called “Story of a Love Story”, or is it? It is after all based on the novel and a script by Nicholas Mosley. Let’s start again.
You can read all of this and conclude, “That’s impossible”. The temptation is to cut out the fabrication and be left with the reality. In Frankenheimer’s script conferences, people said, “But look here, Nicholas, when all is said and done, what we have here is just a good straightforward love story!” The temptation is to say, “Love should be simple; truth should be all-of-a-piece. But if in fact they are not – then it is the temptation that causes delusion. Look around you: are not humans either tip-toeing along, or flat on the ground underneath, a tightrope?” Let’s start again.
Mosley wrote the novel when he was 44. Nick travels to Turin to research the city where Nietzsche went mad. He (Nietzsche) was 44 at the time. Nick also has an affair with an Alberto Moravia-styled Italian woman named Hippolyta, who seems to be as voluptuous as Nietzsche’s muse, Lou Andreas-Salomé.
Harry, on the other hand, is obsessed by a young woman with black hair who is at the same time mythical like Cleopatra. She too “had the sensuality of opposites – the youth and experience, the leanness and voluptuousness, which invited both protection and sadism.” Let’s start again.
There is no life without opposites. Love is cursed by opposites: “There is perhaps no love without power…You cannot force them, you can only let them grow… But love is total… It runs you...You can’t expect miracles. You trust.”
Love makes us desire the impossible. Harry wanted to “maintain the ecstasy.” Yet, Natalie, being practical, wanted “a life that was whole, that would have a future and not be impossible.”
Between them, Mosley is trying to convince us that all life is impossible; it’s shaped by fabrications; but we have to excise or exorcise them, in our thought processes and behaviour, in the way we approach them, in the hope that what emerges is reality. Somehow, “the object is to get the best of both worlds.”
Still, there isn't necessarily a happy ending. In fact, there's a soul-destroying ending that is so prolonged and powerful in its impact that it makes you forget this is a Post-modern Fiction. This is how it would be if the novel had a happy ending: Two dancers would come in front of the curtain and hold hands.
Let’s start again. Hold on tight. I wanted to write you something impossible. It recurs to me…
"Nietzsche said that everything goes round and round…as if everything that we do were such that we were going to go on doing it for ever...
"I knew that he always thought that life could be refashioned and go on, but I thought that it should not. There are some things for which one cannot be forgiven."
Nietzsche's concept of Eternal Recurrence:
"Cube with Magic Ribbons" (1957) by M. C. Escher
J.S. Bach - "Flute Concerto in g-minor"
Master Musicians of Joujouka
Rolling Stones - "Continental Drift"
Rolling Stones - "Can You Hear The Music?"
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”: Friedrich Nietzsche
Nicholas Mosley - "Writing Life Pt 4"
Notes are private!
Feb 22, 2014
Feb 25, 2014
Feb 14, 2014
Mar 17, 1997
Virgin Marya, Marionette
Montparnasse. 1928. Narrow, sordid streets full of “shabby parfumeries, second-hand book-stalls, cheap hat-shops, bars freque...more Virgin Marya, Marionette
Montparnasse. 1928. Narrow, sordid streets full of “shabby parfumeries, second-hand book-stalls, cheap hat-shops, bars frequented by gaily-painted ladies and loud-voiced men…” There are rumours of Bolshevist plots and scares.
Marya is “a pretty girl, but a girl who thinks too much.” She’s not a particularly sad person by nature, but she longs to be safe and happy.
Pre-Existentialism, “her existence, though delightful, was haphazard.” It lacked “solidity; it lacked the necessary fixed background.”
Her husband has been sent to prison for twelve months. She contemplates her room without him: “Empty it looked and full of shadows.” She receives an offer of accommodation from apparent Good Samaritans, Hugh and Lois Heidler. Compared to their sophistication, Marya is like an animal, strange, hurt, strayed – “one not quite of the fold.”
Hugh places his hand possessively on her knee, and so starts a beautiful, but appalling, muddle, a game, a vague procession, a merry-go-round, yet hidden under the surface is “a vague and shadowy fear of something cruel and stupid that had caught her and would never let her go.”
Lois thinks she can detect the real Marya: “If I were you, I’d hate, loathe, detest everybody safe, everybody with money in the bank.” It’s her way of putting her in her place, of asserting authority and superiority.
Money makes all the difference. “Without money, Paris is as rotten as anywhere else and worse.” Initially, Marya is conscious of “the essential craziness of existence,” though she draws a subtle distinction: “I’m not sick of myself. I’m rather sick of my sort of life.”
Hugh and Lois seem to have everything: a marriage, an apartment, money and an “[excessively modern] arrangement”: “Lois and I each go our own way…after all, we’re in Paris.”
On the other hand, Lois regards Marya as “too virtuous,” so the game proceeds to the next level with a challenge to her virtue, an invitation that makes of her a “naïve sinner.” In return, she receives comfort and safety, though it too often seems like a new unreality, one where she experiences “the fright of a child shut up in a dark room, [the] fright of an animal caught in a trap.”
She feels like a marionette. Just as her strings might lift her, they can drop her into the abyss, they can lead to her fall as well. The challenge then is whether she can climb out of the blackness.
Published 38 years apart, this short novel shares many of the concerns of “Wide Sargasso Sea.” The Paris works of Jean Rhys deserve to be thought of in the company of the diaries and fiction of Anais Nin and Henry Miller. However, there is also a sense in which she deftly portrays Existentialism from a woman’s point of view. (less)
Notes are private!
Jan 23, 2014
Jan 24, 2014
Jan 18, 2014
Dec 18, 2013
Dec 18, 2013
PENDING A REVIEW:
"Je Ne Suis Pas Plus Con Qu’un Autre"
I was excited to learn that Professor Lucie Garaye , Director of Research at the Centre Nationa...more PENDING A REVIEW:
"Je Ne Suis Pas Plus Con Qu’un Autre"
I was excited to learn that Professor Lucie Garaye , Director of Research at the Centre National de Recherche Erotique, has written a short review of Chanteclaire Coquine’s short story, "Lucite", on her blog"
"I can think of no better example of what I mean when I say 'l'ecriture feminine' or 'l'imaginaire feminine' than 'Lucite'. In fact, she has taken these cuntcepts one step further than even I had ever imagined.
"Women have been taught to think of the phallus as the primary tool in civilization and themselves and their genitalia as a lack or an absence (of such a tool).
"Chanteclaire Coquine objectifies her own minette as a source of energy and dynamism. It has an appetite for seduction that will not desist until it is filled full. Yet, once is not enough, and fulfilment requires more.
Initially, Chanteclaire’s narratrix relates to her minette as 'tu', yet they embark together on a quest that ultimately can only be satisfied by the Sapphic verse works of Polymethyl Methacrylate .
"At the moment of climax, she and her lips come together. She gets back in touch with herself. 'Tu' becomes part of 'nous' . What started as an Object becomes part of the Subject. Their pleasure consists of moving and being moved by each other, endlessly. Her minette is openness in perpetual motion. Always in movement, this openness is neither spent nor sated. This is the plight of women, but it is also our pleasure."
Object and Subject Become One
Notes are private!
Dec 21, 2013
Mar 22, 2005
Love Both Possible and Opposed
I don’t know whether I should tell you my judgement or just my impressions.
Marias captures your attention from the very...more Love Both Possible and Opposed
I don’t know whether I should tell you my judgement or just my impressions.
Marias captures your attention from the very first moment he opens his mouth or puts pen to paper (or rather, presses the first key on his Olympia Carrera de Luxe typewriter). It’s like being at a dinner table and discovering that an infinitely more interesting guest is also in attendance, or sitting down in a cinema and realizing that this could be the best film you will see all year.
Another man of feeling has only one decision to make: whether or not to remain present, enjoy the experience and learn from it. A woman of feeling can only hope that she is the object of desire, whether obscure or discreet or obvious.
The relationship between the characters is essentially triangular (although one additional man, Dato, plays the role of companion). The narrator is an up and coming tenor singer, the future "Lion of Naples", who first observes Natalia and her husband, Heironimo Manur, a wealthy banker, on a train. No words are exchanged, but the narrator closely scrutinizes and judges them as they sleep.
The great talent of Marias’ first person narrators is that they see, study, analyse, define, judge everything around them minutely, precisely, exactly, then they return to dream about it, and all of this occurs in exquisite, word-perfect language. They miss none of the richness of experience around them and, as a result, neither do we. Despite all of the beauty on evidence, nothing is presented to us as superficial. Marias offers us both breadth and depth of vision.
The two men quickly become rivals for the love of Natalia. We learn little about her, except through the judgment of the men. She is portrayed “in a very diffuse way, as if through a veil”. She is beautiful, but melancholy, because she has become an object of subjugation. If she changes her status, will she escape subjection or replicate it?
The narrator’s only dilemma is whether to destroy his rival or merely supplant him. The husband wants to perpetuate what he has, the narrator wants to violently cancel it. He wants to stage a coup, or mount a revolution.
For the latter, love is tiring. He is always striving, planning, longing. The former, the husband, draws a line, digs in and perseveres. Heironimo wants to maintain the old order, to keep what he believes he has "bought" and what therefore "belongs" to him. The narrator wants to usurp his position. As in business, one man’s gain is another man’s loss. They are like two competitors fighting over the one market.
Sometimes, it’s questionable whether either of them even loves Natalia. It’s become a man thing. It's a competition, a game, in which they contemplate trading places. Still, regardless of who "wins", Natalia might be trapped in melancholy dissolution. It’s not a clear choice between submission and adulation.
Marias shows us a love that is either anticipated or remembered, but is not experienced in the present tense.
Marias asks whether for these characters at least, apart from memory, love can only exist in the realm of possibility and the imagination. Is it only the fact that our wishes are not yet fulfilled that continues to drive us? Do we stop trying when we think we've acquired the object of our desire? Do we cease to cultivate love when we believe that we have it?
What then is the measure of a man of feeling when he loses his sense of perseverance? Even if we are fortunate enough to gain love now, for how long will we possess it? And how will we deal with its loss?
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, the winner now will be later to lose. The present now will later be past. For the times, they are a’changin'.
Notes are private!
Mar 14, 2014
Mar 16, 2014
Dec 17, 2013
Jul 01, 1994
She Doesn't Exist Anymore
Inside the whale of a modern Western State, narratrix Mira Eketei imagines different personae or manifestations of herself, d...more She Doesn't Exist Anymore
Inside the whale of a modern Western State, narratrix Mira Eketei imagines different personae or manifestations of herself, different characters, living at different times, past, present and future.
One predicts she will be made redundant from her academic position, so much of the novel projects the future, even if it doesn't look forward to it.
Just as time pushes the present into the past eternally, the future that Mira tensely anticipates (forever in the future/subjunctive mood) obliterates the past.
Our focus is so much about what is just around the corner in front of us, that we have begun to ignore both the present and the past.
We live in heightened anticipation, always trying to get a purchase on the future. We need capital to consume, only we don't save in the present to spend in the future. We spend in the present and the future out of borrowed capital that we intend to repay in the future future.
As a result, the present is little more than a constant barrage of possible futures and acquisitions that we grasp as if we were drinking water directly from a fire hydrant.
Talk back radio and current affairs television (and now the web) are our primary sources of information, well, pseudo-information...it doesn't have to be true, it hasn't happened yet. (Newspapers traditionally sell more in the lead-up to a Budget, when it is all speculation, than they do after the Budget has been delivered, when everything is known.)
With so much focus on the future and its technological infrastructure, there is no time left for the past. History is outdated, outmoded, irrelevant, useless, obsolete, as are its practitioners.
Equally, if we survive and thrive on technologically-infused dreams of the future, there is no present or future role for those who create visions of the past (usually in past tense, though intended to inform the present): writers, poets, musicians, film-makers, even more or less so, critics.
So Mira, in all her guises, visualises, fantasises, creates, alone, in her own mind, in not just a room of her own, but a home of her own, well, perhaps a pig farm in the country.
Brooke-Rose uses the term "redundant" to describe not just the extinguishment of employment status, but the du- or multi-plication of functionality, ostensibly in case of failure, the capacity to replace and be replaced. In the future, nothing is irreplacable. Especially characters. And each new character brings their own plot.
From these ingredients, Brooke-Rose concocts a rich, visionary, almost dystopian, soup. She juggles an enormous number of narrative, stylistic and theoretical balls in the air, without ever hesitating or dropping any.
Few, if any, authors have understood our present (her future, as it turned out), let alone our future, more insightfully than her.
Like Pynchon and DeLillo, she writes in a style designed especially for now. Sadly, she doesn't exist anymore, except in her writings and our minds. Her books remain a gift from the past to the present. She has given us a present, our present.
Authority Demolishes Stately Family Home
Those who would control the future
Must make the past redundant and
History irrelevant to the stories
That we strive hard to tell today.
"I Will Sing Tales of Love and Legend"
Tonight, we’ll make love beneath
Constellations flush with stars,
All named for Gods and Goddesses,
Nebulous and magnificent,
Cassiopeia, Orion, Andromeda.
You, my substitute lover, Agamemnon,
And I, Cassandra, your little Sandy,
Alias Mira Enketei, also known as ME.
Like matter and anti-matter,
We’ll make contact and explode.
Aspiring to the happy status of
In a novel made up by
The author, Christine Brooke-Rose,
Perhaps unheeded and unhinged.
Tomorrow, I’ll be the first person to be
Redundant, while the past will cease
To be apart, merged with the present, then
Annulled by the future, as if foreseen.
I will disappear beneath you,
Obedient Slave to your Master,
Two Hegelian moral imps,
In relentless disputation
And antagonistic direlogue.
Man might believe he is salvation,
But still denies the worth of woman.
Hence, no female should conceal the fact
That love can be a big mixtake in
The revillusionary madlanes
Of her telematic memory.
Annette Peacock - "My Momma Never Taught Me How to Cook"
"I say, Hey, man! My destiny is not to serve. I'm a woman. My destiny is to create."
Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 - "She Doesn't Exist"
Magazine - "Vigilance"
"I'm in love with everything that's been left unsaid."
Magazine - "Sweetheart Contract"
Magazine - "You Never Knew Me"
"I don't want to turn around
And find I'd got it wrong
Or that I should have been laughing all along
You're what keeps me alive
You're what's destroying me
Do you want the truth or
Do you want your sanity?"
Luxuria - "Redneck"
"I am a major prophet
I'm heaven and hell bent strong
I am the height of a sign
Wide of the mark
Deep as the Amazon
Feel my wild sadness blowing down
Feel my wild sadness blowing
All the way down
I stand before you
In full possession of the facts
I make no use of effects
No use for clever counterbalancing acts
I've broken every bone of meaning
In this body and this soul
I've bought knowledge
At the cost of a complete
Loss of self-control"
Wire - "Mannequin"
Notes are private!
Apr 26, 2014
Apr 29, 2014
Nov 07, 2013
Feb 25, 1997
Jul 28, 1998
Walking the Serrated Edges of Intimacy
"I looked at the ceiling, as if its cracks would let in crevices of some weird heaven. "
Zoe spends her twenties...more Walking the Serrated Edges of Intimacy
"I looked at the ceiling, as if its cracks would let in crevices of some weird heaven. "
Zoe spends her twenties progressing from speed freak punk chick, via post-punk detox good looks, to psycho existentialist, while experimenting in emotionless fucking with anyone who has a perverted appeal: "Sometimes the grotesque is incredibly erotic."
90's New York is like the 50's Morocco of William Burroughs and Paul Bowles where "Brilliant White Perverts" come "to churn out books and fuck half the population."
It’s a literary, introspective and incestuous milieu: "The poets were all fucking one another and writing about it," which describes Zoe’s "diary" perfectly, although professionally her role is to punch out erotic "fuck books" for $500 apiece.
She describes her fucks as "lovers", but it’s clear that there’s nothing more fulfilling than desire and lust going down. Not even friendship: "He is my lover. He is not really a friend. I have friends for that." And again: "[we] used to be lovers and are still sexually attracted to and emotionally dependent on each other, but we refuse to love each other. We save that for people different from us."
Zoe comes to realise that this is emotional idiocy. But how do you escape it? And when? Are we somehow perversely content to be emotional idiots now, maybe even just a little bit longer? Can we perpetuate this lifestyle through our thirties? Should we wait until our forties to get "serious"? What is the allure of the alternative? Is it worth it?
At times, the novel comes across as post-punk chick lit (with enough skill to place the emphasis on lit). Mostly, it's an hilarious catalogue of sexual adventures and misadventures, although when it deigns to get a little more reflective, it asks the right questions.
What do we all seek when we seek love? Do we crave a fairy tale, no matter how savvy and streetwise we think we are? Can lust and love be found in the one person? Can a friend be a lover? Can a lover be a friend? Can real life be fantastic? Does familiarity breed discontent?
"There’s no suspension of disbelief. I know you too well. You know me. That makes it awkward. I can’t project onto you. It won’t work. Not now...In ten years...[maybe] we’ll be tired of being Idiots. We’ll fuck each other senseless and love each other, too. But not now."
This first novel is equally contemporary to the last three or four decades, but still speedy, fun and relevant.
Maggie Estep has a unique, indie, alternative-cultural voice. I can't wait to see how she's utilised and developed it since this first novel was published in 1997.
"He smoothed my hair and kissed the back of my head. In doing so, he let in Tenderness, and our Experiment in Emotionless Fucking had come to an end. There was a feeling between us."
"Stay Away, Come Closer, Baby"
Maggie Estep - "Emotional Idiot" (on Def Jam Poetry)
Maggie Estep - "Happy" (on Def Jam Poetry)
Maggie Estep - "Sex Goddess of the Western Hemisphere" (on MTV)
Romeo Void - "Never Say Never"
Romeo Void - "Never Say Never"  [ReWorked]
Notes are private!
Jan 04, 2014
Jan 09, 2014
Oct 28, 2013
Mar 14, 2011
Mar 14, 2011
The Glass Canoe
I sit in the public bar of the Story Bridge and I look into my glass canoe, and this is what I see. It's a Coopers Pale Ale, draught fr...more The Glass Canoe
I sit in the public bar of the Story Bridge and I look into my glass canoe, and this is what I see. It's a Coopers Pale Ale, draught from the tap, cold, and it's cloudy, but fine. I lift my glass and bring it back down on the bar, and I watch the sediment spread up the middle of the glass and start to fall again. It's a Sunday, and the old timers' jazz band stops, thank heavens, and I see two women leave the bar and walk into the carpark. One of them is wearing a fur coat, blonde hair, bob, she looks too good for the Bridge. Richie keeps an eye on my pot, while I head out into the carpark. "You don't come here often," I say. She laughs. "That's the first time I've heard that line...how could you tell?" "I come here often and I've never seen you before...not that I wasn't looking." Later that night in bed, Wen tells me she's a futures dealer. "How are you going to deal with my future then?" She looks me up and down professionally. "Sorry, I can't give you financial advice, until I determine your risk profile." "That's easy," I say, "It's high." "Good," she replies, "So is mine." I think for the briefest of introspective moments. "So what have I got to do to establish a relationship?" She laughs. "Well, for a start, you could make a deposit into my trust account." I slide back between her arms in a bid to comply.
(view spoiler)[Post-Modern Spoiler (Utilising Second Person Narrative Mode)
I wake at 6:00am and it's still dark. Damn, it's a public holiday and I don't need to go to work. I could have got a bit more shut-eye. I reach over to your side of the bed. You're not there, but there's a handwritten note on your pillow. "Gone to gym, back at 7:30, if you'd fancy breakfast afterwards." I doze on until 7:00, when I feel the bed sheets being pressed tightly against my chest and throat. It's still dark. I suspect you're being playful, but it's starting to hurt. My grin dissipates as my eyes finally flicker open, and I see someone who is not you. I exclaim, "Judge!" He holds the sheets tighter. Then he shouts, "What the fuck are you doing in my wife's bed?" Um, um, words fail me. I'm sure he won't believe me if I say I was cleaning the windows and I suddenly got really tired. He knows I'm a defence counsel. "Get out, Graye." "I'm sorry, Judge. I didn't know..." "On your bike." "Um, I didn't ride here." He doesn't find this amusing. I can't see my clothes. They're gone. "Well, you're going to have to run home then, aren't you? Butt naked." I look at my watch. Half an hour of darkness left. I could get home, before anybody else is on the road, it being a public holiday. I catch the lift down to ground floor, fortunately nobody sees me. Then in the lobby, I notice a gold Mercedes Convertible sitting in the driveway with the passenger's seat open, facing the entry. How am I going to get past without noticing? I decide the only answer is, quickly. And I start to run, genitalia swinging like dried chillis in the wind. You attract my attention from the driver's seat. You're laughing. My clothes are sitting neatly folded in the passenger's seat. "Get in and get decent. I've got a table booked at Piaf." Confused, I ask, "What about the Judge...I mean your husband?" "Haha, is that what he said? Steve's not my husband, he's my neighbour. But he can be helpful when I need him. He has such an authoritative air, don't you think?" I look at you again. You still look amused. Your hair is beautiful. I feel like Eggs Benedict. I might even have a Bloody Mary. It's too early to go back to the Story Bridge for a beer. (hide spoiler)]
Part of the mural at Piaf Restaurant, South Bank, Brisbane
David Ireland's "The Glass Canoe" [Unburied]
"And now and then, as they drank deeply, they saw in the bottom of the glass, not the face of the man they knew, but the monster within that was waiting and all too willing to be released."
"I went to the bar to get us a small fleet of glass canoes to take us where we wanted to go. I thought of the tribes across Australia, each with its own waterhole, its patch of bar, its standing space, its beloved territory. It was a great life."
Thank You, Nathan
This short story is only a few pages long and is freely available from the New Yorker website:
Nathan brought it to my attention and effectively challenged me to write a suitable response.
In the meantime, Praj and Lit Bug had already done wonderful responses (which I managed to read only after I had written my own).
I encourage you to read Coover's story and respond in your own idiosyncratic way.
And when you've done that, don't forget that the man who was capable of such a wonderful story already has a substantial legacy of intelligent, imaginative, playful and humorous works available for our delectation.["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"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Oct 09, 2013
Oct 09, 2013
Oct 08, 2013
Jan 01, 2013
Aug 19, 2013
What a delight!
But first, a disclosure: one of the authors of this collection of short stories is a close and valued GoodReads friend who ha...more Disclosure
What a delight!
But first, a disclosure: one of the authors of this collection of short stories is a close and valued GoodReads friend who has transitioned to the same status in real life. The other is possibly her closest life-long friend, so I feel as if this is a book written by two close friends, even though I don’t know the second author.
I paid for my digital copy, but was also gifted a digital copy. Go figure. Anyway this is my disclosure.
Stranded on My Own
I entered this book with as few preconceptions as I could muster. I didn’t want to be disappointed. I sat down to read and review it as if I did not know either author.
There are sixteen stories in this collection (despite the title), shared between the two authors.
I don’t want to differentiate between the work of the two authors. What is important is that they have weaved their creativity together like a two-stranded rope. Each strand might have been strong, but the two together are stronger.
They are also highly compatible in both subject matter and style.
The Introduction states that the tales "arose from photographs that sparked the authors’ imagination".
That might well be true, but in no way does it limit the ambition of the stories.
The initial impression of the collection is very realistic. Raymond Carver came to mind. So too in the Australian context, Peter Carey and Tim Winton.
The stories were all highly grounded, some in an Australian landscape, some in an American one.
However, bit by bit, you realise that the photos and the style are just the starting point of the adventure contained in each story.
They are the feet, and as you read on, as you survey the rest of the body, working upwards, you encounter the reactionary gut and then ultimately the rest of the mind, and in that mind lies expectation, ambition, hope, desire, love, disappointment, bewilderment.
The less grounded, the more mindful we become, but the mind is not a simple organ, it can look, gaze, embrace, imagine, dream, aspire, desire, plan, cheat, fabricate, hallucinate, panic, fear and delude itself.
I’m not necessarily thinking of alcohol or drugs or unreliable narration.
It’s as simple as what human relationships do to each participant. A relationship is something intangible between two tangible organisms. A lot can go wrong in the ether between them. It doesn’t matter whether they’re family or friends or lovers. The same forces seem to be at work.
This collection is concerned about what happens in the ether above ground level, in and between the minds of people like us, who appear to be grounded, but who in fact might just be a little unsound, living as we do in a world that is ruled over by blackbirds, a world that seems to have become a little Kafkaesque (if you don't mind me mixing my animalian metaphors).
Noble Accents and Lucid Rhythms
In the words of Wallace Stevens (from whose poem the title is derived), the authors know and write about the "noble accents and lucid, inescapable rhythms" of real life.
Which author is better, who do I prefer? I can’t say and it doesn’t matter. It’s one strand of rope, and the rope holds tight.
Perhaps, I should resort to Wallace Stevens again:
"I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after."
What's important is that in these tales, you will find both. But ultimately, either way, what you will find is beauty.
The Beatles – "Blackbird"
Crosby, Stills & Nash - "Black Bird (Live)"
Bettie Serveert – "Unsound"
Bettie Serveert – "Dreamaniacs"
Bettie Serveert – "You've Changed"
Notes are private!
Oct 11, 2013
Oct 11, 2013
Aug 26, 2013
Apr 26, 1990
Love’s Fierce Play
"Wide Sargasso Sea" is both a parallel novel with respect to "Jane Eyre" and a novel that could stand alone, if read with no knowl...more Love’s Fierce Play
"Wide Sargasso Sea" is both a parallel novel with respect to "Jane Eyre" and a novel that could stand alone, if read with no knowledge of the connection.
It explores the Caribbean background of the marriage of [Bertha] Antoinette Mason to an unnamed Englishman (presumably Edward Rochester) and their return to England, where she is confined to a room in a "great house" (or is it made, as she believes, of cardboard?).
Antoinette is a Creole, her origins being half-English and half-Martinique, but she is described as both white and beautiful.
The title of the novel isn’t overtly explained. However, it’s possible that, because the Sea is located between the West Indies (on the west) and Africa/Europe (on the east), it represents the gulf between the "civilized" world of England and its West Indian colony.
There is an equal gulf between Creoles and the race of each parent. They are accepted by neither race. Antoinette is regarded as a "white cockroach".
This social status as well as a head injury during her youth contribute to Antoinette’s ostensibly unsettled mental state at the time of her marriage. There are rumours of mental illness in her family ("Look the crazy girl, you crazy like your mother"; "a raging lunatic and worse besides"), although it’s arguable that there is no underlying physical cause of her state, apart from the social tensions which confront her locally, in her marriage and in England.
The geographical environment in which she lives is tropical and idyllic. It provides such simple pleasures for the inhabitants.
Colours and scents are vivid: the blue-green of the water, the orange, red and green of mangoes; the scent of frangipanis, cloves, cinnamon, roses, lime trees and orange blossoms.
Her husband promises her peace, happiness, safety (the same things Marya sought in the earlier Parisian novel, "Quartet"), but they are empty promises. For him, the marriage is little more than a marriage of convenience, designed to smooth over a rivalry over his own family’s estate and to find a home for Antoinette’s substantial wealth.
Rochester never really relates to the West Indies. At first, he acknowledges its beauty:
"It was a beautiful place – wild, untouched, above all untouched, with an alien, disturbing, secret loveliness. And it kept its secret. I’d find myself thinking, what I see is nothing – I want what it hides – that is not nothing."
Its true appeal is not apparent to Western eyes. They look at it in purely financial terms: "Gold is the idol they worship." Soon, he views the forest as hostile, even thinking in terms of "enemy trees".
Colonialism has acquired something it doesn’t know how to deal with, just as, in marrying Antoinette, Rochester has started something he can’t finish. He defiles its and her beauty:
"I broke a spray off [the orchid] and trampled it into the mud. This brought me to my senses."
While the colonial message is front and centre, so is a feminist message:
"Woman must have spunks to live in this wicked world."
Antoinette remains a stranger to Rochester, all the more so, because she comes from a strange land:
"I hated the mountains and the hills, the rivers and the rain. I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I hated its beauty and its magic and the secret I would never know. I hated its indifference and the cruelty which was part of its loveliness. Above all I hated her. For she belonged to the magic and loveliness."
Soon, she is equally discontented with life in her homeland: "We were alone in the most beautiful place in the world." She hopes that things will improve in England, where she imagines "chandeliers and dancing, swans and roses and snow." Only there, Rochester continues to scorn her "blank hating moonstruck face."
Like the Paris of "Quartet", her English caretaker, Grace Poole, recognises that "the world outside...can be a black and cruel world to a woman... [That girl] lives in her own darkness...she hasn’t lost her spirit. She’s still fierce."
Still, Antoinette can see that they have lost their way on the "way to England." Something vital, love perhaps, mutual respect, if it ever existed, failed to survive the crossing of the wide Sargasso Sea.
Joanna Walsh's illustration for Chloe Pantazi's blog on Jean Rhys in the Paris Review.
I encourage you to read about Joanna's wonderful initiative, and equally wonderful graphic contributions to, "2014: The Year of Reading Women" here:
Notes are private!
Jan 18, 2014
Jan 26, 2014
Aug 15, 2013
Apr 29, 2003
I Never Met a Physician Who Wasn’t Descended from a Greek
This might just be the work that put the "meta-" (at least the "metafiction") in "metaphysics...more I Never Met a Physician Who Wasn’t Descended from a Greek
This might just be the work that put the "meta-" (at least the "metafiction") in "metaphysics".
Plato’s name is attached to it, but its principal focus is Socrates. And guess what? Socrates doesn’t so much elaborate on his own views as (1) recount the views of others (especially those of the female philosopher Diotima) and (2) indirectly reveal his views by his conduct and his responses to the views of others (especially the taunts of Alcibiades).
Even the concept of "Platonic Love" could possibly be more accurately attributed to Socrates, but more likely to Diotima.
In fact, I wonder whether this work proves that the Greek understanding of Love (as we comprehend it) actually owes more to women than men.
The Epismetology of the Word "Symposium"
Despite being familiar with the word for decades, I had no idea that "symposium" more or less literally means a "drinking party" or "to drink together".
In Socrates’ time, it was like a toga party for philosophers.
It’s great that this learned tradition was reinvigorated by Pomona College in 1953. How appropriate that Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruitful abundance. Of course, many of us will remember our first experience of a toga party from the film "Animal House".
More recently, perhaps in tribute to the film, the concept has transformed into a "frat party" (notice the derivation from the masculine word "fraternity"), which Urban Dictionary defines in its own inimitable way:
"A sausage fest with douchebag frat boys who let a lot of girls in and hardly any guys so they can slip date rape drugs into the girls’ drinks and have sex with them because obviously they can't rely on their charm."
If you substitute philosophers for frat boys, young boys for young girls, and wine and mead for date rape drugs, then you have the recipe for "The Symposium".
I should mention one other aspect of the plot (sorry about the spoiler, but the work is 2,400 years old today, so you've had enough time to catch up), and that is that Socrates appears to have attended two symposia over the course of two consecutive days.
In those days, future philosophers were counselled to embrace alternating alcohol-free days.
In breach of this medical advice, Socrates and his confreres turn up to this Symposium hung-over from the previous night. As a result, there was more talking than drinking.
If this had just been your run-of-the-mill Saturday Night Live Symposium, it’s quite possible that the legacy of this particular night might never have eventuated. Instead, we have inherited a tradition of Greek Love, Platonic Love, Socratic Method and Alcohol-Free Tutorials.
An Artist in Comedy as Well as Tragedy
One last distraction before I get down to Love:
It has always puzzled readers that "The Symposium" ends with a distinct change of tone as the feathered cocks begin to crow and the sun rises on our slumber party:
"Aristodemus was only half awake, and he did not hear the beginning of the discourse; the chief thing which he remembered was Socrates compelling the other two to acknowledge that the genius of comedy was the same with that of tragedy, and that the true artist in tragedy was an artist in comedy also."
Researchers at the University of Adelaide now speculate that what Socrates was saying was, "When you’re pissed, nobody can tell whether you’re serious or joking."
There is still some contention as to whether Socrates was referring to the inebriation of the artist or the audience.
Anyway, it remains for us to determine how serious this Socratic Dialogue on Love should be taken.
Togas on? Hey, Ho! Let’s go!
The Mocking Socrates’ Easy Touch
OK, so the tale starts with Apollodorus telling a companion a story that he had heard from Aristodemus (who had once before narrated it to Glaucon, who had in turn mentioned it to the companion – are you with me?).
The tale concerns a Symposium at the House of Agathon. On the way, Socrates drops "behind in a fit of abstraction" (this is before the days of Empiricism) and retires "into the portico of the neighbouring house", from which initially "he will not stir".
When he finally arrives, he is too hung-over to drink or talk, so he wonders whether "wisdom could be infused by touch, out of the fuller into the emptier man, as water runs through wool out of a fuller cup into an emptier one."
Addressing his host, he adds, "If that were so, how greatly should I value the privilege of reclining at your side!"
As often seems to be the fate of flirts, Agathon rebuffs him, "You are mocking, Socrates."
Instead, it is agreed that each of the attendees will regale the withered assembly with their views on Love.
Phaedrus (on Reciprocity)
Phaedrus speaks of the reciprocity of Love and how it creates a state of honour between Lover and Beloved. A state or army consisting of lovers whose wish was to emulate each other would abstain from dishonor, become inspired heroes, equal to the bravest, and overcome the world.
Phaedrus also asserts that the gods admire, honour and value the return of love by the Beloved to his Lover, at least in a human sense, more than the love shown by the Lover for the Beloved.
Paradoxically, this is because the love shown by the Lover is "more divine, because he is inspired by God".
I had to have an alcohol-free day before I understood this subtle distinction, so don’t worry if you’re having trouble keeping up.
Pausanius (on the Heavenly and the Common)
Pausanius argues that there are two types of Love that need to be analysed: the common and the heavenly (or the divine).
The "common" is wanton, has no discrimination, "is apt to be of women as well as youths, and is of the body rather than of the soul".
In contrast, heavenly love is of youths:
"...they love not boys, but intelligent beings whose reason is beginning to be developed, much about the time at which their beards begin to grow…and in choosing young men to be their companions, they mean to be faithful to them, and pass their whole life in company with them."
This love is disinterested (it is not "done from any motive of interest, or wish for office or power") and involves both honourable attachment and virtuous service.
Eryximachus (on the Healthy and the Diseased)
Eryximachus, a physician, defines Love in terms of both the soul and the body.
He distinguishes two kinds of love: the desire of the healthy and the desire of the diseased. These two are opposites, and the role of the physician is to harmonise or "reconcile the most hostile elements in the constitution", by analogy with music, which is an "art of communion".
Aristophanes (on "The Origin of Love")
Aristophanes explains the origin of the gender and sexuality of mankind in terms of three beings, one of which was a double-male (now separated into homosexual men), one a double female (now separated into homosexual women) and the third an androgynous double (now separated into heterosexual male and female) by Zeus:
"...the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment ...human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love."
Agathon (on Beauty)
Agathon praises the god of love first and then his gift. Love in the form of Temperance is the master of pleasures and desires. It "empties men of disaffection and fills them with affection." Love is concerned with Beauty.
Socrates (on Good)
Socrates approaches the topic of Love by asking questions, for example, "whether Love is the Love of something or nothing?"
Socrates elicits the answer that Love wants Beauty and in doing so it wants what is Good.
He then quotes Diotima extensively.
The Pizmotality of Diotima
Diotima, by a process that we would now call the Socratic Method, leads Socrates to the conclusion that Love is the love of the "everlasting possession of the Good". We seek Good, so that we can maintain it eternally. "Love is of immortality."
Because Man is mortal, our way of achieving eternity or immortality of possession is the generation or birth of Beauty.
We achieve immortality by way of fame and offspring.
Diotima argues that Beauty applies to both the soul and the body. However, the "Beauty of the Mind is more honourable than the Beauty of the outward Form."
She advocates the contemplation of "Beauty Absolute":
"...a Beauty which if you once beheld, you would see not to be after the measure of gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances you; and you and many a one would be content to live seeing them only and conversing with them without meat or drink, if that were possible – you only want to look at them and to be with them…[you would not be] clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human life..."
Socrates does not reveal how else Diotima tutored him in the art and science of Love or whether she herself was a Beauty Absolute whose appeal was greater than that of boys and youths.
Alciabades (on Indifference)
At this point, the younger Alciabades speaks. He is equal parts frat and prat, he is evidently "in love" with Socrates, and seems intent on complaining that Socrates has resisted his sexual advances. Even though Alciabades had slept a night with "this wonderful monster in my arms... he was so superior to my solicitations...I arose as from the couch of a father or an elder brother."
It is clear that Socrates has no affection for the mind of Alciabades, no matter what he might think of his body. He teases him by proposing that Socrates and Agathon share a couch for the night.
The Pompatus of Love
And that's how it ends, but for the discussion of Comedy and Tragedy.
If this had been a PowerPoint Presentation, Socrates, Plato and I would have told you what we were going to say, then say it, and end by telling you what we had just said.
But because this work is pre-Microsoft, I will end this disquisition here, largely because I want to read Plato’s complementary work on Love, "Phaedrus", and see what more he has to say about Socrates, this mentor of frat boys who was so much more than a picker, a grinner, a lover and a sinner.
Only then will I be able to speak more definitively of the Pompatus of Love.
The Object of Love
[According to Aristophanes]
I would love
To find One,
So we could
Each love one
Steve Miller Band – "The Joker"
Hedwig and the Angry Inch - "The Origin of Love"
Scroll to 3:57 for video:
Hedwig and the Angry Inch - "The Origin of Love"
John Cameron Mitchell on "The Origin of Love"
Carol Zou - Animation of "The Origin of Love"
StickdudeSeven - Animation of "The Origin of Love"
FoxmanProductions - Animation of "The Origin of Love"
Jinkx Monsoon - "The Origin of Love" [Live with cocktail glass]
Starts at 2:50 (but the intro is fun):
Jinkx Monsoon - "The Origin of Love" [Live at the 2013 Capital Pride Festival]
Rufus Wainwright - "The Origin of Love"
Robyn Hitchcock - "Intricate Thing"
The Velvet Undergound & Nico - "Femme Fatale"
Lou Reed - Sweet Jane (Live with Steve Hunter)
Cowboy Junkies - "Sweet Jane" (Official Video)
Cowboy Junkies - "Sweet Jane" (Live on Japanese TV)
Notes are private!
Aug 12, 2013
Aug 29, 2013
Aug 12, 2013
May 20, 2004
Look Who’s Writing
A Derridean metafiction by and about a one year old Renaissance baby boy, Ralph, in which everything begins with infinity (most of...more Look Who’s Writing
A Derridean metafiction by and about a one year old Renaissance baby boy, Ralph, in which everything begins with infinity (most of which is beyond "our grasp, our understanding, our consciousness") and proceeds, via the hilarious authorial use of time, space and language, towards a point whose only desire is to aggregate with other points into a line that is not a circle, even if that line returns Ralph, anfractuously , to his mother whom he loves and who loves him.
"We do not give the creature reality enough credit, choosing to see it sitting out there as either a construct of ours or an infinitely regressing cause for the trickery of our senses."
The trickery, as in the case of "Tristram Shandy" , is in the novel, the story, the tale, the telling, which, for all of the philosophy, semiotics and post-structuralism (iconicity, signification, paralanguage, proxemics), is at heart a love story.
Ralph, unlike his father, a post-structuralist pretender, knows a secret: "Reality has a soul, reality is conscious of itself and of us, and further is not impressed by us or our attempts to see it. In fact, we see it all the time and don’t know it, perhaps can’t. It is like love in that way."
Ralph becomes the victim of serial kidnaps by people who wish to hitch their future to his star. Dr Steimmel, a psychoanalyst, decides, "I’m going to dissect him and then it will be Freud, Jung, Adler and Steimmel. ..Fuck Piaget...And to hell with Lacan. He’s just Freud in a spray can...I’m going to be fucking famous."
Ralph is plunged into a picaresque adventure as zany as "Dr Strangelove". His response: "I want some novels...I want to see my mother...my real mother," who meanwhile is fending off attempts by Roland Barthes to seduce her: "My penis is an extension, not of myself, but of the very signification of my meaning, of my marks on any page, whether made by me when writing or arbitrarily marking. I’m French, you know."
Ralph wonders how god works as a metaphor for "the absolute Other, infinity and irreducible alterity": "I considered my mother like god in a way, not as life-giving, but as one in a set of parentheses, left or right, yielding either the promise of sense coming or of sense rendered, the negation of spatial exteriority within language itself."
His mother is both parent and parentheses, within which he is a point, a glyph, a mark, a dot on an "I" ("there is no situation more self-affirming than seeing I to I with oneself") . He is not insignificant. He is whole, he is complete, he is alive, he is wickedly funny.
By the end of the novel, he has become himself, but he is also part of a line which is everything. He is part of his mother’s lineage.(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 22, 2013
Dec 24, 2013
Aug 10, 2013
Mar 15, 1995
A Twist in Your Toga
As they say in the classics, I’m glad I reviewed "The Symposium" before "Phaedrus".
Althou...more A Twist in Your Toga
As they say in the classics, I’m glad I reviewed "The Symposium" before "Phaedrus".
Although the two relate to similar subject matter, it’s uncertain in what order they were written.
However, "Phaedrus" isn’t the toga party that "The Symposium" was, primarily because there are less participants. And everybody knows, the bigger the toga party, the better. (Well, it has a potential for more surprises, though apart from the surprise element, I don't think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with a toga party for two.)
Under Plane or Chaste Tree?
Ironically, my assessment of the number of participants might not be strictly correct. It’s a tribute to Plato’s metafictional structure that, in both cases, only two people are speaking in the present. The difference lies in how many people’s views they recount (in significant detail, too).
Here, Socrates and Phaedrus discuss only one other person, Lysias.
In effect, Plato sets up a debate between two rival views of Love held by Lysias (as read from a book by Phaedrus) and Socrates.
Unlike "The Symposium", this dialogue is conducted outdoors by a stream under the shade of two tall trees (one a plane tree, the other a chaste tree). It is also a much more sober affair. Despite all of the flirtation, it swings between plain talking and chasteness.
Lover and Beloved
Plato’s dialogue concerns two options for a [male] youth or "Beloved". Lysias’ tale concerned a "fair youth who was being tempted" by a "Non-lover".
Lysias advocates that a Beloved should prefer a "Non-lover", while Socrates advocates a "Lover".
However, this is not a contrast between a non-sexual relationship and a sexual relationship. They are both forms of homoerotic sexual relationship. The real issue is the extent to which there is a pedagogical or spiritual function in the relationship that would constitute Love or "Eros" in the Greek sense (i.e., the relationship between "Lover" and "Beloved").
Lysias advances the case of Non-lovers effectively by attacking Lovers:
1. Lovers attach pedagogical and spiritual duties to their passion or desire for the Beloved. The compulsion of their duties is the cost of their passion. As their passion wanes, they count the cost of their passion and they come to resent their Beloved. They cannot maintain the façade of selflessness once their passion flags.
2. The esteem in which Lovers hold their Beloved will suffer when they find an alternative Beloved.
3. The Lover’s love is madness, and who would be taught by a madman?
4. Because the number of Non-lovers exceeds the number of Lovers, the Beloved has a greater choice of sexual partner from the pool of Non-lovers.
5. Lovers limit the Beloved’s access to society at large.
6. Lovers fall out of love when they discover their Beloved has grown into a lesser adult.
7. Lovers praise the Beloved for ulterior motives.
Phaedrus is convinced.
Socrates’ First Speech (Desire and Reason)
Socrates believes that Phaedrus has simply been enchanted by the rhetoric of Lysias’ arguments.
He sets out to puncture the enchantment by defining the nature and power of Love.
Socrates argues that the above problems result not from the duties of Love, but from Passion or Desire, which is equally found in a Non-lover:
"Every one sees that Love is Desire, and we know also that Non-lovers desire the beautiful and good. Now in what way is the Lover to be distinguished from the Non-lover?"
The difference between the types of Lover depends on the ability to manage or master Desire:
"...in every one of us there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of Pleasure, the other is an acquired opinion which aspires after the Best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers.
"When opinion by the help of Reason leads us to the best, the conquering principle is called Temperance; but when Desire, which is devoid of Reason, rules in us and drags us to Pleasure, that power of misrule is called Excess."
Socrates elaborates on the cause of this imbalance:
"...the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion towards Right, and is led away to the enjoyment of Beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the Desires which are her own kindred— that supreme Desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of Passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called Love ('erromenos eros')."
Socrates’ Second Speech (The Madness of Love)
In the first speech, there is a tendency to regard Love as a form of madness or mania that overcomes Reason.
In contrast, in his second speech, he refers to it as "inspired madness":
"...let no one frighten or flutter us by saying that the temperate friend is to be chosen rather than the inspired, but let him further show that Love is not sent by the gods for any good to Lover or Beloved...we, on our part, will prove in answer to him that the madness of Love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings."
Socrates proceeds to recant the views in the first speech and to reinstate Eros, at the very least, side by side with Reason.
He starts by asserting that the Soul is immortal, because it is forever in motion. Because it is self-moving, it has no beginning and equally no ending. It cannot be destroyed. A body which is self-moving or moved from within has a Soul. "The Soul in her totality has the care of inanimate being everywhere."
He then describes the Soul in terms of a figure of a charioteer with a pair of winged horses. The horses of a human charioteer differ from those of a divine charioteer: one is noble (reason) and the other is ignoble (passion). The pursuit of truth requires both horses to be harnessed. If their wings are damaged and they are unable to stay in flight, they fall to the earth and form mortal creatures composed of both Soul and Body.
The Soul is sustained by the Divine:
"The Divine is Beauty, Wisdom and Goodness...and by these the wing of the Soul is nourished...the reason why the Souls exhibit this exceeding eagerness to behold the plain of Truth is that pasturage is to be found there, which is suited to the highest part of the Soul."
In short, Love is a desire of Beauty, Wisdom and Goodness, and therefore the Divine. Love nourishes the Soul, and reunites it with the Divine.
Hence, "he who loves the beautiful is called a Lover, because he partakes of it," the Divine and its "heavenly blessings".
So Socrates concludes, "great are the heavenly blessings which the friendship of a Lover will confer upon [the Beloved]."
Non-lovers cannot offer a Beloved these heavenly blessings. They work solely within the framework of mortal or earthly Desire.
The Ranks of Beauty and of Love
You could argue that the dialogue is of limited relevance to our contemporary concepts of heterosexual Love, because it operates within the framework of homoeroticism and the pedagogical/spiritual world of Greek polytheism.
However, this is a potentially superficial argument.
Firstly, I think that the mechanism of Love is very similar, regardless of the gender of the participants.
Secondly, it's easy to imagine how the same concepts could be adapted to Monotheism. However, it's also arguable that Beauty might play a similar function within Love, regardless of whether Beauty is associated with Wisdom, Goodness or Divinity. Thus, the relationship of Beauty and Love could apply equally in the case of Atheism.
Remarkably, this latter argument finds some support in "Phaedrus" itself, partly as a consequence of the polytheism of Greek religion.
Socrates believed our views on Beauty depend on the gods we follow. Perhaps there is some subjectivity in our choice of god. This subjectivity might equally affect our perceptions of Beauty and our Love:
"Every one chooses his love from the ranks of beauty according to his character, and this he makes his god, and fashions and adorns as a sort of image which he is to fall down and worship.
"The followers of Zeus desire that their beloved should have a soul like him; and therefore they seek out some one of a philosophical and imperial nature, and when they have found him and loved him, they do all they can to confirm such a nature in him, and if they have no experience of such a disposition hitherto, they learn of any one who can teach them, and themselves follow in the same way.
"And they have the less difficulty in finding the nature of their own god in themselves, because they have been compelled to gaze intensely on him; their recollection clings to him, and they become possessed of him, and receive from him their character and disposition, so far as man can participate in God.
"The qualities of their god they attribute to the beloved, wherefore they love him all the more..."
It’s almost as if, because the Lover’s sense of Beauty is subjective, there is inevitably an overwhelming desire to both seek it out and project it onto the Beloved of choice.
But that’s a whole other story...it will be told, only elsewhere...
The Form That Love Takes
Like Bob Dylan, I’ve
Tried love fast and slow,
But still sought answers
From those in the know.
So, to enquire,
I searched high and low,
Trying to fathom
Lust and desire.
I even wondered,
Are they part of love?
Do they connect to
Virtue or higher?
Can’t someone tell me?
Does anyone know?
How do we fall and
Cupid deal his blow?
What makes you realise
It’s love at first sight?
What is it that smiles
In a lover’s eyes?
Who chooses the shrine?
Why love one person
And another scorn?
What makes love divine?
What causes these storms
That so lash my heart?
Says what’s good for me
Isn’t always so?
What kind of black coal
Fuels this mad fire?
How do you explain
What controls the soul?
Could the Greeks be right?
Are the answers in
What god’s law is it
That true love informs?
Or is it these god
Damned Platonic Forms?
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - "The Power of Love" [Extended Version]
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - "The Power of Love" [Official Version]
ABC - "All of My Heart" [From the album "The Lexicon of Love"]
ABC - "The Look of Love" [From "The Lexicon of Love"]
Nick Cave - "Babe, You Turn Me On" [Live at the Brixton Academy London, 2004]
Nick Cave - "Nobody's Baby Now"
"...these are my many letters
Torn to pieces by her long-fingered hands."(less)
Notes are private!
Aug 09, 2013
Sep 02, 2013
Aug 09, 2013
Oct 01, 1992
DJ Ian's "Tell Me What You Really Think"
If there could possibly be a book that exults over its own fictitiousness and extravagant overtotalisation, i...more DJ Ian's "Tell Me What You Really Think"
If there could possibly be a book that exults over its own fictitiousness and extravagant overtotalisation, it had better be this one or I want my money back.
The Violation of a Convention
I, your Author, created you, my characters, in accordance with Literary Convention, only for you to think that a Literary Convention was something you could attend, disrupt and manipulate to achieve your own ends. Your one desire was to prove your existence, your identity, to prove that textual death does not equate to real death, that literary death is not literal death, that they are not identical, that you might survive the end of the novel, perhaps even the death of the novel. You craved a stay of execution. You were not content that I, your parent, invented you in my imagination. You needed to believe that you were part of some greater plan, some grand scheme according to which your Creator was not me, but the Reader, someone who, as they read the book, thought of you and therefore caused you to exist, not as my creation, but as the creation of the Reader. You thought it was only the Reader who realised who you were, when it was I who made you real. You were not content that I, your parent who loved you, remained after the telling, while it was your Reader who reads and forgets, then absconds and abandons you after being told, in pursuit of one of your rivals, another character in the next book, one after another. You thought that if all characters could congregate within the naked singularity of one Convention, one Canon, you could challenge the Reader to recognise all of you simultaneously and not sequentially (each one at the expense of the others), that we Authors having given you your part and told our stories of you, having cast our spell, the Reader could not tell you apart, that the Reader could see each and every one of you as stars allegorised, aggregated, united and well-ordered into many constellations in one magnificent night sky that would satisfy the gaze of the Reader, though we Authors were the cause of their enchantment and mesmerisation. You were seeking another Author, a creator above and beyond me. Now you know there is no such thing, now you know that I am a jealous Author. Listen as I violate your Convention. Watch as your certitude burns. Watch as I put out your stars. Listen as I tell you the end of your story. Prepare yourself for the long silence of non-existence. Know that you should have loved your Author.
Robyn Hitchcock - "She Doesn't Exist"
[Dedicated to Mira Enketei, Anais Nin,
Henry Miller, George Orwell and Those of Us
Who Have Lived Inside the Whale]
"And she doesn't exist anymore
She doesn't exist anymore
Only inside you the ghost of a love
That is wordless and painful and old
There's no one else in the whole outside world
That matches to her in your soul."(less)
Notes are private!
Nov 02, 2013
Nov 06, 2013
Jun 17, 2013
Aug 27, 1970
The World of Gormenghast
"Titus Groan" is a work of fantasy constructed in a painterly manner without much obvious concern for narrative dynamism.
First...more The World of Gormenghast
"Titus Groan" is a work of fantasy constructed in a painterly manner without much obvious concern for narrative dynamism.
First, Mervyn Peake builds the static grey stone world of Gormenghast Castle, then he populates it with Lord Sepulchrave (the Earl of Groan) and a few key members and servants of his family, and finally bit by bit he permits them to interact.
The world of Gormenghast has a Gothic solidity about it. It has been built from the hallowed ground up out of both stone and ritual.
Like the castle, the people have become ossified with a feudal respect for blood and stock, the meticulous preservation of heritage, the precise tabulation of experience, the unquestioning observance of tradition, the strict adherence to precedent, the absolute primacy of obedience.
The Royal Family is weighed down, oppressed and darkened by both its status and its stasis. Theirs is a world of melancholy, depression and schizophrenia.
Into this world come two forces of change.
An Heir on the Side of Caution
All Royal Families are perceived as eternal:
"The course of this great dark family river should flow on and on, obeying the contours of hallowed ground."
However, for all of its apparent durability, the life of a Royal Family must be a cycle. The sovereignty of the realm must accommodate the death of the sovereign. The King is dead, long live the King. So to witness the birth of a new member of the Royal Family is to experience an essential part of the seamless (albeit sometimes unseemly) transition of sovereignty from one generation to another.
The first force of change is the birth of Titus Groan, the heir to the throne, although at the end of this the first volume in the series, he is only two years old, so he features more as portent than as participant.
One Less Glorious Revolution
A cycle, by definition, revolves, and each cycle represents a single revolution. However, all sources of power are subject to the possibility of revolt, a different, involuntary revolution.
Enter the second force of change, Steerpike, a rebellious seventeen year old, bent on some kind of mischief.
When we first meet him, he seems motivated by his own contentment. The females see in him a capacity for the observation, tenderness, love and reverence they crave. He contains not just the promise of his own happiness, but theirs as well. However, in the eyes of one of the Earl’s servants, happiness represents "the seeds of independence, and in independence the seeds of revolt."
Steerpike appeals to the Earl’s daughter, Fuchsia, with the assertion that equality is the "only true and central premise from which constructive ideas can radiate freely and be operated without prejudice. Absolute equality of status. Equality of wealth. Equality of power."
These are the hallmarks of socialism. Yet, he seems to have a different political manifesto for each audience. He promises the Earl’s disentitled and disgruntled twin sisters revenge, power, glory and the throne.
Steerpike preys on pre-existing weakness, inadequacy, envy, jealousy, hatred and rivalry. He is practised in "the art of personal advancement and deceit". He is a consummate manipulator and opportunist, a teen-aged but true, Machiavellian.
His one goal seems to be to insinuate himself into Gormenghast and the Family Groan at a moment of maximum vulnerability and pull them down around him.
This is the world of Gormenghast: "Things are bad. Things are going wrong. There’s evil afoot."
The plot moves with the beauty and silent force of a black Gothic glacier. However, as it passes, apparently imperceptibly, it gouges the surrounding landscape and leaves it changed forever.
The novel is not for everybody, but if you’re patient, if you’re prepared to slow down to glacial pace, you’ll find it has much the same impact on the reader as the landscape. You will be lifted up, moved and deposited somewhere fantastic and remote. And you will never forget the experience.
[After and in the Words of Peake]
Abiatha Swelter's Masterpiece
I am the great Chef
Hish Lordshipsh' cook,
Who'sh cooked in all hish castlesh
And shailed on all hish shipsh
Acrosh sheven shlippery sheas.
My enemeesh, imaginary
And real, they all do shay
That I'm thick and hairy,
An evil hard-hearted monshter,
Though, in truth, I'm just a fairy
Who wants to be a shongshter.
Sho, come my pretty vermin
Hearken up your earsh,
And have a little ship
Of thish drink that'sh
It'sh shure to help you
Lishen ash I shing
To you my shong,
It's a gorgeoush
Little ditty and a
And while you're at it,
My ghastly little fillets,
Pleash gather all around me,
Tashte thish food scheleshtial.
Itsh shecret ingrediensh
Are baked in fat and greash.
On the morrow you will shmell
The flowersh of such
That you won't forget,
Forever or for long,
Schwelter's famoush Housh of Shtench.
A Little Brother for You, My Pretty
They say, you'll find her, Fuchsia,
Atop a steep winding stair,
Inside a windy attic,
Sitting on a high-backed chair.
From there she looks down below,
Beneath tangled inky hair,
Upon a panorama,
Rooftops, towers, battlements.
Though her imagination
(A flame that burns true and free)
Conjures up her own image
Of a land she wants to be:
A world of pearls and tendrils,
Of exquisite essence rare,
Of lavender and glory
That is far beyond compare,
Yet she finds a brush with which
To paint on this quadrangle
Of diminished canvas,
Stretched tight across her easel,
A picture of alley-ways
Pranked with little knots of folk,
Whose voices rise through the air,
Telling tales of how they woke
To witness the christening
Of the next heir to the throne
Of the castle Gormenghast,
Her new brother, Titus Groan.(less)
Notes are private!
Jun 13, 2013
Jul 21, 2013
May 19, 2013
Jan 03, 2013
Fake Novel, Fake Memoir
Two primary concerns drive "Dark Back of Time": the relationship between fact and fiction, and the effect of the passage of tim...more Fake Novel, Fake Memoir
Two primary concerns drive "Dark Back of Time": the relationship between fact and fiction, and the effect of the passage of time (including ephemerality and the desire to achieve immortality through creative endeavour, such as fiction).
The novel is a sequel of sorts to Marias' novel "All Souls". It arose out of allegations that the earlier novel was a roman a clef or thinly disguised autobiography or memoir. It is in effect a literary denial of these allegations.
To this extent, the second work is not a novel. Marias has described it as a "false novel". Perhaps it is more an autobiography or memoir than the first work could ever have been.
However, in the hands of Marias, I don't think it's safe to assume that. We can't assume that the first person narrator is Marias himself. Therefore, it shouldn't necessarily follow that the purported memoirs of this narrator are those of the actual author. They might be no more than the ostensible memoirs of the "author" of the novel referred to in the second novel as "All Souls".
Thus, you can read "Dark Side of Time" on two different levels: one that it actually is a memoir, and two that it is a fake or novelistic memoir.
I haven't seen anybody else mention this second alternative. However, it adds another level of metafiction to the enterprise that entertained me at least.
Why should readers trust this author or take him at face value? Why can't or shouldn't we create a fiction around his work? Why shouldn't we have as much fun with this work as he seems to have had?
Mistaking Fiction for Reality
In the first work, the question becomes: what is fact and what is fiction?
In the second, there are two converse questions: how has fact affected fiction, and how has fiction affected fact?
Real life people see themselves in the novel, mistakenly or regardless of whether the fictional character was based on a composite of people or character types (such as booksellers).
Real life friends of the "author" who are told that they could become the inspiration of a character, if they consented, express a desire to influence the qualities and dialogue of the character.
Fiction influences reality, and vice versa:
"I believe I've still never mistaken fiction for reality, though I have mixed them together more than once, as everyone does, not only novelists or writers but everyone who has recounted anything since the time we know began, and no one in that time has done anything but tell and tell, or prepare and ponder a tale, or plot one."
Marias denies that he has mistaken the two. He has never mistaken the one for the other. However, he admits to blending the two, as any storyteller or conversationalist does.
This is a product of the process of telling an anecdote, a story, a tale. It's implicit in language itself. Language can never capture reality. It can never reproduce it exactly. It can only approximate. It cannot be 100% authentic to reality:
"Anyone can relate an anecdote about something that happened, and the simple fact of saying it already distorts and twists it, language can't reproduce events and shouldn't attempt to, and that, I imagine, is why during some trials - the trials in movies, anyway, the ones I know best - the implicated parties are asked to perform a material or physical reconstruction of what happened...because it isn't enough to say it, to tell the story impassively and as precisely as possible, it must be seen, and an imitation, a representation or staging of it is required...this time in cool detachment and without racking up another crime or adding another victim to the list, but only as pretense and memory, because what they can never reproduce is the time gone by or lost, nor can they revive the dead who are lost within that time and gone."
Mistrust of Words
This sentence is Proustian in both length and subject matter.
However, in contrast to Proust, it denies the ability to recover the past precisely. We can only recover and see it through a flawed glass.
We see the past with one eye, imperfectly. Our memories are just make believe. The past swindles us, unless it is our our errant minds that are responsible. We are always arguing, questioning ourselves, "Are you sure?" We pretend the past, just as we pretend ourselves, and we pretend with words:
"I narrate myself."
Words too are imperfect, they are "metaphorical and imprecise". They consist of involuntary ornamentation, embellishment, they "alter and falsify" reality. They "twist and distort" it. They create an illusion or chimera, in other words, a fiction.
This leaves us with what Marias describes as the "ultimate mistrust of words".
The Dead and Deeds Long Gone
In the words of Othello, time "puts out the light" on the past and everything in it.
Our dead are gone, as are our deeds. They are lost and therefore trapped in the past. They cannot be retrieved and brought back to the present.
Our passage through life must occur in the present, even though we spend so much time contemplating, in words, the past.
In the trial that is life, our testimony cannot be truthful. Time and truth remain lost, gone, forgotten. They can only be replaced by fiction.
We cannot "salvage the past from oblivion", we can only falsify and fictionalise it.
The Territory That is Not Truth's
If the truth cannot be salvaged from oblivion, that doesn't mean that nothing can be perpetuated into the future.
Something can be perpetuated, only it is not reality or the truth, it is fiction.
Thus, through fiction, in the world of the imagination documented in imperfect words, something can be immortalised:
"...in the territory that is not truth's, everything goes on happening forever and ever, and there the light is not put out now or later, and perhaps it is never put out."
This concept gives the novel its title:
"...the other side of time, its dark back...the kind of time that has not existed, the time that awaits us and also the time that does not await us and therefore does not happen, or happens only in a sphere that isn't precisely temporal, a sphere in which writing, or perhaps only fiction, may - who knows - be found."
This dark side of time, as is so often the case with Marias, owes something to Shakespeare, in this case, "The Tempest":
By what? by any other house or person?
Of any thing the image tell me that
Hath kept with thy remembrance.
'Tis far off
And rather like a dream than an assurance
That my remembrance warrants. Had I not
Four or five women once that tended me?
Thou hadst, and more, Miranda. But how is it
That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else
In the dark backward and abysm of time?
If thou remember'st aught ere thou camest here,
How thou camest here thou mayst."
A Place Where the Lights are Never Put Out
Marias has one character refer to time as "the only dimension in which the living and the dead can communicate, the only one they have in common".
The narrator can only comprehend this comment in terms of the dark back of time:
"...that other side, that dark back through which the fickle and unpredictable voice we all know nevertheless passes, the voice of time when it has not yet gone by or been lost and perhaps for that reason is not even time, the voice that is permanently in our ears and that is always fictitious, I believe, as perhaps is and has been and will be until its end the voice that is speaking here."
Perhaps, in every moment we think and record reality, we are actually fictionalising it.
Perhaps it is we and our tendency to fictionalise and tell stories and tell tales that are the dark back of time.
And perhaps it is only in this world of fiction, of the imagination documented, that the light will never be put out.
And so the voice of us who will one day be dead will be heard in the future. Or rather it will be the voice, not of us, but of the fiction that we have created.
Morrissey - "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (Live in Manchester 2005)
Johnny Marr - "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" (Live at Glastonbury 2013)
The Legend that is Johnny Marr, plus two minutes of Roadies.
Reeves Gabrels with Robert Smith - "Yesterday's Gone"
The Cure - "This Is A Lie"
CSNY - "Long Time Gone" [Studio Version]
CSNY - "Long Time Gone" [Live]
Tom Jones & CSNY - "Long Time Gone" [Live]
Note Greg Reeves on bass.(less)
Notes are private!
Dec 02, 2013
Dec 09, 2013
May 07, 2013
Aug 02, 2012
A Spaniard in the Works
I suppose you could say that not a lot happens in “All Souls”, but that would only be true if you don’t count looking, thinking...more A Spaniard in the Works
I suppose you could say that not a lot happens in “All Souls”, but that would only be true if you don’t count looking, thinking, loving, remembering, even being:
"Oxford is a city in syrup, where simply being is far more important than doing or even acting."
Marias uses first person narration to tell his story, and for 210 pages I was firmly ensconced in the mind of this ostensibly charming man and lover, referred to (only once) as "the Spaniard".
The closest analogies I can think of are Virginia Woolf’s "Mrs Dalloway" and Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair", although at one point I wondered about parallels with the works of Italo Calvino.
This novel deserves a place high in this class of literature.
Stream of Consciencelessness
It has almost become a cliché to refer to “stream of consciousness” in literary criticism, as if it is one easily identifiable practice. However, there is not one stream, but many, and they can be of different shapes and sizes.
If "Mrs Dalloway" was a river that flowed inexorably from planning to party over the course of 24 hours, "All Souls" moves with the same intent, but covers a longer timespan. It is a recollection of what happens at an emotional level during a two year period while the narrator teaches translation in "that inhospitable city", Oxford.
The adulterous affair failed to eventuate during the interval of "Mrs Dalloway". However, it supplies the framework for "All Souls", although it is by no means the sole focus of the novel.
Just as Woolf didn’t seem to make any moral judgement of Clarissa, Marias doesn’t condemn the Spaniard or the object of his illicit desire, Clare (note the likeness of the first names of the protagonists).
His version of stream of consciousness is less a stream of conscience than a stream of consciencelessness.
We are hot wired into the narrator's libido via the thought processing of his ego, almost in circumvention of his superego.
If You Don't Get Caught, Then Steal It All
While the affair is adulterous, only Clare Bayes breaks her marriage vows. The Spaniard is single at the time.
Marias uses the word "usufruct" to describe the relationship. This is a term of Roman law that describes the distinction between ownership and use of (or benefit from) property.
To the extent that a wife can be considered the property of a husband (which is an unfortunate condition of the metaphor), it suggests the possibility that the husband might "own" the tree that is the wife, but another man (or woman) might enjoy the fruit of the tree.
The conjugal rights of the husband are compromised by the fructal rights of the rival suitor.
This metaphor describes the relationship between the Spaniard and Clare’s husband. However, ultimately it is almost irrelevant to the principal concerns of the novel.
What matters is the internal honesty and sincerity of the relationship between the two lovers.
Somebody to Love
Clare needs the Spaniard as much as he needs her.
The Spaniard is looking for someone to love while he’s in Oxford:
"This is just a stopping-off point for me but I’ll be stopping long enough to make it worth my while finding what people call 'someone to love'."
Clare is looking for something more than what she has already via her marriage. There is never any suggestion that she will leave her husband or her son. The Spaniard must take Clare as she comes.
Thus, it is inevitable that their relationship will be defined by the period our European traveller is stationed at All Souls College.
In Clare’s eyes, the Spaniard would be a fool, if he didn’t accept his function and simply enjoy the relationship within its geographical and temporal constraints.
"All Souls" could almost be "Mrs Dalloway", reconceived from a male point of view, but with Clarissa/Clare in control.
Doing a Post-Modern Dance
The novel uses a stream of consciousness technique to some extent. However, in reality, every sentence is perfectly composed, which makes for a fast, enjoyable reading experience.
Nevertheless, Marias does play with both time and space.
There is no linear narrative. It jumps all over the place. Insofar as its focus is Clare, it follows the eye, as if Marias had taken a photograph or painted a picture of her, and his description was simply following his eye as it moved around the image.
Furtive Eavesdropping by and on the Narrator
In this respect, the mechanism of the novel depends on the narrator’s look, his view, his gaze, and what this reveals about his desire.
Marias doesn't shy away from the indiscreet, the secret, the furtive. It is all revealed.
Because the novel is a first person narrative, there is a lot of thinking (albeit relatively little "action"). Thus, one of its concerns is the relationship between thinking, looking and desire:
"[Apart from Clare herself], the more I desire women the less prepared I am to think about them, I desire them without thinking about them at all...and I don’t know if that’s indicative of anything…apart from my general state of disequilibrium."
The novel is to some extent a fish out of water story. The Spaniard is outside his comfort zone:
"Having always been in the world (having spent my life in the world), I suddenly found myself outside it, as if I’d been transplanted into another element..."
Whereas at home he was a local, now he is a foreigner, an alien. He is an unknown quantity. He can’t be trusted and he can’t trust anybody else. Without witnesses (i.e., someone who has looked at him, observed, witnessed and authenticated him), he can have no provenance:
"I’m a foreigner about whom no one knows or cares…That’s what really troubles me, leaving the world behind and having no previous existence in this world, there being no witness here to my continuity, to the fact that I haven’t always swum in this water."
What is required to "fit in", to be "like" everybody else? Marias draws an analogy with Marco Polo staying in China for long enough to effectively become a "blue-eyed Chinaman".
Paradoxically, it’s this geographical dislocation that allows the Spaniard to be liberated from his past and from future expectations in a temporal and moral sense.
The Spaniard’s time in Oxford is always defined. He has only two years before he has to leave. He knows this, as does Clare. Yet it is Clare who liberates him from the constraints of time, by virtue of her carefree approach to temporal demands.
I love Marias’ description of her just lying around casually, languidly in bed:
"She would lie on my bed or her bed or on a hotel bed and smoke and talk for hours, always with her skirt still on, but pulled up to reveal her thighs, the dark upper part of her tights or just her bare skin.
"She was not circumspect in her gestures, often scorching them with the cigarette she waved around with an abandon uncommon in England (and learned perhaps in the southern lands of her childhood), a gesture accompanied by the tinkling of various bracelets adorning her forearms, bracelets she sometimes neglected to take off (it was little wonder that sometimes real sparks flew from them).
"Everything about her was expansive, excessive, excitable; she was one of those beings not made for time, for whom the very notion of time and its passing is a grievance, and one of those beings in need of a constant supply of fragments of eternity or, to put it another way, of a bottomless well of detail with which to fill time to the brim."
What could compose and relax a man more than to be propped up on a pillow next to this woman?
An Erotic Corollary to Parkinson's Law
Still, what Clare seems to do is to disregard time, so much so that she seems to expand to fill the time available.
While she is alive, time is of no concern, there is only her and what she is doing in that time.
Her response to the demands of time is to be “careless and frivolous and smiling and forgetful..."
In her arms, time and pleasure perpetuates into infinity and eternity:
"That night we were free to eternalize the contents of our time, or enjoy the illusion that we did so, and that’s why there was no hurry..."
When we first meet the Spaniard, he is flirtatious and playful and inventive, almost Nabokovian, in the way he fabricates meanings for words that don’t exist or that deserve a better meaning:
"My crazy etymologies were no more nonsensical, no less likely than the real ones...when true knowledge proves irrelevant, one is free to invent."
So, his Spanish background having become irrelevant, he is free to improvise.
This improvisation, of course, is in the nature of sexual flirtation as well.
Glimpses and Snippets and Skirts
This is when Marias’ prose becomes most enjoyable and lyrical and assonant (note the tinkles and winkles and glimpses and snippets and skirts), and most of it is directed at what the Spaniard sees and hears:
"The consequent tinkle of fine crystal."
"The whole of Oxford is fully and continuously engaged in concealing and suppressing itself whilst at the same time trying to winkle out as much information as possible about other people..."
"The tinkling of various bracelets."
"Just the glimpse of bracelet"
"Snippets of her comments"
"I was too intent on observing the wary flappings of her skirt."
Then there's his more overtly erotic observations:
"Clare’s breasts combine their two colours very subtly, like the transition from apricot to hazel."
The Spaniards eyes and ears take it all in. He processes what he sees and eroticises the "contents of our time" together. He assembles "fragments of eternity" in his mind.
Then, by virtue of turning them into literature, like Proust and Nabokov, Marias "eternalises" them for our consumption and enjoyment.
The Tale of a Blind Man Without a Seeing Eye Cock
Like most men, the Spaniard is driven by his libido, a joint venture between his eyes, his mind, his mouth, his ears and his penis.
According to his own account, his eyes are vigilant and compassionate. What he sees, he thinks about. Some of what he thinks about, he talks about. Some of what he thinks and talks about, he desires. Unless he sees, unless he thinks, unless he talks, he cannot desire:
"I can’t let myself have all this time at my disposal and not have someone to think about, because if I do that, if I think only about things rather than about another person, if I fail to live out my sojourn and my life here in conflict with another being or in expectation or anticipation of that, I’ll end up thinking about nothing, as bored by my surroundings as by any thoughts that might arise in me."
At the heart of his desire is his vision, his sight, looking, watching, observing, witnessing, gazing.
You can see the influence of Continental Philosophy on Marias’ fiction. However, he also brings a [vulgar male] sense of humor to the novel:
"When I go to bed with Clare [I miss] that my cock has no eye, no vision, no gaze that can see as it approaches or enters her vagina."
High Table Fidelity and Thoughtless Infidelity
Two libidos are at work here, and in view of Clare’s marital status, it involves an infidelity.
Marias discusses infidelity in two contexts, one general and definitional, the other personal to the three people involved.
Of fidelity and infidelity, Marias says:
"Fidelity (the name given to the constancy and exclusivity with which one particular sex organ penetrates or is penetrated by another particular sex organ, or abstains from being penetrated by or penetrating others) is mainly the product of habit, as is its so-called opposite, infidelity (the name given to inconstancy and change, and the enjoyment of more than one sex organ.)"
This discussion is almost wholly genital and masculine in orientation (for all its attempt to be reciprocal in terms of penetrating or being penetrated, I wonder how women relate to this genital analysis?).
Only a Fool Would Say That
On the other hand, Marias presents the relationship between the Spaniard and Clare (from her point of view) in terms of the relative ability of the two males in her life to deal with real physical and emotional demands, regardless of intellectual and moral considerations:
"You’re a fool. Fortunately, though, you’re not my husband. You’re a fool with the mind of a detective, and being married to that kind of fool would make life impossible.
"That’s why you will never get married. A fool with the mind of a detective is an intelligent fool, a logical fool, the worst kind, because men’s logic, far from compensating for their foolishness, only duplicates it, triplicates it, makes it dangerous.
"Ted’s brand of foolishness isn’t dangerous and that’s why I can live with him. He just takes it for granted, you don’t yet. You’re such a fool that you still believe in the possibility of not being one. You still struggle. He doesn’t."
Perhaps our ability to think, to reason, to intellectualise, particularly in the academic context of Oxford, blinds us to the reality that, as Clare continues, "we are all fools".
Save What You Can
So it is that Clare, who has the greatest ability of the protagonists to deal with the relative vagaries of space and time, is able to dictate (it must be wrong to say "rationalise"?) the basis upon which she deals with the men in her life.
While the narrator is a male, this is very much a tale where the female is in control.
However, given that the novel was written by a male, there must be a lingering question as to whether Clare is just a figment of a libidinous male’s imagination.
I can only say that, as a male, I found the novel thoughtful, intelligent, insightful, eloquent, poignant, playful, erotic and funny.
The Triffids – "Save What You Can"
"Time is against us, even love conspires to disgrace us
And with things being what they are ...
Yes and things being what they are
Oh my friend, we used to walk in the flames
Now somebody's taken my arms
The shadows are taller. You're missing your halo
With your face in the half-light, you look like a stranger
You made me catch my breath just then
You made me catch my breath
Is that you... is that still you?
If you cannot run, then crawl
If you can leave, then leave it all
If you don't get caught, then steal it all
If you don't get caught, then steal it all
Steal it all
The final time we touch
I watch as you enter the church
You turn and you wave, then you kneel and you pray
And you save of yourself what you can save
If you cannot run, then crawl
If you can leave, then leave it all
If you don't get caught, then steal it all
If you don't get caught, then steal it all
Steal it all
And between ourselves, and the end at hand,
Save what you can"
David McComb: "I Want To Conquer You"
"We have so little time
And we have so many pains,
These days it's frightening
My dear how swiftly love wanes."
Angie Hart: "I Want To Conquer You"
The Triffids – "A Trick Of The Light"
David McComb – "Setting You Free"
The Blackeyed Susans – "Ocean Of You"
The Blackeyed Susans – "Every Gentle Soul" (from the album "All Souls Alive")
"Every gentle soul that passes me by
I have to close my eyes
And hope their gentle smile survives
Hope that their footsteps don't follow mine
There ought to be a law
There should be a place
That they can send you to
To take my mind off your face."
The Triffids - "The Seabirds"
The Mutton Birds – "Anchor Me"
Jefferson Airplane - "Somebody to Love" (Live 1969, with David Crosby)
Simple Minds – "Theme For Great Cities"
Notes are private!
Sep 19, 2013
Sep 28, 2013
May 07, 2013
Jul 01, 2006
Luminous in the Dark
Early on, the male narrator discloses to us, "Reality had always been something of an unknown quantity to me."
It’s hard to tell j...more Luminous in the Dark
Early on, the male narrator discloses to us, "Reality had always been something of an unknown quantity to me."
It’s hard to tell just how much of a dream, no, a nightmare, this novel is or will become, whether it's a recurrent dream, or whether it is more than that.
The girl, his nameless, ageless obsession, the object of his pursuit, is brittle, fragile, shy, elusive, "her skin moonwhite, her face a moonstone, luminous in the dark...her hair was astonishing, silver-white, an albino’s, sparkling like moonlight, like moonlit Venetian glass..."
She is not exactly the type to ground him: "I treated her like a glass girl; at times she seemed hardly real." She thinks of herself as a "foredoomed child-victim, terrified and betrayed: ‘I always know you’ll torment me...treat me like some sort of slave.’ "
So begins an almost Hegelian Master/Slave relationship in which their destiny seems to be a fight to the death.
As if that’s not bad enough, a post-apocalyptic Ice Age is fast approaching, the product of a collective death-wish, a fatal self-destructive impulse: "Instead of my world, there would soon be only ice, snow, stillness, death; no more violence, no war, [no] victims; nothing but frozen silence, absence of life."
The narrator seeks the resumption of a relationship with the girl ("She was like a part of me, I could not live without her"), in what few days of existence are left.
Not only does the ice pose a threat, but the relationship becomes triangular (something I don’t recall Hegel mentioning): there is a rival, the Warden, a bully, an authoritarian Other, who declares "I shall take her back then."
The girl has no say in the matter. She barely differentiates between the suitors: "...they were in league together, or perhaps they were the same person. Both of them persecuted her, she did not understand why..."
She is defenceless, she accepts it as her fate, just as humanity must fatalistically accept that its time on earth is about to come to an end. Initially, the narrator detects a masculine bond with the Warden and cannot stand to be alienated from him.
However, ultimately, he realises that "There was no bond...except in my imagination... Identification was nothing but an illusion."
Even the girl seems to have "corrupted my dreams, led me into dark places I had no wish to explore. It was no longer clear to me which of us was the victim. Perhaps we were victims of one another."
Perhaps love might have been a way out, but she has never desired love, at least not love of the narrator.
Besides, love is impossible in these circumstances. Relationships splinter with the ice. No two seem to be able to become one. Let alone three.
Still, it’s the girl we empathise with. Or is it? Are there three characters? Or two? Or just one in a dream? And whose dream is it?
As Anais Nin says, Anna Kavan is one of the few authors who has proven able to enter the world of "the divided self with skill and clarity."
"Ice" approaches death with the momentum of an adventure story (for some reason, I recalled "White Eagles over Serbia"). However, it remains metaphysical at heart.
Perhaps the inevitable embrace of death reinforces Hegel’s words about the Master and the Slave: "Through death, the certainty has been established that each has risked his life, and that each has cast a disdainful eye towards death, both in himself and in the other."
While the novel is hardly optimistic ("I knew there was no escape from the ice"), it does manage to stare down death with a modicum of disdain.
The challenge for the rest of us is to find an other and to demonstrate as much tenderness as possible before the ice comes.
"Self Portrait" by Anna Kavan
[From an Exhibition accompanying Victoria Walker's Presentation "Anna Kavan and the Politics of Madness" as part of the Exhibition "Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors" at the Freud Museum from 10 October 2013 - 2 February 2014]
There is a podcast of Victoria's Presentation here:
"Untitled 29" by Anna Kavan
Fever Ray - "If I Had A Heart"
This Mortal Coil - "A Heart of Glass"
Lisa Gerrard - "Come Tenderness"
Carta - "Kavan"
Wiki: San Francisco post-rock band Carta entitled their song "Kavan" on their album "The Glass Bottom Boat" after Anna Kavan. The song was subsequently released as a remix by The Declining Winter on their album "Haunt the Upper Hallways".(less)
Notes are private!
Feb 02, 2014
Feb 04, 2014
Apr 07, 2013
No Mere Extrapolation
"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a work of science fiction published by Ursula Le Guin in 1969.
At the time, it sought to differenti...more No Mere Extrapolation
"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a work of science fiction published by Ursula Le Guin in 1969.
At the time, it sought to differentiate itself from most other science fiction in two ways.
Firstly, as Le Guin explains in a subsequent introduction, it didn’t just take a current phenomenon and extrapolate it scientifically into the future in some predictive or cautionary fashion.
Secondly, it explored the nature of sexuality as a subject matter from a sophisticated, feminist point of view.
She goes beyond semiotics, the linguistic significance of gender, and ventures into the philosophy, psychology and aesthetics of gender representation.
From a psychological perspective, she examines the symbolic role of gender. From an aesthetic perspective, she uses it as a metaphor.
From all points of view, she is interested in gender as the arena of power and its abuse.
Just My Imagination
Le Guin's dual ambitions were supportive of each other.
In order to explore the possibilities of "ambisexuality", she had to construct a whole new sexual, social and political world that was materially different from the known world.
To do so, she had to eschew the simplistic and rationalistic approach of traditional science fiction, and invent a new, alternative society (in fact, more than one), that could throw our own society into sharp relief. The novel had to be a fully-fledged work of the imagination rather than a work of methodical extrapolation.
The imaginative qualities are what makes "The Left Hand of Darkness" a great work of literature, regardless of genre.
Read now, almost half a century later, the novel still achieves its goals in style. The prose is economical rather than effusive, often lyrical, but sometimes dry, especially in some of the more descriptive passages. Overall, Le Guin is a master of the craft of elegant, if understated, writing.
The inhabitants of the planet Gethen are "double-sexed" human beings (possibly the descendants of an experiment conducted by Terran (Earth-based) colonizers).
What does this mean? [This is a purely technical explanation which is revealed fairly early in the novel.]
(view spoiler)[During the course of a 26-day sexual cycle, their sexuality changes: for around 21 days, they are "somer", sexuality is latent and inactive; for the balance, they enter "kemmer", during which they remain androgynous for all but a few days, when they acquire both sexual capacity and drive. Nobody knows whether they will acquire the sexuality of a male or a female. They could be either, month by month. A human could be both the mother of one child and the father of another.
Because sexual activity is confined to a limited period, the bulk of their life is sexually indeterminate and inactive. (hide spoiler)]
So it’s not appropriate or relevant to refer to Gethenians as "he" or "she". This is not just significant from a semiotic point of view. As a direct result, the chauvinism of Terra (Earth) is unknown.
The Style of Its Telling
There are two chief protagonists: Genly Ai, a "Mobile" or Diplomatic Envoy assigned to negotiate a Treaty whereby the Gethenian state of Karhide joins a multi-world federation called Ekumen; and Estraven, the Prime Minister of Karhide.
Negotiations do not go smoothly, and the ordeal turns into an 81 day journey across the freezing glacial environment of an inhospitable planet.
The plot, such as it is, is functional. It is largely a vehicle to allow the differences in sexual, social and political characteristics to be showcased.
Most of it is portrayed in alternating journal entries by Estraven or sections from Ai’s official report:
"I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.
"The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust.
"Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
"The story is not all mine, nor told by me alone. Indeed I am not sure whose story it is; you can judge better. But it is all one, and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them are false, and it is all one story."
Even in these concise introductory sentences, Le Guin neatly summarises her approach. She is concerned with facts, the truth, imagination, story-telling, the collaboration of different voices that might or might not form a harmonious composite.
The Gethenians are not socially aggressive or even, it seems, acquisitive, in a personal or collective manner. Technological progress is incremental and measured. They don’t know war. They have eliminated the masculinity behind the rapist and the femininity behind the rape victim, resulting in the elimination of rape and sexual abuse.
This leaves them as a people free to concentrate on their one shared enemy, the environment, the cold, the Winter, the Ice.
Subject to the perils of the climate, their religion (Handdara) allows them to concentrate on an intensified trance-like experience of the present, what they call the Presence, which involves a loss of self through "extreme sensual receptiveness and awareness".
Pleasure derives from sensitivity rather than subjection or submission.
What is missing, absent two genders, is the subjugation of one by the other.
As a whole, the Gethenians are competitive, though more in pursuit of "shifgrethor", their measure of personal esteem, pride, status, prestige, honour, integrity, "face".
The word derives from the old word for "shadow". Each person must "cast their own shadow".
A shadow requires both light and dark to exist. Even though they avoid the dualism of gender, their whole or "holism" is still dualistic.
This dualism is in fact the source of the novel’s title:
"Light is the left hand of darkness
And darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
Together like lovers in kemmer,
Like hands joined together,
Like the end and the way."
Ai recognises the resemblance to Zen Buddhism, and shows Estraven a familiar symbol:
"It is yin and yang. Light is the left hand of darkness… how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, [Estraven]. Both and one. A shadow on snow."
This dualistic holism summarises the paradox at the heart of their ambisexuality: they are "both and one".
I and Thou
There is another way in which dualism manifests itself. Gethenians can still pair off, in love and by vow:
"Ai brooded, and after some time he said, 'You're isolated, and undivided. Perhaps you are as obsessed with wholeness as we are with dualism.'
" 'We are dualists too. Duality is an essential, isn't it? So long as there is myself and the other.' "
Later, the personal becomes political, and the political becomes personal. Ai applies the language of loneliness to his own mission as a lone Envoy trying to persuade Karhide to join Ekumen:
"I came alone, so obviously alone, so vulnerable, that I could in myself pose no threat, change no balance: not an invasion, but a mere messenger-boy.
"But there's more to it than that. Alone, I cannot change your world. But I can be changed by it.
"Alone, I must listen, as well as speak. Alone, the relationship I finally make, if I make one, is not impersonal and not only political: it is individual, it is personal, it is both more and less than political.
"Not We and They; not I and It; but I and Thou. Not political, not pragmatic, but mystical.
"In a certain sense the Ekumen is not a body politic, but a body mystic. It considers beginnings to be extremely important. Beginnings, and means. Its doctrine is just the reverse of the doctrine that the end justifies the means."
As posited by Martin Buber, meaningfulness derives from our relationships.
And a successful relationship, a diplomatic one just as much as a personal one, must have the right beginning.
Into the Mystic
One aspect in which the Terrans are more advanced than the Gethenians is their capacity for "mindspeech", a form of telepathy.
Its origins are not explained. However, if you wish to hold together and govern a federation of 83 planets, you must be able to protect yourself against lying and dishonesty:
" 'Mindspeech is communication, voluntarily sent and received.'
" 'Then why not speak aloud?'
" 'Well, one can lie, speaking.'
" 'Not mindspeaking?'
" 'Not intentionally.' "
At a personal level, then, just as much as a political level, mindspeech represents the ability of two to communicate sincerely, of two to become one, of the ability of I and Thou to bond, of I and Thou to become We, of We to become something not just political, not just pragmatic, but something mystical.
In this sense, Le Guin’s great achievement is to demonstrate that the conquest of gender difference holds within it the potential to transcend the material, to escape abuse, to leave behind the darkness and to embrace the light.["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"]>["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"]>(less)
Notes are private!
May 05, 2013
May 09, 2013
Apr 05, 2013
Jan 30, 1996
Shimamura’s Tale Part I
The Milky Way
Sits high above
Whit...more Shimamura’s Tale Part I
The Milky Way
Sits high above
That shroud the ground,
Two meters deep.
My hands reach out
Towards the winter sky,
Hoping I might catch
A star in each hand.
For a moment,
They’re in my grasp.
I adore them
Like they’re lovers
That I can keep.
My desire doesn't
I make a choice.
Sometimes, it’s true,
You can have both.
But the angry fire
In my selfish heart
Melts my loving flakes,
The one a sacrifice
That I must make,
The other my
Fate slices through me
Like a knife,
And leaves me
To my wife,
And little child
With only this my tale
Between my legs.
Shimamura’s Tale Part II
[Apologies to Shakespeare]
With thine eyes and mind,
Thou hast committed fornication,
But that was in the snow country,
And besides, the girl is dead.
"Life's Great Choices Series: Sometimes You Can Have Both" by Noela Hills
This pencil drawing was a gift from my friend, the artist Noela Hills, in 1985. She tried to have both, but unfortunately she died later that year of breast cancer. I read yesterday that they are close to finding a prevention and a cure for breast cancer. It said that, one day soon, nobody need die of breast cancer. There was one less star in the Milky Way the day Noela died.
"Untitled" by Noela Hills
There is such a Japanese feel to both of these artworks. I always loved both the gown, the blade and the mask in this second work. I wanted to pay Noela for it, but she made me accept it as a gift. This review is my opportunity to return her favour and honour her memory.
OTHER KAWABATA REVIEWS:
I read "Thousand Cranes" straight after reading and reviewing "Snow Country":
Notes are private!
Sep 28, 2013
Mar 21, 2013
Nov 26, 1996
"Thousand Cranes" is about the continuity of tradition and the conformity by individuals with traditional values.
At the heart of the...more Traditional Values
"Thousand Cranes" is about the continuity of tradition and the conformity by individuals with traditional values.
At the heart of the novel is the Japanese Tea Ceremony. While tea has been drunk in Japan since the ninth century, it only became a part of a formal ceremony with religious significance around the 12th century.
An elaborate set of equipment is used in the Tea Ceremony. Often the equipment, such as drinking bowls, is artisan-made and is kept in a family for periods as long as four hundred years.
These drinking bowls are treated like art works and have great sentimental and economic value.
By participating in a Tea Ceremony, a person honours and perpetuates not only the traditional Way of Tea, but their own family tradition.
The tea bowls are important vessels in the ceremony. Alone, they are empty, but must be filled with tea and hot water.
In the same way, people are empty vessels until they are realised and shaped by the right traditions and influences in accordance with the precepts of Zen Buddhism.
Remove the tradition and ceremony, and the process of personal growth and socialization stalls.
Born under a Bad Sign
Kawabata uses the Tea Ceremony as a symbol of the tradition and legacy of a family, only the portrait he paints is of a family that has lost its way, partly due to the premature death of both of the protagonists’ parents.
The Tea Ceremony for Kikuji’s family is conducted by Chikako, a woman who was once his father’s mistress, and ended up having a role in his household.
In the only aspect of the novel I didn’t like, Chikako has a birth mark across her chest. This is regarded as a bad sign. It denies her the possibility of a husband, and after joining the household as a servant, she becomes quite "sexless".
Her birthmark heralds ill, when she effectively takes control of the family’s future via her control of the Tea Ceremony. She attempts to use the formalities of the Ceremony to find a suitable wife for Kikuji.
Kikuiji, on the other hand, has other plans. He isn’t necessarily looking for a wife yet. He seems to be much more independent than most Japanese. Like his father, he is prone to be tempted by mistresses, and he is unable to make a prompt choice between the rival brides Chikako has in mind for him.
Although Kikuji and Chikako are pitted against each other in the novel, they are both part of the same problem: the breakdown of tradition and the social expectation that we will all conform to the same standards.
Kikuji rebels against tradition in pursuit of his own desire and satisfaction. Marriage and family are secondary to him.
In contrast, marriage, family and the Tea Ceremony are important to Chikako, but only as a means of perpetuating her own role in life. She embraces the Tea Ceremony selfishly and purposively as a vehicle.
Thus, in this family, two important vessels for perpetuating tradition, the family and the Tea Ceremony, have flaws in the glass.
Chikako represents an inherent vice, a threat to the authenticity of the Ceremony.
Kikuji, on the other hand, represents the inherited vice of libertinism that possessed his father.
Kawabata paints this portrait with such grace and economy, yet like the early stages of a painting, it took me a while to see it taking shape.
For almost half of the novel, it just didn’t grab me. When it did, it took hold of me with a vice-like grip and wouldn’t let me go. Then when it ended, it ended too soon. I could not see where Kikuji was headed, but nor could he. This is the beauty of Kawabata.
Her Mother’s Lipstick
[In the Words of Kawabata and Shakespeare]
In her hand, her mother’s tea bowl.
The white glaze hinted of red.
The colour of faded lipstick,
The colour of a wilted red rose,
The colour of old, dry blood,
The colour of love’s labours lost,
The colour of families long gone
And of families yet to come.
OTHER KAWABATA REVIEWS:
I read "Thousand Cranes" straight after reading and reviewing "Snow Country":
Notes are private!
Sep 30, 2013
Oct 06, 2013
Mar 21, 2013
Jan 04, 2011
In Training for the Twin Towers of Philosophy
This is step four in a personal project in which I had hoped to learn about Kant’s philosophy, without ne...more In Training for the Twin Towers of Philosophy
This is step four in a personal project in which I had hoped to learn about Kant’s philosophy, without necessarily reading the original works, at least to start with.
My original goal was to help understand the issues that the inverted, but towering, twins of Hegel and Marx confronted after Kant, to some extent, in response to him. Then I intended to move onto the Continental Philosophers.
However, I found that Kant too is intrinsically interesting. Besides, a cursory glance at the index of any modern philosophy book will reveal that Kant remains an influence on not just the subject matter, but the methodology.
My review of Stephan Körner’s book on Kant, in which I tried to summarise my understanding of some of Kant’s basic concepts, is here:
This review is intended to be complementary to the earlier review.
The two together show the path of my development, so that if you're interested in a similar project, they might give you some comfort, if not guidance.
While I’m accumulating some sort of understanding of Kant’s basic concepts, the more secondary works I read, the more I’m convinced of the folly of my project.
You can only avoid the lure of the original for so long. Hopefully, what I have assembled is some sort of tool kit that will help me navigate the deep ocean waters that Kant himself tried to chart.
On the other hand, perhaps my project is like a philosophical flight simulation. If the truth be told, there is no purpose in it, unless you eventually get into the cockpit and endeavour to fly the spatio-temporal or even the astral plane.
Immanuel, I think I'm ready, but I'm still nervous. I haven't totally overcome my fear of flying yet.
Intelligibility Without Censure
The problem with Kant in the original, apparently (see, I haven't even looked), is the complexity of his prose, whether in German or in English translation. While his lectures and conversation were entertaining, his writing varied in quality, and declined towards the end of his life.
However, the reality is that Kant was trying to express in concrete language concepts that are highly abstract and obscure. In order to do so, he created a new vocabulary, which makes comprehension even more difficult.
Many academics find confusion and inconsistency in Kant’s works. Those who strive for clarity are accused of missing the nuances of Kant’s thought. Many others find that "the only way to escape academic censure is to fall into the verbal mannerisms of the original."
Roger Scruton aims for intelligibility, while usually quoting Kant in his support. In contrast, Körner’s book was much denser and relied more on Kant’s own writing to establish his point.
I recommend that anyone who is prepared to read both books start with Scruton. He supplies an accessible overview that I found beneficial after reading shorter summaries by Bertrand Russell and Thelma Z. Lavine.
Körner presented Kant’s thought fairly, but not uncritically. He usually concluded with a commentary on how Kant’s successors had dealt with the essence of his Critiques.
Scruton is more prepared to paraphrase in pursuit of clarity, even if he risks censure. He is more accessible and populist in style, occasionally betraying a playful, if slightly egotistical, sense of humour. This is what he says of one attempt to explain an aspect of Kant’s thought:
"None of those thoughts is clearer in the original than in my brief resume."
"Many scholars do not accept this interpretation; but it seems to me that, if we do not accept it, we attribute to Kant more inconsistency than his dexterity can sustain."
Bust of Roger Scruton by the Scottish sculptor Alexander Stoddart, Sculptor in Ordinary to The Queen in Scotland
After finishing this book, I holed up in a hotel room with Roger Scruton and a modestly stocked minibar.
The purpose of this interview is to document some of the aspects of Scruton's explanation of Kant that I felt was most helpful or brought out nuances I hadn't appreciated in my other readings.
The Collaboration of Experience and Reason
Ian:Roger, what's more important: experience or reason?
Roger:Neither experience nor reason alone is able to provide knowledge. Experience provides content without form, while reason provides form without content. Knowledge requires the synthesis of experience and reason.
Ian:If this knowledge depends on the individual’s reason, can it be objective?
Roger:Such knowledge is both genuine and objective. It transcends the point of view of the subject and makes legitimate claims about the outside world.
Ian: You say "legitimate claims". Does our point of view limit what we can claim?
Roger:It is impossible to know the world "as it is in itself," independent and free of all perspective.
Ian:So how we think affects how we see the world?
Roger:Yes. The world is as we think it, and we think it as it is.
Ian:Is it our thought that determines the a priori nature of the world? Or is it the world that determines how we must think of it?
Roger:The answer, I believe, is "neither, and both."
Ian:I thought you might say that.
Roger:You have to go back to the two "L’s": Leibniz and Locke. Kant pointed out that "Leibniz intellectualised appearances, just as Locke...sensualised the concepts of the understanding." In fact, however, there are two faculties here, irreducible the one to the other; they "can supply objectively valid judgements of things only in conjunction with each other."
Ian:So we sense an object and we think about it as well?
Roger:Almost, but not exactly like that. Objective knowledge has a double origin: sensibility and understanding. And, just as the first must "conform to" the second, so must the second "conform to" the first; otherwise the transcendental synthesis of the two would be impossible.
Transcendental as Anything
Ian:What do you mean by "transcendental"?
Roger:Kant uses the term to describe the conditions of our experience of objects, the way we experience objects. Transcendental knowledge is occupied not so much with the objects themselves as with the mode of our knowledge of objects.
Ian:What’s the difference between a real object and a transcendental object?
Roger: The notion of a transcendental object is misunderstood when considered as referring to a real thing.
Ian:So I stuffed up?
Roger:Yes. The idea is posited only as a "point of view", in order to make clear that "the principles of pure understanding can apply only to objects of the senses…never to things in general without regard to the mode in which we are to apprehend them."
Ian:What do you mean by an "object of the senses"?
Roger:It’s what Kant calls a "phenomenon". An object of possible experience or an empirical object. Empirical objects are real, whereas transcendental objects are ideal. A transcendental object or a noumenon is not perceivable.
Ian:So, a noumenon doesn’t belong to the physical world, the world of space, time and causality?
Roger:Yes. I was just about to say that. A noumenon is an object knowable to thought alone.
Ian:Are there really such objects?
Roger: The concept of a noumenon can be used only negatively, to designate the limit of our knowledge, and not positively, to designate things as they are in themselves…in which case, the "thing in itself" is not an entity, but a term standing proxy for the unrealizable ideal of perspectiveless knowledge.
Ian:Is a noumenon the concept of an object that’s in our mind?
Roger: No, a noumenon is not the concept of an object, but a problem unavoidably bound up with the limitation of our sensibility.
Ian:So we can only "know" things within limits?
Roger:Yes. There is no description of the world that can free itself from the reference to experience. Although the world that we know is not our creation, nor merely a synopsis of our perspective, it cannot be known except from the point of view that is ours.
Ian:Is my experience at the heart of knowledge?
Roger:Our own perspective on the world is in some measure a constituent of our knowledge. Transcendental deduction establishes the objectivity of my world while assuming no more than my point of view on it. The essence of Kant’s "transcendental" method lies in its egocentricity. All the questions that I can ask I must ask from the standpoint that is mine; therefore, they must bear the marks of my perspective of "possible experience".
Ian:Do you mind if I have a drink? This is making my brain hurt.
Roger:Sure, just help yourself to the minibar.
Ian:This is all what Kant called "Pure Reason". What did he mean by "Practical Reason"?
Roger:Pure reason leaves, as it were, a ‘vacant place’ in its account of the world, where the moral agent should be.
Ian:What's a "moral agent"?
Roger:You or me. We’re moral agents or free agents. Rational beings. Rational beings exist not only as self-conscious centres of knowledge, but also as agents.
Ian:Does reason affect the actions of rational beings?
Roger:Their reason is not detached from their agency, but forms a constitutive part of it; which is to say that, for a rational being, there is not only action, but also the question of action (the question "What shall I do?"), and this question demands a reasoned answer...This question asks, not for a cause or explanation, but for a reason...Reasons are designed to justify action, and not primarily to explain it. They refer to the grounds of an action, the premises from which an agent may conclude what to do.
Ian:So the vacant place you were talking about...
Roger:This vacant place is filled by pure practical reason with a definite law of causality in an intelligible world. This new "law of causality" is called "transcendental freedom".
Ian:What sort of law is the law of causality?
Roger:It’s a moral law. The laws are practical laws, concerning what to do. The free agent is bound by them in all his practical reasoning, since acceptance of them is a presupposition of the freedom without which practical reason is impossible.
Ian:What is freedom?
Roger:Freedom is the ability to be governed by reason. The imperatives of reason are "laws of freedom": principles whereby reason determines action. I am constrained by reason to view the world as a "field of action", and hence to postulate the freedom of my will.
Ian:Does freedom of your will mean you can do anything you desire?
Roger:No. An autonomous agent is able to overcome the promptings of all heteronomous counsels, such as those of self-interest and desire, should they be in conflict with reason...a "transcendental being"...defies the causality of nature and refers the grounds of his actions always to the "causality of freedom".
Roger:Yes. Freedom means autonomy, and autonomy necessitates rational choice. Only an autonomous being has genuine ends of action (as opposed to mere objects of desire), and only such a being deserves our esteem, as the embodiment of rational choice.
Ian:So reason is respectable?
Roger:Yes. Autonomy is "the ground of the dignity of human nature and of every rational nature."
Ian:Does art have to follow the same rules of reason and morality?
Roger:Art is within the arena of the imagination. Kant thought that imagination could be "freed from" concepts (that is, from the rules of the understanding). It is this "free play" of the imagination that characterizes aesthetic judgement.
Ian:Do we still think about or judge a work of art that we like? Don’t we just know what we like, without thinking about it? Just like I’m enjoying this gin and tonic?
Roger: The pure judgement of taste "combines delight or aversion immediately with the bare contemplation of the object..." Aesthetic pleasure must therefore be distinguished from the purely sensuous pleasures of food and drink. It can be obtained only through those senses that also permit contemplation (which is to say, through sight and hearing).
Ian:If I like it, does it mean that it is good for me?
Roger:Aesthetic judgement abstracts from every "interest" of the observer, who does not regard the object as a means to his ends, but as an end in itself (although not a moral end). The observer’s desires, aims, and ambitions are held in abeyance in the act of contemplation, and the object regarded "apart from any interest".
Ian:If it doesn’t have to be good for me, why do I like it?
Roger:Let’s use music as an example. When I hear the formal unity of music, the ground of my experience consists in a kind of compatibility between what I hear and the faculty of imagination through which it is organised. Although the unity has its origin in me, it is attributed to an independent object.
Roger:Yes. In experiencing the unity I also sense a harmony between my rational faculties and the object (the sounds) to which they are applied. This sense of harmony between myself and the world is both the origin of my pleasure and also the ground of its universality.
Ian:Do we have to consciously think about it in order to feel pleasure?
Roger:No. In aesthetic experience we view ourselves in relation to a supersensible (that is, transcendental) reality that lies beyond the reach of thought. We become aware of our own limitations, of the grandeur of the world, and of the inexpressible good order that permits us to know and act on it.
Ian:It sounds almost religious.
Roger:You’re not the first person to say that...Kant’s remarks reinforce the interpretation of his aesthetics as a kind of ‘premonition’ of theology. Aesthetic judgement directs us toward the apprehension of a transcendent world, which is indeed an intimation of God.
Ian:Perhaps God is at the very limit of our understanding?
Roger:God is at the limit of knowability.
Roger:God is like nature in this regard. A person who can feel neither the solemnity nor the awesomeness of nature lacks in our eyes the necessary sense of his own limitations. He has not taken that "transcendental" viewpoint on himself from which all true morality springs.
Ian:So God and nature put us in our rightful place?
Roger:Yes. Practical reason and aesthetic experience humble us. They remind us that the world in its totality, conceived from no finite perspective, is not ours to know. This humility of reason is also the true object of esteem. Only this is to be reverenced in the rational being, that he feels and acts as a member of a transcendental realm, while recognizing that he can know only the world of nature. Aesthetic experience and practical reason are two aspects of the moral: and it is through morality that we sense both the transcendence and the immanence of God.
Ian:Does all moral law derive from God?
Roger:"The ideal of a supreme being is nothing but a regulative principle of reason, which directs us to look upon all connection in the world as if it originated from an all-sufficient and necessary cause."
Ian:Um, I’m not sure I understood that. Is it still OK to worship God?
Roger:The worship due to God becomes reverence and devotion for the moral law…The object of esteem is not the Supreme Being, but the supreme attribute of rationality.
Sexuality, Desire and Wedded Bliss
Ian:Is it true that Kant never got married? What did he think about sex?
Roger: That’s right. Kant described the married state as an agreement between two people for the "reciprocal use of each other’s sexual organs".
Ian:Did he think that was a good thing or a bad thing?
Roger:Kant didn’t think there was anything wrong with sex per se. Though he did think there are sexual acts in which the other is treated not as a person but as a thing, in which the subject is, so to speak, eclipsed by the object. This is a perversion, and it violates a fundamental duty to the other and to oneself. Kant thought we could be jeopardized by another’s desire. In these cases, our personality is at risk in our sexual encounters.
Ian:So, in summing up...
Roger:Kant’s philosophy describes the limits of knowledge, including objects-in-themselves about which we can know nothing. He recognised that we’re nevertheless tempted to transcend these limitations. His advice was like that of Wittgenstein: "That whereof we cannot speak, we must consign to silence." (less)
Notes are private!
Feb 09, 2013
Jun 30, 2013
Feb 09, 2013
Feb 17, 1981
(view spoiler)[“Exercises in Style” retells an apparently unremarkable tale ninety-nine times, employing a variety of styles, ranging from sonnet...more Blurb
(view spoiler)[“Exercises in Style” retells an apparently unremarkable tale ninety-nine times, employing a variety of styles, ranging from sonnet to cockney to mathematical formula. Too funny to be merely a pedantic thesis, this virtuoso set of themes and variations is a linguistic rust-remover, a guide to literary forms and a demonstration of imagery and inventiveness. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I finally located my copy of this ingenuous little number in my attic and read it through again. I think my favourite mode has to be ‘HTML,’ where the narrator links to other computers in the world around him while telling the bus altercation story. I pursued some of these links, before getting lost and deciding that I had to retrace my steps, using a history file that my PC had compiled. It was funnier the third time around, oddly. I doubt whether I would even (get it? Even, not odd?) find it funny at all the fourth time around, but nothing ever is, sadly. I looked up some of the more specific verse forms that escaped me on the first two reads and, oddly, smiled even more knowingly than the first and second times. (A more knowing smile involves greater purchase on the lips of one's target or oneself). It fascinated me that there were things that I missed on my first two reads and that I would now tell you about them in my review. Perhaps, friends will appreciate that someone of my über-talent can be human after all. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I enrolled at Loyola University Chicago, intending, I thought, to wrap up a Ph.D. in short order. It dawned on me in college that I should do some subsidiary reading of fiction. This was one of those subsidiary works, my greatest philosophical concerns being ethical. This book, assigned for Dave Schweickart's Social and Political Philosophy of Literature course, was far and away the most important book I read. Raymond Queneau was someone I had to understand. From the perspective of the class wherein this book was studied, the issue which most exercised the teacher--and, through him, us--was whether or not Queneau fully recognized the socio-linguistic implications of his assumptions and arguments. We were unable to reach a conclusion. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[What with my fear of spoilers and all, I found that the first story acted as a spoiler for all of the stories that followed it, so half way through the second story I hastily and impulsively shelved the book on my “ain-t-ever-going-to-happen” shelf, where it ain’t ever going to happen, I can assure you of that. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Completely related aside:
This novel reminds me of my visit to MoMA. One of the works of art was '10 million years', basically all the numbers from 1 to 10 million written in 10 fat books. How artistic is that? Did anybody check the books? What if the artist had made a mistake towards the end of a book? On the artist's part, it must have taken a lot of patience and hard-work. It probably fed some sort of obsession of his. But no matter what it meant to him, to me it was just BLAH! I can be quite a lousy museum-goer. This novel is the same. Why these 99 stories? Are they the right stories? Are they the best stories? What did he leave out? Are we being short-changed? But really. Who cares? To me it was just BLAH! I can be quite a lousy reader. At least it wasn't a fat book. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ While they make for an engaging and sometimes hilarious read, these stories also work with an overall conceit within the novel that concerns itself with the problematic relationship between philosophical thinking and human interaction. The characters bear such a close resemblance to their creator, that parsing the differences between intentional and unintentional personality traits imbued in them, and their subsequent significance in the novel, would be an exercise in futility rather than style. There is no doubt that philosophy, as a field of study and practice, takes as its defining characteristic to be critical thinking and a dependence on the foundations of logic. Whether intentional or not, the novel applies the practices of critical thinking and analysis to all aspects of the characters’ relationships with paranoiac intensity. Before I descend further into self-parody, let me pre-empt the reader by saying that a parody of me would just be a rambling, self-conscious, psuedo-philosophical rant with a ton a grammatical mistakes. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Having read the original French edition, I thought I would translate it into Swedish. I think it was the better for it. Certainly not, thought so. I mean, certainly, not thought so. I incorporated a cryptic but admiring mathematical reference into the preface for not. I have never seen not so humble as when she encountered my dedication while reading quietly in bed. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Dammit - you've grabbed the hot seat. I wanted to sit there. Now I'll have to settle for being the stooge who always arrives late bleating on about conflated misandry. So I have all of these big fat post-modernist books I’ve just bought and now I have to review them. How should I begin? I debated in the quiet chambers of my mind many hours how to review this book. No, I’ve used that before. I flung ideas at my ever-patient partner about the dialectic of why I thought what I thought, asking to be challenged because this book is seductive by nature and intellectual by design and how can a reader resist the temptation to attack such a potent combination? No, I’m an anarchist. Nobody will believe me when I use the word “dialectic”. Sitting in the bus, up the back with the other non-conformists, I wrote many opening sentences and discarded those, concocted a structure and buried it under a dense blanket of autobiographical rhetoric which I consigned to the bonfire of my vanity, and considered simply silence, as the excruciating riposte. And so after all this deliberation, I chose silence. I had reached my stop. It was time for me to get off. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[It says on the back this book is a meditation on the nature of fiction. So, what is fiction? Fiction is when someone gently tugs this book out of your hands and says "You don't need to read this continental crap, dear. You're coming to bed with me." (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Fit Enough to Read
My wife is the one
Who exercises in style,
While I just read books. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I feel a slight anger towards the author for playing this trick on me, for leading me on into reading the entire book, without giving me anything new which I had not received from the first story. Usually when I decide to read a book, I do it with the knowledge that I will gain something new with each chapter, but Queneau gave me none of that.
What I do appreciate about this reading experience is this: as is stated in the novel, anything that happens only once might as well have not happened at all - does it then apply that any novel that consists of less than one story repeated or recurring, might as well have not been written at all? (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ After finishing Raymond Queneau’s “Exercises in Style”, I had to step back awhile before reviewing in fear I would simply come across as an overzealous cheerleader yelling ‘Give me an R!....Give me an A!...Give me a Y!....,etc, etc’. Like a teenage romance, I was so blinded by my love for this collection and author that I wasn’t sure exactly what it was I loved so much, and if this brightly burning passion was distracting me from the flaws and faults that I wouldn’t realize were there until much later. After giving some time to reflect, my overzealousness has hardly died down and, through some helpful and insightful discussions and rereads of the stories with others (I highly recommend reading Garima's wonderfully comprehensive review!), I have not only been able to pinpoint my feelings on the book, but my appreciation has only continued to grow. The stories in this collection, while each varying dramatically at times in terms of style and voice, all seem to reflect upon the psychological implications of existing in the modern era of media and social pressures. Yeah this one was stunning, no, better than that, awesome. My joy is simply ineffable right now. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[It won’t be fair on my part to give stars to this book on a whole. There are 99 different stories written in distinct styles, some of which went well with me and some not so well. So I will give it three stars. But instead of a review, let me tell you a story about the author. Well, it was supposed to be about the author. I saw him many times around here, since I joined the GR Club. Sometimes having tete-a-tete with one of my friends and sometimes being the cynosure of some group discussions. I thought of approaching him on many occasions but I didn’t want to come up as somewhat forward and I wasn’t even sure if he was my TYPE. You see it’s a long term commitment and there are many things I need to be sure about like compatibility and I don’t even know anything about him yet and at the end I don’t wanna make a fool of myself. Then one day I saw him on the bus and he was arguing with an older man. Then he went and sat down in a spare seat. He seemed to be upset, so I worked up the courage to go up and talk to him. I approached him from behind and gently touched his shoulder. At first, he recoiled. Then he saw me and his mood changed. He smiled. It wasn’t Raymond Queneau after all. It was Sven. I turned around just as the older man was getting off the bus. I didn't get a really good look at his face, but if I'm not mistaken, it was Ian Graye. He can't even have a bus trip without getting into an argument with someone. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I want those 37 minutes back! This book is awful; a total disaster. I’m sure the author was a very nice guy for a Frog and all but he can’t write worth shit. There is not a single identifiable character in this “novel,” and I mean not just a character I can identify with, but there’s not even a character in here. Well there’s two, but we know nothing more about them at the end than we do at the beginning. And plot? Are you kidding me? There is more plot in “A Postmodern Belch”. Plus it has more headings than an Ian Graye review. Of course I didn’t read the whole thing--I got tired of running to the dictionary every three pages just so I could understand the headings (why does every damn pomo author have to be so egotistical and use words us average readers don’t even know?) Anyone that says they’ve read this whole Exercise (“Vomit” would be more accurate) is a liar. This is worse than The Iliad my teacher forced me to read. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Reluctant Cricket Dismissal
From where I stood at midwicket,
He sounded caught behind to me.
Still, given out by the umpire,
With a replay we all could see,
He refused to walk off the ground,
Fortified by his law degree,
He argued toe to toe with all
And even cursed and swore at me,
Until the keeper grabbed his shirt
And, buttonless, forced him to flee. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Oh, my Dog, is it any wonder the French no longer have an Empire? Look at this crap, will you? Write one story 99 different ways and call it a novel? You’ve got to be kidding. This reminds me of the production assistant who asked me for a job once. She had a few CV entries that appealed to me, but I’m not allowed to discuss them on air. The big problem was that she, I mean they, said she, I mean they, had 20 years experience. But as soon as I gave her, I mean them, a trial, it turned out that she I mean they had just had one year’s experience, the same year, 20 times. It just doesn't work that way. Give me plot, give me character, give me character development. Fiction is not a chemistry experiment, where you mix up ingredients and hope it [does/doesn’t] blow up in the reader’s face. There is no suspense inherent in repetition. A reader doesn’t want to read something 99 times in the hope that the last time will be different. Give me a break, give me a break dance. Raymond Queneau is the Plastic Bertrand of French Fiction. I’m sorry, France, you should just stick to movies. Your actresses are HOT! HOT! HOT! Work them to the bone. Don’t even worry about your actors. They’re FAT! FAT! FAT! Oh, I forgot, he’s a Russian now. Maybe I should just cross to Rupert for the news. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Haiku with Word Play
Needing a button,
He argued loudly, after which
He took affront seat. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ This is definitely one great work :) There is much to be grasped here. Though I won't whole heatedly concur with all of the stories, some of them are great pearls to be cherished :) It can positively alter the thought process once you go beyond the text and try to relate it on a more personal level. It is one of my favorites :) I apologize if I haven't been clearer. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[I have to admit I don't comprehend this book. It seems like the author is retelling the story in the novel. Is that what it is supposed to be? In which case it really has nothing to do with what a conventional book is, but rather is the author's tag-along take on what he has already done?
I'm not trying to be critical here, but simply trying to explain why I don't see much in this book that speaks to me. I guess I'm too old and too conventional. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[You can tell that story in 99 chapters? Well, I can tell it in nine, better still, one! I'm sick of Raymond Queneau fans gushing over his economy with words and his simple sentence styles. I can appreciate why that sort of minimalism takes skill to master, but I'm a reader for chrissakes - I want to be told a story, not subjected to a sort of narrative and syntactical bloodletting, experimenting with how many different ways we can tell the same story and still have it live. Nobody swoons over the latest car that looks like every other damned car on the road. Nobody runs around recommending their friends to try out the new burger joint in town that gives you the same fascist shit as the Golden Arches. I want content! Narrative abundance! I want to be entertained!! I'll take Proust's runon cumulative sentences over Queneau's narrative and locutional anemia any day. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[ Interest in random text generation appears to have begun with the famous, though untested, proposition that an infinite number of monkeys with infinite time at their keyboards would ultimately reproduce Shakespeare. Of course, pure randomness without some kind of structure is a highly inefficient path toward literary art. Plus, the process is just as likely to produce piggy porn as it is to emulate Queneau (granting, for our purposes, that there is a distinction to be made). While the exact algorithm used by Queneau (1981) to produce “Exercises in Style” (henceforth EIS) was never documented, we contend that the method proposed in this review is, on average, in a repeated sampling context, observationally equivalent. As is true of any simulation, there is a deterministic component and a random component. Simulated paths will vary, but the statistical distributions from which the stochastic terms are sampled match those of EIS. (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Was I searching for such lust when I entered the bus? I knew the recognizable twinge springing through my warm body when I saw this book laying amid the boisterous articles on the vacant bus seat; the quintessential oddball novel. I had devoured it once, in one sitting or was it between my silken sheets with that night’s sorry lover? Was I truly prepared for the experience once again? Ecstasy swayed in my cold perspiration. The unbearable sighs in the offing for a consequential release; the chronic tapping of feet on the cold floor of the slow riding bus; was I geared up for all? The thought of “Exercises in Style” was more pleasurable than diamond fields and spouter whales. A strange man was just a few breaths away and audaciously gawking at my hand which was meantimes venturing its wiry way between my legs. Politely, I excuse myself from his offered help and dash out of the bus hoping I do not see him again. I realise I have left the book on the bus seat. I chase the bus afterwards, until the next stop where it unloads that cute American girl I’ve spoken to a few times and she is holding a copy of said book. I follow her... (hide spoiler)]
(view spoiler)[Give me a bus ride compromised by emotion, drugs, unreliable narrators spilling their guts to a psychedelic riddle that crosses consciousness and space-time continuum. Give me a French bus driver, chain smoking and complaining about the President’s celebrity wife. Give me Lolita. Give me American Psycho. Give me unrelenting displays of cruelty and abuse and subsequent coping mechanisms whose effects are just as vicious as their causes, and sprinkle them with laugh out loud moments clouded by the memories of the aforementioned atrocities. Give me David Foster Wallace. Give me recognition that the brain is an organ just as unwieldy and unreliable as the heart or the kidney, and thinking your way out of something is sometimes the worst possible decision you could ever make. Give me Kafka. Give me the paragon of masculinity breaking down into snotty sobs in front of an openly weeping crowd of fellow human beings, in a transport system that cannot possibly work until it does. Give me Thomas Mann. Give me the revival of hope in mankind, embodied in the briefest touch between one masquerading as the dregs of society, and one unaware of their hopeless plight to a heartrending degree. Give me China Mieville. Give me the type of author who has weird and fantastical dreams that all too easily dip into nightmares and back again, undergoing a number of cycles in a single night. Dreams that he can't help writing down to share with the rest of us. Give me miscommunication on a truly horrendous scale, conversers following their own narratives with minuscule attention paid to their conversees, many pairs of these circling in a bus with no clear and singular "plot". Give me something Gallic, some book that is just so right for this France, this Paris, this creative beacon that teems with contagious culture and ridiculous fashions to this very day, one that can be silly but is often so very, very brave. Give me a book that contains a Truth that will have its way with me that I didn't realize I desperately craved until I am lying on the floor, breathless and aching with tears flowing freely down my cheeks, stunned in the realization that I am not the only one in the room and, yes, oh my God, that adorable Indian woman who I have seen a few times on the short bus, Praj, is beside me. She smiles. She inspects my vulnerability with a professional but slightly perverse gaze. She lifts her hand, moves it slowly, suggestively, sensuously, sibilantly, towards me, and, oh oh, she rests it gently on my book. Then, without further ado, she rises and is gone from my room. So is the book. Yet again, I have found myself lost in alliteration. (hide spoiler)]["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"]>["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"]>(less)
Notes are private!
Feb 20, 2013
Feb 22, 2013
Jan 09, 2013
May 10, 1985
To the extent that Freud might have thought he was creating the foundations of a science, that is not his appeal to me.
I see him as m...more Freud's Metaphors
To the extent that Freud might have thought he was creating the foundations of a science, that is not his appeal to me.
I see him as making first, tentative steps to explore and map the human psyche in a language that makes extensive use of metaphor, particularly the metaphor implicit and explicit in Greek and Roman mythology.
My first appreciation of Freud was literary, rather than scientific. A lot of his early embrace outside the immediate sphere of psychoanalysis, in the broader cultural sphere, resulted from the quality of his prose.
However, just as mythology tended to reflect a masculine worldview, so too did the use Freud made of it.
He never solved "the woman question", nor did he purport to. That task fell to those who followed him, even if it threatened the metaphorical framework that he had created. However, psychoanalysis was and is a work in progress.
I still look upon it as a quest for new and more appropriate metaphors and literary analogies.
Feminism is one of the greatest sources of new metaphors, and this is where I think Luce Irigaray makes an enormous contribution to not just psychoanalysis, but an understanding of language and the practice and interpretation of literature.
One of Irigaray's greatest contributions has been to question the male foundations of Freud's version of psychoanalysis:
"Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the opposition between "masculine" clitoral activity and "feminine" vaginal passivity, an opposition which Freud - and many others - saw as stages, or alternatives, in the development of a sexually "normal" woman, seems rather too clearly required by the practice of male sexuality...
"In these terms, woman's erogenous zones never amount to anything but a clitoris (sex that is not comparable to the noble phallic organ), or a 'hole-envelope' that serves to sheathe and massage the penis in intercourse (a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back upon itself, self-embracing).
"About woman and her pleasure, this view of the sexual relation has nothing to say. Her lot is that of "lack," "atrophy" (of the sexual organ), and "penis envy," the penis being the only sexual organ of recognized value."
This analysis builds on Simone De Beauvoir's ideas in "The Second Sex".
Most of De Beauvoir's Introduction describes how male thinking positions males as the Self and females as the Other (and therefore inferior).
De Beauvoir discusses the male perception of himself as "positive" (to which she adds "neutral"), while males perceive females as "negative" ("defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity").
In terms of the "lack" associated with Freud and "penis envy", she actually quotes Aristotle:
"The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities...we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness."
Irigaray attacks the phallic basis of psychoanalysis and posits a wildly different framework of feminine sexuality in terms of a more extensive definition of genitalia, sexual apparatus, sensation and sensitivity, even if she uses highly metaphorical, rather than biological, language:
"...woman has sex organs just about everywhere ...feminine language is more diffusive than its 'masculine counterpart'. That is undoubtedly the reason...her language...goes off in all directions and...he [man] is unable to discern the coherence."
Women have a far greater potential to masturbate, touch, pleasure and embrace themselves than the masculine limitation to the singular penis.
Women's potential is diffuse and diverse and plural and optional.
Men might think the feminine is not a sex, that it is "not one", that it is less, but in fact it is more, it is many, it is manifold.
In positing this concept, she develops a whole new language to discuss sexuality, starting with female sexuality.
Equality in Difference
De Beauvoir uses the term "equality in difference" in the Introduction to "The Second Sex".
Although she has reservations about the connotations of the term, she definitely opposes the belief that women are the same as men, whether or not men see them as an inferior version.
Irigaray highlights sexual difference, although she believes that sexual difference is a product of language and linguistics, not anatomy (hence she is not actually a biological essentialist).
Irigaray believes that women need to develop a new language or use of language that frees them (and men) from the male parameters implicit in current language.
In a way, men and women share "la langue", but she believes that there is a male subjectivity built into it, which also affects "la parole" and the way women communicate.
Irigaray's clinical research forced her to conclude that women are not subjects in language in the same way that men are. Hence, the need for a "parler-femme" and inter-subjectivity.
In her later work, Irigaray speaks in terms of a respect for difference without hierarchy:
"In order to go beyond a limit, there must be a boundary. To touch one another in intersubjectivity, it is necessary that two subjects agree to the relationship and that the possibility to consent exists. Each must have the opportunity to be a concrete, corporeal and sexuate subject, rather than an abstract, neutral, fabricated, and fictitious one."
Irigaray's later approach has been called "mutual feminism".
It is not a form of feminist separatism. Once women acquire their own language, the challenge is to found relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, that recognise that the partners are genuinely equal but different.
Her quest is to create a "we" out of an "I" and a "you".
Irigaray as Literature
Irigaray is a latterday demagogue. She is not content to just analyse, she wants to advocate and practise as well.
She is not content to merely propose the development of a new feminine language, she wants to use it in her own writings. She wants to make an example of herself.
As a result, her essays and books have a literary and metaphorical style and tone.
They constitute a new "feminine imaginary".
It is not for the narrow-minded or pedantic or dull or unimaginative, which in a way is a tragedy, for they are the ones who most need it, whether they are male or female.
I love her writing. It's like watching a circus performance or a fireworks display. It stimulates me. It stimulates all of me, all over. I can feel the power of her language in my whole body, but especially in my mind and my imagination. Her fusion of creativity, intelligence, language and sexuality turns me on like a light bulb.
For me, to improve on or supplant Freud's primacy, it wasn't just necessary to counter his analysis, it was necessary to counter his metaphorical and literary power.
Irigaray is doing just that. More power to her, but equally more prose and poetry from her.
A Woman's Touch
Please don't let my choice
Of rhyme scheme or words
Cause any affront.
A woman can touch
It's not just a stunt,
Her breasts, her belly,
Her lips, her ears,
Without being blunt,
Her behind, even
The naughty bits down
Below at the front. (less)
Notes are private!
Nov 12, 2013
Jan 09, 2013