This was a work that I had wanted to read for years. I would have liked to be able to read it in the language in which it was written, but even readin...moreThis was a work that I had wanted to read for years. I would have liked to be able to read it in the language in which it was written, but even reading it in English, the poetry of the work grabbed me and kept me interested throughout, from Inferno through Purgatorio to Paradiso.
And yet, it is a work firmly grounded in the thirteenth century. Does it really have any relevance for us eight centuries later? Frankly, I can see very little. But the awesome vision of the author and his effort in completing this monumental work is inspiring. Look at what one human being can accomplish. (less)
This is another of those ancient tales that I have loved since I first encountered it - in a Cultural Anthropology class in college. The characters of...moreThis is another of those ancient tales that I have loved since I first encountered it - in a Cultural Anthropology class in college. The characters of Gilgamesh and Enkidu are prototypes for so much that has come in literature in the last 4000+ plus years, including in the Bible. It seems that nothing IS new under the sun.
This is truly one of the must-reads for any student of human history. Especially that part of history that originated in the cradle of human culture that is the tortured land of Mesopotamia. (less)
The Metamorphosis is one of those world classics that I have always intended to read but somehow just never got around to. Then the Google Doodle rece...moreThe Metamorphosis is one of those world classics that I have always intended to read but somehow just never got around to. Then the Google Doodle recently reminded me that it was the 130th anniversary of Franz Kafka's birth and I decided that July 2013 was the appropriate time to finally fulfill this particular resolution.
Even someone like myself who had never read the (blessedly short) novella is familiar with the basic story if they are even tangentially educated in the Western literature canon. Traveling salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning in his familiar bedroom in the family home to discover that, overnight, he has turned into a giant insect. What ensues is a senseless and disorienting story of menacing complexity and surreal distortion. In other words, it is the pure definition of Kafkaesque.
Gregor lives in a home with his parents and a sister, and the family employs at least a couple of servants. The most amazing thing about this amazing story for me was the fact that neither Gregor nor the household seem to show much surprise at his transformation. They (even Gregor himself) never seem to wonder why or how this has happened. They never call a doctor to try to find a cure for this unprecedented malady. They just accept it and try to adapt to the situation. They accepted the very unlikely event of a man turning into a giant insect as an unsurprising possibility.
When Gregor wakes up and realizes he is an insect, his first thoughts are about how he is going to get dressed and get to his job! Prior to his transformation, it seems that he was the sole support of the household. His life was his job. He found his self-worth in performing it. In fact, he lived a rather alienated and automated existence which seemed devoid of normal human emotion. In many ways, his life was already insect-like. Thus, his primary concern, post metamorphosis, is to be able to continue that existence. He is horrified at the thought that he might lose his work and his source of income.
His family, it seems, had taken Gregor and his financial support of them all for granted and they are appalled that this support will apparently not continue, but where is their concern for the personhood of Gregor?
At first, the sister shows some sympathy for her unfortunate brother's plight. She brings food to his room and attempts to keep the room clean, but as time goes by and she must begin to work, along with her mother and father, to help sustain the household, her care and concern for her brother begin to flag.
Gregor, meanwhile, continues to try to adapt to his new body. He tries to find the best way to walk, the best place to sit and to sleep, and the best food to devour. He finds that rancid food is the best. Fresh food is disgusting. He tries to talk and communicate but finds that humans can no longer understand him.
The family find themselves in increasingly degraded circumstances as they try to make ends meet. They rent a room to boarders for the extra income. Gregor becomes more and more of a burden to them and their attempts to keep him alive become feebler. Inevitably, so does Gregor and eventually he dies, in essence freeing the family to continue their own insect-like existence.
So, just what is the meaning of this weird tale? It seems a harsh critique of human existence. In Kafka's world, it seems that human lives are essentially meaningless and can be transformed overnight into an automaton-like existence. It's a dark and pessimistic, absurdist view of humanity but perhaps relevant for the way modern human lives have evolved. (less)
2013 is the centennial anniversary of the publication of the first volume in Marcel Proust's epic, Remembrance of Things Past. In commemoration, many...more2013 is the centennial anniversary of the publication of the first volume in Marcel Proust's epic, Remembrance of Things Past. In commemoration, many book clubs, literary groups, and fans of the work have organized marathon readings of it. I decided it was time for me to do my own commemoration by reading it. After all, isn't it something that all literate people are supposed to have read?
I had actually attempted to read the book several years ago. I read perhaps thirty pages and was completely daunted. I just couldn't go on with it. But these days, I am made of sterner stuff, plus I have more time on my hands, so I persevered.
And, believe me, reading Proust does require perseverance. His convoluted, complex sentences go on for half a page or more with no relief. If the reader's attention wanders for even a few seconds, she can be irretrievably lost and has to go back to the beginning to pick up the thread of the narrative. I confess this happened to me more than once. The reading was a long, hard slog.
The narrative proceeds on two tracks. The first revolves around a younger version of the narrator who relates his experiences in and memories of the town of Combray. These experiences are triggered by the dipping of a Madeleine into hot tea. In fact, Madeleines play a central role in his memories of times past.
He writes of his fear, as a child, of going to bed at night. He would often wake up in the middle of the night in terror because he was disoriented and couldn't remember where he was. He hated sleeping alone and remembers with great pleasure one night when he was so sad and fearful that his beloved Mamma spent the night in his room.
It was in Combray that he became inclined toward becoming a writer. He is particularly struck by the beauty of the countryside around Combray, and especially loves the blossoms of the hawthorns which line the path to neighbor Charles Swann's house. He sets himself the task of describing everything that he sees to the best of his ability.
The second track of the narrative relates the backstory of a love affair between Charles Swann and a woman named Odette. Swann does not realize that Odette has a terrible reputation. He idealizes her as the embodiment of a beautiful painting by Botticelli. They marry and have a daughter named Gilberte, with whom Marcel later falls in love.
Odette quickly tires of Swann and proves to be a faithless wife, just as her reputation would have suggested. Swann is at first devastated by the betrayal and suffers the pangs of unrequited love. Eventually, he confronts Odette and learns the truth about all her sexual escapades.
Disappointed in love, Swann returns for comfort to the high society of aristocrats and royalty of which he had been a part before he met Odette. Eventually, he comes to see Odette as a very un-Botticelli-like figure and wonders at the fact that he could have ever experienced this great love for someone who wasn't even his "type"!
Marcel Proust's literary talent was nourished by the rich cultural and intellectual atmosphere in which he grew up. He was a noted socialite whose extraordinary intelligence and charm made him a favorite among the Parisian elite. He was a regular in many of the most sought-after salons in Paris. His experience as a member of the most exalted elite in society is reflected in a certain snobbery toward the bourgeoisie and working classes that is evident in his writing.
Reading this work was an exercise in patience. It forces one to slow down and pay strict attention if she does not wish to be lost forever in its maze-like sentences.
When I started reading, I had grandiose plans to push right on with reading all four volumes of this work, without a pause. I'm glad that I finally managed to read Swann's Way, but I definitely need a vacation from Proust before I proceed with the rest of his remembrances. Probably a long vacation. (less)