brian 's Reviews > Jerusalem

Jerusalem by Gonçalo M. Tavares
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Mar 21, 2012

liked it

when the 'easy riders and raging bulls' generation was making their mark, a common critique was that the films reflected their creators lack of knowledge of the real world: that the director's reference points were other films rather than real life. while ford, hawks, and lang were out there wrasslin' horses, fightin' nazis, and bagging dames, depalma knew life only as defined by welles & hitchcock, scorsese experienced reality through the prism of powell/pressburger, and coppola knew nothing he wasn't taught by visconti. allow me to apply this critique, which i felt wildly unfair overstated and irrelevant, to tavares. and i suppose borges is to blame.

borges, that gamechanging mindblowing labyrinth-creating genius. borges, that chubby mama's boy who created entire genres predicated on the inside of a book as the totality of the universe. experience be damned! if one reads the sea wolf, he's a seaman! if he reads hard rain falling, he's already had his salad tossed.

there are those books which have greatness flitting all around their edges, but lack the real stink of human sin. such is jerusalem. tavares's characters are literary creations before anything else: each possesses a trait, an idiosyncrasy (a physical deformity, rough backstory, mental obsession, sexual proclivity, etc) which defines them, and tavares does all he can to reinforce the idea that people are nothing beyond a few prominent characteristics. for me, it feels an arid investigation; a means to circumvent a true(r) understanding of human behavior, of the human condition.

that said: when jerusalem soars, it reaches heights few books even know exist. i hit jerusalem with 3 stars as i - borgesically - stack it against tavares's as yet unwritten books. the pain, suicide, cannibalism, molestation, disease, and (vollmannesque) theory of historical horror in jerusalem are all interesting, but one can't deny the whiff of literary calculation.
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Comments (showing 1-27 of 27) (27 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David for me, it feels an arid investigation

This is the way I feel about Borges. Tavares must have taken his mentor to heart.

message 2: by D. (new) - added it

D. Pow fuck yes. love it.

'there are those books which have greatness flitting all around their edges, but lack the real stink of human sin. such is jerusalem.'

To me a book or piece of art isn't worth a fuck unless it doesn't confront the basic blues of the human condition. cock.pussy.semen.blood.murder. longing & depravity. the urge for something better but running right beside it the urge to wallow in the sheer fucking messiness of life; the very things that make life worth living also drive us right up to the edge of the grave.

I hate ethereal books that are all mind or technique and divorced from the piss/shit/fart/devour body and all its myriad drives. No book of lasting worth was ever 'all mind'; no great work lasts if its primarily just literary tricks.

message 3: by David (new)

David No book of lasting worth was ever 'all mind'; no great work lasts if its primarily just literary tricks.

What book would you describe as 'all mind'?

message 4: by D. (new) - added it

D. Pow anything you give five stars to.

I was being hyperbolic. nothing is 'all mind'.

message 5: by David (new)

David But seriously. What book is too much mind (in your opinion) to be of lasting worth?

I'm trying to engage in a serious discourse here. I have my monocle and my glue-on vandyke beard on.

message 6: by D. (new) - added it

D. Pow I'm not capable of serious discourse only rabid pit-bull slavering.

I just was making an emotional pitch for books that aren't too ethereal, that don't dwell in the head or focus too much on the (illusionary?) soul. That come from the gut and the groin as much as the mind.

I have no idea where this book falls in that spectrum. I took a riff of brian's and ran with it.
that's all.

message 7: by David (new)

David Talking out of your ass again, in other words.

Damn, I love you, Donald Powell.

message 8: by D. (new) - added it

D. Pow Ha Ha, exactly!

but with astute grace, I hope.

brian   i love both you morons.
thing is, dpow, this book does get into the down n' dirty, it all just feels a bit... academic. y'know what i mean? that said, it's well worth reading -- tavares is a serious talent.

message 10: by David (new)

David I thought of a book that's too much mind to be of lasting worth.

Sartre's Nausea.

You're welcome.

message 11: by D. (last edited Mar 22, 2012 10:36AM) (new) - added it

D. Pow There you go. The Frog King was one thinking muthafucka but couldn't write fiction that came alive.

message 12: by D. (new) - added it

D. Pow a head is a useful tool. to be headless is not good.

message 13: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy Nice review, but weren't "wrasslin' horses, fightin' nazis, and bagging dames" things ford, hawks, and lang found out about from books (i.e., pulp fiction) rather than real life?

Sometimes, all that separates two generations is the source of our stories and metaphors, and sometimes they end up being the same.

message 14: by brian (last edited Mar 23, 2012 11:38AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

brian   weird.
i jumped on here to respond to eddie but he deleted his posts.

anyway... ya might be right, ian.
i wasn't really making that point; just using the arguments others made to pave the way for my tavares criticism.

Eddie Watkins Well I said sumpin sumpin about the book being written as if by a professor sequestered in a cafe and sumpin sumpin about Tavares' concerns being more ethical than anything, that he makes no attempt to create real characters, or even a real world, and that his books are useful to me because they cover a terrain similar to an academic ethics text and I damn sure have no desire to read an academic ethics text, though there are certainly useful lessons to learn within. I also said sumpin sumpin about even a novel that resides almost entirely in the realms of the brain, far from the piss and shit and groins of life, is still useful because the brain is one of the major organs I use to navigate this weird and groiny life.

message 16: by D. (new) - added it

D. Pow well-said eddie!

message 17: by David (new)

David Why'd you delete, EdWat?

brian   yeah!
that's what i jumped on to respond to...
and what i was gonna say (i guess, what i am saying) is that i hear ya. and that's a fair point. however... (there's always a 'however'), i think tavares was trying to have best of both worlds and -- in this book, at least -- didn't have the chops to pull it off. this wasn't a borgesian freakout, nor was it a hyper-realized character piece. it was something in between, and i didn't really get the point. if you're interested in the ethical theories, then be a bit more creative in your presentation (skip the traditional mode of structure, plot, character arc, etc.); if you're interested in your characters, then invest 'em with more than a few recognizably human traits. but that middle ground of clever (but, not particularly deep) ethical/philosophical theory spouted by half-realized characters... it, despite tavares's obvious talent, left me kinda cold.

that's my 'sumpin'...

Eddie Watkins This book is just one of four interrelated books, which I imagine make up an amorphous whole, with reappearing "characters" even, so judgment should probably be reserved until all four have been read and absorbed. Both were missing something for me also, btw.

brian   i have a friend who's read all 4 books and says they're good but this series blows it away:

U of Texas is rumored to be translating and publishing 'em but i can't find a thing on their website. we'll see...

message 21: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy brian wrote: "Sometimes, all that separates two generations is the source of our stories and metaphors, and sometimes they end up being the same. "

Thanks, brian. I think my overly pedantic point contributed to me missing the point of the rest of your review, which is really insightful and stimulating, as is this thread.

I haven't come across Tavares before, and this all makes me want to investigate him.

message 22: by Eddie (last edited Mar 23, 2012 01:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eddie Watkins I did read something about that series but knew no details. Looks like each book explores somehow a literary forbear. As prolific and even sprawling as he is there's something "small" about him that really appeals to me. I liked Joseph Walser's Machine a bit more than Jerusalem and it may be because he stayed small and contained with it, staying within a narrow but powerful scope, while in Jerusalem maybe he tried to get to big and overreached himself a bit.

message 23: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy Where is a good place to start reading him?

brian   i'm gonna order joseph walser's machine this week. how many have of 'em have you read? and tell ian where to start. thanks eddie!

Eddie Watkins I've only read the two, and I read them over the course of three days earlier this week, so I'm far from a veteran scholar of the man, but I'd say start where I did, with Joseph Walser's Machine, which I chose because I assumed it somehow referenced Robert Walser and because it was shorter.

Or in keeping with one of Tavares' concerns you could just roll dice to choose where to start.

message 26: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy Ta, the mood I'm in, short is good.

message 27: by Mia (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mia Did you read this in english?

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