Thursday, July 31st, 2008
McGaha's observations about My Name is Red mostly just reinforce my own thoughts about that book, so not a lot worth posting about this chapter. He included a couple of details in his summary that I totally don't remember and may not have gotten when I was reading the book, like the Erzurumis strangling the storyteller, and the storyteller's chapters dividing the book into sections; good stuff to look for when rereading. A great line:
Pamuk has said he had so much fun writing My Name is Red that his "inner modernist" kept wagging his finger and reminding him that he was a serious writer and needed to be intellectual and literary.
Also I found really interesting, McGaha's discussion of how My Name is Red is similar to, and opposite to, The Black Book.
Over at the Fegmaniax-l, they've been discussing the evolution of Robyn Hitchcock's stage patter. I thought I'd try transcribing some song intros from a couple of weeks ago; these are taken from the July 12th show at The Blend in Ridgewood, and the July 15th show at The Turning Point in Piermont. I can't swear to the accuracy of the transcriptions but they are pretty close. Note they're not nearly as polished as the song intros I transcribed from Storefront Hitchcock; this makes me think he's doing them pretty much off the cuff, whereas for the movie he probably rehearsed a bit.
"I'm Only You", Blend
Well, if you really love somebody, my grandmother used say, you turn into them. ...Nobody turned into my grandmother. So this is dedicated to my grandmother:
"I'm Only You", Turning Pt.
If you really admire somebody, one thing you can do is... try to turn into them. Now this hasn't paid off with things like, the Christian church; but, if the object of your devotions is, nailed, to a piece of wood and... bleeding to death horribly, how much do you wanta turn into them? This is an issue that is raised by the whole concept of the imitation of Christ; um, I'm not gonna deal with that at all. This song is... much much lighter than that. It is, a soufflé, that wafts over the field of human agony rather like a U.F.O.... flits across Arizona and decides to settle in New Mexico.
"Victorian Squid", Blend
It's possible that the Victorians were frightened by sex. ...It's also possible that there's a 7-11 on Jupiter. It's possible that Bush and Cheney will suddenly cause the constitution to be mutated so Bush can seek a third term, and, ah, and mandatorily get it. Some possibilities are better than others. Or... more possible. Anyway, not many Victorians are left, apart from everything they wrote, and they wrote a lot, mostly because they, they wrote in longhand and there was no e-mail. So if they wanted to journal or blog they had to write it down by hand in, you know, with proper ink and stuff like that. ...But biologically, they are much the same as we were, many of us indeed have Victorian a-ancestors, or people who came from that period. And if push came to shove and we had to mate with, those of us who choose to mate or are physically capable of mating, with, ah, other humans, if we had to mate with Victorians, we probably could, and it's quite possible we could have offspring, which would be interesting, especially if they were our great-grandparents who we were mating with; ...but you know, if there's a chronal fissure in the fabric of the cosmos, beggars cannot be choosers, you just have to get on with it, and screw your great-grandparents. Whole empires have been founded on worse. ...And, this song is not really about that. It's an out world. Okay!
"Victorian Squid", Turning Pt.
A lot of people might like to think that the Victorians were, sexually repressed, and... all they could do was have starched colons, and build empires, if they were British, and over here, think that they were free of Britain, and, smoke the same cigars. All forged with iron, and no climaxes... And, y'know, they're probably right, cause, what do we know, we're, I mean, they're all gone; there are very few Victorians in our lives on a day-to-day basis. You might read the works of Trollope, or ah Charles Dickens, but increasingly you won't understand what they're saying, because the language has mutated. So... but, and which is a drag, because they were artists, they were trying to leave a legacy; well they were initially trying to make a living. In fact, before that, they were trying to break rocks of solid stone, boy salt,... basalt? Basil -- solid rocks of basil, that's right. They were trying to cleave these rocks, solid rocks of gravel, they were making a solid road 16 miles long, they were in Sing Sing and Riker's Island, that's where Jane Austen met George Eliot, they were breaking rocks down there. Their asses were bad, and at night they'd go out, fornicating in the baths, with a, blimp... The blimp was above the bath. Kind of um, you know, monitoring them, it was a primitive form of bodyguard; you couldn't afford huge people with sunglasses and holsters and things in those days, so you took, if you were a hard-ass villain breaking rocks of solid gravel out in the penitentiary, then the time came and the warden said "Hey buddy, don't you be no square, go in to Hoboken for the evening and boogie," they would then, the warden would tether you to a blimp, and, um, the blimp would be... It was kind of nice, really nice twine would come down through the chimney of the hostelry you'd be in, boogie, but don't forget, in those days there was no e-mail, but you could smoke. People really knew how to rip it up. And so there's, there's all these convicts would be in there, with these nice chimneys, ventilating the smoke, and also there were a few little pieces of, of silk and muslin and taffeta coming off their ankles, going up to the waiting attendant blimps above them, while they boogied. And then, every so, when it was time to go, their asses would be hauled up by the silk and twine through the chimneys, and then they'd be brought dangling headfirst to the penitentiaries. But by Friday, next Friday, they were ready to give it another go again, cause they'd had a rough week, and they thought anything was better than just spending the night in, you know, watching, um, watching DVD's. Cause there was no Netflix in those days... Hard to believe. So anyway: the Victorians were a rough bunch, everywhere, it's true. So this song is just a kind of mythological... you know, ah, it's my fantasy of what Victorian life was like. I know that the reality is what I've described. So, you know... bear with me, I know it's a feeble picture. But, who wants a strong picture? You know, a strong picture, you'd be driving down the road in your, in your pickup, um... you know, might even lose a wheel, it wouldn't matter, you'd be confident: and then suddenly, there's a strong picture, and you smash into it. Because strong pictures are always left in the road; doesn't matter, could be by Braque, by Picasso, or, or, an older one by... Van Eyck or something, you know, and um, you just smash right into them, your truck is written off, totalled, So remember, weak picures have their place. And if you're going to see the Mona Lisa, that little guy comes busting through the screen, and smashes up against the glass, you know, everything's drenched with blood, in the Louvre, you can't really see the Mona Lisa because of all the dried blood in front of her. Which pisses her off, she's called the Angry Mona Lisa. She's encased, she's just behind this wall of dried blood, I think it's a paradigm of what happened to Christianity; but they were asking for it! ...You know if they'd had a penguin, and a nice un-crucified penguin on a green cone, how much more peaceful would life have been? ...And you know, is that any more meaningless than some poor guy nailed to a tree and bleeding to death, I'd rather see a penguin on a green cone. Okay! here we go.
Tuesday, July 29th, 2008
In the middle of Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, Harry Crews appears at Sheffield's Diner ("Where Jesus is Lord"), quoting Goethe:
"There is no crime of which I cannot conceive myself guilty"... to me, my understanding of that is, he's admitting his one-ness with mankind, his involvement with mankind -- he did not escape original sin.
-- reminds me strongly of this line from My Name is Red.
Later in the same diner, the Singing Hall Sisters sing "The Knoxville Girl", which might be the best performance in the movie (though I like the Handsome Family's songs a lot too.)
(As near as I can tell from Google, the actual quote from Goethe is, "Es gibt kein Verbrechen, dessen ich nicht selbst potentiell fähig wäre" -- roughly, "There is no crime, of which I could not myself potentially be capable," even closer in spirit to the Pamuk quotation. But I haven't been able to figure out where this line is taken from.)
80 more minutes of good funk are now available from the Apostropher. Check it out -- I will listen and report more soon. This tape features nobody I'm familiar with... (So why am I calling it "good"? -- I've learned to trust Apo's ear in these matters. There will probably be like one clunker on the tape but the other 77 minutes will more than make up for it.)
OK... downloaded, burned, got it on the stereo. Not sure about Betty Davis but Nils Landgren is all right by me. The instrumentation is exactly like it should be. "Let me run into your lonely heart" sounds kind of like a faint echo of "House Party" -- I like it but after the high energy of that last song, it's not making much of an impact on my consciousness.
Now Cold Blood is picking it back up, and in an ideal way -- this is much different from the previous tracks. The opening instrumental is really nice and when the vocals come in, they really take me away. "Baby I Love You" is my new favorite track on this compilation... Yep, and "Never No Time to Burn" is pretty fantastic too. If "Let me run into your lonely heart" turns out to be the clunker track -- well, that would make this the best Unfunkked disk yet, possibly excluding #3 which I seem to remember liking really hugely.
...This stuff is just all great...
...And yes, Betty Davis is great too. The opening track didn't really grab me but the final track really made me move.
Monday, July 28th, 2008
I was meaning to ask, what lessons can I take from The Cave? It is very clearly written with a pedagogical slant; it seems to me like Saramago intends for me to apply it to my own life. And I want, instinctively, to do so.
But how? I guess I wouldn't say the lesson of Thelma & Louise is, running away and driving your car off a cliff is the appropriate response to an abusive relationship; but then I don't recall thinking of Thelma & Louise as a movie with a moral; and also an abusive relationship is not a problem that I have to deal with. Whereas here, it would be easy to say that the moral is, running away without plans, without regard for how you're going to support yourself or lead your life, is the appropriate response to alienation from the natural world caused by capitalistic expropriation of our experience of life, by the replacement of dreams with advertisements; and there is certainly room for the claim that this type of alienation is exactly the problem that I have to deal with. So where does that lead me except to running away, a solution that I've not found to be reliable in the past?
The answer, I think, is that I should not focus on the final chapter of the book so much -- that I should look at Cipriano's style of living throughout the book as worthy of emulation, and treat the conclusion as a promise that if I live my life with this sort of honor and self-respect, I'll find connection and happiness. Which is at least a worthwhile self-deception.
Some cool graphics from our friends at IBM. (With a tip of the hat to the Luddite Robot.)
No amount of sweetness today can diminish the bitterness of tomorrow.
Saramago has been telegraphing the lesson of the book -- that the public who resign themselves to the easy, isolated world of The Center, who choose for themselves/allow to be chosen for them mass-produced plastic dinnerware over Cipriano Algor's pottery, are blinding themselves to the beauty of reality in the same way as Plato's troglodytes -- pretty clearly and strongly, beginning early in the book and getting quite explicit toward the end. And that's not even a particularly new point -- it would be difficult for me to come up with names of books where I've read this kind of thing before but it seems pretty commonplace to me. So in a way, the book should seem sort of like a train wreck, grinding inexorably toward a conclusion you already know.
And yet: somehow that is not at all what the experience of reading the book is like. It is not only beautifully written, it is also surprising for all you have a pretty good idea going in, what the general structure will be. When Cipriano says, "Those people are us," my impulse was to say "Well duh" -- but when he says a few sentences later, "You must decide what to do with your own lives, but I'm leaving," my reaction was one of palpable relief. Saramago has crafted his story well enough that I am included in its ups and downs almost despite myself.
I'm a little torn about the ending. It has a certain Thelma & Louise quality to it that feels like it might be less true to the characters than is the rest of the novel. I see Saramago called deeply pessimistic, and there is a lot of darkness in the world of his books; but this ending is so optimistic that I would call it romantic.* And, well, in a way I guess I'm grateful to him for that. I'm glad my memory of the novel will be of Cipriano's and Marta's and Marçal's rebellion from The Center, of Cipriano's and Isaura's tears of reunion rather than of Cipriano's bleak, lonely tears. I'm not sure how this affects the philosophical message of the book though -- if the only way you can rebel from The Center is to turn to romantic fancy, how much real hope is there?
* The ending of Blindness is also, certainly, hugely optimistic; but the darkness of Seeing keeps me from thinking of the first book as romantic.
Sunday, July 27th, 2008
Well this is a little surprising: in discussing the translations of The Black Book, McGaha very strongly recommends Güneli Gün's translation over Freely's later reworking. Wow! I didn't know much about Gün's translation besides that I'd heard it was unreadable -- and I know I had a lot of trouble with her translation of
The Black BookThe New Life. But McGaha's recommendation, and his side-by-side comparison of the two treatments of the first paragraph, makes me want to find out more.
Saturday, July 26th, 2008
So I'm reading the third chapter of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk (which concerns The Silent House) and thinking, the family name Darvinoğlu sounds awfully familiar -- was it the name of one of the characters in The Black Book? And then I start reading the fourth chapter, which concerns The White Castle, and get to the following passage, which makes the scales fall from my eyes:
It was Don Quixote that inspired [Pamuk] to present his own novel as an old manuscript found and translated into modern Turkish; once that was decided, it occurred to him that it would be amusing to have the manuscript found in the archives at Gebze and translated by none other than Faruk Darvinoğlu, the historian of The Silent House.
Oh! So the characters I was wondering about in the winter have earlier roots. Wild -- I wish The Silent House were available in an English translation.
McGaha also says that some critics faulted Holbrook, in her translation of The White Castle, for including the references to The Silent House without any explanation -- this seems a little weird to me. I can't see how she could have provided any explanation within the text; maybe an afterword should have been included. Doesn't seem like it would have made a huge difference in the reading experience.
Friday, July 25th, 2008
It is not worth describing what Cipriano Algor thought about because he had thought it on so many other occasions and we have supplied more than enough information on the subject already. The only new thing here is that he allowed a few painful tears to run down his cheeks, tears that had been dammed up for a long, long time, always just about to be shed, but, as it turned out, they were being reserved for this sad hour, for this moonless night, for this solitude that has not yet resigned itself to being solitude. What was truly not a novelty, because it had happened before in the history of fables and in the history of the marvels of the canine race, was that Found went over to Cipriano Algor to lick his tears, a gesture of supreme consolation which, however touching it might seem to us, capable of touching hearts normally not given to displays of emotion, should not make us forget the crude reality that the salty taste of tears is greatly appreciated by most dogs. One thing, however, does not detract from the other, were we to ask Found if it was because of the salt that he licked Cipriano Algor's face, he would probably have replied that we do not deserve the bread that we eat, that we are incapable of seeing beyond the end of our own nose.
A dog licking tears from the face of a crying human is a central image in Saramago's work, as much as I've read of it so far anyway. And it is touching -- the other times I've read sequences like this, they have touched me as symbolizing the depth of connection between the dog and his master. But another way of looking at it that is occurring to me now, is how painfully lonely, to be weeping in a place where there is no other person present.
(The clause after "truly not a novelty" strikes me as funny in a sort of self-referential way -- it could be rendered, "What was truly not a novelty, because it had happened before in books I have written,...")
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