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Penelope Fitzgerald


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Sunday, July 6th, 2008

Another night of Huck Finn

Tonight we read Chapter 11, which contains one of my clearest memories from reading the book as a child: Huck has disguised himself in a girl's clothing and is scouting out the news in town. He is found out by the woman whom he asks for gossip (Judith Loftus, a newcomer to town; somehow I had in my memory that the woman was Tom's Aunt Polly), when she notices that he throws and catches like a boy. Sylvia thought it was absolutely hilarious that Huck would try to thread a needle by pushing the needle onto the thread; she was still laughing about that ten minutes later.

posted evening of July 6th, 2008: Respond
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Omission

At the end of the second chapter of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk I learn that Other Colors, ostensibly a translation of Pamuk's 1999 collection Öteki Renkler: Seçme Yazılar ve Bir Hikaye, is actually a separate collection, with only about a third of the contents taken from the older book.*

All the essays on Turkish literature and politics were omitted from the English version. Replacing them were... assessments of the works of authors he admires -- ranging from Fyodor Dostoyevsky to Salman Rushdie -- ...others are autobiographical or contain thoughtful reflections on his own novels.

This is surprising to me. I like the selection in Other Colors; but I'd be very interested to read Pamuk's essays on Turkish literature and politics as well. McGaha quotes a passage from Pamuk's essay (which he had written in 1974, at the outset of his career) on the Turkish author Oğuz Atay:

Pamuk argues that critics were bewildered by the novelty of Atay's novels, in which the author's voice and attitude, his peculiar tone of intelligent sarcasm, were more important than plot or character development. What is most distinctive about these novels is their style:
When the novelist puts the objects that he saw into words in this or that way, what he is doing is a kind of deception that the ancients called "style," manifesting a kind of stylization. There are deceptions every writer uses, like a painter who portrays objects. This is the only way I can explain Faukner's fragmetation of time, Joyce's objectification of words, Yaşar Kemal's drawing his observations of nature over and over. Talented novelists begin writing their real novels after they discover this cunning. From the moment that we readers catch on to this trick, it means that we understand a little bit of the novelistic technique, what Sartre called "the writer's metaphysics."

This passage seems pretty key to an understanding of My Name is Red, and how it fits in with Pamuk's other novels. I'm sorry to see neither of Atay's novels has been translated into English.

* A little thought makes it obvious that many of the essays in Other Colors could not have appeared in the earlier collection, dealing as they do with events occuring in 2005 and later. My grasp of Pamuk's timeline was not as firm when I first looked at this book as it is now.

I also went back just now to reread the preface, which makes clear that this is a separate work from the earlier collection. Look at its beautiful final paragraph:

I am hardly alone in being a great admirer of the German writer-philosopher Walter Benjamin. But to anger one friend who is too much in awe of him (she's an academic, of course), I sometimes ask, "What is so great about this writer? He managed to finish only a few books, and if he's famous, it's not for the work he finished but the work he never managed to complete." My friend replies that Benjamin's œuvre is, like life itself, boundless and therefore fragmentary, and this was why so many literary critics tried so hard to give the pieces meaning, just as they did with life. And every time I smile and say, "One day I'll write a book that's made only from fragments too." This is that book, set inside a frame to suggest a center that I have tried to hide: I hope that readers will enjoy imagining that center into being.

posted afternoon of July 6th, 2008: Respond
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Playing the Building

David Byrne's installation at 10 South Street is a really pleasant space to move through. I sat at the organ for a little while and pecked at the keys -- which I was expecting to be the really interesting part of the installation -- but what ended up engaging me much more, was walking around the different areas of the room while other people played the building.

It was not -- did not feel like -- an experience of listening to music. Really seemed much more like the art I was appreciating was architecture, like the purpose of the organ was to amplify the innate qualities of the building itself rather than to superimpose music on top of them. When I stood next to a column and felt and heard the percussive vibrations in its structure, it felt like I was assimilating into the structure of the building.

posted morning of July 6th, 2008: Respond
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Saturday, July 5th, 2008

Excursion

Fun! This afternoon we are going in to the city, and meet up with Michael. We're going to see and hear David Byrne's new project, Playing the Building. A-and maybe we'll walk up to the Brooklyn Bridge to see Olafur Eliasson's new installation of waterfalls. Or, perhaps we'll ride the Staten Island Ferry.

posted morning of July 5th, 2008: Respond
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Friday, July 4th, 2008

Restitution

Towards the end of Chapter 8, Jim is reminiscing to Huck about how he's had trouble holding on to money.

"Yes. You know that one-laigged nigger dat b'longs to old Misto Bradish? Well, he sot up a bank, en say anybody dat put in a dollar would git fo' dollars mo' at de en' er de year. Well, all de niggers went in, but dey didn't have much. I wuz de on'y one dat had much. So I stuck out for mo' dan fo' dollars, en I said 'f I didn' git it I'd start a bank mysef. Well, o' course dat nigger want' to keep me out er de business, bekase he says dey warn't business 'nough for two banks, so he say I could put in my five dollars en he pay me thirty-five at de en' er de year.

"So I done it. Den I reck'n'd I'd inves' de thirty-five dollars right off en keep things a-movin'. Dey wuz a nigger name' Bob, dat had ketched a wood-flat, en his marster didn' know it; en I bought it off'n him en told him to take de thirty-five dollars when de en' er de year come; but somebody stole de wood-flat dat night, en nex day de one-laigged nigger say de bank's busted. So dey didn' none uv us git no money."

Sylvia observes, "They could go on Judge Judy..."

posted evening of July 4th, 2008: Respond
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Orhan growing up

To the extent that he had been exposed to [Sufi mystic] literature in school, he had found it boring, antiquated, and irrelevant to his own interests and concerns. Furthermore, he had always associated those texts with fanatical Islamic obscurantists and right-wing Turkish politicians. Now, as he immersed himself in three of the greatest masterpieces of the genre -- Farid ud-Din Attar's Conference of the Birds, Jelal ud-Din Rumi's Mathnawi, and Sheikh Galip's Beauty and Love -- he was shocked to discover in them all the qualities he most admired in the best Western literature (and which were so sorely lacking in modern Turkish literature): dizzying intellectual complexity, sophisticated self-consciousness, playfulness, and the most refined stylistic elegance.

Chapter 2 of Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk concerns the actual story of Pamuk's childhood and young adulthood -- the story which has been transformed in various ways in many of his novels. Much of it seems very familiar to me -- mainly from The Black Book and from the essays in Other Colors. It is useful, I think, to see the ways the stories are rooted in reality; and I must say I'm liking McGaha's prose a lot -- it is elegant and easy to digest.

posted afternoon of July 4th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about Autobiographies of Orhan Pamuk

Rainy Fourth

Alas, it is not a very nice day to have off. (Not that I'm opposed to having the day off you understand.) We rode in the bike parade under threatening skies... But we are not daunted! I'm taking Sylvia and Kaydi to the matinée of WALL-E, then we're meeting up with their mothers to have dinner at Sesame. I'm totally looking forward to seeing the movie again, and the theater in Montclair is a better place than the one in West Orange, so no projectionist issues to fear.

South Orange cancelled their fireworks display this year. Sigh...

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

posted afternoon of July 4th, 2008: Respond
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Gonzo

The new movie about Hunter Thompson sounds great. Hopefully Ellen and I will be able to line up babysitting and see it sometime soon.

Ellen was suggesting that my misunderstanding of the Nixon presidency might come from reading Thompson -- reading Thompson "too literally" or "too much as factual narrative" or something like that... And it's true that his books are one of my primary sources for information about those years. That and Doonesbury.

Happy Independence Day, everybody! I can hear firecrackers going off already though it seems a bit early for that. Oh, maybe that's thunder I guess. Looks like the weather forecast was correct.

posted morning of July 4th, 2008: Respond
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Thursday, July third, 2008

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello

Hello, Hello, Hello, Hello. Bill passes along links to two covers of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Take it away, Paul Anka!

Nice, right? But just listen to (and watch!) the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. They absolutely demolish this tune (in the good sense of "demolish", I mean):

In Bill's words, they "set a new standard for feeling stupid and contagious."

By the way: All of the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain tracks that are up on YouTube set new standards for whatever they are doing, all that I've watched to date at any rate. There are way worse ways to spend some time, than by walking down that list.

(Mark contributes a version from Tori Amos: "I'll have what she's having...")

posted morning of July third, 2008: Respond
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Wednesday, July second, 2008

Misunderstanding

Maybe the most key thing I'm taking away from Nixonland (as of the ¾ mark), is that I've misunderstood the Nixon presidency, which I am too young to have any first-hand memory of, in a pretty fundamental way. My narrative has always been, Nixon was an evil man and wore his evil nature on his sleeve; Reagan was an evil man but was carefully costumed by his media handlers so as to conceal that nature.

Now it's sort of obvious when you think about it, that there's something wrong with my narrative. I didn't analyze it that carefully, it was more just a general sense of things. But Perlstein lays out very clearly how Nixon shaped his public image and how he was helped in this by a new generation of media professionals such as Harry Treleaven and Roger Ailes.

I also have had an unexamined image of Spiro Agnew as a dummy, a loudmouthed buffoon who lived only to vent his hatred of minority groups and student protesters. But Perlstein is giving me a much more nuanced picture of him as a smart (for a while) politician, whose spewed hatred was politically calculated rather than unthinking. (Also: I had no idea what Agnew looked like until I Googled for his photo this morning -- would not have recognized a picture of him. This strikes me as odd when Nixon's image is so familiar to me.)

posted evening of July second, 2008: Respond
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