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Jeremy's journal

Decide that you like college life. In your dorm you meet many nice people. Some are smarter than you. And some, you notice, are dumber than you. You will continue, unfortunately, to view the world in exactly these terms for the rest of your life.

Lorrie Moore

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Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

🦋 Sex and Siege

We know that Mogueime has no such thoughts, he travels by a more straightforward route, whether death comes late or Ouroana comes soon, between the hour of her arrival and the hour of his departure there will be life, but the thought is also much too complicated, so let us resign ourselves to not knowing what Mogueime really thinks, let us turn to the apparent clarity of actions, which are translated thoughts, although in the passage from the latter to the former, certain things are always lost or added, which means that, in the final analysis, we know as little about what we do as about what we think.
I am not sure what to make of this: in the narration of Raimundo's book, Saramago makes reference to several different battlefield sex scenes -- e.g. the Portuguese troops raping and beheading Moorish women at Santarém; the prostitutes who offer their services to the troops next to the Portuguese army's cemetery; Mogueime's lust for Ouroana, the concubine of the crusader Heinrich. In each of these cases we see Raimundo identify more or less explicitly with the subjects of his writing; and particularly in the first case it is appalling. I haven't quite seen yet what the linkage is between this and Raimundo's love for Maria Sara, who could be concisely and pretty accurately termed "his muse" -- there was an indication near the beginning of the story that his previous sexual experiences had been generally with prostitutes, also it has been brought forth repeatedly that he has no military background and is guessing as to what things are like in war -- and clearly suggested that he has no experience with love and is guessing as to how that works as well.

posted evening of June 30th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about The History of the Siege of Lisbon

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

🦋 The writer as a character

I'm really interested to know more about what Raimundo's experience is like in writing his History -- he has never written a story before, what is going through his head as he composes? Is Saramago making reference to his own experiences first picking up the pen? I have a vague understanding (quite possibly mistaken) that he made a living doing technical writing for a long time before he wrote any fiction -- possibly there is room to extrapolate from there to Raimundo's life. I am feeling like it's difficult for me to get this novel without knowing much of anything about the historical events at the center of the novel -- I don't know where (besides the obvious point) Raimundo's History is at odds with the accepted history. It looks (from where I am right now, about halfway through) like he is trying to write a story in which that key decision goes the other way, but everything ends up the same -- this is an unusual approach to "alternate history".

...What a great line, from Saramago's description of Raimundo's reconstruction of the Portuguese riding to a summit with the Moorish leaders:

...Roger or Rogeiro joined the expedition as a chronicler, as becomes clear when he starts removing writing materials from his knapsack, only the stylus and writing-tablets, because the swaying of his mule would spill the ink and cause his lettering to sprawl, all of this, as you know, the mere speculation of a narrator concerned with verisimilitude rather than the truth, which he considers to be unattainable.

posted afternoon of June 28th, 2009: Respond
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🦋 Rainy Day Women

And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with finger wrote on the ground, So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard, being convicted by conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

-- John 8:2-9

...We are entitled to question whether the world at that time was so hardened by vice that its salvation could only be brought about by the Son of a God, for it is the episode itself about the adulteress which illustrates that things were not going all that badly there in Palestine, not like today when they are at their worst, consider how on that remote day not another stone was thrown at the hapless woman, Jesus only had to utter those fatal words for aggressive hands to withdraw, their owners declaring, confessing and even proclaiming in this manner that, yes, Sir, they were sinners.
This observation is striking. Cutting against it you can say either, Well Jesus uttered those fatal words because of his divinity, it was the saying that exposes him as the Son of God; or, Well Jesus was the Messiah you know, so he had to be pretty damn charismatic. But basically Saramago has got something here: it is a striking aspect of this parable that the persecutors listen to Jesus and heed his reproach. The modern world is not at all lacking in comparable situations, and I can't remember seeing the people throwing the stones stand down when they are reminded of their own all-too-human status.

posted afternoon of June 28th, 2009: Respond
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Saturday, June 27th, 2009

🦋 The Third Author

That would be just punishment, said the fat woman, in payment for all the misery they have caused our people, Scarceley in payment, rejoined the café-owner, since for every outrage commited against us, we have paid back in kind at least a hundredfold, But my eyes are like dead doves that will never more return to their senses, said the muezzin.
Are the scenes in The History of the Siege of Lisbon that take place in Moorish Lisbon part of the book Raimundo is writing? I got the strong sense during the first such scene that it was happeing in Raimundo's imagination; he had not started writing his book at this point, but it could certainly works to think of it as a precursor to that. But his book is about the crusaders -- I don't see room in it for the close portraits of what's happening among the Moors. Are they part of the book Saramago is writing about Raimundo writing his book? Obviously in a sense yes, but Saramago's book is set in modern Lisbon. I was thinking of saying this is a third book being written by a third author, one who shares attributes of both Saramago and Raimundo. Raimundo lives in a historically-Moorish section of Lisbon and a part of his imagination identifies with its inhabitants. The blind muezzin is the interface between his story and Saramago's.

This idea needs heavy revision. Of course much of the book Raimundo is writing will take place in Moorish Lisbon; it is the History of the Siege of that town after all. Once the crusaders have refused to help King Afonso and left, he will need to write a lot about events in Lisbon. I think the author's voice in these sections sounds different, more confident, than the voice narrating the meetings between Afonso and the crusaders -- perhaps that is because Raimundo is more familiar with the world of daily affairs in Lisbon than with the world of noblemen planning warfare against Lisbon.

posted afternoon of June 27th, 2009: Respond

🦋 Codices

John Holbo's latest episode of Squid and Owl (if you haven't been reading along, view them as a slide show here -- funny stuff) mentioned the pleasantly-named Codex Zouche-Nutall, which sent me looking to find out more about it. Turns out scanned images of it and several other Aztec, Miztec and Mayan codices are online at the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies website.

posted morning of June 27th, 2009: 2 responses
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Thursday, June 25th, 2009

🦋 Crazy

"Maybe she just wrote this way because she's crazy" is their way of saying that Dickinson can't possibly have thought about how slant rhyme unsettles the reader, or how her dashes would disrupt the flow of traditional meter in evocative ways. She was just crazy, and so none of our methodological processes of analysis can be used. Crazy is a get-out-of-analysis-free card.
A White Bear has a thoughtful post up today about teaching Dickinson (and David Foster Wallace) to her English students without letting the discussion of the works get derailed talking about how the author was crazy. This has come up a lot in my experience of literature because I've noticed over the years, many of the authors that have really spoken to me have had psychological problems -- enough to have made me think at times that being crazy, or damaged, or addictive was a privilege, something I envied these artists. Which of course is pretty screwed up in a lot of ways. Anyways, AWB's take on it is clear-headed and meaningful, recommended reading.

posted evening of June 25th, 2009: 5 responses

🦋 Slapstick

Gabe passes along a link to a great silent short, from a French company called Eclipse Film, dated 1912:

Pretty miraculous job of restoration -- I'm not sure who did the restoration but I thank whoever it was. And thanks, Gabe!

Update: the film is taken from Flicker Alley's compilation of restored shorts, Saved From the Flames. I assume but am not sure that the restoration was done by Flicker Alley.

From Lobster Films comes information that the director and star is Ernest Servaes; this was the first of three short comedies about Arthème.

posted evening of June 25th, 2009: Respond
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Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

🦋 Placement of a pause

To expand on a comment in the previous post, I just can't understand this choice by Pontiero: the Portuguese interesse desta editora e da harmonia das nossas futuras relações, Profissionais. Espero que não lhe tenha passado...
is translated as
...for the sake of the publishing house and harmony in our future relationship. Professional, I trust you're not suggesting...

Now I'm just really confused as to why Pontiero would have transposed the comma preceding "Profissionais" and the period after it. My initial thought when I read the English sentence was, this would "sound right" in Portuguese because the adjective follows the noun, so Raimundo is "completing the thought" of his interlocutor, whereas in English he's inserting a word in the middle of her thought. But the punctuation issue is separate. In the original, Raimundo adds his adjective directly in reply to her -- she is a little taken aback and pauses before replying. In the translation as it stands here, Raimundo pauses before replying, and she comes back with a quick riposte. I'm sort of flummoxed as to why this would be done -- it changes the sense of the passage and for no good reason that I can see.

Thinking about this a little further: I guess it's possible that the change in punctuation is a way of addressing the word-order issue -- that the quick "professional" following "relationship" sounds right in Portuguese, but in English the longer pause is necessary because the "correction" is being inserted prior to the end of the previous sentence. This does not seem right to me -- I think the flow of conversation would still work even though there's a slightly false note introduced by the word order -- but it makes some sense as a reasoning behind this change.

(And/or, another possibility is that Pontiero is having a little fun with me by getting me to proof-read a novel about proof-reading.)

posted evening of June 24th, 2009: Respond
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🦋 Proof-reading

Dogs had been barking for centuries, therefore, the world was unchanged!
I went in for jury duty today -- was not selected for a jury and indeed did not even participate in a voir dire, though I did wait in a pool of potential jurors in the lovely walnut-panelled room of a civil court. 8 jurors were selected before they called my name. Anyways I got a lot of time today to read The History of the Siege of Lisbon, I thought I'd post some of the notes from today's reading.

In general I'm just really turned on by the idea of this novel, a story about proof-reading and its consequences. Raimundo's character is seeming pretty familiar to me from Saramago's other books, I'm waiting for him to distinguish himself -- which I think will happen in his creation/telling of the history. I'm steeling myself a bit for not being convinced by Maria's character and by the relationship between the two of them -- and thinking I'd like to write a paper about weaknesses in Saramago's female characters -- but a little hopeful that he will surprise me here.

Perhaps a moment of agitation, suggested the Production Director, as if trying to be helpful. Raimundo Silva expected a predictably brusque reaction from the Editorial Director, but it did not come, and then he realised the phrase had been foreseen, there would be no dismissal, everything would end up in words, yes, no, perhaps, and the sense of relief was so overwhelming, that he could feel his body weaken, his spirit unburden...

I felt my first really strong sympathy for Raimundo at the point of his "trial," when his employers are debating how he will be disciplined. Up to here I'd been finding his character amusing and identifying with him in a sort of wry way; but here -- and in the pages leading up to this point -- I could feel his humiliation and his relief as if they were precisely my own. I'm identifying this trial as Kafkaesque though I recognize that it differs in a lot of key respects from Kafka -- the feeling of total identification with the main character's humiliation is I think what drives this.

So far I have managed to be Raimundo Silva, Splendid, now let's see if you can stay that way, for the sake of the publishing house and harmony in our future relationship. Professional, I trust you're not suggesting it could be otherwise, I was simply finishing off your phrase, the proof-reader's job is to propose solutions that will eliminate any ambiguity, either in matters of style or meaning, I presume you know that ambiguity is in the mind of the person listening or reading, Especially if the stimulus came to them from the person writing or speaking...

A lot of beauty here. This is a passage where I can see ways that the translation is coming up a little short -- I can imagine the phrasing in the original and how it would be a little more convincing (and I just checked it out against a digital copy of the original) -- alas! If only English were a little more like Portuguese! I'm appreciating it but it seems like I might not be as happy with it if I were just reading it as is, and not making allowances for its being a translation.

After R. gets home from his meeting with his employers, he turns on the TV "to keep his mind blank" and watches Leonard Cohen on a music program. I'm dying to know what songs Cohen was singing and why Saramago picked Cohen in particular.

posted afternoon of June 24th, 2009: Respond

🦋 Personæ

Clerical errors, like mirrors and fatherhood, tend to multiply creation. When I applied for my medical insurance, I gave the insurance company my date of birth and my social security number; I gave the same information to my automobile insurance company, and likewise the insurer of my life. But come to find, three different people hold these three policies, all of whom share my name.

The man who drives my car, who listens to my mix tapes in its stereo, was born a day later than I. The man who stands to be reimbursed for my hospital stays, who is the same age as I, has a social security number which if its 5th and 7th digits were transposed, would be mine; whether this is due to sloppy handwriting on my part, or a mistake in some link of the chain of transcription leading to the insurance company, I don't know. And the person against whose death I am insured -- she shares all of her vital statistics with me except for gender. Somewhere the wrong box was checked. I'll have trouble when I try to collect the benefits due me, assuming I cannot produce the particular alternate persona to whom each insurer considers itself indebted.

posted afternoon of June 24th, 2009: 2 responses
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