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Can you win anything better than the useless rewards of a fantastical imagination! Is there any greater honor?

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Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Illumination

Sylvia and I watched a lovely movie this evening, "The Secret of Kells." References a hugely diverse set of source materials from My Name is Red* to Alice in Wonderland/​Golden Compass/​Chronicles of Narnia to Borges (specifically "The Theologians" but also "The Immortal" in places), and of course to the Book of Kells itself... And on top of it all, a real treat of a story in itself -- highly enjoyable without reference to any of these parallels I'm thinking of being necessary.

*No clips of The Secret of Kells are online besides the trailer; if they were, I would post the scene of Brother Aiden and Brendan making green ink side by side with the passage from My Name is Red narrated by red ink.

posted evening of November 28th, 2010: Respond
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Story idea

This is sort of an updated take on Borges' "Los teólogos" I think -- a man is reading and blogging about a book which he's reading in a language not his own (one not available in translation); he manages to create a controversy or at least a bit of publicity around blasphemy in the text which is, however, not actually present in the source material -- it is the product of a fundamental misreading on his part, but nevertheless the controversy necessarily involves the original author of the piece, a contemporary of the blogger's who is not seeking the spotlight. This publicity becomes the author's route to fame or celebrity -- a different fame than he would have had in mind, while the (mis-)translator is of course pretty much ignored in the press and ultimately forgotten by history.

posted afternoon of November 28th, 2010: 1 response
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Translation pattern

I am falling into a pattern with reading/translating/revising The art of resurrection -- I think the best way to carry out these activities is in parallel, they strengthen and enhance one another. So far every chapter I read in full and translate a few pages of, the translation and revision process sends me off to read some more or to re-read and get a better grip on the story and on the author's voice, which in turn sends me back to revise and expand my translations of earlier chapters, and to forge outposts of translation in later chapters. (And of course blogging about is another activity in relation to the text, one which weaves in and out among and distracts from and contributes to these three.)

Chapter 8 introduces Magalena Mercado, the prostitute whom Christ has been searching for.

Dark, her hair was brown and her eyelids drooped over deep pupils. This was Magalena Mercado, her soft curves moved languidly and in the air behind her, fleeting, trailed the sensation of a wounded dove. And this sensation was strengthened by her gestures as it was by the falling cadence of her voice. ...

Like everything else about her, her age was a mystery. The men's guesses ranged from twenty-five, or a little more, to thirty-five, or a little less. Besides believing in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, she was a devoted follower of the Virgen del Carmen. In her house, in the room where she slept was an almost life-size icon, made from wood, always a candle was in front of it and little flowers made of paper hung from it.

The narrator goes on to discuss whether Magalena Mercado came to the north of Chile during a transfer of mental patients -- a "de-institutionalizing" I suppose it would be called. I need to get a better handle on the historical background here -- did that happen once in Chile during the twenties or thirties, or was it a common thing to have happen, or is it a fiction?*

What is certain is that her customers were generally surprised, disconcerted by the altar which was installed in a corner of the room where she plied her trade, so much so that some, the most devout among them, were inhibited, left without consummating the transaction. You see, the icon of the Virgin, about a meter 20 cm high, carved by hand, was of an overwhelming, breathtaking beauty. So Magalena Mercado took care: every evening before beginning to wait on her "parishioners," as she termed her regular customers, she would kneel before the Virgin, cross herself vigorously, and cover the icon's head with a square of blue velvet.

"See you soon, little lady," she would whisper.

posted afternoon of November 28th, 2010: Respond
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Friday, November 26th, 2010

Camerawork in Hernán Rivera Letelier's prose

One key distinction to be made between El arte de la resurrección and a Bruegel painting, of course, is the direction, the cinematic quality of the former. If I stand looking at "The Battle between Carnival and Lent" it keeps me engaged, keeps my gaze shifting; but I am "directing" the movie by moving my gaze. Whereas here, there is clearly a cameraman showing us where to focus and what to move to the periphery. Check out this beautiful pan from the plaza to in front of the union hall, from chapter 7 -- reminds me a little of the opening shot from Heimat. The striking workers in La Piojo are waiting for their lunch, in front of the union hall:

Even from a distance one could see that chaos reigned, everything in a rambunctious disarray: a few kids, stick in hand, trying to keep at a distance the group of stray dogs that had assembled, attracted by the aroma of food, while a few well-built gaucho types were greasy with sweat, gathering and splitting wood for the fire; the group of women inside was sweating too, in their aprons cut from canvas flour sacks, their cheeks smudged with soot, they were ladling out dishes of the hot, steaming stew to the tight line of men, women, children who held out their chipped dishes, their faces long with hunger. The menu, like every day's, was a generous helping of chili beans -- one day with crushed maize, one day with peppers, which cooked on the other fire, smoking under a black skillet, seasoned with a colorful bloom of paprika.
The camera starts out away from the action, across the plaza; gradually it zooms in on the kids keeping away the stray dogs, then pans to men cutting wood (in my mental picture of this scene, the men are sort of behind the kids (vis-a-vis the pov) and a bit toward the union hall, the camera is moving across the plaza and a bit to the right) and then (continuing to the right, and swinging around) to the women cooking and to the people waiting; and the last word of the sentence is "hunger"! Then we linger lovingly on the food that's cooking, the centerpiece of this scene. (This and a passage a little later on when Christ is eating are beautiful food writing I must say -- this Rivera Letelier is extremely versatile.)

posted afternoon of November 26th, 2010: Respond
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Thursday, November 25th, 2010

a burning stone at the center of heaven

An example of the kind of sentence I was mentioning loving in Arte de la resurrección is near the beginning of Chapter 6, a description the people of Providencia (not, as I initially thought, a village in Elqui Valley, but a mining company town, a "salitrera," in the Atacama -- and referred to throughout the story as La Piojo, which I am understanding as Lousy*) gathering to await the Christ of Elqui. Listen:

The women came, their heads covered in dark bandannas, rosaries in their hands, a prayerful, focused halo softening the faces of these strong women, dutiful, capable of any sacrifice for their families. The children were running with their wire hoops, their tin wagons, with the rambunctious happiness of seeing something novel in the endless tedium which was the pampa, all the world they knew of; while those few men who were idling, who were spending the siesta on the hot stones by their front doors -- for most of them were together in the union hall, or keeping watch on the factory gate for strike-breakers -- came following the women and the children to see this novelty, ganchito, a Chilean Christ preaching in the desert. Even the most skeptical, the least credulous of them -- and the mine-workers were the most skeptical, the least credulous of anyone in the pampa -- those who could not believe that this layabout, this beggar could be Christ the King, that he was divine, could perform miracles -- "This Christ of the slums has never even healed a sleepy little girl, paisita" -- even these came to look away from his footprints with the disdainful grimace of the suspicious macho tattooed on their oblong faces.

At this hallucinatory siesta hour on the pampa, the sun was a burning stone at the center of heaven.

In the original the whole first paragraph is a single sentence, I could not avoid dividing it into a couple. You can spend a lot of time in front of that sentence as if it were a Bruegel, it repays multiple readings with new layers of imagery.
* Or also, I see piojo is slang in the Andes for "gambling den" -- so maybe the nickname means something like "Dive".

posted evening of November 25th, 2010: Respond
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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Second Person, Present Tense

If you think, “I breathe,” the “I” is extra. There is no you to say “I.” What we call “I” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale or when we exhale.

Shun Ryu Suzuki

A magnificent recent story, which I discovered today thanks to a comments thread at Crooked Timber, is Daryl Gregory's Second Person, Present Tense, published in Asimov's in 2005. About hindering or disabling the narrative process of self, about how this can be a goal of drug use or of meditation. (Can't guarantee that link will always work -- his web site says the story will be readable online "for a limited time" but it looks like that was written a while ago. Update -- The link broke, Asimov's took the story down. The link is now pointing to a short piece about Gregory's story, at bestsciencefictionstories.com.)

I fell in love with the story from the moment of reading the epigraph above, which I've never seen before but have just now added to my collection of header quotes for the site. And every sentence of the story moves me as strongly as this quote...

(Matt Dickerson calls my attention to Daniel Wegner's book The Illusion of Conscious Will, which looks to have a lot of bearing on Gregory's story.)

Gregory's notes on his story can be found on his home page. He recommends some sources for further reading on consciousness.

posted evening of November 24th, 2010: 1 response
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Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

The Year in Protest

Today, boston.com's Big Picture runs a gallery of photos of political demonstrations around the world in 2010; by turns inspiring, depressing, confusing, amusing... Thanks for the link, CK!

posted afternoon of November 23rd, 2010: Respond
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Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Christ in the Desert

1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

-- Luke 4 (NIV, 2010)

After he had walked he knew not how many hours, thirst and weariness were defeating him. He thought to himself that his destination could not be so far away now. He felt he was lost. The only thing that he could do was to let himself fall onto the sand. He sat in a lotus position, his little paper sack between his legs. As always in such difficult emotional times he commenced to pick his nose. He looked about himself: it was as if he were in the dead center of a circle composed of the horizon on all sides, a circle as if it had been traced by some celestial hand, perfect, round, endless. The silence, the solitude were of such divine purity, they moved him, they were tangible. He removed his sandals. He wanted to take communion with the land.

He sat there, listening, for a long time.

Evening’s flame lit the horizon. Red. Impressive. Overwhelming. It made him think of dusk, of Golgotha. His surroundings swam before his eyes into a great ring of fire. “The fiery ring of a lion-tamer,” he said. He sensed suddenly, and with divine clarity, that the lion-tamer was God; he, the lion, tamed. That his master was ordering him to jump. Yes; to jump. Highest glory to the Eternal Father!

He jumped.

He closed his eyes and jumped.

-- The art of resurrection ch. 4

The art of resurrection is reminding me a bit of reading The Gospel according to Jesus Christ (and I ought to track down Saramago's take on the temptation in the desert passage...) in the degree of sympathy each author expresses for his imperfect messiah.

Update: ...And also SFAM is getting in on the Messianic action.

posted evening of November 22nd, 2010: Respond
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(And, likely, no listeners)

Fans of the randomized mix will be happy to meet Scruss' pet robotic DJ. Every day a new autocast, randomly selected tunes from Scruss' vast library, with robotic introductions. Today's mix:

  1. Ohio Town Saved From Killer Bees by Hungry Vampire Bats — Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo
  2. Vorony - (Crows) — The Ukrainians
  3. Forever Dudes — Still Flyin'
  4. tcp d4 38 m3 irdial — The Conet Project
  5. The Chameleon — Flanders and Swann
  6. Farther Along — Elvis Presley
  7. Head — Julian Cope
  8. Josie and the Pussycats — Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly
  9. Desperado — Langley Schools Music Project
Get 'em while they're hot, there is no archiving. There is (natch) an RSS feed, though.

posted morning of November 22nd, 2010: 1 response
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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Appalachia, Lusitania

Three books I read this summer that I wanted to write about but didn't much of substance. Either of the first two would be great by itself, it was a real treat to read them both in succession.

  • Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld. This is Hinnefeld's second novel and seems like a real breakthrough. I liked In Hovering Flight a lot but it did not seem like a "masterpiece" the way I can picture talking about this book (once I get around to/figure out what to post about it).
  • Out of the Mountains by Meredith Sue Willis.
    I talk to Vashie on the phone and visit occasionally, but I never run her errands. I don't drive her to the doctor, and I don't pick up her groceries.

    Her daughter Ruth doesn't either, but Ruth is a classic agoraphobic, a direct result of having Vashie as a mother, in my opinion. Vashie was even worse as a mother than as a third grade teacher. We're all widows now, Vashie, Ruth, me, and my friend Ursula Rose, who was having the tag sale in front of her late husband's mansion the day Vashie came lurching toward us on her walker, pausing to rest when she thought we were watching.

    -- "The Scandalous Roy Critchfield"

    Such a clear, genuine voice.
  • The Elephant's Journey by José Saramago. This book seems almost the equal of Balthazar and Blimunda to me but I'm not sure how to back this up -- my plan was to write a review of it to submit to Quarterly Conversation or similar, but I got stuck on recommending it rather then writing about it. Really a sheer pleasure to read.

    posted evening of November 21st, 2010: Respond
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