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Jeremy's journal

Finding a way to talk about the reading experience is, I’ve realised, the greatest pleasure of writing; where it ends is of no importance.

Stephen Mitchelmore

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Thursday, March 31st, 2011

🦋 Portraiture

Eddie Fitzgerald has a funny site. I'm never quite sure what to make of Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner, beyond that Eddie has a wonderful eye for faces, for photos and drawings of faces. Today's post is no exception to the rule -- a bunch of great images tied together with a thread that I don't quite get.

posted evening of March 31st, 2011: Respond
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🦋 From Tromsø down to Christiansand*

Slicing Up Eyeballs reports that another new Norwegian disc is coming our way from Robyn Hitchock. (or possibly from the Venus 3? They do not say.) One track is available for listening now! (And another one!) Another track is on the soundtrack of a movie coming out next month! Anticipation...

Update: The record will be coming out next weekend and will feature 8 new songs, a re-recording of "Raining Twilight Coast," and a Norwegian-language recording of "Goodnight Oslo."

*(Note: I had never actually bothered to look at a map and see what this lyric means. Tromsø is at the very top of Norway, inside the arctic circle; Christiansand is on the southern tip of Scandinavia.)

posted evening of March 31st, 2011: Respond
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Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

🦋 High Points

100 Years of Solitude is a pretty engaging book overall. What is really making the reading experience work for me though, what I'm thinking of as the high points, is the 2-to-5-page narrative sections told in long, quickly flowing paragraphs, anecdotes from Macondo's history. The journey leading up to the founding of the village was one such portion, another is the epidemic of insomniac amnesia which ends when Melquíades returns to the village. It would be worth while to compile a list of these passages, they seem like the heart of the story to me but I'm not really sure what proportion of the book they make up. It is impossible to stop reading in the middle of one of these passages. Very difficult to quote from them, too -- I want to pick something from the insomnia passage which will communicate its feeling, but I can't quote one sentence without everything around it -- the passage is atomic in a way. Its impact lies in the flow of narrative from image to image rather than in any particular image. Well maybe this: Úrsula has been running a business selling candies shaped like little animals; these animals are how the plague of insomnia is eventually transmitted from the Buendía family to the rest of the village --

Children and adults sucked happily on the delicious little green roosters of insomnia, the exquisite rosy fish of insomnia, the tender little golden horses of insomnia, and when the sun rose on Monday, the whole village was still awake.
And, and look at this: Aureliano and his father have been fighting the amnesia by labeling everything in the village with its name and function -- "This is a cow. One must milk it every morning, and must warm the milk and mix it with coffee to make café con leche." A sign in the middle of town states "God exists." After months of this, when Melquíades (as yet unidentified -- no one remembers who he is) returns,
José Arcadio Buendía found him seated in the hall, fanning himself with a worn black hat, compassionate and attentive, reading the notes taped to the walls.

posted evening of March 30th, 2011: 2 responses
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Monday, March 28th, 2011

At the behest of the Wisconsin IWW, Eric Drooker has created posters calling, in a wide variety of languages, for a general strike.

posted evening of March 28th, 2011: Respond
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🦋 Street Prosthesis

Yeah, so, just two pictures that I thought go nicely together. One is the work of Scott Beseler from the streets of Covington, Kentucky; the other is one of Stanley's C-ville finds.

posted evening of March 28th, 2011: Respond
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Sunday, March 27th, 2011

🦋 Cien años de incesto

I now believe that what most interested me in the novel, was to tell the story of a family obsessed by incest.

— Gabriel García Márquez
Interview with Claude Couffon, 1968

Incest is all over the place in 100 Years of Solitude, practically every narrative block contains an incestuous relationship or one that hints at incestuous desires. I wonder what it is doing, what it is signifying? I've always sort of thought of this novel as being about the history of Colombia and about the Spanish conquest of Latin America; I'm not sure what role incest (or inbreeding, or incest and inbreeding as metaphor) plays there. Likely, of course, not a simple metaphor...

It was interesting to watch Máncora last night, a recent Peruvian film about (among other things) an incestuous relationship, and have García Márquez in the back of my mind while I was watching it. Not much similarity at all between the two works or between the uses of incest in the two works, but fun to think about how the two different authors are using this device for their own ends. Looks like it's a bit of a central theme for this filmmaker, Ricardo de Montreuil; his other movie is called My Brother's Wife.

(...and now all of a sudden I am thinking about Ada...)

posted evening of March 27th, 2011: Respond
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🦋 Jacob's Travels: Bad Faith in Genesis

So after some further reading and reflection, I'm not so convinced that José Arcadio Buendía's dream at Macondo is intended as a reference to Jacob's dream at Beth-el... There doesn't really seem to be enough parallels between the two stories to give the reference any weight or any explanatory power. I got the idea from a footnote in the edition of Cien Años de Soledad that I'm reading (ed. Jacques Joset, 2003). Overall the footnotes in this edition seem pretty weak -- or that is to say, there are just unnecessarily many of them. The footnote references Michael Palencia-Roth's book Gabriel García Márquez: La línea, el círculo y las metamorfosis del mito -- who knows, maybe a convincing case for the reference is made there.

I am glad to have seen the note though, since it led me to reread the story of Jacob (Genesis 27 - 35, roughly), a story which I had by and large forgotten, in the kjv translation and in Crumb's illustrated version, and because I found Blake's painting of Jacob's Ladder -- highly productive weekend research! Reading about Jacob's travels back and forth across what would one day be the Holy Land, I felt distressed -- and remembered feeling this same distress in years past -- by the sheer universality of bad faith in the characters' dealings with one another; a bad faith that seems to me to be most pronounced among those who are identified as blessed by God. Just to take a few of the most brazen, least sympathetic instances --

  • (This happens in an earlier chapter, but very much setting the tone for the stories to come) Isaac tells the Philistines, when he and Rebekah are staying with them, that Rebekah is his sister rather than his wife, apparently in the expectation that they will rape her but will not molest him. When this deception is exposed, Abimelech shows himself to be just and honorable, forbidding his subjects from troubling either Isaac or his wife. What is this doing in the Hebrew people's national mythology?
  • Jacob, at his mother Rebekah's urging, deceives Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for his brother Esau. (This scene strikes me as pretty comical -- why should the lord's blessing be such a limited resource? Is a blessing bestowed under false pretenses even theologically binding?)
  • Rebekah deceives Isaac into thinking she is concerned about the lack of non-Caananite brides for Jacob locally, so that Isaac will send Jacob away and he'll be safe from Esau's vengeance.
  • Laban deceives Jacob by sending in Leah in place of Rachel on their wedding night. (And again I am befuddled -- what is Rachel's take on this? Leah years later accuses Rachel of stealing her husband, but that does not seem to be consistent with the rest of the narrative.)
  • Jacob and Laban deceive one another many times over in the matters of what Jacob will be paid and how Laban's flocks will be managed.
Etc. -- it just goes on and on. These characters seem to have no uplifting or redeeming qualities aside from their association with the Creator. What the deceptions all seem to have in common is their being inspired by fear and/or greed; I have to wonder what is the function of a national mythology showing its protagonists as being motivated primarily by fear and greed. (And note -- sure lots of national mythologies have deceitful trickster gods in them; but my untutored impression is that when e.g. Anansi deceives someone, it is done in good humor and with a sort of Koanic effect. I don't see that kind of thing operating here.)

posted afternoon of March 27th, 2011: 1 response
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🦋 Labor history: something I'm wondering about

I read a lot this past week about the fire at Triangle Shirtwaist Factory -- and this is a piece of American history that I consider part of common knowledge, something that people (taking myself as an example) are likely to know about without their having any detailed familiarity with the history of the labor movement in the US. (And indeed I did not know a crucial bit of this piece of history until this week, namely that two years prior to the fire, the Triangle company had successfully broken an effort by its workers to unionize.) Of course it is dangerous to extrapolate from my own experience and knowledge to that of people around me. But I want to pursue this for a minute.

Lessie Jo Frazier talks in Salt in the Sand about the process of institutional memory in Chile, whereby the massacre at St. Mary's School of Iquique is remembered as a totem, as a way of forgetting similar repressive events in the history of Chile's labor movement. This is making me wonder if there's a similar process in place here in the US, whereby one factory fire stands in for a whole class of events, a whole period of history, and what memories are lost in this process, what distortions are introduced. I ultimately don't have much to say about this -- I am not a historian and as I say am extrapolating totally from my own experience -- but thought it might be useful to throw out there.

posted morning of March 27th, 2011: Respond
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Friday, March 25th, 2011

🦋 Labor History: centennial, current

At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes--

—Robert Pinsky, Shirt

Take a moment to commemorate the passing of 146 garment workers in a factory in Greenwitch Village one hundred years ago today. Read Sec'y Solis' observations about what this anniversary means for exploited workers today. And take some time to read about the intimidation critics of the Republican agenda are facing in Wisconsin, and about the organizational clout behind that agenda.

posted evening of March 25th, 2011: Respond
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Thursday, March 24th, 2011

🦋 Founding Macondo: Jacob's Dream

Some text! Let's look at two longish quotes.

10And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13And, behold, the lord stood above it, and said, I am the lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

16And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 17And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 18And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.

-- Genesis 28 (kjv)

—Está bien, Prudencio —le dijo—. Nos iremos de este pueblo, lo más lejos que podamos, y no regresaremos jamás. Ahora vete tranquilo.

Fue así como emprendieron la travesía de la sierra. Varios amigos de José Arcadio Buendía, jóvenes como él, embullados con la aventura, desmantelaron sus casas y cargaron con sus mujeres y sus hijos hacia la tierra que nadie les había prometido. ... Una noche, después de varios meses de andar perdidos por entre los pantanos, lejos ya de los últimos indígenas que encontraron en el camino, acamparon a la orilla de un río pedregoso cuyas aguas parecían un torrente de vidrio helado. Años después, durante la segunda guerra civil, el coronel Aureliano Buendía trató de hacer aquella misma ruta para tomarse a Riohacha por sorpresa, y a los seis días de viaje comprendió que era una locura. Sin embargo, la noche en que acamparon junto al río, las huestes de su padre tenían un aspecto de náufragos sin escapatoria, pero su número había aumentado durante la travesía y todos estaban dispuestos (y lo consiguieron)* a morirse de viejos. José Arcadio Buendía soñó esa noche que en aquel lugar se levantaba una ciudad ruidosa con casas de paredes de espejo. Preguntó qué ciudad era aquella, y le contestaron con un nombre que nunca había oído, que no tenía significado alguno, pero que tuvo en el sueño una resonancia sobrenatural: Macondo.

—It's OK, Prudencio —he said—. We'll leave this town, we'll go as far away as we can, we'll never come back. You can rest easy.

And this was how they began their crossing of the mountain. Several friends of José Arcadio Buendía, young men like him, with a taste for adventure, packed up their households and set out with their wives and their kids for the land which no-one had promised them. ... One night, after months of wandering through the marshes with no bearings, far beyond the last Indians they had met in their travels, they camped on the gravely bank of a river whose waters had the aspect of a torrent of frozen glass. Years later, during the second civil war, Colonel Aureliano Buendía would attempt to take the same route, in order to attack Riohacha by surprise; after six days of travel he saw that it was madness. On the night when they camped by the river, his father's army looked like a band of castaways with no prospect of salvation -- but nevertheless their numbers had increased during the crossing; and everyone there was meaning to die of old age. (They succeeded in this goal.) José Arcadio Buendía dreamt that night that on this spot a city was being erected, an obstreperous city, a city with walls of mirrors. He asked what city this was, and the reply was a name which he had never heard, which had no significance whatever, but which in the dream, took on a supernatural resonance: Macondo.

Cien años de soledad, Chapter 2

And a reward, for reading all that text: Here is Alison Kraus singing about (another) Jacob's Dream.

* I am not sure what this means. Gregory Rabassa renders it literally in his translation, "and they succeeded"; but it does not mean anything in English. I am leaving it out of my translation. My best guess is that it means some of the travellers *did* die of exhaustion; but no mention of this is made elsewhere, and it seems like it would be a strange thing to throw in with no specifics. ... Got it! (Maybe) -- I think I am misreading this. I wanted "todos estaban dispuestos a morirse de viejos" to mean, "they were ready to drop dead of exhaustion" so I ignored the meaning of the words; viejos is old age, not exhaustion. So estaban dispuestos means "they were ready/prepared" in the sense of what they were planning to do, not what they were about to do -- they meant to die of old age, not to die on the journey. "(and they succeeded)" -- i.e. they did die of old age, years later, not on the journey. I think Rabassa's translation is very unclear. I modified my translation above.

Update: Some further thinking about Jacob (and Macondo) here.

posted evening of March 24th, 2011: Respond
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