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If we do not say all words, however absurd, we will never say the essential words.

José Saramago


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Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Work in Progress

So a few weeks ago I had an idea for the beginning of a story... I've been working on it for a little while and am still not totally sure where it's going; if any of you would like to take a look at it and tell me your thoughts about it, I'd be glad to have your feedback on where to go with it. I'm not sure what it means that I am revising and reworking this piece more heavily than I have worked with any other writing I've done that I can think of, besides maybe the review of Death with Interruptions; this is already the third or fourth revision of the story's beginning. The story is going to be called "Silent Rain" -- I'm trying to capture the psychological/linguistic conditions and sensations created by absence and by the perception of absence. Comments welcome.

posted morning of September 11th, 2010: 3 responses
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Monday, December first, 2008

Now in The Quarterly Conversation

My review of Saramago's Death with Interruptions is published in the December issue of Scott Esposito's literary journal, The Quarterly Conversation. Happy! I like having written an article and developed it to the point of publishability. Looking at it I see some minor quibbles with wording, edits I'd like to make; but it's done!

It's also not a rave review -- fairly negative indeed -- which gives me a sort of perverse pleasure. Like I'm glad to see I was able to write something other than a glowing review of Saramago, like it validates my having a critical eye, that I'm able to point out the faults of this book, and lends a kind of credibility to any rave reviews I write in the future. Which, well, time to go read some new books and look for a subject!

posted afternoon of December first, 2008: Respond
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Friday, September 19th, 2008

Atropos

The image on the cover of Death with Interruptions refers to this passage late in the book. The cellist is in the park with his dog, reading a handbook on entomology:

As you can see from the image in the book, the death's head moth, a nocturnal moth, whose latin name is acherontia atropos, bears on the back of its thorax a pattern resembling a human skull, it reaches a wingspan of twelve centimeters and is dark in color, its lower wings being yellow and black. And we call it atropos, that is, death. The musician doesn't know it, nor could he even have imagined such a possibility, but death is gazing, fascinated, over his shoulder, at the color photograph of the moth.

posted morning of September 19th, 2008: Respond
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Thursday, September 18th, 2008

The Cellist

I'm finding it kind of interesting that the man who eludes death (after she has gone back to work) in Death with Interruptions, is a cellist. Not sure exactly how yet. Here are two pieces of music mentioned in the novel:

J.S. Bach's Suite #6, opus 1012, is the music that death sees on the cellist's stand when she visits him; he later has the music with him at orchestra rehearsal, although he is "merely a cellist in the orchestra... not one of those famous concert artistes who travel the world... he's lucky that he occasionally gets a few bars to play solo." Here it is performed by Mstistlav Rostropovitch:

Chopin's Etude #9 in G♭, from opus 25: a short, jumpy piano tune which the cellist tells his colleagues is the only piece of music in which he can really see himself. Here it is performed by Son Yeol-Eum:

posted evening of September 18th, 2008: 2 responses
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Monday, September 15th, 2008

Doctrine

As so often happens, I find myself confused about church teaching. (It is not my church, but I always seem to understand Christianity less well than I think I do or think I should.) Near the beginning of Death with Interruptions, the prime minister gives a pompous and meaningless speech which ends with an invocation of God: "We will accept the body's immortality, he exclaimed in exalted tones, if that is the will of god, to whom we will always offer our grateful prayers for having chosen the good people of this country as his instrument."

A little bit later, the Cardinal phones him, quite angry at his implication that God would will the destruction of the body: "You admitted the possibility that the immortality of the body might be the will of god, and one doesn't need a doctorate in transcendental logic to realize that it comes down to the same thing."

I've got to be missing something here; everything I've taken away from reading about Christianity suggests that it's a fundamental tenet, that God wills the destruction of flesh in general and that God willed his own demise in the particular case of the crucifixion. So I'm kind of struggling here to figure out what Saramago has in mind.

Update: Thanks to correspondence with badger and his friend Bill, I am starting to see the error of my ways. Bill identifies my statement that "God wills the destruction of flesh in general and that God willed his own demise in the particular case of the crucifixion" as Gnostic doctrine, not Christian. I think I'm fundamentally confused about the nature of death in Christian thinking -- I was building off the statement that "to dust you shall return" to get that God was willing the destruction of flesh; but apparently the doctrine of eventual Reincarnation means that the flesh is not destroyed. (I thought when the Cardinal said "without death there can be no resurrection" that he was referring to Christ's resurrection but now it seems like he was talking about the end-times resurrection of the faithful, something that was totally slipping my mind before.) Bill also notes that "Knowing Saramago, though, he's not above having ecclesiastical figures spout nonsense."

posted evening of September 15th, 2008: Respond
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Saramago is my favorite living author

Guess what the mailman just dropped through the hole in my front door? It is José Saramago's newly* translated Death with Interruptions. Happy!

I have been reading a couple of posts over the last few days where people name D.F. Wallace as their favorite (sadly no longer) living author, which sort of thing always makes me wonder whether I have an identifiable favorite; and I think right at the moment, the answer is clearly yes, and that my favorite living author is Saramago. My tastes change of course; I had never even read any Saramago before last winter, so he is a recently acquired favorite. Perhaps this time next year I will have found a new fad. But for the moment I feel pretty strongly about specifying him as the living writer who speaks most directly to me.

Before I even open the covers: this is a beautiful volume. Love the black field, the ghostly moth.

The epigraph is from Wittgenstein; I don't know where it is taken from and Google is not helping me, presumably because of translation issues:

If, for example, you were to think more deeply about death, it would be truly strange if, in so doing, you did not encounter new images, new linguistic fields.
This is making me flash on the discussion of Wallace over the past few days, but possibly just because I've got Wallace on the brain...

There is another epigraph, from the Book of Predictions: "We will know less and less what it means to be human." I'm not sure if this is a reference to The Book of Predictions published in 1980 (which I've never heard of before just now), or something else, perhaps something internal to the story. In any case it sounds like a valid prediction.

Well it's getting to be a long post about a book which I have not even started reading. I will close with the opening sentence of the story:

The following day, no one died.

*I actually think it was translated about 6 months ago and published in the UK, under the title Death at Intervals; but it is just this week available in the US. I'm assuming the two editions must be pretty similar outside the titles.

posted evening of September 15th, 2008: 3 responses
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Monday, September 8th, 2008

Can Literature Save Your Life?

Not as a medicine, but it is one of the richest springs from which the spirit can drink. Perhaps it can't do great things for the body, but the soul needs literature like the mouth needs bread.
Literature is fortunately to hand -- Saramago has published a new book! The title is The Elephant's Journey; it is the story of the elephant Solomon, who in the 1500's travelled from Lisbon to Vienna. (This is what the article says; I'm presuming before that, he had also been transported from northern Africa to Lisbon.) It is not translated yet. And I have yet to read his most recently translated book, Death With Interruptions, about the problems of immortality.

Saramago is also in the news calling for Spain and Portugal to unite in a single nation under the name Iberia. Not sure what to make of this.

posted evening of September 8th, 2008: Respond
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