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Friday, July 11th, 2008

🦋 A dog knows when someone needs his company.

...And no sooner do I post about how glad I am to see the dog in this story, than I read a chapter narrated mostly from Found's point of view. It is very sweetly done, too.

Doubtless because he was still green in years, Found had not yet had time to gain clear, definitive, formed opinions on the importance or meaning of tears in the human being, however, considering that these liquid humors are frequently manifest in the strange soup of sentiment, reason and cruelty of which the said human being is made, he thought it might not be such a grave mistake to go over to his weeping mistress and gently place his head on her knees. ...From this moment on, Marta will love the dog Found as much as we know Cipriano already loves him.

posted evening of July 11th, 2008: Respond
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🦋 Found

Just a note: I'm so happy to see there is a dog as one of the characters in The Cave: the Dog of Tears was a huge piece of Blindness and of Seeing, and I'm glad to see Saramago including a dog in his cast here as well.

posted evening of July 11th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about José Saramago

🦋 Stock phrases

Saramago is very clearly conscious of what he is doing with our clichés, what I was talking about yesterday:

Authoritarian, paralyzing, circular, occasionally elliptical stock phrases, also jocularly referred to as nuggets of wisdom, are a malignant plague, one of the very worst ever to ravage the earth. We say to the confused, Know thyself, as if knowing yourself was not the fifth and most difficult of human arithmetical operations, we say to the apathetic, Where there's a will, there's a way, as if the brute realities of the world did not amuse themselves each day by turning that phrase on its head, we say to the indecisive, Begin at the beginning, as if beginning were the clearly visible point of a loosely wound thread and all we had to do was to keep pulling until we reached the other end, and as if, between the former and the latter, we had held in our hands a smooth, continuous thread with no knots to untie, no snarls to untangle, a complete impossibility in the life of a skein, or indeed, if we may be permitted one more stock phrase, in the skein of life.

He may be permitted one more. He uncovers the veins of meaning over which these phrases have calcified.

posted evening of July 11th, 2008: Respond
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🦋 The poet is a liar

I just found a interesting article by Margaret Jull Costa, who is Saramago's translator, on Translating Pessoa, with an exercise in translating a passage from his Book of Disquiet.

Fernando Pessoa is a 20th-Century Portuguese poet who assumed a number of different identities in his poetry and prose writing. Another interesting exercise is here: Thirteen ways of looking at "Autopsicografia".

posted morning of July 11th, 2008: 2 responses
➳ More posts about Fernando Pessoa

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

🦋 Page-turner

That was when Cipriano Algor said, Don't worry, we'll get there on time, I'm not worried, replied his son-in-law, only just managing to conceal his anxiety, Of course you're not, but you know what I mean, said Cipriano Algor. ...

Cipriano Algor started up the van. He had got distracted by the buildings under demolition and now wanted to make up for lost time, a ridiculous expression if ever there was one, an absurd idiom with which we hope to disguise the harsh fact that no time once lost can ever be made up or recovered, as if we believed, contrary to this evident truth, that the time we thought forever lost might, after all, have decided to hang back and wait, with the patience of one who has all the time in the world, for us to notice its absence.

The Cave has been sitting on my shelf for a little while now begging to be read; finally this afternoon I heeded its call and brought it along, on the train ride to the city. (I met Sylvia and Ellen to listen to Deedee reading some wonderful, funny memoirs.)

Saramago's prose pulls me along like nothing else -- the onrush of words won't let me go. It reminds me a little of Gaddis' style, except I think Saramago does it much more successfully than Gaddis. The length of sentences forces you as a reader to keep more context in mind at any moment; but it is not a brute-force thing. The timing is just exquisite, the way each sentence moves through phases: building, droning, falling, building, and the sudden surprising punch of the period. (This is of course partly a testament to the abilities of the translator, Margaret Jull Costa.)

Also: I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but I'm really taken with Saramago's ability to transform clichéed adages into profound, surprising truths, simply by exploring their implications.

posted evening of July 10th, 2008: Respond

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

🦋 Fine Young Cannibals

Tonight Ellen and I watched Tin Men. This movie came out when I was 17 -- my memory of it is of it being the first movie where I really noticed the camerawork and composition of the frame. And yes, the visual effect of the movie is pretty stunning; and the characters are even more despicable than I remembered. I wasn't so persuaded, this time around, by Dreyfuss' character's growth, which I expect appealed to me as an adolescent. Levinson should totally film Something Happened, and maybe with Dreyfuss as Slocum. Or maybe the moment has passed.

What really tied the movie together for me was the soundtrack. My only memory of Fine Young Cannibals is of the "She Drives Me Crazy" video. But here they were -- exactly appropriate for this movie. The nightclub scene where they are singing "One Good Thing", one of the highlights of the movie.

I meant to say: The Fine Young Cannibals make me think about NickS's recent post about Squeeze, though I'm not sure how much objective similarity there is between the two bands. FYC rocks way harder IMO.

posted evening of July 9th, 2008: Respond
➳ More posts about movie soundtracks

Monday, July 7th, 2008

🦋 Something to check

My Name is Red is set in 1591 -- I am reading Pamuk's essay on "Bellini and the East," from Other Colors, and find out about Bellini's portrait of Sultan Mehmet II, dated 1480. I don't remember any specific reference to this painting in My Name is Red, but I am sure now that there must have been some -- I must have passed over it as something unfamiliar, not bothered to look it up.

Pamuk says,

The portrait has spawned so many copies, variations, and adaptations, and the reproductions made from these assorted images have gone on to adorn so many textbooks, book covers, newspapers, posters, banknotes, stamps, educational posters, and comic books, that there cannot be a literate Turk who has not seen it hundreds if not thousands of times.
It seems logical that this painting would have been an important element of the debate about artistic style and representation in the Ottoman empire, a century after it was painted. I should keep an eye out for this next time I read the book.

(I see that with this entry, Pamuk becomes the first author about whom I've written 100 posts. Not exactly sure what to make of that, beyond that I'm totally gaga about his writing.)

posted morning of July 7th, 2008: Respond
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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
➳ More posts about Orhan Pamuk

🦋 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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