Feb 9 2010

Sexy Crucifixion

Author: Henry Miller.

Title: Rosy Crucifixion: Sexus Nexus Plexus

Relatively early on in this autobiographical work, Henry Miller declares that he is too self-conscious to be writer.  “I don’t know anything about writing yet.  I’m too self-conscious, I guess.”

Strange words in an anything-but self-conscious novel.  In fact, if there were one defining quality to Mr. Miller’s writing, it would have to be the opposite of that—a sort of self-consciouslessness.  For starters, Mr. Miller is overtly honest—almost painfully rosy_crucifixion_reviewso—about his sexual escapades.  He tells us how he made love to a woman married to a paralyzed man in a public bathroom; about having sex with his wife only after he tells her he’s leaving her; how he joined in in orgies.  He tells us of the sores on his penis and how he was turned on by his lover’s story about the time she was raped.  He tells us all this in such graphic detail that his publisher was threatened with jail time the year the first installment came out and the novel itself was banned in Paris for some time.

Although his raunchy stories are certainly the most obvious manifestation of Mr. Miller’s self-consciouslessness, they are by no means the extent of it.  In other words, he doesn’t hold back elsewhere either.  He goes on rants for pages explaining how to borrow money from friends and telling us that, in borrowing money, he is doing his friends a favor.  He revels in the fact that he is unable to hold down a job and he unabashedly allows his lover, Mona, to support him.  There is also something honest about how he never mentions his daughter’s name, choosing instead to refer to her as “the child.”  He does not pretend to be a father.

Nor is this aura of self-consciouslessness confined to his story-telling; the writing itself is so mercilessly self-consciousless that you’d be hard pressed not to find a typo.  Maybe it’s just the edition I have, but the whole thing has a sense that it hasn’t even been read over once by anyone, let alone an editor.  If an editor was involved, he should be fired immediately.  And then summarily shot.  Still, the typos somehow work—they create a sense that it’s all something rambling, raw and honest.

Yes, strangely, there’s something romantic about it all.

From the opening lines, we see Mr. Miller as a hopeless romantic, falling madly in love with a woman (“I felt thoroughly refreshed, pure at heart, and obsessed with one idea—to have her at any cost.  Walking through the park I debated what sort of flowers to send…”) only to learn moments later that he is already married (“I telephoned my wife that I would not be home for dinner.  She greeted the announcement in her usual disgusted way, as though she expected nothing more of me than disappointments and postponements.  ‘Choke on it, you bitch,’ I thought.”).  The whole dichotomy of this moment has a strange texture to it—the same texture that pervades the work as a whole.  His declaration of love is plain, no attempted justification for his feelings, no remorse in betraying his wife.  Nothing.  Just naked declarations, as if love alone were justification enough.

In a way, it’s uncomfortable to find such a life romantic.  It gives one pause to consider why.

On one level, there’s a sadness to his story.  By novel’s end, the world has flipped on Mr. Miller.  In the beginning, it was him who fucked his wife.  Figuratively, by leaving her.  And then, to compound things, literally.  In the end, it’s his woman—Mona—who screws him.  This time, figuratively and no longer literally.  And even if we look past all those clues that she is a prostitute—which Mr. Miller does quite easily, fooling himself, but not us—we still see that she takes on a female lover, Anastasia, while keeping Mr. Miller around. (From this, I imagine, the crucifixion part—a trinity, with Mr. Miller the one on the cross.)  Put another way, she Henry Millers Henry Miller.

But that Mr. Miller gets dished some poetic justice isn’t enough to explain my feelings toward him—you see, it wasn’t so much that I felt sorry for Mr. Miller; rather, somewhere among his declarations of love, and his borrowing of money, and loafing around, there was a respect there, too, and a romance, a sort of human nobility.

So the question I struggled with was how can you feel these things about a guy who gets into the type of shit Mr. Miller gets into?

Here’s the thing—amidst it all, Mr. Miller is unwaveringly honest.  He holds nothing back and offers no justification.  He simply tells us his life, his feelings.  There is no attempt to control how we see him.  And it is because of that complete honesty that we are allowed to see him as something exceedingly rare—uniquely human.

In the end, the irony is that it is his acts, as despicable as they may be, that make him a good person.  It is our being normative that is unsettling; his honesty, if not to himself then at least to us, is freeing.

But, ultimately, as with any good work that’s not self-censoring, his book does not care about what we feel, just as it does not care about how he feels.  In the same breath that he laments being too self conscious to be a writer, he tells us of his life’s dream: “What I want is to open up.  I want to know what’s inside me.  I want everybody to open up.  I’m like an imbecile with a can-opener in his hand, wondering where to begin—to open up the earth.  I know that underneath the mess everything is marvelous.  I’m sure of it.”

Somewhere along the road Henry Miller achieved what Henry Miller wanted to.  He stopped being self-conscious; he started being a writer.  And then he wrote.  He wrote the Rosy Crucifixion and he wrote openly and honestly and fiercely and because of that he opens up himself and human nature and everything else.

And in the end, he was right.  There is something marvelous underneath all that mess.

Babble on.

Jan 20 2010

Infinite Joke

Author: David Foster Wallace

Title: Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace has done something really absurd.

Really, really absurd.

Let’s start by reviewing his cast.  A child tennis-star protégé who moonlights as a walking dictionary with a mouthful of dip.  Infinite_jest_review A father who killed himself by carving out a head hole in a microwave.  An older brother who went from star tennis player to expert NFL punter simply because he figured out how to lob balls.  A woman so beautiful that she has no choice but wear a veil.  A conglomeration of spies in wheelchairs fighting equally deadly spies who dress as women.  A retarded, macrophalac homododontic who stands and walks at a 45° angle.  To name just a few.

The premise, of course, as absurd as its characters.  A video that is so wildly entertaining that it is impossible to turn off once viewed.  Its viewers enter some sort of catatonic state instantly.  Kind of akin to the Matrix.

Here’s the thing–in terms of absurdity,that’s all small potatoes.

The big potato?

Somehow DF-Dub has found a way to reach out of his book (and now, just as impressively but more tragically, out of his grave) to grab you and make you as absurd as everything else.

You see, for a truly a complete list of the dramatis personae in Infinite Jest, you must add yourself.  The reader.

Our description:  A man/boy/woman/girl sitting there with a massive book opened on his/her lap, reading.  Page after page.  1,100 pages in all.  338 footnotes.  Only the occasional paragraph break.  Sentences that run on for, up to, pages.  Stupid big words, like “macrophalac” and “homodontic.”  Medical jargon, too.  We wade through it all.

Yes, you smile at the retarded kid in the novel.  Or the man dressed like a woman who is a deadly spy or the man who always stands northeast of everyone.  Or Hal, a teenager who comes up with words you’ve never heard of, in between pot hits.  You are right, it’s all very absurd.

But so are you.

I can imagine it easily enough.  Him sitting on his bed.  Knowing we’re all out there, patiently wading through his text—reading, parsing, debating, blogging.  Absurdly so.  Absurdly absurdly so.  Yes, he’s out there somewhere.  Sitting on his bed.  Smoking his pipe.  Smiling lovingly.  Maybe laughing now again.

In the end, the joke’s on us.

Don’t believe me?

Maybe you’ll believe the author.

It is, after all, all very self-conscious.  Undoubtedly so.  His title is a sly not-so-sly wink to us–the reader.  A recognition at the length of the book.   An acknowledgment that the book is absurdly long.  A wink that tells us, yes, it’s all one giant–infinite, in fact–jest.

Get it?

Babble on.

Nov 23 2009

Zen & Art of Self Love

The author: Robert Pirsig.

The book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Let me start by apologizing to his followers.  Mainly because his can beat mine up.  You see, his ride motorcycles; and mine—well, they don’t really exist.  And if they did, they wouldn’t ride bikes.  They’d surf the web.  And read books.  And know HTML code.

Nonetheless, here goes.review-zen-and-motorcycle-maintenance

Dear, loyal followers (his, not mine), I’m sorry.  You’ve been duped.

Here’s the deal with this motorcycle book.  There’s this super genius guy who is consumed by his quest to discover the meaning of life—in fact, so consumed by it, that he transcends normal society, ignoring family and friends and decorum, and he becomes isolated and alone—but because this guy’s so smart, he finds it.   Some abstract notion called Quality.  Which transcends stuff.  Religion.  Truth.  Time.  Space.  Continuums.  Things of that ilk.

At core, the problem Mr. Pirsig faces with this book is how to tell this story when the main character is himself.  You see, polite society doesn’t allow you to call yourself a super-genius.  Jesus couldn’t have written the Bible.  So what’s an author to do?  Well, he comes up with a clever little device of becoming a schizophrenic.  He separates himself (the narrator) from himself (Phaedrus, the evil genius), thus empowering himself (the narrator) to say what he wants about the genius (Phaedrus).

Now that he has created a separate persona he has no problem telling us how smart this guy (aka, himself) is.  He tells us that that this guy has a super IQ; that his discovery of Quality is akin to Copernicus’s revolution.  He tells us that he is smarter than college professors and Albert Einstein and therefore we are left to deduce through some sort of transitive process, that he’s also smarter than us, the reader. Self-aggrandizing at it’s best.

The thing is he’s not really schizophrenic (although, technically—at least according to Wikipedia—he is).  Still, c’mon.  He admits as much in his new introduction.  The one that comes with the book now.  He tells us that Phaedrus and he are one and the same.

So, that was my first problem with Mr. Pirsig—the self-aggrandizing rubbed me the wrong way.  But that shit’s kind of superficial.  Alone, it’s not enough for me to rain on everyone’s parade.  Perhaps I could’ve forgiven him for that if he had in fact discovered the meaning of life.  Perhaps.

The real problem is he lies to us.  You see, he’s not that smart (although again, according to Wikipedia, he is… IQ, a whopping 170).  But, in fact, the story itself blows his own cover.  He screws up.  He tells us the word phaedrus means “wolf.”  It turns out it doesn’t.  I know, I know, big whoop.  Wrong.  That single fact (not a fact), now glossed over in that new foreword I mentioned as a “minor” mistake, is anything but.  That realization that that word doesn’t mean “wolf” does to the story what Phaedrus’s theory of “Quality” does to his life; it unravels it.  Because it’s not just Mr. Pirsig’s mea culpa; it is Phaedrus’s too.  In one of those final scenes, Phaedrus—having become a student to show us all the banality of academia—beats his professor in some antiquated argument about Aristotle or Plato or Socrates or some other Greek dude, which all arises out of the meaning of the word, phaedrus (indeed, this confrontation is so important to the story that its how he gets his name).  But you see the problem now?  Phaedrus—and not the fallible Mr. Pirsig—got it wrong.  The trouble comes if you keep pulling on that thread.  If Phaedrus is not bulldozing professors, maybe his other arguments aren’t quite as infallible as we thought.  Once you know that everything this guy is putting us through may be—not is, but may be—a crock of complete shit, then we have a problem, Houston.  You have no choice but to take a break from the kool-aid train and maybe then we realize that this Quality notion thing may not be all it’s cracked up to be.  The book is filled with so many bold assertions (e.g., “logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom”) it’s easy to get caught up in them; until you realize they’re just assertions.  Supported only by the fact that Phaedrus is smarter than us.  Than not even supported by that.  The irony is that the very example that the narrator uses to show that Phaedrus was smarter than everyone, professors included, is exactly what shows he might not be.  That’s the moment we learn (please, I beg of you, close your eyes if you’re under the age of 8 ) there’s no Santa Claus.  Or Easter Bunny.  Or Quality.

So at core this motorcycle books is just some guy making wild assertions about himself, saying that he’s smart, smarter than professors and philosophers, and Albert Einstein—and you, too.  It’d be one thing if it were a debate; but rather it is presented to us as absolute truth and that, my followers, is absolute shit.

Take two.

I feel bad.  That is how I felt.

Then I learned that the author’s son died.  It says so right there in the afterward.  I didn’t have to read much.  His son.  The son that rode on the back of his bike.  So let me offer a kinder way, a more tragic way, of experiencing this book.  Maybe the creation of the split personality isn’t a tool to praise himself; instead, let’s pretend it’s born out of guilt for not being a good enough father.  It is not the need to say, look at me, I’m so smart, that splits his mind; rather, it’s his son’s heartbreaking question toward the end of the book, why aren’t you more fun, dad?  Dad, why do I hate you? After all, despite the father’s attempt to make this book about himself, at core what this is is a story about a father and his son and their relationship.  It is a story about that, but the narrator makes it about himself—he gives no name to his wife and tells little of his son aside from present interjections or small little shortcomings; he chooses rather to obsess himself with himself.  And there is guilt in that; there must be.  And there is guilt in how his son looks to him.  And there is guilt in that his son dies before him.

Mr. Pirsig spends a good chunk of the book seemingly obsessed with his notion of the Quality; there is a not-too-subtle concern that that notion becomes all consuming, that Phaedrus and the narrator cannot co-exist because to obsess with Quality means you are consumed by it.  But maybe that’s not quite right.  Maybe it was the pain of fatherhood, the loss of his son—even before he died—that made it easier for Mr. Pirsig to split into two people.  Otherwise, the guilt—and not the Quality—would be what consumed him.

Just a thought.

Babble on.

Nov 9 2009

Maugham’s Sad Razor

The author: W. Somerset Maugham.

The book: The Razor’s Edge.

so here’s what i think.  razor’s edge is an absolute depressing tragedy.  despite the narrator’s best efforts to trick us into thinking otherwise.  dont you dare buy into that happiness nonsense.RazorsEdgeReview

ok.  so here we go.  we all get that the narrator sets up elliot (socialite) and larry (loafer) as foils–yes, please look that word up if you do not live and breathe it–one shows us the patheticness of trying nothing more than to be part of society; the other shows the rewards of being independent from it.  these guys are quite clearly opposites, and are put next to each other to make a point.

no, no, no, no.

they are the same.  and meet the same fate.  and everything is miserable.  for everyone.

ok.  so here we go.  and the story ends (eyes closed, if you haven’t read), “for all the persons with whom i have been concerned got what they wanted: elliot social eminence; isabel an assured position backed by a substantial fortune in an active and cultured community; gray a steady and lucrative job; suzanne rouvier security; sophie death; and larry happiness.”  so it is a happy story with a happy end and the characters are all happy and we should be happy, too.  how do we know?  because the narrator tells us: “i had written nothing more or less than a success story . . . and we the public in our heart of hearts all like a success story.”

dont.  trust.  that.  shit.  au contraire, as the little frenchies from the story would say.  dogmeat, as i would say.

imho, the narrator makes it quite clear that he thinks elliot’s values or life or goals or perspective or whatever you call it are silly, and thinks that we should too and we should judge and judge hard.  now to the text.  onward to that breach.  from the chapter where elliot dies.  the narrator calls him pathetic at least 3 times.  and the absurdity that all elliot can think of is getting that invite to the stupid party is clear.  same with being dressed in his little outfit.  and then elliot dies and the last words he says are that the hostess was a bitch and, yes, these words are silly and not the thoughts of the dying or the happy or the meaningfulled (sic).  so, is that really a success story?  um, he is bitter and angry and sad and dead.  ah, I see.  a success story.  yes, let’s take the narrator’s conclusion at face value.

now, imho, elliot is larry, despite narrator’s faux jk’ing that one leads a more fulfilling life when one leads an independent life.  the description of elliot on his deathbed is the same as the description of larry when he gets back from india.  skinny.  gaunt.  hollow eyes.  coincidence?  I guess it’s amateur hour.

now, back to the list and the ending.  let’s look at that list.  imho (again), every characters’ fate in that list is miserable.  sophie gets death.  no, that’s a great prize.  suzanne rouvier, the chick who has lived life as a muse to artists, gets to settle down with a man who is not an artist and who the narrator told us that she was not love in with.  she is passion with arms and legs and hair; but her life is passionless.  but at least she has security.  no, that’s great too.  let’s rejoice.  isabel gets an assured position?  yes, one without the love of her life where she goes around killing people.  that’s not depressing or anything.  gray, a job?  oh boy, another big winner.  we saw how having a job did him great earlier.  oh wait, he was destroyed by it.

so, what does it mean, imho (last time), that larry’s included in this list?  to me, it means that he is no different than the other characters, he too is a big winner.  read: his fate is the same empty, hollow, dead fate as everyone else in this list and that his life is no different than theirs.  he is elliot.  skinny.  gaunt.  hollow eyes.

oh, woe.  what is to come of me?  and you, and you, and you?  what a sad, sad book.

i will now find the gun stored in the house and put a hole in my head.  locks beware and be wared.

a one man book club.

that is all.  this is all courtesy of not working.  brought to you by unemployment.  thank you for your time.

your friend, the loafer,

babble on.

Oct 7 2009

Turkeys & Swans

The author: Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

The title: The Black Swan.

Forget swans; the guy’s a turkey.  He’s smarter than me—no, than I am?—but he’s still a fucking turkey.

Since I’d probably lose an intellect to intellect battle (although, apparently, according to him, even that’s uncertain), I’ll focus on that.  That’s something I can hang with him on.

So the guy gets on a flight and is sitting in first class.  Page 22 of his book.  He’s sitting there,blackswan-review right, spending his time tearing into the woman next to him.  Poor woman.  Yes, she’s “dripping” with gold jewelry and crunching on nuts nonstop as part of her ridiculous “low-carb diet”; she only drinks Evian (the horror!) and she has the nerve to read the European version of the WSJ.  That woman!  But get this.  This is what’s worse.  She kept trying to start a conversation with our man, Taleb. . . in broken French of all things because she saw him reading a book in French.  Her nerve.  How does our noble author respond to such outright gall.  A polite, I’m tired?  Maybe he tells her, I’m going to sleep.  A smile and a short answer indicating he’s not interested in speaking to her.  No!  He finds it funny to tell her that he’s a limousine driver and an upper-end one at that and he smirks to himself, thinking that’ll teach this beast of a woman to start a conversation with him.  And so she’s quiet and he’s proud of himself.

Who here is the dickhead, I wonder.  The woman, self-conscious about her wait (no, weight) and her ability to communicate, or our beloved author.

Fine.  So he’s smarter than I am (me?).  And he has all these tricky stories about turkeys and stockbrokers.  But intelligence isn’t everything, right?  Doesn’t being nice count for something, too.

For what it’s worth, I (unempirically) agree with what he says.   He has this theory, you see.  Something about randomness and uncertainty.  His book in a story.  A turkey who eats the food a farmer provides him with will unknowingly think that the right thing to do will be to continue to eat from that hand until the day that that hand wrings its neck.  Randomly.  But what’s the turkey supposed to do?  He’s in a cage.  Still, there’s nothing that this Taleb guy hates more than the inability for people to see (and understand) that they cannot see (and understand) everything, that things are random, that we all suffer from cognitive biases.  The statistician who applies statistics to everyone but his own life.

Fast forward 5 pages from the airplane incident.  Noble Taleb is amidst one his diatribes, providing us with advice on how to deal with those who give us advice.  (Ivan the Terrible, pg. 27.)  Oh the irony here!  Giving advice on how to prevent someone from giving advice.  It is almost as if he fell victim to that which he rants about the most throughout his whole book—falling victim to the cognitive bias where you fail to see that rules that you apply to others fail to apply to your own live.  But he’s much too smart for that.

But the guy’s still a turkey.

Babble on.

Sep 28 2009

Real Men Arn’t Pussies

The Author: Celine.

The Title: Journey To The End Of The Night.

It’s not so bad.

Life, that is.

Though, based on the critics of this book, it certainly seems that the general consensus is it is.  The guy who wrote the afterward—at least in the edition I have—is quick to let us know that Celine “pisses on everything.”  According to this guy, hePicture 3 even pisses on the reader.  (“Just when you start to know where you are, Celine pisses you down another rathole, damn it!” (p. 449).)  And those little editorial blurbs agree.  Some dude on the back of the book named Alfred Kazin (who apparently won something called Truman Capote Lifetime Achievement award for literary criticism in 1966) calls Celine’s writing a “lunging live wire, crackling and wayward, full of danger.”

When I tried to buy this dumb book off Amazon, I accidentally bought a 100 page essay on it instead.  (I’m not sure if they don’t plan on doing that with Celine’s book; I wouldn’t be surprised.)  Like I’d read 100 pages written by someone else.  But the back of that book (which I did manage to read) calls Celine’s work, “of the blackest pessimism in respect to humanity.”

So they agree.  The End of the Night is not a great place to live.  There’s pissing and live wires and everything’s absurd and love is archaic (it’s appearance is no more than a few pages with the angelic Molly and then just her memory!) and children plot to kill their parents (the unnatural family that is the he Henrouilles) and wars are fought by deserters (Ferdindand, our heroic narrator himself, and his near-best friend Robinson) and everything’s so fucked up it’s funny.

Fuck that, I say.  And, more importantly, fuck that, Celine says.  Life is good there in that place.  Life is good because there are no consequences.  No consequences makes life good; not bad.

Think about it.

Brave Ferdinand lives life with immunity.  He cheats on his lovers; he slaps a woman just to see what it’d be like and claims he has to do it again because, when the slapped woman cries, he can’t see her reaction and all we can do as readers is smile and say, oh, Ferdinand.  And he sleeps with the girlfriend of the closest thing to his best friend, Robinson; and then (close your eyes if haven’t read it) he murders him.  Yes, I said it—he murders his best friend.  I know, I know, it’s not that clear cut, but he does.  His best friend—or at least the only friend he has had throughout the story.  He wants him gone; he tells us as much.  It is Ferdinand who suggests that they go to the carnival where Robinson is shot; it is he who creates the strange love triangle that causes the riot; it is he who suggests they take a cab where Robinson is shot; it is he who laughs the whole time.  Motives.  Means.  Opportunity.  So, in a sense, a very real sense, it was he that orchestrated the murder to get what he wanted.

And what of Ferdinand’s consequences?  There are none.  In fact, to the contrary, he is rewarded.  He begins the book by leaving the war by way of being institutionalized; he ends the book running his own funny farm in Vigny.  And so we come full circle.  Oh, the irony.  And, in between, we traveled with him to America and back and got a medical degree.

No, it’s not that easy, the critics say.  Even Ferdinand tells us life sucks.  Don’t fall for it.  It is a trick.  No it’s not, the critics say.  Ferdinand tells us, “The only true manifestations of our innermost being are war and insanity, those two absolute nightmares.”  (pg. 359).  See, the critics say.  Ferdinand understands that life sucks.  Oh yeah?  So our innermost manifestations are nightmares?  Well, you critics say that is bad?  I say well then wake the fuck up.  They are only nightmares.  I learned to stop being afraid of those when I was seven.  It’s like leaving the Matrix.  Except a lot easier.  Join us.

Or don’t.  What do we care?

So, is his world so bad?

Fuck ‘em.  The scholars and the critics can have their pessimism and savagery and they can be afraid of their journey to the end of the night.  But Ferdinand and I will take our life without consequences in a heartbeat, thank you very much.

Life is grand, as they say.  Yes, life is grand.

Babble on.

Sep 21 2009

Kafk’as Ca.stl.e

The Author: Franz Kafka (with help from Max Brod)

The Title: The Castle.

Here is Kafka’s last text, written in 1922.  He asked his good friend, Max Brod, to burn it upon his death.  Mr. Brod, an ever-loyal friend, didn’t do that; he published it instead.  A good friend.  Or I guess–more appropriately–a good friend?  (With a question mark.)

bookreview-kafkas castleSome say that Mr. Kafka knew that that would happen, that Mr. Brod had told him that he would publish it before.  Some don’t say that.

Either way, here it is.  That text.

So what of that text?

I don’t know much of Kafka, aside from the obvious; but it seems to me safe to think he was in love with the absurd.  Something about a man waking up as a bug.

But then there’s this.  It’s strange to say that this story, his final work—and not the story of bugs or that guy who was a starving artist in that he literally starved himself—is the one where Kafka takes absurdity to another level.  Ok, fine, maybe such a statement is… wait for it… absurd, but hear me out.  From the moment the protagonist, yes, absurdly named “K.”, arrives in town and is told that he cannot sleep in the village without permission from the king but that he cannot get permission because everyone, including the king, is asleep, we see it.  Without man-bugs, this book still somehow manages to be absurd.  Let’s be more precise, my English teachers have always told me.  Ok, fine.  Here, in this book (probably not all that different from Kafka’s Metamorphosis) it’s the absurdity of authority; that’s the focus here.  Precisely.  Everything here, in this book, is a power struggle.  There are officials and servants and barmaids and landlords and everyone jockeys for position and no one can rest from it.  No one—not even K., the one outsider—is immune from authority in this book just as no one is immune from the absurdity in this book, either.

So what’s it all mean?

It seems hard not to see this all–as with much of Mr. Kafka’s writing–as some sort of social commentary, offered up by our good friend (not in the Max Brod sense of good friend), Mr. Kafka.  A critique on authority?  Perhaps.

Everything authoritative seems absurd.  A-ha!  All of his writing seems to point toward that.  Read it.  His stories.  It kind of makes sense.

But hold on, if this story–his final story–is one on the absurdity of authority, then the text is one on the absurdity of convention.  The entire text, so obsessed with authority, subverts it entirely.  You can see it in the pages.  The paragraphs run on; the sentences run on; the story runs on.  There are commas where there should be periods, the main character’s name is nothing more than an initial (K.), and a new character is introduced in the last paragraph.  And in that famous final sentence (or, more accurately, sentence fragment), Mr. Kafka offers one final homage to disrespecting convention.  And so the story ends mid sentence.  A sentence forever unended.

It is all almost enough to makes us, dare I say, miss rules… and conventions… and order… and commas in the right places and periods and paragraph breaks, and etc.–all of which are forms of, yup, you got it, authority.

So there really are two stories here.

In one, we see a world where rules dominate.  You cannot enter the Castle unless you’re invited.  You must wait for meetings.  You cannot enter a hall unless that is your role in society.   In the other, we read of a world where there are no rules, just a breathless text, perforated with commas but not paragraphs.

Then there are the assistants, Jeremais and Arthur.  The childlike assistants who are so over-the-top obedient while being simultaneously over-the-top subversive.  They are the story of the Castle, obsessed with rules and authority and doing what they are told.  But they are also the text, always seeming to be about authority but subverting it at the same time.

Perhaps, therein lies the rub.  So maybe Mr. Kafka thinks authority’s pretty silly.  But maybe, just maybe, despite how extreme everything seems, what Mr. Kafka finally decided about authority–and absurdity–is that there must a happy medium somewhere in between the two—a place in between the village and the Castle.  And so his final answer in his final book in a career that spent a lot of time trying to figure all that stuff out:  A happy medium.

After all, any other conclusion would just be absurd.

Babble on.

Sep 16 2009

Wao, It’s Wonderful.

The Author: Junot Diaz.

The Title: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

The title.  It is all in the title.  That singular word–“Wondrous.”  A word so closely associated with the positive, with the–not surprisingly–wonderful.  But hold on, that’s not what it is.  oscar-waoThe word’s “wonderous,” not “wonderful.”  Literally, filled with wonder.  A much more ambiguous word.  Just ’cause Oscar’s story’s “wonderous” doesn’t make it “wonderful.”  We all know that.  And if you’ve read the book, you know his life is anything but wonderful.  Something about dying and no sex and getting beat up, an obsession with sci-fi, comic books, a life alone.

Here it is–a story about how one man, one person so marginalized, can touch you, can be the center.  That’s it.  Oscar’s a dork.  We get it.  Not a single friend.  He’s peripheral to everyone.  Except of course to us–to us, he is in the middle of the story precisely because he’s at the edge.  And that almost makes sense–two extremes as one.  The margins as a focal point.  It is, dare I say, wondrous.

And somehow his story is tragic and romantic and sad and happy.  Extremes coming together.

The title.  Wondrous.  What are other words like that?

Oscar.  The center.  “Their eyes are his.”  He, Lola’s college boyfriend, keeps Oscar’s stuff, his comics, his writings.  His essays.  Oscar is the connection between them, these other characters.  They only talk of him.  Her child has his eyes.  He is a tio.  He had uncles when he was young; now he is one of of those.  He is the center of all of these characters, of the whole story.  Of the title.

The ending.  It looks forward and that makes it somehow mythical, sci-fi-cal.  (Get it–Oscar’s obsessed with that kind of stuff.)  You see, we learn that the daughter will come and she will ask about her family and that is happy and she will hear about the sadness and Oscar and the fuku and that is sad.  Note the tense.


The ending.  And it is sad and happy.  (Stop reading if you haven’t read it!)  We learn of Oscar’s death and his transcendence and that is almost enough but it is all still tragic and sad and painful.  Then.  Then we hear that he did it—literally did it—and he had sex and he fulfilled his quest (sci-fi, again!) and he is the hero (sci-fi) and there is love and it was real.

And it was beautiful.

“The beauty!  The beauty!”  And with all the references and culture and the etc. how can that not be a reference to Conrad’s “the horror, the horror.”  But here it is beautiful and here the tragedy is amazing and sweet and, again, dare I say “wondrous.”

The title.  And so maybe the title is “wondrous” in the wonderful sense and the impression is true and the complications are false and over-read and over literal.  Wonderous.  Ous.  Filled with wonder.  Wonderful.

And in tragedy there is beauty and that’s that.

The beauty, the beauty.  The fat ugly kid.  The beauty, the beauty.

Babble on.