Thursday, January 10, 2019

Why don't you hate who I hate kill who I kill to be free?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I've used those lines as a title before; they just seem so grimly apropos lately.

Maybe you've seen this article, where Trump supporters realize, hey, maybe there was a downside to this, hard as it is to believe. And maybe especially you've seen the final quote from one of them, a Crystal Minton: “I thought he was going to do good things. He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.” I mean, not that it's any revelation that Trump supporters really just want to hurt people, but it's still sort of surprising to see it stated so explicitly. I have to wonder if she had a moment of self-awareness after being quoted as such: oops, did I really say that out loud...? But no, it's almost certainly not that conscious. And besides, it really needs to go further: who exactly do you want to hurt, Crystal Minton? Specificity is the soul of narrative!

It really goes to show the unbridgeable divide, though, because I will swear to you up and down: I have never voted for a political candidate with the anticipation that they've inflict suffering on people I don't like. I couldn't if I wanted to, because it's just not something that Democratic candidates offer. Some of them may do things that don't mitigate suffering as much as we might like, and yeah sometimes they adopt Republican framing to their detriment (though entirely too many people seem to have the idea that it's still the nineties and that Clintonesque triangulating is still the norm) but it's certainly not a selling point. I may think Crystal Minton is a hideous person (even if she was made that way by Republican policies in the first place), but I still espouse policies that would help her and people like her.

And, you know, it's not just a moral issue either. I would be freaked out if Democrats campaigned on causing suffering (this is the part where, if any right-wingers were reading this, they would be pointing out my ineffable hypocrisy of wanting to grievously wound billionaires by making them pay taxes. As a preemptive rebuttal to that, please know that I am rolling my eyes really hard right now). I don't want that shit, just speaking practically. Because--and this ought to but tragically apparently isn't incredibly obvious--they may start by hurting people you don't like, but eventually it's gonna blow back on you. It just is. Christ, that Niemöller poem is so engrained in the popular consciousness that I'm fairly sure even Crystal Minton could tell you the gist of it. But apparently, for some people, it's just a catchy tune with no actual meaning that could conceivably be taken to heart.  I think we're still sort of on the knife-edge between tragedy and farce here, but people like ol' Crystal-Blue Persuasion here are not helping.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Robert Pinget, Mahu or the Material (1952)

Hey look I read one a them there nouveaux romans, by one of the main nouveau roman dudes. Good for me. This one has laudatory quotes from both John Updike and Donald Barthelme, which seems about as far apart as you can get on the spectrum of fiction writers. Obviously, this will recall the latter more than the former, but I'm glad ol' Updike was able to appreciate the avant garde, so far away from the sort of thing he wrote himself.
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Friday, January 04, 2019

Manuel Mujica Lainez, The Wandering Unicorn (1965)

Well, I decided to read Mujica Lainez' other English-tranlated novel. So I did! So there! Um, anyway.

The first thing you might be wondering--at least if you're like me--is "hey, what if anything does this have to do with Peter S Beagle's seminal Last Unicorn, which was published around the same time? And the answer is: almost certainly nothing. Beagle's novel was first published three years after, so if anyone was influencing anyone, it would've had to be Mujica Lainez influencing Beagle, but, well, the first issue is that ML's book hadn't been translated at the time (does Beagle read Spanish? No idea), and the second--perhaps more to the point--is that, apart from a certain self-awareness, and both being broadly classifiable as fantasy the two really have nothing in common. ML's doesn't even feature an actual unicorn (just the horn of one). I DO think there's one connection, though: the animated movie based on The Last Unicorn was released in 1982, whereas this translation was published in 1983. I think it very probable that this was an effort to cash in on whatever perceived unicorn-mania the movie had engendered. Fair enough!
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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Christine Brooke-Rose, Amalgamemnon (1984)

Brooke-Rose never ceases to astonish. I mean, maybe she should; honestly, this isn't that unlike Such. It's not a break in the same way Subscript was. But still: it's amazing. To me. Anyway.
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Monday, December 10, 2018

Manuel Mujica Lainez, Bomarzo (1962)

So here's one you won't have heard of.  I discovered it via this list of "books you didn't even known existed in translation," which seems like a bit of an odd way to title that: if I knew about any of these books, period, I probably would've idly checked to see if there were English translations.  As it happens, however, I didn't know about them, in any language, and indeed I was only aware of one of the authors (Nikos Kazantzakis).  Some of them looked more interesting to me than others, but for whatever reason, I chose this one to read.  Well, I say "whatever reason," but there are perfectly straightforward reasons: I was still sort of on an incipient Latin-American-Boom kick, for one, and the fact that this was translated by none other than Gregory Rabassa certainly didn't hurt.  But then there were also economic reasons, which probably don't say good things about how capitalism makes us act: so I looked the book up on the usual sites, and I saw that, for whatever reason, the gods of the free market had decided that the minimum price for used copies should be seventy dollars.  Now...I wasn't likely to pay that kind of money for a book completely on spec.  But when I idly looked on ebay and found a copy available for only twenty-five...well, comparatively it just seemed like such a deal that I couldn't resist it (it had been there for a while, and the fact that it hadn't been snapped up indicated to me that the odds of those seventy-dollar copies selling is somewhat slim).  Blah.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Bilge Karasu, The Garden of Departed Cats (1979)

Turkish literature: it's more of a thing than I was aware of. I think it's for a variety of reasons that I wasn't more aware of it: Turkey is at least partially a European country, but it feels kind of separate. The people speak a non-Indo-European language that few outsiders learn because--unlike, say, Japan--the country doesn't have much economic impact in the larger world and its pop culture hasn't caught on internationally. And, really, who KNOWS anything about it? I mean, aside from the fact that if you've a date in Constantinople she'll be waiting in Istanbul? If anything, you'd probably associate it more with epic poetry than you would modern and contemporary novels, and if it sounds like I'm trying to dance around sounding vaguely racist, yeah, fair cop, though for whatever it's worth, I've had a number of Turkish students who described their country as being on the border between "traditional" and "modern" cultures, or words to that effect.
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Monday, November 05, 2018

Harry Mathews, Tlooth (1966)

So I gave Mathews' first novel, The Conversions, a kind of mutedly positive review, but in reading his second, Tlooth, I started to think that I hadn't quite given Mathews his due. Because this kind of sort of anti-novelistic thing, filled with digressive shaggy dog stories, religious arcana, and postmodern conspiracy theories really seems quite groundbreaking. He is, as I noted, doing a somewhat similar thing to what Pynchon did in The Crying of Lot 49, but I think it's most likely more a case of convergent evolution than anyone consciously copying anyone. Whatever the case, as far as I know, there was really nothing like it at the time, in English, at least (what do you want to bet there was some never-translated thing in some Eastern European language?). I don't know what you would've made of this at the time, and the influence on Perec--which perhaps should've been obvious from the tribute I noted--is really enormous. Also, while I complained about the kind of bland, matter-of-fact style at the time, that style combined with all this bizarreness really does create an Effect. No denying it. Very impressive.

So the story of Tlooth, such as it is, is that the narrator is a former violinist whose career was cut short by having had part of his hand cut off by a doctor to provide meat for a cannibalistic deli. Currently, the both of them are in a Soviet prison camp with sections divided according to obscure religious sect. After several failed Rube-Goldberg-esque assassination attempts fail, the doctor, Roak, escapes, our narrator and some others in hot pursuit (okay, "hot" would be pushing it). They traverse Asia and many strange tales of questionable relevance are related. The narrator ends up in Italy, where there are several unbelievably obscene fantasias that turn out to be the scenario that he(?)'s been hired to write for a pornographic movie. He chases Roak some more, to India and Morocco. Things end very inscrutably and anti-climactically. And that is that.

Here's the thing: as I said, I feel like I really started to appreciate Mathews more as I read this novel, but that appreciation does not, in this case, translate into actually liking him any more. His writing remains very dry and alienating, and even if that's the intent, it fails to fascinate me. Don't get me wrong; I love Mathews in theory. It's just that when we get to praxis, things start to get a little more dicey.