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Friday, March 30, 2007

Imagine a Dream Denied...

Murakami's story "A Folklore for My Generation: A Pre-History of Late-Stage Capitalism" deals with a dream denied. The narrator relates the story of "two of those people," there's always some of them in schools: successful, good-looking, smart, good at sports, popular. The narrator calls them Mr. and Mrs. Clean. The narrator's school has two of these people and they are dating each other as if they were in an exclusive club. Whether the narrator is resentful or not is not very clear, but years after graduating from high school, the narrator encounters (as he calls him) Mr. Clean. It turns out that those two perfect people didn't end up together. The story shifts point of view, as now the successful "Mr. Clean" tells the story of love unfulfilled, years of depressive abandon, etc. It is really a sad story. It struck me that we all have had a friend like this, or perhaps we were in this position ourselves. Mrs. Clean gets married to someone else. She disappears from Mr. Clean's life. Mr. Clean offers the narrator a clean and simple story without any hints along the way to ruin the end. It is, like I said, a very hard story to swallow, but it is also one that is so perfectly written that it is easy to get lost in it. Here's a nice detail. While having dinner together at a fancy Italian restaurant, the narrator and Mr. Clean are so involved in the story that the reader might actually lose perspective as to where they are. Murakami interjects: "By this time the restaurant was completely full, loud with the sound of people's voices, laughter, plates clinking. Almost all the guest were locals, it seemed, and they called out the waiters by their first name: 'Giuseppe, Paolo!'" This is a very simple touch to the story but one that stuck out to me as the writer's techniques to keep the story moving forward without losing track of the setting.

I am only on page 81 of the collection. I plan to make up for lost time, time in which it was difficult for me to concentrate. Hopefully this weekend I will read voraciously.

5.0/14.2 Total.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Inescapable Reality...

Why read? I mean, in the grand scheme of things, how important it is for me to read and do this blog. Why am I questioning this now? Well, I just started an intense physical training program. What does that have to do with it? Simple. It does feel like the world is coming apart and all I am doing is seeking refuge in my books. How insignificant... I mean, think about it... I should be saving Darfur. Reality kicked in on Monday. I received an e-mail from my former Company Commander, a man who retired from the United States Marine Corps in 2003. He wrote to tell me he is being re-activated and should be in Iraq by the middle of the summer. Immediately after reading this I ventured to think about the possibilities of my own re-activation. I served under this man during the first Iraqi war in 1990-91. I am sure because of medical conditions developed since then I would probably not be eligible to re-activation. Nevertheless, after questioning the war from both sides of the spectrum, am I ready to leave at a moments notice? Again, I am 40 but that doesn't seem to affect the re-activation process. My former Company Commander is 50+. So, I started a regiment of physical activity with the motivation in mind that I shall not be caught unprepared. In the last 3 days I ran 9.2 miles and have done a variety of upper body and abdominal exercises. I will keep a running total of my miles at the end of each blog entry.

For all of those who oppose the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I feel your concern and understand completely where your argument comes from. Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury of that. I have (regardless of age and medical condition) a contractual agreement with an impersonal government that can send me half-way around the world at a moments notice. No time for disagreements. I have to say that the e-mail from my Company Commander has left me unable to read much or able to concentrate in the last couple of days. I was very close to this man during some of the most challenging times in my life. I wish him and his family well. He is probably one of the few people I would walk through the gates of hell for. God speed, Captain.

total:___/9.2

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Forecasting Marvel...

It is true that technology is taking us many places we might not want to go nowadays. The statistics for lewd material searches online is enough to make you lose faith in the marvel of technology. But every once in a while, a bit of something shows up through the crack on the wall that makes us happy we are alive to see the advances of the human mind. Case in point: the weather forecast on the television news. This morning the woman who does the weather report called for a beautiful dawn full of red colors, etc. She explained how the atmospheric conditions were in place for a glorious sun up. And sure enough, there it was, with the exactitude of her prediction... just outside my classroom window. The sky was streaked with high cumulonimbus clouds and a vivid red sun painted everything with a bright crimson juice. It was absolutely one of the best starts of the day this year.

I have to pace myself with the stories in "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman." Murakami writes with the ease of a poet. One of the stories dealt with a young woman taking a cart of dinner to an incapacitated man in a room. He makes her wish for something (since it was her birthday), she does but never reveals what she wished for to the narrator of the story. The possibilities are endless and one is left to construct what the wish might have been by the personality traits of the woman in question. It a very nice story to read. I left the book at home today since I have tons of work in the classroom and also grades are due today. I will comeback to quote directly some of the most fabulous passages from the stories I have read. There are 24 stories all told, but it doesn't seem to be taking that long to read. 300+ pages of truly excellent literature.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Diving into Murakami's World....

I started Haruki Murakami's "Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman" after a delightful read of Naipaul. The short stories collected here are not inter-connected like in previous volumes. The title story is supposed to be fragments of what at one point could have been part of "Norwegian Wood," Murakami's best novel. There's always this mysterious pitched to the stories. The ability to turn into the surreal is all Murakami's. This is something that could be a turn off for some people. A character might be lost in an abandoned building and all of a sudden be having a conversation with a talking sheep. But not all of Murakami's work is like that. I highly recommend "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle," "Kafka on the Shore," and most definitely "Norwegian Wood."

I had an opportunity to meet Haruki Murakami and exchange some words with him in 1998. It was an unforgettable evening, really. He finally spoke about the elements of biography on "Norwegian Wood," something he had avoided for a long time.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Naipaul: Master of the Essay...

Naipaul is a master of the essay form. So far, "Jasmine" and "Synthesis and Mimicry" and "A New King for the Congo" are examples of a writer's master talent to keep one reading and engaged. In "Jasmine," Naipaul regards the seeming inability for non-Western cultures to embrace and understand a literature that is foreign to them. This, interestingly enough, doesn't seem to be the case the other way around. Take literature from developing countries, say, Latin America, and bring it to the language of the dominant culture, and that literature is almost always embraced and understood by the dominant culture. For example, Garcia Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was regarded by "The New York Times" as "required reading for the entire human race." I don't challenge Naipaul's premise, but the truth is that 20th Century Latin American literature took the world by storm when it began to be translated into other languages which were, incidentally, alien to the actual experience of the story.

In "Synthesis and Mimicry," Naipaul examines the ways that India has lost its identity by embracing Western attitudes. This involves everything from industrial development to educational institutions, traditional art and traditional literature, and even architecture. He states that

"In the nineteenth century, with the coming of the British, this great tradition [traditional Indian art] died.... nothing is sadder, in the recent history of Indian culture, than to see Indian painting, in its various schools, declining into East India Company art, tourist art."

This essay is not a condemnation of Indian culture as it is rather a contemplation at the loss of things that irrevocably cannot be brought back. In "A New King for the Congo," Naipaul writes beautifully about a difficult topic. The history of Mobutu and that of Zaire (former Congo) is tragic and difficult to portray unbiasly. Naipaul goes on to debunk many of the formerly held fantasies as to how Conrad traveled the Congo. Most of the Congo was already an established Belgian colony by the time Conrad got there, so "Heart of Darkness" lacks substance if you really look at it--at least, that's what Naipaul is getting at. The critical and desperate condition of politics in Zaire are brought to light and the display is sadder than any of us could conceive. Naipaul states that "an African nihilism" has developed in the country where "the rage of primitive men coming to themselves and finding that they have been fooled and affronted" only creates generation after generation of hopelessness and abuse. I am not finish yet but I have fewer pages than I realized. I might be done with the volume tomorrow.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

V.S. Naipaul's "Jasmine"

There's no way I could spoil the end of this wonderful essay for you because I am yet to finish it myself. This is that kind of essay that you wish it would never end. The question of the narrator is whether or not English as a language can convey the beauty of the world. There are some fine passages:

The writer was protesting against what the English language had imposed on us. The language was ours, to use as we pleased. The literature that came with it was therefore of peculiar authority; but this literature was like an ancient mythology. There was, for instance, Wordsworth's notorious poem about the daffodil. A pretty little flower, no doubt; but we had never seen it. Could the poem have any meaning for us?

I suppose this is the plight of most of what I learned in graduate school as "colonial language imposed on the colonized peoples." The narrator takes on the stories of Dickens, Conrad, and other masters of literature and transport the same stories to settings in Trinidad where he is a correspondent for the BBC Caribbean bureau. The previous story, a selection from "A House for Mr. Biswas" was enthralling in its own merit. I wonder where I could find a copy of the novel and read it in its entirety. I will comment more on "Jasmine" when I finish reading it. I have some 50-something examinations to grade between tonight and tomorrow night. If I don't post anything by then, I hope to be excused by you.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

One Person's Trash...

One man's trash is another man's treasure. The Academy was doing some "house cleaning" in the library and many books were being canceled from the main library catalogue. They usually put a cart with freebies outside the main entrance to the library. Here are two titles I found that I couldn't pass up.

Mortimer Adler's "How to Speak, How to Listen"
Maxim Gorky's "The Life of a Useless Man"

The Mortimer Adler comes as a nice addition to my own library where I have several of his volumes, the most famous being "Six Great Ideas." If you've never heard Mortimer Adler's life story you must really check it out. Here's a quick example.

The Gorki book really attracted me because of the Neil Armstrong "Gorki story." I won't go into it here but I just thought I mention it to explain why I picked up the book. I read the dust jacket description of the story and it totally won me over.

This novel was begun by Maxim Gorki in 1907, less than two years after the unsuccessful rebellion on Bloody Sunday. Gorki personally was extremely involved with the insurrection and this book is consequently an intimate document of the terrifying upheavals of the times. The protagonist is Yevsey Klimkov who is caught up, willy-nilly, in the events which culminated with the storming of the Czar's palace and the violent aftermath. Yevsey, frail and orphaned, is given various educative occupations, one finally as assistant to a bookseller. Through this bookseller's and subsequent police coercion, Yevsey, his will defenseless, is induced into spying for the military in support for the Czar. Unable to restrain the forces which carry him, Yevsey eventually reports his young friends for running a subversive underground press. The interior crisis, mass hysteria, and ultimate brutal repression and bloodshed must rank among the most exciting literary moments.

Even the biography of the woman who translated it sounds like an adventure in its own right:

Moura Budberg was born in Russia in 1892, and by the age of twelve spoke five languages fluently. She began translating in 1917 when Gorki founded Znanie, a publishing house in St. Petersburg. She received critical acclaim for her translations of Chekov, Turgenev, Maurois, and others.

So there's absolutely no way I can fit these into my reading list this year but I will nevertheless keep them as priced possessions. I could definitely use the Adler volume in class next year.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

V.S. Naipaul...

I picked up "Vintage Naipaul" as a way of introduction to this prolific writer. I have "The Writer and the World" on my stack of books to read but I will probably won't get to it until next year. So, I retract to the world of fiction again after my most intense clash with philosophy since my undergrad days. I am conceding that the streak of philosophy hit me hard.

Some of the selections in "Vintage Naipaul" include "A House for Mr. Biswas" which I am totally devouring at the present, and is one of the most perfectly crafted pieces of fiction I have read this year. There are some fine passages here about Biswas' emotional state, and the pressures to provide for his family, etc. This story reminds me of my father and the crisis of 1979 (a family secret).

Here's a list of other titles awaiting inclusion. Have you read any of these, please leave a comment telling me about it.

The Dream Life of Sukhanov, by Olga Grushin
The Double, by Jose Saramago
A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
What I loved, by Siri Hustvedt
Glory, by Vladimir Nabokov
Vineland, by Thomas Pynchon

These are not presently on my reading list but I want to motivate myself and see if I can get to them this year.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Albert Camus' "The Myth of the Sisyphus"

I have so much to say about Camus that perhaps this should better be done in two installments. I am frankly floored by his argument in "The Myth of the Sisyphus." I hope here to quote extensively from the book in order to create a reference bench for later discussions of "The God Delusion" by Dawkins (whenever I get to that one). Camus offers the absurd as an alternative to a life full of delusionary fantasy. While he does not come out freely as an atheist, he does expound the belief that lowering one's expectations yields a healthier life. He states that "the absurd teaches that all experiences are unimportant, and on the other it urges toward the greatest quantity of experiences." This is simply a way of life. While whatever we experience is devoid of meaning, one must strive to experience as much as possible (thus creating a purpose to live). Freedom, in all of its forms, is an illusion. Humanity will always be enslaved to something (God, ideas, science, etc.). It is through these dependencies that humans become enslaved: "To the extent to which he imagined a purpose to his life, he adapted himself to the demands of a purpose to be achieved and became the slave of his freedom." That is to say, by holding fast to a purpose in life we become essentially obligated and dedicated to that one ideal. So this is a metaphysical revolt of sorts. He who embraces the absurd doesn't simply embrace an ideology--he must contemplate it. The essence of Camus' argument: "a question of finding out whether or not life had to have a meaning to be lived. It now becomes clear, on the contrary, that it will be lived all the better if it has no meaning." I know what most of you will be thinking out there. I don't propose to break the fifth column and address my person or my issues, but the fact is yet that I am NOT becoming an atheist. I am exploring ideas that for all my life I have been told are off-limits. I am trying to make sense of all that I experience, day in and day out. Especially, I am trying to sort out the hypocrisy of the so-called Christians I work with. Certainly, I am in some way embracing the absurd, but I am doing so in order to avoid the two-faced calamity that most of my colleagues live every day. At any rate, this is not about me or my lessening faith; this is about Camus' argument.

Later in the book, on another essay entitled "Return to Tipasa," Camus makes allusion to his divided self--the self that is not at home because of its dislocation (another idea I have lived with all my life): "A day comes when, thanks to rigidity, nothing causes wonder any more, everything is known, and life is spent in beginning over again. These are the days of exile, of desiccated life, of dead souls. To come alive again, one needs a special grace, self-forgetfulness, or a homeland." This is perhaps one of the most brilliant passages in the entire collection. Camus sees his dislocation as an opportunity to begin again in other shores (albeit without purpose to do so), to embrace an empty shell of a life with every day that passes. Still embracing the absurd, one can still begin to live again. I have to go back to my reading list and decide what I am going to read next.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Myth of the Sisyphus...

Camus is asking the ultimate question of philosophy: should life have meaning in order to be lived? Can a life without meaning be lived successfully? The principle here is that of the absurd. Furthermore, can a person live after embracing the absurd? Some of the main ideas are quite dense, but for purposes of simplification Camus dictates the following premise: much of our life is built on the hope for tomorrow, yet tomorrow only brings us closer to death. Basically, if you try to explain the world you will ultimately embrace romantizations and metaphors. True knowledge is impossible, and science and reason cannot describe meaning to the world. As absurdity invades all we do, the world becomes a foreign and cruel place.

Here Camus embarks on an examination of Heidegger, Jaspers, Chestov, Kierkegaard, Husserl, among others. He shows how all of these philosophers examined the absurd but ultimately failed to recognize its truth and turned to abstractions and Platonic beatitudes. I particularly like Camus' treatment of Dostoyevsky's Kirilov from "The Possessed." Kirilov's idea that if "God does not exist, then I am God," is put through several examinations. Kirilov wants to kill himself simply because he can do it, exercising his own god-like power. Camus reverts to the fact that this is not the absurd as necessary. Suicide, he begins to conclude, (I haven't finished the book yet) is not necessary in a meaningless life.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Reading Right and Meaningfully...

I finished "The Year of Magical Thinking" in less than a day. It is not the fact that I read fast (although I suppose I did), but the real and tangible experience it was to absorb every word, to take in all of its messages and enjoy one of the most productive reads I have had all year. Joan Didion is a great writer. Her emotions translate on the page as if they were happening to us in real life. She confronts the loss of her husband with courage and determination and could be seen as heroic in her efforts to restore normalcy to her life. The book is not depressing, although it deals primarily with the consequences of death to those who remain living. This is one of my top recommendations for this year. Excellent book.

What strikes me odd was the way I came across "The Year of Magical Thinking." I bought a couple of books at Amazon last year while we were still living in the apartment. Over the course of the year, I have gone back to Amazon to check reviews or information related to several books I have purchased elsewhere. The algorithms that select "recommendations based on what you have purchased or on the basis of what other people who purchased the same book have also purchased" seems to me sort of horrific. Nevertheless, one day, up comes "The Year of Magical Thinking" and I took it up to read it because the subject matter attracted me. I didn't get the book at Amazon. I went to "Half-Priced Books" and after a couple of fruitless searches, I found it on the fiction section under "Dickens." I didn't read it right away, and I am glad that I waited. The fact that at first seating I read over 100 pages is a testimony (from a slow reader like myself) that the books is an engaging piece of genius.

The next selection on my reading list is "The Myth of the Sisyphus" by Albert Camus. Now, now... it's not that I am in a binge of depressing books--far from it. I am reading these in preparation to a larger topic in both my fiction and non-fiction reading: that of the meaningful life and how to live it. The center piece of Camus' book is the question of whether or not life has to has meaning in order to live it. Moreover, if life does not seem to have significance or meaning, is it worth living or would it be much better to commit suicide? These are difficult questions, of course, but from what I have read from Camus before I know he will deal the subject with intense passion and scrutiny. What else could we ask for?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Sebastian Knight and The Year of Magical Thinking

I finished "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight." Between yesterday and today I read over 180 pages or over 2/3 of the book. The story continues from where I left off: the narrator seeks to put together the last year of his brother's life in order to compose a biography. He finds out very little but in the course of the search he is confronted by the fact that his brother might have had an affair during one short summer stay at a hotel in France. The narrator seeks for this woman to be able to better comprehend his brother's last year. The novel is well-constructed, with animated and very alive characters (even the minor ones). The language is all Nabokov, pure genius.

Why am I reading so fast? I finished Sebastian Knight this morning (I had two chapters to go) and immediately started Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking." Today was all-school testing so all I had to do was sit there administering the tests. I read voraciously all morning while the students slaved over the test. I assume it was about two and a half hours but I am presently on page 101. Why did it go so fast? I have never been a fast reader, but I think only when I am completely lost in a book can I achieve so much in a single seating. Didion's book is a non-fiction account about how, while her daughter is in the hospital seriously ill, her husband faints during dinner and dies of a massive heart attack. Didion captures well the events, surprisingly so for someone to catch so much detail in such a terrible event. She details her relationship with her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, over the forty years of marriage and collaborating together. It is needless to say a very painful book, but one filled with fine passages and intense emotion. I found an awkward sentence: "It was just an ordinary beautiful September day," people still say when asked to describe the morning in New York when American Airlines 11 and United Airlines 175 got flown into the World Trade Center. I don't know but it seems strange to me... "got flown"... of course it is indeed what happened.

About her writing process, she writes:

As a writer, even as a child, long before what I wrote began to be published, I developed a sense that meaning itself was resident in the rhythms of words and sentences and paragraphs, a technique for withholding whatever it was I thought or believed behind an increasingly impenetrable polish.

This is comparable to what Nabokov's narrator states about the writing process, no? I love it when writers impregnate their work with their working habits and techniques. I don't know how long it is going to take me to finish this book but I might take a break tonight (although I know I can't). This is how I love to read... forgetting everything in the daily ordinariness of my life and immersing myself into someone else's world. Escapism?... touche!

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Nabokov's Genius

After reading "Lolita" a few months ago, I was given to the opinion that Nabokov is one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th Century. Now, reading "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight," I have become convinced, once again, that this man was born to be one of the greatest writers of the century. Here's a passage from today's lengthy reading:

She entered his life without knocking, as one might step into the wrong room because of its vague resemblance to one's own. She stayed there forgetting the way out and quietly getting used to the strange creatures she found there and petted despite their amazing shapes. She had no special intention of being happy or of making Sebastian happy, nor had she the slightest misgivings as to what might come next; it was merely a matter of naturally accepting life with Sebastian because life without him was less imaginable than a telurian's camping-tent on a mountain in the moon.

This is absolutely brilliant. The fact that she sees "creatures" there and not just a creature (Sebastian) alludes to the fact that Sebastian was a multi-personality visionary at the moment she met him. He envisioned a fiction--she saw the non-fiction of living with him without a judgment. Here's another passage about the writing process:

His struggle with words was unusually painful and this for two reasons. One was the common one with writers of his type: the bridging of the abyss lying between expression and thought; the maddening feeling that the right words, the only words are awaiting you on the opposite bank in the misty distance, and the shudderings of the still unclothed thought clamouring for them on this side of the abyss.

Who among those who claim to write hasn't at one point or another felt this way? The limitless possibility of language while being the most marvelous of gifts is also the most demanding addiction. One word over the next... who could make sense of the writer's world like Nabokov? I see him describing his own challenges writing in English (this novel is the first he wrote completely in English), and the struggle to get it right. Like "Lolita," "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" is a masterpiece! Highly recommendable.

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The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

The half brother of Sebastian Knight is the narrator of this Nabokov classic. The narrator embarks on the mystery of his brother's life. Along the way, there is some heavy criticism from the narrator to one of his brother's biographers. Right now nothing much has happened, but the narrative is soon to snowball, I can feel it.

So I broke down and went to the bookstore and read the first two chapters of "The God Delusion" by Dawkins. He makes a compelling argument, and one is tempted to follow his critical examination of religion, but the truth is that he is a scientist and not a theologian. That, I believe, is the only draw back of the book. He should have co-authored it with some expert on hermeneutics.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Rilke and the God Delusion

I am almost finished with "Letter to a Young Poet." The second part of the book (the edition that I am using) is a chronicle of the life of Rainer Maria Rilke. It plays as a concordance to the letters he wrote Franz Kappus (the young poet in question) and it goes to show that, to a large extent, Rilke was suffering from the same doubts, joys, sadness, crushes, exhilarations that Kappus was confessing in his own letters. The "chronicles" bring Rilke's life to a larger picture... I just never knew there was so much to his writing and scholarly life beyond the letters.

I am reading an article I printed out of the New York Times yesterday. It is called "Darwin's God" and it deals with the advent of neo-atheism and other polemics of belief/non-belief. The article exposes the idea that rather than concentrating in the argument of belief vs. non-belief, there is an inherent evolutionary trait in human beings that biologically incline us to believe in something beyond. One of the philosophers in question is a man named Scott Atran. The article also mentions Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, three of the leading neo-atheists who have come up with recent publications about the polemic. The most famous of the three is "The God Delusion" by Dawkins. The article in the New York Times doesn't really claim the idea of non-belief but it is rather an examination at the biology of belief. Is there a gene that has evolved over time to make us inclined to believe in God? It's an interesting article. You can find it here.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters

"Letters to a Young Poet" has to be the most exacting use of language in modern history. I know that is a huge hyperbole, but I can't help it when everything I am reading presently leaves me breathless. Rilke writes about so many topics using such exactitude of language that it is really a disservice to try and comment on it here. It simply cannot be more perfect than it already is. We have all asked ourselves whether or not we have anything important to say with our writing. Should we write? Why write? Rilke's take on it is simply classic: "There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart; acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all--ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night; must I write?" And a thousand other things that are so captivating it is nearly impossible to wonder how could someone have such an insight into life and be able to convey it in beautiful language.

These letters, written to Franz Kappus, deal with so much more than mere art. Rilke writes about the importance of introspection: "Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers. Perhaps you do carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly happy and pure way of living; train yourself to it--but take whatever comes with great trust, and if only it comes out of your own will, out of some need of your inmost being, take it upon yourself and hate nothing." Marvelous advice, really. There are so many things to reflect on that the mere 154 pages go by in a flash. Going back to the earlier passage, I have long debated whether or not I should write. I once wrote an essay titled "Why I don't Write." It was simply an examination as to who can claim the title of writer. I didn't come up with any definite answer, but the essay made me reflect on more than one aspect of the viral way in which writers operate and to which I cannot claim hold of.

I think Rilke was a great decision to re-read. I am underlining the most moving passages and will continue to post as I see fit. If you've never read the "Letters," I strongly encourage you to do so as soon as possible. Life seems so much fuller because of them.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Book Loyalty...

There seems to be a pervasive tendency to finish book one doesn't enjoy. At least in my case, that is. I had to finish Thomas Pynchon's "Slow Learner," I just had to. I finally reached the end today, after a week and a half (or more) of struggling to make sense of those stories. The last one in particular was a tough one. The Secret Integration finally makes sense in the end. A group of youngsters plan "maneuvers" against the adult world. These are little pranks that never materialize but the boys find it fun to actually plan them with great military jargon. The "integration" of the story plays on two different levels. On the one end, the integration is explained as a calculus problem: "'The opposite of differentiation,'" Grover said, drawing an x-axis, y-axis and curve on his greenboard. 'Call this function of x. Consider the values of the curve at tiny little increments of x..." The reality of the story's idea of integration is different though. It deals with racial integration and the boys are just too young to understand. A black family moves into their neighborhood and the adults are up in arms about it. The boys befriend the black family's kid, Carl. At the end of the story, the reader is presented with this... Carl is not real, it is simply an imaginary friend the boys have made up. I know... confusing, no? But the loyalty I had with this book made me finish it and I feel all the better for it.

Next is Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet." I am writing a little at a time. I am not writing with any sense of direction. I am just writing. The title of the piece came up on its own: "The Song of Darkness." And I am writing just a little at a time; loose sentences that appear to have no reason for being other than that of ink on a paper. But it is taking shape and I need all the fuel I can get... that's why I am re-reading Rilke.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

My 100th and Why Pynchon is so Hard...

This is my 100th post. I wish I had better things to discuss, but the truth of the matter is that I have had a terrible time trying to finish Pynchon. Right now, the last story "The Secret Integration" is possibly the most dense short story I have ever read (and that's counting all my graduate seminars on the Modern British authors). Thomas Pynchon is an enigma and his writing shows why. I have no doubt that they are filled with genius; perhaps that is the reason why I don't quite understand them. "The Secret Integration" is a story about a group of boys planning some operation. One of them, the leader, is the most intelligent of the bunch and carries most of the dialogue. One thing I do have to say about Pynchon: he can write a nice dialogue. I remember reading "The Crying of Lot 49" in graduate school and half-expected these stories to fill the gap of what I might have not understood in his previous works. I have failed at understanding the most basic premises of these short stories. Pynchon is candid in the introduction to the collection and relates how these stories were the efforts of a beginner and therefore (he deems) lack something. I doubt it is the stories or their structure that make them so difficult to read. Again, there's some genius in them that make them rather unapproachable. Here's someone's effort to decipher the story. I don't buy the explanation though.

It's been a difficult couple of weeks, hence my lack of posting. School has been busy with many papers and tests to grade. The students are fine, and we do have a good time in the classroom. I feel very tired when I get home but happy that I have given it all in the classroom. Let's see... right now we are reading "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets" by Stephen Crane. It's a good example of Crane's most mature work, as his talent was considerably lacking in his early efforts (all the critics agree). "Maggie" is the story of a girl growing up in the Bowery section of New York at the turn of the century. She lives in a tenement. The extreme conditions of poverty, alcoholism, sweatshop work all lead Maggie into a life of prostitution by the end of the story. It is a sad examination at the cost of human life during the great migration at the end of the century. The girls are enjoying the read, but they feel it is kind of depressing. They are used to happy endings, I guess.

I have gotten some really good volumes lately but I doubt it I will be able to press them into my year list. I might adapt some of them as substitutions.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Murakami and Auster

There's a reason why these two guys are my favorite contemporary authors: they produce so much! Here's Murakami's most recent effort that's not even out yet but Amazon's got a preview here. Mark my words, either one of these excellent writers will win the Nobel Prize for Literature one day. I am totally convinced.

Pynchon is really slow going. I have about 30 pages to finish and I can't summon the energy to do it. I have had a lot of grading this week at work.

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