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Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Sad and Strange Life of Alfred Kubin

Recently, a friend of mine went to New York City on business and returned with a magnificent catalogue art book on a retrospective show on Alfred Kubin. If you are wondering who this artist might be, and why you potentially have never heard of him, don't despair.... I had no recollection of his name before my friend presented me with this great gift, despite the fact that I have read nearly every single Kafka biography known to the entire English speaking populous. The sad truth is this: there's no knowing Alfred Kubin without knowing Franz Kafka, and there's a sincere irony in it as well.

Kafka is known around the world as the master of the nightmarish narrative. Many people still refer to Gregor Samsa when they have a bad dream, or they get up on the wrong side of the bed and, instead of turning into a bug, they step into a "bad hair" day, or a "I-wish-I-didn't-have-to-go-to-my-boring-job" day, or a "I- think-I'll-drive-to-Mexico-today-and-forget-my-wife, kids, pets, mortgage-and-other-obligations exist" type of day. It is true, and in all fairness, Kafka gave Kubin the credit he deserved. Kubin was, after all, the elder artist with vast more experience than the young writer just starting out. There is, however, such an intricate tie between what the eye sees and what the eye reads in both Kafka and Kubin.

There is much that is lost to the naked eye here.

To be sure, one would have to go word by word and seek the similarities. But that would be losing the battle against what is written on the page and the seemingly schizophreneic themes Kubin aimed for. Kafka no doubt drew inspiration, but again, it might be more complicated that just a plain connection between them. For example, the bug sketch above is clearly tied to "The Metamorphosis," right? To assume it at that level would probably leave behind the fact that Kafka in fact had that dream before seeing the Kubin drawing, and it was the drawing that elicited the recall of the nightmarish plot the young writer would later throw into the page.

Little mention is made of Kubin in the numerous Kafka biographies. One, however, making reference to Kafka's diaries, cites the initial encounter. Kafka writes that Kubin is "very strong but rather monotonous in his facial movements, he [Kubin] describes the most dissimilar things with the same muscular expression. He varies in his apparent age, size and strength according to whether he's sitting or standing, wearing just a suit or an overcoat." Apparently, the two men shared another more embarrassing interest: constipation. Out of the initial encounter, Kafka recalls that at the end of the evening, when some other friends were trying to coax him and Kubin to a brothel, Kubin having refused called out to Kafka from the distance, "Regulin." (Apparently the name of a common constipation medication at the time).

Okay, so enough of the personal details. The two sketches that I have included here obviously have a connection to Kafka's work. I'd like to hear from some of you. Aside from the bug, I want to see how many of Kubin's images we can interpretatively tie to Kafka's works. I'll post some more images soon.

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Friday, November 28, 2008

The Memorist, by M.J. Rose

If your idea of good, intellectually-stimulating entertainment is a book that will engage all of your sense and carry you over into a plot/story with real characters easy to understand and associate with, then "The Memorist" by M.J. Rose is the book you need to read right now. While I didn't read "The Reincarnationist" (her earlier volume), I had no problem understanding the main theme of the novel. Instead of retelling the story here, I'd like to highlight the most impressive aspects of M.J. Rose's masterful artistry. Reincarnation and the seemingly cosmic channels that spirits often travel are all intertwined into a fascinatingly excellently written book. The protagonist, Meer Logan, experiences a confusing sense of "cogito ergo sum," in the sense of the real meaning of the Decartes' idea: how do I know that I am awake, that I am not dreaming this, have I lived this before(?), and the sort of "I don't understand where all these memories are coming from..." that sort of thing.

At the bottom of all this, is one of my favorite composers: Ludwig Van Beethoven. As a cellist and classically trained musician, this aspect of the book kept me riveted until the very end. I think this was possibly the most masterful part of the plot; Rose weaves this historical detail into a fascinating and personal narrative--the reader can very much identify with the young protagonist's struggle to make sense of all of this. Enter Malachi Samuel (I believe he's part of "The Reincarnationist," but I can't corroborate this) and a neck break search for a mysterious "magic flute" that when played, awakens memories of past lives on the listener, and the plot masterfully converts itself into a sort of cloak-and-dagger search through the most beautiful (and musically inspiring) cities of Europe (Vienna, Pasohlavsky), and subconscious travel stretches to the depth of pre-Ancient India. An underground "reincarnationist" society is also an intricate detail of the story that brings to mind Umberto Eco's fascinating storytelling of secret societies in "Foucault's Pendulum." Small erroneous details such as Beethoven's living quarters being on a sixth floor of a building in pre-1850s Vienna (Beethoven died in 1827, there were no building taller than four levels high before the late 1850s in Vienna, or so I was informed by a historian friend) are easily overlooked (and that's just because some "silly" people--like me--research stuff like this, etc.).

M.J. Rose's "The Memorist" is a masterfully woven and intellectually satisfying book. It will entertain, no doubt, and keep you at the edge of your seat. I recommend it without reserve.

FREE GIVE AWAYS: I have TWO copies of "The Memorist," and TWO paperback copies of "The Reincarnationist" to give away RIGHT NOW. First two emails to jcr3008@gmail.com WIN!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008 -- Victory at Last!

This is what I submitted as my NaNoWriMo validation for 2008. The plot will definitely continue, but now I don't have to be glued to the computer screen, typing away with mind-boggling speed. Now, I can simply go back to my Moleskine notebook and jot things down at an alarmingly slow and leisurely pace. Thanks to all of those who supported this effort--especially, my students who were willing to put up with my many mood swings throughout this month.

I am so glad to have finished this. It's frightening to look back now and realize I was nearly 12,000 words behind on the 14th.

On to many other things now, particularly my review of "The Memorist," by M.J. Rose which is due tomorrow morning, the 28th. Stay tuned for the FREE give aways!

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NaNoWriMo: The Home Stretch

Ahead for the first time since November 2nd... the feeling is amazing. If you've never done NaNoWriMo, I can't begin to recommend it with anymore vigor and enthusiasm than this. It is simply more evidence that life is best lived in a creative fashion. Last year, I was "finished" by the 24th, having taken over the word count around the 17th and never even bothering to look back. This year, as I explained earlier this week, I have worked behind practically the entire time. And while I still have a long, long way to go (over 6,800 words), I am beginning to feel this is quite possibly the best writing experience I've ever had.

I suppose I should give quite a bit of credit to Mr. Murakami, whose last book "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" (see October 31st entry) taught me about focus, endurance and the determination to see things through.

I still have some obligations at the Academy tonight, but I'll be off tonight through Sunday, November 30th, and, despite the fact that I have tons of papers to grade, I'll keep pushing through and through until the very end of NaNoWriMo.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Rest of The Year...

I've already written about how I am way behind on my word count. Well, I think I've learned to work staying just within sight, slightly under the radar of where I should be today, Saturday, November 22. Here's my little graph... I am proud of my improvement today.

December is the month to make literary plans. As November is drawing to an end, and another edition of NaNoWriMo about to be wrapped up for good, I am already thinking about my annual December ritual: the 2009 Reading List. I know I didn't do a very good job with the 2008 reading list; it sort of got out of hand due to responsibilities at the Academy. Work was especially demanding this year, and my trip to China also created havoc on my reading schedule. Having said that, I think the 2009 Reading List will be sort of holistic, organic, do-it-yourself, granola-based and freestylish in its composition and content. Sort of the "read as you go" and "pick a theme and knock yourself out" type of thing. I will first finish those books I've already started, though, and those will count for next year's list.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

The Meaning of Being Behind on a Word Count

There's an art to keeping up with deadlines, I suppose, and most of us in the academic world seem to be genetically predisposed to not partake of that talent. I don't mean this in a derogatory way; life is always greener on the other side of academia. The truth is that being 8,000+ words for NaNoWriMo really doesn't scare me much. It's not false bravado. At this time last year I was ahead by at least 10,000 words. I overtook the daily word count around the 17th of November and never looked back. This year has been tough, and, in the absence of some of the things that were working for me last year, I still feel I have a decent shot of finishing this. I'll keep you posted. I am at 27,459 words in right now.

I am reading "The Memorist" by M.J. Rose and enjoying it tremendously. My review of it is due on November 28th, so please check back for sure then. It is the first book I have been asked to review that has commercials for it on television. I caught sight of one in the History Channel the other day and as I was sort of in a trance from grading papers I thought I was seeing things. It all seemed strange until my colleague brought it up at work the next day. Please stay tuned for a GIVE AWAY (the first one of its kind here at "Frequency of Silence." I have TWO copies of "The Memorist" and TWO copies of "The Reincarnationist" to give away for free here. All you have to do is send me an e-mail at jcr3008@gmail.com On the 28th, the first two e-mails I receive will get the free copies. FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED. (I'll even pay the postage).

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Behind... but the fight is on...

I am a bit behind on my word count for NaNoWriMo (and that's putting it kindly). Work is beyond description when it comes to stress, and some other issues are pressing down on me... but I will fight on.... I am nothing if not a "Warrior of the Working Day...."

We are but warriors for the working-day;
Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirch'd
With rainy marching in the painful field;
There's not a piece of feather in our host-
Good argument, I hope, we will not fly-
And time hath worn us into slovenry.
But, by the mass, our hearts are in the trim;
And my poor soldiers tell me yet ere night
They'll be in fresher robes, or they will pluck
The gay new coats o'er the French soldiers' heads
And turn them out of service. If they do this-
As, if God please, they shall- my ransom then
Will soon be levied. Herald, save thou thy labour;
Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald;
They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints;
Which if they have, as I will leave 'em them,
Shall yield them little, tell the Constable.