Friday, July 27, 2007

doris lessing

"Briefing For a Descent Into Hell" is one of Doris Lessing's masterpieces. Her incredible versatility has been manifested in a number of volumes that range from direct realism to an almost science fiction approach. This novel could be considered a somewhat sci-fi project, although she named it as part of her "Inner Space Fiction" works. (Already hinted at in her monumental "The Golden Notebook", a classic that tackles problems such as feminism, psycoanalysis, and marxism). The imbricate plot departs from the look inside the mind of a man who is supposedly crazy, monitored by psychiatrists in a mental institution. They try different drugs on him, while he travels through the seas... The incredible efforts they make in order to decode his personality and identity is donde in the novel through several tecniques (Dialogues between doctors and patient, collection of letters from several people the patient has known in his life -we later learn he is a Professor from Cambridge University-, etc).

"You will wake up, as it were, but there will be a period while you are waking which will be like the recovery from an illness, or like the emergence into good air from a poisoned one. Some of you may choose not to wake, for the waking will be so painful, and the knowledge of your condition and Earth's condition so agonising, you will be like drug addicts: you may prefer to continue to breath in oblivion. And when you have understood that you are in the process of awakening, that you have something to get done, you will have absorbed enough of the characteristics of Earth-men to be distrustful, surly, grudging, suspicious. You will be like a drowning person who drowns his rescuer, so violently will you struggle in your panic terror" (133).

Next, a letter sent to the psychiatrist, providing more data from the perspective of a student. This is what she says:

"While his remarks may have been scattered, there was an inner logic to them, a thread, which sounded at first like a repetition of certain words or ideas. Sometimes it seemed as if the sound, and not the meaning of a word or syllable in a sentence, gave birth to the next sentence or word. When this happened it gave the impression of superficilaity, of being 'scatty' or demented. But we have perhaps to begin to think of the relation of the sound of a word with its meaning. Of course poets do this, all the time. Do doctors? Sounds, the function of sounds in speech... we have no way yet of knowing--have we?--how a verbal current may match an inner reality, sounds expressing a condition? But perhaps this sort of thought is not found useful by you" (220).

Monday, July 23, 2007


photos by kent klich, essay by herta muller.
After James Agee and Walker Evans's testimony...
Remembering poignant books mixing text and photographs, such as this one, or Eltit's and Errazuriz, 'El infarto del alma'...

"The question which I had to ask myself so often in Romania is still relevant today: how much is a human life worth? As much money as it costs. But most people have no money. The state still has nothing to offer them, and they can give nothing to the state. For poor people, life is over very quickly. Because they have no money, they have no choice but to pay for everything with a handful of life. Without any choice, it is soon spent.

There is a Romanian proverb which says: A good person is worth as much as a piece of bread. This doesn´t say much for the value of the individual, but it says an awful lot about the value of bread. This kind of folk wisdom only evolves where there is no bread but a gread deal of hunger". (Herta Müller).

Thursday, July 19, 2007


"... but she could hide from them even while she was in their presence. She slipped away, she was there but not there, not-there became a place familiar to her. It was lightless, shadowless, but not dark. Sometimes it had actual space like a hollow space she could curve into. There, she had nothing to do but breathe and feel her heart beat quietly. She couldn't be surprised and she couldn't be hurt, there wasn't even the danger of overhearing words she wasn't supposed to hear.
She could be not-there yet fully present to others, even listening to what they told her. Eating supper, dressing herself in the chilly bedroom..."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

james agee/walker evans

"But there must be an end to this: a sharp end and clean silence: a steep and most serious withdrawal: a new and more succint beginning: " (James Agee).

"They are at an immesurable disadvantage in a world which is run, and in which they are hurt, and in which they might be cured, by 'knowledge' and by 'ideas': and to 'consciousness' or 'knowledge' in its usages in personal conduct and in human relationships, and to those unlimited worlds of the senses, the remembrance, the mind and the heart which, beyond that of their own existence, are the only human hope, dignity, solace, increasement, and joy, they are all but totally blinded. The ability to try to understand existence, the ability to try to recognize the wonder and responsibility of one's own existence, the ability to know even fractionally the almost annihilating beauty, ambiguity, darkness, and horror which swarm every instant of every consciousness, the ability to try to accept, or the ability to try to defend one's self, or the ability to dare to try to assist others; all such as these, of which most human beings are cheated of their potentials, are, in most of those who even begin to discern or wish for them, the gifts of thefts of economic privilege, and are available to members of these leanest classes only by the rare and irrelevant miracle of born and surviving 'talent'" (James Agee).

james agee/walker evans

Thanks Jaime for this book!, "Let us now praise famous men"

"During July and August 1936 Walker Evans and I were traveling in the middle of this nation, and were engaged in what, even from the first, has seemed to me rather a curious piece of work. It was our business to prepare, for a New York magazine, an article on cotton tenantry in the United States, in the form of a photographic and verbal record of the daily living and environment of an average white family of tenant farmers. We had first to find and to live with such a family; and that was the object of our traveling" (James Agee).

Thursday, July 12, 2007

katherine dunn

"I was born three years after my sisters. My father spared no expense in these experiments. My mother had been liberally dosed with cocaine, amphetamines, and arsenic during her ovulation and throughout her pregnancy with me. It was a dissapointment when I emerged with such commonplace deformities. My albinism is the regular pink-eyed variety and my hump, though pronounced, is not remarkable in size or shape as humps go. My situation was far too humdrum to be marketable on the same scale as my brother's and sisters'. Still, my parents noted that I had a strong voice and decided I might be an appropriate shill and talker for the business. A bald albino hunchback seemed the right enticement toward the esoteric talents of the rest of the family. The dwarfism, which was very apparent by my third birthday, came as a pleasat surprise to the patient pair and increased my value. From the beginning I slept in the built-in cupboard beneath the sink in the family van, and had a collection of exotic sunglasses to shield my sensitive eyes" (8).

This is Olympia (Oly), the main narrator of the novel, explaining her family situation, the Binewskis, a carny family in the freak show business. I read that Tim Burton is planning to make a movie out of it. I wonder how he'll do it! "Geek love", a fascinating novel!

Friday, July 6, 2007

penelope fitzgerald

“Offshore” is unique! This is a gem of a novel: 140 pages with enough elements to inspire compassion and thought through a handful of eccentric characters living on the Reach of Thames river in London. I was thinking of some women British writers and the links that somehow connect them: extravagant characters, incredible psychological insight and plenty of comic paragraphs, as well as sharp ears for dialogues. (Angela Carter, Nicola Barker –her most talented heir--, Muriel Spark, and Penelope Fitzgerald).
The characters of “Offshore”, are compared: “Like those of the amphibians when, in earlier stages of the world’s history, they took ground. Many of these species perished in the attempt”.
But what I really admire in Fitzgerald’s novel is the deep insight when depicting her characters:
Nenna, an abandoned wife mother of two girls living in her boat: “Nenna might have added to her list of things that men do better than women their ability to do nothing at all in an unhurried manner”.
Maurice, the male prostitute and charismatic friend of everyone: “The dangerous and the ridiculous were necessary to his life, otherwise tenderness would overwhelm him… when he imagined living without friends, he sat down with the whiskey in the dark”.

“All distances are the same to those who don’t meet” (129).

“Offshore” won the Booker Prize in 1979.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

geraldine brooks

Another novel found by chance. I was immediately attracted to this novel when I noticed that the author takes the father-character, March, (who leaves his family to aid the Union cause against slavery) of Louisa M Alcott's, "Little Women". That's an interesting technique, especially if you want to talk about historical events, in this case the American Civil War. It reminded me of Jean Rhys's incredible novel "Wide Sargasso Sea", where she takes Charlotte Brontë's intertext (Jane Eyre).

Geraldine Brooks, who won the Pulitzer with this book, turned to the journals and letters of Bronson Alcott, Louisa May's father, a friend and confidant of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In Brooks’s telling, March emerges as an idealistic chaplain in the little known backwaters of a war that will test his faith in himself and in the Union cause as he learns that his side, too, is capable of acts of barbarism and racism.

Brooks talks about March: "In the early 1990s I went to live in a small village in rural Virginia. For someone raised in Sydney, it was strange to suddenly live in a place where the scars of a war endured all around me. There were bullet holes in the bricks of the local church where a Civil War skirmish had taken place; a Union soldier’s belt buckle was unearthed in our backyard.Thinking about the young man who had worn that buckle was the beginning, in my mind, of March. The village is Quaker, which meant those who lived there were pacifists, but they also were abolitionists, who hated slavery. So the war brought huge issues of conscience for individuals who had to decide whether to sacrifice their non-violent principles to fight for what many saw as a just cause. I began to imagine an idealist adrift in the Civil War, and that reminded me of Little Women, and the absent father ‘far away, where the fighting was’. This isn’t a book about war, but about the strength of ideas that drive people to extreme action. I am gripped by the stories of individuals from that generation Oliver Wendell Holmes described so eloquently when he said, ‘In our youth our hearts were touched with fire’.’ Sometimes, when I stand in the field about the village and the mists rise from the creek, I feel like a time traveller, born back by the spirits of all those vivid, missing boys. "

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

angela carter

I found two incredible articles about Angela Carter's magic novel 'Nights at the circus'. These are thorough analyses that privilege theoretical approaches (e.g. feminism)--very interesting! A scene that isn't quoted in them is the explosion of the train, traveling through the Russian snow, when everything is suspended for some seconds and the elephants end up wandering in the snow with debris ablaze... Superior to G Marquez, even.