A Violent Melody

pianoteacherI think that the success of Jelinek’s works and The Piano Teacher in particular can be attributed to the way how its style complements its themes. Her writing—in a sense—is beautiful; but it’s a beauty through pain. Density, overall thematic and narrative chaos, mixing “high” style of poetic metaphors with crude descriptions and vulgarities; writing about violence can be really tricky if you don’t have a particular plan, or sensibility to do it.

I love how the internal world of Erika’s thoughts mixes with the external one in a hauntingly captivating stream of consciousness—especially when it’s connected with music and experiencing it:

A world opens up to HER, a world whose existence no one else even suspects. Legoland, Minimundus, a miniature world of red, blue, and white plastic tiles. The pustules with which the world can be joined together release an equally tiny world of music. HER left hand—rigid talons paralyzed in incurable awkwardness—scratches feebly on several keys. She wants to soar up to exotic spheres, which numb the senses, boggle the mind. She doesn’t even make it to the gas station, for which there is a very precise model. SHE is nothing but a clumsy tool. Encumbered with a slow, heavy mind. Leaden dead weight. A hindrance! A gun turned against HERSELF, never to go off. A tin screw clamp.

Music, obsession, repression, sexual violence and so on, it’s all linked in such a strong and mind-blowing statement on human nature. Honestly I just don’t know how anybody could see her writings as just “a mass of text shoveled together without artistic structure,” if that isn’t only a stale literary conservatism. It’s interesting that such opinion was expressed as late as at the beginning of 21 century—though I do realize that it was only one member of the Swedish Academy who sparked the controversy.

There were moments when I was myself kinda repelled—not necessarily by the violence or atrociousness, but by the general feeling of hopelessness combined with the demanding style. But that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. A very uneasy experience, forcing us to think about the brokenness of human soul and psyche.


Fully Automated Luxury Polyamorous Space Libertarianism

heinleinI really do have a crush on those vintage pulp-ish sci-fi book covers. Still, I read so little of the genre, it occurred to me recently—especially the classic stuff. That’s why I’ve decided to pick up some Heinlein, and my choice was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Here’s what I’ve got to say:

1. After getting through Atlas Shrugged and all of that Rand’s idealistic romanticism, this novel makes a very refreshing reading experience. Most importantly, Heinlein acknowledges the doomed nature of libertarian utopianism, what is reflected at the end of the book. That pretty much sums up the case; even putting aside all the other ideological problems, the same political message comes across as more or less reasonable and balanced.

2. I really appreciate how Mike is portrayed. Maybe I do read too little sci-fi but it just seems to me that such a character of an intelligent supercomputer is almost always inherently evil, or becomes evil throughout the plot. So it’s also quite refreshing to finally read about a technological entity with a “pure soul” which despite being affected by the mischievous actions of humans it doesn’t have to necessarily end with a mass-slaughter or anything of such an explicit nature (again, as seen at the end of the book).

And that line marriage thing is crazy! Although that does sounds like a possible vision of human relationships in the future.

More stuff’s coming soon, especially cause I’ve just finished the second season of The Man in the High Castle series and I feel like coming back to Dick.

Marxism and Its Discontents

kolakowskiDamn, I really suck at coming up with titles.

Recently I’ve delved into the essays of Leszek Kołakowski (think, a Polish Bertrand Russell of continental philosophy) and I found them simply amazing. Earlier I’ve read only some fragments from Main Currents of Marxism so I already knew about his criticism of socialism (both in theory and practice) and its brilliance in the attention to details, scrupulous approach and well-argued analysis. One fragment from What is Left of Socialism? struck me as exceptionally relatable to what I was already thinking before:

One of the causes of the popularity of Marxism among educated people was the fact that in its simple form it was very easy; even Sartre noticed that Marxists are lazy. Indeed, they enjoyed having one key to open all doors, one universally applicable explanation for everything, an instrument that made it possible to master all of history and economics without actually having to study either.

The popularity of Marxist thought in humanities is not particularly odd. Because of a number of historical-societal-cultural factors and through a period of continuous development as seen in Frankfurt School, postmodernism etc., Marxism (and its derivatives) became a very important theoretical framework for a lot of scholars out there. Is it really that lazy though? I think Kołakowski misses the point that Marxism as a theory became so distorted in different ways that it’s hard to blame the source itself. In a way, Marxism became a victim of some serious manipulations which gave birth to all of those Sokal-affair-like-phenomena. Of course it’s important to distinguish between a criticism of postmodernism and a criticism of postmodernism, as Sokal-like-phenomena tend to be very dubious itself (think Jordan Peterson etc.). What I have on mind in particular is the character of Molly Notkin from Infinite Jest, a post-marxist film theorist who is exposed in the novel as someone who cannot be relied upon; a very telling caricature.

The question, however, remains; why Marxism became such a force to be distorted into the major point of reference for criticism and ridicule of humanities? That was probably a complex and multi-dimensional process. The goal of our field is to constantly develop and change earlier ideas to find new uses and interpretations, and that plays a significant role in the progression of our civilization in general. Obviously we cannot get rid of the tendency for abuse. Less looking at ideas as inherently bad and more as an outcome of specific causes which should be analyzed critically and changed for “the better,” whatever that means.

Metamodern Love

kleineOkay, I am in love with this novella. It was recommended to me on the Lusty Literature Memes Facebook group in a post where I asked people about their opinions on vaporwave aesthetics in literature. Although eventually I came to the conclusion that it’d be too difficult to preserve such “feel” of the strictly Internet phenomenon in prose-form, Kanley Stubrick actually makes some sense in such perspective. But let me just explain generally what’s so great about it.

A young couple watches television. It’s a WWII program about aeroplanes. She loses her shoes. She thinks they “need to see new people.” She vanishes. He travels the globe, the plot travels through his struggles, the reader travels through the transcendence of verses, slang, brand names, pop-culture and many worlds of fiction. The sky looks like meat.

I just cannot express how well this resonates with me. A very concise and poetic style of writing, a multitude of occurrences taking place in a rather ambiguous space of fiction, various references, sometimes quite vague but combined in a very aesthetically satisfactory way. Even the cover, I mean, it’s all just an excellently arranged piece of prose.

In a way, it’s a new, or maybe somehow eccentric take on a common theme of love. We have all of those: loss, sentimentality, grief, hopelessness, trying to make our way through the crowd and finding what you’ve got to find along with establishing your identity. But the mystique, the superficial obviousness of expressions which create a new depth combined with elements mentioned above makes it a totally refreshing experience.

Sometimes works which play with a certain aesthetics may fail in such a goal and come out as sheer showing-off. I had a similar feeling when I started to read Butler’s 300.000.000, though it changed later. Kanley Stubrick is a fast read (I think it took me around one and half an hour) and it’s a striking, exhilarating experience. I’m very glad that I found out about Mike Kleine and I’m certainly going to check out some other works of his.

Into the Wild

heroesofthefrontierI remember that it was during my middle school years when I was still choosing books in a bookstore at random. Since then I’ve been more of a deliberate reader/consumer. Still, it was not so random that time when I bought Heroes of the Frontier as I’ve already heard about Eggers, but only that he wrote The Circle which was adapted into a movie, so that was pretty much a shot in the dark.

It seemed nice. And I felt like I needed a break from all of that postmodern mumbo-jumbo and the visions of doomed humankind, so an escape into the Alaskan solitude was a way to go.

And it was nice. A very funny, endearing tribute to that distant part of the US. Josie and her children run away from her careless ex-husband, career failures and a suburgatory-like environment of their hometown in Ohio. It’s a variation of a road novel where a family packed in an RV travel through the wild, Alaskan world, full of its specific images, peoples and—of course—obstacles. Eventually it narrows down to the importance of unity, bravery, staying true to yourself and other themes of such kind but presented in an unpretentious and amiable way.

Then I’ve read a little about The Circle and its dystopian-technological criticism and I’ve understood what I think is lacking in Heroes. I’d imagine its ending to be something about Josie returning back to the civilization of American mainland and using her experiences to lead a more assertive and successful life. The actual ending is constructed in a way that such interpretation doesn’t have to be necessarily excluded. Still, I feel like it was that kind of bland glorification of the “natural state” that I’m not especially fond of.

Nevertheless, I don’t condemn the novel because of that. It makes some good points about our contemporary, domestic life, family values and has a lot of moments when I chuckled audibly—and usually that’s all I need to endorse a piece of prose. I’d have to check out The Circle and we’ll see what I’ll make out of all of that.

Writing the Digital

bonTo a certain extent, writers are concerned with identities. Those of their characters, of themselves towards those characters, towards the written work itself, towards all the possible perceptions of their own self, their being-in-writing and so on. In Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, one of the protagonists, also named Joshua Cohen, is a struggling writer given a job of ghostwriting an autobiography of the in-novel Google-equivalent’s creator whose name is Joshua Cohen as well. Obviously, a lot to say about identities:

Fiction writers mistrust the truth, nonfiction writers swear by it, while ghostwriters – who are typically laidoff journalists with novels in the drawer – are divided down the middle. And even that division is split. By which I mean, the relationships I’ve had with my ghostees have always replicated. What happens is I end up rewriting everybody, and so I become rewritten myself. Haunt the lives of controlfreaks, egomaniacs, career narcissists and solipsists, your lovers, your wife, your mother, and you become them too, inevitably.

(In the book, the above fragment is crossed out in an experimental-typographical manner, I spared that for the comfort of reading). I’d argue that such rewriting occurs within any kind of writing. Writing is always some kind of dealing with one’s own ideas which obtain more apparent, material form when voiced through a text. That way, they can be analyzed again and may change one’s perception of themselves or their surrounding world.

Writing in the Information Age (we’re still in that one, right?) is obviously complicated by the new media’s informational chaos. Cohen-the-protagonist-writer’s debut novel was unfortunately published on 11th Sept. 2001, when everyone were pretty much concerned with other topics. A lot is said about the development of Internet itself and other connected technologies. There’s something about religion and mysticism, also with its relation to technology. And there’s other stuff, too.

Generally, the book seems to be flawed in that it’s kind of all over the place thematically. I’m a bit disappointed as I expected a lot from a novel which was to be like “Philip Roth’s work (…) fired into David Foster Wallace’s inside the Hadron particle collider.” I don’t want to condemn it totally. It’s very in my taste, experimental, metafictional, well-researched. Maybe it’d need a better editor, or something. Entropy is mentioned several times in the plot, so maybe that’s a clue? I’m not sure, though. I’ll give it a second chance in the future; at least, I really want this book to captivate me.

A Book of Madness

ijThe funny thing was when I got to the physical end of the text, I immediately turned pages back to the beginning, with some faint ideas and guesses, and realized the infinity.

What struck me the most was how, paradoxically, the novel is repelling and absorbing at the same time. With all those footnotes, heavy jargon, non-linearity and general fucking-with-the-reader thing, Infinite Jest is a challenge indeed. However, to the very end I thought that it’s more or less balanced with what’s really endearing and entertaining about it; the humor (even the E.T.A’s students cringey jokes which I simply loved), reflections on life and society (like most of the conversations between Marathe and Steeply) or moments of absolutely sincere, emotional havoc (like Mario’s conversation with Moms about sadness). Maybe that’s what makes DFW’s work transcend postmodernism. It’s not just a gargantuan, complex piece of prose; to put it simply, it has a heart. One way or another, that’s probably what DFW himself intended it to be like, I think I’ve mentioned that in the earlier post.

Its structural dimension is a completely different thing. How does this sincerity, hope and wholesomeness go together with the obvious, obsessional effect connected with continuous rereading and drawing different theories and interpretations? Answers are not given directly? Answers are not given at all, and all we have is the world in all its fucked-up-ness and its interpretations? Man what’s your story?

Or maybe it’s not about any answers at all. As I’ve read, DFW once said to Franzen that “the story can’t fully be made sense of.” That kinda makes sense. The world can’t fully be made sense of and that’s okay, because subsequent stories and retellings are what makes it all go round. As DeLillo beautifully (as always) put it,

[o]ne of his recent stories ends in the finality of this half sentence: Not another word. But there is always another word. There is always another reader to regenerate these words. The words won’t stop coming. Youth and loss. This is Dave’s voice, American.