Thursday, May 19, 2011

On "The Sound and the Fury" and "Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans: The Best of McSweeney's Humor Category"

It does not appear to be my day for reading. I picked up The Sound and the Fury, a book that, at the very least, has an interesting premise and astoundingly coarse dialogue, and could not make head nor tail of it. The protagonist appears to have no grasp of time. Being quite tired, I got about thirty-five pages in and fell asleep.

Deciding that perhaps this book required too much effort, I moved on to some lighter material, apparently culled from the pages of a publication called McSweeney's. Either it is nonsense, or it is extremely funny if you have read several books and periodicals that I have not, know what a "Flash Mob" is, and understand exactly why it is that Ezra Pound repeatedly refers to everyone as "Animal" or "Filth." I highly recommend it for the well-read modern American human, but for myself, it does little.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

On "Twitter"

A kindly associate has informed me that "everyone" has a Twitter and that I must as well. Henceforth, I tweet at!/MargaretFuller.

That is all.

On "The Old Man and the Sea"

While staying at a seaside house of an acquaintance for several days, I have been limited in my reading to mostly what was lying about the house. However, today I ventured out to the local library and asked the librarian what the best piece of her century's literature was. The lady, after a long pause, responded, "The Old Man and the Sea." I asked if it was in, and she said she could check.

It was a little duodecimo of a book, and I read it in perhaps an hour sitting. It concerned an old fisherman named Santiago, living in poverty off the coast of Cuba, who wanted to catch an impressive fish. A simplistic theme, certainly, but a surprisingly moving one. Although I had a hard time wrapping my head around the author's prose, which seemed strangely terse, as though he had no desire to explain himself any further.

Unlike Mrs. Allende, this "Ernest Hemingway" seemed to linger on the one character, delving almost entirely into his perspective without quite crossing that last threshold into the first person point of view. As a result, the trials of the old man were simultaneously personally painful and anesthetically distant. The man's absolute refusal of reflection created the sensation that I was riding close behind the eyes of some alien intelligence, but his lapses into daydreaming, and into longing for his friend, a young boy, would suddenly render him deeply human.

Mister Hemingway appears to be struggling with the question of autonomy versus community, on the desire for radical individualism constantly undercut by the need for human affection. The old man constantly denies companionship and refuses human charity, but his talking to himself at sea because there is "no one to annoy" and his longing for the company of his former assistant paint him as a man more fragile than he would like to admit.

My only qualm with this story is in the way that it treats, or fails to treat, women. The old man professes a love for the sea as a woman but cannot resist swearing at "her" for her caprice--his wife is dead--the only other woman in the story is an American on holiday who has perhaps one line. Not every book must concern women, but when this one touches on women, it only explains them in their relations to men. A female marlin, killed by the old man in years past, is only worth mentioning because of the noble behavior of her mate in her death throes. A pity, from an author who has otherwise written a lovely little book on the desire for dignity and humanity in hard times.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On "Daughter of Fortune" by Isabel Allende

A strange character, this Isabel Allende. The International Net tells me that she is a cousin of the former president of her country, and has repeatedly had to flee political persecution. I would not have guessed this about her, based on this optimistic little book, brimming over almost to the point of disbelief with happiness and hope in the face of dire circumstances. I intend to read more of her later, but for now, let me speak of Daughter of Fortune.

The story concerns a young Chilean lady of means named Eliza and her early romance with a boy named Juaquin Andieta. When Juaquin goes to California to pursue gold in order to win his fortune and her hand, Eliza follows him there, hoping that they can make a life together in America. However, this line of plot does not begin until several chapters in, as the second chapter delves into the life of a more minor character, a young man named Jacob Todd who courted Eliza's foster mother Rose seven years before most of the events of the story. We watch Todd go from a practical Bible salesman to an idealist missionary who, when it comes right down to it, would prefer not to do anything. We learn about his foibles, his deep abiding love for Rose, and his disgrace once word gets out that he has been squandering the money donated for his mission. And then Mister Todd gets on a boat, and we do not see him again for nearly two hundred pages.

This is one of the appealing things about Mrs. Allende's writing, if you like this style--which I do: her willingness to plunge almost haphazardly in and out of the lives of her characters. Within the span of this one small volume, the reader forms an intimate relationship with almost everybody. Eliza's foster uncles remain closed books, but everyone else, from Eliza to her Chinaman friend to a gruff madam she meets in the desert in California--all of these people become our acquaintances and intimate friends. Allende opens the doors to their lives and invites us to wander in and out.

The landscape of the novel, from Chile to California, is breathtaking.  The beauty and horrors of life in Gold Rush-era San Francisco are Mrs. Allende's obvious passion, and she lingers lovingly over descriptions of crowded streets, yellow-streamered Chinese restaurants, hilltop mansions and emprisoning whorehouses alike. This novel is a romance, but it is not a romance of human love as much as it is an apostrophe to California, to the frontier, and to the squalid beauty of human desires, from greed to love to the yearning for freedom. Mrs. Allende's writing style is realistic but manages to encompass something of the magical as well, a most singular style that I am told emerged from the harsh political climates of South America. I am told that if I like her, I should also read a Mister Marquez. I wonder if perhaps he inherited the style from her.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Fortuitous Return and Some Thoughts on Blithedale

I have to say, it's been some time since I have picked up a book, and more since I have picked up a pen, literal or, in this case, metaphorical. But there comes a time when a lady, having begun to catch up on her reading, beginning with the years of her absence, cannot be silent.

Upon my return to the United States, and to the world at large, I had many adjustments to make and so had very little time for catching up on the works published in the century or so since my departure. I recently inquired at the bookstore after my friend Mister Hawthorne and was directed to some anthologies collecting some of his Gift Book pieces, as well as a volume of his collected novels, which I happily devoured--until I arrived at The Blithedale Romance.

Blithedale begins as a fairly innocent novel, a charming story about the perils of seeking Utopia, a sentiment which I wholeheartedly endorse. The protagonist, Coverdale, reminded me of several of my young Transcendentalist friends, whom I am too polite to name or identify more clearly than that. I was enjoying it quite a bit, even through the introduction of Zenobia, the principal female in the novel. However, as the novel progressed, I found myself increasingly offended, and it dawned on me with sudden clarity that it was because I was being libeled.

It is shocking, I think, to learn what people say about one behind one's back, or in this case, over one's grave. Mister Hawthorne's thorough slandering of a character who is little more than a paper scrim of myself appalls me to a degree that I cannot begin to articulate. This "Zenobia", of her petty jealousies, her arrogance, and her secret longing to lean on men, showing out from under a character much like my own (my love of literature, my passion for equality, my Amazonian good looks) is simply deplorable.

As for Hawthorne's little disclaimer in his introduction to this penny-dreadful novella about an incompetent young pervert--I do not believe for one iota of a second his claims that any resemblance to actual individuals is incidental. And that is all I have to say about that.

I was hoping to begin my "web log" with the aim of reading forward from the year of my departure to the present. However, I am finding that it is too depressing to see one's contemporaries in the harsh light of retrospect. I think that I will leap forward into more modern literature, and avoid, at least for the moment, the works of my contemporaries. I will lick my wounds and read from the younger generations, and report on what merits I find with more clarity than I have here.

And if Mister Hawthorne truly believes that I am "bruising herself against the narrow limitations of her sex", as he says in his introduction, I would like to counter with the argument that I have exceeded in demolishing those narrow limitations, both in life and beyond. I don't see Mister Hawthorne returning from the dead.