The Festival of Insignificance

It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls, who – everyone of them – showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. He was captivated; captivated and even disturbed: It was as if their seductive power no longer resided in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts, but in that small round hole located in the center of the body.

festival

I had decided to forgo reading the reviews of the most recent Milan Kundra book before I went head on and read it intermittently on Saturday. Intermittently because partaking of a Kundera book in one sitting is akin to engorging the entire buffet.

So slowly I went on enjoying, savoring each sentence that are resonant of his style (if there is such a). His meanderings, the philosophical digressions (they call them) can be jarring for most, the narrator too loquacious, but I have come to expect them.

I must admit, shamefully, that I do not anymore remember how I first came across his work, and I admit (shamefully again) that it was The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I fell in love with it that I imagined myself as Tomas cleaning windows in Prague in the 1960s, sampling the endless permutations of women, my hair smelling like it were doused in vaginal discharge after my many trysts, and being told by Tereza afterwards to wash my hair.

Reviewing my old posts on this blog, I found none of those I tagged under the author’s name and that title could help me recall how I got hold of my copy of Lightness. My copy is badly mangled, scandalously highlighted, overly-annotated. I do not anymore remember how many times I have lent it and prayed that my precious copy be returned. After that, I, little by little, unconsciously at first, ravenously next, bought all his titles, including his books of essays.

I fell too madly, deeply in love with his works. The Joke, The Farewell Waltz, Life Is Elsewhere, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Testament Betrayed, Immortality, Slowness, Identity, Ignorance, and most recentlyThe Festival of Insignificance. I came close to donning a black turtleneck all the time. But of course, I won’t, as wearing a black turtleneck can be a challenge to justify.

If I had books that would most closely mark my twenties, they’re Kundera’s.

One thing stays persistently, paraphrasing Sabina, nothing matters in the long run.

I read Kundera for the meanderings and how these departures emphasize his incisive observations on the absurd, the banal, the insignificant. And by writing about them, he artistically made them all reasonable, original, consequential. Yes even the navel.

Such is the power of Milan Kundera.

On Memoirs

I began reading this book three nights ago, but because of papers of my students that I needed to check and lectures I had to prepare, the pages have been mercilessly dogeared.

I have not acquired the more civilized approach of using a book marker.

manhattan

 

Manhattan, when I was young is a memoir written by Mary Cantwell. It’s a working girl’s recollection of New York City in the 1950s and early 60s. I have not much love for this city. Aside from my bitter memory of eating at a Burger King in Hoboken after losing my pair of Rayban Wayfarer in Times Square, New York reminds me of a once great city on its way to gradual decline.

But her life story, I’ve been much engrossed. The New York City of her time was full of promise.

I think that memoirs have to be like this: the writer has to be constantly self-deprecating and completely honest. I suppose honesty has direct proportionality to the degree one tramples on herself in every page until nothing is left but an agglutinated version of one’s bloody self. This honesty will require much from her, including shaming herself, betraying herself, if only to be completely sincere. Readers love characters who are witty but sad, perceptive but sad, accomplished but world weary and sad. 

The talk about memory and the many theories surrounding it, well, they can wait. 

 

 

 

Reading series 3: Empires of the Word, A Language History of the World

Reading series 3: Empires of the Word, A Language History of the World

But the situation compares ironically with the contest of English and Spanish in North America in the same period, where if anything Spanish – in its version seeded to Mexico, Central America, Cuba, and Puerto Rico – is growing at the expense of English, in many big cities and much of the south-west of the USA. All these developments, however, tend to underline the true determinants of language spread: population growth and population movements. When an official language was an artificial thing, created by international elites, and spread as far as possible among local populations, it is understandable that the bigger budget should have created the bigger language. But when the population starts to grow, as the urban population of Metro Manila has, its language (Tagalog) has come to dominate the country just as its speakers have, English or no English (378).

Reading series 3: Empires of the Word, A Language History of the World

But the situation compares ironically with the contest of English and Spanish in North America in the same period, where if anything Spanish – in its version seeded to Mexico, Central America, Cuba, and Puerto Rico – is growing at the expense of English, in many big cities and much of the south-west of the USA. All these developments, however, tend to underline the true determinants of language spread: population growth and population movements. When an official language was an artificial thing, created by international elites, and spread as far as possible among local populations, it is understandable that the bigger budget should have created the bigger language. But when the population starts to grow, as the urban population of Metro Manila has, its language (Tagalog) has come to dominate the country just as its speakers have, English or no English (378).

Additional readings

I began reading Lost Bodies by Francois Gantheret while on a bus to Makati this evening after buying a copy at Powerbooks in Megamall. In the tradition of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, this novel is profound, literary, and profoundly literary, despite its Sidney Sheldon-esque grip (minus the usual cheapness).

I only let go of my copy, rested it beside me with the open part facing my bed, to write this post.

For some time now, he no longer slept. Eyes wide open in the darkness, he lay in wait. It was like this every morning. He had only a very hazy notion of what it meant: mornings for him were spent just keeping watch, waiting, sitting with his back to the wall, his legs folded and his arm around his knees, clenched to his chest so as to allow as little access as possible to the cold which has more acute at that time of the day, his head thrown back, his eyes glued to the lid above him that was still not yet visible.

___________

And these two whose still intact plastic covers I am yet to tear and peel.

Readings for the Holy Week

To distract me from the goriness of this Holy Week and since I am yet to make up my mind on where to go this long work-free week, I stocked on my readings. This will keep me entertained during the next seven days of doing nothing as I do not think it proper to spend it chasing after bacchanalian pursuits, this, after all, is a holy week that is best observed by doing reflections, prayers, fasting, and stuff of less mundane nature.

They’d also be good company in case I decide to hop on a bus going north to I do not know exactly where.

 

The company stood at attention, each man looking straight before him at the empty parade ground, where the cinder piles showed purple with evening. On the wind smelt of barracks and disinfectant there was a faint of greasiness of food cooking. At the other side of the wide field long lines of men shuffled slowly into the narrow shanty that was the mess hall. Chins down, chests out, legs twitching and tired from the afternoon drilling, the company stood at attention.

John Don Passos, Three Soldiers, p7

Waterford, which is Irish for water you have to ford across as opposed to water you have to live in, die in, clamber over stone walls in, chase cattle in and go to bars in, is as you would expect a big splash of a country. A dirty, muddy splash. Which I suppose is not surprising as it is situated on the banks of a river called Suir.

Peter Bidlecombe, Ireland–In a Glass of its Own, p7

So God, the story goes, made the earth. There was nothing much to it, at first, the firmament steaming gray, maybe a smear of slime upon its featureless face. A blank canvas. God looked it over, decided it would do, and went ahead with the detail work.

J. Robert Lennon, Mailman, p17

Two officers sat side by side in a cramped command couches of the RSFS Fergus as the light cruiser accelerated away from the Galway system.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr, The Ethos Effect, p3.

 

Long ago my father and I were servants at Cripplegate, a cotton plantation in South Carolina. That distant place, the world of my childhood, is ruin now, mere parable, but what history I have begins in an unrecorded accident before the Civil War, late one evening when my father, George Hawkins, still worked in the big house, watched over his owbner’s interests, and often drank with his Master–this was John Polkinghorne–on the front porch aster a heavy meal.

Charles Johnson, Oxherding Tale, p3

   

The morning before Easter Sunday, Jane Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home. She was a long legged Chippewa woman, aged hard in every way except how she moved.

Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine, p1

 

The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain that started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twnety miles of thick, impenetrable scrub oak and pine at the front gate of Angola penitentiary.

James Lee Burke, The Neon Rain, p1

   

Some wars begin badly. some end badly. The Iraq War of 2003 was exceptional in both beginning well for the Anglo-American force that waged it and ending it victoriously. The credit properly belonged in both cases to the American part of the coalition.

John Keegan, The Iraq War, p1

Death of the author: J.D. Salinger

To the author whose Catcher in the Rye accompanied me during my teenage years and whose writing style influenced me more than I would care to acknowledge:

J.D. Salinger (1919-2010), see you in the river or something, anywhere, except in a goddamn cemetery because we do not want people coming and putting a bunch of flowers on our stomach on a Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead?

Nobody.

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”

Mr. Antolini, Catcher in the Rye, 1951.