Saturday, May 13, 2017

Y observador tan agudo

Corazón tan blancoCorazón tan blanco by Javier Marías
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

El misterio anunciado en la primera oración da impulso a una serie de reflexiones y dudas sobre las relaciones humanas, en la voz de un narrador — interprete y traductor profesional — especialmente sensible a las connotaciones de cualquier discurso y sus silencios. Desbordado por los secretos de los otros, y por sus dudas sobre si realmente lo son, este narrador busca un inalcanzable equilibrio emocional, muchas veces por acciones que lo ponen en ridículas y hasta muy cómicas situaciones. Porque hay bastante humor, mezclado con ironía y horror, en este hilo de observaciones agudas y divagaciones que tiene tanto de ensayo como de novela. Las oraciones suelen ser muy largas, con cláusulas que cuestionan una primera interpretación y obligan al lector a pausar y pensar. Eso sí : el misterio al final se explica, y los encuentros aparentemente inconexos (una noche en La Habana en viaje de novios, un episodio en el apartamento neoyorquino de una mujer deseperada por ligar con un extraño, las anécdotras del padre del narrador, etc.), se conectan. Pero todo eso ha sido poco más que el pretexto para incitar al lector a pensar sobre muchas cosas, incluyendo especialmente el lenguaje que usamos y si o cómo nos obligan unos a los otros a amarnos. Es un placer, para saborear cada oración y oír trabajar un cerebro hiperactivo.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

To save the NEA and NEH

All of us who care about literature or any of the arts, we cannot permit the killing of the National Endowments of the Arts and of Humanities. Here's one way to protest: by signing on to the Authors Guild letter to the U.S. House and Senate. Thanks, from me and all creators.

Monday, January 16, 2017

BLIND SPOT BY HAROLD ABRAMOWITZ


It is rather hard to say in conventional terms why this is such a satisfying novel.  It has two parts and a postscript.  Each of the parts is divided into chapters of a few pages, which are in turn divided into paragraphs of narrative and description that range from a page and a half to a line or so and are separated by centered rules.  All the paragraphs in a given chapter tend to be related to an incident initially described.  In the first part, a number of small incidents occurring to a man staying in a mountain resort are told several times each with small variations.  In the second part, the narrative recounts possibly the same man going to a funeral, to a café, perhaps after the funeral and where he may meet a woman or other friends, and to a garden at night or a room where he may dwell with similar echoing framings.  The postscript of a few pages repeats material from the second part in more conventional paragraphing.

The action manifests in a haze of indefiniteness.  If I were reaching for fancy metaphors, I would say it was like the impossibility of knowing both the location and the momentum of a particle in quantum physics.  The descriptions may contradict themselves and are often interrupted with equivocal asides like "if you will," or "or perhaps," or "at this time.” that delocate them in the dimensions of certainty.  Things are often described with two consecutive adverbial phrases that overlap in meaning but do not coincide exactly, as "in a café or restaurant.”  These constructions suggest that the author is projecting a reality that is only imperfectly knowable, or can only be imperfectly put into words.

Let me give you and example. Note that examples are hard to choose. Superficially many paragraphs seem very much alike, but when you examine them they have differences that make it hard to select one as typical.  Here is a sequence of three:

He is wearing a hat as he walks down the street. He has no hat. He is on his way to the café to meet his friends, associates, for lunch. He is walking down the street in a part of the city that has a, more or less, quaintly industrial feel about it.  He is in the city, and he is going to meet her at the café, or restaurant. And it is still, in fact, hard to believe, sometimes. It is indeed still, sometimes, and hard to believe that what has happened has, in fact, happened. It is a surprise, in the way that many events in the past months and weeks and days, have been a surprise. It is a surprise, he feels, and a shame, somewhat. It is a shame, somewhat, because there are things that could've been done differently. There are things, he feels, that could have been done that would have made all the difference in the world. But then, of course, nothing could have been done. Still, he stands very well. He cuts a fine figure as he walks down the street. It is his defining moment. A golden moment, if you will. Yet things could have been very different, he feels.

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He is standing in the middle of the street. He is standing on an island, a concrete pedestrian traffic island, in the middle of the street. He is waving to his friends, associates, gesturing, somewhat wildly, humiliatingly, in a way, doing a kind of dance, almost a dance, trying to get their attention.

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His friends, associates, are talking and drinking beverages in the café. It is after the funeral, and the café, is more or less, crowded that day.

I usually consider novels from the viewpoint of prose, plot, characterization, and theme. These tools of criticism are not very useful here. The prose is consistently good, steadily solid, particularly evocative of mood, but not exciting in itself. There are many brief narratives, but no plot.  The mood and thoughts of the protagonist are often and movingly described, but they do not add up to a vivid sense of a character. We are privy to many of his thoughts and feelings, but not to his past or future, not to who he is.  The theme is the poignant familiarity of uncertainty. The operation of the theme is how we pay close attention in a continuing experience of small variations. In a way the theme is attention, both the pleasure of it and the futility of it.

But that is a theme shared by the author and the reader -; for the protagonist there is no theme.

Yet we continue to read, and are glad we do, and are both satisfied at the end and sorry that it is over as in a well-plotted, conventional novel.

Something is going on that questions whether plot and character as I usually think of them, are fundamental to the pleasure and function of a novel.

What is going on?

Let us say that at its most fundamental what keeps us reading or listening to narrative in general is the tension that arises from uncertainty. We may want to know how the plot comes out; we may want to know how a character will further express him/herself. One thing that keeps us reading Blind Spot is pervasive uncertainty. This uncertainty is poignantly connected with mood. Blind Spot has a dark even ominous mood, something that resembles what I would call Middle European melancholy, the mood of writers like Kafka, parts of Kundera, and Imre Kertész's Selfless or Péter Nádas' A Book of Memories. For example, we vaguely suspect that the funeral in the second part is the funeral of the protagonist, but at other times are reassured that, though he is ill, his illness is not fatal. We hang longingly in this uncertainty.

This novel differs from most also in the cover blurbs. Where most blurbs are transparently meaningless hype, on the back or this book are five brief essays by smart writers, each attempting to put across how the book is so good. I will quote one, T. C. Tlbert:

Blind Spot weaves a new structure for narrative, forces the reader to consider the complex and profound structures hidden in a record of time, each observation of the utterly quotidian transforming into a lyrical evocation of essential significance. Each repetition is a surprise…

Amanda Ackerman adds "… Each sentence feels like it undoes a lie."