Saturday, December 16, 2006

Reading notes

Having been on the road a bit the last week and thus waiting in airports, between assignments and sitting around in a hotel room, I did read a lot. First Dimitri Verhulst's 'Problemski Hotel'. He is one of the interesting voices in Flanders. He spent a brief period in an asylum seekers centre and wrote a bitter-sweet, funny series of short stories. His style is noteworthy, he deserves to be translated! I would quote from it to show you, but in my enthusiasm I passed on the book immediately.

'The Golden Compass' by Philip Pullman is a fantasy/adventure story. It moves along nicely. The premise is that all humans have their own daemon, visible to others; kind of our intuition, guardian angel, absolutely necessary for survival. An easy fast read with the rain lashing against the windows outside. Intriguing.
P. 152: "Oh, this was in the seventeenth century. Symbols and emblems were everywhere. Buildings and pictures were designed to be read like books. Everything stood for something else; if you had the right dictionary, you could read nature itself. it was hardly surprising to find philosophers using the symbolism of their time to interpret knowledge that cam from a mysterious source. But, you know, they haven't been used seriously for two centuries or so."
P. 164: "Witches have known of other worlds for thousands of years. You can see them sometimes in the Northern Lights. They aren't part of this universe at all; even the furthest stars are part of this universe, but the lights show us a different universe entirely. Not further away, but interpenetrating with tis one. Here on this deck, millions of other universes exist, unaware of one another...." (Doesn't this remind you of the revised string theory. No, no, I don't really understand that one, but it is kind of like this it seems.)
P. 271: " You speak of destiny", he said, "as if it is fixed. And I ain't sure I like that any more than a war I'm enlisted in without knowing about it. Where's my free will, if you please? And this child seems to me to have more free will than anyone I have ever met. Are you telling me that she's just a clockwork toy wound up and set on a course she can't change?"
"We are all subject to the fates. But we must all act as if we are not," said the witch, "or die of despair."
P. 275: "Men pass in front of our eyes like butterflies, creatures of a brief season. We love them; they are brave,proud, beautiful, clever; and they die almost at once. They die so soon that our hearts are continuously racked with pain." (Witches live thousands of years... that is why, and some of us know the feeling of loss.)
P. 276: But you cannot change what you are, only what you do.
P. 290: There is a correspondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm! The stars are alive, child. Did you now that? Everything out there is alive, and there are grand purposes abroad! The universe is full of intentions (italics), you know. Everything happens for a purpose. Your purpose is to remind me of that.
P. 307: There were two kinds of beardom opposed here, two futures, two destinies.
P. 327: At last there was a physical proof that something happened when innocence changed into experience.

The third book is disconcerting: Martin Amis: 'Time's Arrow'. Here a man's life is told in reverse. From death one enters the world and grows younger and more vigourous until one disappears at birth. The most shocking element is not the absurdity of situations where you put everything back in the supermarket after you received the proper amount of money for your items, but that the moment of catastrophe makes it better afterwards since in the normal direction of time, that action hadn't happened yet. So Time's Arrow plays with our concepts of cause and consequence. It is a Nazi doctor's consciousness which tell us his life backwards, so that the reality of ugliness becomes bizarre. Thought provoking and disturbing. Also a must read.
P. 51: People are free, then, they are generally free, then, are they? Well they don't look free. Tipping, staggering, with croaked or choking voices, blundering backwards along lines seemingly already crossed, already mapped out. Oh, the disgusted look on women's faces as they step backwards through a doorway, out of the rain. Never watching where they are going, the people move through something prearranged, armed with lies. They're always looking forward to going places they've just come back from, or regretting doing things they haven't yet done. They say hello when they mean goodbye. Lords of lies and trash - all kinds of crap and trash. Signs say No Littering - but who to? We wouldn't dream of it. Government does that at night, with trucks; or uniformed men come sadly at morning with their trolleys, dispensing our rubbish, and shit for the dogs.
P. 57: With rapture and relief he elides with the larger unit, the glowing mass. He sheds the thing he often can't seem to bear: his identity, his quiddity, lost in the crowd's promiscuity.
P. 72: Everybody reams about being harmed. It's easy. Much tougher to recover from the dream of harming...
P. 80: It was an old people hotel. We had seen and sensed them on our way up, their tentative postures, their unanimity of hesitation.
P. 107: Also, happiness contains its own ferocity: the right to live and love, fiercely seized.

And much more worth thinking about.

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