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Slowly

I’ve been reading this for the past hour:

Sweet irony and absolute fit in one.

It’s one of the earliest books I bought myself, but never read fully through, which I’m sure its author, as an advocate of slow-pace anything, would approve of. It so happens I wrote an essay about idleness for university and did this at my grandparents’ on the last few good and hopeful summer days my grandmother had. I had fibbed a little to stay with them, saying I couldn’t write this at home because of the racket. But in truth, I’m used to the average rackets, and really wanted to hold on to what I felt was getting inevitably lost.

It’s ironic to be reading it because I ought to be really busy right now. It’s an absolute fit because I couldn’t be further. I’ve lived this book and worse.

It started on Monday when I still had an excuse. I was seduced by the sweetness of daydreaming when I ought to have started to research for my thesis. After the hectic weekend and the perfectionist’s panic episode that got quite bad at one point, a few hours of daydreaming seemed well-earned. It wouldn’t stop though. A few hours became a day, two days and five. I had no resistance to the peace of it. It felt like nature had given me an antidote to stress and my body was producing its own anaesthetic.

I quite stopped caring about the thesis and failing it the second time. It wasn’t going to be my failure or fault. It simply wasn’t fair play that others get three months and I got three weeks. I thought so much, so very much, wrote a lot of texts in my head too, and daydreamed a little for intermissions, but I never thought of the thesis. It was like being in a lazy cocoon. At the back of my mind, I knew it was stolen, and every day I was making things more difficult for myself.

Today I wondered if this is what burnout is like? Do you just walk out out of the blue? You totally lose touch and stop caring?

I’ve casually followed some course-related discussions on the forum and felt quite inferior and out of place. These people are interested in this topic! They read extra materials! They have all these clever opinions. And then there’s me recommending others that you don’t need to read through the thick English-language textbook, but can pass the course with just reading the slides. Like Delboy at the theatre asking if anybody fancies a crisp.

The entire time I’ve been studying psychology, I have struggled with this attitude problem. I know too well what my interests are and what I’m never going to need, parts of the brain, for example. And my mind filters out the latter and does not want to waste time on courses like this. But this attitude feels immature. Specialization is good but I’m not at that stage. So I feel like a schoolkid among all those people with more mature attitudes who manage to take an interest in a wider variety of topics.

I just like to think really. To think and understand. I don’t care about where the parietal lobe is.

This semester I like my psychometry course very much. Whatever I do with the rest (two), this I want to do. Its a very rewarding experience in its immediacy too. I recently learnt what a Z-score is and how to calculate it and felt like I understand a new piece of what seemed like elite code. And it’s always a “wow, I see, I see” kind of experience for me, no matter how small the new piece acquired. There’s something so calming in working with numbers too. I think I’d enjoy doing that for a hobby in old age. When others go to a knitting circle meeting, I’d go to a statistics and trignometry group, with lovely nerdy bespectacled Miss Marples. If such things existed, of course. Amateur mathematics.

I suppose I will try to do something next week. It will soon be over at least regardless of the result. This cheers me up a little. Come October, I’m freeeee.

Odd readings

Yesterday I was good. I managed to read through a whole book in one day. The booking being Nathaniel West’s The Day of the Locust.

I was a little afraid of this book and hesitated before picking it up. It promised to be depressing in the usual gritty way. The way that hasn’t got a single speck of hope or a likeable character on it. My mood has been pretty down in the dumps lately, so I wasn’t sure that’s the book I’d want to be reading right now.

But I liked this book. It’s one of the very few of its kind I have liked. It didn’t depress me and I think it’s because I read it completely wrong. Schoolteachers like to say that there is no wrong way of interpreting literature. This is a falsehood and they’d have had to own up to it if faced with some of my takes. I think I read it with an innocence/sincerity that is not expected of a modern reader.

I also liked the narrative voice / tone of this work and I suspect that is what made all the difference between The Day of the Locust and your average misanthrope’s depress-fest. It wasn’t the typical detached and uncaring style of someone studying life forms under a microscope. It also wasn’t judgemental. I got thinking that it (the narrative) works for me because it doesn’t go on the same level with its subject matter. It’s not part of the swamp of mundanity and sordidness. It’s outside it. It’s compassionate and kind towards the victims. Reading it was bizarrely non-depressing.

One of the most well-known quotes from the novel is this:

Only those who still have hope can benefit from tears. When they finish, they feel better. But to those without hope, whose anguish is basic and permanent, no good comes from crying. Nothing changes for them. They usually know this, but still can’t help crying.

Yet I found it hopeful rather than irredeemably pessimistic. And I can’t think why. I’ll try a wild stab in the dark: if you acknowledge that so many people are unhappy, because the world is shit and has cheated them out of a wholesome life by feeding them on cans of Hollywood dreams, that they don’t mean to be doing these corrupt and vile things, but are victims, not agents. Well. If the novel brushes against the possibility of such an interpretation, then that kind of interpretation brings it to my court of humanism and away from misanthropy. I suppose, if the author can feel a degree of tenderness, and I as a reader can feel it, then maybe within that tenderness is a little hope? The sort of hope that comes from being in this together.

I might be taking it too far, but I think the victims vs. agents and sympathy vs. detachment/disapproval could be the reasons for why I liked this book and almost no other on a similar theme.

I did skip one scene though. I’ve got a few things I always skip in books and films: animal cruelty, violent torture and rape. This book had animal cruelty and since I pretty quickly figured out where this was going, I skipped to the next chapter. I don’t need any of those things in graphic detail to feel their horribleness.

It’s quite a nightmarish, violent, apocalyptic work, really. And these should be the foci of a correct reading, but my reading was mostly dominated by this flicker of hope, and more shamefully still, finding the character of Homer very cute, and the protectiveness of Tod towards him to be very cute also. Maybe those two things were parts of my perceived hope, too.

Early fresh thoughts like these then.

 

 

Relatable

(Scott Dikkers, How to Write Funny)

 

This short page very nicely sums up all the thoughts I’ve had in the past two months that have changed my attitude towards being a writer.

When I wrote of my journey in finding what I wanted to do in life, I forgot to include something. It doesn’t flatter me exactly, but I treat it as a necessity in attaining a more realistic perspective. Thing is, I feel absolutely thrilled and full of joy when I discover some poet has written a bad poem or some comedian done a lacklustre sketch. As nasty as it might seem of me to take pleasure in another’s weaker moments, I don’t do it with malice. Rather, it gives me a warm feeling for the person and humanises those I’ve put on pedestals.

What this little snippet also made me think of was that in poetry, as elsewhere, you can’t always get it right, but need to go for the sum total of your work and maintain the standard of that. Last weeks I’ve written a lot and felt quite pleased that I have managed to lift my overall standard and that some of the atrocities I wrote a few years ago I probably would no longer write. Never say never, of course.

The best poets aren’t known for all their poems but a handful of masterpieces. My recent favourites, Crane and Dylan Thomas, can be excessively cryptic. When they manage to be lucid or hit upon the right musicality, it’s a masterpiece, but when they go too far into idiosyncractic shorthands, it’s a bit of a flop in the context of the rest of their work. Their flop would be my success, though.

Anyhow, this comedy book is quite relatable so far. The intro is nice and his style isn’t a tiresomely witty show of his own personality (which, I believe, a lot of such books, as well as self-help books, do suffer from).

What am I doing developing myself in comedy and poetry when I believe these are among my greatest weaknesses? God knows. Trust the process, I suppose. I want to – is my reason.

Jean Valjean

Les Miserables is my second favourite book at the moment. And I had my first experience as a fan of a book seeing something I dearly love being put on screen and that something failing completely to measure up. I’ve watched countless adaptations of classics, usually enjoying both the books and the TV/movie versions. I even liked the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice, so come on, I’m not picky! But this. This failed me. I think it missed something vital to Hugo’s art of storytelling and altered my beloved Jean Valjean.

I’m talking of the BBC miniseries. The obvious distractors of illogical casting choices aside I didn’t feel the story. The book makes you feel the story, it’s all about dragging you through the sewers of misery, but the TV series…. The emotion isn’t there.  Jean Valjean isn’t the magnificient figure he is in the book. For example, I couldn’t feel his doubt and torment in the court scene, while in the book it was one of the most intense chapters.

They’ve also made him worse than he was, which misses the main point of Hugo’s story. It is also strange to me that Fantine is the centre of the poster. To sell the story better you need a pretty girl, but come on. Les Miserables is the story of Jean Valjean and all others are supporting characters.

In conclusion, disappointed. I hope they make a new one. The musical I’m not going to watch because I don’t like musicals, having too much an autist’s brain for them.

Small rant over.

Gratitude

My mind has a bit of a mystical turn if I allow it such leeway. When undergoing a great personality shift, in hindsight it often seems the entire universe has conspired to facilitate this shift. The right books happened my way. The right people and experiences.

I owe a lot of who I am – though currently I am so displeased with myself that who I am is largely an embarrassment to me – so let’s say, who I was and hope to become, to the people and books that were in my life at those junctions. To people who altered my views of self and widened those of the world, to books that strengthened it. And vice versa. It has been vice versa, too.

Les Miserables

I might as well get this written too.

I finished the books last night at three. Very sad story it was.

My favourite thing about these books was the character of Jean Valjean, and the author’s thesis that people are not always to blame when they end up with lives the entire society condemns. This, in my experience, is not common even in our highly ‘progressive’ society, and people are, as ever, inclined to cast stones, instead of trying to understand and think of the causes that might have pushed a person into a life like that.

I found it somehow comforting to read about people who had a bad time of it in life too, and those people were indeed my favourite characters: in addition to Jean Valjean, also Eponine and Gavroche. I thought – perhaps I’m biased – these people had much more character than Marius or Cosette, who seemed like cardboard figures of the highly typical 19th century (and prior) hero and heroine. I did not like Marius much and I did not enjoy the middle parts of the book where he was prominent. It was mostly a bit boring. By that time, Hugo had also managed to kill my suspension of disbelief when he introduced even more unlikely coincidences. It began to feel a bit like the sequels of Pirates of the Caribbean or some movie like that where the first part works, but then it just gets stale and tiresome.

When Jean Valjean re-appeared and was on centre stage, I started liking the book again, was not bored and read eagerly. He is such a magnificent character, even an impossible plot can be believed (L).

But Marius, Marius. He struck me as another Angel Clare figure and that was even before he kicked Jean Valjean out and caused his death. His loyalty to Thernardier made no sense. That kind of ice cold morality is completely perplexing to me, and ultimately unlikeable, I suppose.  Thernardier was a horrible bandit, surely seeing that would make it doubtful whether he deserved the loyalty. I would call this the King Arthur style morality, which is without much compassion. It killed Tess, it killed Jean Valjean, both good gentle souls, and in no way at fault for what happened to them.

Similarly to Hardy’s novel, and perhaps also those of George Eliot, the author ultimately, in spite of challenging contemporary attitudes, fails to go all the way. Hardy killed off his highly likeable “fallen woman”, because the morality of the time would not permit a novel ending with Tess living happily ever after. Hugo did the same to Jean Valjean, but also to Eponine, Fantine and Gavroche. George Eliot denied his her women the chance to find an outlet for their independence of mind and spirit. I suppose these things would have been too revolutionary and impossible in the context of these books, but it is still very sad, and I wish the authors had been more scandalous. And Eponine and Gavroche, surely, had done nothing that would scandalize society if they were granted a bit of good times too.

 

If I wasn’t so tired, I’d say I want to be Jean Valjean and he is my role model, but I’m tired.

 

Favourite lines

Who wants to be consistent? The dullard and the doctrinaire, the tedious people who carry out their principles to the bitter end of action, to the reductio ad absurdum of practice. Not I. Like Emerson, I write over the door of my library the word “Whim.”

 

 

Some readings

This is good:

He fell to thinking … slowly, listlessly, wrathfully. He thought of the vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all things human. All the stages of man’s life passed in order before his mental gaze (he had himself lately reached his fifty-second year), and not one found grace in his eyes. /…/

He did not picture life’s sea, as the poets depict it, covered with tempestuous waves; no, he thought of that sea as a smooth, untroubled surface, stagnant and transparent to its darkest depths. He himself sits in a little tottering boat, and down below in those dark oozy depths, like prodigious fishes, he can just make out the shapes of hideous monsters: all the ills of life, diseases, sorrows, madness, poverty, blindness…. He gazes, and behold, one of these monsters separates itself off from the darkness, rises higher and higher, stands out more and more distinct, more and more loathsomely distinct…. An instant yet, and the boat that bears him will be overturned! But behold, it grows dim again, it withdraws, sinks down to the bottom, and there it lies, faintly stirring in the slime…. But the fated day will come, and it will overturn the boat.

From Turgenev’s Torrents of Spring

DSC02087

Turgenev is pleasant, but I don’t find myself  having a lot to say about him at this point. Some books and writers are like that. I COULD make an effort and think of something, but since this isn’t school, where I must write an essay about everything I read, I’m not going to force it.

I liked Bazarov at the end. I think this is important to record for my future self. I don’t normally think of people in letters, but he’s such a clear case of INTJ.

Shameful

Like the two springs before, I’m reading Jean-Christophe. This time it’s the second book. The first 50 to 100 pages I was a bit tired of the story. There seemed no development whatsoever, just the same type of things repeated over and over again: criticism of the local (French) music and art scene, Christophe alienating everyone, gathering enemies and falling into troubled relationships with women, and other people. The way this narrative repeats itself in just slightly different forms IS tiresome. It’s very predictable that after the artistic commentary and struggle chapters comes an infatuation chapter.  And not only that but there is no change in either either. This is not a typo. But anyhow.

I somehow got over this. The other day I felt a pleasant kind of cosiness to pick this book up again and be in the company of Christophe. This will sound sentimental – I’m trying to think of a way of phrasing it so it will sound less so – because it isn’t so – it’s a very down-to-earth sort of feeling, but he is like a friend to me. Reading this novel is like interacting with a friend, keeping an eye on his life and doings. A gentle, earthy sort of pleasure. Like touching moss or tree bark.

That was my first emotion and mood. But it got worse. I noticed I was slightly falling in love with me him – (if ever there was a Freudian slip, this has got to be the master slip…). When his appearance was described, I noticed it particularly (no, he isn’t beautiful). I’m also becoming to understand his strength. In the first book, the narrator kept referring to Christophe’s strength, but I failed to see a neurotic like that being particularly strong. Now I can see it more, though his type of strength is hardly my prototype, which probably made the suggestion laughable at first. One lives and learns.

Admiration and adoration of fictional characters is something I do sometimes, being of such a temperament that adores, but I don’t recall ever falling in love with them. I can’t say I have done so now either, but I noticed the gentle buds. So yes, I obviously have a screw or two loose.

Oh. And I think trees and moss are my favourite things in nature.

Late night reading

This is great stuff:

Do not think of what will be in a year, or in ten years. Think of to-day. Leave your theories. /…/ Live in to-day. /…/ If you are good, all will go well. If you are not, if you are weak, if you do not succeed, well, you must be happy in that. No doubt it is the best you can do. So, then, why will? Why be angry because of what you cannot do? We all have to do what we can…. Als ich kann.”

“It is not enough,” said Christophe, making a face.

Gottfried laughed pleasantly.

“It is more than anybody does. You are a vain fellow. You want to be a hero. That is why you do such silly things.… A hero!… I don’t quite know what that is: but, you see, I imagine that a hero is a man who does what he can. The others do not do it.

“Oh!” sighed Christophe. “Then what is the good of living? It is not worth while. And yet there are people who say: ‘He who wills can!'”…

Gottfried laughed again softly.

“Yes?… Oh! well, they are liars, my friend. Or they do not will anything much….”

They had reached the top of the hill. They embraced affectionately. The little peddler went on, treading wearily. Christophe stayed there, lost in thought, and watched him go.

 

(From my favourite book)

I was disappointed by this English translation. I have an edition in my native language and this paragraph is much superior there. The above reads like something I might have written. I find it hard to resist improving it. But what can you do, I’m not going to type up this quote in my native language and I wanted to record that idea somewhere. It was at once new and instantly strikingly relatable.