Thursday, July 19, 2018

Oksanen's "Purge"

There are books which should not be written. And for certain not by their
respective authors. "Purge" by the Estonian/Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen is
one of those.

Superbly written text gave me shivers not once and, to be sure, the above
statement is all about the content, not about the author's skill. It is
expressing my frustration by the topic.

The story is simple and all too known: people caught in the historical
events, killed, raped, tortured and psychically tormented by the effects of
that.

Intertwinning of the 1990-ies story with the events about and after the WWII
is a less usual mixing, and Oksanen ingeniously does it. Together with the
family which is a multiple victim of war, the grand-daughter becomes a victim
of human trafficking and forcing to prostitution. In effect, she becomes
equal to the previous victims of war.

Why I wrote a young, too young writer Sofi Oksanen (being at the beginning
of her 30-ies when writing it!) should not write such a story? She is describing
the bestiality of men. And women. In her writing I felt the vibes of Jens
Bjorneboe, another chronicler of human bestiality. He perfidly and exactly
noted down, jotted down, what disgusting things small bears can do to the other
small bears. It is not something a young person should know.

But obviously she did. And what to do with it.

What strikes in her writing is the fact that she knew so well to put equal the
suffering of both "sides". There is no sides when it comes to suffering,
especially the suffering of war and its aftermath.

It all is abomination, and it is something so well shown in this writing.
Tormentors were, are the tormented, criminals are, ironically, merely the
executors of justice.

Who could like such a world? And it is the reality of too many, too many people.

Goodbye to Reason, indeed!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Lawrence Durrell's "Judith"

The unpublished novel by this of Masters, published in 2012 (he died in
1990), was written at the beginning of 1960-ies as a screenplay for the
Paramount Pictures movie by Daniel Mann featuring Sophia Loren. At the end,
Durrell withdrew from the movie production (probably unsatisfied with the
needed changes). The similar fate was with his earlier engagement with the
Twentieth Century-Fox in the making of the "Cleopatra".

While still working on it, Sophia Loren asked Durrell to change the main
character, played by her, from the Lady-professor to the wife and mother,
as "she is not an intelectual type", and he did so, producing two parallel
texts, which he was considering to publish as a "Double scenario" book,
which did not happen, he abandoned the text.

His success as a writer after the publication of "Justine", the first part
of "The Alexandria Quartet", brought Durrell offers of work on the
screenplays, but he was more focused on his artistic work than such
ventures. Still, as in his top writings, in those "side works" he also
investigated thoroughly the locations and state of matters and paid attention
to the structure of the work. "Judith" was a part of his 2nd tier works,
which, for him, was a kind of fermentation of thoughts and rest between the
major works. Durrell was a compulsory writer, and needed many vents for his
artistic personality.

I met with people who considered Durrell mildly, if not strongly
anti-semitic, based on some of his writings. But, of his 4 wives, 2 were Jewish,
and I do not remember ever reading any evil statements or feelings he would
express... But then, he did not belong to the overly politically correct writers,
and some of his comments could be taken out of context and presented in this or
that way. When writing about French Resistance in "The Avignon Quintet" in not
exactly glorifying terms, or similarly about Arabs in many of his works, he did
not show any hate or animosity. Only normal contempt for the human stupidity where
things could, with a little of clear thinking, be easily converted into something
constructive, not destructive, as it was usually the case.

In "Judith" he did exactly the opposite from anti-semitic, from every line
one can feel his sympathy with the Jewish case, and contempt for the
surrounding circumstances of the birth of the Israel, from the collapse of
the British Mandate to the petty plotting of the Arabs.

I do not know much about the events of the Mandate, and especially the fact
that Israel was fought for, not plainly given by the world main players, was
appropriately exposed in "Judith". My impresion is that the fight Israel won
at the time against Arabs gave the country legitimity as any other country,
including my own Croatia just recently...and the rest is in the hands of
more or less dirty politycs. Israel is a fact. As are Arabs, and a sensible
solution for the problem is to be found, or there will be more and more of
the senseless killing.

I learned a pile from the book, and if Durrell is not the most exact of the
historians, I never found him being an evil one. In difference to the too many
of the "official", and in fact doctrinary, historians, or rather propheths of
the one or other national identity.

This book, published only recently from the writings in his documentation,
definitely deserves its place between his other works. He considered it of so
little artistic value that he even did not publish it, but many authors would
love to be able to have such a work in their meter or so of the books on the bookshelf.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Ph.K.Dick's Transmigration

As I predicted in the recent post
I could not resist to torture myself and read the third-and the last,
thanks to the Skies!-part of the Ph.K. Dick's "VALIS" trilogy:
"The transmigration of Timothy Archer". In fact the trilogy's
final part was supposed to be "The owl in daylight", his unfinished
novel, for which he collected advance money from the publisher. But
he died before he even thought out the plot or defined the
characters. There is a discussion about the "Trilogy", but
PKD himself called "The transmigration..." part of the trilogy,
because of the common theme.

It seems with time of writing the subsequent novels, PKD's amount of
amphetamine or whatever he was using was getting smaller, as the amount
of unreadable religio- pornography decreases somewhat towards the end of writing.

In the first part, his use of ink on VALIS is large. In the 2nd part VALIS
is mentioned only two times, and in "The transmigration...", his final
completed book, it was not mentioned at all. "The transmigration..." was
nominated for the best SF work in the year of his death, 1982, but I think
it must be like a hommage, more than the real value of the book.

Timothy Archer is an Episcopal Bishop, who really transmigrates
into not being bishop any more, but taking a lover. He gets
obsessed with find and translation of Zadokite scrolls, where is
a notion from 200 years before the Christ, which invalidates the
meaning of him as a son of God. Plot is set in 1980, and starts
with the killing of John Lennon.

The book is characterised as postmodernist and philosophical. I would
not call it none of this, but just a product of an ill mind. It might
be philosophical only for someone who learns philosophy from PKD and
history from Dan Brown. Which is not so bad, it would mean (s)he at
least reads something, not just stare in the screen.

So, in 2017 I succeeded in reading the VALIS. Was it worth the effort?

No, it was not.

Except if we follow the Marxist "learn your enemy" advice, where
"enemy" is for me the claim that VALIS would be one of top heights of the
PKD's writing. True, it has valuable moments, as PKD was, definitely,
a good writer. But good writing can not hide the heavily troubled
personality. PKD produced VALIS after a spiritual experience, which he
would not attribute to medication/drugs use. I think that such text could
be brewed only in the USA, and later it is accepted (more or less) elsewhere
based on the placebo effect of ... thinking.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Orphan of Asia

"Orphan of Asia" by Zhuoliu Wu is a strangely modern book-from 1945.
It is my second reading of this book, after almost exactly 8 years, and
I still had a lot to learn. After 2009 I spent a substantially different
5 years in Taiwan than the previous 5 years, and learnt it from the other angle.
With the distance I have now, 3 years after returning to Europe, I start
seeing the experience of Taiwan in yet another light.

The book was written in Japanese language, at the time when Japan was
just ceasing to be a heavenly ruler of Asia, and some other more earthly
masters went into ruling it. Taiwan just stopped being the Japan proper,
and soon became a dumping place for Chinese failures of Nationalists:
Kuomintang party of China took over, with help of their beastly losers.
But this is still to befell on Taiwan- in the time of writing, it is a
Japanese backwater, where Masters are teaching their underlings to be
human, that is, Japanese.

Taiming, a boy from the mountain village, knows nothing of it-as
was, and still is, the case with so many a Taiwanese boys (even at
the age of over 50) today. He starts his classical Chinese education
with a master in the mountains, an opiate addict, who lives a virtual
classical Chinese life in a seclusion. Boys play, but also soak into
the mind-narrowing classical learning. Which, after all, is what makes
Chinese being Chinese: an anachronism, almost an atavism, which survives
until today because of sheer powers of life.

Nothing less could explain how such an impenetrable culture, which
virtually prevents dissemination of knowledge to its population (c'mon,
15 years of hard work just to learn to read and write?!). Probably the
explanation is that for a human society to thrive, having only basic
education is better than giving wide knowledge to everyone-it just brings
problems. It is much, much easier to govern a stupid, uninformed mass of
people, than a well educated body of citizens. This is why Heavenly Empire
of the Country of the Middle was one of the last empires to fall. And when
it fell, it fell to a similarly stupefying mindset, which immediately brought
caricatures (in bad taste) of any free minded thought.

Taiming actually succeds, he goes to Japan to study, but because of his low
(=Taiwanese) background, fails to obtain appropriate position in the
Japanese driven society. He is utterly rejected.

When he moves to China, he is rejected doubly, as a Japanese subject, but
even more as a Taiwanese. To be able at all to work in China, he has to
hide that he is Taiwanese, so low is the esteem his compatriots have in China.

The fact of being a Japanese subject at a time of WWII, complicates the
things, and he has to flee back to Taiwan. Interestingly enough, he did not
make a fame there-people of his stature, with university diplom from Japan,
were not many. But again, as a non-Japanese he did not really have a chance,
and his lack of zeal for sacrifying his life on the altar of Imperium, did
not help. He was conscripted into army, and went into fight on the mainland,
but so disgusted he was with what he saw there-and from the hands of his own
army, Japanese soldiers-that he just went crazy, literally, and was
repatriated as inept for the service.

Back home, he recovered, but with a new distance to everything going on
around him. He went to introspection again, and slowly, painfully, he
allowed to himself to be what he really is.

But this does not stop the course of history, and Taiwan did not get well in
the troubled waters. When his family suffers, Taiming feels he himself was
responsible for it-as the best educated person from his village, he should
do more to protect them. In his introspective way he takes the blame and
goes crazy, this time for good. For him, a Taiwanese, immersed in the
deeply troubled identity of a non-nation, the historical moment was too
much.

In the first reading I more saw his troubled, confused personality, than the
persistence with which he tried not to succumb to strong currents of history
around him. And fails. As Taiwan eventually failed in the XX ct., and is
only now, with the new, globalized generation, trying to define some new
identity. It will not be anything like what their forefathers could imagine
or approve, but this, exactly, is how the rough waters of history tumble the
ideas of the past into the reality of the future: sometimes they are
crashed and cast anew into a completely new form, which would be impossible
to predict at the previous level. A bit like we can not predict what will
come of the outspring of a family in few generations-they will find their ow
way.

In my life, I saw one re-birth of a nation, in my own country. But Croatia
had a history of a 1000 years, and even a pre-history (although, as it
usually goes, mixed with plenty of mythology) as a well defined Slavic
tribe. So, in not too good times of cronysm, rampant primitive
ultra-catholicism and general decay of values going on there since its
birth, there always remains the virtue of "we are ourselves doing it to
ourselves, so we probably deserve it".

"Taiwanese" were never a tribe, and definitely were never a defined
nation. It is, today, a nation to be born. That is, if Chinese Communist
Party will be too busy with itself to allow for it. On the other side, they
would never profile as a nation if there would not be a contrast and
fearsome Big Red Brother accross the sea. How they will fare the troubled
waters remains to be seen. I would give a credit to some of the youth there,
who do not want to fill the Party lines, and prefer instead a more
self-introspective mode. Which is today not less dangerous than it was in
the Taiming's time. Levi'Strauss was wrong, History, some new one, just starts, and
it is completely unpredictable.

There is another level in this book, which might be useful to Western expatriates
who find themselves puzzled by the inconsistencies in the Taiwanese everyday life.
They survived in Taiwan from the first half of the XX ct., and the writer removes
well the obscuring layers of history from some of them.

In the Columbia University Press edition, this book was a part of presenting
Taiwanese writers at the beginning of the Millenium. It was a good effort, but not
so easy to follow as it was not easy to find the books. Now, when it became easy
because of online bookstores, I will follow the other publications, to learn more.
This is one of the virtues of the new times, with which modern Taiwan fares better
than in the old, obscure and elitist ways.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Divine invasion

In a previous post, Valis,
I prophetically wrote that I will go after continuation of Philip K. Dick's
"Valis", after I recover from the bull-shit of the 1st book. I am a certified
masochist, and I like PKD's writing, really, even when it shows he used too
much of illicit chemistry at the time of writing.

So, there I was, "The Divine Invasion". As usual for PKD, it kicked off
magnificently, with humans living on another planets as a senseless
guardians of the senselles colonization of the extrasolar worlds across
the Galaxy. And yes, they are dead, as PKD liked to have them. Or almost
dead, as they are held in criogenic suspension until organs for replacement are found.

In "Valis", God, who was a girl, Sophia, dies. Here it is reborn, in a
virgin conception which happens on another planet. Emmanuel, the boy, is
folloved closely by Elias, who is a beggar even in the alien planet. The
conception happened under the auspicion of the local alien god of a small
hill, Jah. Did we hear the story anywhere? But PKD, helped with tonnes of
good psychodelic, produces a well informed and, yes, readable version of the
story from The Scripture. It is definitely one of the best rendering of it
which I read. Halleluyah, Philip.

Emmanuel the kid devised a way to forget his own godly plans, so he could
exist in the real world, but is permanently having flashes of reminding, as
do the people around him. He is guided around by a little girl-Athena,
Diana, he guesses, but it shows to be his own adversary-or angel-a less
known Talmudic being. Belial himself appears as a small stinky black goat-and
is killed by a Linda Fox, pop singer, who is the angel, appropriately.

Still, even if less than it was the case with the first part of the trilogy,
the book is full of references to the Old Testament, and reads for long pages
as a Jehova Witness text. Not that lenghty and disturbing the flow of the story
as in "Valis", but still, unnecessary. A pity PKD, or his editor, did not
remove that.

I was asking myself what to hell do I get from this reading, should I not just
throw it away. No, I am a masochist, obviously.

I acquired the third part, and the beginning reads really well. Good for me and
the world that PKD did not produce more of it!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Vegetarian reading Hemingway

Being vegetarian, to read and, even more, to enjoy reading "Green hills of
Africa", a classical Hemingway hunting narrative-which in this case is a true
biographical text, not a novel, might seem awkward. Indeed, it brought
some mixed thoughts to me at certain moments. But then, I am a descendent of
shepherds, who were not exactly softies, when it comes to killing, skinning
and eating sheep. Vegetarianism is, in my native part of the world, still
unusual choice.

So, my focus was rather on writing, than on blood.

Hemingway writing is at his best here. The way he writes is above
skin, meat and horns. It is life itself.

I liked that he had doubts, at some moments, about his right to kill...but he
justified it easily with "it is natural, going on all the time here in the wild,
and my single killing to million killings happening in the same time does
not add nothing".

What is so good in Hemingway's description of killing? Nothing, he keeps it
clean, he defines a good kill as a chirurgical work. What is good is his
conveying of emotions, his way of description...one can be lazy, ignorant,
thick-headed with him, or moved, motivated, furious...drunk.

Describing the natives and nature, he is impartial, very realistic. I like the way how
he sees them, I think I would try to do the same. Not abstract their
humanity, but also not assuming too much. It is a real clash of
civilisations, and he could equally well visit some other inhabited planet
anywhere in the Galaxy.

Yes, he is a hell of a writer-is, as reading a good writer is like a
discourse, even when (s)he is centuries dead.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"We Have No Idea" by J. Cham & D. Whiteson

PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics is a Jorge Cham's art work since the
beginning of the Millenium, and is alive and kicking. This Caltech graduate
made life funnier for many a student gnawing through her/his study
experiments and university (lack of) life.

In addition to comics, Jorge worked on movies and books. I read the book
"We Have No Idea", which he published together with physicist Daniel
Whiteson, trying to show-off not so much what we do know about physics, but
what we do NOT know. And when they write "do not know" it means really,
completely and deeply not having any idea what to hell is happening there.

Like it is with Dark Matter and Energy, why is Gravity so different from
other forces, number of dimensions, why the speed of light is the largest
one around, are we alone in the Universe,... and many, many other questions,
which you for sure asked yourself or your physicist friend.

The book is funny, full of witty and cheeky puns, and very accurate. It is
not your usual gibberish from the newspapers or even "scientific"
periodicals. It is a rather well-informed text, from which even a
professional physicist can learn. Or at least have some fun with well and
fun posed questions, and some answers.

Jorge Cham advertises it as a book for 10 yrs old to PhD's, and he is right,
it is fun for everyone who likes to pose questions at the edge of our
knowledge. Or in the middle of it.

It is challenging, and true, to think that we are, with all our
sophistication and Academia, only at bare bones od Science. Some later
generations will look at us like we now think about Ancient Greeks or Middle
Ages priests doing science, offering explanations for the miracles of the
world. It is hard to exaggerate the responsibility of every one of us, who
had or have the luck, chance and privilege, to work in some of the branches
of Science, for the spreading of the good (and, sometimes, bad) news of
Science.

If scientists are not doing their job in explaining Science to the public,
false prophets are taking over, and the dark knights of ignorance are always
ready to overcome the bright side of the powers of nature. Jorge Cham found
his way, for the good and delight of many a reader.