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Eco. Eco.

    Eco's The Prague Cemetery is a dismal book whose protagonist is a proud anti-semite, a forger of documents, a murderer, a despiser of women and idealists, a remorseless scoundrel by all counts, but one who possesses the faintly redeeming quality of a sensitive palate.
    To Eco's credit his "ugly" protagonist seems to have been invented purposefully to embody humanity's most sceptic attributes in a single character so that his interplay with Eco's favorite-themed historical events and philosophical movements might take on some, if only fictional, deeper meaning. Perhaps to say that, though this man could not exist, he stands as a marker for the multitude of evil men that must have played countless smaller but similar roles in order for history to unfold as it did. In this outing he has created the human form of "pure concentrated evil" rather than the lump form forund in the movie Time Bandits.
     I am not an Eco scholar by any means but I am fearless in asserting that in some ways Eco's works read together like a single palimpsest-- repeated, erased, and re-written themes. It is hardly a pun to say that nobody echoes Eco like Eco.
    I expected that near the end the protagonist would confess, in one of his multiple identities, to be Jewish himself. This did not occur. Perhaps it was intended to be ironic that even in his professed hatred he exemplified the Merchant of Venice far more than he realized.
    Both the intial setup of the story and the end of it are cleverly mediated through the first-person narrator who has suffered a loss of memory and is trying to discover his own identity even as the reader must do so through his written words.
    Of Eco's last book Numero Zero: it reads like the "treatment" version of the usual Eco novel, as though it were a sparse and undeveloped chapter of Foucault's Pendulm, but is focused rather on yellow journalism and the last days of Mussolini.
    (Spoiler) After the reader hears the plan put forth by the editor of a "fake" magazine to let it be known that he will expose the evils of the rich so that the rich will "buy him off"--  well, by then Eco's readers already know how well that will work out!
    I will miss Umberto Eco, and I have strong doubts that the empty places I left on my shelves for his future books can be equally filled by books from another.

It's All About that Bach

Music.  Have I discussed in the past this unshakeable feeling I have regarding both writing words and music, that I am attempting to do these things at a distance, but not actually doing them?  As though observing a war going on in the trenches safely from a helicopter?  By thinking about them in such a remote and consciously intellectual way, that I am kept from doing them in a pure way?  That, to trot out Hamlet, everything I do feels to be "sicklied o'r with the pale cast of thought" to the point that what should be revealed is hopelessly obscured?  Imagine, if you will, a color camera with a permanent yellow filter over the lens, or, someone who merely wishes to squeal with joy but instead produces several pages of Eco-like prose in their heads while rejecting the effort it would take to write it all down.  Or someone who believes art is like a rabid dog to be poked cautiously with a stick and then run from in terror.

Music. Listening to music without analysis comes close to describing how I think creation ought to feel. But it doesn't. There is a palpable physical activity in creation.  It is no secret to me that I prefer to be passive rather than active and that the act of creation takes me out of my comfort zone.  But music reaches up to me from below and beguiles me, cajoles, tempts me to engage.  And if I do engage, it teases, hides, is gone.  Music for me is the mystical voice that rides above the line-- the flying, broken, melodies that leap out of Chopin, or moments in the Ravel Quartet in F that defy my ability to find them in the notations.  Music analysis is not entirely useless, but it seems also that it falls short of finding the true music, and at best merely describes the conditions under which the music occurs.  True, with analysis I can learn to hear different things in the music, but I fear that adept knowledge might indeed damage the naive appreciation I had and make it impossible to find that ever again.  But my train of thought suggests to me that fearing such an outcome might be unfounded. I am certain that music contains aural illusions the same way that visual material creates optical illusions.  Knowing how to construct the illusion does not help one understand the experience of the illusion.  The experience of the illusion is more tied to the unknown hard-wiring of the brain and is inscrutible.  But that part is the true music to me.   So, perhaps I can live to a grand old age trying to ferret out what is happening in my brain when I listen to a Bach fugue, while gratefully failing to do so.  In the meantime I will have all the fun of trying.


... that my livejournal page, after nearly a year in utter stasis, now has a new post!

Since the last post I have been off in the world making and acting in independent films, almost all of which will likely never be showing in a cineplex near you.

The end-of-year holiday season always makes me reflective, and also gabby.  I will be posting about movies, literature, and music.

Maybe a few more Greek adventures and whatever else demands its voice.

Hot Swordfish Sandwiches

Awakened from dreamtime the other morning I can recall that I was walking in my childhood neighborhood and seeing some young guys with strange staffs. The staffs were equipped with glowing blue bulbs on the end and gaffer hooks on the sides.  The pair walked along slowly melting the considerable snowdrifts that had been left in neat piles by the snowplows.  As the glowing blue bulbs melted the snow, swordfish were revealed, and these would be hooked and thrown into the back of an open panel truck that followed along.  There seemed to be a swordfish in every drift, under every stranded car, and every park bench.  For a while I sat in the back of the panel truck holding a hot swordfish sandwich in each hand, knowing that I was on the way to a nursing home for retired painters.  We got there and I stood in my dark, smudgey-stained smock, beret, and black cape with a violet lining, trying to keep the staff away from my easel and numerous boxes of supplies.  The head nurse said:  "Sign here Mr. Dali."  I replied that I was not Mr. Dali, and I wished to register under the name of Danton Fesli, Esquire. The head nurse said:  "Of course, Mr. Dali."  I looked about, but could not find any recognizable color in the walls.  My ropey mustache drooped down both sides of my chin.  "Where is your largest window?"  I asked.

Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grille

Is it cool?  Brust believes that literature is a process of putting everything you think is cool into a piece of writing.  This book does have sort of a Cowboy Bebop, Douglas Adams, Bukaroo Bonzai vibe to it. So it seems to be posing as something that might be called cool  To me the tale would have been better served as a short story approaching novella length.  Instead we are given a rather over-inflated novel (whipped up with air) featuring continuously looping conversations between a dozen or so main characters.  For the most part it is very simply written with occassional bursts of unpunctuated streams of description.  The simple conversation parts might be Hemingway, and the unstructured parts Ellison. Is it cool?  Neither of heavy science nor of greatly moving emotional content, it nonetheless achieves some noticeable cool at various points. A fast read when you are bogged down in Proust.



Writing for me often seems like trying to describe a Chimera, both in the sense that the disparate parts resist harmonious and rational blending, and also in that the desired result remains a fantasy, an illusion. 

Nothing like the Main

galaxies flee like gazelles--

the universe, unbounding

leaves in its wake

its waste and smells

The Sleeper must Awaken

Not always, perhaps, but once again he has.  The writer lurking in me.  A difficult and irritating fellow who seems to want to run from the very only thing he does: write.  He claims to have been working somewhere in a garret room in the back of my mind.  Well, we'll see what he's got this time.  Maybe it will be the good stuff.  Now I just need to get him drunk and let him roar.
      It is amazing how differently Don Quixote reads to me as a 65-year-old-guy versus the 20-year-old I was back when I first read Part 1 in college. Then, I was bored to tears and swore off Part II with the greatest resolve.  Although I remembered some key elements from that distant reading-- and we all know the most famous adventures of el ingenioso hildago very well--but somehow, in the first reading, I missed everything important.  I was reading it as though it were a comic book, something for the vulgar entertainment of the masses. Others have read it that way too, including the enterprising author Avellaneda who managed to publish a Part II even before Cervantes could produce his own continuation. That author has reduced the characters to the level of stooges if we take Cervantes' word for it.
     What I could not see back then were things like: the beauty and humanity of Cervantes' choices-- his restraint! He sets up the situation, and transfers it to your brain, where, if it finds fertile soil, it grows to something beyond the mere words; the struggle between chaos and order, between morality and indifference; the social and psychological relativity of good and evil; the question of truth--is it to be found in the struggle for honor, ideals, illusions, or, in the literal acceptance of common opinion, reality, common sense?  Though Cervantes seems merely to explain what happens in the most general way, he does so often with great elaboration of detail producing a deeply rich context that one learns to savor by giving things time to sink in. He's not a fast read if read properly, or so I would suggest. In fact, his prose is like a full-bodied cigar, it may seem simple in small doses, but it will also make you dizzy if you deeply inhale.
    I see neither Quixote or Pancho as fools, nor do I think Cervantes did. What I see are two equal Wittgensteins, one on horse, one on donkey, each debating with the other about reality as they see it, each in relativistic way being correct. My thought experiment about Wittgenstien is that, even if he had an identical twin, he would hate him, and proclaim him to be wrong about everything-- and his twin would be just like him!
    And now for the topic.  I had heard somehow before about Don Quixote entering in the lists at Saragossa, and since this happened at the end of Part II, I was sure that Patocki had placed his Manuscript Found in Saragossa there as a clear indication that he was continuing on with a work indebted to Cervantes' Don Quixote.  When, in Part II Cervantes has his hero avoid Saragossa, no one was more surprised than me!  Plot twist: the Saragossa joust occurred only in Avellaneda's apocryphal work, and Cervantes refuted the validity of that story by having Quixote do something else entirely.  The rumor is that the faux writer had somehow got hold of Cervantes' story outline.  Cervantes allows Quixote to know of the false Part II, and in a hilarious bit of meta-fiction, Quixote refuses to go anywhere near Saragossa. The meta-fiction becomes quite mind-boggling later on as the one "true" fictional Quixote asks for and obtains an affidavit from another character attesting that the other fictional Quixote is a false one.
    Patocki's title is undoubtedly some reference to the debt he owes Cervantes, but what that means I will allow the reader to tease out for himself having given him the Quixotic context.
I am currently reading the final pages in Part II of Don Quixote and soon will have a series of remarks to make about it in relation to The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.  Having finally completed Cervantes' epic novel (and a very modern, meta-fictional one to my mind), I have found it to be the true mother-load of influence (far exceeding the influence of The Arabian Nights), the primal fount of inspiration and material for Potocki's own work.  Cervantes is indeed like the proud grandfather of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. Potocki has modernized, updated, Cervantes.  As with some movie re-makes, much material may be greatly altered, but the thematic bones remain the same.