Insomnia led me last night to start another book, one that’s been glaring at me from a corner shelf for a while now: Blaise Cendrars’ To the End of the World. Really, this– at least its first few pages– is not the thing to start reading when you’re still nursing post-romantic wounds, even, maybe especially, when you think you’re starting to turn the bend towards bluer skies. In general, as I get older, I have ever less tolerance for scenes of sexual degradation and the usual sense of misogyny, no matter how veiled in justifications about the messiness of real life, the harm of prudery, etc., etc., that tend to go along with them. (1) And so, dead tired but infuriatingly unable to achieve blissful unconsciousness, it was maddening to open up a cover and immediately be pounded with an invitation both to laugh derisively at the protagonist and to get off on some high-brow porn. (2)
Even if there are such pitiful, maybe even despicable, creatures in the world, and even if it seems futile to do anything but laugh at an old whore– well, I just don’t want to read about it. I’ll finish the book; I’ll even hope it gets better, or that I grow a thicker skin, or that I can use the experience as a way into really pondering why sex provides such an amazingly varied array of launchpads for any emotional reaction imaginable. But geez; this was not an auspicious beginning.
I couldn’t keep reading that particular book, not in the state of mind I was in. But I was still wide awake– and so grabbed The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, and dove right in, with much better results. Sometimes, it’s inadvisable to get near things that hit too close to home– but on the other hand, essentially looking at yourself through the eyes of a disinterested party can also be pretty therapeutic. “Story,” of course, is not my story– but Davis beautifully portrays the craze-inducing overanalysis of fundamentally useless relationships that so many women impose upon themselves; the tale was sort of a tough-love reminder to look at the big picture, pick my pride up from the greasy corner to which I’d consigned it, and get on with my life.
I’m not saying that four-page short story cured all my ills– but it calmed my irritation with Cendrars. And– and: after reading it, I went right to sleep.
(1) One of the worst of the bunch I’ve come across in the last few years is Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Mafarka the Futurist, which just felt like one big colonialist fantasy, and endangered any appreciation I had for Futurism’s super-cool artwork.
(2) I’m wondering how Elfriede Jelinek would (or does) feel about this opening passage; a scene from Lust (a book that made me want to bathe in bleach and holy water) involving the protagonist’s lover and his friends, among other things, urinating on and laughing at her, felt like the logical conclusion of what Cendrars started here.