A Mishy-Mashy Catch-up

Carl Spitzweg, The Bookworm; via Grohmann Museum

Carl Spitzweg, The Bookworm, via Grohmann Museum

So, while on vacation, I devoured four books: Howard Hibbett’s The Floating World in Japanese Fiction; László Krasznahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance; Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation; and Magda Szabó’s The Door. Since I’ll never get anything out if I try to go in-depth with each of them, how about some quick summaries?

Hibbett: If you’ve no interest in ancient Japanese arts or literature, this one’s not for you. But if you like ukiyo-e woodblock prints and paintings, this little volume provides a nice explanation of the parallel movements going on in literature at the same time as said art was flourishing.

Krasznahorkai: If it weren’t so good, its rarely-paragraphed arrangement would be maddening. Reading the book feels like being force-fed and trying to chase after a quick runner at the same time– but in spite of the fact that its form presents the closest thing to ancient Greek’s lack of punctuational dividers that I’ve seen in a long time, this novel’s beauty is unavoidable. Evidence? It won’t spoil anything for me to reveal the last few sentences of the book, which may be the most beautiful final lines of a novel I’ve read in a while (even if when removed from their context, some of their sparkle is dimmed):

… the realm that had existed once–once and once only–had disappeared for ever, ground into infinitesimal pieces by the endless momentum of chaos within which crystals of order survived, the chaos that consisted of an indifferent and unstoppable traffic between things… it took [the empire’s] delicate fibres and unstitched them till they were dispersed and had ceased to exist, because they had been consumed by the force of some incomprehensibly distant edict, which must also consume this book, here, now, at the full stop, after the last word.*

Daoud: It’s about time someone made a serious attempt to explore Camus’ The Stranger from an Algerian point of view. The author got at the Frenchman’s cold objectivity, mostly via his colonial worldview, which made sense. I think I was hoping for too much when I also kept my fingers crossed for an examination of the hypermasculinity that seems to go hand in hand with Camus’ entire approach to the world. But I realize that project would be a huge one, and it’s a massive enough enterprise to address not only one single, classic book, but essentially the entire heritage and school of worship and criticism that’s grown up around it. A needed and worthwhile endeavor, at any rate, Daoud’s work featured some gems of phrases, including the following:

I almost never wept for [my brother], I just stopped looking at the sky the way I used to.

As far as I’m concerned, religion is public transportation I never use. This God–I like traveling in his direction, on foot if necessary, but I don’t want to take an organized trip.

Friday? It’s not a day when God rested, it’s a day when he decided to run away and never come back. I know this from the hollow sound that persists after the men’s prayer, and from their faces pressed against the window of supplication.**

Szabó: A strange little book, but nowhere near as intriguingly so as the recent piece on it in The New York Review of Books would have it. Very basically, it consists of different sorts of unpleasant people yelling at each other. Oh sure, one ends up having some really good qualities and commitments to people– but the narrator is somehow so naïve and weirdly self-righteous, the entire tale just feels like being exposed to bickering neighbors. But there may be a purpose behind the protagonist’s continual self-justifications: I probably would have acted in the same exasperated fashion as she does, and even if not in the same way, most likely would also have rattled off a ream of excuses to reassure myself and others about my approach to dealing with an irascible old woman. Maybe that’s the point.

But all this reading didn’t keep me from delving into my surroundings– and in spite of my worry that I’d not find a safety sign in Ireland to rival the French-speaking world’s philosophical approach even to construction zones (see previous post), I think I came up far from empty-handed. Behold: I’ll end by offering an image of what seems to be proof of deep existential despondency and probable indecision.

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* László Krasnahorkai, The Melancholy of Resistance, transl. George Szirtes (New York: New Directions, 2000), 314.

** Kamel Daoud, The Meursault Investigation, transl. John Cullen (New York: Other Press, 2015), 10; 65-6; 69.

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5 comments

    • Special K

      Thanks! Oddly enough, I’d recommend the Hibbett before the Szabó; even though literature that’s more than a couple hundred years old has for some reason become increasingly less able to hold my interest, the combination of history/criticism, image, and literary sampling in that one was pretty satisfying. But out of all of them, it’s got to be Krasznahorkai, hands down. Hands completely and definitively down.

      • birds fly

        I suspected he’d be at the top of these, based on all I’ve read of his work. He’s been on my tbr list for so long. Perhaps this year I’ll finally get to him. Interesting what you say about Hibbett- your description of the book sounds appealing. I like that kind of combination in a single work. Not often easy to find.

    • Special K

      I’m interested to know whether that one will be better than the film, which I just couldn’t get through. Now I’m especially eager to read it, to figure out whether (what I saw of) the movie was totally off or not.

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